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The Temple Hymns of Enheduanna
with modern English translations by Michael R. Burch

Enheduanna, the daughter of the famous King Saragon the Great of Akkad, is the first ancient writer whose name remains known today. She appears to be the first named poet in human history and the first known author of prayers and hymns. Enheduanna, who lived circa 2285-2250 BCE, is also one of the first women we know by name. She was the entu (high priestess) of the goddess Inanna (Ishtar/Astarte/Aphrodite) and the moon god Nanna (Sin) in the Sumerian city-state of Ur. Enheduanna's composition Nin-me-šara ("The Exaltation of Inanna") details her expulsion from Ur, located in southern Iraq, along with her prayerful request to the goddess for reinstatement. Enheduanna also composed 42 liturgical hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad. And she was the first editor of a poetry anthology, hymnal or songbook. Now known as the Sumerian Temple Hymns, this was the first collection of its kind; indeed, Enheduanna so claimed at the end of the final hymn: "My king, something has been created that no one had created before." And poems and songs are still being assembled today via the model she established over 4,000 years ago! Enheduanna may also have been the first feminist, as I explain in the notes that follow my translations of her poems.—MRB

Lament to the Spirit of War
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You hack down everything you see, War God!

Rising on fearsome wings
you rush to destroy our land:
raging like thunderstorms,
howling like hurricanes,
screaming like tempests,
thundering, raging, ranting, drumming,
whiplashing whirlwinds!

Men falter at your approaching footsteps.

Tortured dirges scream on your lyre of despair.

Like a fiery Salamander you poison the land:
growling over the earth like thunder,
vegetation collapsing before you,
blood gushing down mountainsides.

Spirit of hatred, greed and vengeance!

Dominatrix of heaven and earth!

Your ferocious fire consumes our land.

Whipping your stallion
with furious commands,
you impose our fates.

You triumph over all human rites and prayers.

Who can explain your tirade,
why you carry on so?

Temple Hymn 15

to the Gishbanda Temple of Ningishzida
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Most ancient and terrible shrine,
set deep in the mountain,
dark like a mother's womb ...

Dark shrine,
like a mother's wounded breast,
blood-red and terrifying ...

Though approaching through a safe-seeming field,
our hair stands on end as we near you!

like a neck-stock,
like a fine-eyed fish net,
like a foot-shackled prisoner's manacles ...
your ramparts are massive,
like a trap!

But once we’re inside,
as the sun rises,
you yield widespread abundance!

Your prince
is the pure-handed priest of Inanna, heaven's Holy One,
Lord Ningishzida!

Oh, see how his thick, lustrous hair
cascades down his back!

Oh Gishbanda,
he has built this beautiful temple to house your radiance!
He has placed his throne upon your dais!

NOTE: Ningishzida was a deity of the Netherworld: he was the chair-bearer who carried notable persons to their destination. The ancient Sumerians believed the Netherworld was set deep in the mountains, so a mountain shrine was perhaps a "natural" for Ningishzida.

The Exaltation of Inanna: Opening Lines, an Excerpt

Nin-me-šara by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Lady of all divine powers,
Lady of the all-resplendent light,
Righteous Lady clothed in heavenly radiance,
Beloved Lady of An and Uraš,
Mistress of heaven with the holy diadem,
Who loves the beautiful headdress befitting the office of her high priestess,
Powerful Mistress who has seized all seven divine powers,
My lady, you are the guardian of the seven divine powers!
You have seized the divine powers,
You hold the divine powers in your hand,
You have gathered up the divine powers,
You have clasped the divine powers to your breast!
Like a dragon you have spewed venom on foreign lands that know you not!
When you roar like Iškur at the earth, nothing can withstand you!
Like a flood descending on alien lands, O Powerful One of heaven and earth, you will teach them to fear Inanna!

Temple Hymn 7: an Excerpt

to the Kesh Temple of Ninhursag
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, high-situated Kesh,
form-shifting summit,
inspiring fear like a venomous viper!

O, Lady of the Mountains,
Ninhursag’s house was constructed on a terrifying site!

O, Kesh, like holy Aratta: your womb dark and deep,
your walls high-towering and imposing!

O, great lion of the wildlands stalking the high plains! ...

NOTE: Ninhursag was the goddess of nature and animals, wild and tame. She was also the goddess of the womb and form-shaping. And she was the patron deity of Kesh.

Temple Hymn 17: an Excerpt

to the Badtibira Temple of Dumuzi
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, house of jeweled lapis illuminating the radiant bed
in the peace-inducing palace of our Lady of the Steppe!

Temple Hymn 22: an Excerpt

to the Sirara Temple of Nanshe
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, house, you wild cow!
Made to conjure signs of the Divine!
ou arise, beautiful to behold,
bedecked for your Mistress!

Temple Hymn 26: an Excerpt

to the Zabalam Temple of Inanna
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O house illuminated by beams of bright light,
dressed in shimmering stone jewels,
awakening the world to awe!

Temple Hymn 42: an Excerpt

to the Eresh Temple of Nisaba
by Enheduanna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, house of brilliant stars
bright with lapis stones,
you illuminate all lands!


The person who put this tablet together
is Enheduanna.
My king: something never created before,
did she not give birth to it?


The name En-hedu-anna, probably either a title or adopted, was apparently compiled from "En" (Chief Priest or Priestess), "hedu" (Ornament) and "Ana" (of Heaven). She was the first royal daughter known to have been given the title "En" in a line that would extend for five hundred years. Enheduanna would serve as En during the reign of her father Saragon, her brother Rimush, and perhaps under his successors Manishtushu and Naram-Sin.

Sumerian literature is the earliest known human literature and the Sumerian language is the oldest language for which writing exists. Enheduanna is the first named Sumerian writer, and thus she is the first writer known by name in human history.

Enheduanna may have been the first feminist, or at least the first feminist we know by name. In one of her poems the goddess Inanna kills An, the former chief deity in the Mesopotamian pantheon, and thus becomes the supreme leader of the gods. It seems Enheduanna may have "promoted" a local female deity to the Queen of Heaven. Might this be considered the first feminist poem? Was Enheduanna commenting on the male-dominated society in which she lived, and perhaps even "projecting" her wishes on male rivals, to some degree?

Enheduanna may have been something of a propagandist and self-promoter. If her father was Saragon the Great, getting everyone to believe in the same supreme deity would have helped him consolidate his gains as he ruled over a diverse, expanding empire. And by promoting her personal goddess to the position of chief deity, Enheduanna could have enhanced her own position, influence and power. To be the high priestess of a goddess whom "nothing can withstand" and who "loves the beautiful headdress befitting the office of her high priestess" would be very convenient, indeed, in power struggles!

It is believed that Enheduanna's petitionary prayers influenced the psalms of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Homeric and Christian hymns. Experts have noted that the Sumerian gods seemed more compassionate and more embracing of all people after Enheduanna, than before her ministrations.

Enheduanna organized and presided over Ur's temple complex, until an attempted coup by a Sumerian rebel named Lugal-Ane forced her into exile. According to William W. Hallo and J.J.A. van Dijk, a man named Lugalanne or Lugalanna "played a role" in the great revolt against Naram-Sin (the grandson of Sargon). In one of her poems Enheduanna prayed for An to "undo" her fate. (Was this before she wrote the poem in which Inanna killed An?) Apparently the prayer worked and Enheduanna was restored to her position as high priestess of Inanna.

Enheduanna is best known for her poems InninsagurraNinmesarra and Inninmehusa, which translate as "The Great-Hearted Mistress," "The Exaltation of Inanna" and "The Goddess of the Fearsome Powers." All three are hymns to the goddess Inanna. 

Inanna would later be associated with Ishtar, Astarte and Aphrodite. Inanna was the goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice and political power. 

Amazingly, we have a depiction of the first poet/anthologist, because in 1927 the British archaeologist Sir Leonard Wooley found the now-famous Enheduanna calcite disc in his excavations of Ur. The disc is circular, perhaps mean to represent the moon. It shows four people entering the ziggarut of Ur. Inscriptions on the disc identify the four figures: Enheduanna, her estate manager Adda, her hair dresser Ilum Palilis, and her scribe Sagadu. The royal inscription on the disc reads: "Enheduanna, zirru-priestess, wife of the god Nanna, daughter of Sargon, king of the world, in the temple of the goddess Inanna." The figure of Enheduanna is placed prominently on the disc emphasizing her importance in relation to the others and, further, her position of great power and influence over the culture of her time. Enheduanna is larger and more ornately dressed than the men on the disc, speaking of her prominence. Her name is inscribed on the back of the disc.

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