Authorship as a medium for creating Sumerian identity (AMME Seminar talk)

The AMME (Ancient and Medieval Middle East) Research Seminar on December 11th 2018 in the University of Helsinki had a talk from Sophus Helle on the author Enheduanna in the Old Babylonian curriculum.

Sophus Helle is a PhD student in the Aarhus University and his talk was closely related to his topic on authors and the discourse of authorship in Ancient Mesopotamia. Enheduanna, high priestess and daughter of Sargon of Akkad is the oldest named attributed author in the world history – even though it is probable that at least some of the texts attributed to her are not actually written by her.

Before first texts attributed to Enheduanna (copies from 18th century BC, 400 years after she lived) writing had been used for more than a millenia. Helle argued that the whole idea of authorship was created in the 18th century as a part of the model of great past for Old Babylonian people living in turbulent times after Hammurabi's reign.

When Old Babylonian people chose to use Enheduanna's text as represantative example on Sumerian culture, they also created the idea of homogenous Sumerian culture. The actual Sumerian speaking people hundreds of years before didn't see themselves as Sumerian: they shared the language but it was the city where they belonged. Helle used the term Cruelty of Conservation: every time when people try to preserve something, they will – usually unwittigly – change it.

The interesting talk accompanied with many textual examples created an intriguing discussion on the themes of authorship in Mesopotamia.

The next AMME seminar will be held on 12th of February 2019.