Books and Code · A Miscellany

The Composite Nature of Andreas


Today I officially became a published Anglo-Saxon scholar! An expanded version of my Master’s thesis was published in a special issue of Humanities focusing on philology.


Scholars of the Old English poem Andreas have long debated its dating and authorship, as the poem shares affinities both with Beowulf and the signed poems of Cynewulf. Although this debate hinges on poetic style and other internal evidence, the stylistic uniformity of Andreas has not been suitably demonstrated. This paper investigates this question by examining the distribution of oral-formulaic data within the poem, which is then correlated to word frequency and orthographic profiles generated with lexomic techniques. The analysis identifies an earlier version of the poem, which has been expanded by a later poet.

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Mythgard Movie Club, Captive State


My appearance on the Mythgard Movie Club episode featuring Captive State.

Mythgard Movie Club, Night of the Living Dead


My appearance as a panelist on the Mythgard Movie Club episode on the Night of the Living Dead.

Chapter 1—My substitute for pistol and ball


Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

I adore this passage of the first chapter wherein Ishmael explains to us why he decided to go to sea. It resonates with me on several levels. First, I’ve worked as a software engineer in the hydrographic survey industry for the past dozen years and, believe me, nothing refreshes the mind dizzy from staring at computer screens for months than a beautiful summer day on the water doing field tests. Second, I can relate to the frame of mind Ishmael describes; I get such moods myself. For me, one antidote is to lose myself in books—reading them, cataloging them, browsing a bookstore or library stacks. Third, I’ll soon be setting sail on my own adventure into a new industry which is at least partly motivated by a desire to regain the upper hand of my hypos. It took a friend to point out this obvious fact to me.

Still, Ishmael asserts that there is something special about water in this. I can’t say I disagree. After all, I spent a lot of money to buy a second house in another state three hours away in order to sit on the porch and look at a lake. “Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.” But what do we contemplate according to Ishmael?—“the ungraspable phantom of life.” In other words, the basic argument underlying this soliloquy is that humans have an innate need to ponder the meaning of life by peering into the void. But like Narcissus, what we see reflected in that nameless expanse is ourselves. The “overwhelming idea of the great whale himself” is that void made manifest.

This passage also introduces many themes and motifs which will be explored throughout the novel—life as a play and man as actor, commerce and its effects on man and the environment, freewill and slavery. But the overwhelming concern is how one finds meaning in existence and the proper response to whatever one finds.

Surely all this is not without meaning.

We shall see, Ishmael.

Etymology and Extracts: An Overview


“Call me Ishmael.” is one of the most iconic and well-known first sentences in English letters. And it is a lie.

Chapter 1 is a beautiful piece of writing and an evocative introduction to our narrator, but the true first line of Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale is:

The Pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.

For the book begins not at Chapter 1, but with a short explication of the etymology of the word “whale” and a compilation of excerpts from other works that mention whales as prepared by a “pale usher” and “sub-sub-librarian.” Most readers, if they read them at all, don’t put much thought into the significance of these sections. The few that do might simply conclude that Melville is trying to situate his book within a grand or epic scope. While that may be true, I think there is more going on here.

The excerpts include bits and pieces from the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Latin classics, political treatises and legal texts, historical works, travelogues, folk songs and poetry. The only common thread at all is the mention of whales. Can it be that the point of all this is simply to observe that humans have noted the existence of whales throughout history?! Big deal!

Taking these sections seriously as part of the narrative means recognizing that they add an additional layer to the story. Each section has a short preamble explaining how its contents came to be. Are these in the voice of Ishmael, Melville, or someone else? However you answer, simply asking that question has the effect of imbuing the text with a “meta-ness” akin to that provided by J.R.R. Tolkien’s conceit of the Red Book of Westmarch for The Lord of the Rings. It tells the reader that in the universe of Moby-Dick, the narrative has had the effect on prior readers of pushing them to search their inherited stock of cultural wisdom for a coherent significance behind its symbols. But why? What is it about what we are about to read that evokes this feeling?

We are told that the Pale Usher “loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.” The poor Sub-Sub who compiled the extracts to be “entertaining” will nevertheless “forever go thankless” for his efforts. Like the dust that collects on the Usher’s old grammars, the extracts collect on the pages of this narrative to remind the reader not only of his mortality but of the futility of the effort to extract significance from the accumulated attempts to understand a thing. “Give it up, Sub-Subs!”

That is the mindset Melville wants the reader to have as he embarks.