Melville’s Epic

Midnight hour. This afternoon I read about 25 pages of the long poem Clarel. He has met a wanderer named Nehemiah who hands out copies of the Book of Revelation. Now together they are peddling the book in Jerusalem, though I think Clarel has reservations about it. The protagonist is aware of the cultural diversity in the place: he sees Jews, Hindus, Greeks, and Muslims all coming to Jerusalem to pay their respects. The omniscient narrator remarks something about an inter sympathy of ethnicities in three or four beautiful lines at the top of page 181. But the narrator and Clarel are different observers. It’ll be interesting to see what the student discovers at the end of his spiritual quest. Will it be greater clarity or added murk? With the multiplicity of faiths parading through the Holy Land, just who was Christ in the flesh and whom did he represent? What if the New Testament, rather than being the one truth, proves to be merely another faith in the crowd?


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