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The Poetics of Philology - A Case Study of the Babylonian Epic Enuma Elish

Sophus Helle, Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"
Associated Postdoctoral Research Project

The past twelve years have seen a true groundswell in the field of philology, with an explosion of books and articles bringing new life to this ancient discipline. Influential studies such as Philology by James Turner and World Philology by Sheldon Pollock et al. have brought philology back into focus as an intellectual pursuit that spans continents and centuries, and whose comparative, mixed-method approach is naturally at odds with the current fragmentation of academia into tiny specialisms. This postdoctoral project is part of this world philological current, and it seeks to achieve three main goals. First, it puts forward the claim that philology is characterized by attempts to resolve crises of reading, that is, to undo any obstacle that prevents readers from accessing a given text, all the way from scrubbed signs to obscure ontologies. Second, the project examines the poetological consequences of such an approach to ancient literature, asking how philology differs from related disciplines in its treatment of texts and what forms of aesthetic engagement are afforded by the crises of reading. These questions are pursued through a case study of the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, with a particular emphasis on how the textual crises that form the core of philology may be rendered in translation. Third, the project will result in a new English translation of Enuma Elish, which will appear as the first volume in the newly launched Library of Babylonian Literature. This series was designed to parallel similar projects in other philological subdisciplines, such as the Library of Chinese Humanities, the Library of Arabic Literature, the Murty Classical Library of India, and ultimately, the Loeb Classical Library. The series will thus help lay the empirical foundation for a truly global, cross-cultural philology.