By James Owen
Historians believe that the first named author of any writings was an ancient priestess by the name of Enheduanna (2285-2250 B.C.E.). This priestess would go on to revolutionize writing with her unique style and direct messages, which kickstarted the various pieces of literature we know and love today.
[Her] poems reflected her personal struggles as a priestess, as well as her aspirations, perspective on war, and outlook on the environment in which she was raised in.
Princess, priestess, and poet
Originally from the northern city of Akkad, Enheduanna was believed by historians to be the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the ruler of the Akkadian Empire. Early in her life, her father placed upon her the great responsibility as a high priestess in the significant temple in Sumer (within the city of Ur).
While holding this position, the elegant priestess created her most well-known pieces of literature. These pieces utilized the first-person perspective, which aided in showcasing her personal religious and spiritual beliefs. In addition to the hymns that she was predominantly known for, Enheduanna produced a total of 42 poems.
These poems reflected her personal struggles as a priestess, as well as her aspirations, perspective on war, and outlook on the environment in which she was raised in.
A spiritual life
During Enheduanna’s time serving as a priestess, she encountered an attempted coup, led by a Sumerian rebel named Lugal-Ane. The overtaking resulted in her eventual exile.
While her fate was seemingly bleak, she was said to have made a plea for help to the goddess Inanna, with an optimistic response that resulted in her return to priestess of Ur. This experience resulted in one of her most well-known works, called “Ninmesara.”
For a long period after its completion, the piece was considered to be a sacred scripture in Sumerian literature, again showing the very gift Enheduanna had as not only a leader, but a writer as well.
Bringing her people together
In addition to Ninmesara (The Exaltation of Inanna), Enheduanna composed other significant literatures in her time, of which included Inninsagurra (The Great-Hearted Mistress) and Inninmehusa (Goddess of the Fearsome). These hymns played a significant role in how the Akkadian people viewed gods, which in turn altered the way in which gods were viewed for the years following.
More importantly, Enheduanna was able to establish a sense of religious homogeneity within the city of Ur, a desire that Sargon of Akkad had hoped for during his reign. These religious works not only made an impact in Enheduanna’s time, but were also believed to have given early shape to the hymnody of Christianity.
A powerful and ancient legacy
The life of Enheduanna proved to be that of a determined woman, who sculpted the ever-flowing path of literature, thanks in part to her keen ability to rule as the high priestess. Her influence was felt among her people, and left a legacy for those who followed. Due to her leadership as priestess of Ur, a long tradition of Mesopotamian princesses had begun.
It is very possible that without this amazing woman, literature wouldn’t have been quite the same.