The ‘First’ Women of Ancient Times: Enheduanna (first author), Dibutades (first portraitist), Hypatia (first scholar)

Fareeha Arshad

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A sketch of Hypatia of AlexandriaOpen Clip Art

The history that we know today was made from women, by women, and because of women — nobody can deny that. History bears witness to the fact that most often, behind every hero in history, there was an equally brave mother or a super supportive wife. Instead of talking about such super-women from the past, we often dwell on the achievements of the men of our societies.

Regardless, history bears witness to the incredible feats of women throughout the past — as leaders and scientists. Let’s look at three such phenomenal women in history who aren’t given enough credits as they deserve.

1. The first author: Enheduanna of ancient Mesopotamia

Not only was Encheduanna a poetess, but she was also a capable priestess and an active politician in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria). The cuneiform script was the first form of writing developed in ancient Mesopotamia in 3100 BC. Among the various written works from that period, we hear about one of the first women writers in history: Encheduanna from 2300 B.C.

Born to the famous conqueror Sargon of Akkad, Enheduanna was given the title ‘En’ because of her status in society as the priestess of Ur. She composed some of her best poetry works and included hymns to the Mesopotamian gods and the sadness she faced in her life. Her best-known works include Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, all hymns to the goddess Inanna, who held high esteem in every walk of life among the local people.

2. The first portraitist: Dibutades of Sicyon

Also known as Core, Dibutades of Sicyon was arguably the world’s first portraitist who modelled clayey busts. The first time she dabbled into making a portrait was that of her lover, who had to leave her and go on a prolonged mission. She knew that his absence would deeply sadden her.

So, she drew a rough outline of his shadow using a piece of charcoal and promised herself to see him the sketch every time she would miss him. When his potter father saw the sketch, he marvelled at Dibutades’ work and proceeded to create a clay model inspired by the portrait. And that’s how the father-daughter duo became the first people to invent the art of portrait and clay modelling.

3. The first mathematician and philosopher: Hypatia of Alexandria

The Egyptian city of Alexandria was the world’s most vibrant intellectual city during ancient times. Learned intellectuals would come from all around the world to this place to learn from each other and share knowledge.

Among the many scholars from this land was Hypatia. Her father, Theon, was one of the last professors of Alexandria University. He passed down his love for mathematics and sciences to Hypatia, and she grew up to become an academician herself. She taught Neo-Platonism, science, philosophy, and mathematics at the University.

However, being a female scholar was highly unusual in the late fourth century. Regardless, she delivered public lectures in male attire — unafraid and intelligent as she was. Hypatia gave several mathematical treatises, formulated multiple astronomical models, and even commented on the work of other contemporary scholars.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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