The king plants a date-palm in his palace and fills up the space beside her with a tamarisk. Meals are enjoyed in the shade of the tamarisk, skilled men gather in the shade of the date-palm, the drum is beaten, men give praise, and the king rejoices in his palace. The two trees, brother and sister, are quite different; the tamarisk and the palm-tree compete with each other. They argue and quarrel together.The date palm stood for roughly half of southern Mesopotamia’s food intake during the Neo-Babylonian empire (grain the other half, more or less), with ill effects for dental health. Dates were a staple food, and destroying your enemies’ orchards was a common and heinous way to damage their agricultural economy (Greeks did the same with olive trees, which were sacred to them):
The tamarisk says: ‘I am much bigger!’
And the date-palm argues back, saying: ‘I am much better than you! You, O tamarisk, are a useless tree. What good are your branches? There’s no such thing as a tamarisk fruit! Now, my fruits grace the king’s table; the king himself eats them, and people say nice things about me. I make a surplus for the gardener, and he gives it to the queen; she, being a mother, nourishes her child upon the gifts of my strength, and the adults eat them too. My fruits are always in the presence of royalty.’
The tamarisk makes his voice heard; his speech is even more boastful. ‘My body is superior to yours! It’s much more beautiful than anything of yours. You are like a slave girl who fetches and carries daily needs for her mistress.’ He goes on to point out the king’s table, couch, and eating bowl are made from tamarisk wood, that the king’s clothes are made using tools of tamarisk wood; likewise the temples of the gods are full of objects made from tamarisk.
The date-palm counters by pointing out that her fruits are the central offering in the cult; once they have been taken from the tamarisk dish, the bowl is used to collect up the garbage.