Sexting the goddess: erotic and textual metaphors in Enheduana’s “Exaltation”

Sophus Helle – Aarhus University

The Exaltation of Inana, attributed to the Old Akkadian high-priestess Enheduana, is a work of unique importance for cuneiform literature. Not only is it a poetic masterpiece in its own right, it also marks the first appearance of the concept of literary authorship. Regardless of the veracity of its attribution to the historical person Enheduana, the poem contains a striking depiction of its own composition, and with it, the first emergence of the figure of the literary author.

In this paper, I would like to examine the erotic aspect of this moment of textual composition. The narrative climax in which the poem describes its own making is laden with numerous evocative metaphors that connote sexuality, marriage and child-birth, some more explicitly than others. The scene involves an intimate night-time encounter between the priestess and her goddess, where Inana replaces Enheduana’s previous symbolic spouse, the moon-god Nanna.

In fact, this metaphorical mingling of sexuality and textuality is not unique to this scene. Indeed, it recurs elsewhere in the poem itself, in l. 55-58, where the description of a woman abandoning her husband likewise interweaves intercourse and conversation. The trope may also be found in other, rather different cuneiform texts, such as the Akkadianlove charm KAR61, l. 22-25, which also implicitly equates the acts of talking and making love.

In this paper, I would like to unpack the two entangled sets of metaphors, and discuss what consequences this association had for the concept of literary authorship that began to emerge with Enheduana’s Exaltation.