Quest'oro rotondo... - Istituto di Archeologia - Universitą Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
logo UCSCquesto oro rotondo

by Claudia Perassi

Pliny the Elder's thoughts over the nature of gold (Nat. Hist. XXXIII, 58-63) - even if based on erroneous observations - prove how man used to question the special appreciation given to this metal. Brightness, the colour yellow (reminiscent of the sun), pliability, unalterability and rarity are the features that gave gold those metaphorical meanings that we can find throughout different ages and cultures.

A coin made from gold inherits the allegoric power of this metal and becomes a symbol of opposite values: a metaphor of the lowest and meanest aspect of mankind but also (because of its round shape) of perfection and purity.

Herman Melville's pages dedicated to the doubloon from Ecuador - nailed to the mast of the Pequod by Captain Ahab in his manic hunt for Moby Dick - are unparalleled in the way they show the evocative power of a gold coin. As a prize promised to whoever first spotted the White Whale, and for this reason "set apart and sanctified to one awe-striking end", the coin is venerated by all the crew as the "White Whale's talisman". "This round gold is but the image of the rounder globe", says Ahab in front of the coin. Therefore, the doubloon is an image of the world and, "like a magician's glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self". As such, everyone that observes and interprets its carved images (the Andes, the Sun, the Zodiac) in reality is looking into himself.

Click on the images of the coins to enlarge them

doblone"This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me" (Starbuck).
Elemento multimediale non supportato! Listen to the audio file:

"Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one round chapter" (Stubb)
Elemento multimediale non supportato! Listen to the audio file:

"Oh, the gold! The precious, the precious gold!" (Capitano Achab)
Elemento multimediale non supportato! Listen to the audio file:

Melville's Doubloon and the Shield of Achilles, by Daniel H. Garrison, in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 26, No. 2. (Sep., 1971), pp. 171-184 (courtesy of)

iniziali del saggiatore Miguel Vergara carati escudos

© 2008 UCSC Milano