The first author whose name we know was Enheduanna. Daughter of Sargon the Great, she wrote religious hymns, so she can also lay claim to being the first named poet in history.
Poetry has been around longer than we can prove: religious chants and oral histories likely extended back into prehistory. The people of this time are almost entirely nameless and faceless to us. It took many centuries for individuals, personalities, and names to be recorded. But sometimes we get lucky.
Enheduanna was a high priestess of Inanna in the Sumerian city of Ur. She was appointed by her father – Sargon the Great, who founded the Akkadian Empire about 4254 years ago – and she was a poet. In fact, she was the first poet whose name we know… ever. No written text before her works are attributed to an individual, making her the first named author in history.
We know a surprising amount about her, for someone who was writing before the invention of glass, coins, and sundials (to name a few). She was high priestess during the reign of her father, and lived and worked in a complex known as the Giparu. That’s a picture of it above, overshadowed by the reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur. Sargon’s successor – her brother – kicked her out, but she was restored to power later.
And all this time she was writing religious hymns. You can read a translation of them in the link below. My favourite lines:
To the true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom, soothing and opening the mouth, always consulting a tablet of lapis lazuli, giving advice to all lands, the true woman, the holy potash plant, born of the stylus reed, applies the measure to heaven and places the measuring-rope on the earth – to Nisaba be praise!
The compiler of the tablets was En-hedu-ana. My king, something has been created that no one has created before.
I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.