In studying and researching the work and life of Enheduanna, the world’s oldest known ‘published’ poet, we the members of Epyllion have made a number of discoveries which inform us of this remarkable woman. More than the priestess and writer for which she has come to be known in history, Enheduanna reveals much more in her work than merely praising the highest goddess of the Sumerian religious pantheon.
Inanna represents power, manifested in her identity as the goddess of war and fertility. War takes away life, fertility procreates. The cycle of death and life, life and death, existence and nonexistence comes about due to the goddess who in her exploits and endeavors battles with jealous gods and the forces of nature that would leash chaos on humankind if not controlled by understanding the reality of these forces. According to the Sumerians and Enheduanna the poet and priestess, it is Inanna and the power of the feminine which keeps this balance and maintains the cycle. Women bring forth life, nurture their children and teach them the ways of the world. This was seen as natural to many very ancient societies. While gods such as An may have been masculine, they merely ruled and sat upon their thrones in the heavens. The important gods who actually set the universe in order and made the world a place for humanity to live upon were, those who did the actual work necessary for a world to exist were, like Inanna herself, feminine.
The poetess Enheduanna recounts Inanna’s exploits in her hymn, written in cuneiform on clay tablets found in a jar in what is now Iraq. These tablets are the oldest known written poetry to have been yet discovered. This daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the first empire builder in history praises Inanna and in this manner reminds her father and all would be male rulers and conquerors that their power and military prowess comes from a goddess who rules over both life and death. In describing the exploits of Inanna, Enheduanna makes it clear that to attain what humanity calls civilization, considered a gift from the heavens, work and effort are required of humanity just as effort was required of Inanna to being cosmic order and civilization about. Thus, among the famous exploits which Enheduanna sings of, is the tale of how Inanna demands all the heavenly bodies and lesser gods to acknowledge her. They all do except Ebih, goddess of the mountains thus of the Earth, the land upon which we humans live and from which we come and will return. Inanna wages war on Ebih and destroys her. By so doing she guarantees order and stability of the Earth, leading to eventual civilization, lest it spin out of orbit and shoot wildly through the heavens to impending doom. Inanna triumphs, as always, and the world is now ready for populations of humans and beasts.
Enheduanna and all the citizens of the lands between the rivers know well that if not for Inanna’s efforts, like the efforts of a mother fostering and teaching the young, all would be chaos just as a society without it’s necessary teachings would be chaotic and civilization would not grace the lives of humanity. So, it is Inanna and her example that sets the roots foundations of society. Sargon the man rules and maintains power as An does in the sky, just as a man possesses the seed of life in his loins. But it is the power of the feminine which nurtures and brings forth that life, makes the decisions and performs the actual work necessary to bring about a human being worthy of the luxury of civilization itself.
Throughout history we see that many if not all prehistoric societies (prehistoric in the sense of our own accepted timelines of history) were at first matriarchal. It is natural for groups of humans to accept the fact that women bring forth life and nurture that life. It is they who pass on the pride and identity of the tribe, encouraging the mores and explaining the taboos. yet as humans settled down into agricultural communities which would evolve into great civilizations, we notice that these societies began to transform from being matriarchal to becoming patriarchal society. What we read in Enheduanna’s tablets, which is perhaps more important than her lauding and praising of the goddess Inanna is the actual bemoaning of the loss of feminine power in ancient Sumeria. As the temple of Inanna was a female dominated institution Enheduanna makes it clear in her poetry that she is annoyed with the new position of male priests who are attempting to usurp her position. Therefore Enheduanna sings the praises of Inanna not only as hymns to be recited or sung for the benefit of worshippers but the poetry is the work of a feminist clearly upset at the transformation of her society. Enheduanna is no hypocrite, as she will not accept wholeheartedly the notion that men could praise or serve a goddess who refused to submit to any god or a person’s will. The Epic of Gilgamesh tells how Gilgamesh the king- known as a lustful subduer of women none of whom would dare refuse his advances, was refused by Inanna herself who laughed at him. Inanna sets an example for all Sumerian women to be steadfast and unyielding, as no source of life should allow themselves to be forced to submit to the man’s lust. Thus to Enheduanna, the thought that men could be keepers of the temple of the symbol of feminine power was a ludicrous thought at best and replete with hypocrisy and scandal.
We have to wonder why the tablets of Enheduanna’s work were placed in clay jars, as if to be hidden from sight. Were these cuneiform tablets placed in the jars by Enheduanna herself? Perhaps by her devotees and students who tried to cling to and carry on her feminist views in the face of male patriarchal hegemony? Maybe the tablets were hidden centuries or millennia later, as some population knew they were old and of worth, purposely hidden to preserve them from one of the many invaders who crossed this ancient land- Hitties, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Medes, Mongols, Tatars and Turks intent on plunder and destruction and cared not about the relics of the past...or the 19th and early 20th century British robber barons intent on cultural theft committed in the name of scholarship archeology. We cannot know for sure, but the fact that the tablets were hidden tells us that someone at some point in time in that cradle of civilization knew that The Tablets of Enheduanna were something to be preserved as they are a witness to history, the very rise of civilization and the eventual fall of our matriarchal legacy and tradition which echoes the foundations of our earthly existence as civilized and cultured human beings. Photo, Felipe Beltran Model, Dorit Elena King