Enheduanna was an ancient Sumerian priestess, from a part of the world now known as Iraq. Her father, Sargon, is credited with uniting the Central and Southern regions of Mesopotamia into a highly prosperous empire. Sargon is often referred to as the world’s first emperor, reigning from 2334-2279 BCE. Enheduanna was appointed priestess of the temple at Ur. In this position she consolidated the worship of a myriad of local goddesses into the worship of Inanna, a Sumerian goddess. Enheduanna is believed to be the world’s oldest writer. She wrote what may be the first recorded poem in response to war, in approximately 2300 BCE.
Lament to the Spirit of War
You hack everything down in battle.... God of War, with your fierce wings you slice away the land and charge disguised as a raging storm, growl as a roaring hurricane, yell like a tempest yells, thunder, rage, roar, and drum, expel evil winds! Your feet are filled with anxiety! On your lyre of moans I hear your loud dirge scream.
Like a fiery monster you fill the land with poison. As thunder you growl over the earth, trees and bushes collapse before you. You are blood rushing down a mountain, Spirit of hate, greed and anger, dominator of heaven and earth! Your fire wafts over our land, riding on a beast, with indomitable commands, you decide all fate. You triumph over all our rites. Who can explain why you go on so?
Further Research and Questions for Reflection: Enheduanna and “Lament to the Spirit of War”
The questions and directives that follow should help guide your research of Enheduanna, her position as priestess, the political situation of her father, and her work as a writer.
What was the political advantage for Sargon of appointing his daughter, Enheduanna, as priestess of the temple of Nanna in Ur.
Part of Enheduanna’s writings includes the composition of 42 hymns and three longer hymns to the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Who is Inanna and what significant role did she play in Sumerian society? How is she ranked next to other gods and goddesses?
Enheduanna’s known works are all translated into English. Select one of the hymns and reflect on its composition and meaning.
Report on the reign of Sargon and his successors.
Research the Temple of Ur and report on its present status.
Enheduanna wrote in cuneiform script. Report on the characteristics of the script, the way in which it was written, and locate examples of the script to illustrate your report.
The questions that follow refer to the poem, Lament to the Spirit of War.
Explain the meaning of the words tempest, lyre, dirge, wafts, indomitable, and rites as used in the context of the poem.
In what spirit is this poem written? What does the title of the poem say to us about Enheduanna’s feeling about war and destruction?
Is there indication in the poem as to the cause of destruction brought against humanity by the God of War? If so, what is it?
What are the ways in which the God of War brings about destruction?
What was Enheduanna hoping to learn by asking the last question in the poem?