The Struggle to Unearth the World’s First Author

The Struggle to Unearth the World’s First Author

Around forty-three hundred ago, in a region that we now call Iraq, a sculptor chiselled into a white limestone disk the image of a woman presiding over a temple ritual. She wears a long ceremonial robe and a headdress. There are two male attendants behind her, and one in front, pouring a libation on an altar. On the back of the disk, an inscription identifies her as Enheduanna, a high priestess and the daughter of King Sargon. Some scholars believe that the priestess was also the world's first recorded author. A clay tablet preserves the words of a long poem: “I took up my place in the sanctuary dwelling, / I was high priestess, I, Enheduanna.” In Sumer, the ancient civilization of southern Mesopotamia writing originated, texts were anonymous. If Enheduanna wrote those words, then she marks the beginning of authorship, the beginning of rhetoric, even the beginning of autobiography. To put her precedence in perspective, she lived fifteen hundred years before Homer, seventeen hundred years before Sappho, and two thousand years before Aristotle, who is traditionally credited as the father of the rhetorical tradition. The poem, written in the wedge-shaped impressions of cuneiform, describes a period of crisis in the priestess's life. Enheduanna's father, Sargon, united Mesopotamia's city-states to create what is sometimes called history's first empire. His domain stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing modern-day Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, including more than sixty-five cities, each with its own religious […]

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