The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Montaigne and Ahab's Vengeance

Among the authors whom Melville is believed to have read in the years leading up to the writing of Moby-Dick is Michel de Montaigne.  Indeed, in the "Extracts" that introduce Moby-Dick, Melville quotes one of Montaigne's essays, "Apology for Raimond Sebond." 

Another of Montaigne's essays, however, is more likely to catch the attention of Moby-Dick fans.  It's the fourth essay in Book I, entitled "That the Soul Expends Its Passions upon False Objects, Where the True Are Wanting."  Reading the following passage from that essay, I have trouble believing that it did not help to crystallize in Melville's imagination the character Ahab:
I remember there was a story current, when I was a boy, that one of our neighbouring kings, ... having received a blow from the hand of God, swore he would be revenged, and in order to it, made proclamation that for ten years to come no one should pray to Him, or so much as mention Him throughout his dominions, or, so far as his authority went, believe in Him.... Augustus Caesar, having been tossed with a tempest at sea, fell to defying Neptune, and in the pomp of the Circensian games, to be revenged, deposed his statue from the place it had amongst the other deities.... [T]he Thracians, ... when it thunders or lightens, fall to shooting against heaven with Titanian vengeance, as if by flights of arrows they intended to bring God to reason.

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