(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Moby-Dick

“It takes only one drink to get me drunk…..the trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth”*…

All of the wine vessels described in Obsopoeus’s poem

High school health classes, it turns out, have been around since the 16th century. That’s when a school rector in Bavaria, writing under the name Vincent Obsopoeus, published a poetic guide to responsible drinking, geared toward young men who—then as now—didn’t appear to know their limits. “Can it really be true?” asks “Drunkenness” herself in the book’s lyrical preface, written by a friend. “Should I really believe this book can teach people how to rationally lose control?”

Obsopoeus (pronounced “OB-so-PAY-us”) published this treatise, in Latin, in 1536. In April 2020, Princeton University Press published a new English translation by Michael Fontaine, a professor of classics at Cornell University. Entitled How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing, Fontaine’s translation speaks not only to the text’s historical moment, but to our very own, as alcohol sales have soared on account of the COVID-19 quarantine.

Nonetheless, says Fontaine, it’s important to read Obsopoeus with his time and place in mind. Though the popular imagination often pictures ancient Greece and Rome as decadent playgrounds of drunken excess, binge-drinking wasn’t actually culturally normative in those societies. For one thing, drinkers in those days tended to mix water with their wine. Moreover, their wine was less alcoholic than ours to begin with, as a lack of fungicides meant a shorter time for grapes on the vine.

Instead, Fontaine writes in his introduction, “binge and bro culture—so familiar to Americans—started not in classical Greece or Rome but in Germany five hundred years ago.” The reasons, in his analysis, have to do with the end of the Crusades. Young men were still being educated and trained to become knights, but that path was becoming increasingly obsolete, and men began seeking other outlets for their aggression. It was in that context, he writes, that “hardcore drinking” emerged as “a mark of he-man prowess …” It didn’t help that vineyards accounted for four times as much German land as they do now. Even doctors and hospital patients were allowed to drink nearly two gallons of wine per day…

From a school master concerned about the rise of binge-drinking bros; read on for: “Tips for Responsible Drinking, From 16th-Century Germany.”

* George Burns

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As we listen for history’s rhymes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that Harper & Brothers published Herman Melville‘s novel, Moby Dick; it had appeared in the U.K. about a month earlier as The Whale. Based on Melville’s experience aboard a whaler and dedicated to Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, the book received mixed reviews and sold poorly. It is now, of course, considered a classic– the peak of the American Renaissance.

Alcohol loomed large in life on the Pequod (and in the prior lives of some of his fellow sailors that Ishmael recounts)– perhaps nowhere more dramatically that in Chapter 36, in which Ahab fills a pewter chalice with booze “hot as Satan’s hoof” and orders his harpooneers Queequeg, Tashtego, and Dagoo to detach the barbs of their harpoons and hold them upside down so the sockets can be filled with more “fiery waters.” The three men raise their harpoon goblets and drink as Ahab chants, “Death to Moby-Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby-Dick to his death!”

The title page of first American edition

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“So may the outward shows be least themselves”*…

 

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Further our our recent look at movie posters that move, Henning Lederer: “How would these great book covers from the past look like when set in motion? Here we go…”

Covers

* Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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As we celebrate cerebration, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that Harper & Brothers published Herman Melville‘s novel, Moby Dick; it had appeared in the U.K. about a month earlier as The Whale. Based on Melville’s experience aboard a whaler and dedicated to Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, the book received mixed reviews and sold poorly. It is now, of course, considered a classic– the peak of the American Renaissance.

The (altogether-unanimated) title page of first American edition

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts”*…

 

 click here for zoomable version

This crew list for the whaler Acushnet, filed with the collector of customs in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in December 1840, incudes the name and physical description of the 21-year-old Herman Melville. The list marks the beginning of the epic trip that was to provide the author with material he used to write his maritime novels Typee (1846); Omoo (1847); Mardi (1849); Redburn (1849); White-Jacket (1850); and Moby-Dick (1851).

Although he had signed up with the Acushnet’s captain Valentine Pease for a journey of four years, Melville deserted on the Marquesas Islands (now French Polynesia) 18 months into the voyage. Eleven of 26 of the Acushnet‘s crew and officers were to do the same before the trip was over. Desertions like these were not uncommon in the 18th- and 19th-century maritime world. Historian Marcus Rediker writes that desertion was one way for sailors, whose labor was often coerced or abused, to protest poor conditions on ship: extreme punishments, poor rations, voyages that were extended involuntarily.

Before he returned to Massachusetts, Melville was to live with the indigenous Taipi people; ship aboard an Australian whaler (the Lucy-Ann) where tough conditions also prevailed; be jailed for mutiny; sign onto another whaler (the Charles & Henry); spend some time in Hawaii; and return to the mainland via a stint as an enlisted seaman on the USS United States.“

Besides providing content for his future writing,” Carl E. Rollyson, Lisa Olson Paddock, and April Gentry write, “Melville’s Pacific travels also shaped the intellectual and philosophical perspectives that would mark his later work.” His complicated relationship with discipline and hierarchy, his sensitivity to the trials of the working man, and the cosmopolitan perspective that led Melville to make Queequeg one of the most sympathetic and interesting characters in Moby-Dick were all gained on this voyage.

* Herman Melville

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As we go down to the sea in ships, we might note that this is Chaos Never Dies Day– a day of recognition of the turmoil that surrounds us.  Chaos Never Dies Day is an annual occasion to admit that the perfect, quiet moment for which so many of us strive doesn’t – and likely never will – exist… and to celebrate unruly reality.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

The High(est) Ground…

 

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Because one never knows when one will need to know:  The List of Lists of Lists.

[TotH to Pop Loser]

(Readers may also enjoy Third Coast‘s wonderful radio special “The List Show.”)

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As we scrawl scintillating series, we might send carefully-lined birthday greetings to Herman Melville; he was born on this date in 1819.  The author of Moby Dick (along with other novels, short stores, and essays) was a fan of an altogether different kind of listing:

I am sick of these terra firma toils and cares; sick of the dust and reek of towns. Let me hear the clatter of hailstones on icebergs, and not the dull tramp of these plodders, plodding their dull way from their cradles to their graves. Let me snuff thee up, sea-breeze! and whinny in thy spray. Forbid it, sea-gods! intercede for me with Neptune, O sweet Amphitrite, that no dull clod may fall on my coffin! Be mine the tomb that swallowed up Pharaoh and all his hosts; let me lie down with Drake, where he sleeps in the sea.

White Jacket (1850)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 1, 2012 at 1:01 am

Getting the picture…

“AmStar 7,” by Wollex

Your correspondent makes lots of use of Wikimedia Commons, “a database of 8,052,028 [as of January 2, 2011] freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.”  Most (Roughly) Daily use is in the almanac section, memorializing each date’s honoree.  But the Commons contains a wealth of other, less archival photos as well…

The Commons Picture of the Year is a competition that was first run in 2006. It aims to identify the best freely-licensed images from those that during the year have been awarded Featured picture status.”

See the photo above, and 2010’s 22 other winners at Web Urbanist.

As we adjust out f-stops, we might recall that it was on this date in 1841 that Herman Melville shipped out to the South Seas on the whaler Acushnet.  The ship anchored near Tahiti, where Melville was jailed for his part in a mutiny; he escaped, and wandered around the South Sea islands for two years. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee, based on his Polynesian adventures. His second book, Omoo (1847), also dealt with the region. Those two novels were popular successes, but his third, Mardi (1849), more experimental in nature, failed to catch on with the public.  In 1851, Harper & Brothers published Moby-Dick— at first another flop… it wasn’t recognized as the classic it’s become for many years.

The Acushnet, hunting (source: Columbia University)

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 3, 2011 at 1:01 am

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