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There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
is the true method.

The more I dive into this matter of whaling, and push my
researches up to the very spring-head of it, so much the more
am I impressed with its great honorableness and antiquity; and
especially when I find so many great demi-gods and heroes,
prophets of all sorts, who one way or other have shed distinction
upon it, I am transported with the reflection that I myself


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belong, though but subordinately, to so emblazoned a fraternity.

The gallant Perseus, a son of Jupiter, was the first whaleman;
and to the eternal honor of our calling be it said, that the first
whale attacked by our brotherhood was not killed with any
sordid intent. Those were the knightly days of our profession,
when we only bore arms to succor the distressed, and not to fill
men's lamp-feeders. Every one knows the fine story of Perseus
and Andromeda; how the lovely Andromeda, the daughter of
a king, was tied to a rock on the sea-coast, and as Leviathan
was in the very act of carrying her off, Perseus, the prince of
whalemen, interpidly advancing, harpooned the monster, and
delivered and married the maid. It was an admirable artistic
exploit, rarely achieved by the best harpooneers of the present
day; inasmuch as this Leviathan was slain at the very first
dart. And let no man doubt this Arkite story; for in the
ancient Joppa, now Jaffa, on the Syrian coast, in one of the
Pagan temples, there stood for many ages the vast skeleton of
a whale, which the city's legends and all the inhabitants asserted
to be the identical bones of the monster that Perseus slew.
When the Romans took Joppa, the same skeleton was carried
to Italy in triumph. What seems most singular and suggestively
important in this story, is this: it was from Joppa that
Jonah set sail.

Akin to the adventure of Perseus and Andromeda—indeed,
by some supposed to be indirectly derived from it—is that
famous story of St. George and the Dragon; which dragon I
maintain to have been a whale; for in many old chronicles
whales and dragons are strangely jumbled together, and often
stand for each other. “Thou art as a lion of the waters, and
as a dragon of the sea,” saith Ezekiel; hereby, plainly meaning
a whale; in truth, some versions of the Bible use that word
itself. Besides, it would much subtract from the glory of the
exploit had St. George but encountered a crawling reptile of


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the land, instead of doing battle with the great monster of the
deep. Any man may kill a snake, but only a Perseus, a St.
George, a Coffin, have the heart in them to march boldly up to
a whale.

Let not the modern paintings of this scene mislead us; for
though the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman of
old is vaguely represented of a griffin-like shape, and though
the battle is depicted on land and the saint on horseback, yet
considering the great ignorance of those times, when the true
form of the whale was unknown to artists; and considering
that as in Perseus' case, St. George's whale might have crawled
up out of the sea on the beach; and considering that the animal
ridden by St. George might have been only a large seal, or
sea-horse; bearing all this in mind, it will not appear altogether
incompatible with the sacred legend and the ancientest draughts
of the scene, to hold this so-called dragon no other than the
great Leviathan himself. In fact, placed before the strict and
piercing truth, this whole story will fare like that fish, flesh, and
fowl idol of the Philistines, Dagon by name; who being
planted before the ark of Israel, his horse's head and both the
palms of his hands fell off from him, and only the stump or
fishy part of him remained. Thus, then, one of our own noble
stamp, even a whaleman, is the tutelary guardian of England;
and by good rights, we harpooneers of Nantucket should be
enrolled in the most noble order of St. George. And therefore,
let not the knights of that honorable company (none of
whom, I venture to say, have ever had to do with a whale like
their great patron), let them never eye a Nantucketer with disdain,
since even in our woollen frocks and tarred trowsers we are
much better entitled to St. George's decoration than they.

Whether to admit Hercules among us or not, concerning this I
long remained dubious: for though according to the Greek mythologies,
that antique Crockett and Kit Carson—that brawny
doer of rejoicing good deeds, was swallowed down and thrown


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up by a whale; still, whether that strictly makes a whaleman
of him, that might be mooted. It nowhere appears that he
ever actually harpooned his fish, unless, indeed, from the inside.
Nevertheless, he may be deemed a sort of involuntary whaleman;
at any rate the whale caught him, if he did not the
whale. I claim him for one of our clan.

But, by the best contradictory authorities, this Grecian story
of Hercules and the whale is considered to be derived from the
still more ancient Hebrew story of Jonah and the whale; and
vice versâ; certainly they are very similar. If I claim the
demi-god then, why not the prophet?

Nor do heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets alone comprise
the whole roll of our order. Our grand master is still to be
named; for like royal kings of old times, we find the head-waters
of our fraternity in nothing short of the great gods
themselves. That wondrous oriental story is now to be
rehearsed from the Shaster, which gives us the dread Vishnoo,
one of the three persons in the godhead of the Hindoos; gives
us this divine Vishnoo himself for our Lord;—Vishnoo, who,
by the first of his ten earthly incarnations, has for ever set apart
and sanctified the whale. When Bramha, or the God of Gods,
saith the Shaster, resolved to recreate the world after one of its
periodical dissolutions, he gave birth to Vishnoo, to preside
over the work; but the Vedas, or mystical books, whose perusal
would seem to have been indispensable to Vishnoo before beginning
the creation, and which therefore must have contained
something in the shape of practical hints to young architects,
these Vedas were lying at the bottom of the waters; so Vishnoo
became incarnate in a whale, and sounding down in him
to the uttermost depths, rescued the sacred volumes. Was not
this Vishnoo a whaleman, then? even as a man who rides a
horse is called a horseman?

Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there's
a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman's can
head off like that?