Postcards from Sumer

Danish. A free rendition of Enheduana’s Exaltation of Inana, commissioned by Shëkufe Tadayoni Heiberg for the indie press Forlaget Uro and illustrated by Johanne Helga Heiberg Johansen. One reviewer called it “an impressively accesible, deeply fascinating publication”; another asked: “What have we done to deserve such a pearl of delight?

Dronning over verdens magter, illustrated by Johanne Helga Heiberg Johansen, 2020, Hvidovre: Forlaget Uro. Link.

Prismatic Sappho

Danish. A review of two new Danish translations of Sappho, which appeared simultaneously: using Matthew Reynolds’s metaphor of prismatic translation, the review shows how the translations bring out different wavelengths of the ancient fragments. Sappho’s poems appear as, respectively, relics of a lost aristocracy and icons of a living LGBTQ community. 

“Længselsstemmen fra Lesbos” (“The longing-voice from Lesbos”), Weekendavisen (20 November 2020). Link.

A forgotten philosopher

Danish. If you’ve ever heard of a Danish philosopher, it’s probably Søren Kierkegaard. But 500 years before him, Boethius of Dacia reached a remarkably similar conclusion: that faith is both illogical and true. But to Boethius, the pagan philosophy of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd was more important to study than Christian dogma, making him and his disciples a target for one of the most sweeping persecutions of intellectuals in the European Middle Ages.

“Kender du heller ikke Boethius? Her er den store danske filosof, du aldrig har hørt om” (“You don’t know Boethius either? Here is the greatest Danish philosopher you’ve never heard of”), Politiken Historie (October 2020). Link.

Finding our marbles

This is an unpublished essay I wrote in the wake of the first Covid-19 lockdown, at a time when most sport events had been abruptly cancelled. In the essay, I explore one peculiar sport (or sport-like) phenomenon that rose dramatically in popularity as a result: marble racing. Because marble racing recreates the aesthetics of sport with HD clarity, it can serve as an occasion to reconsider what sport is, how sport tells stories, and what those stories might mean for us at this strange historical juncture.

“Finding our marbles: How a YouTube phenomenon can help us rethink sport.” Available at: https://sophushelle.com/2020/08/21/finding-our-marbles/. Written in August 2020, uploaded in April 2021.

Around the canon

Danish. Written for the outreach project “Kvinder rundt om kanon” (“Women around the canon”), which sought to map key female authors from the non-Western world, this short blog posts presents Enheduana’s life and works to a Danish audience.

“Den første kendte forfatter var en kvinde” (“The first known author was a woman”), Kvinder rundt om kanon, hosted by Aaby Library (June 2020). Link.

The first authors

My PhD thesis on authorship in ancient Iraq presents two claims. First, I argue that ancient authors are better studied as cultural narratives than as empirical realities and present a set of tools which with to do so. Second, I argue that the earliest written sources relating to authorship appeared when the cultures of ancient Iraq found themselves in crisis: authorship served to map, manage, and represent an endangered cultural heritage.

“The first authors: Narratives of authorship in ancient Iraq.” Unpublished PhD thesis, Aarhus University (February 2020).

Search and ye shall find

On this page I’ve collected all my essays and articles, both popular and academic, Danish and English. For each you will find a downloadable copy or a link to the final version.

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The exaltation of Inana

A free English adaptation of Enheduana’s masterpiece, “The Exaltation of Inana” (nin me šar-ra), accompanied by a short introduction and explanatory notes. This is not a translation of the poem, but a creative rendition in English that tries to convey Enheduana’s compact and intense style. I decided to break the Sumerian lines into shorter verses, to emphasize the vivid flow of the original.

Cite as: Enheduana, “The exaltation of Inana,” translated by Sophus Helle (May 2019), posted at https://sophushelle.com/2020/05/28/the-exaltation-of-inana/.

Birth of the author

Through a reading of Enheduana’s Exaltation—the earliest known depiction of authorship—the essay argues that the figure of the author is created by a number of individuals acting together, including the addressee, performer, and copyist of the text: their involvement is necessary for the author to become an author.

“The birth of the author: Co-creating authorship in Enheduana’s Exaltation,” Orbis Litterarum, vol. 75, no. 2 (February 2020), pp. 55–72. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/oli.12250

Marduk’s penis

The essay approaches the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish from the perspective of queer theory. I first examine how the female body is depicted as a disquieting force that is impossible to subdue decisively; and then study how text builds up a male sphere of language and power, where men become invested in the company of other men.

“Marduk’s penis: Queering Enūma Eliš,” Chances and Problems of Cultural Anthropological Perspectives in Ancient Studies, special issue of Distant Worlds Journal, vol. 4 (February 2020), pp. 63–77. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/dwj.2020.4.70450