The whole and the parts
The myth of Osiris is one of the underlying stories of Moby Dick. Osiris, depicted to the right in the painting, was cut up into pieces and his body parts were scattered all over the world. His sisters, Nephthys and Isis, succeeded in retrieving all his body parts, apart from his prick. It was untraceable. When the sisters reassembled Osiris’ body, they gave him a wooden dick, and then blew the breath of life into him.
Just as the comparison of the crew of The Pequod with the Anacharsis Clootz deputation and the image of a patchwork quilt, the story of Osiris refers to Melville’s view of the world as a collage of widely divergent, split-up fragments. Reuvers and Melville share a passion for peculiar details. Take for example Reuvers’ choice for the ibis, a symbol of Thot, the god of writing. According to Herodotus, Thot is a bird that likes to fiddle with his beak around his own rear end. Or take the Carmelite with the white habit, a reference to the white monks of Ghent in Melville’s discourse on the whiteness of the whale. Or the small image from the Larousse, in the bottom right, of the French union leader, Louis Blanc (what is in a name?), and the image of Johan de Wit (idem) in the centre left. No wonder that Charley Reuvers’ oeuvre brims with images from Larousse. An encyclopaedia, after all, is a collection of heterogeneous fragments just as well.
Angels and gods
The sharks swimming around The Pequod and scavenging from the whale carcases that are tied to its bow are called, rather morbidly, angels by Melville. The horizontal strip of shells above the ibis, is a wampum, an object that Indians use to lay down a treaty. Melville compares the boxers Deaf Burke, seen to the left, and Blind Bendigo to gods because they get completely absorbed in the fight with no thought for the audience.