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Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Submerged Literature in the Ancient Near East

The project “Submerged Literature in the Ancient Near East” is conducted by Claus Ambos and Marco Bonechi, Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico (ISMA), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Roma. It has been inspired by the three-volume work “Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek culture” (2014 & 2016). The concept of “Submerged Literature” had been coined by classicist Luigi Enrico Rossi. Focussing on his discipline, the classics, Rossi defined “Submerged Literature” thus (Rossi 2000: 170 [in Italian]; this English translation after Ercolani 2014: 7):

"By ‘submergedliterature I mean [...] texts which were mistreated from the very beginning of their transmission, and even texts which were not transmitted at all. These texts benefited of neither control nor protection, either because no community had any interest in their preservation, or because it was in the interest of a community that they were concealed, and even suppressed (as in the instance of everything that had to do with the mysteries). It is the case, however, that while a good deal of these texts have engaged us in a game of hide-and-seek, their part in shaping Greek culture as we know it was in fact considerable: there would be a great deal to gain if we could bring them back to light, although only parts of the whole may be recovered."

Thus, submerged literature is about texts which were not considered important or relevant for future transmission, or which had no institution which safeguarded their transmission, or whose transmission had been censored and suppressed. The concept of submerged literature is not simply about texts whose transmission ended at some time when the culture or civilization, which handed them down and carried them on, came to an end. When the Cuneiform cultures of the Near East ceased to exist, the passing on of Cuneiform literature stopped. Thus, it became lost literature until the rediscovery of the Cuneiform cultures in the 19th century AD. Consequently, we have to distinguish between submerged texts and lost texts.

In our project we want to tackle the question whether the concept of submerged literature is useful for the field of Ancient Near Eastern studies.



  • G. Colesanti & M. Giordano (eds.) 2014: Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture: An Introduction. Berlin & Boston.  
  • G. Colesanti & L. Lulli (eds.) 2016: Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture: Case Studies. Berlin & Boston.
  • A. Ercolani 2014: Defining the Indefinable: Greek Submerged Literature and Some Problems of Terminology. In: G. Colesanti & M. Giordano (eds.) 2014: 7-18.    
  • A. Ercolani & M. Giordano (eds.) 2016: Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture: The Comparative Perspective. Berlin & Boston.
  • L. Rossi 2000: L’autore e il controllo del testo nel mondo antico. SemRom 3: 165‒181.