Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story

. . . the dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real delirium, united to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority of the ignorant crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of him.

When the Pequod encounters the Jeroboam, the Jeroboam’s captain declines to board, not wanting to infect the Pequod’s crew with the epidemic his ship continues to suffer. The Jeroboam suffers from one of two possible epidemics depending on where you stand. If you look from the angle of a crew member, the epidemic awaits poised at the hand of God by way of (and at the discretion of, apparently) His messenger Gabriel. If you are Captain Mayhew, the epidemic is fanaticism itself, embodied here in the form of the very same Gabriel.

Of course, Ahab boldly declares his immunity to any of either epidemic, having with his own similar strain infected the Pequod. What Ahab does want, as per usual, is intelligence of Moby Dick. In the ensuing story Ishmael relates some key factors in Gabriel’s transformation from sociopath to pastor, an all-too-familiar progression even 150 years later.

Ahab and Gabriel exist clearly as parallels, both garnering power in the invocation of fear among their crews. They draw on fear of the same menace, Moby Dick, although to opposite ends — Ahab to inspire chase, Gabriel to require avoidance. But there’s another key difference between Ahab and Gabriel, that of institutional authority — Ahab has it, Gabriel doesn’t — and I for one am reminded with great terror at how easily title or deed can legitimize and empower delusion and fantasy.

Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story

All heaven would delight,
Heaven would delight,
If the sing-song charlatan a-blowing his horn had never been torn
From permanent night.

Cry “hell!” until you’re right,
You’ll always be right
If you hem and haw wide as Arkansas, you’ll probably draw
Inside of a straight.

Oh, but you’re wrong,
You’ll always be wrong,
You offer damnation,
You offer mistakes.

Give me the law,
Let me be strong,
Give me salvation.

No angel would affright,
The way you affright.
You feed their fear so that you can steer them far and away
From nature’s rights.

Oh, but you’re wrong,
You’ll always be wrong,
You offer damnation,
You offer mistakes.

Give me the law,
Let me be strong,
Give me salvation.

All heaven would delight,
Heaven would delight,
If the sing-song charlatan a-blowing his horn had never been born.

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 23, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea May 15, 2010

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