It has been a long while (29 chapters!) since we have heard from Captain Ahab. We ve been regaled with much erudition concerning whales and whaling -- now back to monomaniacs. Back in Chapter 70, speaking to the decapitated head of a Sperm Whale, your captain and mine was heard to say "Speak, thou vast and venerable head; speak, mighty head and tell us the secret that is in thee." In this chapter he addresses himself to the gold coin he nailed to the mainmast as a reward to him who could "raise him Moby Dick".
"But one morning, turning to pass the doubloon, Ahab seemed to be newly attracted by the strange figures and inscriptions stamped on it, as though now for the first time beginning to interpret for himself in some monomaniac way whatever significance might lurk in them. And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth, and the round world itself but an empty cipher, except to sell by the cartload, as they do hills about Boston, to fill up some morass in the Milky Way." Note that it has been suggested that Melville has put a "cipher" -- a coded message -- in this book, possibly in the middle of Chapter 68. The reader is hereby challenged to find and decode the cipher in Chapter 68.
The gold coin was minted in Quito, Ecuador and carried much engraved symbolism: perched on each of three mountain peaks was a flame, a tower, and a crowing rooster. [In Chapter 3, Ishmael wonders at the meaning of the three lines in the mysterious painting.] Above this were signs of the zodiac with the Sun entering the equinox in the sign of Libra, the scales. Ahab sees himself as the mountain peaks, the firm tower, the undaunted, victorious fowl, and the flame as a volcano. "All are Ahab," says he. But he sees the Sun entering the sign of storms -- the equinox! and he philosophizes, "From storm to storm! So be it then. Born in throes, 'tis fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs!"
Next to visit the doubloon is Starbuck who sees the Holy Trinity in the three peaks and the Sun as the hope of God above the vale of Death. "Yet, oh, the great Sun is no fixture; and if, at midnight, we would fain snatch some sweet solace from him, we gaze for him in vain!"
Stubb has been watching, and marks that both his superiors have long faces after contemplating the bright gold orb. He decides it's worth a look, and is so intrigued with the zodiac signs on the coin that he scurries below to get his "almanack". Gazing from coin to book, he gets an insight: "By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one round chapter [shades of Shakespeare]: and now I'll read it off, straight out of the book. Come Almanack! To begin: there's Aries, or the Ram -- lecherous dog, he begets us; then, Taurus, or the Bull -- he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini, or the Twins -- that is, Virtue and Vice . . ." Stubb ends the sermon in the sign of Pisces, where we sleep.
Next comes the third mate, Flask, who can only see nine hundred and sixty cigars worth of gold nailed to the mast. The old Manxman, sailor from the Isle of Man, decides that the White Whale will be raised in one of the signs on the coin: Virgo, Libra, or Scorpio, i.e. between August 22 and November 22. Queequeg compares the face of the coin to his tattoos. Little negro boy Pip is last to react to the doubloon, babbling and conjugating the verb look. Then he says that the coin is the ship's navel; then he says that the White Whale will nail Ahab, and the mast with the coin nailed to it won't be found until the resurrection, when it's fished up from the bottom of the sea.