Making Scholarly Connections
Though it may not at first be obvious, tattooing and intaglio are metaphorically similar. Both involve the delicate scraping of a surface just deeply enough to fill it with ink and create an image.
“To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as yet undertaken. Such an enterprise would seem almost as hopeful as for Lavater to have scrutinized the wrinkles on the Rock of Gibraltar, or for Gall to have mounted a ladder and manipulated the dome of the Pantheon. Still, in that famous work of his, Lavater not only treats of the various faces of men, but also attentively studies the faces of horses, birds, serpents, and fish; and dwells in detail upon the modifications of expression discernible therein.”
Moby-Dick, Chapter 79, “The Prairie”
Phrenology and physiognomy treat the head and face, respectively, as a text that reveals the inner character of an individual. Considered pseudo-sciences today, in the 19th century both were regarded by many to be legitimate. Melville, playfully, humorously and, possibly, seriously, applies the sciences to both humans and whales.