1. Person
  2. Male
  3. FRBR Collection
  4. Sea captain
  5. English
  6. Melville, Herman (1819-1891)
    • Captain Ahab is a fictional character and one of the main protagonists in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). He is the monomaniacal captain of the whaling ship Pequod. On a previous voyage, the white whale Moby Dick bit off Ahab's leg, and he now wears a prosthetic leg made out of whalebone. The whaling voyage of the Pequod ends up as a hunt for revenge on the whale, as Ahab forces the crew members to support his fanatical mission. When Moby Dick is finally sighted, Ahab's hatred robs him of all caution, and the whale drags Ahab to the bottom of the sea.

      Melville biographer Andrew Delbanco calls Ahab "a brilliant personification of the very essence of fanaticism".[1] Scholar F. O. Matthiessen calls attention to the fact that Ahab is called an "ungodly god-like man". Ahab's "tragedy is that of an unregenerate will" whose "burning mind is barred out from the exuberance of love" and argues that he "remains damned".[2] Writer D. H. Lawrence felt little sympathy for Ahab and found that the whale should have "torn off both his legs, and a bit more besides".[3]

      The character of Ahab was created under the influence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's lecture on Hamlet and figures in biblical and classical literature such as Shakespeare and Milton. His prosthesis, for instance, has been taken for an allusion to the Oedipus myth.[4]

      Ahab is firmly established in popular culture by cartoons, comic books, films and plays. Most famously, he provided J. M. Barrie with the model for his Captain Hook character, who is obsessed not with a whale but a crocodile.[