The Exaltation of Inana

Widely regarded as Enheduana’s masterpiece, the Exaltation is a powerful invocation of Inana, reflecting on exile, war, and poetry.

Summary

Enheduana is the high priestess of the moon god Nanna in the city of Ur, but a revolt led by the usurper Lugal-ane has driven her into exile. In despair, Enheduana prays to Nanna, but he does not answer, so she instead turns to her personal goddess, Nanna’s daughter Inana: the Sumerian goddess of war, sex, paradox and transformation.

Enheduana attempts to convince Inana to intervene in her favor in the case against Lugal-ane, implicitly taking over Nanna’s role as a divine judge. But Inana’s heart is difficult to please, and to make matters worse, Enheduana has lost her poetic skills. She must regain her powers of speech if she is to persuade Inana to help her, and so save her own life.

In a climactic scene, Enheduana depicts herself composing the very text we are reading, thus ending her crisis of eloquence, elevating Inana to a position of cosmic power, and convincing the goddess to take her side. In a postscript, it is revealed that Inana did heed Enheduana’s prayer, restoring her position.

Translations

A literal translation of the text with line-by-line analysis can be found here. For a poetic translation that recreates the literary effects of the poem, see the book on Enheduana by Sophus Helle, which this website was created to accompany.

Other updated translations that stay close to the original Sumerian include a French translation by Pascal Attinger; a new German translation by Annette Zgoll; and the English translation on the ETCSL website, which was also published in book-form by Jeremy Black et al.

Other literary but still reliable translations include those by Benjamin Foster and Charles Halton.

Textual basis

The first complete edition of the Exaltation was made by Bill Hallo and J.J.A van Dijk in 1968. An update and more complete edition, which established much of our current understanding of the text, was published by Annette Zgoll in 1997. In 2006, Paul Delnero completed a “score edition” of a string of Sumerian poems, including the Exaltation: Delnero’s score shows all the manuscripts of the poem side by side, and this is the basis of the translation given on this site.

The translation and discussion by Pascal Attinger, first published in 2011, clarified many points of grammar and offered ingenious new readings. Zgoll’s edition covered 107 manuscripts, but several more have been discovered since; see the list in Attinger’s translation.