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.
The essay explores the representation of time and space in Gilgamesh. The figure of the threshold is a key aspect of the epic, separating highly different, but internally homogeneous kinds of time and space—a structure that also affects its depiction of characters and textuality.
“The chronotope of the threshold in the Epic of Gilgamesh,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 141, no. 1 (April 2021), p. 185–200. Link.
Danish. An essay on the literary history of falling, touching on Dante, Lewis Carroll, Lucretius, Milton, and Inger Christensen. Falling is the moment in which we discover ourselves as bodies, masses of meat whose movement through the world we cannot fully control. Falling implies a loss of agency or a surrender to emotions (think of the phrase “falling in love”), but it can also, less intuitively, figure as the foundation from which our self-control springs, or even as the ultimate form of freedom.
“Dybt at falde” (“The harder they fall”), Weekendavisen (8 January 2021). Link.
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.
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.
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). View the committee’s assessment of the thesis here.
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.
OBS! I wrote this essay before I became aware of Karen Sonik’s 2009 article, “Gender Matters in Enuma Elish” (link), which discusses some of the same issues. I encourage interested readers to check out Sonik’s article as well.
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.
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
A new Danish translation of Gilgamesh that I published with my father, the Danish poet Morten Søndergaard. The book was nominated for the Weekendavisen Literary Prize and was lauded by one reviewer as “one of those miracles that makes life worth living” (Politiken); another wrote that “this new translation is set to become a classic in this country” (Information). Below, you will find tablet I of the translation.
With Morten Søndergaard, Gilgamesh, 2019, Copenhagen: Gyldendal.