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The Music of Time: Temporal Tensions in Premodern Epics (2023-)

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

Through a comparative study of the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Old English epic Beowulf, Sophus Helle will argue that the time of these three epics is marked by a recurrent tension between endurance and impermanence. The epics are doubly invested in bringing out the transience of all mortal things and in securing a lasting legacy of their heroes, resulting in a temporal flickering that complicates any straightforward attempt at characterising the time of premodern epics. He further argues that this temporal ambivalence reverberates in the reception history of ancient epics, as leading thinkers such as Aristotle, Hegel, and Bakhtin all describe the epic genre as resolutely past, supplanted by a "better" genre such as theatre, lyric poetry, or the novel, and yet enduring, as epics continue to shape the genres that came after them. The time of epics as a pastness that survives itself can thus be said to be a feature of (some) epic texts themselves and of the tradition of theorising them.