Philosophical artists and artistic philosophers, however they diverge respecting doctrinal matters, often bond beneath the surface in striving to render an ideal image of the sage. Plato, Melville, and Nietzsche were like this, each of them expressing his conception of wisdom through the mask of creative philosophy. Nietzsche insisted that “Every profound spirit needs a mask.” His own uncanny literary persona was his mask, as Socrates was Plato’s, and Ishmael Melville’s. Not Ahab, but the narrator Ishmael is the authentically Nietzschean Yes-sayer of Moby-Dick. Ahab is vanquished by the God he hates, but Ishmael survives the catastrophe to become the man who narrates Ahab’s dark fate with such sparkling insight and wit.
The standard story has it that philosophy developed in contrast to, and reaction against, the supernaturalist-religious view of the world. The early Greeks believed in the Olympian gods, sacrificed and prayed to them, and held regular festivals in their honor. Greek philosophy, it is often claimed, appeared as a light of understanding in the midst of this dark ignorance.
An extended excerpt from Mark Anderson’s book—a study of Plato, Melville, and Nietzsche, framed as a philosophical commentary on Moby-Dick.