Enheduana and the Invention of Authorship

  • Sophus Helle Aarhus University


The first known author, Enheduana, gained a central place in the literary culture of ancient Iraq long after the death of Sumerian, the language in which her poems were written. The essay argues that her authorship served to depict the Sumerian literary heritage as a tangible object that could be acquired by people who did not speak Sumerian as their native language, since Enheduana’s poems condensed a cacophony of independent traditions into a single entity. The process primarily took place in the city of Nippur in the troubled decades after 1740 BC, as the ancient scholars desperately needed to assert their importance. They did so by claiming special access to Sumerian literature, and authorship served as an ideal vehicle to represent that literature and that access. In short, Enheduana became a body and a bridge for Sumerian literature, condensing it into a single object and allowing it to move into a new cultural context.

Author Biography

Sophus Helle, Aarhus University

Sophus Helle is a doctoral student in Comparative Literature and Assyriology at Aarhus University, Denmark. His PhD project examines the first appearance of literary authorship, in the cuneiform cultures of ancient Iraq. He has also worked on Babylonian and Assyrian literature more broadly, focusing on ancient poetics, gender and sexuality, the genre of epics, narrative structures, and the modern reception of ancient literature.

How to Cite
Helle, S. (2019). Enheduana and the Invention of Authorship. Authorship, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.21825/aj.v8i1.11486