She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia brings together for the first time a comprehensive selection of artworks that capture rich and shifting expressions of women’s lives in ancient Mesopotamia during the third millennium BCE. These works bear testament to women’s roles in religious contexts as goddesses, priestesses, and worshippers as well as in social, economic, and political spheres as mothers, workers, and rulers.

One particularly remarkable woman who wielded considerable religious and political power was the high priestess and poet Enheduanna (ca. 2300 BCE), the earliest-named author in world literature. Bringing together a spectacular collection of her texts alongside other works made circa 3400–2000 BCE, this exhibition celebrates Enheduanna’s poetry and her legacy as an author, priestess, and woman.

Enheduanna received her name, which means “high priestess, ornament of heaven” in Sumerian, upon her appointment to the temple of the moon god in Ur, a city in southern Mesopotamia, in present-day Iraq. The daughter of the Akkadian king Sargon, Enheduanna left an indelible mark on the world of literature by composing extraordinary works in Sumerian. Her poetry reflected her devotion to the goddess of sexual love and warfare — Inanna in Sumerian, Ishtar in Akkadian. Whereas much of ancient Mesopotamian literature is unattributed, Enheduanna introduced herself by name and included autobiographical details in several poems. Her passionate voice had a lasting impact in Mesopotamia, as her writings continued to be copied in scribal schools for centuries after she died.

She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia is on view at The Morgan Library & Museum through February 19, 2023.

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