A collection of hymns to the temples, cities, and gods of the ancient Sumerian cities, offering a poetic roadmap through a lost world.
The Temple Hymns is a collection of forty-two hymns to the temples of ancient Sumer, as well as the deities they housed and the cities in which they stood. Each hymn is relatively short, between 7 and 23 lines: they begin by invoking the temple’s name, then play with the associations of that name, before turning to the god of the temple.
The hymns begin with two cities that were central to Sumerian cosmology: Eridu, which was thought to be the oldest city, and Nippur, which was the axis mundi and the home of Enlil, king of the gods. The hymns then start from the south-east and zigzag northward, finally reaching the imperial city of Akkad. The last hymn goes to Nidaba, goddess of writing, allowing for a final celebration of poetry itself.
The collection can be seen an attempt to shape the independent, local identities of the Sumerian cities into a coherent, ordered whole. This project would have had clear political overtones in the Old Akkadian period, when Sargon and his successors sought to unite the Sumerian cities in one empire.
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 translation by Charles Halton.
The Temple Hymns were first edited by Åke Sjöberg in 1969. A new and much-needed study of the text is being prepared by Monica Phillips. For now, the best available transliteration of the text is that on the ETCSL website.
Like the Hymn (and most cuneiform texts), the Temple Hymns is fragmentarily preserved, and some of the hymns are missing altogether. The controversy around Enheduana’s authorship is especially strong for the Temple Hymns, because some of the temples mentioned in it may have been built after the Old Akkadian period, while other hymns seems to be a reworking of older poems.