Customer Reviews: Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart : Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna
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on February 10, 2001
This is the book I have been waiting for since I first learned about Enheduanna, the first known writer of the ancient world and high priestess of the Sumerian moon god and was transfixed by her words: "But I am Enheduanna, pure and shining high priestess of the moon God!" I couldn't believe that a real priestess, wrote about herself in the first person, 4,000 years ago, as if she was talking directly to me. Ever since, I have had to trudge through dense, scholarly books and articles to learn any details I could about Enheduanna and now after 5 years this book comes along putting all the pieces, and I mean ALL the pieces together- and it far exceeds what I was hoping for. Meador has culled all the best information about Enheduanna and Inanna--from the overwhelming and hard-to-sift-through scholarly resources on Mesopotamia. She has hand-picked important quotes from women's studies, Jungian psychology, the ancient near east, and comparative anthropology and synthesized it all here, accessibly and VERY thought- provokingly! Meador has translated from the original Sumerian cuneiform three of Enheduanna's poems and presented them in a modern, delicious, poetic style for maximum accessiblity to today's audience. Through Meador's painstaking efforts and through her insightful and outstanding analysis Enheduanna emerges as a literary genius and surprisingly, as a theological radical! The latter was completely unexpected so I won't give away the details. This book is an incredible journey into a numinous, symbolic, mystical language, uncovering a new layer of the evolution of human consciousness, particularly from a female perspective. There is so much in this book which is so beautifully written- the poems alone are worth it. I predict it will become a best selling classic as were Enheduanna's poems centuries after her death. Enjoy and revel in this very real, powerful priestess' writings dating back 4,000 years! Praise be to Enheduanna and Betty de Shong Meador!
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on March 28, 2003
As someone intensely interested in Inanna, as well as the ancient Sumerian gods and religeon, this book was exactly what I needed to better understand some of the most important concepts.
Three complete poems of Enheduanna are represented here, and just the first one, "Inanna and Mount Ebih," is well worth the price of this book alone. There are many other small poems, little titbits of the ancient Sumerian hymns, which are equally enlightening. The translations, as well as the original texts are beautifully done, reading easily as poetry. If you like goddesses and you like poetry, this is a good thing to check out!
I already own "Inanna: Queen of Heaven and of Earth," by Wolkstein, so I am well familiar to Inanna as a goddess of love and warmth. The texts contained in this book are the exact opposite; many show the violent side of Inanna. But this is exactly what is important, because Inanna is a goddess of duality, that symbolizes at many time's man's ancient connection with the spirit and his natural instincts. In ancient Mesopotamia, gods were often feared for their great powers, and harshness upon those that wronged them. Its great to have a new point of view, especially one that is as powerful as this. For the serious student, I'd reccomend getting both books, that way you can have a really clear picture of the glory of Inanna.
The author spends a lot of time giving information about the ancient Sumerian customs, which I find to be very useful. For example, the Sumerian marriage rite, which I had never known much about.
Now, I do have one complaint about this book. The author tends to include WAY too many references to the Bible, as well as a really strong feminist view point. While this is in fact interesting at times, its taken to the extreme in several places, such as at the end of "Inanna and Mount Ebih." I would say that for those of you that dig gender studies, you'll find it enlightening, but I would have preferred to see more information on the ancient Sumerian way of life. Oh well.
Highly reccommended.
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on March 24, 2005
As I am not a professional in the area of Archeology, I will leave that aspect to the other reviewers.

However comparing Ms Meador's translation to some I have found online. Such as Lady of the Largest Heart Vs Lady of the Stoutest Heart. Reminds us all to clearly, it takes a real poet to translate a poet.

Lady of the Largest Heart, is a poingant and tortured piece. Vs Lady of the Stoutest Heart which reads like Soviet Era Hero Poetry.

Betty is a very talented Poet, and has gifted us with a work of great beauty. As well as a very challenging vision of the divine feminine. If she has not captured exactly what Enheduanna meant to say, I wonder if the High Priestess would not have said, Oh, I wish I had said that. :)

As a Pagan myself I find this a very moving work. Yet I must warn my fellow Pagans Enheduanna's Innana is the Goddess of the New Moon. In her deepest Shadow, and Darkest Fury. Dont look for your fluff and bunnies here.
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on March 11, 2002
This up-to-date rendition of Sumerian religious poetry and hymns can be reviewed in two areas. The first: that of the theories around the poems/hymns; the second: the actual translations. Five stars the latter, two stars the former.
The first part is given over to discussion of the Sumerian culture and the mythology of Inanna. The first chapter dupes as an intro and is autobiographical, which is nice, as it's good to see why an author has chosen to write any book. Chapter Two could be summed up by the statement that Inanna is "all encompassing", but the author chooses to spend a dozen pages saying it. To be honest you can safely ignore Chapter Two. Chapter Three is far better, giving a succinct history of pre-Sumerian cultures during the Ubaid period. Chapter Four is also very good as Meador gives a history of the archaeology of the Sumerian period. It continues through Chaprter 5 with an interpretation of Enheduanna's life. Several interpretative anomalies and assumptive theories leap out in chapters 5 to 7. For example, the single disk that was found stating: "Enheduanna..., daughter of Sargon" is interpreted as literal, even though, as the author acknowledges, this presents a dichotomy (as other Sumerian scholars also acknowledge) of incestuous rituals described in Chap6, pg 61. Given all these scholars and the author agree it presents a problem it might be prudent to theorize that the term `daughter' is ritualistic and not literal. But, by taking the literal interpretation, it has allowed the author to present a full princessly/priestessly life of Eduhanna with no primary source to back it up.
Chapter 7 begins to discuss the 42 hymns and 3 poems. Hymn 8 speaks of the `seven seas' which throws up all kinds of questions, given the relatively modern usage of the term. What seven seas were the Sumerians referring to? The author starts to provide assumptive criticism of the hymns and the statement that: "In these works she created a role for Inanna never before explicitly stated" is not teneble. That's akin to saying that Homer was solely responsible for creating the roles of Achilles, Hector and Agamemmnon in the Iliad just because his is the earliest record. Something so patently untrue any Hellenistic scholar would deride the statement. It is further erroneously backed up by the statement: "Enheduanna draws a complex picture of Inanna that had probably never been articulated before." `Probably'? Alarm bells began to go off on reading that, if the author isn't convinced of her own thesis. Another example is the hymn section on pg77 where the word `captive' is transliterated to mean she was exiled and there is subsequent psychoanalysis of her state of mind in this `exile'. Perhaps the word `captive' is symbolic. It is, after all, a liturgical hymn.
What is also frustrating, and Meador's amateur historian status perhaps explains it, is that (in this section) hardly any of it seems to be her own original thought. It's a constant procession of secondary author quoting, almost as though the author feels she needs professorial agreement for her points to be valid. Which is clearly not true, given the latter sections of the book. The book is good enough without a regurgitatory summation of other secondary sources.
The second part is given over the the poems and is so much better. Brief intros, the translation (my only desire would be for a parallel cuneiform alongside the english, as translatory license is obviously given; unless the author knew when and where Enheduanna was using slang which I doubt) then the commentary on the text. Not a sniff of secondary sources just free-flowing precise scholarship. Indeed the differences between what I term part I and part II are vast.
The first `poem', between An, Innana and Ebih, has Meador drawing parallels to Eden.There was a very interesting comment on there being a pre-Edenic myh with Adam having a wife before Eve, named Lillith which was new. The second, lauds Inanna's powers, the reverence and rituals due her, with commentary on the personas of Innana. The third, exalts Inanna after a claimed actual event.
To conclude, a tale of two parts. In the first the author tends to switch between literal and figurative interpretation to fit her theories and you end up asking more questions than receiving answers. In the second , the translations of the poems are extremely well done and the sense of devotion to Inanna shines through. The author leans towards a spiritual translation rather than an factual one, and therefore you need to read it with an awareness of `bias' to the imparted message, but as a current up-to-date version of religious Sumerian poetry this is excellent.
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on July 25, 2002
If all you are looking for is a somewhat sensationalized view of the "First woman poet in history", then this book would serve the purpose. However, the author is essentially a Jungian scholar attempting to study the psyche of a high-priestess born almost 5000 years ago - based on out-dated (40 years+) opinions of other Assyriologists and Mesopotamian specialists. Her translations of those literary compositions attributed to Enheduana are also based on readings of Sumerian signs from outdated collations, and are full of her own liberal interpretation and subjective speculation. While it is widely accepted that Enheduana was indeed a prominent en-priestess of the moon god Nanna, as well as being daughter of the powerful and legendary king Sargon of Akkad, the literacy and independence of women in that period is not well-attested. The author failed to point out that the hymns and poems shown literary (Sumerian) styles from later periods (predominately Ur III and Isin-Larsa), nor did she include the latest evidence on the historical background of the Sargonic empire (hence the possible challenges to Enheduana's office) and recent researches on Mesopotamia women (which would shed more light on Enheduana's life). It is a bold first-attempt as an interdisciplinary study, but unreliable as an introduction into Mesopotamian religion or history.
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on October 18, 2015
The poems themselves are from a later period in Sumer than the tablets that transcribed the myth of Inanna. The three poems studied here are by a high priestess of Inanna, Enheduanna, historically attested in a later period. The reading of these poems is voluntarily anachronistic. The author definitely analyzes the poems but she looks at the female author speaking of a female goddess in the light of the present time female position in the present time western society. Many remarks are interesting but it does not answer the question of what is happening at that time and what these poems show us concerning the spiritual evolution of Sumerian society.

I have explained in my review of Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer’s “Inanna” how this goddess is the nearly final form after the Ice Age of the spiritual dominance of women in pre-Ice-Age society and how she is pushed aside by the development after the Ice Age of agriculture and herding (and pastoralism) that gave the preeminence to men due to a new division of labor these activities implied. I have also explained how this Inanna is one of the matrices of the triple goddess that will triumph in Greek mythology and in most European traditions. On the other hand the binary pattern of the Old Testament is typically Jewish with God and his spirit roaming over the dark water immensity and under the dark sky immensity before Genesis.

In the first poem, “Inanna and Ebih” the author sees Inanna’s refusal of the mountain Ebih and its destruction by her because this mountain was a garden that was permanently luxurious and in which humanity could prosper without any effort at all. The author says this is the refusal of the concept of Garden of Eden, hence the refusal of a god to which we should obey and under which we should remain in dependence. In the perspective of the older tablets about Inanna’s myth we have here a goddess that represents the older spirituality going back to before the Ice Age, representing the older division of labor based on children rearing that naturally was women’s task, and Inanna is both a destructive and violent person with anyone and anything that does not recognize her as the dominant form. Obviously Enheduanna expresses here in the first two poems her experience of a world that is moving away from the power of her goddess and obviously the power of Inanna’s priestess.

The second poem “Lady of Largest heart” goes further in that direction. The priestess herself is the victim of Inanna’s violence and destructiveness. It is rather easy to see that what Enheduanna nostalgically regrets or celebrates is the negation of what is emerging in human society. The ritual Enheduanna sets in the heart of that poem is totally misunderstood by the author. It is the description of how the woman-centered vision of society imposes its female domination in two ritualistic and symbolical procedures. The first one is to turn a woman into a man by dressing her like a man, with weapons and other male man-made hence artificial attributes. That expresses the desire of Inanna to impose the rule of women including if women have to play men. That’s the pili-pili endowed with the phallic la-la, the woman made man.

On the other hand she picks a man who, crime above all crimes, had “spurned her.” It will be clear what she did in the third poem. Here she only says she broke the man’s mace, the man’s weapon, the man’s phallic symbol of his power and his gender. What she does not say is that to “make him join woman” she uses a sacrificial knife used for castration. In other words the men who speak against her she castrates them and locks them in the temple as eunuchs and slaves. There is no advocacy for some kind of bi-gendered hermaphrodite sexuality. There is only the promotion of a woman who is from the dregs of society, hence rejected by men, into a dominant figure in society hence commanding all men, and the castration of a man who does not approve of Inanna and the rule of women in order to make him a slave of these women priestesses.

The third poem then is clear. Men rebel against this religion and they destitute the priestess Enheduanna and ban her from society, giving her the sacrificial castrating knife that fits her so well, the author who is also the banned priestess in the poem says. The author here kind of pities that ruthless and tyrannical priestess because a man is kicking her out of her temple dedicated to the castration of dissatisfied men and the promotion of women from the gutter. The author misses the point that at this moment the Neolithic society is entering the bronze age. After imposing onto society a new division of labor because of the shift to agriculture and herding or pastoralism, the evolution of humanity is making men the dominant force in society by becoming warriors and she misinterprets what she calls the “four spiritual paths.” Inanna cannot be a warrior because her only weapon is the castration knife: her being a warrior then is a metaphor, but with a grain of salt. She can sure be a priestess but with no power over society. The spirit has moved to man and Judaism will be an exclusively male religion as for all temple personnel. She can be a lover provided she no longer is the triple goddess with her two lions at the back and at the head of the bed, the brute and the castrator watching over the beauty and the beast, but I feel the beauty is the poor Dumuzi and the beast is Inanna. And finally to be an androgyne is nothing but to be nothing and that androgynous approach is a fake defense of the priestess’s power over society, power that is rejected due to the evolution of human society into the bronze age.

The author actually sees at the end of her commentary of the third poem, “The Exaltation of Inanna,” that the banishment of the priestess is the necessary step to move from a religion dominated by women to a religion dominated by one male god, and she does speak of Judaism and is right on this point. But this is not monotheism since the Jewish god is a unitary double being, god and his spirit, and later the Christian god will reestablish the ternary pattern but within the unitary vision of a ternary god, the father, the son and the holy spirit. Her conclusion that modern women can, or even should, go back to that old Inanna goddess and her religion to claim their identity as women is vain because it would also mean to go back to the domination of men by women and the castration of all men who would resist. This castration has been symbolized, I mean made symbolical, in a ritual invented probably by the founding fathers of Judaism, Semitic anyway. It is known as circumcision which has obviously something to do with the ritualistic castration, of the reluctant men. But it is only symbolical and that did not prevent men to be the dominant force in Jewish society. It just gave women one little piece of skin in exchange for their acceptation to be dominated.

The future is never in going back to what used to be but in examining whet is today. Today women are vastly working out of their homes. They have careers and they do not want to drop them. It is on the basis of this professional independence that women have today the opportunity to impose their equality to society as such and we must not forget that if it were only a question of biological gender the question would already be solved since women are more numerous than men but it is also a question of educational gender and particularly the uneven possibilities of men and women in the professional fields based on their educational capabilities. She quotes Paula Gunn Allen and she should know that no Native American woman asks for going back to when women were “dominant” and when war parties were organized to capture some women from the next door tribe and that the men who were made prisoners in the episode were too often sacrificed in long rituals during which they were supposed to remain alive and conscious as long as possible and not utter a peep. But Native American women then were, or so can we imagine, a force that curbed down the worst aspect of this society of warriors. Inanna on the other hand is first and for all in Enheduanna’s vision a tyrannical, violent and castrating goddess.

The book would have been fascinating if it had been set back in its historical period and not dragged into the post modern western women’s lib movement.

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on March 29, 2014
This book centers on the three poems to and about Inanna which the High Priestess Enheduanna had written around 2300 BC. This doesn't contain any of her Temple Hymns which are found in another book I believe. You get an interesting story about the author's attraction to Inanna and then to Enheduanna. The early history she presents is very interesting and gives one ideas to jump off in other areas of research. You also get a nice history of Enheduanna, her father was Sargon, so it isn't like she was a nobody. She was the High-Priestess of Nanna but her greatest attraction was to Inanna, the Queen of Heaven. Each poem is presented with a great deal of notes, and afterwards it is gone through with a fine toothed comb. Lots of good information presented throughout the book. It will definitely be used many times in my research.
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on May 13, 2014
The poems were written by Enhudenna, he greatest poet who ever lived, whose work survived centuries and was placed alongside the writings of kings. Her influence probably is even felt today, 27 centuries after she lived and died. An amazing woman, a genius, the first person with whom we can identify a work with a name, and a fine poet to boot. Shakespeare is going strong after four centuries; archeologists found Enhudenna's work to be widely distributed even six centuries after her death and she influenced the form of religious poetry for centuries afterwards. The poems are fascinating; even though stylized, you can appreciate the genius underneath. A fine and unexpected read. Take a chance, you won't be disappointed.
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on March 13, 2012
I agree with everything people say about this book, additionally that we don't know the name of the subject. Its a title, not a name.

and means "The High Priestess [named] Ornament of the Sky"

Very beautiful and name and poetry
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on March 5, 2014
What a modern pagan can be without poetry? Well, this book is pure poesy. To honor our ancestors and worship our Gods, you must be a poet.
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