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 Unpublished PhD thesis, Aarhus University (February 2020).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

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

Enheduana at school

Why did Enheduana, the first known author, gain such outstanding cultural prominence during the Old Babylonian period? The essay connects the sudden importance of her authorship with the cultural crisis of the 1740’s BCE, and the following reinvention of Sumerian literature.

“Enheduana and the invention of authorship,” Authorship, vol. 8, no. 1 (July 2019), pp. 1–20. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.21825/aj.v8i1.11486

What was an author?

The essay proposes a new framework for the study of premodern authors. Historically, authors have most often been depicted as textual transmitters, not original creators, so a focus on the middle position of premodern authors will lead to a more nuanced, inclusive history of authorship.

“What is an author? Old answers to a new question”, Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 2 (June 2019), pp. 113–139. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-7368183