Study Help Full Glossary for Billy Budd


about ship return to duties.

Abraham may have caught young Isaac Melville compares the Captain's private conference with Billy to Abraham's intimate discussion with Isaac, his condemned son, in Genesis 22:1–8 of the Old Testament.

according to the Articles of War As stated in Article XXII of the Principles and Practice of Naval and Military Courts Martial, enacted in 1749: "If any officer, mariner, soldier, or other person in the fleet, shall strike any of his superior officers, or draw, or offer to draw, or lift any weapon against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretence whatsoever, every such person being convicted of such offence, by the sentence of a court martial, shall suffer death."

afterguardsman a watchman in the stern of the ship.

Aldebaran bright red star in the eye of the constellation Taurus and the brightest of the Hyades.

Alfred in his funeral ode Alfred, Lord Tennyson, England's poet laureate, wrote "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington."

an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational a deceitful method of pretending to be logical.

Anacharsis Cloots The Baron de Cloots, according to Thomas Carlyle in his French Revolution, amassed a group of men from a variety of coun­tries at the French National Assembly.

Apollo the ancient Greek sun god revered for his physical beauty.

as much in sanctuary . . . under the altar During the Middle Ages, a person pursued by law enforcement officers could escape capture by taking refuge in a church, convent, or monastery.

Assyrian priests . . . grand sculptured Bull Priests in Babylonia, a great kingdom on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, worshipped Baal, the god of fertility and rain, in the form of a great bull.

became obsolete with their wooden walls the refinements in cannons greatly affected the design of warships.

belay rope tied around a rock or some other secure item.

Bellipotent The ship takes its name from an archaic adjective meaning "mighty in war."

Benthamites Utilitarians who, like Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), believed that pleasure is a major criterion of happiness.

the bluejackets slang term for English sailors.

boatswain the ship's officer charged with summoning the crew for duty.

Bucephalus the favorite horse of Alexander the Great.

buffer of the gang a malcontented or incompetent crew member.

bulwarks walls of the ship.

by-blow an illegitimate child.

Cain's city In Genesis 4:17, Cain, a son of Adam, commits the first murder against his own brother, is exiled, and founds a city.

Calvin's dogma as to total mankind the philosophy of John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian faith, that the fate of each person is determined from birth.

Camoëns' Spirit of the Cape an allusion to Camoëns' Lusiad, the Portuguese epic describing the exploits of Vasco de Gama. In one interlude, the giant Adamastor is transformed into a vast rock, which represents the spirit of the Cape of Good Hope.

the capital founded by Peter the Barbarian St. Petersburg, the capi­tal of Russia established by Peter the Great (1672–1725), an autocratic czar.

capstan an upright, revolving post around which rope is wound.

Caspar Hauser a wandering youth of unknown origin who appeared in Nuremberg in 1828.

Chang and Eng famous Siamese twins who lived from 1811 to 1874.

chevalier adventurer, or con man.

Chiron . . . his young Achilles an allusion to the learned centaur in Greek mythology who tutored Achilles.

close-reefing topsails in a gale climbing out on a yardarm during bad weather to tie up the sails so that they will not be ripped by strong winds.

coadjutor an assistant.

Coke and Blackstone English lawyers who produced influential legal commentaries.

a coronet for Nelson at the Nile . . . crowns for him at Trafalgar rewards which Nelson earned for his victories.

coxswain a steersman.

cutter a rowboat.

dance-houses, doxies, and tapsters . . . a "fiddler's green" dance halls, prostitutes, and bartenders create a sailor's paradise.

darbies handcuffs.

De Grasse French officer defeated by the British in the Leeward Islands in 1782.

deadeyes blocks of wood containing holes where ropes are tied.

Delphic deliverances oracles proclaimed by Apollo's priestess at Delphi in ancient Greece.

disciplinary castigation over a gun a method of punishing sailors by tying them face down over the barrel of a cannon and flogging them.

the divine judgment on Ananias In the New Testament, Peter confronts Ananias for retaining money that belongs to the church. Ananias immediately falls down dead (Acts 5:1–5).

dogwatch a short period of duty between 4 and 6 p.m. or 6 and 8 p.m.

Dr. Johnson Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709–84), English lexicographer.

drumhead court an impromptu court-martial, so named because during wartime, military justice was a hurried affair held in the field of battle. The flat side of a drum served in place of a table.

the envious marplot of Eden the serpent that tempted Eve in Genesis 3:4–5.

the fallen Bastille The capture of the famous Paris fortress-prison signaled the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.

Flemish horse a rope used as a foothold.

forecastle the area on the bow (forward end) of the ship where the sailors live.

forechains chains at the bow (front) of the ship that connect to the anchor.

foremast the front mast.

foreyard . . . mainyard Billy is hanged from the yardarm holding the mainsail rather than from a lower one, as is the usual practice.

Fra Angelico's seraphs angels painted by Giovanni da Fiesole (1387–1455), known as "Fra Angelico," or the angelic friar.

free from cant One reason that Vere likes Montaigne's writing is that it is straightforward and easy to understand.

frigates smaller, lighter warships used for reconnaissance more than heavy fighting.

fustian pompous, extravagant speech.

the glittering dental satire of a Guise the toothy smile of a deceiver like one of the Guises, a powerful Ducal family of Renaissance Italy.

the good-natured poet's famous invocation a quotation from Book IV of Martial's Epigrams.

the Graces three sisters from Greek mythology who bestowed charm and beauty.

groundlings inferior sailors.

Haden's etching a work of art by Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910).

halyards ropes used to raise and lower sails.

Ham In Genesis 9:22–25, Ham is Noah's son and father of many nations. Tradition claims that Noah cursed Ham's offspring with black skin because Ham dishonored his father.

hardtack a ship's biscuits.

harness of breeching and strong side-tackles the devices that anchor back and sides of cannons to prevent them from jolting out of position.

harpies monsters from Greek mythology with faces and bodies of women and the wings and claws of birds.

hawser cable.

Hyperion an ancient Greek sun god that predates Apollo.

impressed on the Narrow Seas forced to leave private employ and enter the Royal Navy while sailing the Irish Sea or the English Channel.

in short, Greek The terse words of the surgeon relegate the purser's musings to the more imaginative world of Greek literature, which he sets in stark contrast to the trenchant laws of science.

an inordinate usurer Revenge is like a moneylender who demands high interest rates.

Irish shindy a noisy brawl.

Jemmy Legs a slang term for any master-at-arms.

jewel-block a device that extends a sail fully to each end of the yard.

Jonah's toss the act of throwing overboard anything unlucky, as happened to Jonah in the Bible (Jonah 1:7–15).

a jury of casuists a panel of quibblers.

the Last Assizes the Christian concept of Judgment Day, when all souls will face Almighty God, the judge.

living trophies . . . in the Roman triumph of Germanicus Ancient Romans during the time of Germanicus Caesar (15 B.C.–19 A.D.) celebrated wartime victory with a period of thanksgiving marked by a triumphal procession of captured weapons, horses, and human hostages, especially nobles and their children.

long rammers and shorter instocks tools for loading and firing cannons.

man-of-war an armed navy vessel.

marlinspike a pointed iron tool used to separate strands of rope.

master-at-arms chief policeman and peacekeeper on a naval vessel.

the minister of Christ though receiving his stipend from Mars Melville is emphasizing a paradox: the chaplain's service to a god of peace is salaried by the War Department.

Murat Joachim Murat (1767–1815), Napoleon's marshal and King of Naples, gave himself airs in both dress and mannerisms.

the Mutiny Act a law dating to 1689 which sought to halt mutiny and desertion from the British army.

niter and sulphur the ingredients in gunpowder.

the Nore the mouth of the Thames River.

official rattan a flexible cane used as a symbol of office and as a disciplinary weapon.

an old Dansker long anglicized in the service a Dane who has been in the navy so long that he seems English.

one of Hawthorne's minor tales "The Birthmark."

Orpheus with his lyre Captain Vere, a deep reader, knows the value of music, which he connects with the powerful performances of Orpheus, a character in Greek mythology who, with his music, sways the gods of the Underworld to let his dead wife, Eurydice, return to life.

pagod an archaic spelling of "pagoda," meaning pagan idol.

palliating circumstances excuses, or justifications.

perdue hidden.

petty officer a non-commissioned officer.

the Pharisee is the Guy Fawkes a hypocrite like Guy Fawkes, the villain who tried unsuccessfully to blow up London's Houses of Parliament in 1605.

phrenologically associated with more than average intellect The pseudo-science of phrenology claims to be able to assess a person's capabilities by analyzing the shape and size of the head.

plucking apples in gardens of the Hesperides The Hesperides were nymphs of early Greek mythology who guarded a grove of trees bearing sacred golden apples.

the poop deck the high deck at the stern (back) of the ship, named from a corruption of the Latin word puppis, which means "stern."

the Pope of that time Gregory the Great (c. 540–604).

powder-boys and younger tars the younger sailors, who climb to better vantage points from which to view the execution.

the prophet in the chariot . . . dropping his mantle to Elisha Melville compares the departure of night to the ascension of the prophet Elijah and the passing of his mantle to Elisha, his successor (II Kings 2:11–13).

purser the ship's accountant.

quarter-deck the part of the upper deck between main-mast and stern.

quidnuncs gossips or busybodies; literally, "what now" in Latin.

Radcliffian romance popular mystery novels written by Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823).

rated as an able seaman top ranking for a sailor, above "ordinary seaman" and "boy."

the regicidal French Directory the five-man government that replaced the French monarchy following the execution of King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, in 1793.

the sailing master the navigation officer.

Saul's . . . the comely young David This allusion compares Claggart's deadly envy of Billy Budd to King Saul's envy of David after he creates a name for himself as a warrior and threatens Saul's heroic stance before his subjects (I Samuel 18:6–13).

the Saxon strain characterized by blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes.

seventy-four the number of guns on a medium-sized battleship.

shrouds and backstays ropes that connect the side and stern of the ship to the mast and act as stabilizers.

Spithead a strait between the Isle of Wight and southern England near Portsmouth.

the spokesman of the envious children of Jacob . . . of young Joseph This allusion from the Bible (Genesis 37:31–33) connects Claggart's deceitful act with that of the liar who convinced Jacob that a wild beast had devoured Joseph, his youngest and favorite son.

starboard watch of the foretop a guard post on a platform at the front mast on the right side of the ship.

stateroom private compartment, or quarters.

strains of Dibdin songs composed by Charles Dibdin (1745–1814).

stun-sails small sails set on the backside of the mast during light winds.

taffrail railing around a ship's stern.

tampioned stoppered (when not in use).

tars a slang term for sailors.

Tecumseh a Shawnee chief.

that forward part . . . allotted to the pipe the part of the deck where sailors were allowed to smoke.

that great spar a pole used as a mast.

that lexicon which is based on Holy Writ a book that defines and explains scripture.

thews of Billy Billy's physical strength, as opposed to Claggart's more cerebral powers.

under the lee of the booms sheltered by the supports at the bottom of the sails.

understrapper a subordinate.

ursine bear-like.

the waist the middle portion of the ship.

warrant officers naval officers of the middle rank, between commis­sioned officers and non-commissioned officers, who rose from the lowest rank.

was keeping incog was keeping his past a secret.

waxing merry with his tipple becoming happily intoxicated.

welkin-eyed having eyes as blue as the sky.

Wellington the famed soldier who brought about Napoleon's downfall at Waterloo.

the wind in the cordage the sound of the wind passing through the ropes.

Back to Top