Only 134 pages (that's twenty-eight chapters) into the novel does Melville give us our first glimpse of Captain Ahab. He's been teasing us all along, deftly using the old trick of allowing us (through Ishmael) to hear about him through various and sometimes conflicting, but always a bit dark and strange, points of view.
As a result, every day Ishmael climbs onto the deck, he glances back toward Ahab's quarters, never seeing the man until...
It was one of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I leveled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehention; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
Reading, or listening, your heart stops for a moment. At last. He's here.
Now forgive me a long quotation, but I think this introduction is worth the wait:
There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say. By some tacit consent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion was made to it, especially by the mates.
It's not many details, but they are so beautifully and precisely sketched, filled with both allusions and alliterations, that you seem to get a sense of his soul as well as his body. This marked man.
Now, how much of that I'm bringing to the text, given that I do know where the story is heading, I can't say. But after hearing this passage, I went to my hard copy and re-read it twice.