Influential Women: Enheduanna – High-Priestess, Astronomer, First Known Author

File:Disk of Enheduanna.JPG from Wikimedia Commons – Author: Mefman00CC0

Daughter of Sargon

The world’s first known author is widely attributed to have been the daughter of Sargon (1) of Akkad in the 23rd century BC.  We know her today as Enheduanna, which may have been a title of office, in which case her real name is unknown.  She was the High Priestess of Nanna-Suen, a moon deity of Mesopotamia presiding over his temple complex in the city of Ur.  The “En” part of her name signifies “leadership” and “ heduanna,”  means “Ornament of Heaven” reflecting the divinity she served.

Clearly, she was of very high status in the society of her time and her writing was greatly influential then and in later times.  Considerable parts of her work still exist in her original poetic form which has been influential in various religious systems throughout history.

Enheduanna lived through tumultuous times as her father, also known as Sargon the Great,  forged the Akkadian-Sumerian empire which many consider the world’s first great empire.  During this period the northern and southern parts of Mesopotamia were united and the city of Akkad became one of the largest known cities in the world.

Sargon needed someone loyal with the intellectual and creative ability to combine the two main religions of his empire.  His  appointment of her as the first High-Priestess of Nanna-Suen of the city of Ur was a master-stroke as she seems to have had considerable success in this.

Cunieform

The early form of pictorial writing that Enheduanna used was believed to have originated in about 3,400 BC.  This was etched into tablets damp clay and known as Cuneiform.  Although these tablets may look primitive, modern literature and administration systems evolved from them.  They carry the thoughts, philosophy, religious knowledge and records of everyday life of the ancients carefully etched upon them.  A large number of these cuneiform tablets have been found that were designed to teach the arts of the scribe to future generations. Many examples have been discovered in the Sumer region carrying a great variety of information. 

In this way we have access to the thoughts of Enheduanna, a woman who lived about 4,300 years ago and other ancient people through the ages.

First Named Author

In her work as High Priestess, Enheduanna composed a canon of important literature.  These included two hymns to the goddess, Inanna, later known as Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love as well as the myth of Inanna and Ebih and 42 temple hymns.  She was thought to have composed them herself and dictated them to scribes.  

We know she wrote them because she claims authorship in the inscriptions and her seals are used as her stamp of authority.  Although there were earlier writers she is the first named author claiming responsibility for her work that has so far been identified in the world.  Her works come across as deeply personal including biographical information and her role as High-Priestess.  Her temple hymns are finished with the following declaration: 

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

In providing this she is asserting they were produced from her own intellectual creativity and effort in a similar way copyright is claimed by an author today.  Her assertion is the earliest known claim of authorship yet to be found.

She appears to have worked diligently and intelligently often through the night  in creating her compositions to be performed the next day.  Her works were performed to a live audience though it is uncertain if she performed them herself or someone else stood in.

Her poetry contains the first religious belief system and these works were studied and performed some five hundred years after she died.  It also contains personal information such as a power struggle with a usurper which saw her banished from the temple of Ur for a period.

Her works reveal the challenges she had in creating them and finding ways to express her thoughts.  From what she explains she appears to have sometimes suffered from writer’s block which shows it is not a phenomenon of the modern age!

Role in Society

As well as being the first recognized writer and one of the earliest scientists she was also the first in a long line of High-Priestesses of Nanna-Suen.  Over the following five hundred years the king’s daughter was appointed this highly influential role that would have required someone of high education and intelligence to fulfill.

Her role included more than that of a High-Priestess; she also controlled the administration of the temple and agricultural complexes.  Her religious ceremonies required accurate reading of the celestial sky as did her agricultural duties and she needed to articulate this information in ways that others could understand.   

She is also believed to have built into her works astronomical principles that were relevant to the celestial divinities of her religion.  In doing so she appears to have engaged in astronomy and mathematics as her observations and calculations  are regarded as accurate today and considered as one of the earliest known scientists.

Astronomy and Mathematics

Her eighth hymn is believed to give clues as to her role as High-Priestess and astronomer,

      ” in the gipar the priestesses’ rooms

        that princely shrine of cosmic order

        they track the passage of the moon.”

The private and sacred apartment of the High-Priestess was called the “gipar”.  This verse tells that this was the place or observatory where the movements of the moon in the night sky was observed and recorded.

As the High-Priestess of Nanna-Suen, the moon deity she needed to practice astronomy for both practical and ceremonial purposes.  Observing  the phases of the moon and movement of stars was important for practical purposes such as keeping track of the year and for agriculture and animal breeding. 

The modern liturgical calendars evolved from observations and calculations that Enhedaunna and other early priest astronomers observed and recorded. 

Enheduanna the Scientist

From her poetry we gain a really good insight into who she was and what her role was.

“The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,

       She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli

        She gives advice to all lands…

        She measures off the heavens,

        She places the measuring-cords on the earth.”

(3)

This provides a good description of her role as scientist and High-Priestess making observations and calculations and distributing the information and conclusions she reaches.  Lapis lazuli is a blue rock but some people think she is referring to the blue sky as it fits with her role as astronomer.

Exile

In what must have been a period of great anxiety and despair for Enhedaunna she was exiled during  one of the many uprisings by a revolutionary named Lugal-Ane.

She pleaded to the god Nanna-Suen for restoration but he appeared to ignore her despite her being his High-Priestess.  Therefore, she appealed to the goddess of love, procreation, fertility and war, Inanna, also known as Ishtar, for succour and was eventually restored to her position.   These events are recorded in her poetry which tells how she was ignored by Nanna-Suen but succoured by Inanna.  Her reverence and gratitude is shown in her hymn“The Exaltation of Inanna”(4),  a deeply personal account of her banishment and restoration.

Modern Society

She is considered as the first  known author and poet and considered one of first among the earliest of astronomers, mathematicians and scientists.  Her works are an important part of the rich history of Mesopotamia and her achievements have shone out through the centuries.  The  influence this remarkable woman had on modern society has been immense and we have much to thank her for today.

© 29/07/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 29th, 2020, zteve t evans

Australian Folklore: The Emu in the Sky

The Aboriginal people of Australia developed an astronomy where figures from their mythology were represented  by the dark patches, stars and other features of the night sky. These figures came from familiar animals and objects from their immediate environment that often had stories attached to them explaining their origin or function.

emu_public

In the night skies above Australia is the Southern Cross which has a dark patch or cloud next to it called the Coalsack Nebula.  This dark place is associated with the “Emu in the Sky” with the Coalsack representing the head and the body and legs formed by the dust trails that reach out across the Milky Way. Presented here is a brief description of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy followed by the folktale of The Blind Man and the Emu. Then follows  a look at the rock engraving of the Emu in the Sky and the celestial orientation in the night sky of the Emu before concluding with the importance of both of these to the Aboriginal people.

Australian Aboriginal Astronomy

In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, astronomical objects such as the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and the Milky Way and their movements across the sky are often seen as being representative of objects, animals or aspects of the world they knew. They used these representations to help explain and give meaning to various things that in their minds needed explaining or in some cases as a calendar to keep track of the passing of time and the seasons. Quite often there are mythological or religious explanations given to celestial objects and phenomena and sometimes there are less profound associations given.  Different groups of Aboriginal people have different folktales featuring many different creatures such as stingrays, sharks and other fish, different kinds of birds and animals also different people groups such as men, women, boys, girls and hunters.

The Blind Man and the Emu

One folktale tells of a blind man who lived in a camp in the bush.  He had a wife who lived with him and every day he would send his wife out to look for emu eggs for them to eat. His wife would dutifully oblige but no matter how hard she tried she could not please him. She would find the emu eggs and bring them back to him but he would complain they were too small and become angry with her.   One day she went out looking for emu eggs and came across the tracks of a very large emu.  Thinking that such a large bird would lay large eggs she followed the tracks and found it sitting on its nest on the ground.   Thinking the eggs would be large and would please her husband for a change, she became determined to get them and so she threw stones at the bird hoping to scare it off.  Instead the bird stood up and attacked her and killed her.

Meanwhile the blind man was becoming hungry waiting for his wife and he also began to worry about her.   Unable to see he began to feel his way cautiously around the camp until his hands felt a bush and feeling the branches he found some berries upon it.  Eating the berries he was suddenly cured of his blindness and picking up his spears he went out looking for his wife.  He found her tracks and followed them and found her body by the emu’s nest.  Realizing the emu had killed her he speared the emu and sent its spirit into the Milky Way.  There it remains to this day and can be seen at certain times of the year and became known as the Emu in the Sky.

Rock engravings of the Emu in the Sky

In the Kuringai National Park, north of Sidney the Guringai people who live there created rock engravings, some of these are depicting Daramulan the sky god and his emu-wife. One engraving at the Elvina Track Engraving Site depicts an emu similarly posed similarly as the Emu in the Sky constellation.  During  evenings in the autumn, which is March to May in Australia, the celestial emu in the sky is directly over the engraved emu in the sky depicted in the rock corresponding to the time when the emu lays its eggs and are traditionally collected by the Aborigines.

The Emu in the Sky

During March the head and neck of the Emu appears in night sky and from April to May the full length is revealed in the sky from south toward south east. During this time the Emu is said to have legs by the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi peoples and is seeming to be in a running pose.  This is said to be representative of the females who during the mating season run after the males.

During June and July the celestial emu appears to change its position with the disappearance of its legs and is said to be now male and sitting on its nest hatching the eggs.  It is the male emu on earth that incubates the eggs.  So the celestial Emu appears to reproduce the behavior of the earthly emu.

The Emu in the Sky is an example of how the Aboriginal Australians related to the natural world on earth and the heavens above them.  Their reliance and closeness to nature is seen in the use of the rock engraving that acts as a calendar reminding them of the important time of the year when the emu egg will be available to harvest.

© 08/06/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright June 8th, 2016 zteve t evans