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Paying Homage to the First Known Writer, Enheduanna of Akkad

By Mary Lou Harris January 01, 2022 Lifestyle

Once again, I ended the year by putting thoughts on paper, considering that the many books and articles I have read provided excellent storytelling, gave helpful information on health and wellness, or simply supplied poetic verses that pleased my soul.

There is nothing like a good read of the work of others, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry or prose. As much as I read other writers, writing itself is my creative outlet, putting my own thoughts, knowledge and imaginative meandering on paper and sending them out to the universe. I share a love of writing with many women, including the many women who write here on Sixty and Me.

She Started It All

So, with respect to women writers across the eons, I pay homage to Enheduanna, the first named author in history. Not the first woman writer, but the first of any named author in history.

I first learned of Enheduanna while reading a Philadelphia magazine review of a museum exhibit that included a tablet with the writing of Enheduanna. From there, I began exploring the history of this woman whose name was unfamiliar to me.

I’ve since learned that Enheduanna was born in Akkad around 2300 BCE and lived in Ur, a Sumerian city located in what is now southern Iraq. A nice list of her known writings and background on the historical times can be found on The Conversation site.

Both the Akkadian and Sumerian cultures were polytheistic. As the daughter of Sargon I of Akkad, she was named the high-priestess of the Goddess of Love and War, Inanna (known to us as Venus).

In addition to her literary skills, Enheduanna was apparently a brilliant administrator, as history tells that her father of Akkadian origin conquered the Sumerian area. Having done so, he named Enheduanna High Priestess of the moon deity Nanna-Suen at his temple in Ur.

She was made responsible for consolidating the named gods and goddesses as well as many other aspects of the two cultures.

Her responsibilities to keep the population in check by merging cultures through the merging of their named gods was sometimes challenged; in one case there was an attempt to throw her out of her position at the temple. She pleaded with the deities for help, and, apparently, they came through as the coup was unsuccessful.

Enheduanna’s hymns were works that praised the gods, particularly the Goddess, Inanna. After her works were composed, they were presented and the hymns were sung in the temple.

Example of Her Writing

Some of her writing is available online. Several of her hymns and prayers can be found with an article titled “Hymnal Prayers and Poems of Enheduanna” on the Classical Art History site.

Her poetry has a modern feel to my ear, reminding me of poetry written in free verse. Although much of her work is written in praise of various deities, there is sensuality in some of the hymns that reads like she is writing to a lover.

In others, such as Hymn #15, her writing is dark and threatening. I particularly like the line “no one can fathom your mighty hair-raising path.”

A more complete and academic summary of her poem The Exaltation of Inanna can be found in the article by Roberta Binkley on this site.

How Did She Do It?

I can only assume that the administrative power she possessed and the ability to write the many works she did were unusual for her time.

Perhaps the combination of a particularly talented woman with a powerful father were the winning combination.

Until 1968, or roughly 4,000 years of time, her work was unknown. It begs the question of how much work of creative women over the eons is yet to be unearthed.

Which brings me back to my love of writing and the joy that can be had in reading the writing on others.

Whether you scribble thoughts in a journal in the middle of the night with no intention to share, whether you randomly write for the joy of it and put it out there for the world to see, whether you are a professional writer earning your living doing just that, know that writing has been a creative act for women for as long as the first civilizations developed.

As you toil over the right word, know that Enheduanna was the first writer putting words together on a clay tablet (although she may have had help from a scribe).

Most of us don’t have help from a scribe, although we do have the benefit of pen and paper, and sometimes a keyboard, to keep the wonderful creative gift of writing alive.

Do you write, and if not do you enjoy reading the work of others? What time of day (or night) do you put your words on paper? Have you read and do you enjoy the work of early women writers?

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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