He averred, that upon first thrusting in for him, a leg was presented; but well knowing that that was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great trouble;—he had thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and toss, had wrought a somerset upon the Indian; so that with the next trial, he came forth in the good old way—head foremost. As for the great head itself, that was doing as well as could be expected. Moby-Dick (Chap. 78: Cisterns and Buckets) by Herman Melville

In childbirth, this is known as “turning” the fetus.

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Evil One Moby-Dick (Chap. 78: Cisterns and Buckets) by Herman Melville

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Nimble as a cat, Tashtego mounts aloft; and without altering his erect posture, runs straight out upon the overhanging mainyard-arm, to the part where it exactly projects over the hoisted Tun. He has carried with him a light tackle called a whip, consisting of only two parts, travelling through a single-sheaved block. Securing this block, so that it hangs down from the yard-arm, he swings one end of the rope, till it is caught and firmly held by a hand on deck. Then, hand-over-hand, down the other part, the Indian drops through the air, till dexterously he lands on the summit of the head. Moby-Dick (Chap. 78: Cisterns and Buckets) by Herman Melville

The language here is more alive—less archaic and meandering—than we’ve seen so far in the book. We are in the action. This newly energetic prose does justice to Tashtego’s agility, showcases Melville’s skill as a writer, and heightens the drama of the scene.

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The upper part, known as the Case, may be regarded as the great Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm Whale. Moby-Dick (Chap. 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun) by Herman Melville

The Heidelburgh Tun is a big ass wine vat contained in the cellars of Heidelburgh Castle in Germany.

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A quoin is a solid which differs from a wedge in having its sharp end formed by the steep inclination of one side, instead of the mutual tapering of both sides Moby-Dick (Chap. 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun) by Herman Melville

Here’s a picture

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What befell the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Lais Moby-Dick (Chap. 76: The Battering-Ram) by Herman Melville

In Freidrich Schiller’s “The Veiled Statue at Sais,”, a young man is told that he will see the truth if he looks under the veil of a statue of Isis. He looks, but is horrified and refuses to tell anyone what he saw.

He speaks, and, with the word, lifts up the veil.
Would you inquire what form there met his eye?
I know not,—but, when day appeared, the priests
Found him extended senseless, pale as death,
Before the pedestal of Isis' statue.
What had been seen and heard by him when there
He never would disclose, but from that hour
His happiness in life had fled forever,
And his deep sorrow soon conducted him
To an untimely grave. “Woe to that man,"
He warning said to every questioner,
"Woe to that man who wins the truth by guilt,
For truth so gained will ne'er reward its owner.”

This resonates with the experience of the Pequod’s cabin boy Pip, who falls overboard and sees God, but returns to the ship an incoherent wreck.

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Salamander giants Moby-Dick (Chap. 76: The Battering-Ram) by Herman Melville

Not to be confused with the very real giant salamander or fire salamander, salamander giants were mythical versions of the amphibian that were supposedly immune to fire. The idea is that you would have to be supernatural to comprehend total truth.

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That though the Sperm Whale stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixed the Atlantic with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of your eye-brow. Moby-Dick (Chap. 76: The Battering-Ram) by Herman Melville

The Isthmus of Darien is an old name for the Isthmus of Panama—the narrow piece of land through which the Panama Canal was dug.

The Panama Canal is 48 miles long. This is hyperbole.

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You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale, the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the water Moby-Dick (Chap. 76: The Battering-Ram) by Herman Melville

Melville switches to the second person to give the reader a better sense of actually observing a sperm whale.

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Nonce Moby-Dick (Chap. 76: The Battering-Ram) by Herman Melville

Not a British pedophile, “nonce” means now here.

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