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Bible Leaves! Bible Leaves! Hellenism and Hebraism in Melville's Moby-Dick

Elisa New
Poetics Today
Vol. 19, No. 2, Hellenism and Hebraism Reconsidered: The Poetics of Cultural Influence and Exchange II (Summer, 1998), pp. 281-303
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/1773443
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1773443
Page Count: 23
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Bible Leaves! Bible Leaves! Hellenism and Hebraism in Melville's Moby-Dick
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Abstract

"'Bible Leaves! Bible Leaves!': Hebraism and Hellenism in Melville's Moby-Dick" argues that Herman Melville is Hellenism's severest American critic, and his greatest book, a sustained defense of the Hebraic "letter." Using a range of devices to link his monomaniac, Ahab, with the Greek and Christian subordination of history to reason, Melville exposes the damage to historical knowledge, as well as the characterological and institutional damages, that too singleminded a pursuit of the "spirit" may wreak: In Melville's version, Unitarian ministers and revivalist preachers as well as his own later, allegorizing critics join with Ahab in violent depredations on historical truth. On the other hand, Ishmael, as the essay goes on to argue, is Melville's Hebraist par excellence. Melville draws on Carlyle, on John Kitto's classically historicist Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, and on the Book of Ecclesiastes to fashion Ishmael as a hero of Hebraic restraint and a champion of Hebraic prolixity. Moby-Dick, the great whale, is also Moby-Dick, the redoubtable text, which, in surviving Ahab's assault, sustains the viability of the letter and of history beyond the reach of reason.

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