First Known Author in History: Enheduanna

WORLD HISTORY | May 31, 2019

Ancient Sumerian Poet Enheduanna. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

The first author that signed her name to a literary work was the ancient Sumerian poet Enheduanna. There were other poems and stories that had been done but none associated with any person’s name attached to it.

Enheduanna, who lived in the 23rd century B.C., was a high priestess of the Temple of Sumer appointed by her father. Her father was Sargon of Akkad, who was Semitic and known as Sargon the Great, and her mother was Queen Tashlultum, who was believed to be Sumerian.

Sargon of Akkad. Source: (civilization-v-customisation.wikia.com)

The Akkadian people were from the area of Mesopotamia. The Akkadian Empire consisted of 34 Sumerian city-states with the city of Akkad as the city Sargon built to rule from. This empire was the first empire in history with Sargon as its leader. At first, the empire was bilingual, but gradually the Akkadian language became the accepted language. Sargon, who was one of the greatest rulers in history, grew the empire by the invasion of many Sumerian settlements which greatly expanded the territory. There were many cultures within this empire by the time he had conquered the land.

One of their greatest conquests was when they obtained the Sumerian city of Ur as it had easy access for trade and transportation.  

Sumerian Poet Enheduanna. Source: (pinterest.com)

As many as 53 hymns have been credited to Enheduanna with some of them being directed to the Moon-god, Nanna along with other gods as well. Scholars have not been able to determine how the language was pronounced, but what they were able to determine from her poems was that they all seemed to have eight to twelve syllables per line with many of them ending with a vowel sound. There was also a lot of repetitiveness of sounds, words, and phrases in them.  

Disk With Image of Enheduanna. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

A disk was excavated in the area of Ur that shows Enheduanna’s image on it. This disk is on display in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

Enheduanna became high priestess after her father had already ruled for 55 years. After he died, his son assumed his position with Enheduanna remaining as high priestess. When that son died, the next son in line reigned until his death, and then a nephew filled that spot, with Enheduanna remaining in her position as high priestess the entire time. There were some who were not happy with the nephew and rebelled. It was during this time that Enheduanna wrote some of her longest poems in attempts at responding to those who were unhappy with Sargon’s nephew. 

Modern Reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur. Source: (wikipedia.org)

This temple complex in Ur is where Enheduanna lived and was given the job by her father of making sure that the gods of both the Akkadians and the Sumerians were reconciled. It was her father’s way of making sure that all of the people stayed obedient to his rule. She was very successful at fulfilling her father’s wishes to achieve that goal.

Through her poetry and prayers, she had a lot of influence not only with the people but also influenced the Hebrew Bible as well as Homeric hymns. Homer is associated with Greek literature as the legendary author of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

This temple complex is also the place where Enheduanna was buried at her death.

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