An Akkadian Princess Is Known as the World’s First Author

Archaeologists know that the earliest writing humans have found so far is the so-called cuneiform. Its earliest use was dated back to 3400 B.C. in the ancient Mesopotamian area of Sumer. This writing took the form of wedge-shaped marks made into clay. But who is the earliest known author that scientists know of?

An Akkadian Princess Is Known as The World's First Author

Enheduanna Is the First Known Author

While many people know about the epic poet Homer, the historian Herodotus, and the lyric poet Sappho, the earliest known author known to scientists today precedes those figures by about a millennium. It was the princess, priestess, and poet called Enheduanna. She was the daughter of the Akkadian king Sargon, who had most of Mesopotamia under his rule. She is also the first author whose name can be connected with an existing text. While scientists have many examples of Mesopotamian literature, her texts are an exception because they know it was she who wrote them.

Enheduanna Was the Daughter of King Sargon

After the Akkadian culture of northern Mesopotamia conquered southern Mesopotamia’s Sumerian culture, Enheduanna was the princess of the Akkadian Empire, which was also the world’s first collection of states under a single authority. King Sargon made his daughter Enheduanna the high priestess of the Sumerian moon god, Nanna, as part of the effort to consolidate his new empire. After assuming this role, the princess received the name Enheduanna, meaning ‘high priestess, ornament of heaven’ in Sumerian. So, the high priestess of the moon god was also her father’s representative and a very important figure. On top of all her responsibilities, she also wrote poetry.

An Alabaster Disk Shows Enheduanna

The modern world learned about Enheduanna from an alabaster disk found in excavations of the Sumerian city Ur in 1927. The disk is now kept at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. It depicts Enheduanna on the front as she dedicates a dais to the Sumerian goddess Inanna, daughter of Nanna, and identifies her by name on the back. A few of Enheduanna’s poems were in honor of Nanna. In the writings of priestess Enheduanna, Inanna is described as both fierce and cruel, loving and kind, and capable of both generosity and destruction.

Most of Enheduanna’s poems are rich with autobiographical details, including her struggle against Lugalanne, who was likely the king of Ur. She describes how he attempted to forcefully remove her from office. This makes Enheduanna the first author to incorporate autobiographical details into the narrative. She is also the first author to share how she created her poems. According to her, the act of literary creation could be compared to childbirth, which is also the first known use of this metaphor.