Ambergris

Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is. By some, ambergris is supposed to be the cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale. How to cure such a dyspepsia it were hard to say, unless by administering three or four boat loads of Brandreth’s pills, and then running out of harm’s way, as laborers do in blasting rocks.

I have forgotten to say that there were found in this ambergris, certain hard, round, bony plates, which at first Stubb thought might be sailors’ trowsers buttons; but it afterwards turned out that they were nothing more than pieces of small squid bones embalmed in that manner.

Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory. And likewise call to mind that saying of Paracelsus about what it is that maketh the best musk. Also forget not the strange fact that of all things of ill-savor, Cologne-water, in its rudimental manufacturing stages, is the worst.

—Ambergris

Chapter 91: The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud is a terrifically funny chapter in the middle of Moby-Dick. In it the Pequod’s gregarious second mate Stubb tricks a French whaling ship out of a chance to find ambergris in the body of a whale the Frenchman had found floating, a whale that had died of natural causes, or perhaps some harpoon thrown many days before by another ship.

Called by the sailors a ‘blasted whale’, these carcasses are intolerably stinky, and Stubb navigates the situation with his own special mix of jovial wit and vulgarity, outsmarting both the French captain and an English-speaking mate, playing the two off each other for his own gain. Inclusion of this sequence into our game was a bit too tricky—though if the crew happens upon a blasted whale, perhaps some Ambergris, the wealth of the find is shared round.

Original Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress (detail).

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