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Enheduanna: A High Priestess of the Moon and the First Known Author in the World

Enheduanna: A High Priestess of the Moon and the First Known Author in the World

The ancient Sumerian poet Enheduanna has a unique claim to fame: she was the first author in the world known by name. While there were previous instances of poems and stories written down, Enheduanna was the first to sign a name to her work. And what a work it was! Her text was so significant that it influenced hymns for centuries.

The Life of a Priestess

Living in the 23rd century BC (approximately 2285 – 2250 BC), Enheduanna was the high priestess of the Temple of Sumer. She was a daughter of Sargon of Akkad (Sargon the Great) and Queen Tashlultum, Today, it is known that Sargon was the son of a priestess and Queen Tashlultum may have also been a priestess. Religion played a very important role in those tumultuous times, serving as a check against any intention of the populace to rebel (either against an established overlord or a newcomer).

The Akkadians were Semitic–speaking people from Mesopotamia. Under Sargon the Great, the Akkadian Empire absorbed several Sumerian city-states, some say as many as 34. One of Sargon’s greatest conquests was the Sumerian city of Ur. As a coastal city at the mouth of the Euphrates River, Ur had easy access to trade and transportation, as well as great fertile plains.

A modern reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur behind the ruins of the Giparu - the temple complex where Enheduanna lived and was buried in Ur.

A modern reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur behind the ruins of the Giparu - the temple complex where Enheduanna lived and was buried in Ur. (M. Lubinski/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Enheduanna was charged with the task of reconciling the gods of the Akkadians with the gods of the Sumerians so that the important city of Ur would acquiesce to Sargon’s rule. Not only did she succeed in that difficult task, but she also established standards of poetry and prayer that would profoundly influence the Hebrew Bible and Homeric hymns.

Sargon must have had enormous trust in his daughter to place her in charge of the Sumerian Temple at such a politically delicate time. Enheduanna most likely was born with a different, Semitic name. However, “on moving to  Ur, the very heartland of Sumerian culture, she took a Sumerian official title: Enheduanna - `En' (Chief Priest or Priestess); `hedu' (ornament); `Ana' (of heaven)” (Kriwaczek quoted in Mark, 2014).

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Despite living over 4300 years ago, Enheduanna’s historical existence is well-established. Not only are there historic records speaking of her, but a great disk bearing her image was excavated from Ur.

The "Disk of Enheduanna" at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

The "Disk of Enheduanna" at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. ( Public Domain )

Creating an All-Powerful Goddess that Lasted

Enheduanna was the priestess for the moon goddess. In Semitic, this goddess’ name was Sin; in Sumerian, she was called Nanna or Inanna. Nanna is perhaps best known as the deity to whom the famed Ziggurat of Ur is dedicated. Later, Nanna/Sin would be identified as Ishtar and, still later, as Aphrodite.

Rectangular, baked clay relief panel known as the “Burney Relief” or the “Queen of the Night.”

Rectangular, baked clay relief panel known as the “Burney Relief” or the “Queen of the Night.” ( Public Domain ) There is debate whether this relief depicts Inanna/Ishtar, Lilitu, or Ereshkigal.

Enheduanna’s monumental task was to combine two deities into a single, all-powerful goddess. She accomplished this through her spiritual writings. According to historian Paul Kriwaczek, Enheduanna “is credited with creating the paradigms of poetry, psalms, and prayers used throughout the ancient world… Her compositions, though only rediscovered in modern times, remained models of petitionary prayer for even longer. Through the Babylonians, they influenced and inspired the prayers and psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the Homeric hymns of Greece. Through them, faint echoes of Enheduanna, the first named literary author in history, can even be heard in the hymnody of the early Christian church.” (Kriwaczek quoted in Mark, 2014).  

Her Famous Hymns

Some of Enheduanna’s best-known hymns are Inninsagurra (The Great-Hearted Mistress) , Ninmesarra (The Exaltation of Inanna) , and Inninmehusa (The Goddess of the Fearsome Powers). “These hymns re-defined the gods for the people of the Akkadian Empire under Sargon’s rule and helped provide the underlying religious homogeneity sought by the king” (Kriwaczek quoted in Mark, 2014). Enheduanna also wrote a number of non-devotional poems in which she reflected upon her own personal hopes and fears as well as her thoughts about the world.

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Enheduanna held the office of high priestess for over forty years. At one point, she was thrown out in a coup attempt by a man named Lugal-Ane. However, after pleading for help from the goddess Nanna, the gods seemingly interceded on Enheduanna’s behalf and restored her to her proper place in the temple. From historic records, it would seem that Enheduanna was the first woman to serve such a prominent position in Ur. This not only elevated the status of Nanna but also set an example for future priestesses.

Part of the front of Inanna's temple.

Part of the front of Inanna's temple. ( Marcus Cyron/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top Image: Depiction of Enheduanna from an episode of ‘Cosmos.’  Source: Moniquilliloquies.

By Kerry Sullivan

References:

Binkley, Roberta. "Enheduanna."  Feminist Theory Website: Enheduanna . Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, 1999. Web. http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/Enheduanna.html

Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Enheduanna."  Women's History . About.com Education, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. http://womenshistory.about.com/od/womenwritersancientworld/p/enheduanna.htm

Comments

You should have added some examples of her works for us to read, not just the titles so that we have to look them up.

--Still learning--

Those work are available on the web: I just clicked on the first one and found this

http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section4/tr4073.htm

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Earm sorry Kerry but pretty certain you have not researched this properly as Inanna is not known as Sin, Nanna or the Goddess of the Ur Ziggurat . The Inanna temple is in Uruk and was called the E.anna Her father was the God known as Su.en Sin. Nanna and it was he who was the moon God and it is he that the dedication for the Ziggurat was. Enheduanna was his priestess as well as Inanna's ( the sinai peninsular is named after him and a community on a prominent crossroad on the sinai called Nikal is named for his wife the town is still there to this day) by extension of that she may have been recipient of the title but not directly known as such. she is more popularly known as Inanna's priestess as Ur was given to her in the absence of Anu or An, explained in the poem Enmerkar and the king of Aratta and her father Su.en Nanna Sin was the local God of Harran after being dispossessed of Ur. As for prominent positions it would seem that one named Pu.abi also known as Shubad held a position of equal or greater prominence given she also had the Title of Nin meaning queen or priestess and lived some 400 odd years earlier than Enheduanna other than that the rest of your article is informative

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