In this brief chapter, Ishmael compares the head of the sperm whale —


— to a Heidelberg Tun —


— which, according to Wikipedia, “is an extremely large wine vat contained within the cellars of Heidelberg Castle. There have been four such barrels in the history of Heidelberg; the present one has a capacity of approximately 220,000 litres (58,100 U.S. gallons) and was made in 1751. One hundred and thirty oak trees were reputedly used in its construction. It has only rarely been used as a wine barrel, and in fact presently enjoys more use as a tourist attraction, and also as a dance floor since one was constructed on top of the tun.”

This picture gives you some idea of the size of the tun:


The diagram of the interior of the whale’s head is useful when listening to Ishmael description of the interior of the whale’s “Great Heidelburgh Tun.” Ishmael’s analogy goes so far as to suggest that just as the Heidelberg tun has a device carved into its forehead, so too does the sperm whale, whose “vast plaited forehead forms innumerable strange devices for the emblematical adornment of his wondrous tun.”

“The Great Heidelburgh Tun” is read by Jennie Winter, Educational Developer, PedRIO & Educational Development, at Plymouth University. The reading is illustrated by two photographs — one exterior, the other interior — of Anish Kapoor‘s installation Leviathan (2011; PVC, 33.6×99.89×72.23 m), which was shown last year at the Grand Palais in Paris. The photos are by Dave Morgan and are used courtesy of the artist. Visit the “Big Reads” site to see them in higher resolution.

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The “Big Read” is asking its listeners to donate to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Fund. Click here for more information.

[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman’s History of New York]