I, Enheduanna

The first named author in human history was a high priestess in the Mesopotamian cities of Ur and Uruk, named Enheduanna, a woman who lived around 2300 BCE. Or, so many think. You can read about some of the archaeological artifacts associated with her here. There is, as ever, some dispute about her status as author: see the bibliographic references below if you are interested. I have found Zainab Bahrani's Women of Babylon most helpful in sorting through the issue. My personal view is that the argument against attribution is relatively weak, and seems to depend (as Bahrani argues) heavily on expectations about the role of women in Mesopotamia that are not themselves strongly supported. But again, we are moonlighting here, and so the point is not to contribute to this debate. Instead we want to read the text for representations of legitimate authority, of gender in relation to political power, and of just and unjust uses of power.

In this course we read "The Exaltation of Inana" (click through for a translation), which I chose partially because it provides an account of what we are clearly meant to think of as an unjust seizure of power (by one Lugal-ane). Sargon of Akkad has conquered Sumer and created the first empire, one that unites Akkad and Sumer. Sargon then appoints his daughter as high priestess of the moon god, Nanna, at Ur. Sargon's reign (and that of his immediate successor) is punctuated by rebellions, in one of which Lugal-ane briefly seizes Ur and displaces Enheduanna as high priestess. The Exaltation is thought to be composed upon the suppression of this rebellion and Enheduanna's return, which is here attributed to the intervention of the goddess Inana.

Enheduanna is often seen as creating, through this and other hymns/poems, a unified cosmology, and thus a unified ideological basis for kingly power, out of the parallel cosmologies of Sumer and Akkad. Thus Suen and Nanna are understood as names of one god, the moon god. Similarly, there appears to be a unification of the goddesses Ishtar and Inana at work across Enheduanna's compositions (on these points see Hallo and Dijk. The work has also been described as taking the form of a court case, but the argument is made by Annette Zgoll in a piece published in German, and I have yet to find a translation).

So we can read the process of ideological production taking place. But is this ideology produced in the service of Sargon's power alone? Part of Enheduanna's plea to Inana is that Nanna (who presumably should favor Enheduanna) has been silent, and has failed to make a judgment on her behalf ("My Nanna has paid no heed to me (1 ms. has instead: has not decided my case). He has destroyed me utterly in renegade territory." (l. 100-101)). Inana is called on to intervene where her father, Nanna, has proved unable, or unwilling, to do so. It isn't absolutely clear that Sargon is still alive at the time of Lugal-ane's rebellion, but the implication that the daughter (Inana) is both more important and more powerful than the father (Nanna) ("That Nanna has not yet spoken out, and that he has said "He is yours!" has made you greater, my lady; you have become the greatest!" (l. 134-136)) at least raises the possibility that Enheduanna means to imply as much about herself. This might suggest that Lugal-ane's implied sexual attempt on Enheduanna (underplayed in this translation: "While he entered before me as if he was a partner, really he approached out of envy." (l. 90)) is not only an act of dominance, but a reflection of the fact that establishing himself as king depended on a connection to the goddess of erotic love (Inana) that only Enheduanna could provide. Here again we step on the toes of the archaeologists. If there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that women of high status composed poetry and hymns, there is even more scope for doubt about the exact meaning or details of the sexual rituals that seem to have accompanied the consecration of a king, or the role of the high priestess in legitimating any particular king's right to rule. Lines like "The woman will take the destiny away from Lugal-ane; foreign lands and flood lie at her feet. The woman too is exalted, and can make cities tremble. Step forward, so that she will cool her heart for me" (l. 77-80) (which appear to refer to Inana) permit us to consider, however, that in exalting Inana, Enheduanna at least intends to augment her own position.

We can use this text, then, not only to consider how ideologies are made, but also to learn to read representations of power, gender, injustice, and so on. We can disrupt our own assumptions about how gender 'must' have worked in a monarchical society, even if we aren't really sure how it did work in practice, and consider how legitimate authority is established in relation to the divine. We can see, finally, without claiming that the poem presents a "philosophy," that the production of intellectually sophisticated political texts is coincident with the emergence of literary writing itself.


Bahrani, Zainab. Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia. SUNY Press, 2001.

Black, Jeremy A.,  ed. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Gero, Joan M., and Margaret Wright Conkey, eds. Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory. Social Archaeology. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell, 1991.

Hallo, William W. Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions. BRILL, 1996.

Hallo, William W., and J. J. A. van Dijk. The Exaltation of Inanna. Yale University Press, 1968.

Hallo, William W., K. Lawson Younger, eds. The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions and Archival Documents from the Biblical World. Leiden; New York: Brill, 2003.

Heimpel, W. "Review of The Exaltation of Inanna," by William W. Hallo and J. J. A. van Dijk. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 30, no. 3 (1971): 232–36.

Leick, Gwendolyn. Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Lipson, Carol, and Roberta A. Binkley, eds. Rhetoric before and beyond the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York, 2004.

“The Exaltation of Inana (English and Sumerian Translation).” Accessed September 9, 2016. http://www.atour.com/history/4000BC/20110927a.html.

Wolkstein, Diane, and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.


We start with a chapter from Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, The Creation of Inequality. Both are well known in their respective fields, and have written a series of collaborative books. They aim to show that social anthropology and archaeology can be usefully read together. They argue here that inequality emerges from the actions of humans manipulating the "social logic" that obtains in the society in which they find themselves (e.g. expectations around gift giving and virtue). This is presented as an alternative to various kinds of determinism (genetic, environmental, population and resource based, and so on). Of course, we cannot evaluate the evidence that underpins this argument in a political theory class. But we can use it to expand our sense of "the limits that are imposed on us" and "the possibility of going beyond them" (Foucault 1984, p. 50).

The "state of nature" device is familiar from modern political theory. But in that context the point (generally) is to show how unsustainable a world without political authority, in which everyone is equal, would be. Here, by contrast, we see "clanless forager" societies who maintained such societies for tens of thousands of years: probably ten times longer than the entirety of 'recorded history,' if not longer. This disposes of no interesting questions about equality, except perhaps those that rely on the incompatibility of equality with human nature as such. But it suggests another dimension of human variation for Horatio to contemplate, as he ponders the heavens and the earth.

Flannery and Marcus, in any case, suggest equality is no more 'natural' to humans than inequality, nor generosity than selfishness. Equality itself needed to be managed among forager groups, through expectations and norms that privileged generosity as a source, or instance, of virtue. Claims to virtue, however, could be turned to other purposes. Those who claim superior virtue through expertise, military capacity, or some form of charismatic relation to the divine (and find "people simple enough to believe" them) can, under the right circumstances, translate this into superior social status, if only during their own lifetimes. And sometimes these claims to superiority can be made hereditary and form the basis of stratification.

The whole book is worth reading, and carefully sorts the evidence for the patterns and transitions argued for in a way I can't detail here. But we can use it to kick off some questions central to this course: what are the origins of political authority? how is it legitmated? must political communities be inegalitarian, and if not, what forms of inequality or equality are possible and desirable?

Fall 2016 Syllabus

Below are the readings for the Fall 2016 version of this class.

The syllabus is organized into three main sections (pre-classical, classical, and medieval). The labeling is a bit tendentious, since 'pre-classical' is usually used in reference to Greek philosophy before Socrates, which I will not be covering here.

 Gains and Losses:

What did I need to to cut to put this together, and what are the principle additions? The most obvious cut is Machiavelli. But fear not, he is only being moved into the next course. Otherwise, I am covering Plato's Republic  for four days rather than five, and Aristotle's Politics  for three rather than four. I think I have been more careful about the sections of reading I am assigning from both, however. I used to teach either the Iliad  or the Odyssey , spending three or four days on Homer, mostly as a set up to Plato. I am now taking much shorter chunks of both, and relating them back to "Gilgamesh," as well as forward to Classical political thought. The biggest loss is Augustine. This was not really intentional. I am using Joshua Parens and Joseph C. McFarland, eds, Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook, 2nd edition  for the medieval thought section, and somehow had the impression that some Augustine was included. I didn't have time to pull together a selection that made sense. A problem for next time. Thomas Aquinas and Marsillius of Padua get much briefer treatment than I would usually give them.

Gains: Mesopotamian hymnal and epic traditions (which play nicely with Homer, and students are always suprised by the overlap with the Biblical tradition); Chinese, Jewish, and Islamic political thought; a greater attention to gender, both from the addition of what I shall politely call a "wider range" of women's voices, from Enheduanna through to Christine de Pizan, and from the contrast this allows to Gilgamesh, Plato, Arsitotle, etc.; Christine de Pizan.

Lots left on the cutting room floor (you can see my aspirational 'revised canon' here), but this is more than enough for me to be going on with. More details to follow on each. Criticisms and comments welcome as always.



Week 2

Tues. 8/30.          Flannery and Marcus, The Creation of Inequality, chapter 24 (pp. 547-645)


Thurs. 9/2           Enheduanna, The Exaltation of Inana (Nin-me-sara).

Week 3


Tues. 9/6.            Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablets I and II; Tablets IX-XI.

Thurs. 9/8         Homer, Iliad, Bk I (pp. 59-67); IX (pp. 203-217); Bk. XXII (435-449); Bk. XXIV (475-496).

Week 4

Tues. 9/13           Homer, Odyssey, Bk I (pp. 27-29); Bk IX (pp. 137-151); Bk XI (pp. 168-184); Bk. XIX (pp. 282-297).



Thurs. 9/15         Plato, “Apology"

Week 5

Tues. 9/20           Kongzi, "Analects" (CCP, chapter 1)

Thurs. 9/22          Mozi (CCP, chapter 2)

Week 6

Tues. 9/27           Mengzi (CCP, chapter 3)

Thurs. 9/29.        Xunzi (CCP, chapter 6)

Week 7


Tues. 10/4          Plato, Republic, Bks. I and II (through 369b)       

Thurs. 10/6        Plato, Republic, Bk. II (369c to end) and Bk III (414c - 416b only) and Bk. V (to 471b only)

Week 8       

Tues. 10/11        Plato, Republic, Bk. V (471c to end) and Bk. VI (487b - 488e; 505a-511e only) and Bk. VII (514a-521c only) and Bk. VIII (to 558c only)       

Thurs. 10/13        Plato, Republic, Bk. VIII (558d to end) and Bk. IX (all)

Week 9    


Tues. 10/18           Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 1 (chapters 1-7; 12-13) and Bk. 3 (chapters 1-13).Week 10

Tues. 10/25          Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 4 (chapters 1-11) and Bk. 5 (chapters 1-9)

Thurs. 10/27         Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 6 (chapters 1-5) and Bk. 7 (entire)Week 11

Tues. 11/1              Han Feizi (CCP, chapter 7)



Thurs. 11/3         Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book(selections)  

                           Li Qingzhao (Li Ch'ing-chao), selected poems

Week 12

Tues. 11/8          Anna Comnena, portrait of Anna Dalassena (in Alexiad, pp. 118-122)

                         Marie de France, "Guigemar," "Lanval," and "Chevrefoil" in Lais Trobairitz, selected lyrics       

                         Catherine of Siena, Letter 68 and Letter  69


Thurs. 11/10          al-Farabi (Alfarabi), The Political Regime (MPP, ch. 3)

                             Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Healing: Metaphysics 10 (MPP, ch. 7)

Week 13

Tues. 11/15          al-Ghazali (Alghazali), The Deliverer from Error (MPP, ch. 8)

                           Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Decisive Treatise (MPP, ch.11)       

Thurs. 11/17        ben Maimon (Rambam, Maimonides), The Guide of the Perplexed (MPP, ch. 15)

                           Ibn Polgar (Issac Polgar), The Support of Religion (MPP, ch.18)

Week 14       

Tues. 11/22            Thomas Aquinas and Peter of Auvergne, Commentary on the Politics (MPP, ch. 22)

Week 15

Tues. 11/29            Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of the Peace (MPP, ch. 28)


Thurs. 12/1            Marie de France, "The Fable of a Man, his Belly, and his Limbs"

                             Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, Part 1.Week 16

Tues. 12/6             Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, Part 2.       

Thurs. 12/8           Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic, Part 3.

Revising the Canon

So, what would we read that we don't already? Once we expand our horizons, there are many potential paths to take. Below is one possibility, not quite a syllabus (probably too much to cover in a semester), but a set of readings and topics from which a syllabus could be created. Over the next few months I will discuss/defend these selections. I will also discuss some potential objections, and the practical difficulties involved in expanding the course in this way. Those with some familiarity with the material will realize that I am not being too fussy about chronology, I am more interested in getting texts to speak to each other. Feel free to make suggestions/criticisms in the comments.

1: Anarchy

Flannery & Marcus, The Creation of Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2012, selections)

2: In the City of the Gods

Enheduanna, Nin-me-sar-ra (Women's Political and Social Thought, Smith and Carroll, eds.)

3: Death and Glory

The Epic of Gilgamesh (Andrew George, trans.)

Homer, Iliad  (selections, Richmond Lattimore, trans.)

Homer, Odyssey (selections, Richmond Lattimore, trans.)

4: Narrating the Political Community

Egil's Saga (The Sagas of the Icelanders (Penguin Classics edition))

The Epic of Son-Jara (Oral Epics from Africa: Vibrant Voices from a Vast Continent, Johnson, Hale and Belcher, eds. [this version is very reduced, see Son-Jara: The Mande Epic, Sisoko and Johnson])

5: Codes of Constraint

Code of Hammurabi (Avalon Project)

The Edicts of As'oka (Nikam and Mckeon, eds. and trans.)

The Law Code of Manu (A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, Radhakrishnan and Moore, eds.)

6: Perfecting the Regime

Plato, The Republic (Grube/Reeve trans.)

The Huainanzi (The Essential ..., Major, trans.)

7: Cultivation of the Self

Confucius (Kongzi), Analects (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.)

Mozi (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.)

Mencius (Mengzi) (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.)

Xunzi (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.)

Laozi, Daodejing (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.) 

Seneca, "On Peace of Mind," "On the Private Life," (Seneca: Moral and Political Essays, Cooper and Procope, eds. and trans.)

Cicero, On Duties (Griffin and Atkins, eds. and trans.)

Lucretius, The Nature of Things (Copley trans.)

[Nagajurna's Precious Garland might be appropriate here, but I'd don't have a copy to hand]

 8: Maintaining the Regime

Aristotle, Politics (Lord trans.)

Han Feizi, (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Ivanhoe and Van Norden, eds.)

Kautylia, Arthashustra (A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, Radhakrishnan and Moore, eds.)

9: Daughters of Enheduanna

Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book (Women's Political and Social Thought, Smith and Carroll, eds.)

Li Ch'ing-Chao, selected poems (Rexroth and Chung, eds. and trans.)

Marie de France, Lais ('Guigemar,' 'Lanval,' 'Chevrefoil,' in Penguin Classics edition)

Trobairitz, selected lyrics (The Writings of Medieval Women: An Anthology, 2nd edition, Marcelle Thiebaux, trans.)

Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue (Women's Political and Social Thought, Smith and Carroll, eds.)

Anna Comnena, portrait of Anna Dalassena in the Alexiad, pp. 118-122 (Penguin Classics edition)

10: Reason and Revelation

Augustine, City of God (Political Writings, Hackett edition)

Aquinas, Summa Theologica (The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, Hafner Press)

Marsilius, Defender of the Peace

Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed

al-Farabi, The Political Regime

Ibn Sina, Healing: Metaphysics 10

al-Ghazali, The Deliverer from Error

Ibn Rushd, The Decisive Treatise

 [Relatively brief selections for all authors in this section, except Augustine, are available in Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook, 2nd edition, Parens and Macfarland, eds.]

11: Bodies Politic

Marie de France, "The Fable of a Man, his Belly, and his Limbs" (Readings in Medieval Political Theory, Hackett edition, Nederman and Forhan)

John of Salisbury, Policraticus (Readings in Medieval Political Theory, Hackett edition, Nederman and Forhan)

Christine de Pizan, Book of the Body Politic (Cambridge University Press, Forhan, Ed.and trans.)

[Sources for these readings are sometimes to the books I happen to have accumulated, or to editions I think could be affordable for students and useable in a course. They may not be the best final sources. As I discuss full readings, I will provide fuller citations.]

Geography and imagined communities

As I suggested in my first post, I am interested in what should count as basic training in political theory. The background political geography of the "history of ancient political thought" is largely restricted to Greece and Italy (Athens, Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence). Courses with a greater emphasis on medieval thought might follow Marsilius and William of Ockham to Munich, or Christine de Pizan to Paris, but even these side trips are rare. I don't mean to suggest this imagined political geography defines scholarly interests in the field. But it constitutes the frame of reference against which we trace the influence of political ideas 'from Plato to Machiavelli.'

It also presumes and establishes a particularly bounded imagined intellectual community (and doesn't the project of "comparative" political theory also presume and establish these boundaries?), offering students raised within the watershed of the Mississippi, for example, the classical traditions of Athens and Rome as the presumptive fons et origo of their own. Thus they are invited to identify with the ancestral Greek founders from whom they inherit the 'gift' of western political thought (a transaction about which Gayle Rubin might have much to say).

And yet, of course, it would be foolish to suggest that we can proceed without drawing any boundaries at all, and any boundaries we draw will inevitably be contested. So, let's draw some. Consider the effect, for example, of plotting our imagined political geography through the travels of three late medieval travelers, Benjamin of Tudela, Marco Polo, and Ibn Battuta:

Image copyright: David M. Lawrence, 2013. Permission requested.    

Image copyright: David M. Lawrence, 2013. Permission requested.    

We could add Gan Ying, or William of Rubruck, but the point is to use the metaphor of travel as a guide to the boundaries of our political community. We can note at the outset that this geography is also marked by exclusions: the Americas, Australasia and (to some extent) sub-Saharan Africa. My current idea is to foreground these exclusions in the second course in the sequence, one that I suggest should begin in 1488 and not (for example) 1517. We will still be giving and receiving gifts, handed down and exchanged, with a variety of trade-offs necessarily entailed along the way. But tracing political theories across the terrain marked out by these journeys asks us to consider alternative routes along which these gifts have been carried, alternative points of origin, and alternative directions of travel.

Further Reading: 

Benedict Anderson,  Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism

Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women" 

William of Rubruck, The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World 1253-1255 

[I don't pretend to have read the accounts of Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta, though I have read portions of those of Benjamin of Tudela as an undergraduate, but I list them below for interest. Polo is by a long stretch the least reliable, and it is possible that much of his account is not from direct observation. But since when have political theorists presumed reliable narrators?]

Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo 

Benjamin of Tudela, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela 

Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta 


Space Odysseys

Political theory proposes a kind of 'journey' in search of political knowledge, one in which students immerse themselves briefly in the vibrant, imperialistic, slave-holding Athenian democracy of the 5th century BCE, or the violent, charismatic, northern Italian city-state republics of the 15th century CE.  The theorist as observer (the theorist as voyeur, we might worry), gathering dangerous accounts of alternative political orders against which to test the limits of our own political imagination. Perhaps we see ourselves as Mustapha Mond, or the Magnesians' nocturnal council, carefully sifting the useful from the harmful to preserve the stability of the political society or the virtue of its citizens.  Or, as Odysseus, or Lauren Olamina, disguising ourselves in order to create our identity, in search of a home whose time does not seem out of joint.

We risk mere intellectual tourism, of course, a safe contemplation that ushers in no new judgments, no demands on our time or conscience; a cable channel packaging of difference for our amusement and entertainment. But as Sheldon Wolin suggested, the purpose of the journey is neither antiquarian nor diversionary. We hope to emerge with a sharpened sense of judgment, an expanded and more discriminating moral sensibility, a deeper and more profound appreciation of the limits of political thought, both to make sense of the world around us and to inform our political action within (or against) it.

So is the journey from Athens to Rome sufficient to the task? Do we trouble our theoretical commitments more, do we learn more, if we also visit Linzi or Bukhara?  No way to know unless we make the journey.  But at the very least, our geographical coordinates shift, the center of gravity in our mental map of the world moves further east, and we can imagine alternative journeys across this new landscape, one that reaches, provisionally, from Qi to Andalus. Rather than Ithaca and Odysseus, for example, we might start from Uruk and follow Gilgamesh, the first recorded theorist in the sense I am discussing here. As Wolin would expect, we'll encounter familiar problems: the limits of political authority, the hubris of political leaders, and so on.  But does the Epic reveal anything about the origin, structure, and purpose of organized political life, in its original heartland and seen through its founding mythology, that can't be observed from Athens two thousand years later?

Further reading:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower

Roxanne Euben, Journeys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge

Homer, Odyssey

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Plato, The Laws

Sheldon Wolin, "Politics Theory as a Vocation"

Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought



New Coordinates in Political Theory Project

Like many political theorists, I have inherited a curriculum structured around the history of the Western canon, probably formalized in the latter third of the twentieth century.  I am the sole political theorist at Southern Miss, and so I teach the full historical sequence, from Homer to Charles Mills.  The core curriculum is a three course 'history of political thought,' with break points in familiar places: Plato to Machiavelli; Hobbes to Nietzsche; "20th century."  American political thought is segmented off in its own course.  There is no true Intro course. You can find my existing syllabi here.

My 'New Coordinates in Political Theory' project is aimed at redesigning this curriculum, over the course of the next five years.  As the title suggests, the goal is to re-imagine the spatial and temporal coordinates of political theory, with the gamble that doing so will also reconfigure the problems we (students and instructor) theorize and the conceptual resources we bring to bear on those problems.

The project is inspired in part by the work referenced here, as well as more generally by work in Comparative Political Theory.  But while this project intersects with that of Comparative Political Theory (CPT), it isn't defined by it.  This is partly because I am interested in re-thinking what should count as basic training in the field (rather than the creation and legitimation of a subfield within the field); partly because I am at least as interested in non-canonical 'Western' voices (Christine de Pizan, for example); and partly because I share some of Andrew March's reservations about CPT itself.

The whole project is therefore intentionally experimental, and so I plan to blog about it here, and invite comment, suggestions, and criticism. I will post here as I build the syllabus, providing my initial (if inevitably ill-formed) thoughts, as well as some resources for exploring the authors discussed. I hope to continue this practice as I teach the 'ancient' course for the first time, with some discussion of what works, and what doesn't. The five year time horizon will allow me to teach the full revised sequence at least twice. You can comment publicly on the posts here, or reach me directly through the contact page.