Whale Tale

Over Memorial Day weekend in Montana I had the chance to fish the Big Hole with my dad for a day. We spent most of the float discussing art history in preparation for our big family trip to Italia. Because he is more scholarly than I, he has done infinitely more homework. So I felt it was a prime opportunity to draft off of his heavy lifting and have him download all the bullet points as we cast streamers. Actually, I cast streamers while he rowed and shared everything he had read up on.

The most interesting nugget? When he was dutifully studying each and every panel of the Sistine Chapel he noticed that the  prophet Jonah was depicted next to….not a whale…but a tarpon! Wait, waaat? Jonah and The Tarpon? That’s not what I learned in Vacation Bible School. I demand a refund.

Oh yeah, that’s a tarpon alright. I should know…have I mentioned I caught my first tarpon in Belize last November?

But I digress.

You see, the Bible never actually said it was a whale that swallowed Jonah, it said it was a “great fish.” (And a tarpon certainly is a great fish.) Or in some Biblical mentions, the Greek translation describes it as a “sea monster.” The term “whale” wasn’t brought into the story until the King James Version of the Bible called it a whale in 1611.

But Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508-1512.

So many fascinating questions emerge. Why did Michelangelo assume the great fish was a tarpon? Where had he seen a  tarpon, enough to know it in such detail? Were tarpon prevalent in Italy in the 1500’s? How did a tarpon swallow a man? How did Jonah survive inside the belly of a fish for three days? Do you believe in miracles? Is there decent tarpon fishing in Italy? Will we have time to throw a line while we are there?

Once again I digress. Besides, I think we would need to recruit a crack team of art historians, marine biologists, theologians, and Italian flyfishing guides to solve such mysteries…and I don’t have that kind of time. I have to finish packing! The best I can do for now is point you to this very interesting article on MIDCURRENT by Norman Duncan in which he explores Michelangelo’s tarpon on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and discusses early depictions of tarpon in art.

With that, I am off to load my ipad with all of Rossano Brazzi’s movies and cram a few more items in Little Chick’s bag since she left room to shop for souvenirs and my bag is stuffed to the gills. We leave for Italy super early tomorrow morning…we have to get up even earlier than when I went fishing in Belize and caught my first tarpon. Sorry, did I already mention that? At any rate, I’ll be thinking of yall while we’re traveling. In fact, I plan to post a few daily photos for you on my instagram account which is flyfishchick. You’re welcome to follow along. Nine days until we’re stateside again…until then…

CIAO! CI VEDIAMO! Catch you on the flipside.


(Copyright 2013 by Christine Warren)

3 Responses to “Whale Tale”
  1. Alex H says:

    Nice Post. Yep that certainly is a tarpon.

    Where about’s are you heading to in Italy. By the sounds of it you will be making a stop off in Rome. But if you’re an art lover you can’t go past the gli uffizzi gallery in Florence. Just stunning!

  2. Ginna says:

    Loved the post. Especially since I had contemplated the whole Jonah and the whale thing as I watched the Humpback whales in Alaska. Hmm–now i am again baffled as I learned that whales can’t swallow anything bigger than a small fish because of their throats or something like that? I thought that explained it all–now I have to re-think if the whale was actually a tarpon. What fun to explore the tarpon as Clif jumped his first a few weeks ago in Boca! Missing you!

  3. Poon says:

    That’s a ‘Poon alright! Definitely aren’t any Tarpon in Italy or anywhere north of Africa on the east coast!

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