virtues too lofty for the infected gorgons and hydras to practice

enkidu68

Senior Member
turkish
Hi folks, this is cited from Redburn by Hermann Melville (1849)

Q: Does this sentence mean “even infected (?) gorgons and hydras (as you know from Greg myt.) cannot commit this kind of sins?

These are the haunts from which sailors sometimes disappear forever; or issue in the morning, robbed naked, from the broken doorways. These are the haunts in which cursing, gambling, pickpocketing, and common iniquities, are virtues too lofty for the infected gorgons and hydras to practice. Propriety forbids that I should enter into details; but kidnappers, burkers, and resurrectionists are almost saints and angels to them.
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It means that the "gorgons and hydras" do much nastier stuff than cursing, gambling, pickpocketing and common iniquities. They are only interested in much graver sins (that, in comparison, make the sins mentioned look like virtues).
     

    enkidu68

    Senior Member
    turkish
    Is what you mean like this: These are the places where the cursing, gambling, class=m5430320325400347336spelle>pickpocketing and vile actions are virtues compared to the normal practices of gorgons and hydras"
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    These (buildings) are places where ordinary sins and crimes are perceived (in comparison) as virtues - virtues that are too noble for the denizens of those places to practice; those denizens are abhorrent creatures (gorgons and hydras), polluted (infected) by something unnamed.

    I guess Melville is referring to brothels - maybe ones whose occupants are showing clear signs of syphilis!
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    To go back a few sentences in the book, the lanes and alleys from which sailors emerge in the morning are pestilent (full of disease) and putrid, full of vice and crime. To me, 'pestilent' and 'putrid' clarify 'infected gorgons and hydras.'

    cross-posted

    Postscript: In Greek mythology the gorgons were female (and the Hydra was a non-human snaky creature). I wonder if Melville picked 'gorgon' to emphasize that the creatures in the Liverpool slums were disease-ridden whores.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Gorgons and Hydras also appeared in Milton's version of Hell.

    Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds,
    Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
    Obominable, inutterable, and worse
    Than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived,
    Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Any time you get a sin that can't be named in 19th century writing it is going to be sexual. Venereal disease was widespread and untreatable. People died from syphilis, and passed it on to spouses and children. Even gonnorhea was very serious and untreatable. Venereal diseases and prostitution were extremely common in sea ports and indeed all big cities, and the only option for sex for most unmarried especially younger men as "decent" women did not have sex outside marriage.

    Syphilis was the AIDS of the 19th century but couldn't be named openly in novels. Like AIDS or HIV, it could lie more or less apparently dormant for years but be contagious.

    Anytime you read something like "his wild and corrupt youth led to him passing a hereditary taint to his child who was born sickly," it's code word for he infected his wife and children with syphilis.
     

    enkidu68

    Senior Member
    turkish
    So, every kind of sins (sexual, gambling etc) committed by seamen are not real sins in comparison to sins committed by those mythological gorgons and hydras.
    What I understand from the comments above is this. What makes me think that way is this part of the sentence: "are virtues too lofty for the infected gorgons and hydras to practice"
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Gorgons and Hydras also appeared in Milton's version of Hell.
    :idea: I think Melville likes Milton.
    So, every kind of sins (sexual, gambling etc) committed by seamen are not real sins in comparison to sins committed by those mythological gorgons and hydras.
    Not exactly.

    The sins (gambling etc - not sexual) committed by (decent) seamen are not real sins in comparison to sins committed by the appalling people who frequented or inhabited those places, who metaphorically are mythological gorgons and hydras.

    Melville seems to think that ordinary decent seamen do not commit sexual sins - an idea that is rather difficult for many of us to credit or fathom in the western world in the 21st century! I think that Melville's perceptive yet prudish outlook is one of his charms.
     
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    enkidu68

    Senior Member
    turkish
    Ah it is clear now. I was not reading those monsters as real peoplle in real life.
    In one way, Melville gives heavy sins not to seamen but to whores, that is ( as you said:) metaphorically are mythological gorgons and hydras )
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Melville actually is not prudish overall but he obviously had to couch his writing in acceptable 19th century euphemisms. He displays a rather raunchy sense of humor in Moby Dick.

    I think the terrible sin he laying on the sex trade is wilfully spreading serious disease, hence the stress on infected. We'd be equally horrified by hearing about a person today that knowingly spread HIV among hundreds of sexual partners.
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    In the context of Melville's rather tongue in cheek references to sexuality elsewhere, including homosocial joking, I would think the horror here is about syphilis not just Victorian prudery. Melville loved the South Pacific with its relaxed sexual norms.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    His narrator is a well-brought-up young gentleman's son, not a hard-bitten sailor. Redburn is definitely semi-autobiographical, but Redburn as the narrator is relatively innocent. Melville doesn't talk about what goes on inside the buildings from which sailors "issue in the morning, robbed naked, from the broken doorways," partly because as the author he doesn't want to be too raunchy for his times, and also because as the narrator he's not supposed to know from first-hand experience what goes on in there.
    He regards the sailors as sinners, but they aren't criminals like the "gorgons and hydras."
    Typee is an example of Melville's writing as someone who knows all about sex but doesn't want to offend the sensibilities of his readers.
     
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