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Basic Information

Enheduanna was a priestess, a princess, a poet, and history's first known and named author. She lived in the Mesopotamian City-State of Ur in the 23rd Century BC. She wrote hymns, poems, prayers and religious fiction. Her Exaltation of Inanna is the oldest known example of anyone writing in the first person. Prior to her work, writing was only used for accounting, so she is the inventor of the written word as an art form, and as a way to express emotion.

She was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad and Queen Tashlultum. She was also the aunt of Naram-Sin of Akkad, who is noteworthy for being the first King to declare himself a god.

Enheduanna was the first holder of the title of EN (cuneiform). This title meant she was the powerful High Priestess of the primary goddess of the city she lived in, in this case Inanna (later known as Ishtar). If you stroll through the Mesopotamian Mythology list, you'll notice that a lot of deities have names starting with "En", so it's a pretty important title.

As En, she also had many ritual responsibilities, led religious services for the entire city on the massive ziggurat of Ur, was the highest authority of her era on dream interpretation, and defined in writing the relationships between the gods of Mesopotamian Mythology. Each city-state had its own primary deity, and Enheduanna was the one who did the heavy lifting of melding these disparate divinities into a single pantheon. She was specifically tasked by her father, Sargon, with integrating the religions of Sumeria and the Akkadian Empire to unite her father's newly conquered empire under one culture, and one set of beliefs. She did a really amazingly good job of it. Her writings were copied by scribes for over 500 years after her death, and the popularity of her Exaltation of Inanna was instrumental in the syncretism that melded the Sumerian goddess Inanna and the Akkadian goddess Ishtar into one being. Far beyond her own lifetime, her work empowered the "continuity-of-godhood" where each new conquering empire to take over the cities Mesopotamia just added the local god(s) to their own pantheon instead of supplanting them. Sort of an interpretation-graeca-esque situation that lasted for thousands of years.

During the reign of her brother Rimush, Enheduanna was removed from her En office. But Enheduanna bounced back, and recovered her title. Again, the power and popularity of her writing was probably the thing that allowed her to climb back to the heights of the high priesthood. The Exaltation of Inanna includes several lines detailing how Enheduanna was stripped of office and exiled, but eventually successfully struggled to become reinstated as En, by the grace and influence of Inanna.

(Exactly what was the cause of her losing her En position is beyond this Arcanist's knowledge. I've seen it described loosely as a political scandal. But I've also seen it described as a coup by a General who overthrew her brother Rimush and then removed Enheduanna from her position to secure his own power. In this version, her nephew Naram-Sin of Akkad eventually defeated the traitorous General, and Enheduanna may have returned to power with her nephew's assistance. Her fall and return to power also sometimes associated with The Curse of Agade, a myth about Naram-Sin battling against the gods themselves, and defeating the god Enlil. So it's possible the story about the General is an attempt to extract a thread of conjectural history out of the myth. In the myth, the battle with Enlil happened during a siege at Nippur, but there's no historical or archaeological evidence that Naram-Sin ever marched an army on Nippur, so transposing that into history is perhaps dubious. Given the contradictory information, I think a GM or story writer could probably get away with whatever explanation they wanted to make up for her fall from power and subsequent redemption.)

After her death, Enheduanna was herself venerated as a minor deity.


Game and Story Use

  • A game set in the Akkadian Empire (or any region of Mesopotamia from the 23rd Century BC on) is sure to feel the power and influence of Enheduanna. You could riff on her role and effect on society, casting her in whatever metaphor you want for her superstar privilege: making her the analog of the Pope, the Beatles, or any best-selling author you care to use as a lens.
    • Just for the record, if you're setting your tale before she becomes famous, like covering the era of her rise to meteoric fame, her name wouldn't be Enheduanna. History doesn't record what she was called before gaining the En title, so it could be "Heduanna" I suppose, but it's likely it was something else entirely. After all, En Hedu Anna translates as roughly "High Priest" or "High Priestess" - "Adornment" or "Wife" - "Of Heaven". (Oh. We're using our made-up names? Then I'm En-hedu-anna.)
    • Speaking of names, we also know from one surviving inscription that her factotum or accountant was named Adda, her personal scribe or secretary was named Sagadu, and her hair-dresser was named Ilum Palilis. So there's her entourage and the supporting cast of your story. If the whole play group buys in to the concept, that could be your adventuring party.
  • In a Mesopotamian-themed fantasy genre / D&D-style game, there's likely to be magic versions of her written works.
    • They'd be on clay tablets instead of paper, so somewhat less portable than your typical magic scroll, but that also comes with a cool visual (maybe you break the tablet to unleash the magic), or a fun restriction (maybe the magic only works while the tablet is intact, so you have to be careful not to break it, and the weight limits how many ongoing effects you can carry with you).
    • Several of her writings include first-person lines about herself, so she's totally the sort of creator who would name spells after herself. Like all those Bigby's Hand spells, or Mordenkainen's Whosawhatsits. Your weighty clay spellbooks would include things like Enheduanna's Compelling Roar or the like.
    • As a writer of Hymns, her magic may be bardic in nature, magical music, etc. As an influential author she may specialize in inspiration, mindcontrol and enchantment.
    • As the high-priestess of Ishtar, she's likely to have effects that fall under that goddesses' umbrella… and Ishtar/Inanna has a big umbrella. Love, Fertility, War, Politics, Werewolves, Lions, travel to and from the Underworld, etc
  • As history's oldest known author and priestess, Enheduanna's name and writings are likely to have power in modern urban fantasy or the like, such as World of Darkness or Unknown Armies.
    • Again, this could be invested in the form of some physical artifact, like a clay tablet, or her grave goods.
    • It could also be more ephemeral or intangible: A spell might invoke her name. A ritual might require the input of a famous female author as her stand-in to be successful. A character might seek to take up her mantle and become the modern embodiment of her power and influence. All magical writing may be protected by her ghost or avatar.
  • An apocalypse-minded time-traveling BBEG might choose Enheduanna as their temporal target. If they kill her before she writes her first major hit, all of history will unravel! The PCs must go back to the 23rd Century and save her!
    • Of course, one might conclude she's quite capable of saving herself, given that big brain of hers, and the way she bounced back after adversity. So maybe the campaign frame could be where she's a PC, and learns to time-travel after defeating the temporal meddler that tried to off her. Armed with her new time machine she explores the future and the past, and goes on to influence history even more. Something along the lines of the "Julius Beethoven Da Vinci" trope.
  • Her work is obviously in the public domain these days, so you can find examples of her writing on the web (such as on the Wikipedia page linked above, which, as of the time of this writing, includes the full text of two of her hymns) should you want to incorporate them into a riddle, an inscription on an artifact, the retelling of a myth, etc.
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