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The Eleven Comedies by Aristophanes et al

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PHILOCLEON. Who is the wretch?

BDELYCLEON. 'Tis the younger son of Carcinus.[168]

PHILOCLEON. I will crush him to nothing; in point of keeping time, I will
knock him out, for he knows nothing of rhythm.

BDELYCLEON. Ah! ah! here comes his brother too, another tragedian, and
another son of Carcinus.

PHILOCLEON. Him I will devour for my dinner.

BDELYCLEON. Oh! ye gods! I see nothing but crabs.[169] Here is yet
another son of Carcinus.

PHILOCLEON. What is't comes here? A shrimp or a spider?[170]

BDELYCLEON. 'Tis a crab,[171]--a crabkin, the smallest of its kind; he
writes tragedies.

PHILOCLEON. Oh! Carcinus, how proud you should be of your brood! What a
crowd of kinglets have come swooping down here!

BDELYCLEON. Come, come, my poor father, you will have to measure yourself
against them.

PHILOCLEON. Have pickle prepared for seasoning them, if I am bound to
prove the victor.

CHORUS. Let us stand out of the way a little, so that they may twirl at
their ease. Come, illustrious children of this inhabitant of the briny,
brothers of the shrimps, skip on the sand and the shore of the barren
sea; show us the lightning whirls and twirls of your nimble limbs.
Glorious offspring of Phrynichus,[172] let fly your kicks, so that the
spectators may be overjoyed at seeing your legs so high in air. Twist,
twirl, tap your bellies, kick your legs to the sky. Here comes your
famous father, the ruler of the sea,[173] delighted to see his three
lecherous kinglets.[174] Go on with your dancing, if it pleases you, but
as for us, we shall not join you. Lead us promptly off the stage, for
never a Comedy yet was seen where the Chorus finished off with a dance.

* * * * *


* * * * *


[1] Meaning, Bdelycleon will thrash you if you do not keep a good watch
on his father.

[2] The Corybantes, priests of Cybelé, comported themselves like madmen
in the celebration of their mysteries and made the air resound with the
the noise of their drums.

[3] Cleonymus had shown himself equally cowardly on all occasions; he is
frequently referred to by Aristophanes, both in this and other comedies.

[4] The cloak and the staff were the insignia of the dicasts; the poet
describes them as sheep, because they were Cleon's servile tools.

[5] An allusion to Cleon, who was a tanner.

[6] In Greek, [Greek: d_emos] ([Greek: d_emós], _fat_; [Greek: d_êmos],
_people_) means both _fat_ and _people_.

[7] A tool of Cleon's; he had been sent on an embassy to Persia (_vide_
'The Acharnians'). The crow is a thief and rapacious, just as Theorus

[8] In his life of Alcibiades, Plutarch mentions this defect in his
speech; or it may have been a 'fine gentleman' affectation.

[9] Among the Greeks, _going to the crows_ was equivalent to our _going
to the devil_.

[10] No doubt the fee generally given to the street diviners who were
wont to interpret dreams.

[11] Coarse buffoonery was welcomed at Megara, where, by the by, it is
said that Comedy had its birth.

[12] To gain the favour of the audience, the Comic poets often caused
fruit and cakes to be thrown to them.

[13] The gluttony of Heracles was a constant subject of jest with the
Comic poets.

[14] The incident of Pylos (see 'The Knights').

[15] The Greek word for _friend of strangers_ is [Greek: philoxenos],
which happened also to be the name of one of the vilest debauchees in

[16] The tribunal of the Heliasts came next in dignity only to the
Areopagus. The dicasts, or jurymen, generally numbered 500; at times it
would call in the assistance of one or two other tribunals, and the
number of judges would then rise to 1000 or even 1500.

[17] A water-clock, used in the courts for limiting the time of the

[18] The pebble was held between the thumb and two fingers, in the same
way as one would hold a pinch of incense.

[19] A young Athenian of great beauty, also mentioned by Plato in his
'Gorgias.' Lovers were font of writing the name of the object of their
adoration on the walls (see 'The Acharnians').

[20] [Greek: K_emos], the Greek term for the funnel-shaped top of the
voting urn, into which the judges dropped their voting pebbles.

[21] Racine has introduced this incident with some modification into his

[22] Although called _Heliasts_ ([Greek: H_elios], the sun), the judges
sat under cover. One of the columns that supported the roof is here
referred to.

[23] The juryman gave his vote for condemnation by tracing a line
horizontally across a waxed tablet. This was one method in use; another
was by means of pebbles placed in one or other of two voting urns.

[24] Used for the purpose of voting. There were two urns, one for each of
the two opinions, and each heliast placed a pebble in one of them.

[25] The Heliast's badge of office.

[26] To prepare him for initiation into the mysteries of the Corybantes.

[27] Who pretended to cure madness; they were priests of Cybelé.

[28] The sacred instrument of the Corybantes.

[29] _Friend of Cleon,_ who had raised the daily salary of the Heliasts
to three obols.

[30] _Enemy of Cleon._

[31] The smoke of fig-wood is very acrid, like the character of the

[32] Used for closing the chimney, when needed.

[33] Which had been stretched all round the courtyard to prevent his

[34] Market-day.

[35] He enters the courtyard, returning with the ass, under whose belly
Philocleon is clinging.

[36] In the Odyssey (Bk. IX) Homer makes his hero, 'the wily' Odysseus,
escape from the Cyclops' cave by clinging on under a ram's belly, which
slips past its blinded master without noticing the trick played on him.
Odysseus, when asked his name by the Cyclops, replies, _Outis_, Nobody.

[37] A name formed out of two Greek words, meaning, _running away on a

[38] The story goes that a traveller who had hired an ass, having placed
himself in its shadow to escape the heat of the sun, was sued by the
driver, who had pretended that he had let the ass, not but its shadow;
hence the Greek proverb, _to quarrel about the shade of an ass_, i.e.
about nothing at all.

[39] When you inherit from me.

[40] There is a similar incident in the 'Plaideurs.'

[41] A Macedonian town in the peninsula of Pallené; it had shaken off the
Athenian yoke and was not retaken for two years.

[42] A disciple of Thespis, who even in his infancy devoted himself to
the dramatic art. He was the first to introduce female characters on the
stage. He flourished about 500 B.C., having won his first prize for
Tragedy in 511 B.C., twelve years before Aeschylus.

[43] Originally subjected to Sparta by Pausanias in 478 B.C., it was
retaken by Cimon in 471, or forty-eight years previous to the production
of 'The Wasps.' The old Heliasts refer to this latter event.

[44] An Athenian general, who had been defeated when sent to Sicily with
a fleet to the succour of Leontini; no doubt Cleon had charged him with

[45] The Samians were in league with the Persians, but a certain
Carystion betrayed the plot, and thanks to this the Athenians were able
to retake Samos before the island had obtained help from Asia.

[46] The towns of Thrace, up to that time the faithful allies of Athens,
were beginning to throw off her yoke.

[47] Who fulfilled the office of president.

[48] Meaning, "Will it only remain for us to throw ourselves into the
water?" Hellé, taken by a ram across the narrow strait, called the
Hellespont after her name, fell into the waves and was drowned.

[49] He is a prisoner inside, and speaks through the closed doors.

[50] This boiling, acid pickle reminds him of the fiery, acrid temper of
the heliasts.

[51] A name invented for the occasion; it really means, _Cleon who holds
the people in his snares_.

[52] When he entered Troy as a spy.

[53] The island of Naxos was taken by Cimon, in consequence of sedition
in the town of Naxos, about fifty years before the production of 'The

[54] One of the titles under which Artemis, the goddess of the chase, was

[55] Demeter and Persephone. This was an accusation frequently brought
against people in Athens.

[56] An orator of great violence of speech and gesture.

[57] For Philocleon, the titulary god was Lycus, the son of Pandion, the
King of Athens, because a statue stood erected to him close to the spot
where the tribunals sat, and because he recognized no other fatherland
but the tribunals.

[58] A debauchee and an embezzler of public funds, already mentioned a
little above.

[59] Aristophanes speaks of him in 'The Birds' as a traitor and as an
alien who usurped the rights of the city.

[60] A Greek proverb signifying "Much ado about nothing."

[61] A Spartan general, who perished in the same battle as Cleon, before
Amphipolis, in 422 B.C.

[62] Meaning, the mere beginnings of any matter.

[63] This 'figure of love'--woman atop of the man--is known in Greek as
[Greek: hippos] (Latin _equus_, 'the horse'); note the play upon words
with the name Hippias.

[64] A tragic poet, who was a great lover of good cheer, it appears.

[65] Old men, who carried olive branches in the processions of the
Panathenaea. Those whose great age or infirmity forbade their being used
for any other purpose were thus employed.

[66] An obscene pun. [Greek: Choiros] means both _a sow_ and the female

[67] A celebrated actor.

[68] There were two tragedies named 'Niobé,' one by Aeschylus and the
other by Sophocles, both now lost.

[69] A double strap, which flute-players applied to their lips and was
said to give softness to the tones.

[70] The shell was fixed over the seal to protect it.

[71] A calumniator and a traitor (see 'The Acharnians').

[72] Cleonymus, whose name the poet modifies, so as to introduce the idea
of a flatterer ([Greek: kolax]).

[73] Another flatterer, a creature of Cleon's.

[74] Athenian poor, having no purse, would put small coins into mouth for
safety. We know that the triobolus was the daily of the judges. Its value
was about 4-1/2 d.

[75] A jar of wine, which he had bought with his pay.

[76] A jar with two long ears or handles, in this way resembling an ass.

[77] A well-known flute-player.

[78] We have already seen that when accepting his son's challenge he
swore to fall upon his sword if defeated in the debate.

[79] Pericles had first introduced the custom of sending poor citizens,
among whom the land was divided, into the conquered countries. The island
of Aegina had been mainly divided in this way among Athenian colonists.

[80] The choenix was a measure corresponding to our quart.

[81] A verse borrowed from Euripides' 'Bellerophon.'

[82] i.e. a legislator. The name given in Athens to the last six of the
nine Archons, because it was their special duty to see the laws

[83] Mentioned both in 'The Acharnians' and 'The Knights.'

[84] The drachma was worth six obols, or twice the pay of a heliast.

[85] We have already seen that the Athenians sometimes kept their small
money in their mouth.

[86] Which were placed in the courts; dogs were sacrificed on them.

[87] As already stated, the statue of Lycus stood close to the place
where the tribunals sat.

[88] The barrier in the Heliaea, which separated the heliasts from the

[89] The whole of this comic trial of the dog Labes is an allusion to the
general Laches, already mentioned, who had failed in Sicily. He was
accused of taking bribes of money from the Sicilians.

[90] To serve for a bar.

[91] This was a customary formula, [Greek: aph' Estias archou], "begin
from Hestia," first adore Vesta, the god of the family hearth. In similar
fashion, the Romans said, _ab Jove principium_.

[92] For conviction and acquittal.

[93] On which the sentence was entered.

[94] No doubt the stew-pot and the wine-jar.

[95] The _article_ Bdelycleon had brought.--The clepsydra was a kind of
water-clock; the other vessel is compared to it, because of the liquid in

[96] A title of Apollo, worshipped as the god of healing.

[97] A title of Apollo, because of the sacrifices, which the Athenians
offered him in the streets, from [Greek: aguia], a street.

[98] Bdelycleon.

[99] The formula used by the president before declaring the sitting of
the Court opened.

[100] That is, by way of fine.

[101] A reference to the peculations Laches was supposed to have
practised in keeping back part of the pay of the Athenian sailors engaged
in the Sicilian Expedition.

[102] The [Greek: Thesmothetai] at Athens were the six junior Archons,
who judged cases assigned to no special Court, presided at the allotment
of magistrates, etc.

[103] Thucydides, son of Milesias, when accused by Pericles, could not
say a word in his own defence. One would have said his tongue was
paralysed. He was banished.--He must not be confounded with Thucydides
the historian, whose exile took place after the production of 'The

[104] When the judges were touched by the pleading of the orator and were
decided on acquittal, they said to the defending advocate, "_Cease
speaking, descend from the rostrum._"

[105] There were two urns, one called that of Conviction, the other of

[106] Meaning, that he had at first produced pieces under the name of
other poets, such as Callistrates and Phidonides.

[107] Eurycles, an Athenian diviner, surnamed the Engastromythes ([Greek:
muthos], speech, [Greek: en gastri], in the belly), because he was
believed to be inspired by a genius within him.--The same name was also
given to the priestesses of Apollo, who spoke their oracles without
moving their lips.

[108] Some poets misused their renown as a means of seduction among young

[109] Cleon, whom he attacked in 'The Knights,' the first Comedy that
Aristophanes had produced in his own name.

[110] Cynna, like Salabaccha, was a shameless courtesan of the day.

[111] The lamiae were mysterious monsters, to whom the ancients ascribed
the most varied forms. They were depicted most frequently with the face
and bosom of a woman and the body of a serpent. Here Aristophanes endows
them with organs of virility. It was said that the blood of young men had
a special attraction for them. These lines, abusive of Cleon, occur again
in the 'Peace,' II. 738-42.

[112] Socrates and the sophists, with whom the poet confounds him in his

[113] He likens them to vampires.

[114] The third Archon, whose duty was the protection of strangers. All
cases involving the rights of citizenship were tried before him. These
were a frequent cause of lawsuit at Athens.

[115] 'The Clouds' had not been well received.

[116] Aristophanes lets it be understood that the refusal to crown him
arose from the fact that he had been too bold in his attack.

[117] To perfume their caskets, etc., the Ancients placed scented fruit,
especially oranges, in them.

[118] The pastimes of love.

[119] At Marathon, where the Athenians defeated the Persian invaders, 490
B.C. The battle-field is a plain on the north-east coast of Attica, about
twenty-seven miles from Athens.

[120] A favourable omen, of course. The owl was the bird of Athené.

[121] An allusion to Cimon's naval victories.

[122] The Cyclades islands and many towns on the coast of Asia Minor.

[123] The tribunals.

[124] The six last Archons presided over the civil courts and were styled
Thesmothetae (see above).

[125] Magistrates, who had charge of criminal cases.

[126] Built by Pericles. Musical contests were held there. Here also took
place distributions of flour, and the presence of the magistrates was no
doubt necessary to decide on the spot any disputes that might arise
regarding this.

[127] This, says the Scholiast, refers to magistrates appointed for the
upkeep of the walls. They were selected by ballot from amongst the
general body of Heliasts.

[128] The demagogues and their flatterers.

[129] The battle of Artemisium on the Euboean coast; a terrible storm
arose and almost destroyed the barbarian fleet, while sparing that of the

[130] A mantle trimmed with fur.

[131] A rural deme of Attica. Rough coats were made there, formed of
skins sewn together.

[132] An effeminate poet.

[133] He compares the thick, shaggy stuff of the pelisse to the
intestines of a bullock, which have a sort of crimped and curled look.

[134] An Attic talent was equal to about fifty-seven pounds avoirdupois.

[135] He grumbles over his own good fortune, as old men will.

[136] Lamia, the daughter of Belus and Libya, was loved by Zeus. Heré
deprived her of her beauty and instilled her with a passion for blood;
she is said to have plucked babes from their mothers' breast to devour
them. Weary of her crimes, the gods turned her into a beast of prey.

[137] Theagenes, of the Acharnian deme, was afflicted with a weakness
which caused him to be constantly letting off loud, stinking farts, even
in public--the cause of many gibes on the part of the Comic poets and his

[138] He had been sent on a mission as an armed ambassador, i.e. as a
common soldier, whose pay was two obols.

[139] The [Greek: pankration] was a combined exercise, including both
wrestling and boxing.

[140] All these names have been already mentioned.

[141] Each time Philocleon takes up the song with words that are a satire
on the guest who begins the strain.

[142] King Admetus (Euripides' 'Alcestis') had suffered his devoted wife
Alcestis to die to save his life when ill to death. Heracles, however, to
repay former benefits received, descended into Hades and rescued Alcestis
from Pluto's clutches.

[143] A famous epicure, the Lucullus of Athens (see 'The Acharnians').

[144] A parasite renowned for his gluttony.

[145] A town in Thessaly.

[146] Because of his poverty.

[147] Four lines in 'The Knights' describe the infamous habits of
Ariphrades in detail.

[148] That is, it ceases to support it; Aristophanes does the same to

[149] Referring to Lysistratus' leanness.

[150] A tragic actor, whose wardrobe had been sold up, so the story went,
by his creditors.

[151] He enters, followed closely by the persons he has ill-used, and
leading a flute-girl by the hand.

[152] Meaning his penis.

[153] Dardanus, a district of Asia Minor, north of the Troad, supplied
many flute-girls to the cities of Greece.

[154] Pointing to the flute-girl's _motte_.

[155] He tells his son the very story the latter had taught him.

[156] The name of the baker's wife.

[157] Or Agoranomi, who numbered ten at Athens.

[158] The disciple of Socrates.

[159] Lasus, a musician and dithyrambic poet, born about 500 B.C. in
Argolis, was the rival of Simonides and thought himself his superior.

[160] Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. Being pursued by her
husband, Athamas, whom the Fury Tisiphoné had driven mad, she threw
herself into the sea with Melicerta, whereupon they were both changed
into sea-goddesses.--This is the subject of one of Euripides' tragedies.

[161] A famous town in Magna Graecia, south coast of Italy.

[162] A celebrated physician.--Philocleon means, "Instead of starting an
action, go and have yourself cared for; that is better worth your while."

[163] The dances that Thespis, the originator of Tragedy, interspersed
with the speaking parts of his plays.

[164] A verse borrowed from an unknown Tragedy.

[165] As was done in the stadia when the races were to be started.

[166] The ancients considered it a specific against madness.

[167] Phrynichus, like all the ancient tragic writers, mingled many
dances with his pieces.

[168] Tragic poet. His three sons had also written tragedies and were
dancers into the bargain.

[169] Carcinus, by a mere transposition of the accent ([Greek:
karkívos]), means _crab_ in Greek; hence the pun.

[170] Carcinus' sons were small and thin.

[171] The third son of Carcinus.

[172] Meaning, the three sons of Carcinus, the dancers, because, as
mentioned before, Phrynichus often introduced a chorus of dancers into
his Tragedies.

[173] Carcinus himself.

[174] The Greek word is [Greek: triorchoi]--possessed of three testicles,
of three-testicle power, inordinately lecherous; with the change of a
letter ([Greek: triarchoi]) it means 'three rulers,' 'three kinglets.'



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 Comastae,' _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 magnificent scale."

"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 misunderstanding,
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.
CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard.

SCENE: A wild, desolate tract of open country; broken rocks and brushwood
occupy the centre of the stage.

* * * * *


EUELPIDES (_to his jay_).[175] Do you think I should walk straight for
yon tree?

PISTHETAERUS (_to his crow_). Cursed beast, what are you croaking to
me?... to retrace my steps?

EUELPIDES. Why, you wretch, we are wandering at random, we are exerting
ourselves only to return to the same spot; 'tis labour lost.

PISTHETAERUS. To think that I should trust to this crow, which has made
me cover more than a thousand furlongs!

EUELPIDES. And I to this jay, who has torn every nail from my fingers!

PISTHETAERUS. If only I knew where we were. . . .

EUELPIDES. Could you find your country again from here?

PISTHETAERUS. No, I feel quite sure I could not, any more than could
Execestides[176] find his.

EUELPIDES. Oh dear! oh dear!

PISTHETAERUS. Aye, aye, my friend, 'tis indeed the road of "oh dears" we
are following.

EUELPIDES. That Philocrates, the bird-seller, played us a scurvy trick,
when he pretended these two guides could help us to find Tereus,[177] the
Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has indeed sold us
this jay, a true son of Tharelides,[178] 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.

PISTHETAERUS. Not even the vestige of a track in any direction.

EUELPIDES. And what does the crow say about the road to follow?

PISTHETAERUS. By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.

EUELPIDES. And which way does it tell us to go now?

PISTHETAERUS. It says that, by dint of gnawing, it will devour my

EUELPIDES. What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the
birds,[179] do everything we can to that end, and we cannot find our way!
Yes, spectators, our madness is quite different to 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.[180] That is why we started off with a basket, a stew-pot and
some myrtle boughs[181] 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.


EUELPIDES. What's the matter?

PISTHETAERUS. Why, the crow has been pointing me to something up there
for some time now.

EUELPIDES. 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.

PISTHETAERUS. Do you know what to do? Knock your leg against this rock.

EUELPIDES. And you your head to double the noise.

PISTHETAERUS. Well then use a stone instead; take one and hammer with it.

EUELPIDES. Good idea! Ho there, within! Slave! slave!

PISTHETAERUS. What's that, friend! You say, "slave," to summon Epops!
'Twould be much better to shout, "Epops, Epops!"

EUELPIDES. Well then, Epops! Must I knock again? Epops!

TROCHILUS. Who's there? Who calls my master?

EUELPIDES. Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak![182]

TROCHILUS. Good god! they are bird-catchers.

EUELPIDES. The mere sight of him petrifies me with terror. What a
horrible monster!

TROCHILUS. Woe to you!

EUELPIDES. But we are not men.

TROCHILUS. What are you, then?

EUELPIDES. I am the Fearling, an African bird.

TROCHILUS. You talk nonsense.

EUELPIDES. Well, then, just ask it of my feet.[183]

TROCHILUS. And this other one, what bird is it?

PISTHETAERUS. I? I am a Cackling,[184] from the land of the pheasants.

EUELPIDES. But you yourself, in the name of the gods! what animal are

TROCHILUS. Why, I am a slave-bird.

EUELPIDES. Why, have you been conquered by a cock?

TROCHILUS. No, but when my master was turned into a peewit, he begged me
to become a bird too, to follow and to serve him.

EUELPIDES. Does a bird need a servant, then?

TROCHILUS. '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

EUELPIDES. This is, then, truly a running-bird.[185] Come, Trochilus, do
us the kindness to call your master.

TROCHILUS. Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries
and a few grubs.

EUELPIDES. Never mind; wake him up.

TROCHILUS. I am certain he will be angry. However, I will wake him to
please you.

PISTHETAERUS. You cursed brute! why, I am almost dead with terror!

EUELPIDES. Oh! my god! 'twas sheer fear that made me lose my jay.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! you great coward! were you so frightened that you let
go your jay?

EUELPIDES. And did you not lose your crow, when you fell sprawling on the
ground? Pray tell me that.


EUELPIDES. Where is it, then?

PISTHETAERUS. It has flown away.

EUELPIDES. Then you did not let it go! Oh! you brave fellow!

EPOPS. Open the forest,[186] that I may go out!

EUELPIDES. By Heracles! what a creature! what plumage! What means this
triple crest?

EPOPS. Who wants me?

EUELPIDES. The twelve great gods have used you ill, meseems.

EPOPS. Are you chaffing me about my feathers? I have been a man,

EUELPIDES. 'Tis not you we are jeering at.

EPOPS. At what, then?

EUELPIDES. Why, 'tis your beak that looks so odd to us.

EPOPS. This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once
was Tereus.[187]

EUELPIDES. You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a

EPOPS. I am a bird.

EUELPIDES. Then where are your feathers? For I don't see them.

EPOPS. They have fallen off.

EUELPIDES. Through illness.

EPOPS. No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter, and
others grow in their place. But tell me, who are you?

EUELPIDES. We? We are mortals.

EPOPS. From what country?

EUELPIDES. From the land of the beautiful galleys.[189]

EPOPS. Are you dicasts?[190]

EUELPIDES. No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.

EPOPS. Is that kind of seed sown among you?[191]

EUELPIDES. You have to look hard to find even a little in our fields.

EPOPS. What brings you here?

EUELPIDES. We wish to pay you a visit.

EPOPS. What for?

EUELPIDES. 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.

EPOPS. And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?

EUELPIDES. No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.

EPOPS. Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.

EUELPIDES. I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.[192]

EPOPS. But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?

EUELPIDES. 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."

EPOPS. Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships. And what
say you?

PISTHETAERUS. My tastes are similar.

EPOPS. And they are?

PISTHETAERUS. 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 testicles. Would anyone call you
an old friend of mine?"

EPOPS. 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.

EUELPIDES. Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the
Salaminian[193] galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you
no Greek town you can propose to us?

EPOPS. Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?

EUELPIDES. By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because
of Melanthius.[194]

EPOPS. Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.

EUELPIDES. I would not be Opuntian[195] for a talent. But come, what is
it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.

EPOPS. Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no

EUELPIDES. That does away with much roguery.

EPOPS. For food the gardens yield us white sesame, myrtle-berries,
poppies and mint.

EUELPIDES. Why, 'tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.[196]

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

EPOPS. Take your advice? In what way?

PISTHETAERUS. 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."

EPOPS. By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?

PISTHETAERUS. Found a city.

EPOPS. We birds? But what sort of city should we build?

PISTHETAERUS. Oh, really, really! 'tis spoken like a fool! Look down.

EPOPS. I am looking.

PISTHETAERUS. Now look upwards.

EPOPS. I am looking.

PISTHETAERUS. Turn your head round.

EPOPS. Ah! 'twill be pleasant for me, if I end in twisting my neck!

PISTHETAERUS. What have you seen?

EPOPS. The clouds and the sky.

PISTHETAERUS. Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?

EPOPS. How their pole?

PISTHETAERUS. Or, if you like it, the land. And since it turns and passes
through the whole universe, it is called, 'pole.'[197] If you build and
fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city.[198] In this
way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and cause
the gods to die of rabid hunger.

EPOPS. How so?

PISTHETAERUS. The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to
Delphi, we ask the Boeotians[199] 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.

EPOPS. By earth! by snares! by network![200] I never heard of anything
more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going to
build the city along with you.

PISTHETAERUS. Who will explain the matter to them?

EPOPS. You must yourself. Before I came they were quite ignorant, but
since I have lived with them I have taught them to speak.

PISTHETAERUS. But how can they be gathered together?

EPOPS. Easily. I will hasten down to the coppice to waken my dear
Procné;[201] as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot

PISTHETAERUS. My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the
coppice and awaken Procné.

EPOPS. 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,[202] 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._)

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He
has filled the whole coppice with honey-sweet melody!


PISTHETAERUS. What's the matter?

EUELPIDES. Will you keep silence?


EUELPIDES. 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.

PISTHETAERUS. Can you see any bird?

EUELPIDES. By Phoebus, no! and yet I am straining my eyesight to scan the

PISTHETAERUS. 'Twas really not worth Epops' while to go and bury himself
in the thicket like a plover when a-hatching.

PHOENICOPTERUS. Torotina, torotina.

PISTHETAERUS. Hold, friend, here is another bird.

EUELPIDES. I' faith, yes! 'tis a bird, but of what kind? Isn't it a

PISTHETAERUS. Epops will tell us. What is this bird?

EPOPS. 'Tis not one of those you are used to seeing; 'tis a bird from the

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson
as flame.

EPOPS. Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.[203]

EUELPIDES. Hi! I say! You!

PISTHETAERUS. What are you shouting for?

EUELPIDES. Why, here's another bird.

PISTHETAERUS. Aye, indeed; 'tis a foreign bird too. What is this bird
from beyond the mountains with a look as solemn as it is stupid?

EPOPS. He is called the Mede.[204]

PISTHETAERUS. The Mede! But, by Heracles! how, if a Mede, has he flown
here without a camel?

EUELPIDES. Here's another bird with a crest.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! that's curious. I say, Epops, you are not the only one
of your kind then?

EPOPS. This bird is the son of Philocles, who is the son of Epops;[205]
so that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say,
Hipponicus,[206] the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.

PISTHETAERUS. Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers
he has lost![207]

EPOPS. That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the
women too pluck out his feathers.

PISTHETAERUS. By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his

EPOPS. This one? 'Tis the glutton.

PISTHETAERUS. Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he
is Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest?[208] But what is the
meaning of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the
double stadium prize?[209]

EPOPS. They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their
mountains for greater safety.[210]

PISTHETAERUS. Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering

EUELPIDES. By Phoebus! what a cloud! The entrance to the stage is no
longer visible, so closely do they fly together.

PISTHETAERUS. Here is the partridge.

EUELPIDES. Faith! there is the francolin.

PISTHETAERUS. There is the poachard.

EUELPIDES. Here is the kingfisher. And over yonder?

EPOPS. 'Tis the barber.

EUELPIDES. What? a bird a barber?

PISTHETAERUS. Why, Sporgilus is one.[211] Here comes the owl.

EUELPIDES. And who is it brings an owl to Athens?[212]

PISTHETAERUS. 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 wood-pecker.

EUELPIDES. 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.

PISTHETAERUS. Why, so they are.

CHORUS. Popopopopopopopoi. Where is he who called me? Where am I to find

EPOPS. I have been waiting for you this long while; I never fail in my
word to my friends.

CHORUS. Titititititititi. What good thing have you to tell me?

EPOPS. 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.

CHORUS. Where? What? What are you saying?

EPOPS. I say, two old men have come from the abode of men to propose a
vast and splendid scheme to us.

CHORUS. Oh! 'tis a horrible, unheard-of crime! What are you saying?

EPOPS. Nay! never let my words scare you.

CHORUS. What have you done then?

EPOPS. I have welcomed two men, who wish to live with us.

CHORUS. And you have dared to do that!

EPOPS. Aye, and am delighted at having done so.

CHORUS. Where are they?

EPOPS. In your midst, as I am.

CHORUS. 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 to pieces.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis all over with us.

EUELPIDES. You are the sole cause of all our trouble. Why did you bring
me from down yonder?

PISTHETAERUS. To have you with me.

EUELPIDES. Say rather to have me melt into tears.

PISTHETAERUS. Go to! you are talking nonsense.


PISTHETAERUS. How will you be able to cry when once your eyes are pecked

CHORUS. 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.

EUELPIDES. This is the fatal moment. Where shall I fly to, unfortunate
wretch that I am?

PISTHETAERUS. Stay! stop here!

EUELPIDES. That they may tear me to pieces?

PISTHETAERUS. And how do you think to escape them?

EUELPIDES. I don't know at all.

PISTHETAERUS. Come, I will tell you. We must stop and fight them. Let us
arm ourselves with these stew-pots.

EUELPIDES. Why with the stew-pots?

PISTHETAERUS. The owl will not attack us.[213]

EUELPIDES. But do you see all those hooked claws?

PISTHETAERUS. Seize the spit and pierce the foe on your side.

EUELPIDES. And how about my eyes?

PISTHETAERUS. Protect them with this dish or this vinegar-pot.

EUELPIDES. Oh! what cleverness! what inventive genius! You are a great
general, even greater than Nicias,[214] where stratagem is concerned.

CHORUS. Forward, forward, charge with your beaks! Come, no delay. Tear,
pluck, strike, flay them, and first of all smash the stew-pot.

EPOPS. 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.[215]

CHORUS. Are wolves to be spared? Are they not our most mortal foes? So
let us punish them.

EPOPS. If they are your foes by nature, they are your friends in heart,
and they come here to give you useful advice.

CHORUS. Advice or a useful word from their lips, from them, the enemies
of my forbears!

EPOPS. 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.

CHORUS. Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for 'tis best; one
can even learn something in an enemy's school.

PISTHETAERUS. Their wrath seems to cool. Draw back a little.

EPOPS. 'Tis only justice, and you will thank me later.

CHORUS. Never have we opposed your advice up to now.

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

EUELPIDES. You are right. But where shall we be buried, if we die?

PISTHETAERUS. In the Ceramicus;[216] for, to get a public funeral, we
shall tell the Strategi that we fell at Orneae,[217] fighting the
country's foes.

CHORUS. 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.

EPOPS. Are you calling me? What do you want of me?

CHORUS. Who are they? From what country?

EPOPS. Strangers, who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.

CHORUS. And what fate has led them hither to the land of the birds?

EPOPS. Their love for you and their wish to share your kind of life; to
dwell and remain with you always.

CHORUS. Indeed, and what are their plans?

EPOPS. They are wonderful, incredible, unheard of.

CHORUS. 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?

EPOPS. 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.

CHORUS. Are they mad?

EPOPS. They are the sanest people in the world.

CHORUS. Clever men?

EPOPS. The slyest of foxes, cleverness its very self, men of the world,
cunning, the cream of knowing folk.

CHORUS. Tell them to speak and speak quickly; why, as I listen to you, I
am beside myself with delight.

EPOPS. 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;[218] as for you, address the birds, tell them why I
have gathered them together.

PISTHETAERUS. 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 testicles, nor shove things up my....

CHORUS. You mean the.... (_Puts finger to bottom._) Oh! be quite at ease.

PISTHETAERUS. No, I mean my eyes.

CHORUS. Agreed.


CHORUS. I swear it and, if I keep my promise, let judges and spectators
give me the victory unanimously.

PISTHETAERUS. It is a bargain.

CHORUS. And if I break my word, may I succeed by one vote only.

HERALD. Hearken, ye people! Hoplites, pick up your weapons and return to
your firesides; do not fail to read the decrees of dismissal we have

CHORUS. 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 break the truce,--until you have told us all.

PISTHETAERUS. 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

EUELPIDES. Is it a question of feasting? What does it all mean?

PISTHETAERUS. 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....

CHORUS. We kings! Over whom?

PISTHETAERUS. ... 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

CHORUS. What, older than the Earth!

PISTHETAERUS. By Phoebus, yes.

CHORUS. By Zeus, but I never knew that before!

PISTHETAERUS. '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.

EUELPIDES. So that the lark's father is buried at Cephalae.[220]

EPOPS. Hence, if we existed before the Earth, before the gods, the
kingship belongs to us by right of priority.

EUELPIDES. Undoubtedly, but sharpen your beak well; Zeus won't be in a
hurry to hand over his sceptre to the woodpecker.

PISTHETAERUS. 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.[221] 'Tis in memory of his
reign that he is called the Persian bird.

EUELPIDES. For this reason also, even to-day, he alone of all the birds
wears his tiara straight on his head, like the Great King.[222]

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

EUELPIDES. I can tell you something anent 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.[223] 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.

PISTHETAERUS. Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.

EPOPS. The Greeks?

PISTHETAERUS. And when he was king, 'twas he who first taught them to
fall on their knees before the kites.[224]

EUELPIDES. 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[225] with mouth
agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my bag home empty.[226]

PISTHETAERUS. 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.[227]

EUELPIDES. Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields,
ye circumcised."[228]

PISTHETAERUS. 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.[229]

EUELPIDES. 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[230] to see if he got any present.

PISTHETAERUS. 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;[231] his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, as his
servant, has a hawk.

EUELPIDES. By Demeter, 'tis well spoken. But what are all these birds
doing in heaven?

PISTHETAERUS. When anyone sacrifices and, according to the rite, offers
the entrails to the gods, these birds take their share before Zeus.
Formerly the men always swore by birds and never by the gods; even now
Lampon[232] 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.

CHORUS. 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,

PISTHETAERUS. 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
from heaven.

EPOPS. Oh, Cebriones! oh, Porphyrion![233] what a terribly strong place!

PISTHETAERUS. This, 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 standing
organ, as hitherto, for the purpose of fondling their Alcmenas, their
Alopés, or their Semelés;[234] if they try to pass through, you
infibulate them with rings so that they can fuck 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 Aphrodité, let them at the same time offer barley to the
coot;[235] are they immolating a sheep to Posidon, let them consecrate
wheat in honour of the duck;[236] is a steer being offered to Heracles,
let honey-cakes be dedicated to the gull;[237] is a goat being slain for
King Zeus, there is a King-Bird, the wren,[238] to whom the sacrifice of
a male gnat is due before Zeus himself even.

EUELPIDES. This notion of an immolated gnat delights me! And now let the
great Zeus thunder!

EPOPS. But how will mankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who
have wings and fly?

PISTHETAERUS. 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.[239] 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 any wheat.

EUELPIDES. By Zeus, she'll take good care she does not, and you will see
her inventing a thousand excuses.

PISTHETAERUS. 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 the

EUELPIDES. Oh! don't do that! Wait first until I have sold my two young

PISTHETAERUS. 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 with benefits.

EPOPS Name me one of these then.

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

EPOPS. And how shall we give wealth to mankind? This is their strongest

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

EPOPS. No more shall perish? How is that?

PISTHETAERUS. 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."

EUELPIDES. I shall buy a trading-vessel and go to sea. I will not stay
with you.

PISTHETAERUS. You will discover treasures to them, which were buried in
former times, for you know them. Do not all men say, "None know where my
treasure lies, unless perchance it be some bird."[241]

EUELPIDES. I shall sell my boat and buy a spade to unearth the vessels.

EPOPS. And how are we to give them health, which belongs to the gods?

PISTHETAERUS. If they are happy, is not that the chief thing towards
health? The miserable man is never well.

EPOPS. Old Age also dwells in Olympus. How will they get at it? Must they
die in early youth?

PISTHETAERUS. Why, the birds, by Zeus, will add three hundred years to
their life.

EPOPS. From whom will they take them?

PISTHETAERUS. From whom? Why, from themselves. Don't you know the cawing
crow lives five times as long as a man?

EUELPIDES. Ah! ah! these are far better kings for us than Zeus!

PISTHETAERUS. 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;[242] 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.

CHORUS. 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.

EPOPS. By Zeus! 'tis no longer the time to delay and loiter like
Nicias;[243] 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.

PISTHETAERUS. That is soon done; my name is Pisthetaerus.

EPOPS. And his?

PISTHETAERUS. Euelpides, of the deme of Thria.

EPOPS. Good! and good luck to you.

PISTHETAERUS. We accept the omen.

EPOPS. Come in here.

PISTHETAERUS. Very well, 'tis you who lead us and must introduce us.

EPOPS. Come then.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! my god! do come back here. Hi! tell us how we are to
follow you. You can fly, but we cannot.

EPOPS. Well, well.

PISTHETAERUS. Remember Aesop's fables. It is told there, that the fox
fared very ill, because he had made an alliance with the eagle.

EPOPS. Be at ease. You shall eat a certain root and wings will grow on
your shoulders.

PISTHETAERUS. Then let us enter. Xanthias and Manes,[244] pick up our

CHORUS. Hi! Epops! do you hear me?

EPOPS. What's the matter?

CHORUS. Take them off to dine well and call your mate, the melodious
Procné, whose songs are worthy of the Muses; she will delight our leisure

PISTHETAERUS. 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

EPOPS. Let it be as you desire. Come forth, Procné, show yourself to
these strangers.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty
form! what brilliant plumage![246]

EUELPIDES. Do you know how dearly I should like to split her legs for

PISTHETAERUS. She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl.[247]

EUELPIDES. Oh! how I should like to kiss her!

PISTHETAERUS. Why, wretched man, she has two little sharp points on her

EUELPIDES. 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

EPOPS. Let us go in.

PISTHETAERUS. Lead the way, and may success attend us.

CHORUS. 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,[248] lead off our

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, Prodicus[250] 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.[251]

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,[252] and Orestes[253] to weave a tunic, so that the rigorous
cold 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, your Phoebus Apollo.[254] 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[255] 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.[256] 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

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.[257] I pour forth sacred strains from my golden throat in honour
of the god Pan,[258] tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, from the top of the thickly
leaved ash, and my voice mingles with the mighty choirs who extol Cybelé
on the mountain tops,[259] tototototototototinx. 'Tis to our concerts
that Phrynicus 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."[260] The runaway slave, whom you brand, is only a spotted
francolin with us.[261] Are you Phrygian like Spintharus?[262] Among us
you would be the Phrygian bird, the goldfinch, of the race of
Philemon.[263] Are you a slave and a Carian like Execestides? Among us
you can create yourself forefathers;[264] 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 forests 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![265] 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.[266]

PISTHETAERUS. Halloa! What's this? By Zeus! I never saw anything so funny
in all my life.[267]

EUELPIDES. What makes you laugh?

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis your bits of wings. D'you know what you look like?
Like a goose painted by some dauber-fellow.

EUELPIDES. And you look like a close-shaven blackbird.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis ourselves asked for this transformation, and, as
Aeschylus has it, "These are no borrowed feathers, but truly our

EPOPS. Come now, what must be done?

PISTHETAERUS. First give our city a great and famous name, then sacrifice
to the gods.

EUELPIDES. I think so too.

EPOPS. Let's see. What shall our city be called?

PISTHETAERUS. Will you have a high-sounding Laconian name? Shall we call
it Sparta?

EUELPIDES. What! call my town Sparta? Why, I would not use esparto for my
bed,[269] even though I had nothing but bands of rushes.

PISTHETAERUS. Well then, what name can you suggest?

EUELPIDES. Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions
in which we dwell--in short, some well-known name.

PISTHETAERUS. Do you like Nephelococcygia?[270]

EPOPS. Oh! capital! truly 'tis a brilliant thought!

EUELPIDES. Is it in Nephelococcygia that all the wealth of Theogenes[271]
and most of Aeschines'[272] is?

PISTHETAERUS. No, 'tis rather the plain of Phlegra,[273] where the gods
withered the pride of the sons of the Earth with their shafts.

EUELPIDES. Oh! what a splendid city! But what god shall be its patron?
for whom shall we weave the peplus?[274]

PISTHETAERUS. Why not choose Athené Polias?[275]

EUELPIDES. Oh! what a well-ordered town 'twould be to have a female deity
armed from head to foot, while Clisthenes[276] was spinning!

PISTHETAERUS. Who then shall guard the Pelargicon?[277]

EPOPS. One of ourselves, a bird of Persian strain, who is everywhere
proclaimed to be the bravest of all, a true chick of Ares.[278]

EUELPIDES. Oh! noble chick! what a well-chosen god for a rocky home!

PISTHETAERUS. 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,[279] and go to sleep up there yourself; then despatch two heralds,
one to the gods above, the other to mankind on earth and come back here.

EUELPIDES. As for yourself, remain here, and may the plague take you for
a troublesome fellow!

PISTHETAERUS. 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.

CHORUS. 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 voices.

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.[280]

EPOPS. Priest! 'tis high time! Sacrifice to the new gods.

PRIEST. I begin, but where is he with the basket? Pray to the Vesta of
the birds, to the kite, who presides over the hearth, and to all the god
and goddess-birds who dwell in Olympus.

CHORUS. Oh! Hawk, the sacred guardian of Sunium, oh, god of the storks!

PRIEST. Pray to the swan of Delos, to Latona the mother of the quails,
and to Artemis, the goldfinch.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis no longer Artemis Colaenis, but Artemis the

PRIEST. And to Bacchus, the finch and Cybelé, the ostrich and mother of
the gods and mankind.

CHORUS. Oh! sovereign ostrich, Cybelé, the mother of Cleocritus,[282]
grant health and safety to the Nephelococcygians as well as to the
dwellers in Chios....

PISTHETAERUS. The dwellers in Chios! Ah! I am delighted they should be
thus mentioned on all occasions.[283]

CHORUS. ... to the heroes, the birds, to the sons of heroes, to the
porphyrion, the pelican, the spoon-bill, the redbreast, the grouse, the
peacock, the horned-owl, the teal, the bittern, the heron, the stormy
petrel, the fig-pecker, the titmouse....

PISTHETAERUS. Stop! stop! you drive me crazy with your endless list. Why,
wretch, to what sacred feast are you inviting the vultures and the
sea-eagles? Don't you see that a single kite could easily carry off the
lot at once? Begone, you and your fillets and all; I shall know how to
complete the sacrifice by myself.

PRIEST. It is imperative that I sing another sacred chant for the rite of
the lustral water, and that I invoke the immortals, or at least one of
them, provided always that you have some suitable food to offer him; from
what I see here, in the shape of gifts, there is naught whatever but horn
and hair.

PISTHETAERUS. Let us address our sacrifices and our prayers to the winged

A POET. Oh, Muse! celebrate happy Nephelococcygia in your hymns.

PISTHETAERUS. What have we here? Where do you come from, tell me? Who are

POET. I am he whose language is sweeter than honey, the zealous slave of
the Muses, as Homer has it.

PISTHETAERUS. You a slave! and yet you wear your hair long?

POET. No, but the fact is all we poets are the assiduous slaves of the
Muses according to Homer.

PISTHETAERUS. In truth your little cloak is quite holy too through zeal!
But, poet, what ill wind drove you here?

POET. I have composed verses in honour of your Nephelococcygia, a host of
splendid dithyrambs and parthenians,[284] worthy of Simonides himself.

PISTHETAERUS. And when did you compose them? How long since?

POET. Oh! 'tis long, aye, very long, that I have sung in honour of this

PISTHETAERUS. But I am only celebrating its foundation with this
sacrifice;[285] I have only just named it, as is done with little babies.

POET. "Just as the chargers fly with the speed of the wind, so does the
voice of the Muses take its flight. Oh! thou noble founder of the town of
Aetna,[286] thou, whose name recalls the holy sacrifices,[287] make us
such gift as thy generous heart shall suggest."

PISTHETAERUS. He will drive us silly if we do not get rid of him by some
present. Here! you, who have a fur as well as your tunic, take it off and
give it to this clever poet. Come, take this fur; you look to me to be
shivering with cold.

POET. My Muse will gladly accept this gift; but engrave these verses of
Pindar's on your mind.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! what a pest! 'Tis impossible then to be rid of him.

POET. "Straton wanders among the Scythian nomads, but has no linen
garment. He is sad at only wearing an animal's pelt and no tunic." Do you
conceive my bent?

PISTHETAERUS. I understand that you want me to offer you a tunic. Hi! you
(_to Euelpides_), take off yours; we must help the poet.... Come, you,
take it and begone.

POET. I am going, and these are the verses that I address to this city:
"Phoebus of the golden throne, celebrate this shivery, freezing city; I
have travelled through fruitful and snow-covered plains. Tralala!

PISTHETAERUS. What are you chanting us about frosts? Thanks to the tunic,
you no longer fear them. Ah! by Zeus! I could not have believed this
cursed fellow could so soon have learnt the way to our city. Come,
priest, take the lustral water and circle the altar.

PRIEST. Let all keep silence!

A PROPHET. Let not the goat be sacrificed.[289]

PISTHETAERUS. Who are you?

PROPHET. Who am I? A prophet.

PISTHETAERUS. Get you gone.

PROPHET. Wretched man, insult not sacred things. For there is an oracle

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