Enheduanna – 2285 – 2250 BCE – City of Ur, Sumer

Mesopotamia, Sumer

This city – may it be sundered by An!

May it be cursed by Enlil!

May its plaintive child not be placated by his mother!

Oh lady, the (harp of) mourning is placed on the ground.

One had verily beached your ship of mourning on a hostile shore.

At the sound of my sacred song they are ready to die.

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These are the fierce and powerful words of the world’s first known author – Enheduanna from the City of Ur, in ancient Sumer. This remarkable woman was at once princess, priestess and poet.

The daughter of Sargon the Great, Enheduanna was given the office of High Priestess of Ur in a political move which would unite Sargon’s territories. She took the name ‘En’, meaning High Priestess, becoming En-hedu-anna – High Priestess, Adornment of An (the Sumerian sky god). She dedicated her life and her work to the goddess Inanna, whom the majority of her hymns refer to.

Not only was Enheduanna writing at the very beginning of literature itself, she is the first author to put her name to her work and to write in the first person. Enheduanna’s work is full of details not only of her life but, vividly, her own personality. When a rival faction expelled her from the City during her brother’s reign, Enheduanna used her poetry to curse her enemies and call upon her patron Inanna for justice:

At your battle-cry, my lady, the foreign lands bow low.

When humanity comes before you in awed silence at the terrifying radiance and tempest, you grasp the most terrible of all the divine powers.

Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations.

In the van of battle, all is struck down before you. With your strength, my lady, teeth can crush flint.

You charge forward like a charging storm. You roar with the roaring storm, you continually thunder with Iškur.

You spread exhaustion with the stormwinds, while your own feet remain tireless.

With the lamenting balaĝ drum a lament is struck up.

From the Penn Museum collections

Disk of Enheduanna – From the Penn Museum collections

Enheduanna set the standard in all three of her roles, as not only were her hymns recalled centuries after her death, but each subsequent king’s daughter was awarded the role of High Priestess of Ur, guaranteeing these women a place of political influence. We know that Enheduanna would have approved of this, as she herself advocated the education of women:

‘The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom, She consults [employs] a tablet of lapis lazuli.

She gives advice to all lands… She measures off the heavens, She places the measuring-cords on the earth.’ 


Notes:

  • Iškur – Sumerian storm god

References:

On Wikipedia:

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