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Your Starbucks coffee, courtesy of Herman Melville




Have you had your coffee this morning? Did you get it from Starbucks? If so, you have already had a brush with Melville's legacy today.


Monday (August 1st) is the birthday of Herman Melville, born in 1819. His greatest work, Moby Dick, probably sits alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, as the main contender for the title of The Great American Novel.

Aside from their place at the top of the Stateside canon, it's interesting to note other similarities between the works. Both are rather elegiac examinations of obsession, both have their main characters observed (and appraised) by narrators who are also characters in the books (Ishmael in Moby Dick, Nick Carraway in Gatsby) - and, without giving too much away, it doesn't end well for either of the monomaniacs.

Talking of obsessions, have you had your coffee this morning? Did you get it from Starbucks? If so, you have already had a brush with Melville's legacy today.

Starbuck, you see, was the name of the chief mate on the whaler captained by Ahab in pursuit of the great white nemesis that had taken his leg off at the knee on a previous voyage. In fact, Starbuck is pretty much the only crew member who, rather sensibly, points out that the idea of getting 'revenge' on a bloody big fish is kind of nuts. 

He wasn't, however, the first choice of the founders of the coffee chain that took over the world. Originally they wanted to name it after the boat itself: the Pequod. It was only when someone pointed out that the slogan, 'Enjoy a hot cup of Pequod' might not have many takers that they came up with the name that now means coffee but originally meant, You're going to get us all killed, you one-legged loon.

So, happy birthday for Monday, Herman!

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