The world’s first author

Authors, in todays world authors are considered as minor celebrities. Most of the best seller authors are usually in fame for a short period of time after which they are lost to obscurity. Yet there are some with writings of such epic proportions that they are still celebrated as influential authors by many. One such author was the world’s first author, and despite such a feat not much is known about her by the general populace. 4,300 years ago, in ancient Sumer, the most powerful person in the city of Ur was banished to wander the vast desert. Her name was Enheduanna, a high priestess and the world’s first author. And by the time of her exile, she had written forty-two hymns and three epic poems— and Sumer hadn’t heard the last of her. Who was this woman, and why was she exiled?

Enheduanna lived 1700 years before Sappho, 1500 years before Homer and about 500 years before the biblical patriarch Abraham. Born in Mesopotamia, her birthplace was one of the first cities and cultures to have emerged in the world. Her father was King Sargon the Great, history’s first empire builder who conquered the independent city states and was often seen as somewhat of a foreign invader by the Sumerian cities of the south. Thus, to bridge the gap between the cultures, Sargon appointed his only daughter, Enheduanna, as high priestess. Female royalty was traditionally given religious roles, and she was educated to read and write in both Sumerian and Akkadian and make mathematical calculations. The worlds first writing started in Sumer as a system of accounting, allowing merchants to communicate over long distances with traders abroad. This pictogram system of record keeping developed into a script about 300 years before Enheduanna’s birth. But until Enheduanna, this writing mostly took the form of record keeping and transcription, rather than original works attributable to individual writers. As high priestess, she oversaw hundreds of temple workers, interpreted their dreams and set about unifying the older Sumerian culture with the new Akkadian civilisation. To accomplish this feat, she wrote 42 religious hymns that combined both mythologies. Since each Mesopotamian city was thought to be ruled by a patron deity, her hymns were dedicated to the ruling of each major city. In her writing she humanized the once aloof gods- now they suffered, fought, loved and responded to human pleading. Enheduanna’s most valuable literary contribution is said to her poetry dedicated to Inanna, the goddess of war and desire. Her odes to Inanna, mark the first time an author used the pronoun “I” and the first-time writing was used to explore deep, private emotions. After the death of king Sargon, a power-hungry general took advantage to the power vacuum to stage a coup. As a powerful member of the ruling family, naturally Enheduanna was targeted, thus the general exiled her from Ur. Her nephew, the legendary Sumerian king Naram- Sin, ultimately crushed the rebellion and restored his aunt as the high priestess. She died after serving as high priestess for 40 years. After her death she was regarded as a minor deity and her poetry was copied, studied and performed throughout the empire. Her poems influenced the Hebrew Old Testament, the epics of Homer and Christian Hymns.

Today, Enheduanna’s legacy still exists on clay tablets that have stood the testaments of time. To end lets celebrate a quote of Enheduanna herself “With your strength, my lady teeth can crush flint”.