Since humans first worked out how to write, we’ve used our skills to document the world around us. But for centuries, most of the information we wrote down was factual – think invoices, shopping lists, inventory, or political announcements.
One of the first people to think a little more creatively was Enheduanna. The priestess of the moon god Nanna (Sīn) in the Sumerian city-state of Ur, Enheduanna is thought to be the first named author in world history.
Born in 2285 BCE, Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the first ruler of the Akkadian Empire. Also known as Sargon the Great, he conquered a number of Sumerian city-states and is often considered to be the first person in recorded history to rule over an empire.
Dedicatory figurine of Ur III king (possibly Shulgi) from foundation deposit of temple of Inanna (c. 2094-2047 BC) by unknownRoyal Ontario Museum
Enheduanna was appointed by her father to be the high priestess of the moon god Nanna. This was a hugely important position at the time as it helped to cement ties between newly conquered Ur and the rest of the Akkadian Empire.
Most of Enheduanna’s compositions are dedicated to Inanna, an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, war, and fertility. One of her best known works is the 154-line Exaltation of Inanna, which has Enheduanna as a first person narrator.
Around 37 reconstructed temple hymns have also been attributed to Enheduanna. Each of these hymns is dedicated to a different deity from the Sumerian pantheon and the city with which the deity was associated. Most of these date to the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods.
As well as hymns, Enheduanna wrote forty-two poems reflecting her personal frustrations and hopes, her religious devotion, and feelings about the world she lived in. These texts offer a fascinating insight into her life and personality as well as wider Sumerian society.
While many people believe Enheduanna was the author of these works, some argue that there’s little evidence to support the claim. Most of the reconstructed tablets date from long after her death, with some not written down until centuries later.
Other experts, however, point to the fact that virtually no other works from the period have any type of attribution at all. Something that may mean Enheduanna was heavily involved in their composition, even if she wasn’t the sole author of the texts.
85199 (1970-09) by John OlsonLIFE Photo Collection