Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan


The title page of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, or The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651), with its famous engraving by French artist Abraham Bosse (see NAEL 8, 1.1596). Written in Paris during Hobbes’s residence there (1640–51) and published in London, the book argues Hobbes’s theory of absolute sovereignty: the sovereign power (which may be a single monarch or some other form) is constituted by compact of all residents of the nation who, once they have transferred all power to the sovereign power and incorporated themselves within him or them have no right of rebellion against or resistance to that sole, indivisible, and absolute authority. The engraving illustrates Hobbes’s theory. It presents the upper half of a man who wears an imperial crown and carries a sword and a bishop’s crosier, indicating his sole exercise of both civil and ecclesiastical power. His body is made up of innumerable men in the act of incorporating themselves in the person of the sovereign; most of them wear the garb of gentlemen (cloak and tall hat), but a few wear overalls or clerical garb. The Latin inscription reads Non Est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei Job 41:24 [There is no power on earth which can be compared to him]. Leviathan wields his power over a walled city and the surrounding countryside, within which stands, very prominently, a church, again symbolizing his power over all regions and institutions of the nation. On the left side of the title (under Leviathan’s sword) are scenes and symbols of his absolute power over the state and all its institutions, military might, and orders of men: a castle, a coronet, a cannon, sundry weapons, trophies, and flags, and a scene of battle. Paralleling these on the right side, under the crosier, are scenes and symbols of his absolute power over the church and all its institutions and personages: a church, a bishop’s miter, a thunderbolt signifying excommunication, the weapons of logic used in discussing ecclesiastical issues, and a scene of disputation in the schools of theology

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