Writings

Search and ye shall find

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.

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Forms of falling

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.

Juvenal the troll

Danish. A review of Harald Voetmann’s brilliant new translation of Juvenal’s first two books of satires, Vreden skriver digtet (Ire writes the poem). Focusing on Juvenal’s belated position with respect to the Roman Golden Age, the review brings out the ambiguous, internet-troll-like nature of his poetry, which keep the reader guessing as to who is the real target of the satires: the marginalized groups against whom they are directed, or the dyspeptic fogey who speaks them?

“Sildig rasen” (“Late rage”), Weekendavisen (9 December 2020). Link.

Postcards from Sumer

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.

Prismatic Sappho

Danish. A review of two new Danish translations of Sappho, which appeared simultaneously: using Matthew Reynolds’s metaphor of prismatic translation, the review shows how the translations bring out different wavelengths of the ancient fragments. Sappho’s poems appear as, respectively, relics of a lost aristocracy and icons of a living LGBTQ community. 

“Længselsstemmen fra Lesbos” (“The longing-voice from Lesbos”), Weekendavisen (20 November 2020). Link.

A forgotten philosopher

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.

Around the canon

Danish. Written for the outreach project “Kvinder rundt om kanon” (“Women around the canon”), which sought to map key female authors from the non-Western world, this short blog posts presents Enheduana’s life and works to a Danish audience.

“Den første kendte forfatter var en kvinde” (“The first known author was a woman”), Kvinder rundt om kanon, hosted by Aaby Library (June 2020). Link.

The first authors

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 then 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).

The exaltation of Inana

A free English adaptation of Enheduana’s masterpiece, “The Exaltation of Inana” (nin me šar-ra), accompanied by a short introduction and explanatory notes. This is not a translation of the poem, but a creative rendition in English that tries to convey Enheduana’s compact and intense style. I decided to break the Sumerian lines into shorter verses, to emphasize the vivid flow of the original.

Cite as: Enheduana, “The exaltation of Inana,” translated by Sophus Helle (May 2019), posted at https://sophushelle.com/2020/05/28/the-exaltation-of-inana/.

The two-act structure

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,” forthcoming in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions.