The Invention of Authors


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My PhD project centers on the authors of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian cultures, as these were the first individuals to whom the authorship of scientific or literary texts was attributed. Accordingly, the few but intriguing historical sources about them are of great value for the history of the author, today a figure of crucial importance for how literature is read and organized.

In a nutshell, my argument is that the figure of the author rose to cultural prominence in ancient Iraq during three specific periods (Old Babylonian, Late Assyrian, and Hellenistic), each of which saw a dramatic increase in cross-cultural contact leading to the death of a given culture. My hypothesis is therefore that authors became important as a way of articulating a cultural identity under pressure, condensing a complex imaginative system into a single figure. As cuneiform cultures waned, the figure of the author waxed.

For millennia, the literature of ancient Iraq was completely anonymous. Manuscripts circulated in a highly malleable format, constantly changed and adapted as they passed from scribe to scribe, making it impossible to speak of a singular author. The idea of authorship is thus not an etic historical reality, but a late emic concept that was retrojected onto previously anonymous works when new circumstances called for a textual fixity and social authority that had not been necessary in the preceding centuries.

The advisors of the project are Mads Rosendahl Thomsen and Nicole Brisch.

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