Princess, Priestess, Poet
The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna

     This book is the culmination of Betty Meador’s translation into English the work of history’s first author, Enheduanna, 2300 BCE. Enheduanna was the daughter of King Sargon, whose empire stretched west to the Mediterranean and east to the Tigris River, encompassing present-day Iraq. She served as high priestess in the temple of the moon god Nanna and goddess, Ningal, in the southern city of Ur.

     From her quarters in the temple at Ur, Enheduanna appears to have assumed spiritual authority over all the major Sumerian cities, writing a hymn to each city's main temple building and its deity. Enheduanna describes the temple as an alive being whose character and powers match that of the resident deity. The poet dares to imagine what lies beyond human sight and knowledge as she embellishes familiar Sumerian mythic motifs with her rich imagery and poetic sense. Her sensuous personal deity Inanna is “perfectly shaped fresh fruit / dazzling in your irresistible ripeness.” The sun god Utu, “lord of soaring light,” has a distinguished contenance: “your lustrous lapis beard hangs down in profusion.” Nanshe the “dream opener, a great storm / strong dark water,” is “laughing in the sea foam / playing, playing in the waves.”   

     Enheduanna was literate in both Akkadian, her native language, and Sumerian, the literary language and the language of many of the citizens. Cuneiform script, the world’s first writing, had evolved to record Sumerian literature only 300 years before Enheduanna was born. She began writing poetry - her own personal devotions to her godess Inanna, as well as the stunning Temple Hymns to each of 42 temples throughout the country.

    In the last century archeologist discovered the relics of clay tablets containing the Temple Hymns. Thus far, only thirty-seven broken and defaced tablets remain. All were copies of her work made at least one hundred years after her death, copies written by students in the scribal schools, confirming that Enheduanna’s work was included in the school’s curriculum.

     The Temple Hymns contain a treasure of evocative descriptions of deities and mythical stories. Buried for two thousand years, the miracle of their survival is an invaluable gift from this brilliant poet who wrote at the dawn of western civilization.

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Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna
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