Philosophy Today

Volume 68, Issue 1, Winter 2024

Special Topic: On Political Theology

Arthur Bradley
Pages 9-25

Hobbes’s Medeas
Sparagmos and Political Theology

This article explores Thomas Hobbes’s political translations of Euripides’s Medea and, particularly, his representation of the Dionysian ritual of killing and dismembering a sacrificial victim (sparagmos). To answer the question of what forms political theology may take in modernity, I contend that Hobbes seeks to reverse the political theological meaning of ancient Greek sparagmos—which was originally depicted in Euripides as a legitimate religious sacrifice whose objective was to reunify the polis—by turning it into a senseless act of political violence that will dissolve the civil state into competing interest groups or body parts. If Hobbes seeks to expel religious sacrifice from his political state into archaic pre-history, however, the article goes on to argue—via Bramhall, Schmitt, and Cavarero’s revisionary readings of his work—that the philosopher’s critique of Medea ends up bestowing a legitimacy upon the tragic heroine that disarticulates the political theological unity upon which his Commonwealth is founded. In the tragic figure of Medea, Dionysian sparagmos returns to dismember and even potentially consume the body parts of the Leviathan.