Thomas Poole on the Pandemic Imagery In Leviathan’s Frontispiece @LRB @DrTomPoole

Thomas Poole discusses the frontispiece of Leviathan‘s first edition for the London Review of Books. He focuses on the tiny images of two physicians in the illustration. Amid the rest of the much more familiar symbolism, what can we take from these often overlooked figures?

[R]ight in the middle of the frontispiece, there are two figures wandering the empty city. Their clothes identify them as plague doctors, with their characteristic beaked masks, containing herbs or sponges soaked in vinegar to filter the air. I have studied the frontispiece many times, read about it and discussed it with students, but had never noticed these figures until I was alerted a few weeks ago to Francesca Falk’s book Eine gestische Geschichte der Grenze (‘A Gestural History of the Border’), which includes a substantial discussion of the plague doctors in Bosse’s engraving.

…Hobbes is often thought to have been primarily concerned with political threats to the state, such as war and rebellion. But the plague doctors’ presence in the frontispiece indicates that he was working from a broader conception of public safety. He knew from Thucydides that attacks on the city walls could take different forms, biological and psychological as well as martial. The inclusion of the plague doctors suggests that Hobbes saw protection against epidemics as one of the state’s chief duties, using both medical and regulatory measures. 
Read the rest of his essay here.