Enheduanna (Sumerian: 𒂗𒃶𒌌𒀭𒈾, also transliterated as Enheduana, En-hedu-ana, or variants; fl. 23rd century BC) 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.
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. This makes her the first named author in world history.
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. She was appointed to the role by her father, King Sargon of Akkad. Her mother was probably Queen Tashlultum. 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.
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’ details her expulsion from Ur and eventual reinstatement. This correlates with 'The Curse of Akkade' 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.
Background and archaeological discovery
In 1927, British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered the Enheduanna calcite disc in excavations of the Sumerian city of Ur. The figure of Enheduanna is placed prominently on the disc, emphasizing her importance. Woolley also uncovered the temple complex where the priestesses were buried. Woolley described Enhuduanna in a one-page summary in his "Excavations at Ur", 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, followed by Hallo and Van Dijk publishing the first translations and book-length discussion of Enheduanna's work in 1968.
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. 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.
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).
Enheduanna composed 42 hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad including Eridu, Sippar and Esnunna. 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." 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' or 'Nin-Me-Sar-Ra' 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.
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, 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".
The majority of Enheduanna's work is available in translation at the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.
List of compositions
- Nin-me-šara, "The Exaltation of Inanna", 153 lines, edited and translated first by Hallo and van Dijk (1968), 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
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." In 1980, Aliki and Willis Barnstone published a translation of "Ninmessara" in a more accessible (non-scholarly) form in their anthology A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now.
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. 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 and Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna. Minnesota author Cass Dalglish published a "contemporary poetic adaptation" of Nin-me-sar-ra in 2008.
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". In 2017, London and Oxford Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History Eleanor Robson described Enheduanna as "a wish-fulfillment figure...a marvelously appealing image".
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. Binkley suggests that, while Enheduanna wrote "rhetorically complex sophisticated compositions" that predated the Ancient Greeks by millennia, her work is less-well-known in rhetorical theory due to her gender and geographic location.
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.
Selected example hymns
Two example poems, hymn 7 and hymn 26, with translation by Betty De Shong Meador are given below. 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
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
great lion of the wildlands stalking the high plains
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
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
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
O house of Zabalam
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais
|1st Dynasty of Kish|
|1st Dynasty of Uruk|
|1st Dynasty of Ur|
|2nd Dynasty of Uruk|
|1st Dynasty of Lagash|
|Dynasty of Adab|
|3rd Dynasty of Kish|
|3rd Dynasty of Uruk|
|Dynasty of Akkad|
|2nd Dynasty of Lagash|
|5th Dynasty of Uruk|
|3rd dynasty of Ur|
|Part of a series on|
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