Workshop: How to tell a story – Theoretical approaches to Mesopotamian Literature

Every storyteller is necessarily a type of world creator, choosing episodes and elements deemed worthy of recounting, organizing these into a cohesive and coherent narrative designed to achieve deliberate effects, and heightening these effects through the specific language deployed to materialize the overall composition.


In recent years, with the increasing accessibility of Sumerian and Akkadian written sources, scholars have begun to integrate and apply theoretical approaches drawn from the larger and extensively developed corpus of literary theory to a diverse variety of narratives extant from Mesopotamia, including not only mythological or epic compositions but also sources such as the royal inscriptions. Topics such as intertextuality have been especially foregrounded in these new studies, accompanied by close investigations of the literary and poetic structures of individual compositions. The analysis of narrative and narrative structure, however, is now also emerging as a significant field of study in Assyriology.


This workshop is dedicated to exploring the types of and ways in which literary theory might be productively applied to the corpus of Mesopotamian “literature” and to other related sources. What types of information might close studies of narrative structure reveal? How were specific events within a narrative contextualized and what was their role within the larger compositions within which they were contained? What can we say about the organization of time and space within literary texts? What types of character spaces do specific individuals within the extant narratives occupy? And, how do such aspects of narrative in Mesopotamia affect our own perception of these compositions—as well as that of an imagined Mesopotamian audience?


Workshop organizers:


Frauke Weiershäuser:


Dahlia Shehata:


Karen Sonik:

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