Did you think Sappho was the first poet?
It was Enheduanna. Who’s that?
It’s the last day of National Poetry month so…
From the page:
Writers know that voice must emerge from a strong persona. Without self-confidence, without a personal identification of self–some kind of self knowledge and confidence–the writer cannot create a persona and ultimately the ethos behind the essay or speech. The personas of Sappho and Enheduanna in their writing speak of their thoughts and their feelings and of their composing processes. Their voices are authoritative, powerful…and personal, voices women need to hear.
In ‘the Exaltation of Inanna, –more complete than the few surviving fragments of Sappho–a picture emerges of teaching and learning, of individuality and community that offers a model of writing and pedagogy among the most ancient in existence. Enheduanna lived, composed, and taught roughly two-thousand years before Aristotle and seventeen-hundred years prior to Sappho. She tells her own story of banishment and her ultimate restoration by Inanna.
The hymn became part of the cultural myths of Sumeria. For the next thousand years it existed as a component of the wisdom tradition of that civilization and the cultures that followed.
Enheduanna’s work as creator and priestess/teacher offers the view of a strong, powerful ethos. Her ethos is that of a wise woman and a powerful priestess. For Enheduanna the goddess Inanna’s power equals that of the gods. The feminine, then, is articulated in the ethos of Enheduanna as powerfully equal, necessary, and valuable in that particular world view.
In one of the most powerful passages in ancient history, Enheduanna steps forward and speaks in the first person of her own composing process. She reflects on how she has composed the hymn. At midnight, she says, she has heaped the coals in the censor and given birth to the hymn. Her composing process is one I read as collaborative with the goddess. She and Inanna become one for awhile and from the deep collaboration–an in-spiriting or in-fusing–she gives birth to the hymn. This collaborative process with the goddess foreshadows the relationship of the various authors of the Old Testament with Jehovah by a thousand years.