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The Sciences

The Science Ink of Moby Dick

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerDecember 10, 2011 10:51 PM

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I've been doing some research on the long cultural history of tattoos in preparation for my talk about Science Ink at Harvard on Tuesday. I'm a hard-core Moby Dick fan (this blog's name comes from there), so it was a delight to stumble across a passage on tattoos, which I had forgotten. Queequeg, readers may recall, was covered with tattoos. Here's how Ishmael describes them:

This tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.

[Image: Rockwell Kent, Plattsburgh State Art Museum]

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