Ishmael and Philosophy – Quotations from Moby Dick

When he goes to sea as a simple sailor, it’s hard at first to take orders.  The transition …requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it…But   what of it?  Who ain’t a slave?…however the old sea-captains may order me about – however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way – either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.  

Ignorance is the parent of fear.

For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness.  Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.

the rope line threaded through the boat and around the crew carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair… But why say more?  All men live enveloped in whale-lines.  All are born with halters around their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.

lashing a second whale’s head to the other side of the boat…by the counterpoise of both heads, she retained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe.  So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight.  Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat.  Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

…we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.

English whalers…say…when cruising in an empty ship, if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.


Author: abookwomansholiday

The perfect holiday for a lifelong reader is one with a stack of books and few distractions. Retiring after three decades as a bookseller, I look forward to reading my way through the stacks and shelves and lists of books waiting for me. This blog will be something of a grab bag or commonplace book of reviews, quotations, notes on the history of books, the contemporary book trade, and anything connected with books and language. Reading is a great pleasure. Thinking and talking about books multiplies and intensifies that pleasure.

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