Part 1 out of 2
[Translator uncredited. Footnotes have been retained because they
provide the meanings of Greek names, terms and ceremonies and explain
puns and references otherwise lost in translation. Occasional Greek
words in the footnotes have not been included. Footnote numbers,
in brackets, start anew at  for each piece of dialogue, and each
footnote follows immediately the dialogue to which it refers, labeled
'The Birds' differs markedly from all the other Comedies of
Aristophanes which have come down to us in subject and general
conception. It is just an extravaganza pure and simple--a
graceful, whimsical theme chosen expressly for the sake of the
opportunities it afforded of bright, amusing dialogue, pleasing
lyrical interludes, and charming displays of brilliant stage
effects and pretty dresses. Unlike other plays of the same Author,
there is here apparently no serious political MOTIF underlying
the surface burlesque and buffoonery.
Some critics, it is true, profess to find in it a reference to
the unfortunate Sicilian Expedition, then in progress, and a
prophecy of its failure and the political downfall of Alcibiades.
But as a matter of fact, the whole thing seems rather an attempt
on the dramatist's part to relieve the overwrought minds of his fellow-
citizens, anxious and discouraged at the unsatisfactory reports
from before Syracuse, by a work conceived in a lighter vein
than usual and mainly unconnected with contemporary realities.
The play was produced in the year 414 B.C., just when success or
failure in Sicily hung in the balance, though already the outlook
was gloomy, and many circumstances pointed to impending
disaster. Moreover, the public conscience was still shocked and
perturbed over the mysterious affair of the mutilation of the
Hermae, which had occurred immediately before the sailing
of the fleet, and strongly suspicious of Alcibiades' participation
in the outrage. In spite of the inherent charm of the subject,
the splendid outbursts of lyrical poetry in some of the choruses and
the beauty of the scenery and costumes, 'The Birds' failed to
win the first prize. This was acclaimed to a play of Aristophanes'
rival, Amipsias, the title of which, 'The Comastoe,' or 'Revellers,'
"seems to imply that the chief interest was derived from direct
allusions to the outrage above mentioned and to the individuals
suspected to have been engaged in it."
For this reason, which militated against its immediate success,
viz. the absence of direct allusion to contemporary politics--
there are, of course, incidental references here and there to
topics and personages of the day--the play appeals perhaps
more than any other of our Author's productions to the modern
reader. Sparkling wit, whimsical fancy, poetic charm, are of all
ages, and can be appreciated as readily by ourselves as by
an Athenian audience of two thousand years ago, though, of course,
much is inevitably lost "without the important adjuncts
of music, scenery, dresses and what we may call 'spectacle' generally,
which we know in this instance to have been on the most
The plot is this. Euelpides and Pisthetaerus, two old Athenians,
disgusted with the litigiousness, wrangling and sycophancy of
their countrymen, resolve upon quitting Attica. Having heard
of the fame of Epops (the hoopoe), sometime called Tereus,
and now King of the Birds, they determine, under the direction
of a raven and a jackdaw, to seek from him and his subject
birds a city free from all care and strife." Arrived at the Palace
of Epops, they knock, and Trochilus (the wren), in a state of
great flutter, as he mistakes them for fowlers, opens the door
and informs them that his Majesty is asleep. When he awakes,
the strangers appear before him, and after listening to a long
and eloquent harangue on the superior attractions of a residence
among the birds, they propose a notable scheme of their own
to further enhance its advantages and definitely secure the
sovereignty of the universe now exercised by the gods of Olympus.
The birds are summoned to meet in general council. They come
flying up from all quarters of the heavens, and after a brief mis-
understanding, during which they come near tearing the two
human envoys to pieces, they listen to the exposition of the latters'
plan. This is nothing less than the building of a new city,
to be called Nephelococcygia, or 'Cloud-cuckoo-town,' between
earth and heaven, to be garrisoned and guarded by the birds in
such a way as to intercept all communication of the gods with
their worshippers on earth. All steam of sacrifice will be prevented
from rising to Olympus, and the Immortals will very
soon be starved into an acceptance of any terms proposed.
The new Utopia is duly constructed, and the daring plan to secure
the sovereignty is in a fair way to succeed. Meantime various quacks
and charlatans, each with a special scheme for improving things,
arrive from earth, and are one after the other exposed and dismissed.
Presently arrives Prometheus, who informs Epops of the desperate straits
to which the gods are by this time reduced, and advises him to push
his claims and demand the hand of Basileia (Dominion), the handmaid
of Zeus. Next an embassy from the Olympians appears on the scene,
consisting of Heracles, Posidon and a god from the savage regions
of the Triballians. After some disputation, it is agreed
that all reasonable demands of the birds are to be granted, while
Pisthetaerus is to have Basileia as his bride. The comedy winds
up with the epithalamium in honour of the nuptials.
EPOPS (the Hoopoe)
TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops
METON, a Geometrician
A DEALER IN DECREES
CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard
SLAVES OF PISTHETAERUS
CHORUS OF BIRDS
SCENE: A wild, desolate tract of open country; broken rocks
and brushwood occupy the centre of the stage.
EUELPIDES (TO HIS JAY)
Do you think I should walk straight for yon tree?
f Euelpides is holding a jay and Pisthetaerus a crow; they are
the guides who are to lead them to the kingdom of the birds.
PISTHETAERUS (TO HIS CROW)
Cursed beast, what are you croaking to me?...to retrace my steps?
Why, you wretch, we are wandering at random, we are exerting
ourselves only to return to the same spot; 'tis labour lost.
To think that I should trust to this crow, which has made me cover
more than a thousand furlongs!
And that I to this jay, which has torn every nail from my fingers!
If only I knew where we were....
Could you find your country again from here?
No, I feel quite sure I could not, any more than could
Execestides find his.
f A stranger who wanted to pass as an Athenian, although coming
originally for a far-away barbarian country.
Oh dear! oh dear!
Aye, aye, my friend, 'tis indeed the road of "oh dears" we are
That Philocrates, the bird-seller, played us a scurvy trick,
when he pretended these two guides could help us to find Tereus,
the Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has
indeed sold us this jay, a true son of Tharelides, for
an obolus, and this crow for three, but what can they do? Why,
nothing whatever but bite and scratch! --What's the matter with you
then, that you keep opening your beak? Do you want us to fling
ourselves headlong down these rocks? There is no road that way.
f A king of Thrace, a son of Ares, who married Procne, the daughter
of Pandion, King of Athens, whom he had assisted against the Megarians.
He violated his sister-in-law, Philomela, and then cut out her
tongue; she nevertheless managed to convey to her sister how she had
been treated. They both agreed to kill Itys, whom Procne had borne
to Tereus, and dished up the limbs of his own son to the father;
at the end of the meal Philomela appeared and threw the child's head
upon the table. Tereus rushed with drawn sword upon the princesses,
but all the actors in this terrible scene were metamorph[o]sed. Tereus
became an Epops (hoopoe), Procne a swallow, Philomela a nightingale,
and Itys a goldfinch. According to Anacreon and Apollodorus it was
Procne who became the nightingale and Philomela the swallow, and this
is the version of the tradition followed by Aristophanes.
f An Athenian who had some resemblance to a jay--so says
the scholiast, at any rate.
Not even the vestige of a track in any direction.
And what does the crow say about the road to follow?
By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.
And which way does it tell us to go now?
It says that, by dint of gnawing, it will devour my fingers.
What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the birds,
do everything we can to that end, and we cannot find our way!
Yes, spectators, our madness is quite different from that of Sacas.
He is not a citizen, and would fain be one at any cost; we, on the
contrary, born of an honourable tribe and family and living in the midst
of our fellow-citizens, we have fled from our country as hard as ever
we could go. 'Tis not that we hate it; we recognize it to be great
and rich, likewise that everyone has the right to ruin himself; but
the crickets only chirrup among the fig-trees for a month or two,
whereas the Athenians spend their whole lives in chanting forth
judgments from their law-courts. That is why we started off
with a basket, a stew-pot and some myrtle boughs and have come
to seek a quiet country in which to settle. We are going to Tereus,
the Epops, to learn from him, whether, in his aerial flights,
he has noticed some town of this kind.
f Literally, 'to go to the crows,' a proverbial expression
equivalent to our 'going to the devil.'
f They leave Athens because of their hatred of lawsuits and informers;
this is the especial failing of the Athenians satirized in 'The Wasps.'
f Myrtle boughs were used in sacrifices, and the founding of every
colony was started by a sacrifice.
What's the matter?
Why, the crow has been pointing me to something up there for some
And the jay is also opening its beak and craning its neck to show
me I know not what. Clearly, there are some birds about here.
We shall soon know, if we kick up a noise to start them.
Do you know what to do? Knock your leg against this rock.
And you your head to double the noise.
Well then use a stone instead; take one and hammer with it.
Good idea! Ho there, within! Slave! slave!
What's that, friend! You say, "slave," to summon Epops! It would
be much better to shout, "Epops, Epops!"
Well then, Epops! Must I knock again? Epops!
Who's there? Who calls my master?
Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak!
f The actors wore masks made to resemble the birds they were supposed
Good god! they are bird-catchers.
The mere sight of him petrifies me with terror. What a horrible monster.
Woe to you!
But we are not men.
What are you, then?
I am the Fearling, an African bird.
You talk nonsense.
Well, then, just ask it of my feet.
f Fear had had disastrous effects upon Euelpides' internal
economy, and this his feet evidenced.
And this other one, what bird is it?
I? I am a Cackling, from the land of the pheasants.
f The same mishap had occurred to Pisthetaerus.
But you yourself, in the name of the gods! what animal are you?
Why, I am a slave-bird.
Why, have you been conquered by a cock?
No, but when my master was turned into a peewit, he begged me to
become a bird too, to follow and to serve him.
Does a bird need a servant, then?
'Tis no doubt because he was a man. At times he wants to eat a dish
of loach from Phalerum; I seize my dish and fly to fetch him some.
Again he wants some pea-soup; I seize a ladle and a pot and run
to get it.
This is, then, truly a running-bird. Come, Trochilus, do us the
kindness to call your master.
f The Greek word for a wren is derived from the same root as 'to run.'
Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries
and a few grubs.
Never mind; wake him up.
I an certain he will be angry. However, I will wake him to please
You cursed brute! why, I am almost dead with terror!
Oh! my god! 'twas sheer fear that made me lose my jay.
Ah! you great coward! were you so frightened that you let go your jay?
And did you not lose your crow, when you fell sprawling on the ground?
Pray tell me that.
Where is it, then?
It has flown away.
Then you did not let it go? Oh! you brave fellow!
Open the forest, that I may go out!
f No doubt there was some scenery to represent a forest. Besides,
there is a pun intended. The words answering for 'forests' and 'door'
in Greek only differ slightly in sound.
By Heracles! what a creature! what plumage! What means this triple crest?
Who wants me?
The twelve great gods have used you ill, meseems.
Are you chaffing me about my feathers? I have been a man, strangers.
'Tis not you we are jeering at.
At what, then?
Why, 'tis your beak that looks so odd to us.
This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once
f Sophocles had written a tragedy about Tereus, in which, no doubt,
the king finally appears as a hoopoe.
You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?
f [O]ne would expect the question to be "bird or man." --Are you
a peacock? The hoopoe resembles the peacock inasmuch as both have crests.
I am a bird.
Then where are your feathers? For I don't see them.
They have fallen off.
No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter,
and others grow in their place. But tell me, who are you?
We? We are mortals.
From what country?
From the land of the beautiful galleys.
Are you dicasts?
f The Athenians were madly addicted to lawsuits. (See 'The Wasps.')
No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.
Is that kind of seed sown among you?
f As much as to say, 'Then you have such things as anti-dicasts?'
And Euelpides practically replaces, 'Very few.'
You have to look hard to find even a little in our fields.
What brings you here?
We wish to pay you a visit.
Because you formerly were a man, like we are, formerly you had
debts, as we have, formerly you did not want to pay them, like
ourselves; furthermore, being turned into a bird, you have when flying
seen all lands and seas. Thus you have all human knowledge as well
as that of birds. And hence we have come to you to beg you to direct
us to some cosy town, in which one can repose as if on thick coverlets.
And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?
No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.
Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.
I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.
f His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded
a fleet sent in aid of Corcyra.
But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?
A place where the following would be the most important
business transacted. --Some friend would come knocking at the door
quite early in the morning saying, "By Olympian Zeus, be at my house
early, as soon as you have bathed, and bring your children too. I am
giving a nuptial feast, so don't fail, or else don't cross my threshold
when I am in distress."
Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships! And what say you?
My tastes are similar.
And they are?
I want a town where the father of a handsome lad will stop in the street
and say to me reproachfully as if I had failed him, "Ah! Is this well done,
Stilbonides! You met my son coming from the bath after the gymnasium
and you neither spoke to him, nor embraced him, nor took him with you,
nor ever once twitched his parts. Would anyone call you an old
friend of mine?"
Ah! wag, I see you are fond of suffering. But there is a city of
delights, such as you want. 'Tis on the Red Sea.
Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian
galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town
you can propose to us?
f The State galley, which carried the officials of the Athenian
republic to their several departments and brought back those whose time
had expired; it was this galley that was sent to Sicily to fetch back
Alcibiades, who was accused of sacrilege.
Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?
By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of
f A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course,
on the word Lepreum.
Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.
I would not be Opuntian for a talent. But come, what is it like
to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.
f An allusion to Opuntius, who was one-eyed.
Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.
That does away with much roguery.
For food the gardens yield us white sesame, myrtle-berries,
poppies and mint.
Why, 'tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.
f The newly-married ate a sesame-cake, decorated with garlands
of myrtle, poppies and mint.
Ha! I am beginning to see a great plan, which will transfer the
supreme power to the birds, if you will but take my advice.
Take your advice? In what way?
In what way? Well, firstly, do not fly in all directions with open
beak; it is not dignified. Among us, when we see a thoughtless man,
we ask, "What sort of bird is this?" and Teleas answers, "'Tis a man
who has no brain, a bird that has lost his head, a creature you cannot
catch, for it never remains in any one place."
By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?
Found a city.
We birds? But what sort of city should we build?
Oh, really, really! 'tis spoken like a fool! Look down.
I am looking.
Now look upwards.
I am looking.
Turn your head round.
Ah! 'twill be pleasant for me, if I end in twisting my neck!
What have you seen?
The clouds and the sky.
Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?
How their pole?
Or, if you like it, the land. And since it turns and passes through
the whole universe, it is called, 'pole.' If you build and
fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city.
In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers
and cause the gods to die of rabid hunger
f From [the word meaning] 'to turn.'
f The Greek words for 'pole' and 'city' only differ by
a single letter.
The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi,
we ask the Boeotians for leave of passage; in the same way, when men
sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise
the right of every nation towards strangers and don't allow
the smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory.
f Boeotia separated Attica from Phocis.
By earth! by snares! by network! I never heard of anything
more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going
to build the city along with you.
f He swears by the powers that are to him dreadful.
Who will explain the matter to them?
You must yourself. Before I came they were quite ignorant, but
since I have lived with them I have taught them to speak.
But how can they be gathered together?
Easily. I will hasten down to the coppice to waken my dear Procne!
as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing.
f As already stated, according to the legend accepted by Aristophanes,
it was Procne who was turned into the nightengale.
My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the coppice
and awaken Procne.
Chase off drowsy sleep, dear companion. Let the sacred hymn gush
from thy divine throat in melodious strains; roll forth in soft
cadence your refreshing melodies to bewail the fate of Itys, which
has been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise
through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of Zeus,
where Phoebus listens to you, Phoebus with his golden hair.
And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers
the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips rushes a sacred chant
of blessed voices. (THE FLUTE IS PLAYED BEHIND THE SCENE.)
f The son of Tereus and Procne.
Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has filled
the whole coppice with honey-sweet melody!
What's the matter?
Will you keep silence?
Epops is going to sing again.
EPOPS (IN THE COPPICE)
Epopoi poi popoi, epopoi, popoi, here, here, quick, quick, quick,
my comrades in the air; all you who pillage the fertile lands
of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and devour
the barley seeds, the swift flying race who sing so sweetly.
And you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields
with the little cry of tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio;
and you who hop about the branches of the ivy in the gardens;
the mountain birds, who feed on the wild olive berries or the arbutus,
hurry to come at my call, trioto, trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up
the sharp-stinging gnats in the marshy vales, and you who dwell
in the fine plain of Marathon, all damp with dew, and you, the francolin
with speckled wings; you too, the halcyons, who flit over the swelling
waves of the sea, come hither to hear the tidings; let all the tribes
of long-necked birds assemble here; know that a clever old man has come
to us, bringing an entirely new idea and proposing great reforms.
Let all come to the debate here, here, here, here. Torotorotorotorotix,
kikkobau, kikkobau, torotorotorotorolililix.
Can you see any bird?
By Phoebus, no! and yet I am straining my eyesight to scan the sky.
'Twas really not worth Epops' while to go and bury himself in the
thicket like a plover when a-hatching.
Hold, friend, here is another bird.
I' faith, yes, 'tis a bird, but of what kind? Isn't it a peacock?
Epops will tell us. What is this bird?
'Tis not one of those you are used to seeing; 'tis a bird from
Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson as flame.
Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.
f An African bird, that comes to the southern countries of Europe,
to Greece, Italy, and Spain; it is even seen in Provence.
Hi! I say! You!
What are you shouting for?
Why, here's another bird.
Aye, indeed; 'tis a foreign bird too. What is this bird from beyond
the mountains with a look as solemn as it is stupid?
He is called the Mede.
f Aristophanes amusingly mixes up real birds with people and
individuals, whom he represents in the form of birds; he is
personifying the Medians here.
The Mede! But, by Heracles, how, if a Mede, has he flown here
without a camel?
Here's another bird with a crest.
Ah! that's curious. I say, Epops, you are not the only one of your
This bird is the son of Philocles, who is the son of Epops; so
that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say,
Hipponicus, the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.
f Philocles, a tragic poet, had written a tragedy on Tereus,
which was simply a plagiarism of the play of the same name
by Sophocles. Philocles is the son of Epops, because he got his
inspiration from Sophocles' Tereus, and at the same time is father
to Epops, since he himself produced another Tereus.
f This Hipponicus is probably the orator whose ears Alcibiades
boxed to gain a bet; he was a descendant of Callias, who was famous
for his hatred of Pisistratus.
Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he
f This Callias, who must not be confounded with the foe
of Pisistratus, had ruined himself.
That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the
women too pluck out his feathers.
By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his name?
This one? 'Tis the glutton.
Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he is
Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest? But what is the meaning
of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double
f Cleonymus had cast away his shield; he was as great a glutton
as he was a coward.
f A race in which the track had to be circled twice.
They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their
mountains for greater safety.
f A people of Asia Minor; when pursued by the Ionians they took
refuge in the mountains.
Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering here?
By Phoebus! what a cloud! The entrance to the stage is no longer
visible, so closely do they fly together.
Here is the partridge.
Faith! there is the francolin.
There is the poachard.
Here is the kingfisher. And over yonder?
'Tis the barber.
What? a bird a barber?
Why, Sporgilus is one. Here comes the owl.
f An Athenian barber.
And who is it brings an owl to Athens?
f The owl was dedicated to Athene, and being respected at Athens,
it had greatly multiplied. Hence the proverb, 'taking owls to Athens,'
similar to our English 'taking coals to Newcastle.'
Here is the magpie, the turtle-dove, the swallow, the horned owl,
the buzzard, the pigeon, the falcon, the ring-dove, the cuckoo,
the red-foot, the red-cap, the purple-cap, the kestrel, the diver,
the ousel, the osprey, the woodpecker.
Oh! oh! what a lot of birds! what a quantity of blackbirds!
how they scold, how they come rushing up! What a noise! what a
noise! Can they be bearing us ill-will? Oh! there! there! they are
opening their beaks and staring at us.
Why, so they are.
Popopopopopopopoi. Where is he who called me? Where am I to find him?
I have been waiting for you this long while! I never fail in my
word to my friends.
Titititititititi. What good thing have you to tell me?
Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as
pleasant as it is to the purpose. Two men, who are subtle reasoners,
have come here to seek me.
Where? What? What are you saying?
I say, two old men have come from the abode of men to propose a
vast and splendid scheme to us.
Oh! 'tis a horrible, unheard-of crime! What are you saying?
Nay! never let my words scare you.
What have you done then?
I have welcomed two men, who wish to live with us.
And you have dared to do that!
Aye, and am delighted at having done so.
Where are they?
In your midst, as I am.
Ah! ah! we are betrayed; 'tis sacrilege! Our friend, he who picked
up corn-seeds in the same plains as ourselves, has violated our
ancient laws; he has broken the oaths that bind all birds; he has laid
a snare for me, he has handed us over to the attacks of that impious
race which, throughout all time, has never ceased to war against us.
As for this traitorous bird, we will decide his case later, but
the two old men shall be punished forthwith; we are going to tear them
'Tis all over with us.
You are the sole cause of all our trouble. Why did you bring me
from down yonder?
To have you with me.
Say rather to have me melt into tears.
Go to! you are talking nonsense.
How will you be able to cry when once your eyes are pecked out?
Io! io! forward to the attack, throw yourselves upon the foe,
spill his blood; take to your wings and surround them on all sides.
Woe to them! let us get to work with our beaks, let us devour them.
Nothing can save them from our wrath, neither the mountain forests,
nor the clouds that float in the sky, nor the foaming deep.
Come, peck, tear to ribbons. Where is the chief of the cohort? Let
him engage the right wing.
This is the fatal moment. Where shall I fly to, unfortunate wretch
that I am?
Stay! stop here!
That they may tear me to pieces?
And how do you think to escape them?
I don't know at all.
Come, I will tell you. We must stop and fight them. Let us arm
ourselves with these stew-pots.
Why with the stew-pots?
The owl will not attack us.
f An allusion to the Feast of Pots; it was kept at Athens
on the third day of the Anthesteria, when all sorts of vegetables
were stewed together and offered for the dead to Bacchus and Athene.
This Feast was peculiar to Athens. --Hence Pisthetaerus thinks that
the owl will recognize they are Athenians by seeing the stew-pots,
and as he is an Athenian bird, he will not attack them.
But do you see all those hooked claws?
Seize the spit and pierce the foe on your side.
And how about my eyes?
Protect them with this dish or this vinegar-pot.
Oh! what cleverness! what inventive genius! You are a great general,
even greater than Nicias, where stratagem is concerned.
f Nicias, the famous Athenian general. --The siege of Melos in 417
B.C., or two years previous to the production of 'The Birds,' had
especially done him great credit. He was joint commander of the Sicilian
Forward, forward, charge with your beaks! Come, no delay. Tear,
pluck, strike, flay them, and first of all smash the stew-pot.
Oh, most cruel of all animals, why tear these two men to pieces,
why kill them? What have they done to you? They belong to the same
tribe, to the same family as my wife.
f Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens.
Are wolves to be spared? Are they not our most mortal foes? So let
us punish them.
If they are your foes by nature, they are your friends in heart,
and they come here to give you useful advice.
Advice or a useful word from their lips, from them, the enemies of
The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution
is the mother of safety. 'Tis just such a thing as one will not learn
from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with,
'tis the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high
walls, to equip long vessels of war; and 'tis this knowledge that
protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.
Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for 'tis best;
one can even learn something in an enemy's school.
Their wrath seems to cool. Draw back a little.
'Tis only justice, and you will thank me later.
Never have we opposed your advice up to now.
They are in a more peaceful mood; put down your stew-pot and
your two dishes; spit in hand, doing duty for a spear, let us mount
guard inside the camp close to the pot and watch in our arsenal
closely; for we must not fly.
You are right. But where shall we be buried, if we die?
In the Ceramicus; for, to get a public funeral, we shall tell
the Strategi that we fell at Orneae, fighting the country's foes.
f A space beyond the walls of Athens which contained the gardens
of the Academy and the graves of citizens who had died for their country.
f A town in Western Argolis, where the Athenians had been recently
defeated. The somewhat similar work in Greek signifies 'birds.'
Return to your ranks and lay down your courage beside your wrath
as the Hoplites do. Then let us ask these men who they are, whence
they come, and with what intent. Here, Epops, answer me.
Are you calling me? What do you want of me?
Who are they? From what country?
Strangers, who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.
And what fate has led them hither to the land of the birds?
Their love for you and their wish to share your kind of life;
to dwell and remain with you always.
Indeed, and what are their plans?
They are wonderful, incredible, unheard of.
Why, do they think to see some advantage that determines them to
settle here? Are they hoping with our help to triumph over their
foes or to be useful to their friends?
They speak of benefits so great it is impossible either to describe
or conceive them; all shall be yours, all that we see here, there,
above and below us; this they vouch for.
Are they mad?
They are the sanest people in the world.
The slyest of foxes, cleverness its very self, men of the world,
cunning, the cream of knowing folk.
Tell them to speak and speak quickly; why, as I listen to you,
I am beside myself with delight.
Here, you there, take all these weapons and hang them up inside
close to the fire, near the figure of the god who presides there and
under his protection; as for you, address the birds, tell them why
I have gathered them together.
f Epops is addressing the two slaves, no doubt Xanthias and Manes,
who are mentioned later on.
Not I, by Apollo, unless they agree with me as the little ape of
an armourer agreed with his wife, not to bite me, nor pull me by the
parts, nor shove things up my...
You mean the...(PUTS FINGER TO BOTTOM) Oh! be quite at ease.
No, I mean my eyes.
I swear it and, if I keep my promise, let judges and spectators
give me the victory unanimously.
It is a bargain.
And if I break my word, may I succeed by one vote only.
Hearken, ye people! Hoplites, pick up your weapons and return to
your firesides; do not fail to read the decrees of dismissal we have
Man is a truly cunning creature, but nevertheless explain. Perhaps
you are going to show me some good way to extend my power, some way
that I have not had the wit to find out and which you have discovered.
Speak! 'tis to your own interest as well as to mine, for if you secure
me some advantage, I will surely share it with you. But what object
can have induced you to come among us? Speak boldly, for I shall not
the truce, --until you have told us all.
I am bursting with desire to speak; I have already mixed the dough
of my address and nothing prevents me from kneading it.... Slave! bring
the chaplet and water, which you must pour over my hands. Be quick!
f It was customary, when speaking in public and also at feasts,
to wear a chaplet; hence the question Euelpides puts. --The guests wore
chaplets of flowers, herbs, and leaves, which had the property of being
Is it a question of feasting? What does it all mean?
By Zeus, no! but I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break down
the hardness of their hearts. --I grieve so much for you, who
at one time were kings...
We kings! Over whom?
...of all that exists, firstly of me and of this man, even of Zeus
himself. Your race is older than Saturn, the Titans and the Earth.
What, older than the Earth!
By Phoebus, yes.
By Zeus, but I never knew that before!
'Tis because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never read
your Aesop. 'Tis he who tells us that the lark was born
before all other creatures, indeed before the Earth; his father died
of sickness, but the Earth did not exist then; he remained unburied
for five days, when the bird in its dilemma decided, for want of
a better place, to entomb its father in its own head.
So that the lark's father is buried at Cephalae.
f A deme of Attica. In Greek the word also means 'heads,'
and hence the pun.
Hence, if we existed before the Earth, before the gods,
the kingship belongs to us by right of priority.
Undoubtedly, but sharpen your beak well; Zeus won't be in a hurry
to hand over his sceptre to the woodpecker.
It was not the gods, but the birds, who were formerly the masters
and kings over men; of this I have a thousand proofs. First of all,
I will point you to the cock, who governed the Persians before
all other monarchs, before Darius and Megabyzus. 'Tis in memory
of his reign that he is called the Persian bird.
f One of Darius' best generals. After his expedition against
the Scythians, this prince gave him the command of the army which he
left in Europe. Megabyzus took Perinthos (afterwards called Heraclea)
and conquered Thrace.
For this reason also, even to-day, he alone of all the birds wears
his tiara straight on his head, like the Great King.
f All Persians wore the tiara, but always on one side; the Great King
alone wore it straight on his head.
He was so strong, so great, so feared, that even now, on account
of his ancient power, everyone jumps out of bed as soon as ever he
crows at daybreak. Blacksmiths, potters, tanners, shoemakers, bathmen,
corn-dealers, lyre-makers and armourers, all put on their shoes and
go to work before it is daylight.
I can tell you something about that. 'Twas the cock's fault
that I lost a splendid tunic of Phrygian wool. I was at a feast
in town, given to celebrate the birth of a child; I had drunk pretty
freely and had just fallen asleep, when a cock, I suppose in a greater
hurry than the rest, began to crow. I thought it was dawn and set
out for Alimos. I had hardly got beyond the walls, when a footpad
struck me in the back with his bludgeon; down I went and wanted
to shout, but he had already made off with my mantle.
f Noted as the birthplace of Thucydides, a deme of Attica of
the tribe of Leontis. Demosthenes tells us it was thirty-five stadia
Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.
And when he was king, 'twas he who first taught them to fall
on their knees before the kites.
f The appearance of the kite in Greece betokened the return of
springtime; it was therefore worshipped as a symbol of that season.
By Zeus! 'tis what I did myself one day on seeing a kite; but
at the moment I was on my knees, and leaning backwards with mouth
agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my bag home empty.
f To look at the kite, who no doubt was flying high in the sky.
f As already shown, the Athenians were addicted to carrying small
coins in their mouths. --This obolus was for the purpose of buying flour
to fill the bag he was carrying
The cuckoo was king of Egypt and of the whole of Phoenicia. When
he called out "cuckoo," all the Phoenicians hurried to the fields to
reap their wheat and their barley.
f In Phoenicia and Egypt the cuckoo makes its appearance about
Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields,
f This was an Egyptian proverb, meaning, 'When the cuckoo sings we
go harvesting.' Both the Phoenicians and the Egyptians practised
So powerful were the birds that the kings of Grecian cities,
Agamemnon, Menelaus, for instance, carried a bird on the tip of
their sceptres, who had his share of all presents.
f The staff, called a sceptre, generally terminated in a piece
of carved work, representing a flower, a fruit, and most often a bird.
That I didn't know and was much astonished when I saw Priam come
upon the stage in the tragedies with a bird, which kept watching
Lysicrates to see if he got any present.
f A general accused of treachery. The bird watches Lysicrates,
because, according to Pisthetaerus, he had a right to a share
of the presents.
But the strongest proof of all is, that Zeus, who now reigns, is
represented as standing with an eagle on his head as a symbol of his
royalty; his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, as his servant, has a
f It is thus that Phidias represents his Olympian Zeus.
By Demeter, 'tis well spoken. But what are all these birds doing
When anyone sacrifices and, according to the rite, offers the entrails
to the gods, these birds take their share before Zeus. Formerly men always
swore by the birds and never by the gods; even now Lampon swears
by the goose,
when he wants to lie....Thus 'tis clear that you were great and
sacred, but now you
are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Helots; stones are thrown
at you as at raving madmen, even in holy places. A crowd of
bird-catchers sets snares, traps, limed-twigs and nets of all sorts
for you; you are caught, you are sold in heaps and the buyers finger
you over to be certain you are fat. Again, if they would but serve you
up simply roasted; but they rasp cheese into a mixture of oil, vinegar
and laserwort, to which another sweet and greasy sauce is added,
and the whole is poured scalding hot over your back, for all the world
as if you were diseased meat.
f One of the diviners sent to Sybaris (in Magna Graecia, S. Italy)
with the Athenian colonists, who rebuilt the town under the new name
Man, your words have made my heart bleed; I have groaned over
the treachery of our fathers, who knew not how to transmit to us the
high rank they held from their forefathers. But 'tis a benevolent
Genius, a happy Fate, that sends you to us; you shall be our deliverer
and I place the destiny of my little ones and my own in your hands
with every confidence. But hasten to tell me what must be done;
we should not be worthy to live, if we did not seek to regain
our royalty by every possible means.
First I advise that the birds gather together in one city and that
they build a wall of great bricks, like that at Babylon, round the
plains of the air and the whole region of space that divides earth
Oh, Cebriones! oh, Porphyrion! what a terribly strong place!
f As if he were saying, "Oh, gods!" Like Lampon, he swears by the birds,
instead of swearing by the gods. --The names of these birds are those of two
of the Titans.
Th[en], this being well done and completed, you demand
back the empire from Zeus; if he will not agree, if he refuses and
does not at once confess himself beaten, you declare a sacred war
against him and forbid the gods henceforward to pass through your
country with lust, as hitherto, for the purpose of fondling
their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles! if they try to pass
through, you infibulate them with rings so that they can work no
longer. You send another messenger to mankind, who will proclaim to
them that the birds are kings, that for the future they must first
of all sacrifice to them, and only afterwards to the gods; that it
is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird that has most in common
with it. For instance, are they sacrificing to Aphrodite, let them
at the same time offer barley to the coot; are they immolating a sheep
to Posidon, let them consecrate wheat in honour of the duck; is a
steer being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to
the gull; is a goat being slain for King Zeus, there is a
King-Bird, the wren, to whom the sacrifice of a male gnat is due
before Zeus himself even.
f Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, King of Thebes and mother
of Heracles. --Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Hermione and mother
of Bacchus; both seduced by Zeus. --Alope, daughter of Cercyon,
a robber, who reigned at Eleusis and was conquered by Perseus. Alope
was honoured with Posidon's caresses; by him she had a son named
Hippothous, at first brought up by shepherds but who afterwards
was restored to the throne of his grandfather by Theseus.
f Because water is the duck's domain, as it is that of Posidon.
f Because the gull, like Heracles, is voracious.
f The Germans still call it 'Zaunkonig' and the French 'roitelet,'
both names thus containing the idea of 'king.'
This notion of an immolated gnat delights me! And now let the great
But how will mankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who
have wings and fly?
You talk rubbish! Hermes is a god and has wings and flies, and
so do many other gods. First of all, Victory flies with golden
wings, Eros is undoubtedly winged too, and Iris is compared by Homer
to a timorous dove. If men in their blindness do not recognize you
as gods and continue to worship the dwellers in Olympus, then a cloud
of sparrows greedy for corn must descend upon their fields and eat up
all their seeds; we shall see then if Demeter will mete them out
f The scholiast draws our attention to the fact that Homer says this
of Here and not of Iris (Iliad, V, 778); it is only another proof that
the text of Homer has reached us in a corrupted form, or it may be that
Aristophanes was liable, like other people, to occasional mistakes of
By Zeus, she'll take good care she does not, and you will see
her inventing a thousand excuses.
The crows too will prove your divinity to them by pecking out
the eyes of their flocks and of their draught-oxen; and then let
Apollo cure them, since he is a physician and is paid for
f In sacrifices.
Oh! don't do that! Wait first until I have sold my two young bullocks.
If on the other hand they recognize that you are God, the principle
of life, that you are Earth, Saturn, Posidon, they shall be loaded
Name me one of these then.
Firstly, the locusts shall not eat up their vine-blossoms; a legion
of owls and kestrels will devour them. Moreover, the gnats
and the gall-bugs shall no longer ravage the figs; a flock
of thrushes shall swallow the whole host down to the very last.
And how shall we give wealth to mankind? This is their strongest
When they consult the omens, you will point them to the richest
mines, you will reveal the paying ventures to the diviner, and not
another shipwreck will happen or sailor perish.
No more shall perish? How is that?
When the auguries are examined before starting on a voyage, some
bird will not fail to say, "Don't start! there will be a storm,"
or else, "Go! you will make a most profitable venture."
I shall buy a trading-vessel and go to sea, I will not stay with
You will discover treasures to them, which were buried in former
times, for you know them. Do not all men say, "None knows where my
treasure lies, unless perchance it be some bird."
f An Athenian proverb.
I shall sell my boat and buy a spade to unearth the vessels.
And how are we to give them health, which belongs to the gods?
If they are happy, is not that the chief thing towards health?
The miserable man is never well.
Old Age also dwells in Olympus. How will they get at it? Must they
die in early youth?
Why, the birds, by Zeus, will add three hundred years to their life.
From whom will they take them?
From whom? Why, from themselves. Don't you know the cawing crow
lives five times as long as a man?
Ah! ah! these are far better kings for us than Zeus!
Far better, are they not? And firstly, we shall not have to build
them temples of hewn stone, closed with gates of gold; they will
dwell amongst the bushes and in the thickets of green oak; the most
venerated of birds will have no other temple than the foliage of the
olive tree; we shall not go to Delphi or to Ammon to sacrifice; but
standing erect in the midst of arbutus and wild olives and holding
forth our hands filled with wheat and barley, we shall pray them
to admit us to a share of the blessings they enjoy and shall at once
obtain them for a few grains of wheat.
f A celebrated temple to Zeus in an oasis of Libya.
Old man, whom I detested, you are now to me the dearest of all;
never shall I, if I can help it, fail to follow your advice.
Inspirited by your words, I threaten my rivals the gods, and I
swear that if you march in alliance with me against the gods and are
faithful to our just, loyal and sacred bond, we shall soon have
shattered their sceptre. 'Tis our part to undertake the toil,
'tis yours to advise.
By Zeus! 'tis no longer the time to delay and loiter like
Nicias; let us act as promptly as possible.... In the first place,
come, enter my nest built of brushwood and blades of straw, and tell
me your names.
f Nicias was commander, along with Demosthenes, and later on
Alcibiades, of the Athenian forces before Syracuse, in the ill-fated
Sicilian Expedition, 415-413 B.C. He was much blamed for dilatoriness
That is soon done; my name is Pisthetaerus.
Euelpides, of the deme of Thria.
Good! and good luck to you.
We accept the omen.
Come in here.
Very well, 'tis you who lead us and must introduce us.
Oh! my god! do come back here. Hi! tell us how we are to follow
you. You can fly, but we cannot.
Remember Aesop's fables. It is told there, that the fox fared
very ill, because he had made an alliance with the eagle.
Be at ease. You shall eat a certain root and wings will grow on
Then let us enter. Xanthias and Manes, pick up our baggage.
f Servants of Pisthetaerus and Euelpides.
Hi! Epops! do you hear me?
What's the matter?
Take them off to dine well and call your mate, the melodious
Procne, whose songs are worthy of the Muses; she will delight our
Oh! I conjure you, accede to their wish; for this delightful
bird will leave her rushes at the sound of your voice; for the sake of
the gods, let her come here, so that we may contemplate the
f It has already been mentioned that, according to the legend followed
by Aristophanes, Procne had been changed into a nightingale and Philomela
into a swallow.
Let is be as you desire. Come forth, Procne, show yourself to these strangers.
Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty
form! what brilliant plumage!
f The actor, representing Procne, was dressed out as a courtesan, but wore
a mask of a bird.
Do you know how dearly I should like to splint her legs for her?
She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl.
f Young unmarried girls wore golden ornaments; the apparel of married women
was much simpler.
Oh! how I should like to kiss her!
Why, wretched man, she has two little sharp points on her beak!
I would treat her like an egg, the shell of which we remove before
eating it; I would take off her mask and then kiss her pretty face.
Let us go in.
Lead the way, and may success attend us.
Lovable golden bird, whom I cherish above all others, you, whom
I associate with all my songs, nightingale, you have come, you have
come, to show yourself to me and to charm me with your notes. Come,
you, who play spring melodies upon the harmonious flute, lead off
Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail
as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but
darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream, hearken
to us, who are immortal beings, ethereal, ever young and occupied
with eternal thoughts, for we shall teach you about all celestial
matters; you shall know thoroughly what is the nature of the birds,
what the origin of the gods, of the rivers, of Erebus, and Chaos;
thanks to us, even Prodicus will envy you your knowledge.
At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus,
and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence.
Firstly, black-winged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom
of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution
of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings,
swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus
with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race,
which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not
exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world,
and from their marriage Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race
of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin is very much
older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We are the offspring
of Eros; there are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we
lend assistance to lovers. How many handsome youths, who had sworn
to remain insensible, have not been vanquished by our power
and have yielded themselves to their lovers when almost at the end
of their youth, being led away by the gift of a quail, a waterfowl,
a goose, or a cock.
And what important services do not the birds render to mortals!
First of all, they mark the seasons for them, springtime, winter,
and autumn. Does the screaming crane migrate to Libya, --it warns
the husbandman to sow, the pilot to take his ease beside his tiller hung
up in his dwelling, and Orestes to weave a tunic, so that the
may not drive him any more to strip other folk. When the kite
reappears, he tells
of the return of spring and of the period when the fleece of the sheep
must be clipped. Is the swallow in sight? All hasten to sell their warm tunic
and to buy some light clothing. We are your Ammon, Delphi, Dodona,
Apollo. Before undertaking anything, whether a business transaction,
a marriage, or the purchase of food, you consult the birds by reading
the omens, and you give this name of omen to all signs that tell
of the future. With you a word is an omen, you call a sneeze an omen,
a meeting an omen, an unknown sound an omen, a slave or an ass
an omen. Is it not clear that we are a prophetic Apollo to you?
If you recognize us as gods, we shall be your divining Muses,
through us you will know the winds and the seasons, summer, winter,
and the temperate months. We shall not withdraw ourselves
to the highest clouds like Zeus, but shall be among you and shall give
to you and to your children and the children of your children, health
and wealth, long life, peace, youth, laughter, songs and feasts;
in short, you will all be so well off, that you will be weary and
satiated with enjoyment.
Oh, rustic Muse of such varied note, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, I sing
with you in the groves and on the mountain tops, tio, tio, tio, tio,
tiotinx. I poured forth sacred strains from my golden throat
in honour of the god Pan, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, from the top
of the thickly leaved ash, and my voice mingles with the mighty choirs
who extol Cybele on the mountain tops, tototototototototinx.
'Tis to our concerts that Phrynichus comes to pillage like a bee
the ambrosia of his songs, the sweetness of which so charms the ear,
tio, tio, tio, tio, tinx.
If there be one of you spectators who wishes to spend the rest
of his life quietly among the birds, let him come to us. All that
is disgraceful and forbidden by law on earth is on the contrary
honourable among us, the birds. For instance, among you 'tis a crime
to beat your father, but with us 'tis an estimable deed; it's
considered fine to run straight at your father and hit him, saying,
"Come, lift your spur if you want to fight." The runaway slave,
whom you brand, is only a spotted francolin with us. Are you
Phrygian like Spintharus? Among us you would be the Phrygian bird,
the goldfinch, of the race of Philemon. Are you a slave and
a Carian like Execestides? Among us you can create yourself
fore-fathers; you can always find relations. Does the son of Pisias
want to betray the gates of the city to the foe? Let him become
a partridge, the fitting offspring of his father; among us there is
no shame in escaping as cleverly as a partridge.
So the swans on the banks of the Hebrus, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx,
mingle their voices to serenade Apollo, tio, tio, tio, tio. tiotinx,
flapping their wings the while, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx; their notes
reach beyond the clouds of heaven; all the dwellers in the forest stand
still with astonishment and delight; a calm rests upon the waters,
and the Graces and the choirs in Olympus catch up the strain, tio, tio,
tio, tio, tiotinx.
There is nothing more useful nor more pleasant than to have wings.
To begin with, just let us suppose a spectator to be dying with hunger
and to be weary of the choruses of the tragic poets; if he were
winged, he would fly off, go home to dine and come back with his
stomach filled. Some Patroclides in urgent need would not have to
soil his cloak, but could fly off, satisfy his requirements, and,
having recovered his breath, return. If one of you, it matters not who,
had adulterous relations and saw the husband of his mistress
in the seats of the senators, he might stretch his wings, fly thither,
and, having appeased his craving, resume his place. Is it not
the most priceless gift of all, to be winged? Look at Diitrephes!
His wings were only wicker-work ones, and yet he got himself chosen
Phylarch and then Hipparch; from being nobody, he has risen
to be famous; 'tis now the finest gilded cock of his tribe.
f The actor, representing Procne, was a flute-player.
f The parabasis.
f A sophist of the island of Ceos, a disciple of Protagoras,
as celebrated for his knowledge as for his eloquence. The Athenians
condemned him to death as a corrupter of youth in 396 B.C.
f Lovers were wont to make each other presents of birds. The cock
and the goose are mentioned, of course, in jest.
f i.e. that it gave notice of the approach of winter, during which
season the Ancients did not venture to sea.
f A notorious robber.
f Meaning, "We are your oracles." --Dodona was an oracle in Epirus.
--The temple of Zeus there was surrounded by a dense forest, all
the trees of which were endowed with the gift of prophecy; both
the sacred oaks and the pigeons that lived in them answered
the questions of those who came to consult the oracle in pure Greek.
f The Greek word for 'omen' is the same as that for 'bird.'
f A satire on the passion of the Greeks for seeing an omen
f An imitation of the nightingale's song.
f God of the groves and wilds.
f The 'Mother of the Gods'; roaming the mountains, she held dances,
always attended by Pan and his accompanying rout of Fauns and Satyrs.
f An allusion to cock-fighting; the birds are armed with brazen spurs.
f An allusion to the spots on this bird, which resemble the scars
left by a branding iron.
f He was of Asiatic origin, but wished to pass for an Athenian.
f Or Philamnon, King of Thrace; the scholiast remarks that
the Phrygians and the Thracians had a common origin.
f The Greek word here is also the name of a little bird.
f A basket-maker who had become rich. --The Phylarchs were the
headmen of the tribes. They presided at the private assemblies
and were charged with the management of the treasury. --The Hipparchs,
as the name implies, were the leaders of the cavalry; there were
only two of these in the Athenian army.
f He had become a senator.
Halloa! What's this? By Zeus! I never saw anything so funny in all
f Pisthetaerus and Euelpides now both return with wings.
What makes you laugh?
'Tis your bits of wings. D'you know what you look like? Like a goose
painted by some dauber-fellow.
And you look like a close-shaven blackbird.
'Tis ourselves asked for this transformation, and, as Aeschylus
has it, "These are no borrowed feathers, but truly our own."
f Meaning, 'tis we who wanted to have these wings. --The verse
from Aeschylus, quoted here, is taken from 'The Myrmidons,' a tragedy
of which only a few fragments remain.
Come now, what must be done?
First give our city a great and famous name, then sacrifice to the gods.
I think so too.
Let's see. What shall our city be called?
Will you have a high-sounding Laconian name? Shall we call it Sparta?
What! call my town Sparta? Why, I would not use esparto for my
bed, even though I had nothing but bands of rushes.
f The Greek word signified the city of Sparta, and also a kind
of broom used for weaving rough matting, which served for the beds
of the very poor.
Well then, what name can you suggest?
Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions
in which we dwell--in short, some well-known name.
Do you like Nephelococcygia?
f A fanciful name constructed from [the word for] a cloud, and
[the word for] a cuckoo; thus a city of clouds and cuckoos.
--'Wolkenkukelheim' is a clever approximation in German.
Cloud-cuckoo-town, perhaps, is the best English equivalent.
Oh! capital! truly 'tis a brilliant thought!
Is it in Nephelococcygia that all the wealth of Theovenes and most
of Aeschines' is?
f He was a boaster nicknamed 'smoke,' because he promised
a great deal and never kept his word.
f Also mentioned in 'The Wasps.'
No, 'tis rather the plain of Phlegra, where the gods withered
the pride of the sons of the Earth with their shafts.
f Because the war of the Titans against the gods was only a fiction
of the poets.
Oh! what a splendid city! But what god shall be its patron?
for whom shall we weave the peplus?
f A sacred cloth, with which the statue of Athene in the Acropolis
Why not choose Athene Polias?
f Meaning, to be patron-goddess of the city. Athene had a temple
of this name.
Oh! what a well-ordered town 'twould be to have a female deity
armed from head to foot, while Clisthenes was spinning!
f An Athenian effeminate, frequently ridiculed by Aristophanes.
Who then shall guard the Pelargicon?
f This was the name of the wall surrounding the Acropolis.
One of us, a bird of Persian strain, who is everywhere proclaimed to be
the bravest of all, a true chick of Ares.
f i.e. the fighting cock.
Oh! noble chick! What a well-chosen god for a rocky home!
Come! into the air with you to help the workers who are building
the wall; carry up rubble, strip yourself to mix the mortar, take up
the hod, tumble down the ladder, an you like, post sentinels, keep
the fire smouldering beneath the ashes, go round the walls, bell
in hand, and go to sleep up there yourself; then d[i]spatch two
heralds, one to the gods above, the other to mankind on earth
and come back here.
f To waken the sentinels, who might else have fallen asleep.
--There are several merry contradictions in the various parts
of this list of injunctions.
As for yourself, remain here, and may the plague take you for
a troublesome fellow!
Go, friend, go where I send you, for without you my orders
cannot be obeyed. For myself, I want to sacrifice to the new god,
and I am going to summon the priest who must preside at the ceremony.
Slaves! slaves! bring forward the basket and the lustral water.
I do as you do, and I wish as you wish, and I implore you to
address powerful and solemn prayers to the gods, and in addition to
immolate a sheep as a token of our gratitude. Let us sing the
Pythian chant in honour of the god, and let Chaeris accompany our
PISTHETAERUS (TO THE FLUTE-PLAYER)
Enough! but, by Heracles! what is this? Great gods! I have seen
many prodigious things, but I never saw a muzzled raven.
f In allusion to the leather strap which flute-players wore
to constrict the cheeks and add to the power of the breath.
The performer here no doubt wore a raven's mask.