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Enheduanna: The Most Radiant Priestess and Her Exaltation of Inanna
by Pat Valdata

nheduanna is the first identified poet in recorded history. Only a few centuries after cuneiform had fully developed as a writing system, this woman of extraordinary talent completed a body of work that influenced Sumerian and Babylonian literature for the next 500 years.

The archeological record leaves no doubt that Enheduanna was a historical figure. The literary record is open to interpretation, but scholars are in general agreement that Enheduanna wrote two long poems in honor of the goddess Inanna, and very likely another long poem that uses a mythical story about Inanna as an extended metaphor to commemorate a military victory. In addition, Enheduanna is credited with writing most if not all of 42 hymns in honor of various temples (Meador 70). She did all this about 3 centuries before the Gilgamesh epic, 8 centuries before the earliest Sanskrit texts, and 17 centuries before Sappho and Confucius.

Her Life
Enheduanna was the only daughter of Sargon, the Akkadian king who united Akkad and Sumer into one empire around 2300 BCE. This area, which corresponds to present-day Iraq, included the cities Ur, Uruk, and Babylon. Although Sargon was Akkadian, and thus of Semitic descent, it is believed that Enheduanna's mother was Sumerian, because the poet is so fluent in that language (Meador 45).

Late in his 55-year reign, Sargon appointed Enheduanna as high priestess of the temple of the moon god Nanna in Ur. This was a politically astute move designed to "help solidify his control over the restless and rebellious populations" in the former Sumerian kingdom (Meador 49). As high priestess, Enheduanna would have had considerable religious and political influence in Ur and other cities in which she presided over temple rituals. According to Meador, Enheduanna's title, the "En" of her name [1], connotes not only her religious role but also her role as a civil administrator, a manager who was in charge of the agricultural economy that supported the temple (52). The 42 temple hymns, each of which praises one of the temples itself--as opposed to the god or goddess the building is dedicated to--would have helped to promote civic pride. More importantly, they would foster a sense of unity in the southern part of the kingdom, because each hymn is dedicated to the king.

Enheduanna must have been very good at both her religious duties, which included interpreting dreams, and her civic duties, which included making loans from the temple treasury, because she served as high priestess for many years. She continued in this role after her father died, and after two brothers who succeeded him died, into the reign of her nephew, Naram-Sin. Her successful precedent led to the daughter or sister of the king being appointed as high priestess for the next five centuries.

Naram-Sin had the same problems with rebellion as his grandfather Sargon. It is probable that two of these rebellions may have been what prompted Enheduanna to write the three long poems. Each of these poems not only deals with the political problems of the time, but also advances Enheduanna's religious beliefs.

Her Religion
A brief overview of Sumerian religion is necessary in order to appreciate the long poems of Enheduanna. The three great powers are An, the sky god; Ki, the earth goddess; and Nammu, the sea goddess. An and Nammu had several children, including Enki, the god of wisdom. An and Ki had Enlil, the air god, who with Ninlil the air goddess had Nanna, the moon god. Nanna and Ningal the moon goddess (worshipped in Ur), had Inanna, the goddess of love, who was revered in Uruk as the morning and evening star (Wolkstein and Kramer x-xi). The Akkadian name for Nanna is Suen. He is also sometimes called Ashimbabbar and a "divine shepherd" (Meador 54).

As Nanna's En-priestess, Enheduanna is the moon's bride and the personification of Ningal (Meador 55). Nanna is the god to whom she dedicates temple rites, and the one to whom she prays ceremonially. It would therefore be reasonable to expect that her poems would be written in honor of Nanna. However, all three poems not only extol Inanna instead, they declare Inanna to have supreme power, even over An.

Enheduanna lived at a time of rising patriarchy. As secular males acquired more power, religious beliefs had evolved from what was probably a central female deity in Neolithic times to a central male deity by the Bronze Age. In Enheduanna's time, this deity was An. But this was a transitional period; although An was the most powerful of the gods, there were still many powerful female deities, and god/goddess pairs were important, like Ninlil/Enlil, and Ningal/Nanna. Abrahamic monotheism would not begin for another 500 years or so, and it is possible that especially among women, veneration of a female deity was a strong tradition passed down from mother to daughter. It may be, then, that Enheduanna was trying to restore Inanna to the stature she would have had in ancient times. However, Enheduanna was a politically savvy princess, so it's possible she was instead (or also) trying to win over the people of Uruk by exalting their goddess. She would have done so because Uruk's leader, Lugulanne, was rebelling against her nephew. A third possibility is that she might instead have been defying Naram-Sin, who declared himself a god and confiscated the temple's possessions in Akkad. In that city, Inanna was worshipped under the Akkadian name of Ishtar (Meador 47-48).

Yet another reason for Enheduanna to venerate Inanna above all others is the intriguing idea that she considered Inanna her personal goddess, in much the same way that some Christians today consider Jesus their personal savior. In her writing, Enheduanna speaks directly to the goddess with intimacy instead of ceremony. From a religious perspective, since Inanna was the daughter of Nanna and Enheduanna was his bride, the two were effectively in the same family. This personal relationship informs the poems as Enheduanna draws parallels between her own circumstances and those of Inanna.

Her Work
The three long poems in which Enheduanna praises Inanna have been translated from cuneiform tablets written abo0ut 500 years after her lifetime. Her work was so popular it was used to teach writing, and fragmentary texts are probably "copy tablets" of portions of her poems. We have no tablets from her own time, but we know for sure that she wrote two of the poems because she identifies herself as the author. The third one is considered to be hers because of stylistic and textual similarities. This poem, given the modern title of "Inanna and Ebih," is called in Sumerian "IN-NIN-ME-HUŠ-A." Meador translates this as "Lady of blazing dominion"; others translate this as "Goddess of the fearsome divine powers" (www.etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk). The poem describes a battle between Inanna and Mt. Ebih, which refuses to bow down to her. Inanna appeals to An for help, but he won't help because he is afraid of the mountain (note how Enheduanna establishes the weakness of the supposedly great god). Inanna then attacks the mountain and wins. Hallo and Van Dijk assert that the battle it alludes to is the successful quashing of a revolt by a mountain-dwelling people against Naram-Sin (3). This poem, which is the first to portray Inanna as superior to An, concludes with "praise be to Nisaba/goddess of writing," an insight into how important writing was to Enheduanna and possibly to Sumerian culture.

The second and longest of the three poems is IN-NIN-ŠA-GUR-RA: "Lady of Largest Heart" (Meador), "The Mistress, the Stout-Hearted" (Sjöberg). In this poem, Enheduanna explicitly states all the me--the essence of divine powers--that belong to Inanna. She endows Inanna with 40 separate powers, each ending in the phrase "is (or "are") yours Inanna" in Meador's translation; "'Tis thine" in Hallo and van Dyke's translation[2]. The me range from kissing a baby to mustering troops, from handing out mercy to terrorizing enemies. There were probably even more me attributed to Inanna, because there are many missing lines. The poem includes an allusion to Inanna's battle with Mt. Ebih, describes her capacity for rage in vivid detail, and concludes with an extraordinarily personal plea for the goddess's protection and mercy:

I plead with you
I say STOP          [Meador's capitalization]
the bitter hating heart and sorrow

my Lady
what day will you have mercy
how long will I cry a moaning prayer
I am yours
why do you slay me          (Meador 134)

In her discussion of this poem, Meador seems troubled by the violent depiction of the goddess, and wonders what prompted Inanna to write it. I think the final of the three poems provides the answer to what troubled Enheduanna so much that she called upon "fierce Lady Wildcat" to help her.

Enheduanna's third and most often translated poem is NIN-ME-ŠÁR-RA, which means "Queen of all given powers" (Meador), "Queen of all the me" (Zgoll), or "Lady of all the me's" (Hallo and Van Dijk), but is typically called "The Exaltation of Inanna." This 153-line poem was originally reconstructed from 50 separate Babylonian clay tablets and fragments[3]. It was translated into English in 1968 by William Hallo and J.J.A. Van Dijk, into German in 1997 by Annette Zgoll (subsequently translated into English by Tatjana Dorsch), and translated into English in 2000 by Betty De Shong Meador, working with Sumerian scholar Daniel Foxvog. A prose translation is available online from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.

In Sumerian, the poem is written in lines of eight to twelve syllables. We have no idea how Sumerian actually sounded, so we can't speculate about whether or which syllables might have been accented. Most of the words end in vowel sounds, and although there seems to be no rhyme scheme per se, the repetition of vowel sounds would enhance the music of the poem. For example, the first five lines end in the sounds a-a-la-ma-ga. Where lines end in a consonant sound, there is sometimes repetition of the same syllable, as in lines 22-25: gin-te-še-gin; sometimes a repeated vowel, as in lines 44-45: dal-nag; and sometimes what we would today call slant rhyme, as in lines 70-71: pil-dul.

Repetition of words is another technique used to good effect in the poem. In the first section of "The Exaltation of Inanna," Enheduanna begins lines with the word "you" fifteen times. In the second section, she refers to herself as "I the high priestess," twice as "I Enheduanna," "I who am I," twice as "I even I," and "I most radiant priestess of Nanna." She repeats not only phrases but also structures, with line pairs like "the Queen alone lifts her feelings/the Queen alone gladdens her heart," "You of the bountiful heart/You of the radiant heart," "there I raised the ritual basket/there I sang the song of joy," and "child of yours//I am a captive/bride of yours//I am a captive."

But Enheduanna does not just make statements about Inanna's power and her own torment; she uses imagery, metaphor and allusion to give all of her poetry rich beauty. Inanna becomes a dragon, the south wind, a bull, a cow, a storm. The poet writes of "your boat of lamentation" and "the harp of lamentation," of having to "fly/like swallows swept/from their holes in the wall." Elsewhere in the poem "all the great gods/fly away to the ruins/flutter around like bats." She reminds the goddess of her triumph over a previous rebellion with allusions to her own poem about Mt. Ebih: "you curse its grain/spin ashes around its main gate/pour blood into its rivers." And when she describes the consequences of rebellion, she writes, "the woman no longer speaks sweetly to her husband/no longer tells secrets at midnight/does not disclose/the soft whispers in her heart."

Her use of figurative language and her narrative structure gives the full poem and each narrative section in it a strong dramatic arc. However, the overall structure of the poem, and what constitutes each section of the poem, are interpreted differently by various translators.

Hallo and Van Dijk divided the poem into three rhetorical parts, each further divided into four two- to three-line groups, although this structure doesn't work so neatly through the entire poem. They admit to some discomfort about placing some lines where they did, and note that the clay tablets do not show any such divisions. They base their arrangement on the content, not the form. They do retain the form of each line, however, with a caesura that is in evidence on most of the clay tablets they used to construct their version of the poem (Hallo and Van Dijk 44). They also note that the sense of the poem comes from lines grouped in twos or threes. Their arrangement of the poem on the page reflects this structure. Their translation very closely follows the transliteration from cuneiform into Sumerian syllables, which gives their translation an incantatory, albeit sometimes archaic, quality (Appendix A). Although they are precise translators who footnote carefully and fill in gaps with care, theirs is a scholarly work more concerned with accuracy than aesthetics.

Dorsch's translation of Zgoll (Appendix B) does not group the poem's lines into two- or three-line units and does not divide the poem into sections. Instead of showing each line with its caesura, she divides the longer lines into two short lines. Her translation is somewhat easier to read, but it still has lines of awkward syntax--whether these result from the Sumerian-into-German step of the translation or the German-into-English one, I cannot tell. Meador's translation (Appendix C) restores the poetry for contemporary ears, but in doing so, she almost always treats the caesura as a line break or ignores it altogether. She also uses capitalization to highlight what she considers critical words or phrases. Lines 28-32 provide a good example of each translator's style:

In the guise of a charging storm      you charge.
With a roaring storm                  you roar.
With Thunder                          you continually thunder.
With all the evil winds               you snort.
Your feet are filled                  with restlessness.
                    (Hallo and van Dyke 19)

Like an invasive storm you barge in.
With the howling storm you howl.
With Iskur you thunder.
With raging thunderstorms you do exhaust,
While your own foot has never yet tired.
                    (Zgoll, tr. by Dorsch)

a gouging storm bull, you gouge
a rumbling storm roar, you thunder
you bellow with the storm god
you moan with evil winds
your feet never weary
                    (Meador 172)

Note that only Hallo and van Dyke show the caesura in this passage. All three versions have their music and convey the sense of Inanna's power, but to my ears, Meador's translation is the most successful at conveying that power with fluency. She repeats only the words "gouging/gouge." She possibly takes the liberty of adding the word "bull" to the first line of the passage, but since Inanna is described elsewhere as a bull, it is a valid metaphor[4] and a more vivid way to convey the storm than Hallo and van Dyke's "charging"--which does suggest an animal--or Zgoll and Dorsch's "invasive." The cadence of the five lines is also much smoother in Meador's version.

As Meador handles it, the poem divides into 5 major sections with a three-line closing. The other two poems also follow a similar five-section structure. The first section of "The Exaltation of Inanna," like the first section of "Lady of Largest Heart," begins with a tribute to Inanna and her powers (see Meador 171-180). She is described as "cherished in heaven and earth," a significant assertion that is the first time a god is described as embodying both celestial and terrestrial characteristics (Hallo and Van Dijk 60). She is addressed as "you mountain smasher," "you Enlil's dear," "you dreaded southwind." Enheduanna describes the chaos that results when people turn away from Inanna (and by implication, from Naram-Sin), alluding as she did in "Lady of Largest Heart" to Inanna's victory over Mt. Ebih. En-priestess refers to goddess as "my divine ecstatic wild cow"--a reference to the moon god's appearance each month when the new moon seems to have horns--and as "eldest daughter of Suen/Queen greater than An?great Queen of queens/babe of a holy womb/greater than the mother who bore you." This tribute section closes with the line "I will sing of your cosmic powers."

The second section tells Enheduanna's own story. She identifies herself at the beginning of the section: "I the high priestess/I Enheduanna." She tells how she prayed in the temple but was removed from it by Lugulanne, the king of Uruk who led the rebellion against Naram-Sin. Not only was she removed from her office, she was thrown out of the temple itself and especially from the gipar, the sacred room in the heart of the temple where the priestesses lived and worked. She is taken from Ur and exiled across the desert to the eastern mountains. I suspect she wrote "Lady of Largest Heart" during this period of exile. The anguish and rage she expresses in that poem would be natural responses to exile and to the rebellion against her nephew.

Expulsion and exile are not the only outrages that cause Enheduanna to beg the goddess for help; she is also physically threatened by Lugulanne: "He has wiped his spit-soaked hand/on my honey sweet mouth." Lugulanne threatens her with a ritual dagger, with which some priests were made eunuchs, and tells her "it becomes you." The dagger is symbolic in two ways: as an instrument of castration it mocks her loss of power and prestige; and as a phallic symbol it may also be a symbol of rape. That Lugulanne sexually assaulted her is probable (Meador 182, Hallo and van Dijk 57). Such an assault would incorporate the additional sins of adultery and incest, since Lugulanne represented An and Enheduanna represented Ningal, effectively making them in-laws. But Enheduanna stands up to him, and even makes a legal case against him, noting that he has repeatedly "not settled my claim" and instead "throws a hateful verdict/in my face."

After describing Lugulanne's offenses and their consequences in great detail, the poem's third section is a proclamation of Inanna's powers. These 11 lines convey all of Enheduanna's rage as she diverts her prayers from Nanna, who has turned a deaf ear, to her personal goddess, Inanna:

That you are as exalted as An

That you are as wide as earth

That you crush rebellious lands

That you shriek over the land

That you smash heads

That you gorge on corpses like a dog

That your glance flames with rage

That you throw your glance around

That your eyes flash like jewels

That you balk and defy

That you stand victorious
(Meador 178-179)

The short fourth section describes her pious preparations for ritual, a reminder to Inanna of all the times Enheduanna has prayed to her. She then provides the first record of the writing process in the lines "suffering bitter pangs/I gave birth to this exaltation/for you my Queen," which is also the first instance of this uniquely female metaphor.

In the final section of the poem, Enheduanna writes with joy that Inanna has received her prayer and acted on it. She concludes with praise to the goddess who answered her prayers when neither An nor Nanna responded. In historical fact, Lugulanne's rebellion was defeated and Enheduanna was restored to her position as En-priestess of the temple of Nanna at Ur.

Writing as she did during the rise of agrarian civilization, with its emphasis on accumulating territory and wealth, on warfare, and on patriarchy, Enheduanna offers a first-person perspective of one of the last times women in Western society held religious and civil power. In her elevation of Inanna above all other deities, she takes religious belief a giant step closer to monotheism. By endowing Inanna with powers uniting heaven and earth, she establishes characteristics of female deities that will continue through "Assyrian Ishtar, the Hebrew Shekinah, and the Gnostic Sophia" (Meador 189) to the Catholic belief in Mary's assumption into heaven. Was she restoring this goddess to the position of the Great Mother? Was she supporting her family's conquest? Or was she defying her own nephew, the first male ruler to declare himself a god?

The importance of Enheduanna's writing in Western literature cannot be overstated. She was the first writer to identify herself as the author of a work and the first to describe the writing process. Her use of the first person and her dialogue with the goddess were innovative and daring. Her work is foundational; its influence in ancient times was comparable to that of Shakespeare today. There is much more in her writing than can be discussed in a short essay like this one. Thankfully, contemporary scholars like Janet Roberts and Betty De Shong Meador are revisiting her body of work and providing new insights into the writing of this "most radiant" priestess, princess, and poet.

Works Cited

Binkley, Roberta. Context: Who Was Enheduanna? Arizona State University faculty web pages. Retrieved March 29, 2009, from: http://www,public.asu.edu/~rbinkle/enheduanna.htm

Hallo, William W. and J.J.A. van Dijk. The Exaltation of Inanna. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968.

Meador, Betty De Shong. Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

Sjöberg, ke W. "in-nin-š-gur-ra: A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-Priestess Enheduanna." Zeitschrift fur Asyriologie 65 (1975): 161-253.

The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. The Exaltation of Inana (Inana B): Translation. Retrieved March 29, 2009, from: http://www.etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/section 4/tr4072.htm

Wolkstein, Diane, and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.

Zgoll, Annette. NIN-ME-SARA: Lady of Countless Cosmic Powers. Tr. Tatjana Dorsch, from Der Rechtsfall der En-hedu-Ana im Lied nin-me-šr-ra. Mnster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1997. Retrieved March 29, 2009, from: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/enheduanna/Ninmesara.html

Appendix A.
Hallo and van Dyke excerpt from pp. 31 and 33 (with line numbers): "Be it known"

122 That one has not recited as a that one has recited as a "\'Tis "Known! Be it known!" of Nanna, Thine!":

123 "That you are lofty as Heaven (An)-- be it known!
124 That you are broad as the earth-- be it known!
125 That you devastate the rebellious be it known!
125a That you roar at the land-- be it known!
126 That you smite the heads-- be it known!
127 That you devour cadavers like a dog-- be it known!
128 That your glance is terrible-- be it known!
129 That you lift your terrible glance-- be it known!
130 That your glance is flashing-- be it known!
131 That you are ill-disposed toward the... -- be it known!
132 That you attain victory-- be it known!"
133 That one has not recited (this) of that one has recited it as a " 'Tis Thine!"--
134 (That,) oh my lady, has made you great, you alone are exalted!
135 Oh my lady beloved of An, I have verily recounted your fury!

Appendix B.
Dorsch/Zgoll excerpt from www.angelfire.com (with line numbers): "Shall be known"
122. It shall be known, it shall be known:
Nanna has proclaimed no decree,
"It is yours" is what he has said!

123. That you are as high as heaven, shall be known!

124. That you are as wide as the earth, shall be known!

125. That you anhilate [sic] rebelling territiories [sic], shall be known! [footnote removed]

125a. That you roar against the enemy lands, shall be known!

126. That you crush the leaders, shall be known!

127. That you devour corpses like a predator, shall be known!

128. That your glance is terrible, shall be known!

129. That you raise your terrible glance, shall be known!

130. That your glance is sparkling, shall be known!

131. That you are unshakable and unyielding, shall be known!

132. That you always stand triumphant, shall be known!

133. That Nanna has not proclaimed (the decree),
that he has said, "It is yours",

134. My Queen- it has made you greater,
you have become the greatest!

135. My Queen, beloved of An,
I will announce all of your wrath!

Appendix C.
Complete text, reprinted [without footnotes] with kind permission of Betty De Shong Meador:

The Exaltation of Inanna

by The Priestess Enheduanna

Queen of all given powers
unveiled clear light
unfailing woman wearing brilliance
cherished in heaven and earth

chosen, sanctified in heaven
grand in your adornments
crowned with your beloved goodness
rightfully you are High Priestess

your hands seize the seven fixed powers
my queen of fundamental forces
guardian of essential cosmic sources

you lift up the elements
bind them to your hands
gather in powers
press them to your breast

vicious dragon you spew
venom poisons the land
like the storm god you howl
grain wilts on the ground

swollen flood rushing down the mountain

mounted on a beast
You Lady ride out
shower the land with flames of fire
your fated word charged
with An's command

who can fathom your depths
you of the great rites

mountain smasher
give the storm wings

Enlil's dear
fling storms over the land
you stand at An's command
my Lady
the shriek of your voice
shatters foreign lands

dreaded southwind
hurl a hot storm
people stumble      dazed and silent
face the terror of holy power
chanting a dirge
they meet you at the crossroads
of the house of sighs

at the front of battle
all is smashed before you
the obsidian blade ravages
my Lady
by your own arm's power

a gouging storm-bull, you gouge
a rumbling storm roar, you thunder
you bellow with the storm god
you moan with evil winds
your feet never weary

you sing of sorrow
play the harp of lamentation

before you my Queen
the Annuna
all the great gods
fly away to the ruins
flutter around like bats

wither at your smoldering glance
cower beneath your scowl

your angry heart
who can soothe it
cooling your cruel heart is
too forbidding

the Queen alone lifts her feelings
the Queen alone gladdens her heart
She will not quiet her rage
O great daughter of Suen

greater than the mountain
who dares raise nose-pressed-to-the-ground
when the mountain quits nose-rubbing
you curse its grain
spin ashes around its main gate
pour blood into its rivers
its people cannot drink
it hands over captives
armies disband
strong young men
come before you willingly

a wind storm breaks up dancing in the city
drives the prime youth before you
rope-tied captives

to the city which does not profess
"the land is yours"
which does not say
"it is your father's"
you speak one holy word
turn that city from your path

you abandon its sacred stall
the woman no longer speaks sweetly to her husband
no longer tells secrets at midnight
does not disclose
the soft whispers in her heart

ecstatic wild cow
eldest daughter of Suen
Queen greater than An
who dares withhold adulation

mistress of the scheme of order
great Queen of queens
babe of a holy womb
greater than mother who bore you
You all knowing
You wise vision
Lady of all lands
life-giver for the many
faithful Goddess
worthy of powers
to sing your praise is exalted

You of the bountiful heart
You of the radiant heart
I will sing of your cosmic powers

truly for your gain
you drew me toward
my holy quarters
the High Priestess

there I raised the ritual basket
there I sang the shout of joy

but that man cast me among the dead
I am not allowed in my rooms
gloom falls on the day
light turns leaden
shadows close in
dreaded southstorm cloaks the sun

he wipes his spit-soaked hand
on my honey sweet mouth
my beautiful image
fades under dust

what is happening to my fate
O Suen
what is this with Lugalanne

speak to An
he will free me
tell him "Now"
he will release me

the Woman will dash his fate
that Lugalanne
the mountains the biggest floods
lie at Her feet

the Woman is as great as he
she will break the city from him
(may her heart grow soft for me)

stand there
Enheduanna Jewel of An
let me say a prayer to you
(flow tears
refreshing drink for Inanna)

I say to Her
be well

I say
I no longer soothe Ashimbabbar

all the cleansing rites of Holy An
that man changed them

he robbed An of his temple
he does not fear Big Man An
the potent vigor of the place

does not fill him
he spoiled its allure
truly he destroyed it

haunt him
with the ghost
of her you set up as your partner

O my divine ecstatic wild cow
drive this man out
hunt him down
catch him

who am I
in the place which holds up
life's key elements

may An desert those rebels
who hate your Nanna
may An wreck that city
may Enlil curse its fate
may the mother not comfort
her crying child

creator of heart-soothing
that man junked
your boat of lamentation
on an alien sea

I am dying
that I must sing
this sacred song
even I
Nanna ignores my straits
am I to be ruined by treachery
even I
neglects my case

whether he neglects me
or not
what does it matter
that man threw me out of the temple
I who served triumphant

he made me fly
like swallows swept
from their holes in the wall

he eats away at my life
I wander through thorny brush in the mountains
he robbed me
of the true crown
of the High Priestess

he gave me
the ritual dagger of mutilation
he said
"it becomes you"

precious Queen
loved by An
rekindle for me
your holy heart

beloved wife of the sky dragon
Great Lady
who spans the tree of heaven
trunk to crown
all the Annuna
lash yoke over neck for you

born a minor queen
how great you have become
greater than the Anunna
greater than the Great Gods

the Anunna
press lips to the ground for you

that man has not settled my claim
again and again
he throws a hateful verdict
in my face

I no longer lift my hands
from the pure sacred bed
I no longer unravel
Ningal's gifts of dreams
to anyone

most radiant priestess of Nanna
may you cool your heart for me
my Queen
beloved of An

I shall not
pay tribute to Nanna
it is of YOU

that you are exalted as An

that you are wide as earth

that you crush rebellious lands

that you shriek over the land

that you smash heads

that you gorge on corpses like a dog

that your glance flames with rage

that you throw your glance around

that your eyes flash like jewels

that you balk and defy

that you stand victorious

I have not said this of Nanna
I have said it of YOU
my phrases glorify YOU
who alone are exalted
my Queen
beloved of An

I have spoken
of your tempestuous fury

I have heaped up coals in the brazier
I have washed in the sacred basin
I have readied your room
in the tavern
(may your heart be cooled for me)
suffering bitter pangs
I gave birth to this exaltation
for you my Queen

what I told you in the dark of night
may the singer recount at noon

child of yours      I am a captive
bride of yours      I am a captive
it is for my sake your anger fumes
your heart finds no relief

the eminent Queen
guardian of the throne room
receives her prayer

the holy heart
of Inanna
returns to her

the day is favorable
she dresses lavishly
in woman's allure

she glows with beauty's shine
like the light of the rising moon
Nanna lifts her
into seemly view

at the sound of Ningal's prayer
the gate posts open
Be Well

this poem
spoken for the sacred Woman
is exalted
praise the mountain destroyer
praise Her who
(together with An)
received the unchanging powers
praise my lady wrapped in beauty


[1] Translated as "Ornament of An"(Zgoll), "Ornament of Heaven" (Binkley), or "Jewel of Heaven" (Meador). "En" means "high-priestess."

[2] In other Sumerian literature, Inanna gets Enki drunk on beer to trick him into giving her the me, which she then brings to the people of Uruk. Enheduanna's use of "are yours/'tis thine" emphasize that the me legitimately belong to Inanna.

[3] Binkley notes that another 59 texts have been identified since the Hallo and van Dijk translation.

[4] Inanna is often given attributes that are traditionally male. Gender issues are a topic that Meador discusses extensively in her analysis of these works.

Years: 2285-2250 BCE
Birthplace: Sumer
Language(s): Sumerian
Forms: Hymns (Odes, in the modern, not classical, sense
Subjects: the Goddess Inanna, Sumerian temples
Firsts: first poems in recorded history, first to self-identify as author of work, first to describe writing process
Entry By: Pat Valdata
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Penn Museum
32 Poems
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