Enheduana: The Complete Poems of the World's First Author (Hardcover)

Enheduana: The Complete Poems of the World's First Author By Sophus Helle Cover Image
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The complete poems of the priestess Enheduana, the world’s first known author, newly translated from the original Sumerian
“Helle’s translation feels urgent, incandescent, stripped of academic cladding. . . . The growing popularity of Enheduana gives all of us readers a chance to discover another lineage—and to bring this poet and her imagination flashing back to life again.”—Nilanjana Roy,
Financial Times
Enheduana was a high priestess and royal princess who lived in Ur, in what is now southern Iraq, about 2300 BCE. Not only does Enheduana have the distinction of being the first author whose name we know, but the poems attributed to her are hymns of great power. They are a rare flash of the female voice in the often male-dominated ancient world, treating themes that are as relevant today as they were four thousand years ago: exile, social disruption, the power of storytelling, gender-bending identities, the devastation of war, and the terrifying forces of nature.
This book is the first complete translation of her poems from the original Sumerian. Sophus Helle’s translations replicate the intensity and imagery of the original hymns—literary time bombs that have lain buried for millennia. In addition to his translations, Helle provides background on the historical context in which Enheduana’s poems were composed and circulated, the works’ literary structure and themes, and their reception in both the ancient and the modern world.
Unjustly forgotten for millennia, Enheduana’s poems are essential reading for anyone interested in the literary history of women, religion, the environment, gender, motherhood, authorship, and empire.

About the Author

Sophus Helle is a writer, translator, and cultural historian. He lives in Berlin.

Praise For…

“Helle’s translation feels urgent, incandescent, stripped of academic cladding. . . . The growing popularity of Enheduana gives all of us readers a chance to discover another lineage—and to bring this poet and her imagination flashing back to life again.”—Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times

“This book is the ideal introduction to the priestess-poet. As well as being a first-rate Assyriologist, Helle is a gifted poet himself, and he presents us with translations that are nothing short of gripping.”—Ollie Randall, Times Literary Supplement

“In [this] new translation of her poems, by Sophus Helle, Enheduana describes herself as ‘the weaver of the tablet.’ Helle argues that Enheduana compares her writing practice to pulling threads from a larger textile and rearranging them into a new pattern.”—Tatiana Hollier, New York Review of Books

“We finally have a good English translation, alongside several essays, rich in detail, concerning what we know about her and how.”—Anna Della Subin, London Review of Books

“Helle’s translations are elegant and pleasant to read, and they mostly succeed in the difficult task of conveying some of the verbal fabric and poetic texture of the Sumerian originals. To render in idiomatic English and with a certain level of faithfulness 4,000-year-old Sumerian literary compositions poses almost insurmountable challenges.”—Gonzalo Rubio, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal

“Helle offers useful explanatory essays contextualizing the work, and asks the crucial question: ‘What would the history of Western literature look like if it began not with Homer and his war-hungry heroes but with a woman from ancient Iraq, who sang her hymns to the goddess of chaos and change?’”—Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Globe

“Sophus Helle’s new collection of translations of texts attributed to the Sumerian poet Enheduana [is] framed by a very insightful series of essays. . . . These translations . . . are tight, have great rhythm, and are stripped of ‘literary embellishments.’”—Rain Taxi

“The first to render her poetry as poetry, Helle succeeds not only at translating Enheduana but in giving her new readers the best possible introduction to her works as well. . . . The accompanying essays provide an accessible crash course on the context and transmission of the poems, along with how much remains unknown.”—C. Luke Soucy, World Literature Today

“A wonderful new translation and commentary which returns Enheduana to her rightful place at the beginning of literary history.”—Zainab Bahrani, Columbia University

“Helle’s Enheduana is a vibrant work that illuminates the complexity and wonder of the original texts. It crafts new insights into Enheduana and her world, invoking both elegance and—as could be expected of poems dedicated to the goddess Inana—a sense of awe.”—Gina Konstantopoulos, University of California–Los Angeles

“Enheduana’s hymns are among the earliest comprehensible poems to have come down to us. For Sophus Helle they are not ancient fossils to be revered, but vibrant works of literature, and he has found a personal diction that makes them ring across the millennia without distortion. A masterful achievement.”—Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan

“I am thrilled to see my ancestor role model Enheduana coming back to life through this updated, wonderful translation of her poems and also fascinating research of her life and rituals.”—Dunya Mikhail, author of The Bird Tattoo

“Sophus Helle’s translation of the world’s first known author—daughter of the world’s first known emperor—comes hot on the heels of his splendid edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In these pages the voice of Enheduana reaches across the millennia with more vibrancy, passion, and immediacy than the Homeric Hymns. The publication of this book is a major literary event.”—Robert Pogue Harrison, Stanford University
“Offering valuable and original insights into the study of authorship in Mesopotamia, this truly interdisciplinary book is widely accessible to scholars outside the field of Assyriology and should be read attentively.”—Paul Delnero, Johns Hopkins University

Product Details
ISBN: 9780300264173
ISBN-10: 0300264178
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Pages: 288
Language: English

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