Enheduanna: the world’s first named author

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But change was underway, and around 2400 BC, a vessel fragment shows a female deity visualized in human form. Wearing a horned crown with leafy plant-like material protruding from her shoulders and holding a cluster of dates, she has the aspects of fertility and fecundity associated with Inanna, but the animal-like crown also suggests ferocity.

With the reign of Sargon and through the hymns of Eneheduanna, an increasingly warlike female deity begins to be represented: Ishtar, represented in the exhibition with arms protruding from her shoulders and her foot atop a lion whose leash she handles. In her poems, Enheduanna similarly portrays Inanna/Ishtar as a mighty goddess of combat and conquest as well as love and abundance. And, according to Babcock, the cylinder seals in the exhibit actually depict scenes from his poem, Inanna and Ebih.

The text pits a beleaguered and enraged Inanna against her enemy, a mountain range that refuses to bow down or yield to her. We see the goddess, armed with a knife and axes, cascading down the stones from the mountain and killing the male mountain god. “She sharpened both edges of her dagger. She took hold of Ebih’s neck as if she were tearing grass. She presented the blade to her heart”, and “screamed like thunder” so that ” the stones constituting Ebih crashed into his back”. She then celebrates her conquest by triumphantly placing her foot on the fallen stones. “It’s the first time you’ve had illustrations for a text,” comments Babcock – another first in Enheduanna’s literary legacy.

Which is another way of saying that Enheduanna not only wrote, but continues to live on in many fields: as an important figure in ancient Sumer, women’s history and feminism and, especially literature.

She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia, ca 3400-2000 BC is at the Morgan Library, New York, until February 19, 2023.

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