The snake has been a powerful image for
humanity from the earliest times: perhaps the strongest image is that of
Leviathan, the giant sea-serpent. The word 'leviathan' in Hebrew means
approximately "that which gathers itself into folds" or "that which is
drawn out". There is much confusion about the translocation of the word
in its Biblical context, however, and theologians have to differ about
its meaning, though the general idea is that it refers to some huge
animal, almost certainly linked with water (Fred Gettings,
Dictionary of Demons, 1988).
search in the King James Bible for the Leviathan gives the following:
(I have left in the whole of the text of
the Psalms, especially, because of the beauty of the language.)
In Psalm 74, A complaint born of faith,
the animal is regarded as a food source. The ‘dragons’ referred to here
are thought to be crocodiles.
 Canst thou draw out
leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which
thou lettest down?
 Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw
through with a thorn?
 Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he
speak soft words unto thee?
 Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him
for a servant for ever?
 Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou
bind him for thy maidens?
 Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall
they part him among the merchants?
 Canst thou fill his skin with barbed iron? or his
head with fish spears?
 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no
 Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be
cast down even at the sight of him?
 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is
able to stand before me?
 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him?
whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.
 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his
 Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can
come to him with his double bridle?
 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are
terrible round about.
 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a
 One is so near to another, that no air can come
 They are joined one to another, they stick together,
that they cannot be sundered.
 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are
like the eyelids of the morning.
 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of
fire leap out.
 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a
seething pot or caldron.
 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of
 In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned
into joy before him.
 The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they
are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.
 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a
piece of the nether millstone.
 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid:
by reason of breakings they purify themselves.
 The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the
spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.
 He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten
 The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are
turned with him into stubble.
 Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the
shaking of a spear.
 Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp
pointed things upon the mire.
 He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the
sea like a pot of ointment.
 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think
the deep to be hoary.
 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made
 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all
the children of pride.
Link to the King James Bible
 O God, why hast thou cast us off
for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy
 Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased
of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed;
this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.
 Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even
all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.
 Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations;
they set up their ensigns for signs.
 A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes
upon the thick trees.
 But now they break down the carved work thereof at
once with axes and hammers.
 They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have
defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the
 They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them
together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the
 We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet:
neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.
 O God, how long shall the
adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?
 Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand?
pluck it out of thy bosom.
 For God is my King of old, working salvation in the
midst of the earth.
 Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou
brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in
pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the
 Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou
driedst up mighty rivers.
 The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast
prepared the light and the sun.
 Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou
hast made summer and winter.
 Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O
LORD, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name.
 O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the
multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor
 Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places
of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.
 O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor
and needy praise thy name.
 Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how
the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.
 Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of
those that rise up against thee increaseth continually.
In Psalm 104,
God’s preservation of nature, the tone is a
 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD
my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and
 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment:
who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters:
who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of
 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a
 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should
not be removed for ever.
 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:
the waters stood above the mountains.
 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder
they hasted away.
 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the
valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over;
that they turn not again to cover the earth.
 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run
among the hills.
 They give drink to every beast of the field: the
wild asses quench their thirst.
 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their
habitation, which sing among the branches.
 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth
is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and
herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of
 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil
to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's
 The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of
Lebanon, which he hath planted;
 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork,
the fir trees are her house.
 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and
the rocks for the conies.
 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth
his going down.
 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all
the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek
their meat from God.
 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together,
and lay them down in their dens.
 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour
until the evening.
 O LORD, how manifold are thy
works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of
 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things
creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
 There go the ships: there is that leviathan,
whom thou hast made to play therein.
 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them
their meat in due season.
 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest
thine hand, they are filled with good.
 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest
away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and
thou renewest the face of the earth.
 The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the
LORD shall rejoice in his works.
 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he
toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
 I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will
sing praise to my God while I have my being.
 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad
in the LORD.
 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and
let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul.
Praise ye the LORD.
really horrifying view of the fate of the leviathan is that of Isaiah,
in Chapter 27:
 In that day
the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish
leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan
that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in
 In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of
 I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment:
lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
 Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and
thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would
burn them together.
 Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make
peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
 He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root:
Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world
 Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote
him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are
slain by him?
 In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate
with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.
 By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be
purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he
maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are
beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up.
 Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the
habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the
calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches
 When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be
broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a
people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not
have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no
 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD
shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of
Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of
 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the
great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were
ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the
land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at
The Destruction of
Gustave Doré. [See
 And he said unto me, In the
beginning, when the earth was made, before the borders of the
world stood, or ever the winds blew,
 Before it thundered and lightened, or ever the
foundations of paradise were laid,
 Before the fair flowers were seen, or ever the
moveable powers were established, before the innumerable
multitude of angels were gathered together,
 Or ever the heights of the air were lifted up, before
the measures of the firmament were named, or ever the chimneys
in Sion were hot,
 And ere the present years were sought out, and or
ever the inventions of them that now sin were turned, before
they were sealed that have gathered faith for a treasure:
 Then did I consider these things, and they all were
made through me alone, and through none other: by me also they
shall be ended, and by none other.
 Then answered I and said, What shall be the parting
asunder of the times? or when shall be the end of the first, and
the beginning of it that followeth?
 And he said unto me, From Abraham unto Isaac, when
Jacob and Esau were born of him, Jacob's hand held first the
heel of Esau.
 For Esau is the end of the world, and Jacob is the
beginning of it that followeth.
 The hand of man is betwixt the heel and the hand:
other question, Esdras, ask thou not.
 I answered then and said, O Lord that bearest rule,
if I have found favour in thy sight,
 I beseech thee, shew thy servant the end of thy
tokens, whereof thou shewedst me part the last night.
 So he answered and said unto me, Stand up upon thy
feet, and hear a mighty sounding voice.
 And it shall be as it were a great motion; but the
place where thou standest shall not be moved.
 And therefore when it speaketh be not afraid: for
the word is of the end, and the foundation of the earth is
 And why? because the speech of these things
trembleth and is moved: for it knoweth that the end of these
things must be changed.
 And it happened, that when I had heard it I stood up
upon my feet, and hearkened, and, behold, there was a voice that
spake, and the sound of it was like the sound of many waters.
 And it said, Behold, the days come, that I will
begin to draw nigh, and to visit them that dwell upon the earth,
 And will begin to make inquisition of them, what
they be that have hurt unjustly with their unrighteousness, and
when the affliction of Sion shall be fulfilled;
 And when the world, that shall begin to vanish away,
shall be finished, then will I shew these tokens: the books
shall be opened before the firmament, and they shall see all
 And the children of a year old shall speak with
their voices, the women with child shall bring forth untimely
children of three or four months old, and they shall live, and
be raised up.
 And suddenly shall the sown places appear unsown,
the full storehouses shall suddenly be found empty:
 And tha trumpet shall give a sound, which when every
man heareth, they shall be suddenly afraid.
 At that time shall friends fight one against another
like enemies, and the earth shall stand in fear with those that
dwell therein, the springs of the fountains shall stand still,
and in three hours they shall not run.
 Whosoever remaineth from all these that I have told
thee shall escape, and see my salvation, and the end of your
 And the men that are received shall see it, who have
not tasted death from their birth: and the heart of the
inhabitants shall be changed, and turned into another meaning.
 For evil shall be put out, and deceit shall be
 As for faith, it shall flourish, corruption shall be
overcome, and the truth, which hath been so long without fruit,
shall be declared.
 And when he talked with me, behold, I looked by
little and little upon him before whom I stood.
 And these words said he unto me; I am come to shew
thee the time of the night to come.
 If thou wilt pray yet more, and fast seven days
again, I shall tell thee greater things by day than I have
 For thy voice is heard before the most High: for the
Mighty hath seen thy righteous dealing, he hath seen also thy
chastity, which thou hast had ever since thy youth.
 And therefore hath he sent me to shew thee all these
things, and to say unto thee, Be of good comfort and fear not
 And hasten not with the times that are past, to
think vain things, that thou mayest not hasten from the latter
 And it came to pass after this, that I wept again,
and fasted seven days in like manner, that I might fulfil the
three weeks which he told me.
 And in the eighth night was my heart vexed within me
again, and I began to speak before the most High.
 For my spirit was greatly set on fire, and my soul
was in distress.
 And I said, O Lord, thou spakest from the beginning
of the creation, even the first day, and saidst thus; Let heaven
and earth be made; and thy word was a perfect work.
 And then was the spirit, and darkness and silence
were on every side; the sound of man's voice was not yet formed.
 Then commandedst thou a fair light to come forth of
thy treasures, that thy work might appear.
 Upon the second day thou madest the spirit of the
firmament, and commandedst it to part asunder, and to make a
division betwixt the waters, that the one part might go up, and
the other remain beneath.
 Upon the third day thou didst command that the
waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth: six
pats hast thou dried up, and kept them, to the intent that of
these some being planted of God and tilled might serve thee.
 For as soon as thy word went forth the work was
 For immediately there was great and innumerable
fruit, and many and divers pleasures for the taste, and flowers
of unchangeable colour, and odours of wonderful smell: and this
was done the third day.
 Upon the fourth day thou commandedst that the sun
should shine, and the moon give her light, and the stars should
be in order:
 And gavest them a charge to do service unto man,
that was to be made.
 Upon the fifth day thou saidst unto the seventh
part, where the waters were gathered that it should bring forth
living creatures, fowls and fishes: and so it came to pass.
 For the dumb water and without life brought forth
living things at the commandment of God, that all people might
praise thy wondrous works.
 Then didst thou ordain two living creatures, the one
thou calledst Enoch, and the other Leviathan;
 And didst separate the one from the other: for the
seventh part, namely, where the water was gathered together,
might not hold them both.
 Unto Enoch thou gavest one part, which was dried up
the third day, that he should dwell in the same part, wherein
are a thousand hills:
 But unto Leviathan thou gavest the seventh
part, namely, the moist; and hast kept him to be devoured of
whom thou wilt, and when.
 Upon the sixth day thou gavest commandment unto the
earth, that before thee it should bring forth beasts, cattle,
and creeping things:
 And after these, Adam also, whom thou madest lord of
all thy creatures: of him come we all, and the people also whom
thou hast chosen.
 All this have I spoken before thee, O Lord, because
thou madest the world for our sakes
 As for the other people, which also come of Adam,
thou hast said that they are nothing, but be like unto spittle:
and hast likened the abundance of them unto a drop that falleth
from a vessel.
 And now, O Lord, behold, these heathen, which have
ever been reputed as nothing, have begun to be lords over us,
and to devour us.
 But we thy people, whom thou hast called thy
firstborn, thy only begotten, and thy fervent lover, are given
into their hands.
 If the world now be made for our sakes, why do we
not possess an inheritance with the world? how long shall this
Isaac Watts' imagery
of the leviathan and other sea monsters is to be found in many of
his hymns and metrical psalms. Here is Hymn LXX from Book
God of the seas, thy thund’ring voice
Makes all the roaring waves rejoice,
And one soft word of thy command
Can sink them silent in the sand.
God of the seas, thy thund’ring voice
Makes all the roaring waves rejoice,
And one soft word of thy command
Can sink them silent in the sand.
If but a Moses wave thy rod,
The sea divides and owns its God;
Their stormy floods their Maker knew,
And led his chosen armies thro’.
The scaley flocks amidst the sea,
To thee, their Lord a tribute pay;
The meanest fish that swims the flood
Leaps up, and means a praise to God.
The larger monsters of the deep
On thy commands attendance keep;
By thy permission, sport and play,
And cleave along their foaming way.
If God his voice of tempest rears
Leviathan lies still and
Anon he lifts his nostrils high,
And spouts the ocean to the sky.
How is thy glorious power ador’d
Amidst these wat’ry nations, Lord!
Yet the bold men that trace the seas,
Bold men, refuse their Maker’s praise.
What scenes of miracles they see,
And never tune a song to thee!
While on the flood they safely ride:
They curse the hand that smoothes the tide.
Anon they plunge in wat’ry graves,
And some drink death among the waves;
Yet the surviving crew blaspheme,
Nor own the God that rescu’d them.
O for some signal of thine hand!
Shake all the seas, Lord, shake the land,
Great judge, descend, lest men deny
That there’s a God that rules the sky.
The image of the
great sea-serpent appears in other mythologies – Fafnir in the Norse
legends for example; and the Kraken; here is Tennyson’s view of him:
thunders of the upper deep,
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
also uses an image of the sea-serpent in his poem The Mermaid;
here is the third stanza:
I would be a
I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;
And still as I comb'd I would sing and say,
'Who is it loves me? who loves not me?'
I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall
Low adown, low adown,
From under my starry sea-bud crown
Low adown and around,
And I should look like a fountain of gold
With a shrill inner sound
Over the throne
In the midst of the hall;
Till that great sea-snake under the sea
From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
And all the mermen under the sea
Would feel their immortality
Die in their hearts for the love of me.
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