Enheduanna: The First Woman Author and Ancient Triple Threat

The first author has been discovered in Ur, a city-state that existed during the time of ancient Mesopotamia. Her name was Enheduanna.

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Throughout history, there have been countless strides and advancements in literature, but today we will be looking at who is believed to be the earliest recorded author of this time. Her name is Enheduanna–a powerful woman who is said to have lived back in 2350 BCE, in the time of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Inanna, Enheduanna, Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Babylonian
Enheduanna (left), Inanna (right) from the Seal of Inanna

Hailing from Ur, a Sumerian city-state, Enheduanna was a daughter of Sargon of Akkad, who reigned in the region. If that wasn’t enough, Enheduanna had been found to have been a high priestess as well and was theorized to have been appointed in order to strengthen ties with the Ur city-state during her father’s reign. A princess, a high priestess, and an author. Truly a powerful woman of her time.

Enheduanna’s Works

Sumerian literature is the oldest known collection of literature which includes the stories of their traditions along with religious writings that they maintained. The Akkadian and Babylonian empires were others that saw over the preservation of this collection where Enheduanna’s works can be found. Now, of course, we do have to take this information with a grain of salt as it is difficult to know exactly how many of these works Enheduanna wrote personally. The Exaltation of Inanna has Enheduanna as the first-person narrator while the Sumerian Temple Hymns might have her as an author but it is less certain.

Ancient Text, Enheduanna, Poem inscribed on tablet
Sumerian Tablet inscribed with the poem Ianna and Ebih

Lost and Found

The priestess’ existence was lost around the time of the end of the First Babylonian empire and then rediscovered in 1927 by Sir Leonard Wooley. Wooley excavated the giparu in Ur, which led to the discovery of a disk made of alabaster with Enheduanna’s name and likeness on it. Giparu is a central concept of the Sumerian temple architecture and their belief system, originally it was a woven reed mat used as a wedding bed that included information on their beliefs.

Alabaster Disk, Enheduanna
Alabaster Disk with Enheduanna Depicted (Second from left)

The Earliest Author

Due to her role, it is theorized that Enheduanna had a considerable amount of power and sway in the world she lived in. Not only was she already a princess by birth but she also ended up as high priestess of Ur which could have given her divine authority as well. In one of her depictions, she is seen embodying Ningal, the spouse of the god Nanna. With this status, her actions gained divine authority which would have bolstered her position among many of the cult’s followers.

Also, her position helped to bridge the gap between the Sumerian religion and the Semitic religion which were the two most prevalent in Ur at the time. 37 different tablets have been found in Ur and Nippur that contain hymns to different deities of the Sumerian pantheon and then on to the cities that each deity is most closely associated with. Enheduanna herself is found connected to Inanna, the god of the Moon.

While we may discover other authors from ages even beyond hers, Enheduanna is currently in the spot of being the first recorded author. Over time we may be able to discern which of the works are truly hers and someday we may not.

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