Triangulating Math, Mozart and ‘Moby-Dick’

Siobhan Roberts in The New York Times:

For the mathematician Sarah Hart, a close reading of “Moby-Dick” reveals not merely (per D.H. Lawrence) “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” but also a work awash in mathematical metaphors. “Herman Melville, he really liked mathematics — you can see it in his books,” said Dr. Hart, a professor at Birkbeck, University of London, during a February talk on “Mathematical Journeys into Fictional Worlds.”

“When he’s reaching for an allusion or a metaphor, he’ll often pick a mathematical one,” she said. “‘Moby-Dick’ has loads of lovely juicy mathematics in it.” Near the beginning of the story, Ishmael, the narrator, describes the stingy landlord and his wares at Spouter-Inn: “Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though true cylinders without — within, the villainous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downward to a cheating bottom. Parallel meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads’ goblets.”

And at the end, Captain Ahab praises the loyal cabin boy, Pip, with geometry: “True art thou, lad, as the circumference to its center.”

More here.