The Hymn is the most ambitious elevation of Inana preserved in Sumerian, celebrating the goddess’s powerful, paradoxical nature
The Hymn is uncompromising in its praise for Inana: she is depicted as superior to all other gods, even the traditional leaders of the pantheon, An and Enlil. After an initial paean to her powers, the poem recounts three telling myths about Inana: how she scared An into giving her his temple, how she created a group of gender-subverting performers, and how she destroyed Mount Ebih. These episodes prove her ability to transform anything at will—gods, people, and even the landscape.
Then follows the set-piece of the poem, a long list of Inana’s paradoxical properties and powers of transformation, linked together by the repeated refrain “… is yours, Inana”: creation and destruction, joy and sorrow, victory and defeat are all attributed to Inana, in a dizzying litany of contradictions.
The last section includes an unfortunately fragmentary passage where Enheduana introduces herself, as well as a suggestion that the pain that she has endured may soon be ended by Inana’s mercy (l. 252–53). The poem ends with a final celebration of Inana’s powers.
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 from the original Sumerian include the English translation on the ETCSL website, which was also published in book-form by Jeremy Black et al.; and the more literary but still reliable translations by Benjamin Foster and Charles Halton.
The first edition of the Hymn appeared in 1975 at the hands of Åke Sjöberg. However, the Hymn is badly in need of a new edition, as many aspects of the text remain poorly understood and as many manuscripts for the text have been found since. For now, the best available transliteration is that on the ETCSL website.
The Hymn is a uniquely challenging text, with many lines whose meaning it is hard to make sense of. Further, large sections of it are still missing; especially regrettable is the loss of l. 221—42, where Enheduana introduces herself. Another striking aspect of the Hymn is that some lines exist in an ancient Akkadian translation: it is a relatively free translation that reproduces the literary effects of the Sumerian.