The Levite of Ephraim

As he was being chased into exile in Switzerland following the condemnation of his book on education, Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau composed a short “prose poem” based on the Biblical story of the Levite of Ephraim in the Book of Judges. It’s one of his shorter and more obscure pieces of writing, obscure in both the sense of little known and also rather difficult to understand quite what he’s getting at in it. Still, modern scholarship — Thomas Kavanagh, Mira Morgenstern, etc. — is doing its best. He wrote in his Confessions that

In three days I composed the first three cantos of the little poem which I finished at Motiers, and I am certain of not having done anything in my life in which there is a more interesting mildness of manners, a greater brilliancy of colouring, more simple delineations, greater exactness of proportion, or more antique simplicity in general, notwithstanding the horror of the subject which in itself is abominable, so that besides every other merit I had still that of a difficulty conquered. If the Levite of Ephraim be not the best of my works, it will ever be that most esteemed…

I’m delighted to be able to report that this disturbing Biblical tale of violent rape and murder is now available to the contemporary reader in Lego, over at (where else), The Brick Testament. Read on, Rousseauists, read on…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *