Hymn to Inanna

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Joshua J. Mark
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published on 18 November 2022
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The Hymn to Inanna (also known as The Great-Hearted Mistress) is a passionate devotional work by the poet and high priestess Enheduanna (l. 2285-2250 BCE), the first author in the world known by name. The poem is significant as one of the oldest works of literature extant and for its content elevating the goddess Inanna above all others.

Disk of Enheduanna
Disk of Enheduanna
Zunkir (CC BY)

Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (the Great, r. 2334-2279 BCE) who appointed her as high priestess of the city of Ur where she composed her now-famous works, Inninsagurra (The Great-Hearted Mistress), Ninmesarra (The Exaltation of Inanna), and Inninmehusa (Goddess of the Fearsome Powers) all dedicated to Inanna. She also wrote 42 other poems and prayers expressing her personal struggles, hopes, and faith. Although her works address other deities, including the moon god Nanna whom she served, she is most passionate in her devotion to Inanna.

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The Goddess & The Hymn

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of fertility, love, sensuality, procreation, and war, later identified with Ishtar. Her clergy were male, female, and transgender with the men and women frequently cross-dressing to embody Inanna's transformative powers. The androgyny of Inanna's clergy and adherents is referenced in the poem in line 121 where she is said to have the power "to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man." The central focus of the work, in fact, is Inanna's power of transformation, which can sometimes be seen as destructive or painful but is always for a higher purpose.

The poem describes Inanna as more powerful than all others & exalts her transformative powers.

To emphasize Inanna's significance, Enheduanna reduces other gods who are usually considered her superiors – Anu and Enlil – to secondary roles who "cannot proceed against her command" and the first part of the poem (lines 1-72) focuses on her destructive power as a goddess of war. Lines 73-114 describe the goddess as more powerful than all others and lines 115-218 exalt her transformative powers which tear down, build up, expose falsehood, illuminate truth, and administer justice. The final lines (219-274) identify Enheduanna as the author and appeal to the goddess directly in praise.

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Enheduanna's hymns were quite popular, as evidenced by the number of copies made and preserved, and influenced the form, content, and voice of later sacred works including the Psalms and Song of Songs from the Bible. Her influence continues in the modern era in the creation of works of personal devotion addressed passionately to a higher power.

The Text

The following is taken from The Literature of Ancient Sumer, translated by Jeremy Black et al. The sky god Anu is referenced as An throughout and Inanna's name is given as Inana. Some references, especially in lines 80-90, are obscure and ellipses indicate missing text.

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1-10: The great-hearted mistress, the impetuous lady, proud among the Anuna gods and pre-eminent in all lands, the great daughter of Suen, exalted among the Great Princes (a name of the Igigi gods), the magnificent lady who gathers up the divine powers of heaven and earth and rivals great An, is mightiest among the great gods – she makes their verdicts final. The Anuna gods crawl before her august word whose course she does not let An know; he dares not proceed against her command. She ... changes her own action, and no one knows how it will occur. She makes perfect the great divine powers, she holds a shepherd's crook, and she is their magnificent pre-eminent one. She is a huge shackle clamping down upon the gods of the Land. Her great awesomeness covers the great mountain and levels the roads.

11-17: At her loud cries, the gods of the Land become scared. Her roaring makes the Anuna gods tremble like a solitary reed. At her rumbling, they hide all together. Without Inana great An makes no decisions, and Enlil determines no destinies. Who opposes the mistress who raises her head and is supreme over the mountains? Wherever she ..., cities become ruin mounds and haunted places, and shrines become waste land. When her wrath makes people tremble, the burning sensation and the distress she causes are like an ulu demon ensnaring a man.

18-28: She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals. Clothed (?) in a furious storm, a whirlwind, she ...... the garment of ladyship. When she touches ... there is despair, a south wind which has covered ... Inana sits on harnessed (?) lions, she cuts to pieces him who shows no respect. A leopard of the hills, entering (?) the roads, raging (?), ..., the mistress is a great bull trusting in its strength; no one dare turn against her. ..., the foremost among the Great Princes, a pitfall for the disobedient, a trap for the evil, a ... for the hostile, wherever she casts her venom ...

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29-38: Her wrath is ..., a devastating flood which no one can withstand. A great watercourse, ..., she abases those whom she despises. The mistress, a hurin bird who lets no one escape, ..., Inana, a falcon preying on the gods, Inana rips to pieces the spacious cattle-pens. The fields of the city which Inana has looked at in anger ... The furrows of the field which the mistress ... grass. An opposes her, ... Setting on fire, in the high plain the mistress ... Inana ... The mistress ... fighting, ..., conflict ...

39-48: ... she performs a song. This song ... its established plan, weeping, the food and milk of death. Whoever eats ... Inana's food and milk of death will not last. Gall will give a burning pain to those she gives it to eat, ... in their mouth ... In her joyful heart she performs the song of death on the plain. She performs the song of her heart. She washes their weapons with blood and gore, ... Axes smash heads, spears penetrate and maces are covered in blood. Their evil mouths ... the warriors ... On their first offerings she pours blood, filling them with blood.

49-59: On the wide and silent plain, darkening the bright daylight, she turns midday into darkness. People look upon each other in anger, they look for combat. Their shouting disturbs the plain, it weighs on the pasture and the waste land. Her howling is like Ickur's and makes the flesh of all the lands tremble. No one can oppose her murderous battle – who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the carnage, the ... Engulfing (?) water, raging, sweeping over the earth, she leaves nothing behind. The mistress, a breaking plough opening hard ground, ... The braggarts do not lift their necks, ... Her great heart performs her bidding, the mistress who alone fashions (?) ... Exalted in the assembly, she occupies the seat of honour, ... to the right and left.

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60-72: Humbling huge mountains as if they were piles of litter, she immobilises ... She brings about the destruction of the mountain lands from east to west. Inana ... wall ... gulgul stones, she obtains victory. She ... the kalaga stone ... as if it were an earthenware bowl, she makes it like sheep's fat. The proud mistress holds a dagger in her hand, a radiance which covers the Land; her suspended net piles up fish in the deep, ... As if she were a clever fowler no bird escapes the mesh of her suspended net. The place she has pulverised ..., ... the divine plans of heaven and earth. The intention of her word does not ... to An. The context of her confusing advice in the great gods' assembly is not known.
2 lines fragmentary

73-79: The mistress, a leopard among the Anuna gods, full of pride, has been given authority. Not having ... struggle ..., Inana ... She ... the adolescent girl in her chamber, receiving her, ... heart ... charms. She evilly ... the woman she rejects. In the entire (?) country she ... She lets her run around in the street ... ... of a house the wife sees her child.

80-90: When she had removed the great punishment from her body, she invoked blessings upon it; she caused it to be named the pilipili. She broke the spear and as if she were a man ... gave her a weapon. When she had ... punishment, it is not ... She ... the door of the house of wisdom, she makes known its interior. Those who do not respect her suspended net do not escape ... when she suspends the meshes of her net. The man she has called by name she does not hold in esteem. Having approached the woman, she breaks the weapon and gives her a spear. The male jicgisajkec, the nisub and the female jicgi ritual officiants, after having ... punishment, moaning ... The ecstatic, the transformed pilipili, the kurjara and the sajursaj ... Lament and song ... They exhaust themselves with weeping and grief, they ... laments.

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91-98: Weeping daily your heart does not ... 'Alas' ... heart ... knows no relaxation. Beloved lady of holy An, your ... in weeping ... In heaven ... On your breast ... You alone are majestic, you have renown, heaven and earth ... not ... You rival An and Enlil, you occupy their seat of honour. You are pre-eminent in the cult places, you are magnificent in your course.

99-108: Acnan ... august dais ... Ickur who roars from the sky ... His thick clouds ... When ... the great divine powers of heaven and earth, Inana, your victory is terrifying ... The Anuna gods bow down in prostration, they abase themselves. You ride on seven great beasts as you come forth from heaven. Great An feared your precinct and was frightened of your dwelling-place. He let you take a seat in the dwelling-place of great An and then feared you no more, saying: "I will hand over to you the august royal rites and the great divine rites."

109-114: The great gods kissed the earth and prostrated themselves. The high mountain land, the land of cornelian and lapis lazuli, bowed down before you, but Ebih did not bow down before you and did not greet you. Shattering it in your anger, as desired, you smashed it like a storm. Lady, pre-eminent through the power of An and Enlil, ... Without you no destiny at all is determined, no clever counsel is granted favour.

115-131: To run, to escape, to quiet and to pacify are yours, Inana. To rove around, to rush, to rise up, to fall down and to ... a companion are yours, Inana. To open up roads and paths, a place of peace for the journey, a companion for the weak, are yours, Inana. To keep paths and ways in good order, to shatter earth and to make it firm are yours, Inana. To destroy, to build up, to tear out and to settle are yours, Inana. To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inana. Desirability and arousal, goods and property are yours, Inana. Gain, profit, great wealth and greater wealth are yours, Inana. Gaining wealth and having success in wealth, financial loss and reduced wealth are yours, Inana. Observation (1 ms. has instead: Everything), choice, offering, inspection and approval are yours, Inana. Assigning virility, dignity, guardian angels, protective deities and cult centres are yours, Inana.
6 lines fragmentary

132-154: ... mercy and pity are yours, Inana. ... are yours, Inana. To cause the ... heart to tremble, ... illnesses are yours, Inana. To have a wife, ..., to love ... are yours, Inana. To rejoice, to control (?), ... are yours, Inana. Neglect and care, raising and bowing down are yours, Inana. To build a house, to create a woman's chamber, to possess implements, to kiss a child's lips are yours, Inana. To run, to race, to desire and to succeed are yours, Inana. To interchange the brute and the strong and the weak and the powerless is yours, Inana. To interchange the heights and valleys and the ... and the plains (?) is yours, Inana. To give the crown, the throne and the royal sceptre is yours, Inana.
12 lines missing

155-157: To diminish, to make great, to make low, to make broad, to ... and to give a lavish supply are yours, Inana. To bestow the divine and royal rites, to carry out the appropriate instructions, slander, untruthful words, abuse, to speak inimically and to overstate are yours, Inana.

158-168: The false or true response, the sneer, to commit violence, to extend derision, to speak with hostility, to cause smiling and to be humbled or important, misfortune, hardship, grief, to make happy, to clarify and to darken, agitation, terror, fear, splendour and great awesomeness in radiance, triumph, pursuit, imbasur illness, sleeplessness and restlessness, submission, gift, ... and howling, strife, chaos, opposition, fighting and carnage, ..., to know everything, to strengthen for the distant future a nest built ..., to instill fear in the ... desert like a ... poisonous snake, to subdue the hostile enemy, ... and to hate ... are yours, Inana.

169-173: To ... the lots ..., to gather the dispersed people and restore them to their homes, to receive ..., to ... are yours, Inana.
1 line fragmentary

174-181: ... the runners, when you open your mouth, ... turns into ... At your glance a deaf man does not ... to one who can hear. At your angry glare what is bright darkens; you turn midday into darkness. When the time had come you destroyed the place you had in your thoughts, you made the place tremble. Nothing can be compared to your purposes (?); who can oppose your great deeds? You are the lady of heaven and earth! Inana, in (?) the palace the unbribable judge, among the numerous people ... decisions. The invocation of your name fills the mountains, An (?) cannot compete with your ...

182-196: Your understanding ... all the gods ... You alone are magnificent. You are the great cow among the gods of heaven and earth, as many as there are. When you raise your eyes they pay heed to you, they wait for your word. The Anuna gods stand praying in the place where you dwell. Great awesomeness, glory ... May your praise not cease! Where is your name not magnificent?
9 lines missing

197-202: Your song is grief, lament .... Your ... cannot be changed, your anger is crushing. Your creation cannot be ..., An has not diminished your ... orders. Woman, with the help of An and Enlil you (?) have granted ... as a gift in the assembly. Unison ... An and Enlil ..., giving the Land into your hand. An does not answer the word you have uttered to him.

203-208: Once you have said 'So be it', great An does not ... for him. Your 'So be it' is a 'So be it' of destruction, to destroy ....... Once you have said your ...... in the assembly, An and Enlil will not disperse it. Once you have made a decision ......, it cannot be changed in heaven and earth. Once you have specified approval of a place, it experiences no destruction. Once you have specified destruction for a place, it experiences no approval.

209-218: Your divinity shines in the pure heavens like Nanna or Utu. Your torch lights up the corners of heaven, turning darkness into light. ... with fire. Your ... refining ... walks like Utu in front of you. No one can lay a hand on your precious divine powers; all your divine powers ... You exercise full ladyship over heaven and earth; you hold everything in your hand. Mistress, you are magnificent, no one can walk before you. You dwell with great An in the holy resting-place. Which god is like you in gathering together ... in heaven and earth? You are magnificent, your name is praised, you alone are magnificent!

219-242: I am En-hedu-ana, the high priestess of the moon god. ...; I am the ... of Nanna.
(22 lines missing or fragmentary)

243-253: Advice ..., grief, bitterness ..., 'alas' ... My lady, ... mercy ... compassion ... I am yours! This will always be so! May your heart be soothed towards me! May your understanding ... compassion. May ... in front of you, may it be my offering. Your divinity is resplendent in the Land! My body has experienced your great punishment. Lament, bitterness, sleeplessness, distress, separation ..., mercy, compassion, care, lenience and homage are yours, and to cause flooding, to open hard ground and to turn darkness into light.

254-263: My lady, let me proclaim your magnificence in all lands, and your glory! Let me praise your ways and greatness! Who rivals you in divinity? Who can compare with your divine rites? May great An, whom you love, say for you "It is enough!". May the great gods calm your mood. May the lapis lazuli dais, fit for ladyship, ... May your magnificent dwelling place say to you: "Be seated". May your pure bed say to you: "Relax". Your ..., where Utu rises, ...

264-271: They proclaim your magnificence; you are the lady ... An and Enlil have determined a great destiny for you throughout the entire universe. They have bestowed upon you ladyship in the gu-ena. Being fitted for ladyship, you determine the destiny of noble ladies. Mistress, you are magnificent, you are great! Inana, you are magnificent, you are great! My lady, your magnificence is resplendent. May your heart be restored for my sake!

272-274: Your great deeds are unparalleled; your magnificence is praised! Young woman, Inana, it is sweet to praise you!

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Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.
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Questions & Answers

What is the Hymn to Inanna about?

The Hymn to Inanna is a praise song to the goddess Inanna who was the Sumerian deity of fertility, love, sensuality, procreation, and war.

When was the Hymn to Inanna written?

The Hymn to Inanna was written by the high priestess and poet Enheduanna who lived 2285-2250 BCE. No specific date is available.

Was the Hymn to Inanna popular?

The Hymn to Inanna, and Enheduanna's other works, were very popular, widely copied, and highly influential.

Is the Hymn to Inanna the same as The Great-Hearted Mistress by Enheduanna?

Yes. Hymn to Inanna is the same piece known as The Great-Hearted-Mistress by Enheduanna.

Translations

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About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

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Mark, J. J. (2022, November 18). Hymn to Inanna. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/article/2109/hymn-to-inanna/

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Mark, Joshua J.. "Hymn to Inanna." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 18, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/2109/hymn-to-inanna/.

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