Enheduanna: the First Author

In the Ancient Near East, religious appointments were political appointments. Thus, as the High Priestess of the Moon God Nanna, Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE) was a very powerful political player in the cities of Ur and Uruk. She was appointed to the post by her father, King Sargon of Akkad, in order for him to consolidate his power in the above two cities.

And indeed, Enheduanna was a political, cultural, and literary force to be reckoned with. She was the writer of protest literature, and is recognized by Assyriologists as the creator of the theology associated with Innana; in fact, her authorship of these compositions make her the first identifiable author in world literature. Her writings were so well loved that copies of her work have been found throughout the Near East, many of them dating to hundreds of years after her death.

Me who once sat triumphant, he has driven out of the sanctuary.
Like a swallow he made me fly from the window,
My life is consumed.
He stripped me of the crown appropriate for the high priesthood.
He gave me dagger and sword—‘it becomes you,’ he said to me.

It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.

-Enheduanna, after her first removal from her post

After her father’s death, the throne of Akkad was taken by her brother Rimush. He was not a strong ruler, and she was expelled from her position in the turmoil surrounding his rule. Though she was eventually reinstated as High Priestess, the experience affected her enough to compose the narrative The Exaltation of Inanna.

After Rimush came the rule of her nephew, Naram-Sin. Naram-Sin, understanding the political advantages of having a daughter installed as High Priestess of Nanna, expelled Enheduanna from her post, and installed his own daughter instead. In her anger and fury over her expulsion, Enheduanna composed the Curse of Akkad, in which Naram-Sin is cursed and cast out of Akkad by Enlil.

Though we can only hear her voice through her writings, those writings give us a clear idea of the woman she was: a woman who, after losing her place in life, refused to fall quietly into obscurity, and instead struck back with a damning literary response.

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