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MELVILLE AND DISMEMBERMENT: OBSESSION OR METAPHOR DOUGLAS B. PRICE* Captain Ahab's amputation is one of the great metaphors in Melville's mythic novel, Moby-Dick, and in English literature. It was not, however, the first or last time that Melville referred to amputation and used it as metaphor or symbol. Every major prose work ofMelville's except the Piazza Tales and Billy Budd contains references to amputation. In fact, in Melville's writing (nine prose works and one poem) there are at least 26 persons—historical , mythological, and fictional—who are missing limbs or other body parts. Most of the amputees are fictional characters, of whom some are pivotal, such as Captain Ahab. In Mardi, there are several fictional characters who are amputees; one is a Pacific islander named Samoa, whose injured arm was chopped off by his wife. The narrator comments: For myself, I ever regarded Samoa as but a large fragment of a man, not a man complete. For was he not an entire limb out of pocket? And the action at Teneriffe great Nelson himself—physiologically speaking—was but three-quarters of a man. And the smoke of Waterloo blown by, what was Anglesea but the like? After Saratoga , what Arnold? to say nothing of Mutius Scaevola minus a hand, general Knox a thumb, and Hannibal an eye; and that old Roman grenadier, Dentatus, nothing more than a bruised and battered trunk, a knotty sort of hemlock of a warrior, hard to hack and hew into chips, though much marred in symmetry by battle-ax blows. [1, p. 78] A close examination shows that Melville treats these historical amputees in a cursory fashion. The author wishes to thank Thomas F. Heffernan, Scott A. Norton, Richard Conant, Bahman Sadr, Charles Shuman and especially Stephen I. Deutsch for their help with various aspects of this paper. * Psychiatry Service, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington DC and The Department of Psychiatry, Georgetown University School of Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine. Correspondence: 9305 Inglewood Court, Potomac, MD 20854© 1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/96/3903-0948$01.00 380 Douglas B. Price · Melville and Dismemberment Melville correctly but superficially identifies both Lord Nelson and Lord Anglesey as amputees without specifying that Nelson lost his arm (his right) and Angelsey his leg (his right) . In Melville's Omoo, cooper Bung boastfully and chauvinistically asserts that in addition to losing an eye and an arm, Nelson was missing a leg; Nelson never lost a leg [2, p. 59). Livy's History ofRome-wzs, probably Melville's source for his remark that Mutius Scaevola lost a hand and Hannibal an eye [3]. Other classical and contemporary sources that Melville is known to have used indicate that Mutius only lost the use of his right hand and Hannibal the vision in one eye [4-6]. Benedict Arnold was twice wounded in the left leg in Revolutionary War battles. As a result, his leg was shorter by two inches. He had a limp for the rest of his life but his leg was not amputated [7-13]. Melville incorrectly identified Knox's loss. When the general was a young man and was hunting, his fowling piece exploded and blew off two fingers of his left hand, not his thumb; but even modern biographers differ on which fingers were blown off [14-16]. Melville refers again in similar terms to Sicinius Dentatus in a later work, Israel Potter, although here an amputation is not directly associated [17, p. 14]. It is not clear to whom Melville refers in these two works. There were two Roman historical figures named Dentatus: Lucius Siccius (or Sicinius ), a tribune who died 449 b.c., and Manius Curius, a consul who died 270 b.c. No description of either matches Melville's descriptions, although L. Siccius Dentatus was known for the numerous wounds he received to his torso [7, 18]. However, after the description of these torso wounds in his chapter on valor and fortitude, Pliny refers to a Roman military tribune whom he considers a greater hero than L. Siccius Dentatus: Marcus Sergius ... in his second campaign lost his right hand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 380-393
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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