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The Disputation Between Summer and Winter (1.183)

(2,640 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary As far as we know, this altercation between the two most natural opposites imaginable, was the longest of all Sumerian disputations.1 But it is in a much worse state of preservation than the previous three pieces.2 Here also there is a mixture of generic features: the text starts with a long list of “destinies” or proprieties allotted to the contestants by the gods. It is obvious from the start that basically th…

The Disputation Between Bird and Fish (1.182)

(2,410 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This composition is remarkable not only because it stresses the importance of pleasant and beautiful things in life over dour seriousness,1 but also because of its peculiar format. It intentionally mixes the generic features of the disputation with those of a fable.2 Since fish is unable to win by force of argument, it attempts to do so by force tout court. Fish’s violent attack introduces an element of narrativity wh…

The Disputation Between Ewe and Wheat (1.180)

(2,014 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This composition is presently the most accessible of the group of poetic disputations, a genre which was very popular in the Old Babylonian scribal schools and, according to the texts themselves, also at the royal court. This piece is remarkable for three reasons: it starts with a very long “cosmogonical” introduction,1 it is apparently occasioned by a festival (a banquet at harvest time?), and it is a prime example of a consci…

The Disputation Between the Hoe and the Plow (1.181)

(2,075 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This piece is undoubtedly the finest example of the genre. It has long been recognized as one of the first poetic, if heavily rhetorical, statements of the case of the common man against the rich and mighty.1 But its most striking qualities are the sheer excellence of the argumentation (plow is deftly hoist with its own petard),2 the heavy satire on the pretenses of the mighty, the earthy but clever humor,3 and most of all the irreverent but hig…