This image of Nebuchadnezzar is a color etching, made by the British poet and painter William Blake somewhere between 1795 and 1805. William Blake’s art is usually classified as belonging to early Romanticism, an art genre that sought to counter the ideas of the enlightenment, in which philosophers thought that Newtonian science would pave the way to a complete understanding of the universe. As the age of Romanticism dawned, life, death, and human experience of all kinds became a matter of feelings, instead of logic.
Hence I chose this picture of Nebuchadnezzar, because it may be viewed as Blake´s commentary to the enlightenment, drawing a parallel between the arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar and that of the enlightenment thinkers. It shows essentially that mankind is not allowed to play god, while at the same time showing that the narrative of the body and the soul are inseparable.
King Nebuchadnezzar, is a biblical figure who, after casting three Jews in to a furnace, for refusing to take part in ceremonies worshipping an idol erected by the king. As divine punishment, Nebuchadnezzar goes mad and is forced by god to live like an animal in the wilderness for seven years as (Daniel 3,4). What is depicted in the image created by Blake is, the king gone mad, crawling like a hunted beast into a den among the rocks. His beard is tangled and sweeping, his nails have grown to resemble bird like talons, and his eyes are set in a fearful gaze. What we see is thus the king stripped from his mastery and humanity and reduced to a bestial state. Not only is he no longer in control of his subjects, he has lost control over himself and is subjected to “passions” as primal as a thing like fear.
The figure we see here although distinctly humanoid has been stripped of its human essence, mastery over other species, because he abused his power position to judge and punish others, essentially deciding over the “faith” of gods subjects. Which is, off course, something only god is allowed to do. As Erik Borgman pointed out mankind is allowed to repair, but not decisively alter the faith of themselves or others, that is a privilege reserved to god.
Another thing one might notice is that Nebuchadnezzar is not punished as merely a soul, he is not cast in to Hell where his spirit would be tormented for millennia to come, instead his body and his mind are afflicted at the same time. He grows goes mentally mad, and gains a fitting beast like appearance. He essentially becomes a freak. This is fitting for the age according to Michael Barilan, who states that in medieval times people did not make a distinction between the narrative of the body and soul. They were joined , and what affected the soul would affect the body too. Ergo the mental or spiritual change is reflected in, or accompanied by, a bodily change.
In conclusion, William Blake’s “Nebuchadnezzar” seems to signify that the early romanticist poet and painter did not subscribe to the notion of “a body distinct from a soul”, but instead sees the body as an extension of the soul, linked together in a common narrative of life, subjected to fantastical unexplainable influences.