Enheduanna

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by Gina Luria Walker

Enheduanna (c. 2300 B.C.) Sumerian princess, cloistered priestess and popular poet, Enheduanna is the first human author for whom we have attribution, and the first author to write in the first person.[1]  She was appointed by her father, King Sargon, as the head of the main temple at Ur, one of Sumer’s largest temples.[2] As such, Enheduanna served Inanna, goddess of the moon, to whom she called upon in the loneliness of exile, following the overthrow of her father:

It was in your service
That I first entered
The holy temple,
I, Enheduanna,
The high priestess,
I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out
To the place of lepers.
Day comes,
And the brightness
Is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light,
Drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth know only confusion.
Even my sex is dust. [3]

In addition to being part of the first known literary texts in history, Enheduanna’s work is among the first to express the consciousness of the individual.[4] “I, Enheduanna…” she writes, giving voice to deep, private emotions. She ultimately returned to her position at the temple at Ur, and her work remained popular well into the future.[5] A compilation of 42 brief temple hymns and three longer hymns to Inanna remain, largely through the efforts of neo-Sumerian and Old Babylonian apprentice scribes, who copied her words as they practiced their craft.[6]

 

[1] Enheduanna and Betty De Shong Meador, Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 18.

[2] Enheduanna and Meador, Princess, Priestess, Poet, 2.

[3] Jane Hirschfield, Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 centuries of spiritual poetry by women (Harper Perennial, 1995), 5.

[4] Enheduanna and Meador, Princess, Priestess, Poet, 18.

[5] Enheduanna and Meador, Princess, Priestess, Poet, 1.

[6] Enheduanna and Meador, Princess, Priestess, Poet, 1.

 

Resources:

Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Encheduanna
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/encheduanna.php

 

Page citation:

Gina Luria Walker. “Enheduanna.” Project Continua (April 4, 2015): Ver. 2, (date accessed), http://www.projectcontinua.org/enheduanna/

 

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