"Ornament of Heaven": The Book of Enheduanna
The most important figure of the new millennium will be an ancient Iranian woman, Enheduanna, the first known writer, a priestess, poet and princess. She wrote around 2300 BCE, two thousand years before the Greek gold age. Her influence was profound for a thousand years and then she disappeared. She was rediscovered in excavations at Ur in 1921, but the first translations of her work into English did not occur until 1968. Her image, carved on an alabaster disk, sits in a glass case in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Her importance lies in the fact that she speaks directly to the psyche of our own time, this third millennium of our common era, a distance of more than 4,000 years.
She was high priestess to the moon god, Nanna/Suen, one of the most powerful executive positions in her world. But as a poet, the world’s first known writer, she writes powerful, passionate hymns to the goddess Inanna. She was also a princess, the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, who created the first historical empire. At her death her elevation to divine status was celebrated.
What is so arresting about her? Why has she begun to capture the popular imagination with 1510 different web sites listed on google.com? Why do a growing number of people, especially women, evince an avid interest in her difficult, esoteric works, hymns to the goddess Inanna despite the fact that they seem so strange to our sensibilities and especially our beliefs? I believe it’s more than the growing momentum of the goddess movement among contemporary women and men who are searching for the feminine aspect of their psyches in a world ideologically dominated by the male monotheism of the major institutionalized religions. Her additional appeal to modern sensibilities is that she offers a vision of a world in balance, one in which both the feminine and the masculine exist in a harmony within the consciousness of the individual subject and without in the natural world, a balance that has become skewed during the past 2,000 years of Western culture.
This book, written in a conversational style and aimed at a popular audience, works on several levels: as a biography; as an accessible discussion of her writings, and as a meditation on the meanings of her work for today. What she says, how she says it, and her voice, will, I predict, challenge the predominantly male-authored canons of the academy and the major monotheistic religious traditions. Enheduanna speaks to important aspects of the contemporary psyche, redefining the feminine aspects of ourselves as women and men. She offers, simultaneously, an ancient and at the same time a contemporary view of a world of possibilities in this new millennium.
I believe that ultimately, her importance as a major historical figure will be as great as that of those icons of western civilization, Plato and Shakespeare. Certainly, her existence, and her work, will force a reinterpretation and re-framing of Western culture and canon in terms of human psychology, sexuality, theology, and philosophy.
About the author: Roberta Binkley, PhD, teaches at Arizona State University in the Department of English. Enheduanna has been the major focus of her life and work, weaving through her 1997 dissertation and numerous conference presentations. Most recently Enheduanna is the topic of a chapter in the book, Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks, that she is co-editing with Carol Lipson currently in press with the State Press of the University of New York (SUNY) and scheduled for publication in late 2003.