Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

In Chapter 77, Ishmael compares a portion of the sperm whale’s head — the “case,” which houses spermaceti — to an enormous wine barrel — i.e., tun — built into the floor of a castle in Heidelburgh, Germany. In my (probably inadequate) internet research, I learned that there have been four such tuns throughout the course of history, and that the present tun can hold 58,000 plus gallons of wine. I also learned that the tun has rarely been used to actually hold wine, much to the dismay of the French army, who captured the castle, took a hatchet the tun, and found nothing. Finally, I learned that a Calvinist pastor visiting Heidelburgh, which was the center of Calvinist theology, considered the cask a symbol of divine plenty, and therefore of divine approval.

Needless to say, my research did not uncover any obvious reference on Ishmael’s part, but it did get me thinking about aristocracy, symbols of divine blessing, and the French Revolution, which speaks to both of the former, as well as to the cosmetic usage of spermaceti.

Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

Great cask of delicious wine
Built ‘neath the castle floor
As a sign of the bounty of our righteousness,
As a crown on the kingdom’s store.

Whoa-oh, Whoa-oh!
Guard your luxury!

Great wax of a class divine
Sought for appearance sake.
As they smooth every wrinkle from an aging face
Does the face turn collectively blank.

Whoa-oh, Whoa-oh!
Guard your luxury!

Great tun on the monster’s mind,
Promised and plentiful,
So take care with the lever on the guillotine
Lest you spill it on the castle floor.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea November 9, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 19, 2010