Om statens undergång, Kristus och krokodilens mage. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan i ljuset av en reptilallegori

  • Johan Tralau

Abstract

In this article, the author addresses the question why Thomas Hobbes named his philosophical magnum opus for the Biblical monster Leviathan (1651). It is argued that Hobbes was acutely aware of the political power of images. Moreover, the author claims that the image of Leviathan as the state alludes to a contemporaneous interpretation of Leviathan as a crocodile. By reconstructing the history of the crocodile in European thought, from Aristotle via Diodoros Siculus to influential Christian animal allegories, we can discover the kind of images conjured up by Hobbes’s use of the Leviathan. More specifically, it is shown that the crocodile was interpreted as an image of the Devil. According to influential ancient authors, the crocodile can be defeated by a little animal, the ichneumōn, that is devoured by the crocodile yet defeats it from within. Ancient and mediaeval bestiaries allegorically interpreted the animal as an image of the Christ. Furthermore, Hobbes, by many considered an atheist or deist, constructs metaphors and similes likening the Christian religion to something that is swallowed. By having the crocodile represent the state, Hobbes thus esoterically indicates his disagreements with Christianity and his belief that the Christian doctrine is destructive to the state and inferior to the pagan empires with regard to its capability of inducing law-abiding behaviour on the part of citizens.
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