Finding Melville’s Whale: Chapter 16 – The Ship

Chapter 16 of Herman Melville’s classic – Moby Dick. Read along with us and discuss this chapter or the book as a whole in the comments.

The Ship

Pequod, the ship Ishmael has selected
garnished in the bones of the whales she’s killed.
A skeletal tent rises from her deck.

And within, one third the Pequod’s captains,
Peleg. He questions Ishmael’s intentions
and experience, of which he has none.

And then Bildad, a captain and a quaker,
who, though he has sworn no harm to fellow man,
will gladly spill whale blood upon the sea.

The true captain remains ashore, Ahab.
Who will guide the Pequod to whaling ground.
This will be Ishmael and Queequeg’s voyage.


  1. Whysharksmatter · October 6, 2010

    Can someone translate this “lay” system of payment?

    • Southern Fried Scientist · October 6, 2010

      A lay is a portion of the ships profit. Ishmael thinks a 275th lay would be appropriate for him, that being 1/275 of the profit. Instead, he is offered 1/777 of the Pequod’s profit.

      Melville does something very clever here, too. ‘”Thou knowest best,” was the sepulchral reply, “the seven hundred and seventy-seventh wouldn’t be too much, would it?—”where moth and rust do corrupt, but lay—”‘ is also the beginning of Matthew 6:20:

      “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal

      But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.

      For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

      In other words, the money is less important than the journey.

  2. WhySharksMatter · October 7, 2010

    Well said. Thanks.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · October 25, 2010

      To give you an idea of how terrible Ishmael’s lay is, a cabin-boy on the Essex got a 192 lay.

    • WhySharksMatter · October 25, 2010

      Whoa. So you’re saying that he’s paid about the same amount as a graduate student?

    • Southern Fried Scientist · October 25, 2010

      Less, actually. The cabin-boys 192 lay is enough to cover the cost of the additional clothes and other items he’ll need to purchase from the ship’s store during the 2+ year voyage, so in all likelihood, he’ll return to port owing money to the ship’s owner. But it’s an investment in his future. After such a voyage, the cabin boy will be well suited to take the role of a boatsteerer or harpooner, leading eventually to mate and then captain.

      So really, he’s paid about the same as a medical student.

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