Bringing the work of a Norwegian philosopher to a wider audience

Monday 15 August 2022


Two members of the Fellowship of St Catharine’s College have co-authored a new article that brings attention to the life of Norwegian philosopher and arctic explorer Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990) and translates a paragraph on Job from his 1941 treatise Om det tragiske (On the Tragic) for the first time from Norwegian into English.

Writing in Transactions of The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters, Professor Katharine Dell (1996), Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion, and Professor Arnoldus Schytte Blix (2012), Honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s and Professor Emeritus at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, explain:

“It is little known that Peter Wessel Zapffe had a particular interest in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. One of the reasons that this fact is little known is that Zapffe’s key work, On the Tragic, has never been translated into English.

“[We] celebrate Zapffe’s distinctive and radical stance on the book of Job. Notorious already in Norway for his biting and critical turns of phrase, so distinctive of his writings, and for his eccentric character, this article brings his work to a wider audience, an awareness of which is long overdue."

Peter Wessel Zapffe
Peter Wessel Zapffe in 1930

Professors Dell and Blix found a shared interest in Zapffe’s work across a number of years whilst dining together at St Catharine’s. Ironically, it took lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic to bring the article to fruition, with disruptions to their normal schedules enabling Professor Blix to finally begin a translation and Professor Dell to contribute insights as an expert on the book of Job.

They conclude, “It is to be hoped that Peter Wessel Zapffe will take his rightful place as a key, influential interpreter of the book of Job alongside his many other talents, among them mountaineering, philosophy and arctic exploration.”


Dell, KJ & Schytte Blix, A. ‘The Norwegian Philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990) and the Book of Job’. Trans. R. Norw. Soc. Sci. Lett. 2022(1), 5-25