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Enheduanna, the first poet we know by name
November 5, 2009 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Enheduanna was a priestess and poet in the city of Ur in the 23rd century BC and supposedly the daughter of Sargon the Great of Akkad. She is the first author known by name. Here are a number of her poems in English translation, The Exaltation of Inana, Inana and Ebih, A Hymn to Inana, The Temple Hymns and A Balbale to Nanna. Here are two alternate translations of The Exaltation of Inana, one by James D. Pritchard and an English rendering of Dr. Annette Zgoll's German translation. If you want to learn more, go to The En-hedu-Ana Research Pages.
posted by Kattullus (27 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
In case you were wondering what the heck a 'balbale' is.

Also, the translation from the German is by Tatjana Dorsch and the author of the En-hedu-Ana Research Pages but I'll be damned if I can find the name of who created the site anywhere.
posted by Kattullus at 8:35 PM on November 5, 2009


Be it known that your post is favorited! She sounds a bit intimidating though.
posted by tellurian at 8:42 PM on November 5, 2009


Oh hey, I didn't think to look for videos, but here's a close-up of The Disk of Enheduanna and a recital of a few lines (also some Tennyson).
posted by Kattullus at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2009


Inana, that is.
posted by tellurian at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2009


Oh yes! Thank you!

I've love with all my heart these lines from the Temple Hymns:

To the true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom, soothing ...... and opening the mouth, always consulting a tablet of lapis lazuli, giving advice to all lands, the true woman, the holy potash plant, born of the stylus reed, applies the measure to heaven and places the measuring-rope on the earth -- to Nisaba [the goddess of writing, learning, and he harvest] be praise!

The compiler of the tablets was En-hedu-ana. My king, something has been created that no one has created before.

posted by jokeefe at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2009


(whoops, that should just be "I". I guess we'll never get the one minute editing window, will we?)
posted by jokeefe at 8:44 PM on November 5, 2009


"You are a shrine in a pure place..."


Now there's a compliment. I'm going to have to remember that one.
posted by darkstar at 8:54 PM on November 5, 2009


I'm holding out for a "Snow Crash" reference...
posted by Slothrup at 9:03 PM on November 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm busy right now, but I can't wait to read these. Faved.
posted by lekvar at 9:07 PM on November 5, 2009


I dunno. The translations seemed to take too much of a tentative course... the triumphal* passion of the priestess for her goddess is very much evident, but her modern translators' namby-pamby refusal to =interpret= the poems gets in the way. It's very clear what she meant... now show it with words and meter a modern anglophone poet would use! If some cuneiform-geek tut-tuts at you for imprecision, tell him to take a flying fuck at his cylinder seals, and go translate Linear B if he wants to be helpful.

(*and who is better suited to triumphalism than the daughter of Sargon the Great? "The Great" doesn't mean he was a swell guy, it means he was able to conquer an empire, and Sargon is the earliest "The Great" we have in Western history.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:08 PM on November 5, 2009


On further reading, Inana doesn't sound that bad:
When the servants let the flocks loose, and when cattle and sheep are returned to cow-pen and sheepfold, then, my lady, like the nameless poor, you wear only a single garment. The pearls of a prostitute are placed around your neck, and you are likely to snatch a man from the tavern. As you hasten to the embrace of your spouse Dumuzid, Inana, then the seven paranymphs share the bedchamber with you.
Despite her creating autumn and winter, that is.
posted by tellurian at 9:11 PM on November 5, 2009


Sargon is the earliest "The Great" we have in Western history

Isn't he the earliest "The Great" in any history?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:15 PM on November 5, 2009


On a similar note, I just posted "The Gecko Wears a Tiara" to Projects -- Sumerian proverbs, so presumably already very old when written down 4,000 years ago. I love this stuff.
posted by msalt at 10:42 PM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dr. Annette Zgoll

Pfft. I see through your cunning anagram, "Annette". What's the bet there's some sort of occult Sumerian message hidden here? Let's see...

TRENDS...LENT...hrm, doesn't seem to be much lefZ̷A͟͝LG̡͟O͝
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:22 PM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wish she had been a character in Cloud Atlas.
posted by mammary16 at 11:33 PM on November 5, 2009


Outstanding, msalt! I'm enjoying reading those right now and have already run across a few that are pretty topical to some issues I'm facing today. :)
posted by darkstar at 12:52 AM on November 6, 2009


I'm simultaneously disappointed and relieved that I didn't get the first "Snow Crash" comment in this thread.

Seriously, though, this is pretty cool.
posted by Alterscape at 12:54 AM on November 6, 2009


Does anyone else get a feeling that Sumerian writings are much more alien to us than ancient egyptian, ancient greek, indian, chinese? Especially the Gilgamesh book? Compared to it, ancient egyptian works feel like reading Tom Wolfe or blogs.
posted by rainy at 1:30 AM on November 6, 2009


Sumerian writings are much more alien to us

Yes and no, although the alien feeling is certainly there. I find the relatively frank fear of death in Gilgamesh for example, easier to empathise with than some of the more complex and generally optimistic outlooks of other civilisations (especially the egyptians - even after careful reading all the stuff about ba and ka and so on remains entirely opaque to me in any but the driest intellectual sense).

Great post, btw.
posted by Phanx at 2:23 AM on November 6, 2009


I believe the author of the En-hedu-Ana Research Pages is Michelle W. Hart. You can hear her talking about Enheduanna on this Voices of the Sacred Feminine internet radio show.
posted by steef at 5:09 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


MF, you are hitting them out of the park today. This post is brilliant.

Well, I admit to being one of those freaks that dig Akkadian art. But still.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:45 AM on November 6, 2009


Eponymousterical!
posted by Go, now. Go! at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2009


I'm holding out for a "Snow Crash" reference...

*Rolls a 1* Dang, you got a Robert Graves reference.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2009


Enheduanna was a priestess and poet in the city of Ur in the 23rd century BC and supposedly the daughter of Sargon the Great of Akkad

I love how this reads like a line from a Frank Herbert book.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:03 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a stupid question. How the hell does anyone translate anything from a 4000 year old dead language? These were written in cuneiform, right? I can appreciate there being something of a Rosetta Stone-type artifact that relates cunieform to a language like Hebrew, which is still around. But these texts are long and not particularly simple, so are there really enough artifacts with a broad enough vocabulary for anyone to decipher a text of this complexity?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:41 AM on November 6, 2009


Pastabagel, the Wikipedia article on cuneiform tells all.

Basically, if this was a story about cryptography we would say it required a series of distribution and known plain-text attacks. They sure were a bunch of cunning linguists!

*ducks*
posted by clvrmnky at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great, now I'm going to have to work "take a flying fuck at his cylinder seals, and go translate Linear B if he wants to be helpful," into a conversation somehow.
posted by lekvar at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2009


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