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Billy Budd, Sailor
Herman Melville

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Mystery of Iniquity In 2 Thessalonians (2:7), Paul says "the mystery of iniquity doth already work." Vere uses the scriptural phrase to cut short any discussion by the drumhead court of those things that they cannot reasonably debate according to logic or within the bounds of naval law. The classification of the mystery as one of "iniquity" suggests Vere's recognition of the violations.


Nelson, Admiral Sir Horatio Widely considered England's greatest naval hero, Nelson spent nearly his entire life at sea. Though ill health forced an early retirement, he was recalled to duty at the outbreak of war with France in 1793. He joined the British fleet in the Mediterranean with command of the Agamemnon. Having risen to the rank of rear admiral by 1797, Nelson distinguished and injured himself in several battles over the next few years (including the Battles of the Nile, of Copenhagen, and of Trafalgar). By 1803, he had risen to the rank of commander in chief of the entire fleet. Killed by a sharpshooter's bullet during the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, he is said to have uttered: "Thank God I have done my duty." In Billy Budd, for Captain Vere (as for most sailor's both during and after the Napoleonic Wars), Nelson serves as the supreme icon for both naval skill and loyal duty to country and king.

nonage 1. The period during which one is legally underage. 2. A period of immaturity: "The bravest achievements were always accomplished in the nonage of a nation" (Thomas Paine).

nonplus As a verb, to put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do; bewilder. As a noun, a state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment.

Nore ("The Great Mutiny) The Nore is a sandbank located in the estuary of the Thames River at its confluence with the Medway River (for many years, the sandbank was a primary anchorage for ships in the British fleet). In 1797, there was a mutiny at Nore led by Richard Parker of H.M.S. Sandwich.The sailors rebelled against the policies of impressment, unequal pay, poor quality rations, and strict limitations for leave. Their mutiny failed. Tried and convicted, Parker and 24 others were hanged from the yardarm.


open deck One of the terms applied to the central part of the main or spar-deck between the foremast and the mainmast.

Oracle at Delphi The Oracle, associated with the god Apollo, was the place to which people came in search of prophecies. It was held to be the center of the world, at which a priestess of Apollo would deliver prophecies inspired by the trance-inducing vapors that rose from a deep cleft in the rock. The intimacy between the gods and man that reigned at Delphi was believed ultimately to instruct man on how to make peace with the gods; but the delivery of the oracular truths was often compromised by ambiguity (while the prophecy was always true, it was not always clear). Melville focuses on the equivocal quality of the Dansker's, or Dane's oracular pronouncements. He tells the truth but for Billy, this truth is not understandable when it is veiled in ambiguity.
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