Facts about the life and work of Leviathan author Thomas Hobbes
1. Thomas Hobbes was born premature, because his mother was worried about the imminent invasion of the Spanish Armada. Hobbes was born in April 1588, several months before the Spanish Armada of Philip II of Spain set sail for the English Channel. In the months leading up to the invasion, England was full of fear about the coming attack. As Hobbes later put it, ‘my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear.’ Hobbes would live a long and productive life. Although he famously described human existence as ‘nasty, brutish, and short’, Hobbes himself lived to be 91, dying in 1679.
2. Hobbes’ father, Thomas Hobbes Sr, deserted his wife and children when he was forced to flee to London. After a punch-up with a fellow vicar outside his own church, young Thomas’ father had to leave the family homein Malmesbury in Wiltshire and flee to London. Young Thomas went to live with his uncle, Francis, before heading to the University of Oxford. He was a bright student who came to know some of the brightest men of the day: Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson, among others.
3. Hobbes himself has courted controversy for his religious and political opinions. Often known as ‘the beast of Malmesbury’, Hobbes himself had complex religious beliefs, and his writings led to ‘accusations’ of atheism from his opponents.
4. As well as writing Leviathan, Hobbes also wrote translations of Greek writings and wrote a number of Latin works. In 1628, Hobbes published a translation of Thucycidides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, the first English translation from the Greek. Hobbes also translated Homer’s poetry later in life, both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Hobbes wrote poetry of his own, too. In one edition of his collected works, there are eleven volumes of his writings in English, but a further five comprising works written in Latin.
5. Thomas Hobbes wrote a follow-up book to Leviathan, called Behemoth. It’s often claimed that in his masterpiece, the 1651 book Leviathan, Hobbes is calling for a strong dictator who will keep a nation under control. But Hobbes was a great ironist, and many commentators believe he was merely observing that a strong leader was a regrettable necessity rather than something actively desired. The title Leviathan is taken from the Bible, as is the name of a later work, Behemoth, written in 1668 though not published until two years after Hobbes’ death, in 1681. Whether Leviathan was meant to be a utopian template for the ideal state or simply a realistic depiction of the political sphere, Behemoth is clearly a work of realism, exploring how the English Civil War came about and how such an outcome can be avoided in the future. But it is Leviathan that is his defining work, a book that is credited with inventing the idea of the social contract.