The First Author

I have never really thought about who the first author was. I suppose I’ve always known that it was knowable, I just didn’t know it. Hmm, knowable. That implies that there are things unknowable. That seems to be a fact. Oh oh, what is a fact? Maybe it is really just an opinion. Can we operate in a world based upon opinions?

These are worthy questions but let me back up to knowing and not knowing.

Everything that can be known is divided in the world into two camps, the knowing of a thing and the not knowing of a thing. Which camp do you fall in? Obviously that depends upon the subject of the knowable. For example, let’s use Christopher Columbus. Who knows that he discovered America in 1492? There will be people who don’t know this. Some of these people knew it once, but then forgot. Some of these people heard this, but it never registered as a fact, some people never heard this at all.

On the flip side, some people know this because they visited Spain, looked at the archives, and read where he wrote the action and the date. We call this a primary source. We can’t be there directly as a witness, so the only way to “know” something is to trust in a “primary source” for evidence. It’s not an opinion, but it’s also not a direct experience.

So, yes, I fall in the camp of knowing that Columbus discovered America in 1492. I trust my sources. Not only that, I know that he discovered America on October 12, 1492. I know this because I trust the more complete information obtained by experts who read the original logbooks. Except the original logbooks were given to the Spanish Royalty in 1493, when Columbus returned, and they haven’t been seen since. Uh oh.

That’s okay because before they disappeared the royals commission a copy to be made, its called the Barcelona Copy and one was given to Columbus for his other voyages, and he had it in his possession until his death in 1506. No problem, the Barcelona Copy passed to his son, and Fernando used it to compose a biography of his father in 1538. In 1530 it was used by Las Casas to compose the Diario. This is the earliest document that can be found that tells us about discovering America. Uh oh, the Barcelona Copy has not been seen since 1584.

All experts are referencing the “Diario” as the only existing primary source. All history teachers are referencing other teachers who are referencing other teachers who are referencing other teachers who have read the existing primary source. This is how facts are known. Except that it is not a complete fact. America was not first discovered by Columbus. The Vikings are Northern European and they seem to have visited Nova Scotia hundreds of years before Columbus. There is some factual data in literature and physical archeological evidence to back this up. In addition, there is some who have an opinion that some Phoenicians were blow off course while rounding the coast of Africa, and ending up in Central America, bringing the concept of pyramid building to the New World. Not Europeans, but the Mediterraneans discovered America. This is still opinion, not a fact.

All this to say, is that the concept of “knowing” is very tenuous, and at various times the number of people that know something is much smaller than you think.

So today, I happened to revisit a website ( that uses primary sources to publish the writings of Sumer. I’m interested in Sumer, probably the first known civilization, based upon the written record they left behind. I can’t read Sumerian, I recognize the cuneiform letter shapes, I have studied them. But when they are combined to form words, well, then I’m lost. I have to rely on experts who have learned to read the cuneiform. The good thing is that I have read several different translations and they are all basically the same. I trust their opinion and I have accepted it as fact.

I have previously posted in a blog a sampling of Sumerian Proverbs. It is a very popular blog post and continues to receive the most hits every year. So today I was randomly reading some additional translations from this primary source website. I came upon this translation, “My king, something has been created that no one has created before.” Well now, that piqued my interest very much!

This was composed from 37 different tablets found in Ur. It was written originally by Enheduanna, 2350?-2270? bc, the daughter of Sargon the Great, King of Akkad, 2340-2284 bc. We get the spelling of Sargon from the reference made in Isaiah 20:1, and that was referencing Sargon II, 722-705 bc. There is still some debate if this is accurate. It may be that Sargon should really be translated as Sarru-ken, meaning “king established”. Ha!, pretty much seems to mean a title, so we still don’t know his name.

Sargon was married to Taslultum, and they had five children. This is important because Sargon appointed each of his children to high positions in their culture. They remained in those positions through several generations. The children were Manishtusu, Rimush, Enheduanna, Ibarum (Shu-Enlil), and Abaish-Takal.

Rimush took his father’s place when he died, and he ruled for 9 years, then his brother Manishtusu took his place and ruled for 15 years. His son was Naram-Sin, and he ruled for 56 years. Apparently Enheduanna was appointed by her father as priestess of Inanna, and Nanna temples, served her father, both brothers, and even her nephew Naram-Sin. She had a long career, was exiled for a time, but reinstated by Naram-Sin.

In her role as high priestess, she conceived that it would be a good thing to have standardized hymn’s in all the various temples throughout the empire. It may have been this book of hymns known as “The Sumerian Temple Hymns” that Enheduanna was referring to when she wrote her father “I have created something…” That qualifies her as the first published author. While this was work related (ha!) she also published “The Exaltation of Inanna”, a personal devotion to the goddess Inanna. This would definitely establish her as the first published author that we know.

This is the first twelve lines of “The Exaltation of Inanna”

“Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent light, righteous woman clothed in radiance, beloved of An and Uraš! Mistress of heaven, with the great diadem, who loves the good headdress befitting the office of en priestess, who has seized all seven of its divine powers! My lady, you are the guardian of the great divine powers! You have taken up the divine powers, you have hung the divine powers from your hand. You have gathered up the divine powers, you have clasped the divine powers to your breast. Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the foreign lands. When like Iškur you roar at the earth, no vegetation can stand up to you. As a flood descending upon (?) those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth, you are their Inana.”

I am glad that today I am knowing a new thing.

My intrepation

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.