The Gods in Literature: Myth, Theology, and Belief in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Poetry

conference of the gods



The Gods in Literature:

Myth, Theology, and Belief in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Poetry

The Martin School, University of Oxford, on 21-22 June 2023

The gods are central to ancient Near Eastern and Greek literature. Works such as Gilgameš, Atra-ḫasīs, the Iliad, and Aeschylus’ tragedies bring them to life in narrative and performance, and grapple in profound ways with a wide range of questions concerning their nature, attributes, and their relationship with human life. Modern readers struggle to account for the ubiquitous presence of the divine in the poetry of ancient polytheistic cultures. In both Classical and Ancient Near Eastern studies, scholars have often interpreted it as symbolic or rhetorical, or sought to dismiss it as a literary construct only loosely (if at all) related to what they see as the reality of ancient cult. Building on recent comparative work that places archaic and classical Greek poetry and myth in a broader Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern context, this conference brings together Classicists, Assyriologists and Comparatists to rethink the relationship between literature and religion in both Greece and the ancient Near East. It seeks to work towards a novel and much-needed pan-Mediterranean methodological synthesis for the study of Greek and Near Eastern poetic polytheism.  

The conference will be on-site only, but we hope to make recordings available after the event, upon request. The event is generously sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust, the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford, and University College, Oxford.

Confirmed speakers and titles:

  • William Allan (Oxford) – ‘Believing in Dionysus’
  • Bernardo Ballesteros (Oxford) – ‘Huwawa and the Cyclops: Religious Thought and Poetic Justice in the Gilgamesh and Homeric Traditions’
  • Ilaria Calini (ANHIMA Paris) – ‘Shaping the World Through Stories: Narrative and Poetic Dialectics of Knowledge in Mesopotamia’
  • Gösta Gabriel (Freie Universität Berlin) – ‘The Immortal Who Became Mortal: The making of the great hero Gilgamesh in the third millennium BCE’
  • Renaud Gagné (Cambridge) ‘Theograms and Charaktêres: Between Cult, Magic and Theurgy’
  • Johannes Haubold (Princeton) ‘Divine Speech in Cosmogonic Narrative: Command, Advice, Persuasion’
  • Alexandre Johnston (Oxford) ‘Divine Wisdom and Poetry in Early Greece and the Ancient Near East’
  • Sarah Iles Johnston (Ohio State) [online] – ‘Here Lies Hecate: Poetry and Immortality in 2nd Century Mesembria’
  • Gina Konstantopoulos (UCLA) – ‘Clad in Terror, Drenched in Blood: Constructing Reverence and Awe in Mesopotamian Literary and Ritual Texts’
  • Carolina López Ruiz (Chicago) – ‘Unheroic Gods and Ascended Mortals? The Origins of Euhemerism between Greek and Near Eastern Cultures’
  • Christopher Metcalf (Oxford) – ‘The Goddess and the Herdsman: A Myth of Kingship from Sumer to Rome’
  • Frances Reynolds (Oxford) – ‘The God Qingu in and beyond Enūma Eliš’
  • Ian Rutherford (Reading) – ‘Pindar’s Ammon’
  • Karolina Sekita (Tel Aviv) – ‘God, Hero, or Shade? Double or Triple Herakles in the Underworld of the Odyssey 11, Panyassis’ Herakleia, and Greek (?) Cult’
  • Henry Spelman (Cambridge) – ‘What’s Funny About the Gods in Old Comedy?’
  • Shaul Tor (King’s College, London) – ‘Buying Off The Literary Gods in Plato’s Laws 10’
  • Selena Wisnom (Leicester) – 'In the Beginning There Was Rage: Anger and Lament in Enūma eliš
  • Annette Zgoll (Göttingen) – ‘Succession Myth in Babylon: A ‘‘Horror of Incest and Murder’’?’  
  • Christian Zgoll (Göttingen) – ‘The Hittite Song of Going Forth (CTH 344) and Hesiod’s Theogony: Discovery of a New Parallel’

To register for in-person attendance, please email Ellie Galloway specifying any dietary requirements at

Download the full programme HERE. In the meantime, if you have any questions about attending the event, please email the organisers at or