Representations of the Poor in The Poor Man of Nippur and The Eloquent Peasant
Fisher, Daniel Shalom
Structurally and substantively, the two ancient Near Eastern folktales The Poor Man of Nippur and The Eloquent Peasant have a great deal in common. Both tales tell the stories of lower stratum protagonists whose livelihoods are confiscated unjustly by members of the upper strata of society. By comparing these two tales this project explores some of their common themes, with a view toward the role of poverty in the construction of their plots. Although Khunanup is less poor than Gimil-Ninurta, they are both far poorer than their antagonists, and their poverty establishes a context of need in which the tales play with social location to advance their plots. The relative poverty of the two protagonists raises the stakes in both tales and leaves them vulnerable to the abuse of members of the upper stratum. Although folktales often function to reinforce social norms and institutions—in the case of The Poor Man of Nippur and the Eloquent Peasant, social stratification and proper behavior—they need not conform to them. Accordingly, the unique contribution of the two tales among other ancient Near Eastern texts that talk about the poor is in the way that their storytellers represent lower strata characters, and as such the tales serve as indispensable artifacts of ancient life even if they cannot necessarily be relied upon as historical records.