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She Measures the Heavens and Outlines the Earth

She Measures the Heavens and Outlines the Earth

2023-06-11 01:09:26

As excessive priestess of the Moon God within the Sumerian metropolis of Ur round 2300 bc, Enheduanna was a part of an extended lineage of officers who regarded to the night time sky for divine steerage. Monks within the close by metropolis of Uruk, the place writing was invented a millennium earlier, had been possible the primary to divide a yr into twelve lunar months. The primary sighting of a slender crescent on the western horizon inaugurated the start of a month, and its disappearance marked the top.

Ur was one of some dozen Sumerian-speaking cities on the southernmost tip of the Fertile Crescent in what’s at this time southern Iraq. These had been the world’s first cities, constructed with such majesty that the earliest creation myths counsel the unique Eden wasn’t a backyard—it was a Sumerian metropolis, meant to settle the gods in “the dwelling of their hearts’ delight.” Lunar calendars helped temple officers administer these cities: with constant timekeeping got here regular meals rations, orderly archives, and well-timed cultic festivals. For the farmers, the rising of sure stars marked the start of the harvest, after they plowed the fields of barley and despatched baskets of grain to the temple storehouses. 

However Enheduanna didn’t simply observe the sky to find out when to inaugurate a brand new month. The hymns she sang from the temple summit weren’t the identical nameless devotional songs carried out for generations. She is the world’s earliest-known creator and the primary individual to make herself seen in a piece of literature. “I’m Enheduanna,” she inscribed in the midst of two hymns. “I’m nonetheless the luxurious excessive priestess!” For the primary time in historical past, a author used poetry not simply to reward the gods but additionally to share particulars from her personal life. In a handful of autobiographical verses, she recounts being thrown out of the Moon God’s temple by a pretender to the throne. “I fled like a swallow swooping by way of a window,” she writes. “He took the crown of the excessive priestess from me.” The goddess Inanna, insurgent daughter of the Moon God, finally saves her. “Beautiful girl of heaven,” she calls her. “A queen astride a lion.”

Past this second of disaster, only some issues are recognized about Enheduanna. She was the daughter of the Akkadian king Sargon the Nice, who based historical past’s first empire, the Akkadian empire. By 2334 bc, Sargon had traveled from his northern capital Agade with greater than 5 thousand troops, conquered the Sumerian cities, smashed their towering brick partitions, and appointed Enheduanna on the helm of the Moon God’s temple in Ur. In an inscription that accompanies Enheduanna’s solely surviving portrait—a moon-shaped reduction inscribed in alabaster held at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia—she identifies herself because the Hen of the Moon God, a title that refers to her ritual position because the Moon God’s spouse. Aside from presiding over lunar rites, the specifics of this place are largely unknown. A number of historians argue Enheduanna was probably the most well-known lady of her time, whereas others declare she hardly mattered. Some assume her portrait, with its noble hooked nostril, represents what she regarded like, whereas others insist it has nothing to do together with her bodily look.

Tablet with hymn to Inanna, Mesopotamia.

The historian Marc Van de Mieroop describes the sphere of historical Close to Japanese historical past as “a darkish room with remoted factors of sunshine, some brighter than others, offered by the sources,” and the identical factor is true about Enheduanna. Crucial sources for understanding her life and legacy are her dozens of surviving poems, which interweave native non secular traditions throughout her father’s empire right into a cohesive theology and proclaim the goddess Inanna to be probably the most highly effective deity within the pantheon. Inanna was the personified type of the planet Venus, which on the time was nonetheless often called the morning star and night star, possible as a result of the planet was seen simply earlier than daybreak and after nightfall. “Good lady, inscrutable and radiant,” Enheduanna writes. “Your rule extends from zenith to horizon.” Her poems are the earliest recognized texts about Inanna, and she or he seems to floor the deity’s signature duality—“to destroy and to create, to plant and to pluck out are yours, Inanna”—in her celestial properties, the way in which Venus at all times hovers on a threshold. Enheduanna additionally emphasizes Inanna’s unpredictability—“no one can know her course”—a attribute maybe knowledgeable by the way in which the morning star and night star disappear for months at a time, blotted out by the solar and moon.

What is evident, if little else is evident about Enheduanna’s life, is that when she flung again her neck to watch the heavens, she was looking for Inanna. Enheduanna’s longest and most well-known hymns inform the story of how the goddess, “born to be a second-rate ruler,” rose to turn into much more highly effective than her father, the Moon. It’s tempting to think about she was additionally hoping to see herself mirrored in Inanna’s unlikely ascendence. Whereas the moon is the brightest pressure within the night time sky, Enheduanna’s father Sargon the Nice was probably the most highly effective man on earth—“King of the World,” he claimed in his royal inscriptions. Enheduanna herself turned one of the canonical poets of Mesopotamia, her work copied by scribes throughout the area for practically a millennium.


Historians date the earliest astronomical texts to over six centuries after Enheduanna’s dying, to the reign of a Babylonian king named Ammisaduqa. As historian Francesca Rochberg argues in her 2004 e-book Heavenly Writing, the systematic research of celestial phenomena arose “in a context of state-sponsored divination,” the place happenings within the heavens had been considered as “portents” for kings. Employed by Ammisaduqa, the primary recognized astronomers tracked the looks of Venus each night time for twenty-one years, and devised omens meant to information the king’s navy, diplomatic, and financial choices. Right here is an instance of one among their omens, which had been at all times posed as conditional statements: “If on the fifteenth of Month XI Venus disappeared within the west, remained invisible three days, and reappeared within the east on the eighteenth day of Month XI, then catastrophes of kings. Adad will deliver rains, Ea will deliver floods, one king will ship greetings to a different king.”

Historians of the interval have argued that these astronomical practices, the place patterns within the sky had been used to foretell occasions on earth, developed from earlier Sumerian traditions whose data had been both misplaced or by no means written down. Enheduanna’s poems usually are not practically as detailed as these later omens, however her verses equally mirror an try to seize the night time sky and make sense of its inscrutable types. Simply because the later astronomers tracked Venus, Enheduanna tries to seize Inanna’s astral manifestation, admiring the way in which she “brings magnificence to the firmament at nightfall.”

If the primary astronomers tracked patterns within the sky to foretell occasions on earth, Enheduanna appears extra eager about drawing parallels between heaven and earth. Her celestial imagery casts the unknowable realm of the sky into a well-known terrain, populated by charming photos. She describes the Moon because the one who “steps forth on the night time sky that glitters like lapis lazuli,” evoking the concept, echoed in later poetry, that the sky was a large lapis lazuli pill, its constellations just like the flecks of gold on that invaluable stone. She additionally compares the moon’s crescent to the crown of the area’s most sacred animal: “You elevate your horns as in the event you had been a bull.” The solar’s gentle is like facial hair, sweeping over the land: “Within the hovering daylight, a beard hangs from his chin.”

Because the Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen argues in his 1978 e-book Treasures of Darkness, figurative language is the means by which experiences of the divine are communicated, and “non secular content material and types are handed down from one technology to the subsequent.” Enheduanna’s poetry reverberates throughout the written custom, possible influencing texts that knowledgeable the Outdated Testomony—and but virtually nothing has been written about her attainable contributions to the sphere of astronomy. A lot of Enheduanna’s photos are echoed in later celestial data, suggesting that her verses might have knowledgeable how astronomers conceived of the heavens. The Solar God’s beard turned a solution to specific the brightness of planets; the “beard” of Venus was usually invoked to seize its overwhelming gleam. The logic of celestial omens—if X in heaven, then Y on earth—depends on a primary sense of parallelism: heaven and earth are forged as interconnected realms, a lot as they seem in Enheduanna’s verses. As well as, the historic chronology makes it seem virtually sure that early astronomers would have learn Enheduanna’s work. Babylonian diviners had been skilled as scribes, and Enheduanna’s poems had been a part of their customary curriculum, referred to as the Decad, which additionally included an early story concerning the hero Gilgamesh.

Given how little we find out about Enheduanna’s life, and the way difficult it’s to hint her affect with any precision throughout huge intervals of time, her celestial photos additionally operate as historic constants, connecting Enheduanna not simply to those later astronomers, but additionally to at this time. It’s attainable to grasp firsthand how the crescent moon does seem like a pair of horns. Venus has at all times been the brightest object within the sky apart from the moon. Enheduanna will need to have seen how Venus blazed beneath her large father within the sky—an indignant, brimming factor, as she nonetheless seems at this time. The sky is huge and unknowable but additionally one of many few issues that has remained largely the identical, its adjustments usually requiring millennia to understand.


We don’t have a lot details about the operate of poetry throughout Enheduanna’s lifetime, however writing and stargazing had been deeply associated pursuits. The goddess Nisaba was the deity of each scribes and stargazers, and in Sumerian, the phrase for star may imply cuneiform signal. Poems had been possible intoned by skilled lamenters in elaborate temple performances, accompanied by bull-headed lyres with gemstone eyes performed by esteemed musicians. If stargazing was an try to learn the writing of the gods, poetry seems to have been an try to speak with the divine. Enheduanna’s most up-to-date translator, Sophus Helle, describes how Sumerian poetry tried “to alter the world, by invoking the gods and enlisting their assist.”

Inside this broader context, Enheduanna’s poems are extra complicated than mere glimpses into the night time sky, framed by evocative parallelism. What’s most related just isn’t what she noticed—stars like cuneiform indicators, the solar as a large beard—however relatively how she may need used celestial imagery to summon Inanna’s consideration and persuade the goddess to avoid wasting her. “Queen of all powers, downpour of daylight,” she begins her masterpiece. “Good lady wrapped in frightful gentle.” Her verses harness the sky, its energy and radiance, to raise her savior and flatter her muse. “She turns the noon heaven right into a starry sky,” Enheduanna writes, suggesting that Inanna was not only a characteristic of the sky however the commander of its brilliant terrain.

Just like the astronomers who got here later, Enheduanna might have additionally used her celestial imagery as an instrument of energy. Her father Sargon was king, however she additionally lived by way of the reigns of her different male family members, together with her brother Rimush, recognized for pioneering mass executions; her different brother Manishtusu, who seized unprecedented tracks of land from the Sumerians; and her nephew Naram-sin, the primary ruler to crown himself a god. These rulers credit score Ishtar, the Akkadian title for Inanna, for his or her navy successes; her cult turned so central to the Akkadian empire {that a} later chronicler refers to their dynasty because the Reign of Ishtar. Given this broader historical past, it’s attainable Enheduanna hoped to see not solely herself mirrored in Inanna’s rise to supremacy, but additionally the story of her household’s triumph. Might she have seen the unprecedented victory of the Akkadian troops, who brandished shining copper weapons as they dominated Sumer? A lot of her verses forged Inanna as a fearsome warrior—“allow them to know that you just grind skulls to mud”—and over the subsequent two thousand years, Ishtar turned a figurehead of empire. King Ammisaquda’s predecessor King Ammiditana left behind a hymn the place he praises the goddess in language that echoes Enheduanna’s work. “She grasps in her hand the destinies of all that exists.” he writes. “Who’s it that might rival her grandeur?”

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Cylinder seal featuring Ishtar, Mesopotamia, c. 2300 BC.

Even when her verses served imperial ends, they nonetheless thrum with intimacy. “I’ll let my tears stream free to melt your coronary heart, as in the event that they had been beer,” she writes. Enheduanna can also be the attested creator of forty-two shorter poems referred to as the Temple Hymns, devoted to varied temples throughout the Akkadian empire. Within the colophon to this assortment, she writes: “My king! One thing has been born which had not been born earlier than.” Helle argues that the Temple Hymns display a form of “hymnic imperialism,” as these poems work to unify beforehand disparate cults right into a poetic entire. The sky will need to have been brimming with attainable metaphors for such a mission. The Temple Hymns start close to the banks of the Persian Gulf with the earliest recognized Sumerian cities, like Eridu, which “sprouted with heaven and earth.” Her narrative travels north towards the newer Akkadian cities. Temples dot the marshland like a constellation. “You shine with the sunshine of righteous rule,” she writes of the Moon God’s temple at Ur; whereas a temple within the northern metropolis of Sippar devoted to the Solar God is a “shining home.” In a poem that concludes the Temple Hymns, she describes the goddess Nisaba, deity of scribes and stargazers, as a “righteous lady of unmatched thoughts,” who “measures the heavens and descriptions the earth.” And maybe that’s additionally how Enheduanna noticed herself. This new heavenly map turns the idea of empire into one thing as pure and inevitable as stars within the sky.


By the time the prophet Abraham was born within the metropolis of Ur a few thousand years after Enheduanna died—5 hundred years after the primary astronomers tracked Venus—the Mesopotamians had been famend for his or her astronomical pursuits. It was the primary civilization to foretell eclipses, inscribe maps of the zodiac, and calculate the cycles of planets and stars. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus claimed that Abraham himself was a well-known astronomer, descended from generations of stargazers. In accordance with Josephus, it was by way of Abraham’s observations of the heavens that he realized there have to be a god controlling the cosmos. He determined that celestial our bodies have to be “subservient to Him that instructions them.” And thus Abraham set off for Canaan. Given Enheduanna’s singular devotion to Inanna, it isn’t laborious to think about her having had related ideas when she noticed the morning star and night star from the summit of the Moon God’s temple. If Abraham was impressed by the intelligence underpinning the cosmos, Enheduanna appeared struck by the actual pressure of Inanna’s astral type, the way in which she “beamed with a passionate delight, like a downpour of moonlight.”

The astronomical apply Abraham left behind continued unbroken by way of Alexander the Nice’s conquest of Babylon in 331 bc, when Mesopotamian science quickly unfold west throughout the Mediterranean and east towards the Indus Valley. As Pliny the Elder wrote within the second century in a transparent feat of exaggeration, “the Babylonians had astronomical observations for 730,000 years inscribed on baked bricks” and quite a few Greek writers, together with Aristotle, credited the Babylonians with pioneering the celestial sciences. What first turns into seen in Enheduanna’s poetry—the try to seize the sky’s ungraspable types in language—continues, for hundreds of years, and types the foundations of astronomy, astrology, and the very deciphering of the heavens.

As later generations of Mesopotamians calculate Venus’ positionality with rising accuracy, as militarized empires dominate the area, scribes and kings proceed to be moved by the dualistic and flickering type of Ishtar, whose cult influenced a wide selection of Venus goddesses, together with the Greek deity Aphrodite. Babylonian omens affiliate Venus’s look with intervals of fertility and warfare, and Ishtar stays a favourite topic of literary compositions, showing in contradictory guises as an impetuous warmonger, a younger lady getting ready for marriage, and a deity of lamentations, amongst many different manifestations.

Enheduanna drew parallels between heaven and earth in her poetry, however inside the bigger historical past of astronomy, her legacy appears to run parallel to the numerous improvements and works of literature composed in her wake. A textual content attributed to the Sumerian king Gudea, who dominated only a couple centuries after her dying, describes Nisaba in phrases that evoke the electrical sense of risk on the coronary heart of Enheduanna’s legacy. “There was a girl—Who was she? Who was she not?” he asks. “A stylus of flaming silver she held in her hand / There was a pill of heavenly stars on her knees, and she or he was consulting it.”

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