Debate between Bird and Fish

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The Debate between Bird and Fish is a literature essay and disputation of the Sumerian language, on clay tablets from the mid to late 3rd millennium BCE. Some of the debates may be from 2100 BCE.


The lord of broad wisdom, Enki, the master of destinies, ... our judge and adjudicator.
  • Enki knit together the marshlands, making young and old reeds grow there; he made birds and fish teem in the pools and lagoons; ... he filled the reed-beds and marshes with Fish and Bird, indicated to them their positions and instructed them in their divine rules.
  • Father Enki be praised!


  • To strut about in the E-kur is a glory for Bird, as its singing is sweet. … It shall utter its cries in the temple of the great gods. The Anuna gods rejoice at its voice. It is suitable for banquets in the great dining hall of the gods.


  • How has your heart become so arrogant, while you yourself are so lowly? … In the great marshes and the wide lagoons, I am your persecuting demon. You cannot eat the sweet plants there, as my voice harasses you. You cannot travel with confidence in the river, as my storm-cloud covers you. … How do you not recognise my superiority from this? Bow your neck to the ground!
    • To Fish
  • Strutting about in the royal palace is my glory.
  • You utter fool! Dumb, muddle-headed Fish! … Swine, rascal, gorging yourself upon your own excrement, you freak!
    • To Fish
  • Fish, you kindled fire against me, you planted henbane. In your stupidity you caused devastation; you have spattered your hands with blood! Your arrogant heart will destroy itself by its own deeds!
  • I am of first-class seed, and my young are first-born young!
  • Lord of true speech, pay attention to my words!


  • Bird, you are shameless: you fill the courtyard with your droppings.
  • Your squawking is to no profit; what are you flapping about? With your ugly voice you frighten the night; no one can sleep soundly. Bird, get out of the marshes! Get this noise of yours off my back! Go out of here into a hole on the rubbish heap: that suits you!
  • I am Fish. I am responsibly charged with providing abundance for the pure shrines. For the great offerings at the lustrous E-kur, I stand proudly with head raised high!
  • Bird, whatever great deeds you may have achieved, I will teach you their pretentiousness. I shall hand back to you in your turn your haughtiness and mendacious speech.
  • Enki, our judge and adjudicator.

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