In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, chapter 21 (Aegri Somnia), the first officer mentions something while taking bearings which causes captain Nemo to appear and scan the horizon. Professor Aronnax, curious about what's being looked at, goes and gets his telescope but:

Then leaning it against the lantern cage that jutted in front of the platform, I prepared to sweep all the line of sky and sea. But I had not placed my eye to it when the instrument was quickly snatched out of my hands.

he's sent off the platform, then joins Ned Land and Conseil for breakfast and all three quickly fall asleep from something placed in the food. In the next chapter (The Coral Kingdom), Aronnax is asked about a crew member who's suffering a severe head injury which happened while the three were unconscious. When asked about the injury:

'How was this wound caused?' I asked. 'What does it matter?' answered the captain evasively. 'A shock of the Nautilus broke one of the levers of the machine, which struck this man. But what do you think of his condition?'

(the crew member dies)

It’s hinted that there was a serious encounter with something that was on the horizon that Nemo didn’t want the three to know about, but it’s never mentioned what it was. Was this ever explained further anywhere else?

  • 3
    have you finished the book? A couple of chapters later Arronax says: "In fact, the mystery of that last afternoon when we were locked in prison and put to sleep, the captain's violent precaution of snatching from my grasp a spyglass poised to scour the horizon, and the fatal wound given that man during some unexplained collision suffered by the Nautilus, all led me down a plain trail. No! Captain Nemo wasn't content simply to avoid humanity! His fearsome submersible served not only his quest for freedom, but also, perhaps, it was used in Lord–knows–what schemes of dreadful revenge"
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 25, 2020 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


The incident in question is almost certainly another instance of Nemo using the Nautilus to ram and destroy naval vessels in the same manner as the USS Abraham Lincoln earlier in the text. It is not confirmed as such by the text but the logical connection is made in the novel.

"How did he get this wound?" I asked him.

"That's not important," the captain replied evasively. "The Nautilus suffered a collision that cracked one of the engine levers, and it struck this man. My chief officer was standing beside him. This man leaped forward to intercept the blow. A brother lays down his life for his brother, a friend for his friend, what could be simpler? That's the law for everyone on board the Nautilus. But what's your diagnosis of his condition?"

Later, in Chapter 45, Aronnax considers:

A whole flood of light burst upon my mind. Doubtless they knew now how to believe the stories of the pretended monster. No doubt, on board the Abraham Lincoln, when the Canadian struck it with the harpoon, Commander Farragut had recognised in the supposed narwhal a submarine vessel, more dangerous than a supernatural cetacean. Yes, it must have been so; and on every sea they were now seeking this engine of destruction. Terrible indeed! if, as we supposed, Captain Nemo employed the Nautilus in works of vengeance. On the night when we were imprisoned in that cell, in the midst of the Indian Ocean, had he not attacked some vessel? The man buried in the coral cemetery, had he not been a victim to the shock caused by the Nautilus? Yes, I repeat it, it must be so. One part of the mysterious existence of Captain Nemo had been unveiled; and, if his identity had not been recognised, at least, the nations united against him were no longer hunting a chimerical creature, but a man who had vowed a deadly hatred against them. All the formidable past rose before me. Instead of meeting friends on board the approaching ship, we could only expect pitiless enemies. But the shot rattled about us. Some of them struck the sea and ricochetted, losing themselves in the distance. But none touched the Nautilus. The vessel was not more than three miles from us. In spite of the serious cannonade, Captain Nemo did not appear on the platform; but, if one of the conical projectiles had struck the shell of the Nautilus, it would have been fatal.

Furthermore, the 1954 film adaptation portrays an underwater funeral very similar to that found in the text for the injured crewman, but this takes place shortly after Prof. Aronnax and his friends discover the Nautilus, suggesting that the crewman died during the attack on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Later in the film, Nemo's use of the Nautilus as a weapon is portrayed again during an attack on a naval vessel carrying slave-manufactured munitions and weapons, and in that instance, the submarine's propulsion system is heavily damaged and requires significant urgent repairs while still sinking following the attack.

A note: Verne's novel was originally written in French and over the years, there have been multiple translations that have, on occasion, made changes to the text itself. The text used here is sourced from the 2001 translation available on WikiSource, so it may differ slightly from other versions of the novel.

  • The version I have is lumped together with Around the World in Eighty Days and From the Earth to the Moon with a copyright date of 1978 - no mention of translation date.
    – Status
    Jun 26, 2020 at 1:02
  • Knew I missed something! People have to interrupt constantly when you're just a few pages from the end!
    – Status
    Jun 26, 2020 at 1:03
  • @Status Ah well the translations won't be so different as to not be mostly the same. The professor would still have figured it out the same way, just not in exactly the same words. I just added the note to explain why my text might not match up with another user's and why I didn't include page numbers or anything like that. Jun 26, 2020 at 1:13

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