Drawing on the same notion of prismatic reception that I discussed for Sappho, I discuss the history of Gilgamesh‘s translation and transmedial adaptation, both in the ancient and modern world. I suggest that the best approach for a would-be translator and adapter of Gilgamesh is to seize on that aspect of the epic that resonates most powerfully with them, and amplify it in their own work.
“Prismatic Gilgamesh,” Ancient Near East Today, vol. 10, no. 10 (October 2022). Link.
Drawing on my previous study of the surprisingly complex history of the concept “Mesopotamia” and its political import for modern Iraq, I argue that we must steer between two myths when discussing the ancient history of Iraq: the myth that Iraq is a somehow “artificial” nation that is bound to disintegrate, and the myth that it is a perennial unity, persisting across centuries. The real legacy of ancient Mesopotamia is that of a hybrid, multilingual, constantly shifting cultural entity.
“Between Two Rivers, Between Two Myths,” New Lines Magazine (14 October 2022). Link.
In a review of Edgar Garcia’s delightful book Emergency, I discuss the peculiar depiction of time in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan myth of creation. With Garcia, I argue that the Popol Vuh‘s looping, diffracted sense of time is particularly relevant to the current moment, where climate change and other catastrophes have thrown us into a state of permanent emergency, where time moves both too quickly and too slowly.
“Fusing Creativity and Crisis in ‘Emergency,'” Chicago Review of Books (27 April 2022). Link.
In a critical review of Martin Puchner’s Literature for a Changing Planet, I discuss the resonance of Gilgamesh in a time of climate crisis. Far from the celebration of resource extraction that Puchner sees in the epic, Gilgamesh is a complex meditation on environmental devastation, with an important lesson for modern readers: to combat climate change effectively, we must learn to zigzag in our minds between the global scale on which the change is unfolding and the local scale on which we can act.
“Climate Change: From Gilgamesh to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” The Marginalia Review of Books (22 April 2022). Link.
This is an unpublished essay I wrote in the wake of the first Covid-19 lockdown, at a time when most sport events had been abruptly cancelled.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.
Disney films over the past ten years have witnessed a remarkable shift, as the ideal of romantic love has been replaced by an ideal of family love. The essay traces the cultural and political ramifications of this shift, to show the importance and potential of studying the history of emotions. It is included as a model essay in the 10th edition of the Norton Sampler.
“Love isn’t what it was: How Disney took to subverting its own romantic ideals,” Aeon (June 2019). Link.
A new fragment of Gilgamesh, published in 2018, expanded our knowledge about how Enkidu was transformed from animal to human. The fragment showed that Babylonians imagined the process of becoming human as a gradual integration into the community of the city.
“Between gods and animals: becoming human in the Gilgamesh epic,” Aeon (February 2019). Link.
The Babylonian divinatory series Shumma alu inspired the Danish poet Morten Søndergaard to create a massive installation piece, where he inscribed omen-like sentences in a marble floor. The essay discusses whether unconventional outreach formats such as this can help academics reach new audiences.
“In popular culture: Shumma Alu in Denmark,” Mar Shiprim (September 2017). Link.