Enheduanna Becomes First Named Author Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Enheduanna, a princess, priestess, and poet, wrote hymns to the goddess Inanna in which she mentions her own name, thus becoming the earliest author in the world whose name is known.

Summary of Event

Sargon of Akkad united all of Sumer and Akkad into the first real empire on Mesopotamian soil. He also invested his daughter, Enheduanna, with the double office of high priestess of the moon god Nanna (also known as Sin) at Ur and of the sky god An at Uruk. With this appointment, Sargon hoped to exercise more control over the restless and rebellious populations of southern Sumerian cities. He had established a stronghold in the north, not far from Kish, which he named Agade (Akkad). Enheduanna Sargon of Akkad

Enheduanna wrote two large cycles of hymns. One cycle honors the Sumerian goddess Inanna (known in Akkadian as Ishtar), the daughter of the moon couple Nanna and Ningal and goddess of love, her father’s patron deity, commemorating her supreme rank in the pantheon as “Queen of Heaven” and consort of the deified heaven, An, king of the gods. This cycle celebrated Enheduanna’s father’s triumphs in war, though describing them as victories of Inanna. The other cycle, known as the Temple Hymns (1969) honors the temples of Sumer and Akkad. This cycle intended to publicize her father’s solicitude for the cults of both halves of his newly established empire, the vanquished Sumerian-speaking south as well as the victorious Akkadian-speaking north.

As a priestess, Enheduanna managed agricultural land around the temple and directed rituals pleasing to Nanna and Ningal. To manage these duties she had a large personal staff, including a steward and a scribe. She took the title en, a title denoting highest authority in all matters pertaining to the local cult of a deity. A second title, dam (spouse), depicts her as wife to the god Nanna with all the rights and duties that entailed. This title may be metaphoric of the closeness of the religious experience between an immanent deity and a human being.

In 1927, a fragmentary alabaster disc 10 inches (26 centimeters) in diameter was found at her sacred dwelling, the giparu, in Ur. The disc is inscribed with Enheduanna’s name and shows the high priestess flanked by three of her retainers. She wears a fleeced wool garment; her hair is worn loose with curls flowing down her back. Her right arm is raised in a gesture of salutation. The disc commemorates the dedication of a dais in the temple of Inanna in the city of Ur. The disc is on display in the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.

Enheduanna’s devotion to Inanna is evident in her poetic trilogy “In-nin me-hus-a” (“The Myth of Inanna and Ebih,” 2000), “Nin-me-sar-ra” (“The Exaltation of Inanna,” 1968), and “In-nin sa-gur-ra” (“A Hymn to Inanna,” 1976). The poems are preserved on clay cuneiform tablets, and many of the poems have survived in twenty to fifty different texts, all written several centuries after Enheduanna’s life. This is a testament to the hymns’ ongoing popularity and importance in Mesopotamian religion.

In the 153rd line of “The Exaltation of Inanna,” as translated on the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature edited by J. A. Black, et al., a man named Lugalanne or Lugalanna has forced Enheduanna out of the temple into exile. This action is apparent evidence of a revolt against the authority of the Sargonic ruling house. Enheduanna, the theologian, understands this as part of the permissive will of the all-powerful Inanna: “Most precious lady, beloved by An, your holy heart is great; may it be assuaged on my behalf.” Enheduanna pleads with Inanna to turn back her displeasure. She has done no wrong:

But my own trial is not yet concluded, although a hostile verdict encloses me as if it were my own verdict. I did not reach out my hands to the flowered bed. I did not reveal the pronouncements of Ningal to anybody. My lady beloved of An, may your heart be calmed towards me, the brilliant en priestess of Nanna.

Inanna is moved and restores Enheduanna to her rightful place. In turn, Enheduanna exalts Inanna: “Praise be to the destroyer of foreign lands, endowed with divine powers by An, to my lady enveloped in beauty, to Inanna!” This reconstruction and translation is based on ninety-seven different manuscripts, dating five to six hundred years beyond the early Sargonic period.

“A Hymn to Innana” describes Inanna’s triumphs over the rebellion that erupted in Sargon’s old age. In this text, Sargon’s military success is credited to the goddess he worshiped. This hymn is the most effusive in its praise of Inanna. Sjoberg’s reconstruction of this poem is based on twenty-nine texts and fragments. “The Myth of Inanna and Ebih” is the story of how the goddess destroys the life of a mountain, Ebih, that refuses to honor her. The independence of the goddess is stressed here, as she first asks the help of An, the chief god of the pantheon, and the council of gods in her vendetta, and when they refuse, acts on her own to redress her wrongs.


Enheduanna’s combined roles of princess and priestess may have set a precedent in Sumerian history for the next five centuries. The impact of her poetry is evident in the fact that her literary work survives in copies made in the Old Babylonian period, some five hundred years after her death. Enheduanna was the first named author in world history. As such, she has attracted the attention of many scholars of a feminist bent, who emphasize the fact that the world’s earliest author was a woman who worshiped a decidedly independent and self-sufficient goddess.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, J. A., G. Cunningham, E. Fluckiger-Hawker, E. Robson, and G. Zolyomi. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. Oxford: University of Oxford, 1998-. http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/. Accessed June 17, 2003. This massive project provides composite texts and translations of nearly all extant Sumerian texts, available on the World Wide Web. An extremely valuable resource.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallo, William W. Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996. Hallo discusses Enheduanna’s role as a woman of antiquity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallo, William W. and J. J. A. Van Dijk, trans. The Exaltation of Inanna. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968. A translation and analysis of Enheduanna’s poem “The Exaltation of Inanna.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meador, Betty De Shong. Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. This volume is the most complete treatment of the life and poetry of Enheduanna.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sjoberg, Ake W. “In-nin-sa-gur-ra: A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-Priestess Enheduanna.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 65 (1975): 161-253. This article contains a translation and analysis of Enheduanna’s poem “A Hymn to Inanna.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sjoberg, Ake W., and E. Bergmann. The Collection of the Sumerian Temple Hymns. Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustin, 1969. This work is a compilation of Enheduanna’s temple hymns.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Westenholz, Joan Goodnick. “Enheduanna, En-Priestess, Hen of Nanna, Spouse of Nanna.” In DUMU-E-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Ake W. Sjoberg, edited by Hermann Behrens, Darlene Loding, and Martha T. Roth. Philadelphia: Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, 1989. This study focuses on Enheduanna in her public persona, her role and functions in the cult and rituals of the god Nanna/Sin.
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Categories: History