The Groundbreaking Akkadian Priestess Enheduanna Is Mankind’s Oldest Known Author To Have Signed Her Work

(Calcite disc of Enheduanna discovered by Sir Leonard Wooley in 1927 depicting Enheduanna and her attendants, photographed by Mefman00 and cropped, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

 

 

 

She also may be the mother of hymns, poetry and verse, and likely influenced Homer and the authors of the holy texts of Abrahamic religions

 

Enheduanna was born in Akkad (thought to be within modern Iraq), the capital city of the Akkadian Empire, which may be the world’s first multi-ethnic empire. While dating the lives of people from earth’s most ancient civilizations is often unreliable, the scholars seem to be comfortable placing Enheduanna’s life between 2285 and 2250 BCE. Enheduanna was an incredibly bright princess, was the daughter of the empire’s equally brilliant king, Sargon I of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE), also known as Sargon the Great.

Sargon the Great recognized the competence and wisdom in his daughter, and decided to use Enheduanna to his own advantage. The king promoted her to be the high priestess at the temples of Uruk and Ur. Her position as high priestess of the moon god, Nanna (also known as Sin or Suen), in the city of Ur, was by far the highest religious office of her day. As high priestess, Enheduanna ruled effectively, cultivating support for her father and tying the Akkadian and Sumerian religions and cultures together. She also survived a period of exile, when a rebel forcibly removed her from her priesthood. Her nephew, to the priestess’ relief, quickly crushed the rebellion and restored her to power. Enheduanna did not, however, spend her more than forty years as high priestess solely administrating—she managed to find time to write.

From what archeologists have discovered, Enheduanna wrote poems, hymns and prayers. Her writings are the oldest so far discovered to have been signed and claimed by a specific author. Enheduanna, as far as we know, also was the first person in history to use the first-person style of writing, describing her hopes, wishes and emotions from her own point of view in her poems and prayers. Though Enheduanna was a priestess of the moon god, Nanna, most of her works are devoted to Inanna, a Mesopotamian goddess of love that later cultures would compare to Ishtar and Aphrodite. Many of the priestess’ hymns have been recovered and translated including  “The Exhaltation of Inanna” (Nin-me-sara), “Inanna and Ebih” (In-nin me-hus-a) and “Lady of the Great Heart,” also known as Hymn to Inanna.

Enheduanna has much more of a legacy than being the oldest known author to claim her work with a signature. The relationship between herself, and her father, King Sargon the Great, began a precedent of royal princesses being placed as high priestesses in Mesopotamia. More importantly, Enheduanna’s hymns became widely used to train Mesopotamian scribes in proper, and beautiful, writing. Her hymns and poems, however, did not only influence Mesopotamia. Many think that Enheduanna’s work served as a major stylistic and structural inspiration for other literary behemoths such as Homer in Greece and the early biblical writers who wrote the oldest texts at the core of the Abrahamic religions.

 

Written by C. Keith Hansley

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