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Capital letter C. Numbers 13:24

CAT 39  Capital letter C.  Numbers 13.24.  Taferelen.  BA 54.jpg

CAT 38. Capital letter C. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 11 (from Numbers 13:14) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:123. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Numbers 13: “[23] And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. [24] The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.”

Inside the letter C, this engraving artfully depicts the cluster of grapes, carried on a pole, that was found in the Valley of Eshcol in the land of the Negeb by those who were instructed by Moses and Aaron to “spy out the land of Canaan.” Equally artful is Melville’s allusion to those same grapes in the words of the “The Prodigal” in Clarel:  “Methinks I see / The spies from Eshcol, full of glee / Trip back to camp with clusters swung / From jolting pole on shoulders hung” (NN C 4.26.165-70). Melville’s word picture has the same compact rhythm as the engraved scene; his phrase “Methinks I see” may allude to what he “sees” in his cut-out engraving.

Thirty years before Clarel, Melville had transposed the old Biblical story into a modern Marquesan setting: “There went two, who at a little distance might have been taken for the Hebrew spies, on their return to Moses with the goodly bunch of grapes. One trotted before the other at a distance of a couple of yards, while between them, from a pole resting on their shoulders, was suspended a huge cluster of bananas, which swayed to and fro with the rocking gait at which they proceeded” (NN T 107).