It has been said that if you read every other chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, it’s a rip-roaring adventure tale. The puzzle, of course, is what to make of all the other chapters.

Easily a contender to be the Great American Novel and hence one of the Great Novels simply, Moby Dick (1851) is a staggering work of the literary imagination. At its core is the strange being pointed to by the title and subtitle: a whale by the name of Moby Dick. But what exactly is a whale? As Melville teaches us or reminds us, the Bible has one answer to that question, Thomas Hobbes (among others) quite another. Melville seeks to recapture for his readers the awe-filled wonder of the natural world, the world constituted by sea, land, and sky. Such wonder might well lead one, in attempting to understand the world, either to “the divine Plato” or to the divine simply. In short, Melville’s novel is an attempt to reopen and explore the fundamental human question of the nature and existence of God in and through the story of Ishmael’s encounter with Captain Ahab and his nemesis.

Over six sessions, fellows will read the full text, paying particular attention to the most important themes that tie together the several parts of this bountiful novel.

Image: Sperm Whale, 1935

Prof. Bartlett on Aristotle's guide to the good life


Robert C. Bartlett

Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. His principal area of research is classical political philosophy, with particular attention to the thinkers of ancient Hellas, including Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle. He is the co-translator of a new edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

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