Mesopotamian priestess Enheduanna –


The Morgan Library & Museum in New York will open its highly anticipated exhibition “She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia” on October 14. In a series of sculptures, cylinder seals and translated clay tablets, “She Who Wrote” will celebrate the Mesopotamian High Priestess Enheduanna, the first named author in all of human history.

“The Morgan has done exhibitions on Emily Dickinson, Mary Shelley, the Brontes, so I thought we should do an exhibition on the first known author, who happens to be a woman,” said Sidney Babcock, curator of Jeannette. and Jonathan Rosen and head of the Department of Ancient West Asian Seals and Tablets at the Morgan, said ART news. “Most people don’t know that. It’s not celebrated. Why? School kids know Sappho, and she’s 1000 years later for Pete’s sake!

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Daughter of Sargon of Akkad, the first ruler of the Akkadian Empire of northern Mesopotamia, Enheduanna was born over 4,000 years ago. She was appointed to lead the cult of Nanna, a moon goddess revered in Sumer, a territory in southern Mesopotamia which Sargon had conquered, and in her position as priestess wrote many hymns dedicated to the goddesses.

“His writings were copied for hundreds of years in scribal schools,” Babcock said. In Mesopotamia, scribes learned to write by copying hymns and myths that previous generations had written on clay tablets.

The Enheduanna hymns represent not only an author‘s earliest writing, but the earliest example of the first person singular. In a hymn, Enheduanna describes a trial in which a usurper arrives, throws her out of her complex, mistreats her, and offers her a dagger with which to kill herself. Fortunately, the goddess Inanna saves her and she dedicates the song to her. Another hymn is the earliest known example of the creative process equated with birth. In the hymn, Enheduanna describes the process of childbirth, which begins with a lit fire in the nuptial chamber. She goes on to write:

“What is enough is too much for me / I have borne for you, O exalted lady, this song / What I recited to you at midnight, let the singer repeat it to you at noon.”

Because Enheduanna was the daughter of a king, one would expect the privileges of equality to simply be a product of her status, but the exhibit strives to show that, across classes, women had more power in the time of Mesopotamia than the women of 19th century England did.

“These are the most important artifacts for understanding Mesopotamia,” Babock said as we toured the exhibit midway through the installation, referring to the stone objects that filled the room. “Because Mesopotamia is a floodplain, there really isn’t any quality natural stone. So all of civilization was built on one raw material: mud.

All around us, experts in blue latex gloves were carefully handling the stone statues and carved reliefs that had made the long journey from their museums across Europe and the United States. Babcock liked that instead of being wedged into the corners with all the other figures, these carefully chosen statues were placed in individual glass boxes so they could be seen in circles, showing hairstyles and carefully patterned clothing. carved. For Babcock, it’s like seeing everyone for the first time. He stopped in front of a female figure to exclaim: “It could be a Brancusi! Mercy!”

Besides being very beautiful, the works showed evidence of how women lived in Mesopotamian society. Many examples of working women were carved in stone: weavers, potters, women tending livestock, women at the temple, and even an all-female group.

“Why put that in stone, a rare and imported raw material? said Babcock. “They celebrate these women as part of the workforce, for their contribution to the economy.”

Many Mesopotamian scholars have argued that feminists have been too eager to claim that such works are proof of equality, or that Enheduanna is really the author of her own work, but Babcock has spoken out against it. insistence of a totalizing patriarchy throughout history. It shows the figure of a woman with a tablet in her lap.

Cylinder seal (and modern impression) with birth scene Mesopotamia, Early Dynastic Sumerian III period, ca. 2600–2350 BC.
Courtesy of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

“A German scholar, let’s not say who, wrote of this piece, ‘Woman seated with a tablet in her lap, don’t know the meaning,'” Babcock said. “But we are bringing this object back to life because we believe it is visual proof that women were literate.”

He then made his way through bubble wrap, blue duct tape and millennial fragments to cylinder seals on the opposite wall whose illustrations have been enlarged. One shows a stage split in two horizontally. Above, a male hero protects two horned animals from attacking lions, below, a woman is in labor, a midwife at her legs.

“The subject matter is order versus chaos, which is a constant of human destiny,” Babcock said. “Here we see that the hero and the midwife have equal importance in this battle.”


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