Thursday, February 02, 2012


Blake's Illustrations to the Book of Job
Butts Set 1805
From Wikipedia Commons

Northrop Frye gives an explanation of the roles played by Leviathan and Behemoth in the chapter Blake's Reading of the Book of Job in Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake, edited by Angela Esterhammer. On Plate 15 Job is shown the monstrous forms of Leviathan and Behemoth. Frye's key to extricating oneself from the control of these forces is a change of perspective. Accepting the view of the world from within these monsters distorts vision. Seeing them for what they are is achieved by distancing oneself and looking from outside the system at the sources of destruction.

Page 377
... "The next step is to realize that Satan is the enemy of God, that his rule is not inevitable but is to be fought by God's creative power, and that this creative power exists nowhere at present except in man's creative power. At that point we pass into plate 15, where there are only two levels, God and Job united on top, and below them the cycle of nature inhabited by Behemoth and Leviathan.

"These monsters are identical with Satan, except that, being Satan revealed instead of Satan mysterious and disguised as God, they represent, not so much the natural miseries of drought and famine and pestilence, as the social and political miseries symbolized mainly, in the Bible, by Egypt and Babylon, and in the Book of Job itself by the Sabean Raiders. Ezekiel (chapter 29) identifies the Leviathan with the Pharaoh of Egypt, and Daniel (chapter 4) tells how Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon turned into Behemoth, the subject of several Blake pictures. The political aspect of the monsters is brought out in the phrases emphasized by Blake on Plate 15: Behemoth is 'chief of the ways of God' and Leviathan is 'King over all the Children of Pride' [Job 40:19, 41:34]. As the power in man that makes for tyranny rather than civilization, they can be, if not destroyed, at least brought under some measure of control, like the Blatant Beast in Spencer. At the same time the root of tyranny, for Blake, is still natural religion, the establishing of the order of nature, whether theistically or atheistically regarded, as the circumference of human effort (the original meaning of 'Urizen'). Hence we are all born inside the belly of Leviathan, the world of stars and indefinite places, but those who can see Leviathan for what he is have been placed outside him, like Jonah, and like Job in plate 15. After Job has attained this enlightenment, the prophecy of Jesus is fulfilled and Satan falls from heaven (pl. 16)."

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 17, (E 41)
"So I remaind with him sitting in the twisted [PL 18] root of
an oak. he was suspended in a fungus which hung with the head
downward into the deep:
By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke
of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance was the sun,
black but shining[;] round it were fiery tracks on which revolv'd
vast spiders, crawling after their prey; which flew or rather
swum in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals
sprung from corruption. & the air was full of them, & seemd
composed of them; these are Devils. and are called Powers of the
air, I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said,
between the black & white spiders
But now, from between the black & white spiders a cloud and
fire burst and rolled thro the deep blackning all beneath, so
that the nether deep grew black as a sea & rolled with a terrible
noise: beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest,
till looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a
cataract of blood mixed with fire and not many stones throw from
us appeard and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent.
at last to the east, distant about three degrees appeard a fiery
crest above the waves slowly it reared like a ridge of golden
rocks till we discoverd two globes of crimson fire. from which
the sea fled away in clouds of smoke, and now we saw, it was the
head of Leviathan. his forehead was divided into streaks of green
& purple like those on a tygers forehead: soon we saw his mouth &
red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep
with beams of blood, advancing toward [PL 19] us with all the
fury of a spiritual existence.
My friend the Angel climb'd up from his station into the mill;
I remain'd alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found
myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light
hearing a harper who sung to the harp. & his theme was, The man
who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds
reptiles of the mind."


Holly Lynn Overin said...

Fascinating article. I have always loved what William Blake did for the world in illustrating biblical passages, helping us to make sense of the archaic language. This image of Leviathon, Behemoth and God, Job and angels at top depicts our human psyche, collective and individual,sure enough. I can see how attitudinal shifts may point our way out of enslavement and provide us with a glimmering vision of liberation.

ellie said...

Fascinating to me is the way Blake in illustrating the book of Job, takes us back to the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Angel there had given power to Leviathan and Behemoth. When that false reasoning power was withdrawn, the mind was cleared to enter a state of calm and peace.

Frye constantly puts Blake's ideas into words which make them more accessible to me.

Thanks for your comment Holly.