I’ll tell you why, Ishmael. Because men are liars, that’s why.
I’m about halfway through ‘Moby Dick’, and Ishmael is wondering why whales are so poorly depicted anatomically in early paintings and sculptures. Party, because people’s memories are awful and no two descriptions are the same, and they couldn’t see things clearly under water. Also, because men are not great when it comes to giving a honest account of *ahem* physical size. How big? Really? Hmm…I see.
And of course they were going to make them sound scary, describing the thing they had attempted to fight as if it were a freaky sea monster, resulting in these kinds of pictures. A giant jet of water shot from his head. Wait, not one, but two!
And in 1621 Pieter Pietersz Lastman thought Jonah was swallowed by a big carp, one that could hunt on the surface of the water. Run Jonah, run! It’s got your pink curtains in its mouth!
And then these animals were caught, and brought onto land, so we could see their bodies and have a better idea.
Ishmael also takes issue with how what hunting scenes are depicted, and states that no one has captured the essence and accuracy of the scene better than the French, which he remarks of as being strange, as the French were a non-whaling nation. I think that’s probably exactly why they did it best, a distinct lack of sailors and harpooneers spouting dramatic tales in taverns. They were neutral outsiders able to record faithfully both the danger and basic facts. Plus, the French aren’t generally that easily impressed.
While many people in the rest of the world were still painting whales as if they were able swim on, not in, water. Like very big ducks.
I wish duck-whales were a thing. I’d forever be going to the local duck-whale pond, throwing truck-fulls of bread at them.