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 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.
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: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvh9w0j9.11
The essay is a presentation of all sources relating to authorship that date to the Neo-Assyrian period. I argue that authors are depicted in these as ancestors, professional scribes, and mechanisms of textual control, and then examines the historical circumstances that led to the rise of authorship in this period.
“A literary heritage: Authorship in the Neo-Assyrian period,” Kaskal, vol. 16 (2019), pp. 349–71.
Through a study of Akkadian words for non-binary gender, such as assinnu and kurgarrû, the essay argues that we cannot achieve any secure knowledge about the biological sex of ancient individuals. Instead, our most viable option is to study the cultural dynamics that determined how gender was depicted.
“‘Only in dress?’ Methodological concerns regarding non-binary gender,” in Gender and Methodology in the Ancient Near East, edited by Stephanie Lynn Budin, Megan Cifarelli, Agnés Garcia-Ventura, and Adelina Millet Albà, Barcino Monographica Orientalia 10 (2018, Barcelona: Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona), pp. 41–53. Link.
A text known as the “Uruk List of Kings and Sages” uses the names of ancient authors to present a tiny synoptic overview of cuneiform culture. In this otherwise fully anonymous culture, authors became important during times of crisis, since they could represent, organize, and condense an imperilled tradition.
“The role of authors in the ‘Uruk List of Kings and Sages’: Canonization and cultural contact,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 77, no. 2 (October 2018), pp. 219–34. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/699166
In a monologue on mortality from the tenth tablet of Gilgamesh, the sage Uta-napishti depicts death through a set of poetic paradoxes: death is both certain, since it cannot be avoided, and uncertain, since we cannot know anything about it. The essay studies how Uta-napishti represents what he claims to be unrepresentable.
“Babylonian perspectives on the uncertainty of death: SB Gilgamesh X 301-321”, Kaskal, vol. 14 (2017), pp. 211–19.
As a preliminary study for my subsequent article on the “two-act structure” in Akkadian epics, this note shows that certain phrases from the first half of Atra-ḫasis are repeated in the second half, but with the opposite meaning.
“Contrast through ironic self-citation in Atra-ḫasīs,” in Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires, vol. 2015, no. 4 (December 2015), pp. 158–60, entry no. 95. Link.
The article (my first) proposes a new understanding of rhythm in Akkadian poetry. Following a suggestion by Wolfram von Soden, it shows that analysing the prosody of Akkadian poems as a sequence of trochees and amphibrachs can reveal a dynamic medium for literary expression.
“Rhythm and expression in Akkadian poetry,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie vol. 104, no. 1 (June 2014), pp. 56–73. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/za-2014-0003