Enheduanna (also transliterated as Enheduanna, En-hedu-ana, or variants), 2285-2250 BC, was the priestess of the moon god Nanna (Sīn) in the Sumerian city-state of Ur in the reign of her father, Sargon of Akkad, the first ruler and founder of the Akkadian Empire. She was likely appointed by her father as the leader of the religious cult at Ur to cement ties between the Akkadian religion of her father and the native Sumerian religion. Her mother was Tashlultum, one of Sargon’s wives.
Enheduanna was born around 2285 BC in the city of Akkad, located in Mesopotamia (now central Iraq). She had a brother named Rimush and several half-siblings from her father’s other wives.
She was a Sumerian high priestess, poet, and writer known as the world’s first-named author. Enheduanna received a first-rate education as a child, which was unusual for women in her time. She was educated in the Sumerian language, literature, religion, and music and received training as a priestess.
There is little information about Enheduanna’s personal life. It is believed that she was married at some point, although the identity of her husband is unknown. She is also thought to have borne children, but no information about their names or number exists.
Enheduanna was a prolific writer, composing many works of literature, including hymns, prayers, and poems. Her most famous works are a series of 42 hymns to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and war. These hymns are considered some of the finest examples of ancient Sumerian poetry and are notable for their passionate language and vivid imagery.
Her writing was groundbreaking for several reasons. First, she was the first author in history whose name has been recorded. Secondly, she wrote in Sumerian, which was the language of the people, rather than in the official language of the ruling class, Akkadian. Thirdly, Enheduanna’s work was highly personal and emotional, expressing her devotion to the goddess Inanna and her personal struggles and triumphs as a priestess.
In addition to her literary accomplishments, Enheduanna played an important role in the religious and political life of her time. As the high priestess of the temple of Nanna, she was responsible for performing religious ceremonies, managing the temple’s finances, and overseeing the training of other priestesses.
Hymns and Poems
Enheduanna was a high priestess of the moon god Nanna in Ur and wrote many hymns and prayers to different gods and goddesses, especially Inanna, whom she praised as the supreme deity. Her writings are significant because they show that she had a deep understanding of Sumerian religion and literature. She also recorded her personal experiences in her poems, such as her exile and restoration.
As a high priestess, Enheduanna would have been endowed with great political power and influence. She was also responsible for performing religious ceremonies and making offerings to the gods on behalf of the people of Ur.
She has been celebrated as the earliest known named author in world history, as several works in Sumerian literature, such as the Exaltation of Inanna, feature her as the first person narrator, and other works, such as the Sumerian Temple Hymns, may identify her as their author. However, there is considerable debate and doubt among modern Assyriologists based on linguistic and archaeological grounds about whether she wrote or composed any of the rediscovered works attributed to her.
Moreover, the only manuscripts of the works attributed to her were written by scribes in the First Babylonian Empire six centuries after she lived, written in a more recent dialect of the Sumerian language than she would have spoken. These scribes may have attributed these works to her as part of the legendary narratives of the dynasty of Sargon of Akkad in later Babylonian traditions.
The cultural memory of Enheduanna and the works attributed to her were lost sometime after the end of the First Babylonian Empire. Her existence was first rediscovered by modern archaeology in 1927 when Sir Leonard Wooley excavated the Giparu in the ancient city of Ur and found an alabaster disk with her name, association with Sargon of Akkad, and occupation inscribed on the reverse. References to her name were then later discovered in excavated works of Sumerian literature, which caused an investigation into her authorship of those works.
Enheduanna has also received considerable attention in feminism, and the works attributed to her have also been studied as an early progenitor of classical rhetoric. English translations of her works have also inspired several literary adaptations and representations.
Enheduanna is best known for her hymns and prayers to the gods, which were written in the Sumerian language. These writings were inscribed on clay tablets and were intended to be recited during religious ceremonies. Some of her most famous works include the “Exaltation of Inanna” and the “Temple Hymns.”
Artefacts and Manuscripts
In 1927, as part of excavations at Ur, British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered a disk made of alabaster or calcite, 25 cm in diameter and 7 cm thick, but shattered into several pieces. It was found in the cemetery of the temple compound of Nin-gal, the consort of the Sumerian moon god, Nanna. The disk has since been reconstructed, and the reverse side identifies Enheduanna as the wife of Nanna and the daughter of Sargon of Akkad. The front side shows the high priestess standing in worship as what has been interpreted as a nude male figure pours a libation.
The American art historian and scholar of ancient Near Eastern art, Irene Winter, states that “given the placement and attention to detail” of the central figure, “she has been identified as Enheduanna“. Two seals bearing her name, belonging to Enheduanna’s servants and dating to the Sargonic period, have been excavated at the Giparu at Ur.
Two items attributed to Enheduanna, “The Exaltation of Inanna” and “Inanna and Ebih“, have survived in numerous manuscripts due to their presence in the Decad, an advanced scribal curriculum in the First Babylonian Empire of the 18th and 17th centuries BC. Jeremy Black et al. suggest that “perhaps Enheduanna has survived in scribal literature… due to the continuing fascination with the dynasty of her father, Sargon of Akkad“.
The rediscovery of Enheduanna’s works is a fascinating story. Although her writings were inscribed on clay tablets and were likely well-known in ancient Sumeria, they were largely forgotten after the decline of the Sumerian civilisation. It was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that scholars began to take an interest in Sumerian literature and archaeology.
The first significant discovery of Enheduanna’s works came in 1927: archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Nippur in present-day Iraq found a group of tablets that contained some of Enheduanna’s hymns. The tablets were taken to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where they were studied and translated by scholars.
However, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that a more systematic effort was made to collect and study Enheduanna’s writings. By this time, several new tablets were discovered in various locations throughout the Middle East, and scholars began to piece together a more complete picture of her life and work. Many of these tablets were written in cuneiform script, which made them difficult to decipher, and it took many years of patient work by specialists in Sumerian language and culture to translate them.
Today, Enheduanna’s works are studied by scholars around the world, and they have been recognised as a significant part of the world’s literary and cultural heritage. Her writings offer important insights into the religion, society, and culture of ancient Sumeria, and they have helped to shed light on the role of women in early civilisations.
Picture Credit: Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna, the subject of three hymns attributed to Enheduanna, resting her foot on the back of a lion, c. 2334–2154 BCE
Attribution: Sailko, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seal_of_Inanna,_2350-2150_BCE.jpg
The Assyriolists and Historians
Many learned people have been involved in the study of Enheduanna and her writings over the years. A few of the most notable scholars who have contributed to our understanding of her life and work are:
- William Hayes Ward: Ward was an American scholar who studied Sumerian literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the first person to translate some of Enheduanna’s hymns into English, and he published his translations in a book called “The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia” in 1910.
- Thorkild Jacobsen: Jacobsen was a Danish-American scholar who specialised in Sumerian literature and religion. In the 1930s and 1940s, he translated several of Enheduanna’s hymns, including the “Exaltation of Inanna,” and wrote extensively on her life and work.
- Samuel Noah Kramer: Kramer was an American Assyriologist who made significant contributions to the study of Sumerian literature and culture. He was one of the first scholars to recognise the importance of Enheduanna’s writings, and he translated several of her hymns into English.
- Jean Bottéro: Bottéro was a French Assyriologist who significantly contributed to the study of Mesopotamian religion and culture. He wrote extensively on Enheduanna and her writings, and he was instrumental in making her work better known in the Western world.
- Betty De Shong Meador: Meador is an American scholar who has written extensively on Enheduanna and her place in the history of women’s literature. She has translated many of Enheduanna’s hymns into English and has written several books on the subject, including “Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart” and “Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna.”
- Sir Leonard Woolley: Woolley was a British archaeologist who led several important excavations in the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century. He discovered many Sumerian tablets, including some that contained hymns written by Enheduanna.
- Jeremy Black: Black, a British Assyriologist, wrote extensively on Sumerian literature and culture. He has published translations of several of Enheduanna’s hymns and has contributed to our understanding of her life and work.
- William Hallo: Hallo was an American Assyriologist who greatly contributed to studying ancient Near Eastern literature. He wrote extensively on Enheduanna and her writings, and he translated several of her hymns into English.
- Åke Sjöberg: Sjöberg was a Swedish Assyriologist who specialised in Sumerian literature and religion. He translated many of Enheduanna’s hymns into English and wrote extensively on her life and legacy.
- Miguel Civil: Civil was a Spanish Assyriologist who made significant contributions to the study of Sumerian literature and culture. He was one of the first scholars to recognise the importance of Enheduanna’s writings, and he translated several of her hymns into Spanish.
These Assyriolists and Historians have played an important role in advancing our understanding of Enheduanna and her work. Their contributions have helped to shed light on the religious, social, and cultural context in which Enheduanna lived and worked, and they have helped to ensure that her writings are appreciated and studied by scholars and the general public alike.
The question of Enheduanna’s authorship of poems has been subject to significant debate.
While William Hallo and Åke Sjoberg were the first to definitively assert Enheduanna’s authorship of the works attributed to her, other Assyriologists, including Miguel Civil and Jeremy Black, have advanced arguments rejecting or doubting Enheduanna’s authorship altogether.
The circumstances of Enheduana’s exile are not pellucid, as very little information is available about this period of her life. We do know that after serving as the high priestess of the moon god Nanna in the city of Ur for many years, Enheduana fell out of favour with the ruling monarch – likely her brother Rimush or nephew Manishtushu. It is possible that Enheduana’s political influence or popularity had grown too strong for the king’s liking or that she had offended him in some way. Another theory is that she was caught up in a power struggle between different factions at the royal court. Still, another theory is that Enheduanna was a key player in the takeover and sustained rule of the Akkadian empire. As the daughter of King Sargon, she was tasked with unifying the people of Ur — a major strategic city— under one banner. It was no easy task. During her leadership, a Sumerian revolt overthrew her rule, and she was cast out of the city.
Another theory: In the later years of King Sargon’s reign, a rebellion broke out in Ur led by a noble named Lugalanne (said to have been her brother-in-law), who made advances on her to join his cause, but Enheduanna steadfastly refused to join the rebels and was forced into exile. She lamented her plight in one of her epic poems.
According to yet another theory, towards the end of the reign of her father’s grandson Narām-Sîn, a certain Lugal-Ane (perhaps, Lugal-An-na or Lugal-An-né) came to power in the city of Ur. As the new ruler, he invoked the legitimacy of the city god Nanna. Lugal-Ane demanded that Enheduanna, the high priestess and consort of the moon god, confirm his assumption of power. Enheduanna, as representative of the Sargonid dynasty, refused, at which point she was suspended from her office and expelled from the city. The mention of the temple E-ešdam-ku indicates that she found refuge in the city of Ĝirsu. In exile, she composed the song Nin me šara, the performance of which was intended to persuade the goddess Inanna (as Ištar, the patron goddess of her dynasty) to intervene on behalf of the Akkadian empire. King Narām-Sîn succeeded in putting down the rebellion of Lugal-Ane and other kings and restored the Akkadian central authority for the remaining years of his reign. Probably, Enheduanna then returned to her office in the city of Ur.
Whatever the reason, Enheduana was removed from her position as high priestess and exiled from the city of Ur. She may have been forced to flee to the city of Nippur, where she continued to write and compose hymns to the gods.
Enheduana’s exile was a significant event in her life, and it may have been a difficult and traumatic experience for her. However, it also allowed her to continue her work as a writer and religious leader, and her hymns from this period are some of the most powerful and moving in the entire Sumerian canon.
Surprising and Lesser Known Facts
Enheduanna was a remarkable figure in ancient history, and there are several surprising and lesser-known facts about her life and accomplishments. Here are a few:
- She was the first known author to sign her name to a written work. Enheduanna’s name appears on many of her compositions, which is a departure from earlier works that were often anonymous.
- She was the first woman in history to hold the title of high priestess. As the high priestess of the moon god Nanna, Enheduanna was one of the most powerful religious figures in Sumerian society.
- She was a master of poetic form and language. Enheduanna’s hymns and other compositions are known for their complex structure, vivid imagery, and intricate wordplay. Her works are considered among the earliest examples of sophisticated poetry in human history.
- She was a skilled administrator and diplomat. Enheduanna’s position as high priestess gave her significant political power. She used her influence to maintain good relationships with neighbouring city-states and secure the resources and support needed for her temple.
- Her works had a lasting impact on Sumerian and Akkadian culture. Enheduanna’s poetry and other writings were widely copied and distributed throughout the ancient Near East, and they inspired later generations of poets and scholars.
- She faced significant political and religious challenges during her time as high priestess. There were several power struggles within the Sumerian royal family during her lifetime, and Enheduanna found herself caught in the middle of many of them. At one point, she was exiled from her temple.
- She had a deep understanding of astronomy and the cycles of the moon. As the high priestess of the moon god Nanna, Enheduanna was responsible for tracking the moon’s cycles and determining the correct times for religious ceremonies and rituals.
- She was a patron of the arts and a supporter of other poets and musicians. Enheduanna is known to have commissioned and sponsored works by other artists and writers, and she likely played a key role in developing Sumerian and Akkadian literary culture.
- Her works were rediscovered relatively recently. Enheduanna’s writings were largely forgotten for centuries, but they were rediscovered in the 20th century and have since been the subject of extensive study and analysis. Enheduanna was unknown to modernity altogether until 1927, when the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley excavated objects bearing her name.
- Her name, in Sumerian, means “Ornament of Heaven“.
- She was a figure of great importance to later generations of writers and intellectuals. Enheduanna’s legacy lived on long after her death, and she was praised and admired by later poets and scholars throughout the ancient Near East.
Overall, Enheduanna’s life and work are fascinating and important, and she continues to be remembered and celebrated today as one of the most significant figures in the history of literature and culture.
Enheheduanna’s writing influenced later generations of Sumerian literature, and her position as a high priestess paved the way for other women to hold positions of power in ancient Mesopotamia. Enheduanna’s life and achievements are especially significant in the context of women’s history. As a woman, she had a position of great power and influence in a male-dominated society. Her writings are also important because they showed that women could produce great works of literature and theology.
Writing was highly influential in the ancient world and has continued to inspire writers and scholars throughout history. Her hymns to Inanna were widely copied and circulated, and many have survived. Enheduanna’s work has been studied and analysed by scholars of ancient Near Eastern literature, women’s studies, and feminist theory.
Enheduanna’s life and work offer insights into the religion and culture of ancient Sumeria. Her writings reveal a deep understanding of the Sumerian pantheon and its rituals and cast light on how religion was integrated into everyday life in Ur.
Picture Credit: Sumerian clay tablet inscribed with the text of the poem Inanna and Ebih
Attribution: Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tablet_describing_goddess_Inanna%27s_battle_with_the_mountain_Ebih,_Sumerian_-_Oriental_Institute_Museum,_University_of_Chicago_-_DSC07117.JPG
Although her writings were largely forgotten for many centuries, they have been rediscovered and have since become an important part of the world’s literary heritage. Today, she is recognised as one of the most important figures in ancient Sumeria and a pioneering writer and priestess.
In conclusion, Enheduanna was a remarkable woman who achieved great things despite the limitations imposed on women in her time. Her writing and achievements have made her an important figure in the history of literature, religion, and women’s rights.
Sources and Further Reading
- https:/ /storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/enheduanna-priestess-poet-and-woman-of-power/
- Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna by Betty De Shong Meador (Author), Judy Grahn (Foreword), published by the University of Texas Press in 2001, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inanna-Lady-Largest-Heart-Enheduanna/dp/0292752423
- Enheduanna: The High Priestess of a Sumerian Temple by Ali Eryılmaz, published independently in 2020, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Enheduanna-High-Priestess-Sumerian-Temple/dp/B08M1TDG1Z
- Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna (Classics and the Ancient World) Paperback, by Betty De Shong Meador, published by the University of Texas Press in 2010, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Princess-Priestess-Poet-Sumerian-Enheduanna/dp/0292723539
- Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna Paperback, Illustrated, by Betty De Shong Meador (Author), Judy Grahn (Introduction), published by the University of Texas Press in 2001, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inanna-Lady-Largest-Heart-Enheduanna/dp/0292752423/
- THE IRAQI ENIGMA: “The Story of Enheduanna, the World’s First Published Poet” Paperback, by Leah Larson (Author), independently published in 2020, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/IRAQI-ENIGMA-Enheduanna-Worlds-Published/dp/1676241256
- Legends of the Kings of Akkade: The Texts (Mesopotamian Civilizations) Paperback, by Joan Westenholz (Author), published by Eisenbrauns in 2018, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Legends-Kings-Akkade-Mesopotamian-Civilizations/dp/1575063115/
- Who Was Enheduanna? by Digital Hammurabi. This video features an interview with Dr Jay Crisostomo, an expert on Enheduanna and her writings. He discusses her life, her role as a priestess and a poet, and her influence on Mesopotamian literature and culture. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_h_TgF-7-U
- Enheduanna: Poet, Priestess and Politician of Ancient Mesopotamia by History with Cy. This video gives a brief overview of Enheduanna’s biography, her works and her legacy as the first named author in history. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3sgRvGpHKA
- High Priestess Enheduanna: First Named Author in History by Angelfire.com. This video is part of a documentary series about Enheduanna that covers her background, her poetry, her politics and her spirituality. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN9HymgOTNE
- Enheduanna Documentary (Part 1 of 5): Introduction by Angelfire.com. This video is part of a documentary series about Enheduanna that introduces her as the daughter of Sargon, the first emperor of Mesopotamia, and the high priestess of Nanna, the moon god. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN9HymgOTNE
- Enheduanna: The First Poet by The British Museum. This video features Dr Irving Finkel, a curator at The British Museum, who talks about Enheduanna’s poetry and shows some of the clay tablets that contain her writings. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_h_TgF-7-U
- Enheduanna: A Hymn to Inana by Mesopotamian Poetry. This video is a recitation of one of Enheduanna’s hymns to Inana, the goddess of love and war, in both Sumerian and English. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3sgRvGpHKA
- World Poetry Day: The Female Ancient Poets Sappho, Enheduanna and Zhuo Wenjun by The British Museum. This video features Dr Irving Finkel, a curator at The British Museum, who talks about three female ancient poets from different cultures and times: Sappho from Greece, Enheduanna from Mesopotamia and Zhuo Wenjun from China. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hRrBcWyb98
- Enheduanna – YouTube by Enheduanna. This YouTube channel uploads videos related to Enheduanna and her poetry, such as readings, translations, analyses and documentaries. View at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmn1k9WgWkbSnV0AjM0SmYw/videos
- Enheduanna’s Hymn to Inana (Sumerian) – YouTube by Mesopotamian Poetry. This video is a recitation of one of Enheduanna’s hymns to Inana, the goddess of love and war, in Sumerian, with subtitles. View at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3sgRvGpHKA
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Comment: King Sargon (aka Sargon the Great) is a figure often credited by historians with forging the world’s first empire. Basing his new realm in the city of Akkad he went on to conquer all of the ancient Sumerian city states and much of the surrounding territory. Source: https:/ /storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/enheduanna-priestess-poet-and-woman-of-power/ ↑
- Sources: https://bing.com/search?q=Endeduanna+biography and https://pantheon.world/profile/person/Enheduanna/ ↑
- Source: https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/enheduanna-politician-priestess-poet-and-scientist/ ↑
- Source: Winter, Irene (2009). p. 69. “Women In Public: The Disk Of Enheduanna, The Beginning Of The Office Of En-Priestess, And The Weight Of Visual Evidence”. In Winter, Irene (ed.). On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II: From the Third Millennium BCE. BRILL. pp. 65–84. ISBN 978-90-474-2845-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Source: Winter, Irene (2009). p. 68. “Women In Public: The Disk Of Enheduanna, The Beginning Of The Office Of En-Priestess, And The Weight Of Visual Evidence”. In Winter, Irene (ed.). On Art in the Ancient Near East Volume II: From the Third Millennium BCE. BRILL. pp. 65–84. ISBN 978-90-474-2845-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Source: Weadock, Penelope N. (1975). “The Giparu at Ur”. Iraq. 37 (2): 101–128. doi:10.2307/4200011. ISSN 0021-0889. JSTOR 4200011. S2CID 163852175. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Source: Black, Jeremy; Cunningham, Graham; Robson, Eleanor; Zólyomi, Gábor (2006). p.299. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929633-0. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Source: Ibid, pp. 334–335. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna#cite_note-FOOTNOTEGlassner2009-30 ↑
- Source: Hallo, William W.; van Dijk, J. J. A. (1968). The Exaltation of Inanna. pp. 1-11.Yale University Press. ↑
- Source: Sjöberg, Åke W.; Bergmann, Eugen (1969). The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns. J. J. Augustin. ↑
- Source: https://medium.com/the-brave-writer/3-invaluable-writing-lessons-from-enheduanna-the-first-poet-in-history-1e4ae58fe4a2 ↑
- Source: https://storiesfromthemuseumfloor.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/enheduanna-priestess-poet-and-woman-of-power/ ↑
- Source: Zgoll, Annette (1997). Der Rechtsfall der En-ḫedu-Ana im Lied nin-me-šara. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag. pp. 38–42. ISBN 3-927120-50-2. OCLC 37629393. Cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enheduanna ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Source: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20221025-enheduanna-the-worlds-first-named-author ↑