The Complete Poems of the World’s First Author
My translation of Enheduana’s poems is now out with Yale University Press. Get it here.
The book is accompanied by a website, which includes a literal translation and line-by-line breakdown of Enheduana’s best-known poem, as well as links to further reading and resources for learning more about her world.
For the book, I did a series of interviews, including podcasts (Poetry Off the Shelf, Great Books, and Yale University Press) and video chats (with Digital Hammurabi, Yale Babylonian Collection, and Yale University Press).
You can also find my previous academic publications about Enheduana here.
Cover art by Jenny Volvovski.
“This book is the ideal introduction to the priestess-poet. As well as being a first-rate Assyriologist, Helle is a gifted poet himself, and he presents us with translations that are nothing short of gripping. (…) These are accompanied by detailed notes and three excellent essays, in which Helle puts his mastery of the subject at the disposal of the general reader (…) Helle has already given us the best English translation of Gilgamesh to date; and this book does an even greater service to the cause of opening ancient Mesopotamian culture to a wider audience.”—Ollie Randall, The TLS
“Helle’s translation feels urgent, incandescent, stripped of academic cladding. . . . The growing popularity of Enheduana gives all of us readers a chance to discover another lineage—and to bring this poet and her imagination flashing back to life again.”—Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
“Helle succeeds not only at translating Enheduana but in giving her new readers the best possible introduction to her works as well”—Luke Soucy, World Literature Today
“In [this] new translation of her poems, by Sophus Helle, Enheduana describes herself as ‘the weaver of the tablet.’ Helle argues that Enheduana compares her writing practice to pulling threads from a larger textile and rearranging them into a new pattern.”—Tatiana Hollier, New York Review of Books
“Helle offers useful explanatory essays contextualizing the work, and asks the crucial question: ‘What would the history of Western literature look like if it began not with Homer and his war-hungry heroes but with a woman from ancient Iraq, who sang her hymns to the goddess of chaos and change?’”—Nina MacLaughlin, Boston Globe
“So far these translations are my favorites. They are tight, have great rhythm, and are stripped of ‘literary embellishments.’”—Nicole Peyrafitte, Rain Taxi
“A wonderful new translation and commentary which returns Enheduana to her rightful place at the beginning of literary history.”—Zainab Bahrani, Columbia University
“Helle’s Enheduana is a vibrant work that illuminates the complexity and wonder of the original texts. It crafts new insights into Enheduana and her world, invoking both elegance and—as could be expected of poems dedicated to the goddess Inana—a sense of awe.”—Gina Konstantopoulos, University of California–Los Angeles
“Enheduana’s hymns are among the earliest comprehensible poems to have come down to us. For Sophus Helle they are not ancient fossils to be revered, but vibrant works of literature, and he has found a personal diction that makes them ring across the millennia without distortion. A masterful achievement.”—Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan
“I am thrilled to see my ancestor role model Enheduana coming back to life through this updated, wonderful translation of her poems and also fascinating research of her life and rituals.”—Dunya Mikhail, author of The Bird Tattoo
“Sophus Helle’s translation of the world’s first known author—daughter of the world’s first known emperor—comes hot on the heels of his splendid edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In these pages the voice of Enheduana reaches across the millennia with more vibrancy, passion, and immediacy than the Homeric Hymns. The publication of this book is a major literary event.”—Robert Pogue Harrison, Stanford University