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À mon chevet: 'Moby-Dick'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
With a wild whimsiness, Queequeg now used his coffin for a sea-chest; and emptying into it his canvas bag of clothes, set them in order there. Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of his twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last. And this thought it must have been which suggested to Ahab that wild exclamation of his, when one morning turning away from surveying poor Queequeg -- "Oh, devilish tantalization of the gods!"

-- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chap. 110 ("Queequeg in His Coffin")
One more day until the opening of Washington National Opera's performance of the East Coast premiere of Jake Heggie's opera on the classic Melville novel. The narrator of the novel, like Melville, is a widely read person, and on this time through the book, the number of Dante references is standing out in my brain. Here, Queequeg's identification as a sort of book reminds me of Dante's description of the monster Geryon, which carries Dante and Virgil down into Malebolge. Captain Ahab and the Pequod, swallowed up by the sea, call to mind the doomed, prideful voyage of Odysseus and his men, as related by the shade of Ulysses in Inferno 26.

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