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Enheduanna: The World's First Poet

Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna is credited as the mother of all poetry and writing.

Only 500 years after the creation of cuneiform symbols on clay tablets, she constructed the worlds first poems in dedication to goddess of the moon, Inanna, in 2300bc.

The Noose of Light by Mark Harrison

She was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the first known king to establish an empire in the ancient world when he conquered Sumer, making him ruler of ancient Mesopotamia. Her brother was Naram-Sin, who declared himself a 'god king' when taking control of the empire after the death of his father and uncle Rimush. In her role as priestess in Uruk, she established Inanna, also known as Ishtar, as the dominant spiritual figure of that period.

"The jagged peaks of Mount Ebih cut the blue vault of sky, trees fruit laden, full grown stand luxuriant on its slopes, layers of thick leaves on its great trees, darken the sky, lion pairs stroll in the shade, of stretching arches of branches, grey fleeced wild rams, wild eyed stags, roam the hills without shephards, wild bulls come and go, legs brushed by swaying grass" - Eheduanna (Inanna & Ebih)

Inanna is a winged goddess of the moon with talon claws for feet. She symbolised the duality of existence, existing as a force of destruction and terror, whilst also maintaining the natural flows and cycles of nature, love and sex. The poems written about Inanna by Enheduanna were studied for hundreds of years later in Mesopotamia, making Enheduanna the prominent writer and poet for a period of a thousand years after her death.

"All is struck down by you, O winged lady, like a bird you scavenge the rampaging winds, your feet are continually restless, carrying your harp of sighs, you breathe out the music of mourning" - Enheduanna (Hymn to Inanna)

Sculpture of Inanna (1900bc, Babylonia)

It is a miracle that any of Enheduanna's work exists, considering the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt that destroyed over 1 million scrolls containing knowledge of antiquity and most of the poetry from that period. However in the early 20th century clay tablets were found under desert sands in modern day Iraq containing her poems to the goddess Inanna, unearthed for the first time in over 2,000 years.

"Turn your back on me! May the bleak bird of heartbreak nest in your shadows" - Enheduanna (Inanna & Ebih)

Despite writing at the dawn of modern civilisation, the poetic language contained within Enheduanna's verses is beautifully descriptive of the time period, containing metaphors and poetic tools still used by contemporary poets today. Reading her poetry is to travel back in time and glimpse the spiritual connection the ancient Mesopotamians had to the divine.

In her third poem, "The Exaltation of Inanna", she describes how after a rebellion led against her family's rule, she was given a dagger and banished into the wilderness.

"He has turned that temple into a house of ill repute. He made me walk a land of thorns. / He took away the noble diadem of my holy office / He gave me a dagger." - Enheduanna (Exaltation of Inanna)

Her fall from grace at the dawn of time makes her life story just as powerful as her poems.



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