On this page I’ve collected all my essays and articles, both popular and academic, Danish and English. For each you will find a downloadable copy or a link to the final version.
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. Reviewing a collection of Latin quotations used in Asterix, I briefly survey the history of Classical quotations in Western culture and then delve into the strange history of how Et tu, Brute and Alea iacta est changed meaning as they passed from language to language and context to context – ending up in the hands of the spectacularly skilled Danish Asterix translator, Per Då.
“Cæsars blockchain” (“Ceasar’s Blockchain”), Weekendavisen (20 October 2023). Link.
Danish. I present two recent discoveries of cuneiform tablets that have shed light on ancient languages. A find at the ancient Hittite capital Hattusa revealed a previously unknown Indo-European language, Kalashmic, and a tablet from southern Iraq gave us the best possible introduction to Amorite, a language that is best-known for being Hammurabi’s native tongue, but of which we lacked almost any textual evidence.
“Amoritisk ABC” (Amorite ABC”), Weekendavisen (13 October 2023). Link.
Danish. A new Danish translation of four hymns by the Byzantine hymnist Romanos the Melodist contains a fascinating study of how Romanos drew on literary tropes and structures from Classical Greek theater. I explain Romanos’ engagement with these theatrical effects in the context of the entertainment culture in Byzantium under Emperor Justinian.
“Frelsens sang i forlystelsens by” (“The song of salvation in the city of entertainment”), Weekendavisen (13 October 2023). Link.
Danish. In a review of a new Danish introduction to tarot card readings, I sketch out the history of this form of divination, tracking its transformation from a card game in Renaissance Italy through the Occultism of eighteenth-century France and up to its most famous illustrator, Pamela Colman Smith. I also explain my own obsession with the cards, and with what I call “hot readings,” which help my emotionally confused friends (especially the men) talk about feelings they would otherwise struggle to articulate.
“Smutvej til dybdeterapi” (“Shortcut to Psychotherapy”), Weekendavisen (22 September 2023). Link.
Danish. In my thirteenth entry for Weekendavisen‘s lexicon, I suggest (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that narratives are shaped by two forces: a centripetal forces, which keeps the story together, and a centripetal force, which add variety, texture, side plots, and surprises to the text. The worst examples of genre fiction are entirely dominated by the utilitarian logic of the centripetal force; while avantgarde stories like the films of David Lynch tend towards centrifugal excesses.
“Centrifugal” (“Centrifugal”), Weekendavisen (18 August 2023). Link.
The article discusses a trope in cuneiform literature that I term the “self-referential climax,” in which stories end by describing their own composition in a final confluence of narrated time and the time of narration. This trope is crucial to the study of cuneiform literature because it affords us a glimpse of how ancient poets viewed their own poems. I focus on three case studies—Inana and Shukaletuda, The Cuthean Legend, and Gilgamesh—that all use the trope to set up an ambivalent contrast between the story’s medium and main character: in all three cases, form triumphs over content.
“The Return of the Text: On Self-Reference in Cuneiform Literature,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 75, no. 1 (Spring 2023): 93–107. Link.
Danish. The peer review system is collapsing: editors find it increasingly difficult to secure the reviewers needed to ensure academic quality control. The root of the problem is a tension between the gift economy of mutual obligations on which the academic system is founded and the capitalist logic of resource extraction by which the big publishing houses operate: the latter’s exploitation of academic labor is pushing academia to a breaking point. The article includes interviews with Anders Bjarklev, Maja Horst, Randi Starrfelt, and Anna Rogers.
“Den store udmattelse” (“The great fatigue”), Weekendavisen (23 June 2023). Link.
Danish. There is much to be worried about when it comes to AI, but one scenario I do not find concerning is the “technological singularity,” in which AI becomes self-aware and destroys humankind. To me, this fantasy is more easily explained by a recurrent trope articulated in Aristotle’s Poetics, which has shaped such sci-fi tales as Frankenstein, Westworld, and I, Robot: the confluence of anagnorisis (self-recognition, here AI achieving self-awareness) and peripeteia (a dramatic turn in the narrative, typically for the worse, here AI declaring war on humanity).
“Digitale grundmyter” (“Founding myths of the digital age”), Weekendavisen (23 June 2023). Link.
Danish. In a review of Felix Riede’s study of the interaction between climate change and culture throughout ancient Danish history, I argue that he masterfully balances an understand of climactic impact with the recognition that cultures react differently to the same crisis, according to their social structure and the strategies they adopt. Unfortunately, the badly edited prose of this otherwise urgently necessary book makes its argument difficult to follow.
“Spydtid, sværdtid, ulvetid, vindtid” (“Time of spears, time of swords, time of wolves, time of wind”), Weekendavisen (16 June 2023). Link.