SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Are you a woman?

Jana Matuszak

Date: 20 November 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 20 November 2020Time: 8:30 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar

Jana Matuszak presents to us an original and engaging digital event that will soon be held within the context of the Being Human Festival. “Are you a woman?” aims to explore what it meant to be a woman in Iraq 4,000 years ago and it endeavours to help us find out how this ‘old world’ is actually not so far from ours. The organizers promise that we “will be surprised how sassy, fun and engaging ancient literature can be!”

Ancient Mesopotamia, cradle of civilization, was home to many Firsts – among them what could be called the first female ‘rap battle’! Join us to discover a hitherto unknown Sumerian poem from 2000 BCE, in which two women hotly debate what it takes to be a good woman, and attend the premiere of a bilingual, English-Arabic performance bringing this ancient text back to life – with a modern twist!

The event takes place in the context of, and is generously sponsored by, Being Human – A Festival of the Humanities, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. But as everything has to move online this year, we warmly welcome audiences from across the globe.

The first part of the event will feature an introduction to the text by its editor, Dr Jana Matuszak of SOAS University of London. In the second half, the professional storytellers Fran Hazelton, Badia Obaid and June Peters from Zipang, devoted to breathing new life into the literature of ancient Mesopotamia, will present their creative adaptation of the text. As the text was likely performed in antiquity, they will in fact bring it back ‘on stage’ for the first time in 4000 years!

The ancient Sumerian text at the centre of the event is unique in many respects: it is the only substantial Mesopotamian literary composition featuring ordinary housewives as protagonists, who otherwise barely appear in the textual record at all. They engage in a heated debate about who is the better woman, revealing fascinating insights into the notions of ideal femininity current at the time. Content and style of this hitherto unknown composition will be surprising to many, who associate ancient literature with solemn epics narrating the exploits of heroic kings or gods. Rather, this text takes us right into the world of the ‘common folks’ in Iraq 4000 years ago, and their ever-resounding woes and hopes and fears. The event hence presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the role of women both in Mesopotamia and in our own times, and to show that while Mesopotamia may be remote in time and space, we can still relate to the sentiments expressed in its literary creations.

To attend the event, please register at Eventbrite.

The Zoom link will be circulated ca. 12 hours before the event. The event will last for approximately 90 minutes, including Q&A.

For questions, please contact Dr Jana Matuszak at