Danish. I was asked to review a new Danish translation of Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Helviam matrem. I read Seneca’s attempt to suppress grief with philosophical arguments up against the German police’s violent attempts to suppress vigils for Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli bombardment in the weeks following Oct. 7. How can we understand these two very different silencings of sorrow in light of each other? The editors opted not to run the piece, which is published here instead.
“Sorgens forstummelse” (“The silencing of grief”), sophushelle.com (30 October 2023).
Danish. I begin my review of Harald Voetmann’s new translation of Catullus with a close reading of poem no. 16: a rape joke that deconstructs itself to establish the difference between fictional persona and real author, combining a sophisticated literary self-reference with a genuinely shocking vulgarity. That’s Catullus in a nutshell, as I explain in this review, which draws on Danish pop music and the TV series Gossip Girl to explore his poetic self-contradictions: his earnestness and artificiality, his obsessive explorations of the self and the deeply social nature of his poems.
“Popdrengen vender tilbage” (“The pop boy returns”), Weekendavisen (26 May 2023). Link.
The book includes a translation of the five poems attributed to Enheduana, the first known author, as well as an introduction and three essays that unpack her life and legacy. The translation is an innovative and fairly free rendering of her challenging hymns; a more literal translation can be found on the website I created to accompany the book, enheduana.org. The essays introduce the reader to the dramatic time in which Enheduana lived, the ancient reception and main themes of her poems, and the modern rediscovery of this unjustly forgotten figure.
Enheduana: The Complete Poems of the World’s First Author. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2023. Link.
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.
Danish. The article traces the forgotten origins of crime fiction in medieval Persia. Crime fiction as we know it today consists of two fused elements: crimes and clues, typically in the form of a murder and a series of material remains whose meaning is revealed by a hyper-intelligent detective. It is the latter’s history that I follow in this article, using the surprising etymology of the word “serendipity” as my own clue and tracing a journey from England through France, Italy, Armenia, Iran, and India to a surprising destination. The article was written in response to my mother’s essay about Agatha Christie.
“På sporet af krimien” (“In search of lost crime”), Weekendavisen (23 December 2022). Link.
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.” Poetics Today ,vol. 43, no. 4 (December 2022): 611–637. Link.
The chapter, written for my PhD thesis, argues that “authorship” means two things at once: textual production and its presentation (that is, the actual activity of authors and its depiction). I argue that this presentation has an inherently narrative form, and that for ancient cultures, it is more methodologically sound to study such narratives than the reality of authorship. Further, authorship’s double nature imbues it with an odd temporality: authorship-as-presentation claims to be identical with authorship-as-production but 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. Link.
Danish. Reflecting on my childhood crush on Lord Asriel from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I discuss what a crush is in general: a kind of infatuation that is not, cannot be, or should not be reciprocated (e.g. because its object is a fictional character), and so acquires a strange intensity and violence. Asriel is Pullman’s reimagining of the character of Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and to a prepubescent bisexual reader like myself, he was the perfect amalgamation of the youthful rebel and the authoritative father. He came to represent for me a fiery, ruthless form of desire, which shaped my relation to desire as such.
“Lucifers lækkerhed” (“Satan’s sex appeal”), Weekendavisen (15 July 2022). Link.
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.
Danish. In a review of the third Danish translation of Sappho to appear in ten months (!), I argue that one of the distinguishing features of Sappho’s poetry is their ability to create what I call moving images, in a nod to the oxymoronic force that this phrase once carried: the poems present pictures that are perfectly still, yet infused with motion. Nothing ever happens in the now of Sappho’s poems, but her words still shimmer with memories of the past and expectations for the future.
“Digter i måneskin” (“Writing in the moonlight”), Weekendavisen (21 August 2021). Link.