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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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 Unpublished PhD thesis, Aarhus University (February 2020).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.

Thresholds in Gilgamesh

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,” forthcoming in Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Birth of the author

Through a reading of Enheduana’s Exaltation—the earliest known depiction of authorship—the essay argues that the figure of the author is created by a number of individuals acting together, including the addressee, performer, and copyist of the text: their involvement is necessary for the author to become an author.

“The birth of the author: Co-creating authorship in Enheduana’s Exaltation,” Orbis Litterarum, vol. 75, no. 2 (February 2020), pp. 55–72. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/oli.12250

Marduk’s penis

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. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11588/dwj.2020.4.70450

Weapons and weaving

The chapter takes a fresh look at the two most important gender signifiers of cuneiform cultures: weapons and weaving instruments. I argue that these signifiers can be used to construct and reinforce masculinity and femininity, but also to transform, reverse, subvert, and complicate them.

“Weapons and weaving instruments as symbols of gender in the ancient Near East,” in Fashioned Selves: Dress and Identity in Antiquity, edited by Megan Cifarelli, (2019, Oxford: Oxbow Books), pp. 105–15. Link. DOI: http://10.2307/j.ctvh9w0j9