Friday, September 17, 2010

Nin-me-sar-ra (Adoration of Inanna)

This is the first recorded lyric poem in human history, written about 2350 BC by the first recorded (named) author, Enheduanna, a Sumerian high priestess. Although this poem was copied as a popular sacred text for 500 years, throughout the Babylonian era, it was only discovered in 1927, with the painstaking task of translation from Sumerian clay tablets only beginning in the last 50 years. The current scholarly translations still contain numerous ambiguities, contradictions, obscure references, hidden nuance, and the inevitable loss of semantic purity as experts puzzle over complex grammars and well-hidden religious beliefs. Rather than wade into that debate, I've created from the existing sources (Hallo and van Dijk (1968), James Pritchard (1975), Annette Zgoll (1997), Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature) a more poetic translation, since I've found this poem to have more than historical interest.

Here's part one of four parts, to be posted each Friday over the next month. The first section is an affirmation of Goddess Inanna's power and purpose, as well as the poet's role as embodiment of the Goddess in words -- at times, almost a consort, in terms that are striking to modern sensibilities.

Lady of the Word, a raging light rising,
Spirit of earth, in iridescent robes, beloved of An and Uraš,
Mistress of heaven, protected with jewels,
Loved by the life-giving crown, that fits this high priestess
Who holds in her hand the seven holy powers.
My Queen! You are the guardian of the Word.
You have lifted the chalice, you have held it in your hand.
You have gathered the liquid divine, placed it next to your breast.

Like a dragon you spit venom on the land.

When you thundered like Iskur, no green life withstood you,
Who brought down the deluge on those who opposed you.
Sultana Ianna, uniter of Heaven and Earth,
Who rains divine fire on the land,
Who's been chosen by An to command the Word,
The Lady who rides on the snake
Who, endowed with the power of fate, speaks the Word.
The great rites are yours - who can fathom them?

Destroyer of unaligned soil, you unleashed the storm.
Beloved of Enlil, you weighed terror on the land.
You stand at the service of An's commands,
My Queen! At your battle cry, all foreign lands bow.
Humanity in awe is silent before you, the terrible glare and storm
As they bring you their anguished clamor
- For you, they must walk the path of lamentation.
For you, all arms are gone before the battle.

My Queen! With your strength, a tooth can break flint!
You possess us as you come a storm possessive,
And as a storm percusses so you howl.
With Iskur do you thunder,
Spread exhaustion with your roaring winds
While your own feet have yet to tire.
Humanity strikes a song of lament on the lyre.

My Queen! The great gods, Annana, before you
Fluttered like terrified bats to the tops of ruined mounds.
They cannot withstand your devastating gaze.
They dare not face the terror in your brow.
Who can cool your furious heart?
A heart that is too violent for soothing.
O Lady, are you viscerally sated?
Is your heart now really filled with joy?
Great Daughter of Sin, your rage does not cool!