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The Concept Of Personal God(dess) In Enheduana's Hymns to Inanna

Revision---January, 2001

Enheduana is becoming known today as the first named author in all of world literature. She is credited by many as having written and compiled what is known as The Sumerian Temple Hymns, consisting of 42 hymns to the temples of Sumer and Akkad as well as a hymnal cycle to the goddess Inanna: 1) in-nin-me-hus-a,(INM), The Myth of Inanna and Ebih, 2) in-nin-sa-gur-ra, (INS),Stout-Hearted Lady, and 3) nin-me-sar-ra,(NMS), Lady of all the Me’s, which is her most famous poem. In addition, Joan Westenholz has also credited her as having written two hymns to the moon god, Nanna [Westenholz,1989].

Many Near Eastern scholars believe that Enheduana’s hymns were politically motivated to support the imperialistic ambitions of her father, King Sargon, who’s unparalleled control of Sumer and Akkad had known no predecessor and that her installation by Sargon as en-priestess of Nanna at Ur was also a political strategy [Hallo & Van Dijk,1968, p.9.]. And there are scholars who question Enheduana’s authorship of these hymns, like Miguel Civil, stating that there is no solid evidence- and especially since most Sumerian literature was anonymous. Those who disagree with Adam Falkenstein who was the first to identify the title ’en-hedu-Ana’ in the poem nin-me-sarra as positive identification of Enheduanna herself [Falkenstein, 1954] state that the title ’en-hedu-Ana’ was a generic epithet for Inanna or for Dumuzi. Then there is Annette Zgoll’s [Zgoll, 1997] newest research in which she adds to the work of Hallo and Van Dijk and many others who acknowledge Enheduana as the author based on many historical references in the poem nin-me-sarra that refer to actual events which occurred during Naram Sin’s, reign and during Enheduana’s later years as en-priestess of Nanna. There are also stylistic reasons for grouping these hymns together as being written by the same person in addition to a few other “Inanna hymns”. I will not list all of this rich historical and literary research in hopes to prove that Enheduana was the author, for as Miguel Civil pointed out to me, it will never be possible to definitively prove or disprove authorship of compositions written over 4,000 years ago! I will begin from the standpoint that Enheduana is the author and I will focus on the skill and complexity of her writing, specifically in the cycle of hymns to the goddess Inanna. As an example of late, third millenium Sumerian poetry, this cycle reveals a highly sophisticated literary style which interweaves the concept of the personal god/dess into the political/religious dimension.

** I’d also like to add that Annette Zgoll’s recent publication of her updated translation of nin-me-sar-ra reveals a legal dimension to the poem which has not been considered before. This new way of reading the poem (I have posted an english translation of the poem -see link below.) adds a whole new depth to the poem which I would like to include into this paper at some point. For now, I have simply updated this paper with her version of the poem and, not surprisingly, it has slightly altered the flavor of my arguments.

I will be drawing from Jacobsen’s definition of personal god/dess which he explains by differentiating between third and second millenium phases of Mesopotamian religion. In the third millenium, he identifies the concept of the gods as rulers who are worshipped appropriately in hopes that they will protect the Mesopotamians as a collective against their enemies. While in the second millenium, the concept of the personal god emerges who is called upon personally by the individual Mesopotamian to influence his/her fortune in such a way that these individual concerns swell in significance “until they rival those of communal economy and security”.[Jacobsen, 1976, p.21] Jacobsen further defines personal religion as “[a] religious attitude in which the religious individual sees himself as
standing in close personal relationship to the divine, expecting help and
guidance in his personal life and personal affairs, expecting divine anger and punishment if he sins, but also profoundly trusting to divine compassion, forgiveness, and love for him if he sincerely repents.”[Jacobsen,Treasures,p.147]

Let’s begin by observing how the concepts of personal god/dess and personal religion apply to Enheduana’s hymnal cycle. There is some display of personal religion in in-nin-me-husa (INM), “Inanna & Ebih” [Bottéro] in which Enheduanna reveals herself once in the poem by speaking anonymously in the first person :

“I, also, would like to celebrate
the good wishes of the queen of battle,
the eldest daughter of Sin”
[INM, l. 23].

Inanna dominates the poem and speaks for herself for fifty per cent of the poem: l. 26-51, 64-111, 154-166, 168-181. In fact, she is the one to introduce the main argument of the poem- that Mt. Ebih has not shown her the proper respect and that she will teach it to fear her:

“Since it [Ebih] didn’t kiss the ground infront of me,
Nor did it sweep the dust before me with it’s beard,
I will lay my hand on this instigating country:
I will teach it to fear me!” [INM, l.29-35]

This hymn may be an allusion to a historical event commemorating one of Sargon’s triumphs over a northern region that refused to relinquish its independance [Bottéro, p.220]. It would have then served as both political and religious propaganda, promoting the unequivocal domination of Sargon’s empire and personal goddess, Inanna. Inanna is portrayed as an unrelenting, warring devastatrix, characteristic of third millenium ruler metaphors:

“I’ll bring war [to Ebih], I’ll instigate combat,
I’ll draw arrows from my quiver,
I’ll unleash the rocks from my sling in a long salute,
I’ll impale it [Ebih] with my sword” [INM l. 98-102]

The marriage of politics and religion is further underlined, when after she has successfully overtaken Ebih she installs a throne and a temple and sets up rituals unique to her cult:

“Also, I erected a temple,
Where I inaugurated important events:
I set up an unshakeable throne!
I gave out dagger and sword to...(?),
Tambourine and drum to homosexuals(?),
I changed men into women!” [INM, l.172-176]

Inanna’s dominating presence in in-nin-me-husa and focus on her ruler aspect obscures any personal quality introduced by Enheduana’s one anonymous appearance. Not much is said about Enheduana’s relationship to Inanna, making this poem more of a 3rd millenium piece of religious writing.

However, a closer relationship is evidenced when Enheduanna speaks directly to Inanna and identifies herself by name in Stout-Hearted Lady: “I am Enheduana, the en-Priestess of Nanna.” [Sjoberg, INS, l. 219,] Unfortunately, the text breaks off afterwards for approximately twenty five lines in which Enheduana may have revealed more of her personal relationship to Inanna. The text picks up with:

“I am yours! It will always be so!
May your heart cool off for me,
May your understanding... compassion…
I have experienced your great punishment” [INS,l. 246-7 & 250]

Here, elements of personal religion such as punishment for sin and trust in divine compassion are illustrated. An act of repentance is described soon afterwards:

“My Lady, I will proclaim your greatness in all lands and your glory!
Your ‘way’ and great deeds I will always praise!”[INS,l. 254-5 ]

Enheduana also elaborates on the theme of Inanna’s wrath :

“...her wrath makes (people) tremble,
“her wrath (is) ..., a devastating flood
which no one can withstand” [INS, l. 17 & 29].

Thus, by including the anger that Inanna has toward her, “...may your heart cool off for me” [INS, l. 246] Enheduana juxtaposes divine wrath with personal wrath and bridges the gap between remote, all-powerful deity and personal goddess. Nonetheless, the poem emphasizes Inanna’s supremacy among the gods as evidenced by her possession of all the me’s (divine attributes or powers)– the ultimate sign of divine authority:

“the queen (performing) great deeds,
who gathers (for herself) the me’s of heaven and earth,
she rivals the great An” [INS,l. 3 & 213-14]

In fact, the me’s, are listed from lines 115-172. They range from the particular to the larger scheme of building a civilization :

“ To build a house, to build a woman’s chamber, to have implements,
to kiss the lips of a small child are yours, Inanna,
To give the crown, the chair
and the scepter of kingship is yours, Inanna” [INS, l. 138 & 142]

Yet by the end of the poem Enheduana writes:

“An and Enlil have in the entire universe determined for you a great destiny,
They have bestowed upon you the Lady-ship over the gu’enna,
You determine the destiny for the princely Ladies” [INS, l. 265-7]

So Inanna must take care of all of the universe as a ruler goddess would in the third millenium, as well as determine the fate of princesses, namely, Enheduana, as a personal goddess would:

“Mistress, you are great, you are important,
Inanna you are great, you are important,
My Lady, your greatness is manifest,
May your heart for my sake ‘return to its place’! [l. 268-271]

Thus, Inanna’s expansive ruler aspect now includes tending to the personal needs of Enheduana and, concomittantly, Enheduana’s significance has been elevated-- especially when compared to her near insignificance in Inanna & Ebih. According to Jacobsen, this is charateristic of the penitent communicating with her personal god[/dess].

“The penitent becomes so centrally important in the universe that [s/]he can monopolize [the] God[/dess’] attention, can involve [the] God[/dess] deeply and emotionally in anger, compassion, love for him[/her].” [Jacobsen, p.150]

This theme is far more explicit in nin-me-sar-ra, Lady of all the ME’s, in which she indulges in her personal plight– banishment from the temple– which she “not only [presumes] to matter, but matter supremely. [It] swell[s] to fill the whole picture” [Jacobsen, p.150].

“Into my fate-determining Gipar, I had entered for you.
I, the en-priestess, I, En-hedu-Ana,
While I carried the basket, I struck up the song of jubilation.
as though I had not lived there,
they offered me the death sacrifice.” [Zgoll, NMS, l. 66-69]

And yet, considerable emphasis is still given, as in Inanna & Ebih and Stout-Hearted Lady, to Inanna’s ascent to the top of the pantheon as exemplified by the incipit (the first line and title of the poem) which reads: “nin-me-sar-ra” or “Lady of all the me’s”. In addition, however, Enheduana manages to interweave herself into this theme by taking the following steps. She first appeals to Nanna to free her from the usurper, Lugalanne:

“My fate with Suen and Lugal-Ane,
report it to An! May An resolve it for me.
Report it to An immediately.
An will resolve it for us!” [NMS, l. 74-76]

However, he abandons her:

“I-- my Nanna has cared not for me.
In the rebellious land,
they completely and utterly destroyed me
Has he spoken it- does it mean anything?
Has he not spoken it- does it mean anything?
After he stood there in triumph,
he expelled me from the temple.
He made me fly like a swallow from the window-
my life was consumed--”[NMS,l.100-5]

Next, she lists Inanna’s me’s stating emphatically that she is not reciting those of Nanna:

“It shall be known, it shall be known:
Nanna has proclaimed no decree,
“It is yours” is what he has said!
That you are as high as heaven, shall be known!
That you are as wide as the earth, shall be known!”
That you anhilate rebelling territories, shall be known! “[NMS, l. 122-5]

Enheduanna mirrors Nanna’s inability to help her with Inanna’s superiority over Nanna:

“That Nanna has not proclaimed (the decree),
that he has said, “It is yours”,
my Queen- it has made you greater,
you have become the greatest!
My Queen, beloved of An,
I will announce all of your wrath![NMS, l.133-5]

Enheduanna elevates her personal experience to the level of divine matters while reinforcing the theme of Inanna’s supremacy.

Enheduanna employs different metaphors and techniques which underscore personal religion. According to Jacobsen, “the ‘metaphor’ under which the personal god was seen [was]... the image of the parent”. [Jacobsen, p.158] Inanna, however, is typically not endowed with divine motherhood and Enheduanna describes her relationship to Inanna as filial, only once:

“Because of your captive spouse, because of your captive protegé (child),
Your anger has grown large,
your heart has not calmed down.”[NMS, l.141-2]

However, the parental relationship is implied with Enheduanna’s appeals for Inanna’s “protection and intercession” [Jacobsen,p. 158] against Lugalanne:
“My driven, divine wild cow, drive out this ‘someone’, capture this someone!”[NMS, l.91]

A literary technique in which Enheduanna chooses to identify herself in similar terms to Inanna brings her ever closer to her goddess. She indicates their shared affilitation with the high-priesthood and with beauty. First, with regard to Inanna:

“Woman, most driven, clothed in frightening radiance,
loved by An and Uras,
An’s nugig, you are above all the great SUHkese-breastplates,
You, who love the right aga-crown,
who is suited for the en-priesthood.” [NMS, l. 2-4]

With regard to herself, she then recounts separately the loss of her crown and of her beauty:

“He tore the rightful aga-crown of en-ship from me.” [NMS, l.107]
“My sweet mouth became venomous.
That with which I gave delight, turned to dust.” [NMS, l. 71-2]

This technique reaches a climax at the end of the poem when Enheduanna seems to merge with Inanna and it is unclear who is “sumptuously attired” or if both of them are, we do not know who is who:

“The light was sweet for her, delight was spread over her,
full of abundanct beauty was she.
As the light of the rising moon (NANNA),
she too was clotherd in enchantment.”[NMS, l.146-7]

Perhaps this poem would be better named “The Exaltation of Enheduanna”!

One final approach to evaluating the theme of personal god(dess) in this poem is to compare it to the neo-Sumerian letter-prayer– a method of individual prayer to one’s personal god. The stylistic similarities established by Hallo consist of “(1) complaint (2) petitions(3) protests and (4) persuasion to reinforce the appeal.” [Hallo,JAOS, 1968,p.71] The complaint was mentioned above:

In the rebellious land,
they completely and utterly destroyed me
he expelled me from the temple.
He made me fly like a swallow from the window-
my life was consumed--”[NMS,l.100-5]

The petition(s) concern asking Inanna to intercede on her behalf:

“My driven, divine wild cow, drive out this ‘someone’, capture this someone!”[NMS, l.91]

The protests are characterized by Enheduanna’s arguing her cultic piety and high priestly rank:

“Into my fate-determining Gipar, I had entered for you.
I, the en-priestess, I, En-hedu-Ana,
While I carried the basket, I struck up the song of jubilation.
[ NMS, l. 66-67]

To further elucidate, the following citation illustrates all three of these categories, each identified in parentheses:

“My own trial is not yet over,
but a stranger sentence surrounds me
as though it were my sentence.(complaint)
To the radiant bed, I did not stretch out my hand.
Nor did I reveal the words of Ningal to that ‘someone’
The radiant en-priestess of Nanna am I,(protest)
My Queen, beloved of An, may your heart be calmed for me.(petition) [NMS, l.117-21]

The fourth category, persuasive tactics or acts of repentance, are the most emphasized by Enheduanna. First, she begins by reciting the me’s described above and which she refers to several times:

“you are even greater than your own mother,
full of wisdom, foresight, queen over all lands,
who allows existence to many,
I now strike up your fate-determining song!
All powerful divinity, suitable for the ME,
that which you have said magnificently is the most powerful!
Of unfathomable heart, oh highly driven woman,
of radiant heart, your ME I will list for you now!”[NMS, l.61-65]

Next, she offers a prayer or a lamentation:

“En-hedu-Ana am I, I will now say a prayer to you.
My tears, like sweet beer
I now shed them freely for you, fate-determining Inana,
“Your judgement!” I will say to you.” [NMS, l.81-3]

Later, she attempts to win over Inanna with pious acts of purification:

“I have heaped the coals, prepared the purification rites,
The Esdam-ku stands ready for you-
will not your heart calm down for me?[NMS, l.136-7]

And finally, she offers the ritualistic recitation and singing of this song (preferably in public): [Hallo, JAOS,1968, p. 79]

“Since the heart was full, too full,
great Queen, I birthed it for you.
What was said to you st midnight,
the cult singer shall repeat it to you at midday” [NMS, l.138-140]

All of this effort, ultimately succeeds in swaying Inanna:

“ The Queen, the strong one,
the ruler over the gathering of the ‘en’,
she did accept her prayer and sacrifice.
The heart of fate-determining Inanna has turned to its place”[NMS, l.143-5]

As the only point of contrast, a resolution is not inherent to the structure of a letter prayer which can be seen as a private request . A hymn, however, is intended for public recital and, therefore, this “happy ending” would have have served as positive reinforcement that a plea with earnest displays of worship and petition leads to the “appeasement” of Inanna’s heart. The similarities with letter-prayer are uncanny and may be an indication of the latter’s origins. As a theological tool, Exaltation of Inanna outlined a model of successful personal prayer in addition to a veneration of Inanna’s status as chief deity. Enheduanna presents Inanna as a supreme deity who controls the larger picture as well as individual needs of her fervent devotee, Enheduana. On a political level hegemony of prayer, both public and private, would serve as a religious counterpart to hegemony of Naram Sin’s empire uniting Sumer and Akkad.

Analysis of the theme of personal god(dess) in Enheduana’s cycle of hymns reveals a very clear theological progression from the simple, straightforward presentation of Inanna as a third millenium ruler goddess, in Inanna & Ebih, to a more complex presentation of Inanna as both ruler goddess and personal goddess in Exaltation of Inanna. Enheduana introduces herself briefly in “Stout-hearted Lady”, but the “principal theme is Inanna’s omnipresent and omnipotent role in human affairs” [Sjoberg, 1974, p.163] By the third hymn, nin-me-sar-ra, Lady of all the ME’s, special attention is given to Enheduana’s banishment from Ur, in addition to the theme of Inanna’s divine supremacy, such that Enheduana’s personal relationship to Inanna has assumed equal importance with Inanna’s ruler aspect. The level of complexity is enhanced in the latter, by a substantial inclusion of the details of Enheduana’s plight which lend dramatic tension and intrigue to the poem. Enheduana’s personality breathes life into the flat, predictable, iconic third millenium depictions of Inanna, achieving a feeling of closeness to the goddess. This may have been a political strategy to popularize and spread the cult of Inanna. In any case, it is highly effective from a literary perspective and it is no wonder that nin-me-sar-ra survived for several centuries after Enheduana’s death and was one of the most popular literary works of Sumerian literature.


Bottéro, Jean, “La Victoire d’Inanna sur l’Ebih”, Lorsque Les Dieux Faisaient l’Homme, Paris Gallimard, 1989

Cohen, Mark, Literary Texts From The Andrews University Archaeological Museum, Revue d’Assyriologie, 70, 1976-77

Hallo, W.W., “Individual Prayer in Sumerian: The Continuity of a Tradition”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968)

Hallo, W. W. and J.J.A. Van Dijk, The Exaltation of Inanna, Yale University Press, 1968

Jacobsen, Thorkild, Treasures of Darkness, Yale, 1976

Sjoberg, Ake, “in-nin-sa-gur-ra A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-priestess Enheduanna”, Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie, #65, 1974

Zgoll, Annette, “Der Rechtsfall der En-hedu-Ana in dem Lied nin-me-sar-ra”, Ugarit Verlag, Munchen, 1997


Thank you to David Alan Warburton for his suggestion to condense the footnotes and to Brian Cutean for suggesting I translate the french sections into the body of the paper.

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Enheduana Research Bibliography
Enheduana writings (notes)
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