Created By Soraya Fiorio.
4,300 years ago in ancient Sumer, the most powerful person in the city of Ur was banished to wander the vast desert.
Her name was Enheduanna. She was the high priestess of the moon god and history’s first known author. By the time of her exile, she had written 42 hymns and three epic poems— and Sumer hadn’t heard the last of her.
Enheduanna lived 1,700 years before Sappho, 1,500 years before Homer, and about 500 years before the biblical patriarch Abraham. She was born in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the birthplace of the first cities and high cultures. Her father was King Sargon the Great, history’s first empire builder, who conquered the independent city-states of Mesopotamia under a unified banner. Sargon was a northern Semite who spoke Akkadian, and the older Sumerian cities in the south viewed him as a foreign invader. They frequently revolted to regain their independence, fracturing his new dynasty.
To bridge the gap between cultures, Sargon appointed his only daughter, Enheduanna, as high priestess in the empire’s most important temple. Female royalty traditionally served religious roles, and she was educated to read and write in both Sumerian and Akkadian, and make mathematical calculations.
The world’s first writing started in Sumer as a system of accounting, allowing merchants to communicate over long distances with traders abroad. Their pictogram system of record keeping developed into a script about 300 years before Enheduanna’s birth. This early writing style, called cuneiform, was written with a reed stylus pressed into soft clay to make wedge-shaped marks. But until Enheduanna, this writing mostly took the form of record keeping and transcription, rather than original works attributable to individual writers.
Enheduanna’s Ur was a city of 34,000 people with narrow streets, multi-storied brick homes, granaries, and irrigation. As high priestess, Enheduanna managed grain storage for the city, oversaw hundreds of temple workers, interpreted sacred dreams, and presided over the monthly new moon festival and rituals celebrating the equinoxes.
Enheduanna set about unifying the older Sumerian culture with the newer Akkadian civilization. To accomplish this, she wrote 42 religious hymns that combined both mythologies. Each Mesopotamian city was ruled by a patron deity, so her hymns were dedicated to the ruling god of each major city. She praised the city’s temple, glorified the god’s attributes, and explained the god’s relationship to other deities within the pantheon. In her writing, she humanized the once aloof gods— now they suffered, fought, loved, and responded to human pleading.
Enheduanna’s most valuable literary contribution was the poetry she wrote to Inanna, goddess of war and desire, the divinely chaotic energy that gives spark to the universe. Inanna delighted in all forms of sexual expression and was considered so powerful that she transcended gender boundaries, as did her earthly attendants, who could be prostitutes, eunuchs or cross-dressers.
Enheduanna placed Inanna at the top of the pantheon as the most powerful deity. Her odes to Inanna mark the first time an author writes using the pronoun “I,” and the first time writing is used to explore deep, private emotions.
After the death of Enheduanna’s father, King Sargon, a general took advantage of the power vacuum and staged a coup. As a powerful member of the ruling family, Enheduanna was a target, and the general exiled her from Ur. Her nephew, the legendary Sumerian king Naram-Sin, ultimately crushed the uprising and restored his aunt as high priestess.
In total, Enheduanna served as high priestess for 40 years. After her death, she became a minor deity, and her poetry was copied, studied, and performed throughout the empire for over 500 years. Her poems influenced the Hebrew Old Testament, the epics of Homer, and Christian hymns. Today, Enheduanna’s legacy still exists, on clay tablets that have stood the test of time.1 ☆ The Creator: