Posts Tagged ‘first poet’

Image: Ancient Sumerian bas-relief portrait
The world’s first poet, a woman, is revered by ancient alien conspiracy theorists, but few others know of her, writes this professor of Mesopotamian studies.

I saw this story at Arts Journal recently and decided to take it seriously, even though the last link I followed to learn about the “first poet” led me down some crazy paths. I’m prepared to believe in Prof. Charles Halton at LitHub, but see what you think.*

“Though hardly anyone knows it,” Halton writes, “the first person ever to attach their name to a poetic composition is not a mystery. Enheduanna was born more than 4,200 years ago and became the high priestess of a temple in what we now call southern Iraq. She wrote poems, edited hymnals, and may have taught other women at the temple how to write. …

“If you have heard of Enheduanna, it was likely in one of two contexts. She made a one minute appearance in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot which depicted her as a hybrid creature, part Walt-Disneyfied Native American and part Solomonic princess. After Tyson narrates a quasi-factual mini-bio, a shaman-like voiceover recites a line from one of her poems as a laser cuts the words into the night sky. The vibe is dusty Mesopotamia meets Blade Runner.

“The other place you may have learned of Enheduanna is from one of Betty Meador’s books. Meador is a retired Jungian analyst who has tirelessly worked to get Enheduanna into mainstream conversation. Meador began this crusade after she, I kid you not, had a dream in which she dug a grave for two male Jungians. … Other than these two instances, however, people largely don’t talk about the world’s first author.

“But why?

“One of the reasons has to be the people who study the culture from which she comes. Have you met a professor of Mesopotamian studies? … We have an almost divine-like ability to take ultra-fascinating ideas and make them slightly less exciting than a traffic ticket. …

“When historians have given scant attention to aesthetic and humanistic endeavors, they have tended to focus on the achievements of males, particularly those from Europe. This is partly why Don Quixote is identified as the first novel more often than the Tale of Genji. …

“Enheduanna … was the king’s daughter, which gave her an immense amount of privilege. She used this privilege to carry her father’s water as he brutally expanded his colonial empire.

“Enheduanna employed her poetic skills to produce a collection of religious hymns. These short poems celebrated the various temples of her father’s nascent empire, and the purpose of her collection was to project the myth that all of the people shared the same religion. …

“Nothing lends a person more rhetorical power than asserting that God is on their side. Nonetheless, it’s important that we add the first poet to our ready list of world-first inventors, even if she isn’t a pristine example. If we interpret her charitably, she produced the most beautiful things she could within the demands and strictures of her environment.”

Read more here.

* Prof. Halton says in a footnote, “Enheduanna is sort of a cult-hero and quasi-religious figure. Trust me on this. Don’t go digging around the web to find out more about it unless you’re ready to encounter something really bizarre.”

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: