Enheduanna (2300 BCE.): Seven Sumerian Temple Hymns

Commentary and translation by Betty De Shong Meador


These seven hymns are among the forty-two “Sumerian Temple Hymns” attributed to the high priestess Enheduanna, 2300 BCE. While some literary texts have been found in what was ancient Mesopotamia, dating from 2600 BCE, the texts of Enheduanna are the first by a known author. There is strong evidence that the Sumerians invented and developed the first written script in the final third of the fourth millennium BCE. The territory of Sumer encompassed the southern half of present-day Iraq.


Enheduanna was the daughter of the first king to build an empire, Sargon. He appointed his brilliant daughter, Enheduanna, to the position of high priestess at the temple of the moon god, Nanna, in the ancient city of Ur. There she presided for forty years over the prestigious temple in Ur. Holding the most important religious office in the land, she spread her theological ideas throughout the country, writing hymns to each of forty-two major temples.


Each hymn is written to the temple itself, as though it were a living being with power and influence over its divine occupant, in most hymns the patron deity of the city. Enheduana addresses the

temple in the second person: “O house you wild cow,” she says in Temple Hymn 22. The temple seems to listen as she describes its resident: “your lady a water bird — sacred woman of the inner chamber,” she says in TH 40 as she describes Inanna to the temple in the intimate conversation that characterizes each hymn.


The expression “wild cow” as a description of the goddesses comes up over and over again. Inanna is the principle “wild cow.” The image conveys the unpredictability which the goddesses all embody in one way or another. With Nanshe, the hymn describes her paradoxical character. She is carefree playing in the waves, but also a great storm / strong dark water. The Sumerians had great respect

for the whims of nature on whom they so depended. The wild cow is unexpected in a docile herd, but there she is!


Each hymn ends with an identical two-line colophon, except for the final hymn 42. There, instead of ending with a colophon, Enheduanna signs her name, saying she herself gave birth to this composition, something never before created.


Temple Hymn 7
The Kesh Temple Of Ninhursag                   The Lofty

high-lying Kesh
in all heaven and earth   you are the form-shaping place
spreading fear like a great poisonous snake

O Lady of the Mountains    Ninhursag’s house
built on a terrifying site

O Kesh    like holy Aratta
inside is a womb dark and deep
your outside towers over all

imposing one
great lion of the wildlands    stalking the high plains
great mountain
incantations fixed you in place

inside the light is dim
even moonlight (Nanna’s light) does not enter
only Nintur Lady Birth
makes it beautiful

O house of Kesh
the brick of birthgiving
your temple tower   adorned with a lapis lazuli crown

your princess
Princess of Silence
unfailing great Lady of Heaven
when she speaks heaven shakes
open-mouthed she roars

Aruru    sister of Enlil
O house of Kesh
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 15
The Gishbanda Temple Of Ningishzida

ancient place
   set deep in the mountain

dark shrine    frightening and red place
   safely placed in a field
   no one can fathom your mighty hair-raising path

   the neck-stock    the fine-eyed net
   the foot-shackling netherworld knot
   your restored high wall is massive
   like a trap

your inside    the place where the sun rises
   yields widespread abundance


your prince    the pure-handed
   shita priest of Inanna    heaven’s holy one

Lord Ningishzida
   his thick and beautiful hair
   falls down his back

O Gishbanda
   has built this house on your radiant site
   and placed his seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 17
The Badtibira Temple Of Dumuzi                  Emush

O house

jeweled lapis herbs fleck the shining bed
   heart-soothing place of the Lady of the Steppe

Emush    brickwork glistening and pure
   its burnished clay placed firmly (on the earth)

your sky-rising wall sprawls over the high plain
   for the one who tends the ewes
   and over the Arali House for the shepherd

your prince   radiant one of the Holy Woman
   a lion pacing the steppe back and forth
   the wonder-causing pure breasted one
   the Lord    spouse of pure Inanna

Dumuzi     master of the Emush
   O Badtibira    (fortress of the coppersmith)
   has built this house on your radiant site
   and placed his seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 20
The Lagash Temple Of Ningirsu                     Eninnu

right arm of thick-necked Lagash in Sumer
with heavy-cloud bird Anzu’s eyes
that scan insurgent mountains

Ningirsu’s crowd-flattener blade a menace to all lands
battle arm    blasting storm drenching everyone
battle arm    all the great gods    the Annuna
      grant again and again

so from your skin of bricks
    on the rim of the holy hill    green as mountains
you determine fates

a holy whirlpool spins in your river
blowing whirlwinds spawn from your glance

at the gate facing the Holy City
they pour wine into fine stone vessels of An
    out under the sky

what comes in cannot be equaled
what goes out never ceases

at the fiery face of the Shugalam gate
    its radiant brilliance the    fate-cutting site
Lord Ningirsu besieges with hair-raising fear

all the Annuna appear at your great wine festival

your prince    furious storm-wind
destroyer of rebel cities
your king    angry bull flaunting his brawn
    savage lion that makes heads shake

warrior the lord of lords who plots schemes
king of kings who mounts victories
mighty one great hero in battle has no rival

son of Enlil    lord Ningirsu
O Eninnu
has built this house on your radiant site
and established his seat upon your throne

Temple Hymn 22
The Sirara Temple Of Nanshe

O house you wild cow
    there to conjure signs from divination

you arise    splendid to behold
    bedecked for your princess

Sirara    great and princely place
    you    dream-opener
    highly prized in the shrine

your lady Nanshe

a great storm
    strong dark water

    born on the shore of the sea

laughing in the sea foam
    playing playing in the waves

divine Nanshe    mighty Lady
    O house of Sirara
has built this house on your radiant site
and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 26
The Zabalam Temple Of Inanna

O house    wrapped in beams of light
wearing shining stone jewels    wakening great awe

sanctuary of pure Inanna
    (where) divine powers the true me spread wide

               shrine of the shining mountain
    shrine that welcomes the morning light
    she makes resound with desire

the Holy Woman grounds your hallowed chamber
    with desire

    your queen    Inanna of the sheepfold
    that singular woman
    the unique one

who speaks hateful words to the wicked
    who moves among the bright shining things
    who goes against rebel lands

and at twilight makes the firmament beautiful
    all on her own

    great daughter of Suen
    pure Inanna

O house of Zabalam
    has built this house on your radiant site
    and placed her seat upon your dais

Temple Hymn 42
The Eresh Temple of Nisaba                           Ezagin

this shining house of stars bright with lapis stones
    has opened itself to all lands

a whole mix of people in the shrine every month
    lift heads for you Eresh
    all the primeval lords

soapwort the very young saba on your platform
    great Nanibgal    Nisaba    Lady of Saba
    brought powers down from heaven
    added her measure to your powers
    enlarged the shrine    set it up for praising

faithful woman    exceeding in wisdom
    opens [her] mouth [to recite] over cooled lined
    always consults lapis tablets
    [and] gives strong council to all lands

true woman of the pure soapwort
    born of the sharpened reed

who measures the heavens by cubits
    strikes the coiled measuring rod on the earth

praise be to Nisaba

the person who bound this tablet together
is Enheduanna
my king    something never before created
did not this one give birth to it

[Note: Betty Meador worked with a specialist in the Sumerian language at the University of California, Berkeley, John Carnahan, to create a word-for-word literal translation of each hymn based on variants from numerous tablets, from which she rendered the final poetic version. A fuller posting with notes appears at American Translator Association Publications, under the title “Enheduanna: The First Known Author.” For which, grateful acknowledgement. (J.R.)]]