Leviathan has been used to describe a number of different beasts, including dragons, whales, and the State. For Carlyle, the Leviathan is Intolerance. The earliest mention of the Leviathan comes from the Book of Job in which the beast swallows Jonah because he acts in anger towards the people whom he should be teaching the ways of God. According to biblical typology, Jonah's imprisonment inside of the Leviathan "prefigure[s] the death and resurrection of Christ" (Petracca).

The exact definition of "Leviathan" is unclear. The Lord describes the leviathan in a way which at first makes it seem like a whale: "His teeth are terrible round about" and "out of his nostrils goeth smoke" (Ellis, 6). However, some of the description appears more fitting for a dragon: "His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal" and "out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out"(Ellis, 6). In the Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelman's entry for Leviathan in his On the Track of Unknown Animals, the leviathan is a "snake, crocodile, jackal, whale, dragon, and great fish" (Ellis, 7). Thomas Hobbes called his doctrine concerning the social contract theory Leviathan, because he saw the State or the Commonwealth as the Leviathan, a being he described as "an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural" (Hobbes).

It can be assumed from Carlyle's comparison between the Leviathan and an island that he sees the great beast as a whale, the most common interpretation. According to Carlyle, many people supported the Test Acts without realizing the unreliability of intolerance. "Intolerance was, and could be nothing but a Monster" and so after people started assuming that the government would continue supporting anti-Catholic legislature, the Leviathan dove underwater and the Test Acts were repealed in 1829, the year Carlyle wrote "Signs of the Times." Carlyle, however, doesn't use the word "whale," probably because "Leviathan" conjures up a much stronger, monstrous image, but also because it recalls the biblical story. The Leviathan swallows Jonah because he cannot tolerate others' jeering and loses his temper, and so both the Bible and "Signs of the Times" associate the Leviathan with intolerance.

Related Material


Ellis, Richard. Monsters of the Sea. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1994. [pages 5-7]

Hobbes, Thomas. "Introduction". Leviathan. 1651.

Petracca, Eugene. "Biblical Typology in D. G. Rossetti's "The Passover in the Holy Family". 26 September 2007. Victorian Web. March 29, 2009. .

Last modified 30 March 2009