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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 is known today. Having lived circa 2285 BCE, she appears to be the first named poet in human history, and the first known writer of prayers and hymns. Enheduanna is also one of the first women we know by name. She was the high priestess of the moon goddess Nanna in the Sumerian city-state of Ur. Her composition The Exaltation of Inanna details her expulsion from Ur and her prayerful request for reinstatement. Enheduanna also composed 42 hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad. Furthermore, she seems to have been the first editor of a poetry anthology or songbook. The temple hymns were the first collection of their kind; in them Enheduanna claims: "My king, something has been created that no one has created before." And poems are still being created on the model she established over 4,000 years ago! Amazingly, we even have a depiction of her, because in 1927 the British archaeologist Sir Leonard Wooley found the now-famous Enhuduanna calcite disc in his excavations at the Sumerian site of Ur. Inscriptions on the disc identify the four figures depicted: 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 goddess 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 on the culture of her time.

Temple Hymn 15

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

Most ancient and terrible shrine,
set deep in the mountain
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 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!

The Exaltation of Inanna: Opening Lines, an Excerpt

by Enheduanna
loose translation 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!

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