Writings

Who were the Chaldeans?

The short note argues that the term Chaldean, as it appears, in Classical sources was not only a byname for the Babylonians, as is commonly thought. The word was confused with a profession of scholar-priests known as kalû, so that “the Chaldeans” could refer to both Babylonians in general and to a group of temple scholars specialized in astronomy.

“‘Chaldean’ as kalû?,” in Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires, vol. 2022, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 82–84, entry no. 39. Link.

“A bird called back”

In a short response to Adam Miglio’s insightful article on bird calls in Gilgamesh, I argue that the birds find a larger thematic resonance in the epic’s exploration of the outermost borders of humanity: the birds in Gilgamesh are repeatedly shown perching on the messy border between the human and non-human.

“Commentary,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 81, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 179–80. Link.

Weaving vowels

Danish. Responding to a study of Dante’s Latin writings, I argue that Dante displays two interwoven attitudes towards language, one centripetal, the other centrifugal. The first is focused on the endless variety of language: Dante is a masterful ventriloquist, adapting his voice to every new genre, context, and character. The second is focused on its unifying force: for Dante, language becomes an image of the underlying power of attraction that, in the form of God’s love, binds the universe together.

“Altings A” (“The A of All”), Weekendavisen (11 March 2022). Link.

Authorship as story

The chapter, written for my PhD thesis, argues that “authorship” means two things at once: textual production and its presentation, that is, the way authors are depicted in our sources. I argue that such depictions have an inherently narrative form, and that for ancient cultures, it is more methodologically sound to study the narratives than the reality of authorship. But authorship’s double nature also imbues it with an odd temporality: authorship-as-presentation claims to be identical with authorship-as-production, but it 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.

Death by family

Danish. Discussing Annette Lassen’s study of the fornaldarsaga, I note that the Icelandic sagas revolve around the fraught ideal of family allegiance, repeatedly exploring the hatred that can arise between those who are supposed to love one another. The family became an ideological oxymoron, fusing danger and safety, alliance and conflict, sex and murder. Following Lassen, I also argue that the sagas do not give us access to an ancient and “untainted” Nordic identity, as they were created in a world-literary dialogue that spanned centuries and continents.

“Slægtsballade” (“Family trouble”), Weekendavisen (21 January 2022). Link.

Forgetting to forget

Danish. In my fifth entry for Weekendavisen’s lexicon, I discuss the vexing problem of forgetting: any attempt to forget tends to call the unwanted memory all the more readily to mind. Kant, for example, dismissed his long-standing manservant Lampe, and then wrote a self-defeating memorandum to himself: “Lampe must be forgotten!” Through the examples of Caligula, Barbra Streisand, The Little Prince, and The Raven, I remind myself that the only way to forget is to forget that you wanted to forget, and accept time’s gift as it comes.

“Glemsel” (“Forgetting”), Weekendavisen (14 January 2022). Link.

Weirder translations!

Danish. The op-ed argues that the Danish translation culture has been seized by an exaggerated caution, as translators beautifully balance readability and accuracy but rarely stray from the mainstream or challenge what translations can or should be. Translations can renew and enrich the target language in powerful ways, but only if the genre of translation itself is kept new through experimentation, so that we do not come to take it for granted as a neutral medium.

“Vi skal oversætte vildere” (“We must translate more wildly”), Weekendavisen (26 November 2021). Link.

Chymical remix

Danish. I discuss a bewildering work of Medieval mystic literature known as Aurora consurgens, “The Rising Dawn,” newly translated into Danish by Aksel Haaning. In his introduction, Haaning describes the work as a “stream of unconsciousness,” a torrential flow of images and metaphors that seeks to recast the spiritual practice of alchemy in a Christian guise. Biblical quotes are appropriated and adapted to the strange flow of the text, culminating in a turbo-charged alchemic remix of the Song of Songs.

“Alkymi på syre” (“Alchemy on acid”), Weekendavisen (5 November 2021). Link.

The ghost of ages past

Danish. In my fourth entry for Weekendavisen’s lexicon, I discuss the strange phenomenon of the Zeitgeist—the inexplicable but undeniable feeling that each period of cultural history is characterized by a certain similarity. The feeling may be illusory and ill-defined, but it is powerful nonetheless, reminding us that we are like birds in flock—part of an enormous movement that we can neither fully comprehend nor control when we are in it. Our life is shaped by the ghostly presence of historical change.

“Zeitgeist,” Weekendavisen (24 October 2021).

Gilgamesh in English

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.