The Debate between bird and fish is a literature essay of the Sumerian language, on clay tablets from the mid to late 3rd millennium BC. […]

The debate, in short summary

Fish speaks first

The initial speech of Fish:

“…Bird…there is no insult, ..! Croaking …noise in the marshes …squawking! Forever gobbling away greedily, while your heart is dripping with evil! Standing on the plain you can keep pecking away until they chase you off! The farmer’s sons lay lines and nets for you..(and continues)..You cause damage in the vegetable plots..(more)..Bird, you are shameless: you fill the courtyard with your droppings. The courtyard sweeper-boy who cleans the house chases after you…(etc)”

The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs continue:

“They bring you into the fattening shed. They let you moo like cattle, bleat like sheep. They pour out cool water in jugs for you. They drag you away for the daily sacrifice.” (the 2nd, 3rd paragraphs continue for several lines)

Bird’s initial retort

Bird replies:

“How has your heart become so arrogant, while you yourself are so lowly? Your mouth is flabby(?), but although your mouth goes all the way round, you can not see behind you. You are bereft of hips, as also of arms, hands and feet – try bending your neck to your feet! Your smell is awful; you make people throw-up; they sneer at you! ….”

Bird continues:

“But I am the beautiful and clever Bird! Fine artistry went into my adornment. But no skill has been expended on your holy shaping! Strutting about in the royal palace is my glory; my warbling is considered a decoration in the courtyard. The sound I produce, in all its sweetness, is a delight for the person of Culgi, son of Enlil….”

Šulgi rules in favor of Bird

After the initial speech and retort, Fish attacks Bird’s nest. Battle ensues between the two of them, in more words. Near the end Bird requests that Culgi decide in Bird’s favor:

Šulgi proclaims:

“To strut about in the E-kur is a glory for Bird, as its singing is sweet. At Enlil’s holy table, Bird …precedence over you …! “(lacuna)…Bird …Because Bird was victorious over Fish in the dispute between Fish and Bird, Father Enki be praised!”-(end of line 190, final line)

Wikipedia contributors, Debate between bird and fish

Seven major debates are known, with specific titles […]:

  • Debate between bird and fish
  • Debate between cattle and grain
  • Debate between the millstone and the gulgul-stone
  • Debate between the pickaxe and the plough
  • Debate between silver and mighty copper
  • Debate between Summer and Winter
  • Debate between tree and the reed

Wikipedia contributors, Sumerian disputations

Added to diary 05 April 2018