Enheduanna (Sumerian: 𒂗𒃶𒌌𒀭𒈾,[2] also transliterated as Enheduana, En-hedu-ana, or variants;[3] fl. 23rd century BC)[4] is the earliest known poet whose name has been recorded. She was the High Priestess of the goddess Inanna and the moon god Nanna (Sīn). She lived in the Sumerian city-state of Ur.[5]

Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad, circa 2300 BC.[1]

Enheduanna's contributions to Sumerian literature, definitively ascribed to her, include several personal devotions to Inanna and a collection of hymns known as the "Sumerian Temple Hymns". Further additional texts are ascribed to her.[6] This makes her the first named author in world history.[7]

She was the first known woman to hold the title of EN, a role of great political importance that was often held by royal daughters.[8] She was appointed to the role by her father, King Sargon of Akkad. Her mother was probably Queen Tashlultum.[9][10] Enheduanna was appointed to the role of High Priestess in a shrewd political move by Sargon to help secure power in the south of his kingdom, where the City of Ur was located.[11]

She continued to hold office during the reign of Rimush, her brother, when she was involved in some form of political turmoil, expelled, then eventually reinstated as high priestess. Her composition 'The Exaltation of Inanna' or ‘nin me šara’[12] details her expulsion from Ur and eventual reinstatement.[11] This correlates with 'The Curse of Akkade'[13] in which Naram-Sin, under whom Enheduanna may have also served, is cursed and cast out by Enlil. After her death, Enheduanna continued to be remembered as an important figure, perhaps even attaining semi-divine status.[14]

Background and archaeological discovery

A modern reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur (background) looms over the ruins of the Giparu, the temple complex where Enheduanna lived and was buried

In 1927, British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered the Enheduanna calcite disc in excavations of the Sumerian city of Ur.[15] The figure of Enheduanna is placed prominently on the disc, emphasizing her importance. Woolley also uncovered the temple complex where the priestesses were buried.[16] Woolley described Enhuduanna in a one-page summary in his "Excavations at Ur",[17] but the significance of Enheduanna was not generally recognized until Adam Falkenstein published "Enhedu'anna, The Daughter of Sargon of Akkad", the first scholarly article on Enheduanna in 1958,[18] followed by Hallo and Van Dijk publishing the first translations and book-length discussion of Enheduanna's work in 1968.[19]

Archaeological and textual evidence

Enheduanna is well known from archaeological and textual sources. Two seals bearing her name, belonging to her servants and dating to the Sargonic period, have been excavated at the Royal Cemetery at Ur.[20][16][21][22] In addition, an alabaster disc bearing her name and likeness was excavated in the Giparu at Ur, which was Enheduanna's main residence. The statue was found in the Isin-Larsa (c. 2000–1800 BC) levels of the Giparu alongside a statue of the priestess Enannatumma.[23]

Copies of Enheduanna's work, many dating to hundreds of years after her death, were made and kept in Nippur, Ur and possibly Lagash alongside Royal inscriptions which indicates that they were of high value, perhaps equal to the inscriptions of Kings (Westenholz 1989:540).

Literary work

Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna, the subject of many of Enheduanna's hymns, resting her foot on the back of a lion, c. 2334–2154 BC

Enheduanna composed 42 hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad including Eridu, Sippar and Esnunna.[24] The texts are reconstructed from 37 tablets from Ur and Nippur, most of which date to the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods (Sjöberg and Bergman 1969:6–7). This collection is known generally as 'The Sumerian Temple Hymns'. The temple hymns were the first collection of their kind; in them Enheduanna states: "My king, something has been created that no one has created before."[25] The copying of the hymns indicates the temple hymns were in use long after Enheduanna's death and were held in high esteem.

Her other famous work is 'The Exaltation of Inanna'[19] or 'Nin-Me-Sar-Ra'[26] which is a personal devotion to the goddess Inanna and also details Enheduanna's expulsion from Ur. Enheduanna's poems played a role in cementing the syncretism between Inanna and the Akkadian goddess Ishtar.[27]

Enheduanna's authorship raises the issue of female literacy in ancient Mesopotamia; in addition to Enheduanna, royal wives are known to have commissioned or perhaps composed poetry,[28] and the goddess Nindaba acted as a scribe: As Leick notes "to some extent the descriptive epithets of Mesopotamian goddesses reveal the cultural perception of women and their role in ancient society".[29]

The majority of Enheduanna's work is available in translation at the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.[30]

List of compositions

  • Nin-me-šara, "The Exaltation of Inanna", 153 lines, edited and translated first by Hallo and van Dijk (1968),[19] later by Annette Zgoll (1997) in German. The first 65 lines address the goddess with a list of epithets, comparing her to An, the supreme god of the pantheon. Then, En-hedu-ana speaks in the first person to express her unhappiness at being exiled from the temple and the cities of Ur and Uruk. En-hedu-ana asks for intercession of Nanna. Lines 122–135 recite divine attributes of Inanna.
  • In-nin ša-gur-ra (named by incipit), 274 lines (incomplete), edited by Sjöberg (1976) using 29 fragments.
  • In-nin me-huš-a, "Inanna and Ebih", first translated by Limet (1969)
  • The Temple Hymns, edited by Sjöberg and Bergmann (1969): 42 hymns of varying length, addressed to temples.
  • Hymn to Nanna, edited by Westenholz

Modern relevance

Ancient Sumerian bas-relief portrait depicting Enheduanna (third from right).

Studies of Enheduanna were limited to Near Eastern scholars until 1976, when American anthropologist Marta Weigle attended a lecture by Cyrus H. Gordon and became aware of her. Weigle introduced Enheduanna to an audience of feminist scholars with her introductory essay to an issue of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. Entitled "Women as Verbal Artists: Reclaiming the Sisters of Enheduanna," it referred to her as "the first known author in world (written) literature."[31] In 1980, Aliki and Willis Barnstone published a translation of "Ninmessara" in a more accessible (non-scholarly) form[32] in their anthology A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now.[33]

In 1983, Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer included English translations of several of Enheduanna's poems in their book Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, a compilation of ancient Sumerian poems about the goddess Inanna.[34] Wolkstein's adaptation became the basis of various other publications, including Judy Grahn's Queen of Swords (1987) Alice Notley's The Descent of Alette (1996), and Annie Finch's Among the Goddesses (2010). Jungian analyst Betty De Shong Meador in 2001 translated works by Enheduanna and wrote two books on the subject: Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart[35] and Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna.[36] Minnesota author Cass Dalglish published a "contemporary poetic adaptation" of Nin-me-sar-ra in 2008.[37]

Being not only the earliest known poet in world history, but also one of the earliest women known to history, Enheduanna has received substantial attention in feminism. To mark International Women's Day in 2014, the British Council hosted a pre-launch event for Niniti International Literature Festival in Erbil, Iraq, where "writer and previous NINITI participant Rachel Holmes [delivered] a TED Talk looking back on 5000 years of feminism, from major female Sumerian poet Enheduanna, to contemporary writers who [attended] the festival".[38] In 2017, London and Oxford Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History Eleanor Robson described Enheduanna as "a wish-fulfillment figure...a marvelously appealing image".[39]

Enheduanna has also been recognized as an early rhetorical theorist by scholars such as Roberta Binkley. Her contributions include attention to the process of (writing) invention as well as emotional, ethical and logical appeals within her poem "The Exaltation of Inanna." Rhetorical strategies such as these establish rhetorical theory nearly 2,000 years before the classical Greek period.[40] Binkley suggests that, while Enheduanna wrote "rhetorically complex sophisticated compositions"[41] that predated the Ancient Greeks by millennia, her work is less-well-known in rhetorical theory due to her gender and geographic location.[42]

Enheduanna is the subject of the episode "The Immortals" of the science television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, where she was voiced by Christiane Amanpour. Enheduanna was also featured in a 2018 episode of Spirits Podcast about her patron goddess, Inanna.[43]

In 2015, the International Astronomical Union named a crater on Mercury after Enheduanna.[44]

Selected example hymns

Two example poems, hymn 7 and hymn 26, with translation by Betty De Shong Meador are given below.[45] The translation is created by creating a word for word literal translation of each hymn from each tablet source which is then rendered into this form.

Temple Hymn 7

The Kesh Temple of Ninhursag                   The Lofty

high-lying Kesh

in all heaven and earth   you are the form-shaping place

spreading fear like a great poisonous snake

O Lady of the Mountains    Ninhursag’s house

built on a terrifying site

O Kesh    like holy Aratta

inside is a womb dark and deep

your outside towers over all

imposing one

great lion of the wildlands    stalking the high plains

great mountain

incantations fixed you in place

inside the light is dim

even moonlight (Nanna’s light) does not enter

only Nintur Lady Birth

makes it beautiful

O house of Kesh

the brick of birthgiving

your temple tower   adorned with a lapis lazuli crown

your princess

Princess of Silence

unfailing great Lady of Heaven

when she speaks heaven shakes

open-mouthed she roars

Aruru    sister of Enlil

O house of Kesh

has built this house on your radiant site

and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 26

The Zabalam Temple Of Inanna

O house    wrapped in beams of light

wearing shining stone jewels    wakening great awe

sanctuary of pure Inanna

    (where) divine powers the true me spread wide


              shrine of the shining mountain

   shrine that welcomes the morning light

   she makes resound with desire

the Holy Woman grounds your hallowed chamber

   with desire

   your queen    Inanna of the sheepfold

   that singular woman

   the unique one

who speaks hateful words to the wicked

   who moves among the bright shining things

   who goes against rebel lands

and at twilight makes the firmament beautiful

   all on her own

   great daughter of Suen

   pure Inanna

O house of Zabalam

   has built this house on your radiant site

   and placed her seat upon your dais


  1. "CDLI-Archival View". cdli.ucla.edu.
  2. Reallexikon der Assyriologie,v. 2, B–E, 1938, p. 373
  3. "En HeduAnna (EnHedu'Anna) philosopher of Iraq – 2354 BCE". Women-philosophers dot com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09.[unreliable source?] "En" means high priest; With reference to Nanna, the Moon God, the title "heduana" is a poetic epithet the Moon ("adornment of the sky")
  4. Binkley, Roberta (1998). "Biography of Enheduanna, Priestess of Inanna". University of Pennsylvania Museum. Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2005-09-19.[unreliable source?] "ca. 2285–2250 B.C.E."
  5. Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green (1992, ISBN 0-292-70794-0), p. 134 (entry "Nanna-Suen").
  6. Hallo and Van Dijk 1968 p. 3.
  7. Binkley, 2004, p. 47
  8. J Renger 1967: "Untersuchungen zum Priestertum in der altbabylonischen Zeit", Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie. Vol. 58. p. 118.
  9. Elisabeth Meier Tetlow (2004). Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society: The ancient Near East. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8264-1628-5. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  10. Michael Roaf (1992). Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East. Stonehenge Press. ISBN 978-0-86706-681-4. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  11. Franke, p. 831
  12. ETCSL translation: t.4.07.2
  13. ETCSL translation: t.2.1.5
  14. Hallo and Van Dijk 1968 p. 5
  15. Mark, Joshua J. "Enheduanna", Ancient History Encyclopedia, March 24, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  16. Woolley, Leonard. Ur Excavations II: The royal cemetery: a report on the pre-dynastic and Sargonid graves excavated between 1926 and 1931". For the Trustees of the two Museums by the Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1934 p.312, 334–335 & 358.
  17. Woolley, C.L., Excavations at Ur, p.115.
  18. Falkenstein, A., "Enhedu'anna, Die Tochter Sargons von Akkade," Revue d'Assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale, Vol. 52, No. 2 (1958), pp. 129–131 (in German). JSTOR link. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  19. Hallo, William W. and Van Dijk, J.J.A., The Exaltation of Inanna, Yale University Press (1968).
  20. Gadd, C. J., et al., Ur Excavations Texts I – Royal Inscriptions," Trustees of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, London, 1928
  21. "CDLI-Found Texts". cdli.ucla.edu.
  22. "CDLI-Archival View". cdli.ucla.edu.
  23. Weadock, P. 1975, "The Giparu at Ur," Iraq 37 (2), pp. 101–128.
  24. Sjoberg, A. W. and Bergman, S.J 1969 'The Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns' J.J Augustin Publisher, New York p.5
  25. (ETCSL translation: t.4.80.1, line 543–544 )
  26. Angelfire description
  27. Collins, Paul (1994), "The Sumerian Goddess Inanna (3400–2200 BC)", Papers of from the Institute of Archaeology, 5, UCL, pp. 110–111
  28. Leick, Gwendolyn. "Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature" Routledge, London, 1994 pp. 112 & 116
  29. Leick, Gwendolyn. "Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature" Routledge, London, 1994 p. 65
  30. Weigle, Marta (Autumn 1978). "Women as Verbal Artists: Reclaiming the Sisters of Enheduanna". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 3 (3): 1–9. doi:10.2307/3346320. JSTOR 3346320.
  31. Enheduanna Research Bibliography (2001). Accessed 25 June 2017.
  32. Barnstone, Aliki, and Barnstone, Willis (1980). A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now, Schocken Books, 1980 ISBN 0805236937, 978080523693; paperback Schocken Press 1981, ASIN: B000P20XU0; Penguin/Random House edition 1992 ISBN 9780805209976
  33. Wolkstein, Diane and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper & Row, NY 1983.
  34. De Shong Meador, 2001
  35. De Shong Meador, 2009
  36. Dalglish, 2008
  37. British Council Literature 'Poem for International Women's Day & NINITI International Festival of women writers in Iraq' Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine
  38. "Lines of Resistance". BBC. Retrieved 22 October 2017. Interview of Eleanor Robson by Writer and poet Bridget Minamore
  39. Binkley, 2004, pp. 47-49
  40. Binkley, 2004, p. 49
  41. Binkley, 2004, pp. 58-59
  42. Spirits Podcast, 2018.
  43. Mercury Crater-naming Contest Winners Announced, IAU, press release, April 2015. The crater will appear in the IAU's Mercury gazetteer in due course.
  44. Rothenberg, Jerome (June 27, 2017). "Enheduanna (2300 BCE.): Seven Sumerian Temple Hymns". Jacket 2. Retrieved March 20, 2021.


  • Binkley, Roberta A. (2004). "The Rhetoric of Origins and the Other: Reading the Ancient Figure of Enheduanna." In Lipson, Carol, and Roberta A. Binkley, eds. Rhetoric before and beyond the Greeks, Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791461006
  • Dalglish, Cass (2008). Humming the Blues: Inspired by Nin-Me-Sar-Ra, Enheduanna's Song to Inanna. Oregon: CALYX Books. ISBN 978-0-934971-92-8.
  • De Shong Meador, Betty (2001). Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna, University of Texas ISBN 0-292-75242-3
  • De Shong Meador, Betty (2009). Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna, University of Texas Press, ISBN 978-0-292-71932-3
  • Franke, Franke, S. "Kings of Akkad: Sargon and Naram-Sin", in Sasson, Jack, M. (1995), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Scribener, New York. ISBN 978-0-684-19279-6
  • Hallo, William W. and Van Dijk, J.J.A. (1986). The Exaltation of Inanna, Yale University Press.
  • Roberts, Janet (2004). Enheduanna, Daughter of King Sargon: Princess, Poet, Priestess (2300 B.C.), Transoxiana 8
  • Sjoberg, Ake and E. Bermann, E. (1969). The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns, Locust Valley, J.J. Augustin.
  • Sjoberg, Ake (1975). In-nin sa-gur-ra: A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-Priestess Enheduanna, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archaeologie 65: 161–253.
  • Spirits Podcast. (2018, February 21). Episode 65: Inanna. Spirits Podcast. https://spiritspodcast.com/episodes/inanna
  • Zgoll, Annette (1997). "Der Rechtsfall der En-hedu-Ana im Lied Nin-me-sarra", (En-hedu-Ana's legal case in the hymn Nin-me-sara) [Ugarit-Verlag, Muenster], 1997. For an English translation of Zgoll's translation of Nin-me-sara: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/enheduanna/Ninmesara.html