The Daily Dick: Musings From the Greatest Novel Ever
"Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."
Musing: And here we are - at the beginning of the novel. Ishmael sets forth an argument that the sea is like a magnet for human souls. Melville uses the image of Narcissus, who wanted the impossible (perfect love), as a comparison point for the impossible wants human beings desire. What is the "ungraspable phantom of life?" Happiness, love, fame, knowledge? What is the white whale? Is the whale and "the ungraspable phantom" one and the same? The theme of the novel is set in motion!