Comparison of the Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Dore

By Alyssa Zint

Would a sea monster make a better ruler than a human being?  Does such a question seem irrational to you?  The stories of the mythological creature leviathan have been sited over centuries of both political and religious history.  Through an analysis of the two sources Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré it is apparent that Hobbes contradicts himself by titling his work Leviathan; in order to see this view it is necessary to examine the history of each source, to compare the relevance of the sources, and to establish the present significance of each source.

We must acknowledge the historical context of an era, because it is important to understand the political, religious, and scientific influences of the time in which a piece of work was created. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) lived through the modern revolution and contributed his own text to the era in 1651, in which he titled Leviathan (Johnston, 1986).  Leviathan is a book of Hobbes’ moral and political philosophies.  This work was created in reaction to the civil war that was currently going on in England (Johnston, 1986).  Through his written word, Hobbes gave the people a new perspective on government affairs and hoped that his theories could extinguish the civil disorder that presently existed in England, as well as many other countries in Europe (Raphael, 1977).

Throughout the 17th century, the people of England fought for a more democratic form of government; however, Thomas Hobbes was not in opposition to a monarchial form of government like many of the English people.  In fact, in Hobbes’ work Leviathan he argues that a democratic form of government would never work, because people would use the power of voting to promote their own personal interests (Hobbes, 1651; Raphael, 1977; Johnston, 1986).  Hobbes saw people as naturally wicked and evil; therefore he claimed that people could not be trusted to govern themselves (Hobbes, 1651; Raphael, 1977; Johnston, 1986).  According to Hobbes, a monarchial form of government would provide the people with a sense of leadership and direction; it would also protect people from their own selfishness (Hobbes, 1651).  He declared that the best form of government would be a monarchy that was under the power of a leviathan.

The term leviathan can be defined as a sea monster, sea serpent, or whale; this term has been sited throughout mythological and religious history.  The story of leviathan can be traced all the way back to Mesopotamian mythology (Leviathan, 2012).  Although many different forms of the story of Leviathan have been created, the basic story of leviathan is as follows:  Leviathan, the seven-headed monster of the sea, was slayed by God and his mighty sword, and then the serpent’s body was given to the people of the wilderness as a source of food.  Leviathan is referenced six times in the Hebrew bible and it has been said that Leviathan is meant to symbolize the enemies of Israel (Leviathan, 2012).

The bible entry Isaiah 27:1 inspired the French artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883) to create his own illustration to represent the story of Leviathan (Gustave Doré, 2012).  The scripture states:

“In that day, the Lord…shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan the crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea (Isaiah 27).”

From this biblical entry, Doré produced a physical representation of the biblical creature leviathan (Doré, 1865).  He published his work in 1865 and titled the artwork Destruction of Leviathan (Doré, 1865; Gustave Doré, 2012).  Doré’s work was a detailed engraving of the great serpent being slain by God’s sword.  This piece of work was just one of Gustave’s many biblical illustrations (Gustave Doré, 2012).  In my opinion, it seems odd that Thomas Hobbes would name his most famous work after a creature that is grounded in religious and mythological history.

The work of Thomas Hobbes was meant to reflect rationalism and realism; however, by titling his book Leviathan, he contradicts his own work.  Hobbes took the position of being against religion and was even called an atheist by some (Raphael, 1977; Johnston, 1986), yet he titled his work after a biblical creature.  He stresses several times throughout his work Leviathan that God has no place in politics and that God should be removed from the monarchial system (Hobbes, 1651; Raphael, 1977; Johnston, 1986).  This view was relevant to the era in that it was in direct conflict with King James’s Divine Right of Kings, which stated that a king’s power is indisputable because God chose him to rule (Frankfortor and Spellman, 2009).

Thomas Hobbes contributed several ideas to the political, moral, and philosophical fields; however, his claim that a sea monster would be the best type of monarch was unrealistic, and discredited what was supposed to be a realistic and rational perspective.  Hobbes favored the removal of God from the political system, yet he claimed that the instatement of a different religious figure, the leviathan, would dissolve civil disorder.  If Hobbes had the intent of separating religion from politics and disproving other religious beliefs, then he should not have named his work Leviathan.

            Both of these sources, Leviathan and Destruction of Leviathan, make a reference to a distinguished biblical creature.  Despite the fact that these two primary sources were of a different genre of media, they still share some commonalities in that they upheld a religious basis.  The influence that these sources produced can still be seen today; however, the relevance of the influences that led to the creation of these works has made the knowledge within the sources seem outdated.

Today, Leviathan has been demoted to a simple artifact, rather than a respectable piece of political theory (Berkowitz, 2008).  Many scholars disregard the political theories of Thomas Hobbes, because his theories have been said to possess no contemporary relevance to the political framework; Hobbes argued for an absolute monarchy as opposed to a democracy (Raphael, 1977).  Rather, Hobbes rivals political theory and poses arguments against the current framework.  The ideas and opinions of Hobbes were eye-opening in his time, but now his ideas have lost their value and overall impact on society (Berkowitz, 2008).  The political and moral theory presented in Leviathan should not be discredited; one must understand the history and context of the era in which Hobbes lived in order to fully understand the relevance of his ideas (Raphael, 1977; Berkowitz, 2008).

Gustave Doré’s illustration, Destruction of Leviathan, still possesses a strong attachment to the Hebrew and Christian bibles (Doré, 1865). The use of translation has altered the meaning of Isaiah 27:1, which was the inspiration for this piece of Doré’s work, in various bible publications and languages (Leviathan, 2012).  Despite the variation in translations, Doré’s artwork still complements the Isaiah very well.

After conducting an analysis of the two sources Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré, it is apparent that Hobbes contradicts himself by titling his work Leviathan.  The analysis included an examination of the history of each source, a comparison of the relevance of the sources, and the establishment of the present significance of each source.  The stories of the mythological creature leviathan have been sited over centuries of both political and religious history, and can still be seen today.


Berkowitz, P. (2008).  Stanford University: Ideas defining a free society.  Leviathan then and


Doré, G. (1865). Destruction of Leviathan. [Photograph]. In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Retrieved from

Frankfortor, A. D. and Spellman, W. M. (2009). The west: A narrative history, Volume 2

(2nd ed.).  New York: Pearson.

Gustave Doré. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Hobbes, T.  (2005). Then again…: Primary sources.  Leviathan. Retrieved from (Original work published 1651)

Isaiah 27.

Johnston, D. (1986).  The rhetoric of leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the politics of cultural

transformation.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press

Leviathan. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Raphael, D.D. (1977).  Hobbes: Morals and politics.  London:  Alden Press

Posted by: Alyssa Zint


3 Comments so far

  1.    Leo Jay on August 27, 2013 3:31 am

    How can a leviathan be compatible in a democratic form of governance? …
    and how can we solve the problem of relativistic view in having an absolute sovereign??

  2.    Leo Jay on August 27, 2013 3:32 am

    Im kinda working on mt thesis about Hobbes particularly on the relation of Leviathan in today’s democratic form of governance… please help me provide sources and articles which might help. thanks!

  3.    Thom on December 7, 2013 3:45 pm

    The leviatan is only one step to peace and not the whole answer. The absolute sovereign is as far as i understand completly responsible for his actions and decisions. In modern systems it seems sometimes, that nobody like to be responsible, when something goes wrong. This is just my opinion.

    Have a nice day!

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