Female Scribe

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“Anna! Anna!” called my ahu, brother, Shulgi, who was 9 years old. “Come inside now! Mother says it’s time to prepare supper. My mother, father, brother, our slave Manatum, and I lived in the Sumerian city-state of Kish. We were in the middle, common class, because my father was a scribe. He wrote down records and stories for the king. We lived in a nice, 3 room mud brick house twenty minutes away from the king’s house. Every day, we went to the Ziggurats, and prayed to the gods. We prayed to different gods, depending on what we needed, but we always prayed to Zababa, Kish’s special god who watched over us always.
“Anna! Come in!” he repeated. I sighed, as I ignored him. I continued to write my name, En-hedu-anna, in the dirt with my finger. It was the only thing I knew how to write, so I constantly wrote it. “Anna!” Shulgi whined. Mother says come in now! If you don’t you could get in trouble!” It was too late. My mother had come out of the house.

“En-hedu-anna,” she yelled, “how many times do I have to tell you that you must fulfill your role as a beleti! (lady) You are 12 years old now, and you have never cooked the food sacrifice for the gods by yourself! Now, come inside and make supper. She stormed inside, and I went to the river to collect water for the boiling.

After supper was on the table, my father, Amar-sin, arrived at home. “Is it ready?” he asked expectantly. I nodded, and we all sat down to eat. We prayed to the gods, and then we ate our meal. “It was a long day at the palace,” my father told Shulgi. “We had a new shipment of goods come in that I needed to record.” My father was a scribe and my brother went to school to become one later, although he didn’t care much for writing. “Oh Father,” I exclaimed, “I will be a scribe too!” I had finally summoned the courage to tell him my life-long dream. “I want to own property and make my own living! I will be a good scribe! I will work for the king and –“. He cut me off. “No,” he yelled, and banged his fist on the table. “Girls are not scribes. They are not smart enough.” I became angry and ran off to the riverbank.

I gasped for breath. I had run very fast to the woods near the Euphrates River. I was terribly angry at my father. His own son didn’t enjoy the trade, and here I was, ready to go to school, and he insulted me! I would stay here for awhile, and think of an idea. I returned home three days later, and by then, I had a plan.
Every day, I would follow my brother to school, and spy on the classes. I would learn to write and in a few years, prove to my dad that I could carry on the family trade. It would work – I knew it would! I was ready.

From then on, every morning I would wake up early, make breakfast for the family, and do my chores. Then, I’d tell my mother I was visiting my friend Enlilla, and sneak off. I’d slip on some of my brother’s clothing, and put my long, braided hair up in a hat, so I would blend in with the boys. I’d go to school, hiding – peeking through cracks in the wall. I did the same homework as the scholars, but did not turn it in. I practiced extra hard and was soon at the top of the class, whether they knew it or not.
This carried on for a year. I was as educated as my father. My mother approached me one day, and wanted to talk. Could she have found out? “En-hedu-anna,” she said sweetly and happily. “You have become a different person in a year. You do your chores and prepare meals like a gentlewoman.” She smiled at me. “You have learned much.” I laughed happily. She had no idea!

The next day, my father talked to me. I was ready to tell him that I was educated, and was ready to become a scribe. “En-hedu-anna,” he said, “you have matured. I am glad you got that silly idea of being a scribe out of your head.” It was time, I decided. I would tell my dad how I went to school, could read and write, and was ready to become a scribe. “Father, I proclaimed, “I have something to tell you.” “Yes?” I paused. This was my moment, so why was I so hesitant? “Um, thank you.” Oh, this whole scribe thing could never work out anyway, and besides – I had a better idea!


10 Years Later


“All right girls!” I said, at age 23. “Settle down! Now let’s practice writing again!” I was in the woods, with 6 girls, from ages 8 – 13, teaching them to read and write in secret. “And girls, I hope that by the time you have grown like me, you can become a scribe. Even if you can’t, you will always treasure the skill of the cuneiform.” The eager girls nodded, and started writing. I knew that even though I had not become a scribe, I had won.





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