Weapons and weaving

The chapter takes a fresh look at the two most important gender signifiers of cuneiform cultures: weapons and weaving instruments. I argue that these signifiers can be used to construct and reinforce masculinity and femininity, but also to transform, reverse, subvert, and complicate them.

“Weapons and weaving instruments as symbols of gender in the ancient Near East,” in Fashioned Selves: Dress and Identity in Antiquity, edited by Megan Cifarelli, (2019, Oxford: Oxbow Books), pp. 105–15. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvh9w0j9.11

Enheduana at school

Why did Enheduana, the first known author, gain such outstanding cultural prominence during the Old Babylonian period? The essay connects the sudden importance of her authorship with the cultural crisis of the 1740’s BCE, and the following reinvention of Sumerian literature.

“Enheduana and the invention of authorship,” Authorship, vol. 8, no. 1 (July 2019), pp. 1–20. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.21825/aj.v8i1.11486

What was an author?

The essay proposes a new framework for the study of premodern authors. Historically, authors have most often been depicted as textual transmitters, not original creators, so a focus on the middle position of premodern authors will lead to a more nuanced, inclusive history of authorship.

“What is an author? Old answers to a new question”, Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 2 (June 2019), pp. 113–139. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-7368183

Assyrian authors

The essay is a presentation of all sources relating to authorship that date to the Neo-Assyrian period. I argue that authors are depicted in these as ancestors, professional scribes, and mechanisms of textual control, and then examines the historical circumstances that led to the rise of authorship in this period.

“A literary heritage: Authorship in the Neo-Assyrian period,” Kaskal, vol. 16 (2019), pp. 349–71.

A subversive foundation

Why has Gilgamesh achieved much greater fame in the modern world than any other work of ancient Near Eastern literature? The essay proposes that the epic’s modern canonicity is specifically due to the fact that it can be read as both subversive and foundational.

Gilgamesh: A subversive foundation,” in Antike Kanonisierungsprozesse und Identitätsbildung in Zeiten des Umbruchs, edited by Marcel Friesen and Christoph Leonard Hesse, Wissenschaftliche Schriften der WWU Münster 28 (2019, Münster: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität), pp. 27–41. Link.

Non-binary in Babylonia?

Through a study of Akkadian words for non-binary gender, such as assinnu and kurgarrû, the essay argues that we cannot achieve any secure knowledge about the biological sex of ancient individuals. Instead, our most viable option is to study the cultural dynamics that determined how gender was depicted.

“‘Only in dress?’ Methodological concerns regarding non-binary gender,” in Gender and Methodology in the Ancient Near East, edited by Stephanie Lynn Budin, Megan Cifarelli, Agnés Garcia-Ventura, and Adelina Millet Albà, Barcino Monographica Orientalia 10 (2018, Barcelona: Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona), pp. 41–53. Link.

Authors at Uruk

A text known as the “Uruk List of Kings and Sages” uses the names of ancient authors to present a tiny synoptic overview of cuneiform culture. In this otherwise fully anonymous culture, authors became important during times of crisis, since they could represent, organize, and condense an imperilled tradition.

“The role of authors in the ‘Uruk List of Kings and Sages’: Canonization and cultural contact,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 77, no. 2 (October 2018), pp. 219–34. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/699166

The uncertainty of death

In a monologue on mortality from the tenth tablet of Gilgamesh, the sage Uta-napishti depicts death through a set of poetic paradoxes: death is both certain, since it cannot be avoided, and uncertain, since we cannot know anything about it. The essay studies how Uta-napishti represents what he claims to be unrepresentable.

“Babylonian perspectives on the uncertainty of death: SB Gilgamesh X 301-321”, Kaskal, vol. 14 (2017), pp. 211–19.

Mess O’Potamia returns

Drawing on a skit from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the essay argues that the notion of “Mesopotamia” can be used to evade or reconcile the contradictions that surround the modern nation of Iraq. The simple-looking concept of a single Mesopotamia belies a deeper complexity, produced by clashing discourses and historical shifts.

“The return of Mess O’Potamia: Time, space and politics in modern uses of ancient Mesopotamia”, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 19, no. 3 (December 2016), pp. 305–24. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13688790.2016.1264250

Emotions in Gilgamesh

My MA thesis examines the depiction of emotions in Gilgamesh. It focuses first on the love between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, then on the grief that afflicts Gilgamesh when Enkidu dies. I argue that the affective bond between the two heroes leads to a dynamic interplay of difference and identification.

“Emotions in Gilgamesh: Desire, grief, and identity in the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.” Unpublished MA thesis, University of Copenhagen (August 2016).