Tales on tablets

For the volume on cuneiform narratives I co-edited, I wrote about the episodic nature of Babylonian epics. Akkadian narrative poems were often divided into a series of tablets, and those tablets—I argue—shaped the story told upon them. In Gilgamesh, divisions between tablets often correspond to physical borders in the story, in a conflation of form and content; and in Enuma Elish, the events of Tablet I take on a very different tenor if they are read in the isolated context of that Tablet, instead of the epic as a whole.

“Tablets as Narrative Episodes in Babylonian Poetry,” in The Shape of Stories: Narrative Structures in Cuneiform Literature, edited by Sophus Helle and Gina Konstantopoulos, Cuneiform Monographs 54 (2023, Leiden: Brill), pp. 93–111. Link.

The shape of stories

Together with Gina Konstantopoulos, I edited a volume on narratological approaches to cuneiform literary, historical, and religious texts. The goal of the volume is to function as a methodological toolkit, with each of the papers – which span from the third to the first millennium, covering a wide variety of genres in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite – presenting one possible approach to studying the narrative structures found in cuneiform texts, and illustrating that approach through a concrete case study.

With Gina Konstantopoulos, ed., The Shape of Stories: Narrative Structures in Cuneiform Literature, Cuneiform Monographs 54 (2023, Leiden: Brill). Link.

Closure in times of crisis

Danish. In my ninth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss the Danish word afklaring, roughly translatable as “closure.” Like it’s English counterpart, afklaring denotes a sense of calm and acceptance in relation to a pain either experienced or (more strongly so in Danish) expected. After unpacking some of the forms and ways of achieving such closure, I turn to the afklaring that I try to achieve in relation to the troubled times in which we find ourselves and which only look to grow more dire in the decades ahead.

“Afklaring” (“Closure”), Weekendavisen (13 January 2022). Link.

Monkeys v. robots

Danish. A selfie taken by a monkey and a comic book drawn by AI clash in a historic copyright case. In deciding whether art created by AI image generators can be awarded copyright, the USPTO is drawing on a surprising legal precedent: the case of Naruto, a crested macaque who took some excellent selfies. As the courts ruled, Naruto is to be seen as his own artistic entity and not merely a tool used by the photographer David Slater, who orchestrated the selfies, meaning that the copyright was void, since Slater was not the author of the picture. But will that conclusion also apply to AI?

“Aber versus robotter” (“Monkeys v. Robots”), Weekendavisen (6 January 2023). Link.

What is philology?

The article proposes a new definition of philology as a systematic engagement with crises of reading, focused on the difficulties that prevent readers from gaining access to or drawing meaning from a given text, all the way from scrubbed signs to obscure ontologies. Responding to two recent interventions in the field—Philology by James Turner and World Philology by Sheldon Pollock, Benjamin Elman, and Ku-ming Kevin Chang—the article explores the practices, history, and current state of philology.

“What is philology? From crises of reading to comparative reflections.” The article is slated for publication with Poetics Today in December 2022; please do not cite or share it before then without my permission.

Authorship as story

The chapter, written for my PhD thesis, argues that “authorship” means two things at once: textual production and its presentation, that is, the way authors are depicted in our sources. I argue that such depictions have an inherently narrative form, and that for ancient cultures, it is more methodologically sound to study the narratives than the reality of authorship. But authorship’s double nature also imbues it with an odd temporality: authorship-as-presentation claims to be identical with authorship-as-production, but it is in fact born belatedly, in the wake of a text’s circulation.

“Narratives of Authorship and Cuneiform Literature,” in Authorship and the Hebrew Bible, edited by Sonja Ammann, Katharina Pyschny, and Julia Rhyder (2022, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), pp. 17–35.

Who were the Chaldeans?

The short note argues that the term Chaldean, as it appears, in Classical sources was not only a byname for the Babylonians, as is commonly thought. The word was confused with a profession of scholar-priests known as kalû, so that “the Chaldeans” could refer to both Babylonians in general and to a group of temple scholars specialized in astronomy.

“‘Chaldean’ as kalû?,” in Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires, vol. 2022, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 82–84, entry no. 39. Link.

“A bird called back”

In a short response to Adam Miglio’s insightful article on bird calls in Gilgamesh, I argue that the birds find a larger thematic resonance in the epic’s exploration of the outermost borders of humanity: the birds in Gilgamesh are repeatedly shown perching on the messy border between the human and non-human.

“Commentary,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 81, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 179–80. Link.

Gilgamesh in English

The book includes a translation of Gilgamesh, and five essays that introduce readers to the world of the epic. The translation is a fresh take on the ancient epic and seeks to bring out the poetic power, clarity, and enchanting cadence of the original text. The essays discuss the epic’s long history, its literary form, its depiction of emotions (especially the homoerotic bond between the main characters), its engagement with death and the power of narrative, and its social context, including the role of women and of the natural world.

Gilgamesh: A New Translation of the Ancient Epic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. Link.

The two-act structure

The majority of Babylonian epics are organized according to the same narrative structure: the story is divided into two acts, where the second act mirrors and expands the first. The essay shows that this structure applies to Atra-hasis, Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, Etana, and more, for a total of nine texts.

“The two-act structure: A narrative device in Akkadian epics,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, vol. 20, no. 2 (2020 [April 2021]), p. 190–224. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/15692124-12341315