It was throughout the reign of her father — Sargon of Akkad, arguably the primary emperor in historical past — that Enheduanna declared her personal genius. After writing a temple hymn lauding the powers of the Sumerian goddess of writing and grain, the excessive priestess signed her personal identify with a flourish.
Greater than 4,200 years later, archaeologists and literary lovers appear to agree: Enheduanna is the earliest identified named creator in historical past.
Who Was Enheduanna?
Like many different well-known writers, Enheduanna didn’t attain this stage of creative acumen with out having first experiencing her share of trauma and violence.
By her personal account, she could have survived sexual violence throughout a rebel that briefly deposed her place as excessive priestess within the Sumerian city-state of Ur. However she persevered and continued to assist her father’s dynasty via her place and thru writing — even after his dying.
“She actually had a really highly effective cultic and political position to play,” says Sidney Babcock, curator of historical western seals and tablets on the Morgan Library and Museum in New York Metropolis. Babcock just lately led an exhibition that drew the most important assemblage of artifacts associated to Enheduanna and the poems attributed to her on the museum.
And but, we don’t truly know most of the fundamental biographical details of Enheduanna’s life. Was she the first-born daughter of Sargon? Who was her mom? When precisely was she born? And when did she die?
In reality, we don’t even know if Enheduanna was the identify she was given at start. From Sumerian, Babcock explains, the identify interprets to one thing like “excessive priestess, decoration of the heaven.”
Learn Extra: Who Were the Ancient Sumerians?
Enheduanna and Akkadia
The Akkadian ruler Sargon created the world’s first empire by unifying a number of Mesopotamian city-states within the Akkadian north and the Sumerian south. Enheduanna’s identify was doubtless taken on when the princess grew to become the excessive priestess to Inanna, the highly effective Sumerian goddess.
The maneuver was political — an effort to cement relationships between her father and the conquered metropolis of Ur, the place Inanna was the patron deity. By changing into excessive priestess, Enheduanna embodied the goddess’ earthly consort.
“It’s a manner [for the Akkadian conquerors] to indicate respect for the traditions of the previous,” says Babcock. “It’s an incredible asset to her father’s political ambitions.”
Enheduanna didn’t sit idly by whereas having fun with her privileged place, although. The poetry she wrote is gorgeous — but it surely additionally has a political facet, which helped to bolster her personal standing as a consultant of Inanna.
Learn Extra: The Rise of the Akkadians
Her Exaltation of Inanna describes an actual interval after Sargon, when somebody named Lugal-Ane rebels and takes energy in Ur — banishing Enheduanna and presumably committing sexual violence on her, Babcock says. The poem itself describes this example: Enheduanna flees from a window and asks Inanna to intercede on behalf of Sargon’s dynasty.
This appears to have labored, as Naram-Sim, the grandson of Sargon, finally reconquered Ur.
Babcock, praising the “magnificence and intense sincerity” of the poem, says Enheduanna makes use of an revolutionary change of perspective —first and third individual — to relate the occasions and reward Inanna. She additionally compares writing the poem to giving start, he says.
“She’s interesting to the goddess in the best way she thinks is crucial,” Babcock says. “The act of writing has change into so particular that she writes in regards to the act.”
The poem finishes with a return of order, Babcock notes. It is a highly effective message backing the legitimacy of her nephew’s rule. Inanna can also be placated and given credit score for destroying the enemy.
Some Aren’t So Positive
But various students have forged doubt on whether or not Enheduanna is admittedly the creator of some, and even all, of the poems attributed to her. It’s true that many of the surviving texts of her poems aren’t modern together with her life. As a substitute, they’re derived from copies made centuries after she lived.
“I can see why they tried to repeat it within the scribal faculties as a result of it’s simply so wealthy,” Babcock says.
Sadly, a few of these poems embody language that wouldn’t have been utilized in Enheduanna’s time. Some students see this as proof that Enheduanna herself didn’t truly write them. However Babcock believes these merely characterize language that was miscopied or modernized from the unique through the years.
As compared, he notes that the oldest copy of Metamorphoses dates to a couple of millennium after Ovid lived — and his authorship just isn’t questioned practically as a lot.
The truth that Enheduanna is feminine performs a serious position on this supply of doubt, Babcock believes. “It’s irritating actually,” he says, including that most of the political components of her work could be meaningless to a charlatan who created a pretend doc 5 centuries later.
The Enheduanna Impact
Not like among the named authors we all know from later millennia, like Homer and Sappho, we do know what Enheduanna seemed like — because of a named alabaster disk found in excavations of the temple the place she doubtless lived.
Babcock’s exhibition additionally included artwork he believes is impressed by Enheduanna’s poetry. Her three dozen temple hymns are intensive, with every describing the attributes of the totally different spiritual cults in cities throughout the empire.
Across the identical time that Enheduanna lived, Babcock says, a “profusion” of pictures and artifacts of gods and goddesses start to seem within the archaeological report. “This is without doubt one of the first examples of literature inspiring artwork,” he says. “The visible proof hadn’t been thought of earlier than.”
Regardless of being disregarded by many students for hundreds of years or maybe millennia, nevertheless, Enheduanna could lastly be getting her due: Along with the current exhibition on the Morgan Library and Museum, Babcock is aware of of some new translations and biographies of the world’s first identified named poet, princess and excessive priestess.
“I’m delighted she’s having her second,” Babcock says.
Learn Extra: Decoding Cuneiform, One of the Earliest Forms of Writing