Poems and hymns, words and rhythm, the world is incomplete without poets and writers. But just like everything had a beginning, so did poetry. And surprisingly the first author by name in history was a woman. Her literary collection today serves as the basic foundation of the poetic history of the world. She lived 17,000 years ago than Sappho, the world’s first erotic poet, and about 500 years ago the biblical patriarch Abraham. Her name was Enheduanna.
Enheduanna is history’s first known author and the highest priestess of Moon God in Ur. During her lifetime she composed extraordinary works of Sumerian and Akkadian cultures including 42 hymns and three epic poems.
Enheduanna was the most powerful person in the Sumerian city of Ur, Mesopotamia.
The name Enheduanna translates to ‘High Priestess of An’ (the sky god) or ‘En-Priestess, wife of the god Nanna’. She belonged to the northern city of Akkad, the very heart of Sumerian culture. She was the highest priestess of Moon God in Ur and the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE). But it is quite unclear whether she was a blood relative of Sargon’s or the title was figurative.
Enheduanna was born in ancient Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Her father was history first Empire builder known as Sargon The Great. He conquered and united several independent states of Mesopotamia establishing him as a unified ruler of Mesopotamia. As Sargon’s language differed from the Sumerian cities of the south, they viewed him as a foreign invader. Thus in order to gain the trust of his subjects and bridge the gap between their cultures, Sargon decided to appoint his only daughter Enheduanna as the highest priestess at the most important temple in the Sumerian city of Ur.
Enheduanna was given the responsibility to meld the Sumerian gods with the Akkadian ones in order to create stability. During those years, the female royalties were often promoted to religious roles rather than political but as Enheduanna was educated enough in both Sumerian and Akkadian languages, Sargon decided to merge his political intentions with his daughter’s religious duties.
Before Enheduanna, the only form of writing was done for accounting purposes in the form of Cuneiform. This form of writing was precisely done for record-keeping purposes and not to attribute an individual writer. To be clear, the period is recorded as one of the earliest period of writing and reading. As the highest priestess of Ur, Enheduanna’s duty was to manage the storage of grains, command temple workers, perform ceremonies and take care of the monthly new moon festival. Enheduanna worked hard to unify both Sumerian and Akkadian cultures without harming the principles of any one faith.
Thus, in order to create communal harmony, she wrote 42 religious hymns which included the combination of both mythologies. During that period, each Mesopotamian city was ruled by one God of their culture and so Enheduanna wrote about every God ruling the Mesopotamian states. She appreciated God’s attributes and established their connection with the other Gods. This way, she managed to glorify both Sumerian and Akkadian culture within one roof.
Enheduanna’s literary collection
Her most famous poetry contribution was on Goddess of war and desire- Inanna- ‘The Exaltation of Inanna’. The goddess appreciates all types of sexual attractions and transcended gender boundaries, thus her earthly servers could be prostitutes, Eunuchs, and crossdressers. This way Enheduanna manages to place Goddess Inanna at the top of all the deities. Enheduanna’s odes on Inanna records the first use of ‘I’, that express individual and private emotions and desires.
Along with this, she created a paradigm of poetry, psalms, and prayers that were used throughout ancient Mesopotamian history. After the death of her father, Sargon, a general took control and seized the coup, but in order to completely gain the territory, it was important to overthrow the most powerful person in the city. Thus Enheduanna was ripped off her position and forced into exile.
Though her nephew, the famous Sumerian king Naram- Sin, regained control and reinstated his aunt Enheduanna as the highest Priestess. In total, Enheduanna served 40 years of her life as the highest priestess of the city of Ur. Even so, after her death, she became the minor deity of the Sumerian people. Her poems also influenced Hebrew’s Old Testament, epics of Homer, and hymns of Christianity.
Her most famous works include Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, all were powerful hymns on Goddess Inanna. Apart from this, she wrote forty-two poems reflecting personal frustrations and desires, religious devotion, fears, and feelings about the world she lived in. Her works grew the gods closer synthesizing Sumerian and Akkadian beliefs and balancing the harmony within the community. The impact of her poetry was profound and direct which helped Mesopotamian rulers to rule people of different cultural-religious beliefs.
In her work ‘THE ADORATION OF INANNA OF UR’, Enheduanna wrotes,
Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth,
Who rain flaming fire over the land,
Who have been given the me by An,
Queen Who Rides the Beasts,
Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words,
Who can fathom Your great rites!
This was Enheduanna’s legacy continues to chronicle even today and can be witnessed at the clay tablets stood on the test of time.