Abstract

Abstract:

This essay identifies the source for the defleshing of Alexandro Aranda and the use of his skeleton as a figurehead. This identification, supported by related allusions in Melville’s text, opens up an additional level of significance in “Benito Cereno.” By revealing some of Melville’s obliquely presented reflections on the implications of the events of Amasa Delano’s Narrative, this essay enhances readings that focus primarily on the topic of African slavery in the Americas. Melville knew of this source-story from having, in his youth, read of it in three books. It concerns Edward I of England and his deathbed order for his own skeletonizing with the intent of subjugating the Scots. It stands as a historical instance of what Melville, early in “Benito Cereno,” refers to as “the malign evil in man” and “what humanity is capable [of]” as a result. The two skeletons emblematize the inflicting of death—in Aranda’s case, through the lethal abuses of slavery and, in Edward’s, through lethal subjugation. Further allusions are identified relating to the uprisings of the Wars of Scottish Independence and the Jacobite Rebellion, to the defleshing of corpses in mos Teutonicus, to crusading, and to the death of Melville’s brother Gansevoort.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 47-63
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-24
Open Access
No
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