Enheduanna- Princess, Priestess, Poet

Calcite disk of Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Kish, found at Ur. Photo Credit- University of Pennsylvania Museum

Calcite disk of Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Kish, found at Ur. Photo Credit- University of Pennsylvania Museum

There have been authors since the first person told a story around a fire. The first in history that we can call by name is Enheduanna.

Enheduanna was born the daughter of Sargon of Akkkad, the first ruler to unite central and southern Mesopotamia. For this he went down in history as Sargon the Great and can be argued to be the world’s first emperor. Her mother was a Sumerian priestess. Sargon was a son of a priestess. He describes his life as “My priestly mother conceived me; secretly brought me to birth; set me in an ark of bulrushes; made fast my door with pitch. She consigned me to the river, which did not overwhelm me. The river brought me to Akki, the farmer, who brought me up to be his son ….. During my gardening, the goddess Ishtar loved me, and for fifty-four years the kingship was mine.” Sounds a lot like Moses, but that is a different post. Service to the gods was Enheduanna’s family legacy.

To unify his empire, Sargon needed to make sure the people knew he was chosen by the gods to rule. He appointed his eldest daughter, Enheduanna, as the high priestess of Nanna, the moon god at Ur. This position had political and symbolic importance. Nanna was the firstborn of Enlil and Ninlil, and the symbol of the second generation of gods and goddesses. This was something Sargon wanted to have his family identified with. By appointing Enheduanna as high priestess, he set a tradition of royal princesses taking on priestly roles linking the monarchy and the gods more closely. This tradition lasted for 500 years. Ur was also the largest city in the center of her father’s kingdom, bring her and family firmly into the spotlight.

Enheduanna translated her father’s vision for a unified land into a series of hymns, the first ever that can be attributed to a single person. The first cycle of hymns praising the gods and goddesses. The second cycle is a series of poems praising the godess Inanna as a heroic warrior and Champion of the Land. She also praises Inanna’s role in governing and overseeing home and children. Inanna was the goddess who had it all. These hymns helped merge worship local goddesses into worship of Inanna, elevating the position of Sumerian goddess throughout the land.

There are 53 hymns that survive, which can be attributed to her. In them, she steps out of the third person to the first person to testify to her experiences and relationship with the gods. Her writings are so complex and intricate, scholars call her the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature. These writings predate both Homer and the Epic of Gilgamesh by at least 800 years. We know from additional clay tablets from Sumer, her writings were studied 500 years after her death.

So authors of today, raise a glass to the first among us to get a break and always sign your work!

ER

Sources available on request