From the Archives: Enheduanna–A Surprise from the Ancient World

In every book I write I reach the point where I am so deep in the work that I have to stop writing blog posts and newsletters. I always hope to avoid it. That somehow I’ll be smarter, or faster, or more organized, or just more. This time I’ve managed to avoid hitting the wall for several months by cutting back to one post a month. But the time has come. For the next little while, I’m going to share blog posts from the past, starting with this one from 2019.

I’ll make it up to you in March, when I’m going to run my Women’s History Month interview series no matter what.


Enheduanna is the one in the middle.
Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, British Museum/University Museum Expedition to Ur, Iraq 1926.

Allow me to introduce you to the first author whose name is recorded in history, a WOMAN named Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE).  Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon the Great of Akkad, ruler of Mesopotamia. Her father appointed her the high priestess of the most important temple in the Sumerian city of Ur. She may have gotten the job thanks to Daddy, but there is no doubt that she earned it. Combining her roles as both priestess and poet, she wrote more than forty liturgical works that were copied and used for almost 2000 years. In those works, she created conventions for psalms and prayers that were used throughout the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean. Her work influenced the poetic forms of the Hebrew Bible, the Homeric hymns of ancient Greece, and the early hymns of the Christian church. (That’s a lot of influence for someone I never heard of until a few days ago.) She also wrote forty-two more personal poems in which she described her feelings about the world she lived in.

She served as high priestess for forty years, despite a coup attempt that drove her temporarily into exile.

Enheduanna was rediscovered as a historic figure in 1927, during British archaeologist Sir. Leonard Wooley’s excavations of Ur. You can’t say she’s been erased from history, but she isn’t exactly a pop culture icon. (1) Yet.

(1)  Except among the people who believe that aliens built the pyramids.

Another Christmas Adventure

It’s Christmas Eve and I am sitting in our hotel room in Cascais, Portugal, looking at a surprise Christmas treat the restaurant staff  just delivered to our room. We have a little balcony with two comfy chairs, where it is almost warm enough to sit and stare at a gorgeous view of a gray and challenging Atlantic.  We were afraid we wouldn't get here because of the winter storms that disrupted holiday travel in the United States and we are counting our blessings.

This is the fourth time in the last ten years that we have spent Christmas in another country. Each time, I’ve learned new historical stories and widened my understanding of stories I thought I knew. I fully expect to have the same experience here. And once I’m back, I’ll share them with you.

In case you need something to keep you amused until I’m back, here are some links to earlier posts dealing with Portuguese history:

Prince Henry the So-Called Navigator

A Spy in the Spice Trade

The Violent and Often Ugly Story of How Portugal Won A Global Empire

(Some of you may note that my previous knowledge of Portuguese history is very specific in scope, and you would be right.)


In the meantime, have a merry/jolly/happy/blessed time as you celebrate the victory of light over the darkness in the tradition of your choice.



The German Interplanetary Society

Over the last few few years, I’ve occasionally gotten glimpses into Sigrid Schultz’s life that don’t quite fit. The kind of things that you can picture her using in one of those ice-breaker games where you have to tell people three things about yourself, one of which is a lie. (I hate those games, but I picture Sigrid throwing herself into them with gusto.)

Cute rocket and yellow full moon.,which is clearly cheese. How could I resist?

For example, in May, 1931, Sigrid became a member of the German Interplanetary Society (aka the German Space Club), the first society dedicated to space travel. Her membership card gave her access to the club’s rocket port: “this permission would only be withdrawn in case of particularly risky experiments.” It’s impossible to know whether Sigrid joined the organization because she had a personal interest in the subject or because she smelled a great story in the making. She certainly did not fit the profile of most members of the society, who were young male engineering and science students. (Including an eighteen-year-old student named Wernher von Braun, who joined the society in 1930. He went on to become a driving force at NASA and one of the most important rocket developers of the twentieth century.)

In 1927, a group of young Berliners formed the society, inspired by the idea of space travel. They met in an abandoned munitions depot in a Berlin suburb, which included a three-hundred acre field that they dubbed the “Rocket Airport,” where they fired miniature rockets at the moon and tested liquid-fuel rocket motors. They had little money for their expensive experiments, but they were persuasive. They talked manufacturers into giving them materials at a low cost and gave workmen free housing at the arsenal in exchange for labor.*

In the fall of 1932, news of the project reached the Weimar army, which was trying to rebuild within the confines of the Versailles Treaty. The treaty hadn’t placed any restrictions on rockets. Capt. Walter R. Dornberger, who was in charge of research and development the German army’s ordnance department recognized the military potential of liquid-fuel rockets and reached out to the Interplanetary Society.

As usual, the society desperately needed money. When Dornberger made them an offer to support their research, they did not hesitate. According to von Braun: “In 1932, the idea of war seemed to us to be an absurdity. The Nazis weren’t yet in power. We felt no moral scruples about the possible future abuse of our brainchild. We were interested solely in exploring outer space. It was simply a question with us of how the golden cow would be milked most successfully.”**

The young scientists were naive. In September 1933, Rocket Launch Site Berlin closed under the pretext of an unpaid water bill and their research was folded into the Nazi military machine. Amateur rocket tests were now against the law.

As far as Sigrid’s involvement goes, I find no article on the society or space travel in the Tribune.*** She may have just been curious. (She had hoped for a chance to ride on the first zeppelin to fly from Germany to the United States. maybe she also had dreams of being the first woman in space.)

*Not a small thing. Housing was difficult to find and expensive in Weimar Germany.
**In von Braun’s case, very successfully. The German army financed his doctoral studies in exchanged for his research.
***Pro tip: Do not search an historical newspaper archive using the word space as a keyword without limiting your search to articles. You will end up with hundreds of ad pages results. ****
****You’re welcome.