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The Eleven Comedies by Aristophanes et al

Part 3 out of 8

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of Bacis, which exactly applies to Nephelococcygia.

PISTHETAERUS. Why did you not reveal it to me before I founded my city?

PROPHET. The divine spirit was against it.

PISTHETAERUS. Well, 'tis best to know the terms of the oracle.

PROPHET. "But when the wolves and the white crows shall dwell together
between Corinth and Sicyon...."[290]

PISTHETAERUS. But how do the Corinthians concern me?

PROPHET. 'Tis the regions of the air that Bacis indicated in this manner.
"They must first sacrifice a white-fleeced goat to Pandora, and give the
prophet, who first reveals my words, a good cloak and new sandals."

PISTHETAERUS. Are the sandals there?


Read. "And besides this a goblet of wine and a good share of the entrails
of the victim."

PISTHETAERUS. Of the entrails--is it so written?

PROPHET. Read. "If you do as I command, divine youth, you shall be an
eagle among the clouds; if not, you shall be neither turtle-dove, nor
eagle, nor woodpecker."

PISTHETAERUS. Is all that there?


PISTHETAERUS. This oracle in no sort of way resembles the one Apollo
dictated to me: "If an impostor comes without invitation to annoy you
during the sacrifice and to demand a share of the victim, apply a stout
stick to his ribs."

PROPHET. You are drivelling.

PISTHETAERUS. "And don't spare him, were he an eagle from out of the
clouds, were it Lampon himself[291] or the great Diopithes."[292]

PROPHET. Is all that there?

PISTHETAERUS. Here, read it yourself, and go and hang yourself.

PROPHET. Oh! unfortunate wretch that I am.

PISTHETAERUS. Away with you, and take your prophecies elsewhere.

METON.[293] I have come to you.

PISTHETAERUS. Yet another pest. What have you come to do? What's your
plan? What's the purpose of your journey? Why these splendid buskins?

METON. I want to survey the plains of the air for you and to parcel them
into lots.

PISTHETAERUS. In the name of the gods, who are you?

METON. Who am I? Meton, known throughout Greece and at Colonus.[294]

PISTHETAERUS. What are these things?

METON. Tools for measuring the air. In truth, the spaces in the air have
precisely the form of a furnace. With this bent ruler I draw a line from
top to bottom; from one of its points I describe a circle with the
compass. Do you understand?

PISTHETAERUS. Not the very least.

METON. With the straight ruler I set to work to inscribe a square within
this circle; in its centre will be the marketplace, into which all the
straight streets will lead, converging to this centre like a star, which,
although only orbicular, sends forth its rays in a straight line from all

PISTHETAERUS. Meton, you new Thales....[295]

METON. What d'you want with me?

PISTHETAERUS. I want to give you a proof of my friendship. Use your legs.

METON. Why, what have I to fear?

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis the same here as in Sparta. Strangers are driven away,
and blows rain down as thick as hail.

METON. Is there sedition in your city?

PISTHETAERUS. No, certainly not.

METON. What's wrong then?

PISTHETAERUS. We are agreed to sweep all quacks and impostors far from
our borders.

METON. Then I'm off.

PISTHETAERUS. I fear me 'tis too late. The thunder growls already.
(_Beats him._)

METON. Oh, woe! oh, woe!

PISTHETAERUS. I warned you. Now, be off, and do your surveying somewhere
else. (_Meton takes to his heels._)

AN INSPECTOR. Where are the Proxeni?[296]

PISTHETAERUS. Who is this Sardanapalus?[297]

INSPECTOR. I have been appointed by lot to come to Nephelococcygia as

PISTHETAERUS. An inspector! and who sends you here, you rascal?

INSPECTOR. A decree of Taleas.[299]

PISTHETAERUS. Will you just pocket your salary, do nothing, and be off?

INSPECTOR. I' faith! that I will; I am urgently needed to be at Athens to
attend the assembly; for I am charged with the interests of

PISTHETAERUS. Take it then, and be off. See, here is your salary. (_Beats

INSPECTOR. What does this mean?

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis the assembly where you have to defend Pharnaces.

INSPECTOR. You shall testify that they dare to strike me, the inspector.

PISTHETAERUS. Are you not going to clear out with your urns. 'Tis not to
be believed; they send us inspectors before we have so much as paid
sacrifice to the gods.

A DEALER IN DECREES. "If the Nephelococcygian does wrong to the

PISTHETAERUS. Now whatever are these cursed parchments?

DEALER IN DECREES. I am a dealer in decrees, and I have come here to sell
you the new laws.


DEALER IN DECREES. "The Nephelococcygians shall adopt the same weights,
measures and decrees as the Olophyxians."[301]

PISTHETAERUS. And you shall soon be imitating the Ototyxians. (_Beats

DEALER IN DECREES. Hullo! what are you doing?

PISTHETAERUS. Now will you be off with your decrees? For I am going to
let _you_ see some severe ones.

INSPECTOR (_returning_). I summon Pisthetaerus for outrage for the month
of Munychion.[302]

PISTHETAERUS. Ha! my friend! are you still there?

DEALER IN DECREES. "Should anyone drive away the magistrates and not
receive them, according to the decree duly posted..."

PISTHETAERUS. What! rascal! you are there too?

INSPECTOR. Woe to you! I'll have you condemned to a fine of ten thousand

PISTHETAERUS. And I'll smash your urns.[303]

INSPECTOR. Do you recall that evening when you stooled against the column
where the decrees are posted?

PISTHETAERUS. Here! here! let him be seized. (_The inspectors run off._)
Well! don't you want to stop any longer?

PRIEST. Let us get indoors as quick as possible; we will sacrifice the
goat inside.[304]

CHORUS. Henceforth it is to me that mortals must address their sacrifices
and their prayers. Nothing escapes my sight nor my might. My glance
embraces the universe, I preserve the fruit in the flower by destroying
the thousand kinds of voracious insects the soil produces, which attack
the trees and feed on the germ when it has scarcely formed in the calyx;
I destroy those who ravage the balmy terrace gardens like a deadly
plague; all these gnawing crawling creatures perish beneath the lash of
my wing. I hear it proclaimed everywhere: "A talent for him who shall
kill Diagoras of Melos,[305] and a talent for him who destroys one of the
dead tyrants."[306] We likewise wish to make our proclamation: "A talent
to him among you who shall kill Philocrates, the Strouthian;[307] four,
if he brings him to us alive. For this Philocrates skewers the finches
together and sells them at the rate of an obolus for seven. He tortures
the thrushes by blowing them out, so that they may look bigger, sticks
their own feathers into the nostrils of blackbirds, and collects pigeons,
which he shuts up and forces them, fastened in a net, to decoy others."
That is what we wish to proclaim. And if anyone is keeping birds shut up
in his yard, let him hasten to let them loose; those who disobey shall be
seized by the birds and we shall put them in chains, so that in their
turn they may decoy other men.

Happy indeed is the race of winged birds who need no cloak in winter!
Neither do I fear the relentless rays of the fiery dog-days; when the
divine grasshopper, intoxicated with the sunlight, when noon is burning
the ground, is breaking out into shrill melody, my home is beneath the
foliage in the flowery meadows. I winter in deep caverns, where I frolic
with the mountain nymphs, while in spring I despoil the gardens of the
Graces and gather the white, virgin berry on the myrtle bushes.

I want now to speak to the judges about the prize they are going to
award; if they are favourable to us, we will load them with benefits far
greater than those Paris[308] received. Firstly, the owls of
Laurium,[309] which every judge desires above all things, shall never be
wanting to you; you shall see them homing with you, building their nests
in your money-bags and laying coins. Besides, you shall be housed like
the gods, for we shall erect gables[310] over your dwellings; if you hold
some public post and want to do a little pilfering, we will give you the
sharp claws of a hawk. Are you dining in town, we will provide you with
crops.[311] But, if your award is against us, don't fail to have metal
covers fashioned for yourselves, like those they place over statues;[312]
else, look out! for the day you wear a white tunic all the birds will
soil it with their droppings.

PISTHETAERUS. Birds! the sacrifice is propitious. But I see no messenger
coming from the wall to tell us what is happening. Ah! here comes one
running himself out of breath as though he were running the Olympic

MESSENGER. Where, where is he? Where, where, where is he? Where, where,
where is he? Where is Pisthetaerus, our leader?


MESSENGER. The wall is finished.

PISTHETAERUS. That's good news.

MESSENGER. 'Tis a most beautiful, a most magnificent work of art. The
wall is so broad, that Proxenides, the Braggartian, and Theogenes could
pass each other in their chariots, even if they were drawn by steeds as
big as the Trojan horse.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis wonderful!

MESSENGER. Its length is one hundred stadia; I measured it myself.

PISTHETAERUS. A decent length, by Posidon! And who built such a wall?

MESSENGER. Birds--birds only; they had neither Egyptian brickmaker, nor
stonemason, nor carpenter; the birds did it all themselves, I could
hardly believe my eyes. Thirty thousand cranes came from Libya with a
supply of stones,[313] intended for the foundations. The water-rails
chiselled them with their beaks. Ten thousand storks were busy making
bricks; plovers and other water fowl carried water into the air.

PISTHETAERUS. And who carried the mortar?

MESSENGER. Herons, in hods.

PISTHETAERUS. But how could they put the mortar into hods?

MESSENGER. Oh! 'twas a truly clever invention; the geese used their feet
like spades; they buried them in the pile of mortar and then emptied them
into the hods.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! to what use cannot feet be put?[314]

MESSENGER. You should have seen how eagerly the ducks carried bricks. To
complete the tale, the swallows came flying to the work, their beaks full
of mortar and their trowel on their back, just the way little children
are carried.

PISTHETAERUS. Who would want paid servants after this? But, tell me, who
did the woodwork?

MESSENGER. Birds again, and clever carpenters too, the pelicans, for they
squared up the gates with their beaks in such a fashion that one would
have thought they were using axes; the noise was just like a dockyard.
Now the whole wall is tight everywhere, securely bolted and well guarded;
it is patrolled, bell in hand; the sentinels stand everywhere and beacons
burn on the towers. But I must run off to clean myself; the rest is your

CHORUS. Well! what do you say to it? Are you not astonished at the wall
being completed so quickly?

PISTHETAERUS. By the gods, yes, and with good reason. 'Tis really not to
be believed. But here comes another messenger from the wall to bring us
some further news! What a fighting look he has!

SECOND MESSENGER. Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!

PISTHETAERUS. What's the matter?

SECOND MESSENGER. A horrible outrage has occurred; a god sent by Zeus has
passed through our gates and has penetrated the realms of the air without
the knowledge of the jays, who are on guard in the daytime.

PISTHETAERUS. Tis an unworthy and criminal deed. What god was it?

SECOND MESSENGER. We don't know that. All we know is, that he has got

PISTHETAERUS. Why were not guards sent against him at once?

SECOND MESSENGER. We have despatched thirty thousand hawks of the legion
of mounted archers.[315] All the hook-clawed birds are moving against
him, the kestrel, the buzzard, the vulture, the great-horned owl; they
cleave the air, so that it resounds with the flapping of their wings;
they are looking everywhere for the god, who cannot be far away; indeed,
if I mistake not, he is coming from yonder side.

PISTHETAERUS. All arm themselves with slings and bows! This way, all our
soldiers; shoot and strike! Some one give me a sling!

CHORUS. War, a terrible war is breaking out between us and the gods!
Come, let each one guard the Air, the son of Erebus,[316] in which the
clouds float. Take care no immortal enters it without your knowledge.
Scan all sides with your glance. Hark! methinks I can hear the rustle of
the swift wings of a god from heaven.

PISTHETAERUS. Hi! you woman! where are you flying to? Halt, don't stir!
keep motionless! not a beat of your wing!--Who are you and from what
country? You must say whence you come.[317]

IRIS. I come from the abode of the Olympian gods.

PISTHETAERUS. What's your name, ship or cap?[318]

IRIS. I am swift Iris.

PISTHETAERUS. Paralus or Salaminia?[319]

IRIS. What do you mean?

PISTHETAERUS. Let a buzzard rush at her and seize her.[320]

IRIS. Seize me! But what do all these insults betoken?


IRIS. 'Tis incomprehensible.

PISTHETAERUS. By which gate did you pass through the wall, wretched

IRIS. By which gate? Why, great gods, I don't know.

PISTHETAERUS. You hear how she holds us in derision. Did you present
yourself to the officers in command of the jays? You don't answer. Have
you a permit, bearing the seal of the storks?

IRIS. Am I awake?

PISTHETAERUS. Did you get one?

IRIS. Are you mad?

PISTHETAERUS. No head-bird gave you a safe-conduct?

IRIS. A safe-conduct to me, you poor fool!

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! and so you slipped into this city on the sly and into
these realms of air-land that don't belong to you.

IRIS. And what other road can the gods travel?

PISTHETAERUS. By Zeus! I know nothing about that, not I. But they won't
pass this way. And you still dare to complain! Iris would ever have more
justly suffered death.

IRIS. I am immortal.

PISTHETAERUS. You would have died nevertheless.--Oh! 'twould be truly
intolerable! What! should the universe obey us and the gods alone
continue their insolence and not understand that they must submit to the
law of the strongest in their due turn? But tell me, where are you flying

IRIS. I? The messenger of Zeus to mankind, I am going to tell them to
sacrifice sheep and oxen on the altars and to fill their streets with the
rich smoke of burning fat.

PISTHETAERUS. Of which gods are you speaking?

IRIS. Of which? Why, of ourselves, the gods of heaven.


IRIS. Are there others then?

PISTHETAERUS. Men now adore the birds as gods, and 'tis to them, by Zeus,
that they must offer sacrifices, and not to Zeus at all!

IRIS. Oh! fool! fool! Rouse not the wrath of the gods, for 'tis terrible
indeed. Armed with the brand of Zeus, Justice would annihilate your race;
the lightning would strike you as it did Lycimnius and consume both your
body and the porticos of your palace.[321]

PISTHETAERUS. Here! that's enough tall talk. Just you listen and keep
quiet! Do you take me for a Lydian or a Phrygian[322] and think to
frighten me with your big words? Know, that if Zeus worries me again, I
shall go at the head of my eagles, who are armed with lightning, and
reduce his dwelling and that of Amphion to cinders.[323] I shall send
more than six hundred porphyrions clothed in leopards' skins[324] up to
heaven against him; and formerly a single Porphyrion gave him enough to
do. As for you, his messenger, if you annoy me, I shall begin by
stretching your legs asunder and so conduct myself, Iris though you be,
that despite my age, you will be astonished. I will show you a fine long
tool that will fuck you three times over.

IRIS. May you perish, you wretch, you and your infamous words!

PISTHETAERUS. Won't you be off quickly? Come, stretch your wings or look
out for squalls!

IRIS. If my father does not punish you for your insults....

PISTHETAERUS. Ha!... but just you be off elsewhere to roast younger folk
than us with your lightning.

CHORUS. We forbid the gods, the sons of Zeus, to pass through our city
and the mortals to send them the smoke of their sacrifices by this road.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis odd that the messenger we sent to the mortals has
never returned.

HERALD. Oh! blessed Pisthetaerus, very wise, very illustrious, very
gracious, thrice happy, very.... Come, prompt me, somebody, do.

PISTHETAERUS. Get to your story!

HERALD. All peoples are filled with admiration for your wisdom, and they
award you this golden crown.

PISTHETAERUS. I accept it. But tell me, why do the people admire me?

HERALD. Oh you, who have founded so illustrious a city in the air, you
know not in what esteem men hold you and how many there are who burn with
desire to dwell in it. Before your city was built, all men had a mania
for Sparta; long hair and fasting were held in honour, men went dirty
like Socrates and carried staves. Now all is changed. Firstly, as soon as
'tis dawn, they all spring out of bed together to go and seek their food,
the same as you do; then they fly off towards the notices and finally
devour the decrees. The bird-madness is so clear, that many actually bear
the names of birds. There is a halting victualler, who styles himself the
partridge; Menippus calls himself the swallow; Opontius the one-eyed
crow; Philocles the lark; Theogenes the fox-goose; Lycurgus the ibis;
Chaerephon the bat; Syracosius the magpie; Midias the quail;[325] indeed
he looks like a quail that has been hit heavily over the head. Out of
love for the birds they repeat all the songs which concern the swallow,
the teal, the goose or the pigeon; in each verse you see wings, or at all
events a few feathers. This is what is happening down there. Finally,
there are more than ten thousand folk who are coming here from earth to
ask you for feathers and hooked claws; so, mind you supply yourself with
wings for the immigrants.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! by Zeus, 'tis not the time for idling. Go as quick as
possible and fill every hamper, every basket you can find with wings.
Manes[326] will bring them to me outside the walls, where I will welcome
those who present themselves.

CHORUS. This town will soon be inhabited by a crowd of men.

PISTHETAERUS. If fortune favours us.

CHORUS. Folk are more and more delighted with it.

PISTHETAERUS. Come, hurry up and bring them along.

CHORUS. Will not man find here everything that can please him--wisdom,
love, the divine Graces, the sweet face of gentle peace?

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! you lazy servant! won't you hurry yourself?

CHORUS. Let a basket of wings be brought speedily. Come, beat him as I
do, and put some life into him; he is as lazy as an ass.

PISTHETAERUS. Aye, Manes is a great craven.

CHORUS. Begin by putting this heap of wings in order; divide them in
three parts according to the birds from whom they came; the singing, the
prophetic[327] and the aquatic birds; then you must take care to
distribute them to the men according to their character.

PISTHETAERUS (_to Manes_). Oh! by the kestrels! I can keep my hands off
you no longer; you are too slow and lazy altogether.

A PARRICIDE.[328] Oh! might I but become an eagle, who soars in the
skies! Oh! might I fly above the azure waves of the barren sea![329]

PISTHETAERUS. Ha! 'twould seem the news was true; I hear someone coming
who talks of wings.

PARRICIDE. Nothing is more charming than to fly; I burn with desire to
live under the same laws as the birds; I am bird-mad and fly towards you,
for I want to live with you and to obey your laws.

PISTHETAERUS. Which laws? The birds have many laws.

PARRICIDE. All of them; but the one that pleases me most is, that among
the birds it is considered a fine thing to peck and strangle one's

PISTHETAERUS. Aye, by Zeus! according to us, he who dares to strike his
father, while still a chick, is a brave fellow.

PARRICIDE. And therefore I want to dwell here, for I want to strangle my
father and inherit his wealth.

PISTHETAERUS. But we have also an ancient law written in the code of the
storks, which runs thus, "When the stork father has reared his young and
has taught them to fly, the young must in their turn support the father."

PARRICIDE. 'Tis hardly worth while coming all this distance to be
compelled to keep my father!

PISTHETAERUS. No, no, young friend, since you have come to us with such
willingness, I am going to give you these black wings, as though you were
an orphan bird; furthermore, some good advice, that I received myself in
infancy. Don't strike your father, but take these wings in one hand and
these spurs in the other; imagine you have a cock's crest on your head
and go and mount guard and fight; live on your pay and respect your
father's life. You're a gallant fellow! Very well, then! Fly to Thrace
and fight.[330]

PARRICIDE. By Bacchus! 'Tis well spoken; I will follow your counsel.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis acting wisely, by Zeus.

CINESIAS.[331] "On my light pinions I soar off to Olympus; in its
capricious flight my Muse flutters along the thousand paths of poetry in
turn ..."

PISTHETAERUS. This is a fellow will need a whole shipload of wings.

CINESIAS. ... it is seeking fresh outlet."

PISTHETAERUS. Welcome, Cinesias, you lime-wood man![332] Why have you
come here a-twisting your game leg in circles?

CINESIAS. "I want to become a bird, a tuneful nightingale."

PISTHETAERUS. Enough of that sort of ditty. Tell me what you want.

CINESIAS. Give me wings and I will fly into the topmost airs to gather
fresh songs in the clouds, in the midst of the vapours and the fleecy

PISTHETAERUS. Gather songs in the clouds?

CINESIAS. 'Tis on them the whole of our latter-day art depends. The most
brilliant dithyrambs are those that flap their wings in void space and
are clothed in mist and dense obscurity. To appreciate this, just listen.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! no, no, no!

CINESIAS. By Hermes! but indeed you shall. "I shall travel through thine
ethereal empire like a winged bird, who cleaveth space with his long

PISTHETAERUS. Stop! easy all, I say![333]

CINESIAS. ... as I soar over the seas, carried by the breath of the winds

PISTHETAERUS. By Zeus! but I'll cut your breath short.

CINESIAS. ... now rushing along the tracks of Notus, now nearing Boreas
across the infinite wastes of the ether." (_Pisthetaerus beats him._) Ah!
old man, that's a pretty and clever idea truly!

PISTHETAERUS. What! are you not delighted to be cleaving the air?[334]

CINESIAS. To treat a dithyrambic poet, for whom the tribes dispute with
each other, in this style![335]

PISTHETAERUS. Will you stay with us and form a chorus of winged birds as
slender as Leotrophides[336] for the Cecropid tribe?

CINESIAS. You are making game of me, 'tis clear; but know that I shall
never leave you in peace if I do not have wings wherewith to traverse the

AN INFORMER. What are these birds with downy feathers, who look so
pitiable to me? Tell me, oh swallow with the long dappled wings.[337]

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! but 'tis a perfect invasion that threatens us. Here
comes another of them, humming along.

INFORMER. Swallow with the long dappled wings, once more I summon you.

PISTHETAERUS. It's his cloak I believe he's addressing; 'faith, it stands
in great need of the swallows' return.[338]

INFORMER. Where is he who gives out wings to all comers?

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis I, but you must tell me for what purpose you want

INFORMER. Ask no questions. I want wings, and wings I must have.

PISTHETAERUS. Do you want to fly straight to Pellené?[339]

INFORMER. I? Why, I am an accuser of the islands,[340] an informer ...

PISTHETAERUS. A fine trade, truly!

INFORMER. ... a hatcher of lawsuits. Hence I have great need of wings to
prowl round the cities and drag them before justice.

PISTHETAERUS. Would you do this better if you had wings?

INFORMER. No, but I should no longer fear the pirates; I should return
with the cranes, loaded with a supply of lawsuits by way of ballast.

PISTHETAERUS. So it seems, despite all your youthful vigour, you make it
your trade to denounce strangers?

INFORMER. Well, and why not? I don't know how to dig.

PISTHETAERUS. But, by Zeus! there are honest ways of gaining a living at
your age without all this infamous trickery.

INFORMER. My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis just my words that give you wings.

INFORMER. And how can you give a man wings with your words?

PISTHETAERUS. 'Tis thus that all first start.


PISTHETAERUS. Have you not often heard the father say to young men in the
barbers' shops, "It's astonishing how Diitrephes' advice has made my son
fly to horse-riding."--"Mine," says another, "has flown towards tragic
poetry on the wings of his imagination."

INFORMER. So that words give wings?

PISTHETAERUS. Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man
soar to heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly
to some less degrading trade.

INFORMER. But I do not want to.

PISTHETAERUS. What do you reckon on doing then?

INFORMER. I won't belie my breeding; from generation to generation we
have lived by informing. Quick, therefore, give me quickly some light,
swift hawk or kestrel wings, so that I may summon the islanders, sustain
the accusation here, and haste back there again on flying pinions.

PISTHETAERUS. I see. In this way the stranger will be condemned even
before he appears.

INFORMER. That's just it.

PISTHETAERUS. And while he is on his way here by sea, you will be flying
to the islands to despoil him of his property.

INFORMER. You've hit it, precisely; I must whirl hither and thither like
a perfect humming-top.

PISTHETAERUS. I catch the idea. Wait, i' faith, I've got some fine
Corcyraean wings.[341] How do you like them?

INFORMER. Oh! woe is me! Why, 'tis a whip!

PISTHETAERUS. No, no; these are the wings, I tell you, that set the top

INFORMER. Oh! oh! oh!

PISTHETAERUS. Take your flight, clear off, you miserable cur, or you will
soon see what comes of quibbling and lying. Come, let us gather up our
wings and withdraw.

CHORUS. In my ethereal nights I have seen many things new and strange and
wondrous beyond belief. There is a tree called Cleonymus belonging to an
unknown species; it has no heart, is good for nothing and is as tall as
it is cowardly. In springtime it shoots forth calumnies instead of buds
and in autumn it strews the ground with bucklers in place of leaves.[342]

Far away in the regions of darkness, where no ray of light ever enters,
there is a country, where men sit at the table of the heroes and dwell
with them always--save always in the evening. Should any mortal meet the
hero Orestes at night, he would soon be stripped and covered with blows
from head to foot.[343]

PROMETHEUS. Ah! by the gods! if only Zeus does not espy me! Where is

PISTHETAERUS. Ha! what is this? A masked man!

PROMETHEUS. Can you see any god behind me?

PISTHETAERUS. No, none. But who are you, pray?

PROMETHEUS. What's the time, please?

PISTHETAERUS. The time? Why, it's past noon. Who are you?

PROMETHEUS. Is it the fall of day? Is it no later than that?[344]

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! 'pon my word! but you grow tiresome!

PROMETHEUS. What is Zeus doing? Is he dispersing the clouds or gathering

PISTHETAERUS. Take care, lest I lose all patience.

PROMETHEUS. Come, I will raise my mask.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! my dear Prometheus!

PROMETHEUS. Stop! stop! speak lower!

PISTHETAERUS. Why, what's the matter, Prometheus?

PROMETHEUS. H'sh, h'sh! Don't call me by my name; you will be my ruin, if
Zeus should see me here. But, if you want me to tell you how things are
going in heaven, take this umbrella and shield me, so that the gods don't
see me.

PISTHETAERUS. I can recognize Prometheus in this cunning trick. Come,
quick then, and fear nothing; speak on.

PROMETHEUS. Then listen.

PISTHETAERUS. I am listening, proceed!

PROMETHEUS. It's all over with Zeus.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! and since when, pray?

PROMETHEUS. Since you founded this city in the air. There is not a man
who now sacrifices to the gods; the smoke of the victims no longer
reaches us. Not the smallest offering comes! We fast as though it were
the festival of Demeter.[346] The barbarian gods, who are dying of
hunger, are bawling like Illyrians[347] and threaten to make an armed
descent upon Zeus, if he does not open markets where joints of the
victims are sold.

PISTHETAERUS. What! there are other gods besides you, barbarian gods who
dwell above Olympus?

PROMETHEUS. If there were no barbarian gods, who would be the patron of

PISTHETAERUS. And what is the name of these gods?

PROMETHEUS. Their name? Why, the Triballi.[349]

PISTHETAERUS. Ah, indeed! 'tis from that no doubt that we derive the word

PROMETHEUS. Most likely. But one thing I can tell you for certain,
namely, that Zeus and the celestial Triballi are going to send deputies
here to sue for peace. Now don't you treat, unless Zeus restores the
sceptre to the birds and gives you Basileia[351] in marriage.

PISTHETAERUS. Who is this Basileia?

PROMETHEUS. A very fine young damsel, who makes the lightning for Zeus;
all things come from her, wisdom, good laws, virtue, the fleet,
calumnies, the public paymaster and the triobolus.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! then she is a sort of general manageress to the god.

PROMETHEUS. Yes, precisely. If he gives you her for your wife, yours will
be the almighty power. That is what I have come to tell you; for you know
my constant and habitual goodwill towards men.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh, yes! 'tis thanks to you that we roast our meat.[352]

PROMETHEUS. I hate the gods, as you know.

PISTHETAERUS. Aye, by Zeus, you have always detested them.

PROMETHEUS. Towards them I am a veritable Timon;[353] but I must return
in all haste, so give me the umbrella; if Zeus should see me from up
there, he would think I was escorting one of the Canephori.[354]

PISTHETAERUS. Wait, take this stool as well.

CHORUS. Near by the land of the Sciapodes[355] there is a marsh, from the
borders whereof the odious Socrates evokes the souls of men.
Pisander[356] came one day to see his soul, which he had left there when
still alive. He offered a little victim, a camel,[357] slit his throat
and, following the example of Ulysses, stepped one pace backwards.[358]
Then that bat of a Chaerephon[359] came up from hell to drink the camel's

POSIDON.[360] This is the city of Nephelococcygia, Cloud-cuckoo-town,
whither we come as ambassadors. (_To Triballus_.) Hi! what are you up to?
you are throwing your cloak over the left shoulder. Come, fling it quick
over the right! And why, pray, does it draggle this fashion? Have you
ulcers to hide like Laespodias?[361] Oh! democracy![362] whither, oh!
whither are you leading us? Is it possible that the gods have chosen such
an envoy?

TRIBALLUS. Leave me alone.

POSIDON. Ugh! the cursed savage! you are by far the most barbarous of all
the gods.--Tell me, Heracles, what are we going to do?

HERACLES. I have already told you that I want to strangle the fellow who
has dared to block us in.

POSIDON. But, my friend, we are envoys of peace.

HERACLES. All the more reason why I wish to strangle him.

PISTHETAERUS. Hand me the cheese-grater; bring me the silphium for sauce;
pass me the cheese and watch the coals.[363]

HERACLES. Mortal! we who greet you are three gods.

PISTHETAERUS. Wait a bit till I have prepared my silphium pickle.

HERACLES. What are these meats?[364]

PISTHETAERUS. These are birds that have been punished with death for
attacking the people's friends.

HERACLES. And you are seasoning them before answering us?

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! Heracles! welcome, welcome! What's the matter?[365]

HERACLES. The gods have sent us here as ambassadors to treat for peace.

A SERVANT. There's no more oil in the flask.

PISTHETAERUS. And yet the birds must be thoroughly basted with it.[366]

HERACLES. We have no interest to serve in fighting you; as for you, be
friends and we promise that you shall always have rain-water in your
pools and the warmest of warm weather. So far as these points go we are
armed with plenary authority.

PISTHETAERUS. We have never been the aggressors, and even now we are as
well disposed for peace as yourselves, provided you agree to one
equitable condition, namely, that Zeus yield his sceptre to the birds. If
only this is agreed to, I invite the ambassadors to dinner.

HERACLES. That's good enough for me. I vote for peace.

POSIDON. You wretch! you are nothing but a fool and a glutton. Do you
want to dethrone your own father?

PISTHETAERUS. What an error! Why, the gods will be much more powerful if
the birds govern the earth. At present the mortals are hidden beneath the
clouds, escape your observation, and commit perjury in your name; but if
you had the birds for your allies, and a man, after having sworn by the
crow and Zeus, should fail to keep his oath, the crow would dive down
upon him unawares and pluck out his eye.

POSIDON. Well thought of, by Posidon![367]

HERACLES. My notion too.

PISTHETAERUS. (_to the Triballian_). And you, what's your opinion?

TRIBALLUS. Nabaisatreu.[368]

PISTHETAERUS. D'you see? he also approves. But hear another thing in
which we can serve you. If a man vows to offer a sacrifice to some god
and then procrastinates, pretending that the gods can wait, and thus does
not keep his word, we shall punish his stinginess.

POSIDON. Ah! ah! and how?

PISTHETAERUS. While he is counting his money or is in the bath, a kite
will relieve him, before he knows it, either in coin or in clothes, of
the value of a couple of sheep, and carry it to the god.

HERACLES. I vote for restoring them the sceptre.

POSIDON. Ask the Triballian.

HERACLES. Hi! Triballian, do you want a thrashing?

TRIBALLUS. Saunaka baktarikrousa.[368]

HERACLES. He says, "Right willingly."

POSIDON. If that be the opinion of both of you, why, I consent too.

HERACLES. Very well! we accord the sceptre.

PISTHETAERUS. Ah! I was nearly forgetting another condition. I will leave
Heré to Zeus, but only if the young Basileia is given me in marriage.

POSIDON. Then you don't want peace. Let us withdraw.

PISTHETAERUS. It matters mighty little to me. Cook, look to the gravy.

HERACLES. What an odd fellow this Posidon is! Where are you off to? Are
we going to war about a woman?

POSIDON. What else is there to do?

HERACLES. What else? Why, conclude peace.

POSIDON. Oh! the ninny! do you always want to be fooled? Why, you are
seeking your own downfall. If Zeus were to die, after having yielded them
the sovereignty, you would be ruined, for you are the heir of all the
wealth he will leave behind.

PISTHETAERUS. Oh! by the gods! how he is cajoling you. Step aside, that I
may have a word with you. Your uncle is getting the better of you, my
poor friend.[369] The law will not allow you an obolus of the paternal
property, for you are a bastard and not a legitimate child.

HERACLES. I a bastard! What's that you tell me?

PISTHETAERUS. Why, certainly; are you not born of a stranger woman?[370]
Besides, is not Athené recognized as Zeus' sole heiress? And no daughter
would be that, if she had a legitimate brother.

HERACLES. But what if my father wished to give me his property on his
death-bed, even though I be a bastard?

PISTHETAERUS. The law forbids it, and this same Posidon would be the
first to lay claim to his wealth, in virtue of being his legitimate
brother. Listen; thus runs Solon's law: "A bastard shall not inherit, if
there are legitimate children; and if there are no legitimate children,
the property shall pass to the nearest kin."

HERACLES. And I get nothing whatever of the paternal property?

PISTHETAERUS. Absolutely nothing. But tell me, has your father had you
entered on the registers of his phratria?[371]

HERACLES. No, and I have long been surprised at the omission.

PISTHETAERUS. What ails you, that you should shake your fist at heaven?
Do you want to fight it? Why, be on my side, I will make you a king and
will feed you on bird's milk and honey.

HERACLES. Your further condition seems fair to me. I cede you the young

POSIDON. But I, I vote against this opinion.

PISTHETAERUS. Then all depends on the Triballian. (_To the Triballian._)
What do you say?

TRIBALLUS. Big bird give daughter pretty and queen.

HERACLES. You say that you give her?

POSIDON. Why no, he does not say anything of the sort, that he gives her;
else I cannot understand any better than the swallows.

PISTHETAERUS. Exactly so. Does he not say she must be given to the

POSIDON. Very well! you two arrange the matter; make peace, since you
wish it so; I'll hold my tongue.

HERACLES. We are of a mind to grant you all that you ask. But come up
there with us to receive Basileia and the celestial bounty.

PISTHETAERUS. Here are birds already cut up, and very suitable for a
nuptial feast.

HERACLES. You go and, if you like, I will stay here to roast them.

PISTHETAERUS. You to roast them! you are too much the glutton; come along
with us.

HERACLES. Ah! how well I would have treated myself!

PISTHETAERUS. Let some bring me a beautiful and magnificent tunic for the

CHORUS.[372] At Phanae,[373] near the Clepsydra,[374] there dwells a
people who have neither faith nor law, the Englottogastors,[375] who
reap, sow, pluck the vines and the figs[376] with their tongues; they
belong to a barbaric race, and among them the Philippi and the
Gorgiases[377] are to be found; 'tis these Englottogastorian Phillippi
who introduced the custom all over Attica of cutting out the tongue
separately at sacrifices.[378]

A MESSENGER. Oh, you, whose unbounded happiness I cannot express in
words, thrice happy race of airy birds, receive your king in your
fortunate dwellings. More brilliant than the brightest star that illumes
the earth, he is approaching his glittering golden palace; the sun itself
does not shine with more dazzling glory. He is entering with his bride at
his side[379] whose beauty no human tongue can express; in his hand he
brandishes the lightning, the winged shaft of Zeus; perfumes of
unspeakable sweetness pervade the ethereal realms. 'Tis a glorious
spectacle to see the clouds of incense wafting in light whirlwinds before
the breath of the Zephyr! But here he is himself. Divine Muse! let thy
sacred lips begin with songs of happy omen.

CHORUS. Fall back! to the right! to the left! advance![380] Fly around
this happy mortal, whom Fortune loads with her blessings. Oh! oh! what
grace! what beauty! Oh, marriage so auspicious for our city! All honour
to this man! 'tis through him that the birds are called to such glorious
destinies. Let your nuptial hymns, your nuptial songs, greet him and his
Basileia! 'Twas in the midst of such festivities that the Fates formerly
united Olympian Here to the King who governs the gods from the summit of
his inaccessible throne. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus! Rosy Eros with the
golden wings held the reins and guided the chariot; 'twas he, who
presided over the union of Zeus and the fortunate Heré. Oh! Hymen! oh!

PISTHETAERUS. I am delighted with your songs, I applaud your verses. Now
celebrate the thunder that shakes the earth, the flaming lightning of
Zeus and the terrible flashing thunderbolt.

CHORUS. Oh, thou golden flash of the lightning! oh, ye divine shafts of
flame, that Zeus has hitherto shot forth! Oh, ye rolling thunders, that
bring down the rain! 'Tis by the order of our king that ye shall now
stagger the earth! Oh, Hymen! 'tis through thee that he commands the
universe and that he makes Basileia, whom he has robbed from Zeus, take
her seat at his side. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus!

PISTHETAERUS. Let all the winged tribes of our fellow-citizens follow the
bridal couple to the palace of Zeus[381] and to the nuptial couch!
Stretch forth your hands, my dear wife! Take hold of me by my wings and
let us dance; I am going to lift you up and carry you through the air.

CHORUS. Oh, joy! Io Paean! Tralala! victory is thine, oh, thou greatest
of the gods!

* * * * *


* * * * *


[175] Euelpides is holding a jay and Pisthetaerus a crow; they are the
guides who are to lead them to the kingdom of the birds.

[176] A stranger, who wanted to pass as an Athenian, although coming
originally from a far-away barbarian country.

[177] A king of Thrace, a son of Ares, who married Procné, 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 Procné had born 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 metamorphised. Tereus became an Epops (hoopoe),
Procné a swallow, Philomela a nightingale, and Itys a goldfinch.
According to Anacreon and Apollodorus it was Procné who became the
nightingale and Philomela the swallow, and this is the version of the
tradition followed by Aristophanes.

[178] An Athenian who had some resemblance to a jay--so says the
Scholiast, at any rate.

[179] Literally, _to go to the crows_, a proverbial expression equivalent
to our _going to the devil_.

[180] They leave Athens because of their hatred of lawsuits and
informers; this is the especial failing of the Athenians satirized in
'The Wasps.'

[181] Myrtle boughs were used in sacrifices, and the founding of every
colony was started by a sacrifice.

[182] The actors wore masks made to resemble the birds they were supposed
to represent.

[183] Fear had had disastrous effects upon Euelpides' internal economy,
this his feet evidenced.

[184] The same mishap had occurred to Pisthetaerus.

[185] The Greek word for a wren, [Greek: trochilos], is derived from the
same root as [Greek: trechein], to run.

[186] No doubt there was some scenery to represent a forest. Besides,
there is a pun intended. The words answering for _forest_ and _door_
([Greek: hul_e and thura]) in Greek only differ slightly in sound.

[187] Sophocles had written a tragedy about Tereus, in which, no doubt,
the king finally appears as a hoopoe.

[188] A [Greek: para prosdokian]; one would expect the question to be
"bird or man."--Are you a peacock? The hoopoe resembles the peacock
inasmuch as both have crests.

[189] Athens.

[190] The Athenians were madly addicted to lawsuits. (_Vide_ 'The

[191] As much as to say, _Then you have such things as anti-dicasts?_ And
Euelpides practically replies, _Very few_.

[192] His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded a fleet
sent in aid of Corcyra.

[193] 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.

[194] A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course, on the

[195] An allusion to Opuntius, who was one-eyed.

[196] The newly-married ate a sesame cake, decorated with garlands of
myrtle, poppies, and mint.

[197] From [Greek: polein], to turn.

[198] The Greek words for _pole_ and _city_ ([Greek: polos] and [Greek:
polis]) only differ by a single letter.

[199] Boeotia separated Attica from Phocis.

[200] He swears by the powers that are to him dreadful.

[201] As already stated, according to the legend, accepted by
Aristophanes, it was Procné who was turned into the nightingale.

[202] The son of Tereus and Procné.

[203] An African bird, that comes to the southern countries of Europe, to
Greece, Italy, and Spain; it is even seen in Provence.

[204] Aristophanes amusingly mixes up real birds with people and
individuals, whom he represents in the form of birds; he is personifying
the Medians here.

[205] 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.

[206] 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.

[207] This Callias, who must not be confounded with the foe of
Pisistratus, had ruined himself.

[208] Cleonymus had cast away his shield; he was as great a glutton as he
was a coward.

[209] A race in which the track had to be circled twice.

[210] A people of Asia Minor; when pursued by the Ionians they took
refuge in the mountains.

[211] An Athenian barber.

[212] The owl was dedicated to Athené, and being respected at Athens, it
had greatly multiplied. Hence the proverb, _taking owls to Athens_,
similar to our English _taking coals to Newcastle_.

[213] 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 Athené. 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.

[214] 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

[215] Procné, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens.

[216] 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.

[217] A town in Western Argolis, where the Athenians had been recently
defeated. The somewhat similar word in Greek, [Greek: ornithes],
signifies _birds_.

[218] Epops is addressing the two slaves, no doubt Xanthias and Manes,
who are mentioned later on.

[219] 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

[220] A deme of Attica. In Greek the word ([Greek: kephalai]) also means
_heads_, and hence the pun.

[221] 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.

[222] All Persians wore the tiara, but always on one side; the Great King
alone wore it straight on his head.

[223] Noted as the birthplace of Thucydides, a deme of Attica of the
tribe of Leontis. Demosthenes tells us it was thirty-five stadia from

[224] The appearance of the kite in Greece betokened the return of
springtime; it was therefore worshipped as a symbol of that season.

[225] To look at the kite, who no doubt was flying high in the sky.

[226] 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.

[227] In Phoenicia and Egypt the cuckoo makes its appearance about

[228] This was an Egyptian proverb, meaning, _When the cuckoo sings we go
harvesting_. Both the Phoenicians and the Egyptians practised

[229] The staff, called a sceptre, generally terminated in a piece of
carved work, representing a flower, a fruit, and most often a bird.

[230] A general accused of treachery. The bird watches Lysicrates,
because, according to Pisthetaerus, he had a right to a share of the

[231] It is thus that Phidias represents his Olympian Zeus.

[232] One of the diviners sent to Sybaris (in Magna Graecia, S. Italy)
with the Athenian colonists, who rebuilt the town under the new name of

[233] 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.

[234] Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, King of Thebes and mother of
Heracles.--Semelé, the daughter of Cadmus and Hermioné and mother of
Bacchus; both seduced by Zeus.--Alopé, daughter of Cercyon, a robber, who
reigned at Eleusis and was conquered by Perseus. Alopé 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.

[235] Because the bald patch on the coot's head resembles the shaven and
depilated 'motte.'

[236] Because water is the duck's domain, as it is that of Posidon.

[237] Because the gull, like Heracles, is voracious.

[238] The Germans still call it _Zaunkönig_ and the French _roitelet_,
both names thus containing the idea of _king_.

[239] The Scholiast draws our attention to the fact that Homer says this
of Heré 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

[240] In sacrifices.

[241] An Athenian proverb.

[242] A celebrated temple to Zeus in an oasis of Libya.

[243] 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 and

[244] Servants of Pisthetaerus and Euelpides.

[245] It has already been mentioned that, according to the legend
followed by Aristophanes, Procné had been changed into a nightingale and
Philomela into a swallow.

[246] The actor, representing Procné, was dressed out as a courtesan, but
wore the mask of a bird.

[247] Young unmarried girls wore golden ornaments; the apparel of married
women was much simpler.

[248] The actor, representing Procné, was a flute-player.

[249] The parabasis.

[250] 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.

[251] Lovers were wont to make each other presents of birds. The cock and
the goose are mentioned, of course, in jest.

[252] i.e. that it gave notice of the approach of winter, during which
season the Ancients did not venture to sea.

[253] A notorious robber.

[254] 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.

[255] The Greek word for _omen_ is the same as that for _bird_--[Greek:

[256] A satire on the passion of the Greeks for seeing an omen in

[257] An imitation of the nightingale's song.

[258] God of the groves and wilds.

[259] The 'Mother of the Gods'; roaming the mountains, she held dances,
always attended by Pan and his accompanying rout of Fauns and Satyrs.

[260] An allusion to cock-fighting; the birds are armed with brazen

[261] An allusion to the spots on this bird, which resemble the scars
left by a branding iron.

[262] He was of Asiatic origin, but wished to pass for an Athenian.

[263] Or Philamnon, King of Thrace; the Scholiast remarks that the
Phrygians and the Thracians had a common origin.

[264] The Greek word here, [Greek: pappos], is also the name of a little

[265] A basket-maker who had become rich.--The Phylarchs were the headmen
of the tribes, [Greek: Phulai]. 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.

[266] He had now become a senator, member of the [Greek: Boul_e].

[267] Pisthetaerus and Euelpides now both return with wings.

[268] 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.

[269] 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.

[270] A fanciful name constructed from [Greek: nephel_e], a
cloud, and [Greek: kokkux], 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.

[* Transcriber's note: So in original. The correct German word is

[271] He was a boaster nicknamed [Greek: Kapnos], _smoke_, because he
promised a great deal and never kept his word.

[272] Also mentioned in 'The Wasps.'

[273] Because the war of the Titans against the gods was only a fiction
of the poets.

[274] A sacred cloth, with which the statue of Athené in the Acropolis
was draped.

[275] Meaning, to be patron-goddess of the city. Athené had a temple of
this name.

[276] An Athenian effeminate, frequently ridiculed by Aristophanes.

[277] This was the name of the wall surrounding the Acropolis.

[278] i.e. the fighting-cock.

[279] To waken the sentinels, who might else have fallen asleep.--There
are several merry contradictions in the various parts of this list of

[280] 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.

[281] Hellanicus, the Mitylenian historian, tells that this surname of
Artemis is derived from Colaenus, King of Athens before Cecrops and a
descendant of Hermes. In obedience to an oracle he erected a temple to
the goddess, invoking her as Artemis Colaenis (the Artemis of Colaenus).

[282] This Cleocritus, says the Scholiast, was long-necked and strutted
like an ostrich.

[283] The Chians were the most faithful allies of Athens, and hence their
name was always mentioned in prayers, decrees, etc.

[284] Verses sung by maidens.

[285] This ceremony took place on the tenth day after birth, and may be
styled the pagan baptism.

[286] Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse.--This passage is borrowed from Pindar.

[287] [Greek: Hierón] in Greek means sacrifice.

[288] A parody of poetic pathos, not to say bathos.

[289] Which the priest was preparing to sacrifice.

[290] Orneae, a city in Argolis ([Greek: ornis] in Greek means a bird).
It was because of this similarity in sound that the prophet alludes to

[291] Noted Athenian diviner, who, when the power was still shared
between Thucydides and Pericles, predicted that it would soon be centred
in the hands of the latter; his ground for this prophecy was the sight of
a ram with a single horn.

[292] No doubt another Athenian diviner, and possibly the same person
whom Aristophanes names in 'The Knights' and 'The Wasps' as being a

[293] A celebrated geometrician and astronomer.

[294] A deme contiguous to Athens. It is as though he said, "Well known
throughout all England and at Croydon."

[295] Thales was no less famous as a geometrician than he was as a sage.

[296] Officers of Athens, whose duty was to protect strangers who came on
political or other business, and see to their interests generally.

[297] He addresses the inspector thus because of the royal and
magnificent manners he assumes.

[298] Magistrates appointed to inspect the tributary towns.

[299] A much-despised citizen, already mentioned. He ironically supposes
him invested with the powers of an Archon, which ordinarily were
entrusted only to men of good repute.

[300] A Persian satrap.--An allusion to certain orators, who, bribed with
Asiatic gold, had often defended the interests of the foe in the Public

[301] A Macedonian people in the peninsula of Chalcidicé. This name is
chosen because of its similarity to the Greek word [Greek:
olophuresthai], _to groan_. It is from another verb, [Greek: ototuzein],
meaning the same thing, that Pisthetaerus coins the name of Ototyxians,
i.e. groaners, because he is about to beat the dealer.--The
mother-country had the right to impose any law it chose upon its

[302] Corresponding to our month of April.

[303] Which the inspector had brought with him for the purpose of
inaugurating the assemblies of the people or some tribunal.

[304] So that the sacrifices might no longer be interrupted.

[305] A disciple of Democrites; he passed over from superstition to
atheism. The injustice and perversity of mankind led him to deny the
existence of the gods, to lay bare the mysteries and to break the idols.
The Athenians had put a price on his head, so he left Greece and perished
soon afterwards in a storm at sea.

[306] By this jest Aristophanes means to imply that tyranny is dead, and
that no one aspires to despotic power, though this silly accusation was
constantly being raised by the demagogues and always favourably received
by the populace.

[307] A poulterer.--Strouthian, used in joke to designate him, as if from
the name of his 'deme,' is derived from [Greek: strouthos], _a sparrow_.
The birds' foe is thus grotesquely furnished with an ornithological

[308] From Aphrodité (Venus), to whom he had awarded the apple, prize of
beauty, in the contest of the "goddesses three."

[309] Laurium was an Athenian deme at the extremity of the Attic
peninsula containing valuable silver mines, the revenues of which were
largely employed in the maintenance of the fleet and payment of the
crews. The "owls of Laurium," of course, mean pieces of money; the
Athenian coinage was stamped with a representation of an owl, the bird of

[310] A pun impossible to keep in English, on the two meanings of the
word [Greek: aetos], which signifies both an eagle and the gable of a
house or pediment of a temple.

[311] That is, birds' crops, into which they could stow away plenty of
good things.

[312] The Ancients appear to have placed metal discs over statues
standing in the open air, to save them from injury from the weather, etc.

[313] So as not to be carried away by the wind when crossing the sea,
cranes are popularly supposed to ballast themselves with stones, which
they carry in their beaks.

[314] Pisthetaerus modifies the Greek proverbial saying, "To what use
cannot hands be put?"

[315] A corps of Athenian cavalry was so named.

[316] Chaos, Night, Tartarus, and Erebus alone existed in the beginning;
Eros was born from Night and Erebus, and he wedded Chaos and begot Earth,
Air, and Heaven; so runs the fable.

[317] Iris appears from the top of the stage and arrests her flight in

[318] Ship, because of her wings, which resemble oars; cap, because she
no doubt wore the head-dress (as a messenger of the gods) with which
Hermes is generally depicted.

[319] The names of the two sacred galleys which carried Athenian
officials on State business.

[320] A buzzard is named in order to raise a laugh, the Greek name
[Greek: triorchos] also meaning, etymologically, provided with three
testicles, vigorous in love.

[321] Iris' reply is a parody of the tragic style.--'Lycimnius' is,
according to the Scholiast, the title of a tragedy by Euripides, which is
about a ship that is struck by lightning.

[322] i.e. for a poltroon, like the slaves, most of whom came to Athens
from these countries.

[323] A parody of a passage in the lost tragedy of 'Niobe' of Aeschylus.

[324] Because this bird has a spotted plumage.--Porphyrion is also the
name of one of the Titans who tried to storm heaven.

[325] All these surnames bore some relation to the character or the build
of the individual to whom the poet applies them.--Chaerephon, Socrates'
disciple, was of white and ashen hue.--Opontius was one-eyed.--Syracosius
was a braggart.--Midias had a passion for quail-fights, and, besides,
resembled that bird physically.

[326] Pisthetaerus' servant, already mentioned.

[327] From the inspection of which auguries were taken, e.g. the eagles,
the vultures, the crows.

[328] Or rather, a young man who contemplated parricide.

[329] A parody of verses in Sophocles' 'Oenomaus.'

[330] The Athenians were then besieging Amphipolis in the Thracian

[331] There was a real Cinesias--a dithyrambic poet, born at Thebes.

[332] The Scholiast thinks that Cinesias, who was tall and slight of
build, wore a kind of corset of lime-wood to support his waist--surely
rather a far-fetched interpretation!

[333] The Greek word used here was the word of command employed to stop
the rowers.

[334] Cinesias makes a bound each time that Pisthetaerus struck him.

[335] The tribes of Athens, or rather the rich citizens belonging to
them, were wont on feast-days to give representations of dithyrambic
choruses as well as of tragedies and comedies.

[336] Another dithyrambic poet, a man of extreme leanness.

[337] A parody of a hemistich from 'Alcaeus.'--The informer is
dissatisfied at only seeing birds of sombre plumage and poor appearance.
He would have preferred to denounce the rich.

[338] The informer, says the Scholiast, was clothed with a ragged cloak,
the tatters of which hung down like wings, in fact, a cloak that could
not protect him from the cold and must have made him long for the
swallows' return, i.e. the spring.

[339] A town in Achaia, where woollen cloaks were made.

[340] His trade was to accuse the rich citizens of the subject islands,
and drag them before the Athenian courts; he explains later the special
advantages of this branch of the informer's business.

[341] That is, whips--Corcyra being famous for these articles.

[342] Cleonymus is a standing butt of Aristophanes' wit, both as an
informer and a notorious poltroon.

[343] In allusion to the cave of the bandit Orestes; the poet terms him a
hero only because of his heroic name Orestes.

[344] Prometheus wants night to come and so reduce the risk of being seen
from Olympus.

[345] The clouds would prevent Zeus seeing what was happening below him.

[346] The third day of the festival of Demeter was a fast.

[347] A semi-savage people, addicted to violence and brigandage.

[348] Who, being reputed a stranger despite his pretension to the title
of a citizen, could only have a strange god for his patron or tutelary

[349] The Triballi were a Thracian people; it was a term commonly used in
Athens to describe coarse men, obscene debauchees and greedy parasites.

[350] There is a similar pun in the Greek.

[351] i.e. the _supremacy_ of Greece, the real object of the war.

[352] Prometheus had stolen the fire from the gods to gratify mankind.

[353] A celebrated misanthrope, contemporary to Aristophanes. Hating the
society of men, he had only a single friend, Apimantus, to whom he was
attached, because of their similarity of character; he also liked
Alcibiades, because he foresaw that this young man would be the ruin of
his country.

[354] The Canephori were young maidens, chosen from the first families of
the city, who carried baskets wreathed with myrtle at the feast of
Athené, while at those of Bacchus and Demeter they appeared with gilded
baskets.--The daughters of 'Metics,' or resident aliens, walked behind
them, carrying an umbrella and a stool.

[355] According to Ctesias, the Sciapodes were a people who dwelt on the
borders of the Atlantic. Their feet were larger than the rest of their
bodies, and to shield themselves from the sun's rays they held up one of
their feet as an umbrella.--By giving the Socratic philosophers the name
of Sciapodes here ([Greek: _podes_], feet, and [Greek: _skia_], shadow)
Aristophanes wishes to convey that they are walking in the dark and
busying themselves with the greatest nonsense.

[356] This Pisander was a notorious coward; for this reason the poet
jestingly supposes that he had lost his soul, the seat of courage.

[357] A [Greek: para prosdokian], considering the shape and height of the
camel, which can certainly not be included in the list of _small_
victims, e.g. the sheep and the goat.

[358] In the evocation of the dead, Book XI of the Odyssey.

[359] Chaerephon was given this same title by the Herald earlier in this
comedy.--Aristophanes supposes him to have come from hell because he is
lean and pallid.

[360] Posidon appears on the stage accompanied by Heracles and a
Triballian god.

[361] An Athenian general.--Neptune is trying to give Triballus some
notions of elegance and good behaviour.

[362] Aristophanes supposes that democracy is in the ascendant in Olympus
as it is in Athens.

[363] He is addressing his servant, Manes.

[364] Heracles softens at sight of the food.--Heracles is the glutton of
the comic poets.

[365] He pretends not to have seen them at first, being so much engaged
with his cookery.

[366] He pretends to forget the presence of the ambassadors.

[367] Posidon jestingly swears by himself.

[368] The barbarian god utters some gibberish which Pisthetaerus
interprets into consent.

[369] Heracles, the god of strength, was far from being remarkable in the
way of cleverness.

[370] This was Athenian law.

[371] The poet attributes to the gods the same customs as those which
governed Athens, and according to which no child was looked upon as
legitimate unless his father had entered him on the registers of his
phratria. The phratria was a division of the tribe and consisted of
thirty families.

[372] The chorus continues to tell what it has seen on its flights.

[373] The harbour of the island of Chios; but this name is here used in
the sense of being the land of informers ([Greek: phainein], to

[374] i.e. near the orators' platform, or [Greek: B_ema], in the Public
Assembly, or [Greek: Ekkl_esia], because there stood the [Greek:
klepsudra], or water-clock, by which speeches were limited.

[375] A coined name, made up of [Greek: gl_otta], the tongue, and [Greek:
gast_er], the stomach, and meaning those who fill their stomach with what
they gain with their tongues, to wit, the orators.

[376] [Greek: Sukon] a fig, forms part of the word, [Greek:
sukophant_es], which in Greek means an informer.

[377] Both rhetoricians.

[378] Because they consecrated it specially to the god of eloquence.

[379] Basileia, whom he brings back from heaven.

[380] Terms used in regulating a dance.

[381] Where Pisthetaerus is henceforth to reign.



Like 'The Birds' this play rather avoids politics than otherwise, its
leading _motif_, over and above the pure fun and farce for their own sake
of the burlesque descent into the infernal regions, being a literary one,
an onslaught on Euripides the Tragedian and all his works and ways.

It was produced in the year 405 B.C., the year after 'The Birds,' and
only one year before the Peloponnesian War ended disastrously for the
Athenian cause in the capture of the city by Lysander. First brought out
at the Lenaean festival in January, it was played a second time at the
Dionysia in March of the same year--a far from common honour. The drama
was not staged in the Author's own name, we do not know for what reasons,
but it won the first prize, Phrynichus' 'Muses' being second.

The plot is as follows. The God Dionysus, patron of the Drama, is
dissatisfied with the condition of the Art of Tragedy at Athens, and
resolves to descend to Hades in order to bring back again to earth one of
the old tragedians--Euripides, he thinks, for choice. Dressing himself
up, lion's skin and club complete, as Heracles, who has performed the
same perilous journey before, and accompanied by his slave Xanthias (a
sort of classical Sancho Panza) with the baggage, he starts on the
fearful expedition.

Coming to the shores of Acheron, he is ferried over in Charon's
boat--Xanthias has to walk round--the First Chorus of Marsh Frogs (from
which the play takes its title) greeting him with prolonged croakings.
Approaching Pluto's Palace in fear and trembling, he knocks timidly at
the gate. Being presently admitted, he finds a contest on the point of
being held before the King of Hades and the Initiates of the Eleusinian
Mysteries, who form the Second Chorus, between Aeschylus, the present
occupant of the throne of tragic excellence in hell, and the pushing,
self-satisfied, upstart Euripides, who is for ousting him from his pride
of place.

Each poet quotes in turn from his Dramas, and the indignant Aeschylus
makes fine fun of his rival's verses, and shows him up in the usual
Aristophanic style as a corrupter of morals, a contemptible casuist, and
a professor of the dangerous new learning of the Sophists, so justly held
in suspicion by true-blue Athenian Conservatives. Eventually a pair of
scales is brought in, and verses alternately spouted by the two
candidates are weighed against each other, the mighty lines of the Father
of Tragedy making his flippant, finickin little rival's scale kick the
beam every time.

Dionysus becomes a convert to the superior merits of the old school of
tragedy, and contemptuously dismisses Euripides, to take Aeschylus back
with him to the upper world instead, leaving Sophocles meantime in
occupation of the coveted throne of tragedy in the nether regions.

Needless to say, the various scenes of the journey to Hades, the crossing
of Acheron, the Frogs' choric songs, and the trial before Pluto, afford
opportunities for much excellent fooling in our Author's very finest vein
of drollery, and "seem to have supplied the original idea for those
modern burlesques upon the Olympian and Tartarian deities which were at
one time so popular."

* * * * *



XANTHIAS, his Servant.

SCENE: In front of the temple of Heracles, and on the banks of Acheron in
the Infernal Regions.

* * * * *


XANTHIAS. Now am I to make one of those jokes that have the knack of
always making the spectators laugh?

DIONYSUS. Aye, certainly, any one you like, excepting "I am worn out."
Take care you don't say that, for it gets on my nerves.

XANTHIAS. Do you want some other drollery?

DIONYSUS. Yes, only not, "I am quite broken up."

XANTHIAS. Then what witty thing shall I say?

DIONYSUS. Come, take courage; only ...

XANTHIAS. Only what?

DIONYSUS. ... don't start saying as you shift your package from shoulder
to shoulder, "Ah! that's a relief!"

XANTHIAS. May I not at least say, that unless I am relieved of this
cursed load I shall let wind?

DIONYSUS. Oh! for pity's sake, no! you don't want to make me spew.

XANTHIAS. What need then had I to take this luggage, if I must not copy
the porters that Phrynichus, Lycis and Amipsias[382] never fail to put on
the stage?

DIONYSUS. Do nothing of the kind. Whenever I chance to see one of these
stage tricks, I always leave the theatre feeling a good year older.

XANTHIAS. Oh! my poor back! you are broken and I am not allowed to make a
single joke.

DIONYSUS. Just mark the insolence of this Sybarite! I, Dionysus, the son
of a ... wine-jar,[383] I walk, I tire myself, and I set yonder rascal
upon an ass, that he may not have the burden of carrying his load.

XANTHIAS. But am I not carrying it?

DIONYSUS. No, since you are on your beast.

XANTHIAS. Nevertheless I am carrying this....


XANTHIAS. ... and it is very heavy.

DIONYSUS. But this burden you carry is borne by the ass.

XANTHIAS. What I have here, 'tis certainly I who bear it, and not the
ass, no, by all the gods, most certainly not!

DIONYSUS. How can you claim to be carrying it, when you are carried?

XANTHIAS. That I can't say; but this shoulder is broken, anyhow.

DIONYSUS. Well then, since you say that the ass is no good to you, pick
her up in your turn and carry her.

XANTHIAS. What a pity I did not fight at sea;[384] I would baste your
ribs for that joke.

DIONYSUS. Dismount, you clown! Here is a door,[385] at which I want to
make my first stop. Hi! slave! hi! hi! slave!

HERACLES (_from inside the Temple_). Do you want to beat in the door? He
knocks like a Centaur.[386] Why, what's the matter?

DIONYSUS. Xanthias!


DIONYSUS. Did you notice?


DIONYSUS. How I frightened him?

XANTHIAS. Bah! you're mad!

HERACLES. Ho, by Demeter! I cannot help laughing; it's no use biting my
lips, I must laugh.

DIONYSUS. Come out, friend; I have need of you.

HERACLES. Oh! 'tis enough to make a fellow hold his sides to see this
lion's-skin over a saffron robe![387] What does this mean? Buskins[388]
and a bludgeon! What connection have they? Where are you off to in this

DIONYSUS. When I went aboard Clisthenes[389]....

HERACLES. Did you fight?

DIONYSUS. We sank twelve or thirteen ships of the enemy.


DIONYSUS. Aye, by Apollo!

HERACLES. You have dreamt it.[390]

DIONYSUS. As I was reading the 'Andromeda'[391] on the ship, I suddenly
felt my heart afire with a wish so violent....

HERACLES. A wish! of what nature?

DIONYSUS. Oh, quite small, like Molon.[392]

HERACLES. You wished for a woman?


HERACLES. A young boy, then?

DIONYSUS. Nothing of the kind.



HERACLES. Might you then have had dealings with Clisthenes?

DIONYSUS. Have mercy, brother; no mockery! I am quite ill, so greatly
does my desire torment me!

HERACLES. And what desire is it, little brother?

DIONYSUS. I cannot disclose it, but I will convey it to you by hints.
Have you ever been suddenly seized with a desire for pea-soup?

HERACLES. For pea-soup! oh! oh! yes, a thousand times in my life.[393]

DIONYSUS. Do you take me or shall I explain myself in some other way?

HERACLES. Oh! as far as the pea-soup is concerned, I understand
marvellously well.

DIONYSUS. So great is the desire, which devours me, for Euripides.

HERACLES. But he is dead.[394]

DIONYSUS. There is no human power can prevent my going to him.

HERACLES. To the bottom of Hades?

DIONYSUS. Aye, and further than the bottom, an it need.

HERACLES. And what do you want with him?

DIONYSUS. I want a master poet; "some are dead and gone, and others are
good for nothing."[395]

HERACLES. Is Iophon[396] dead then?

DIONYSUS. He is the only good one left me, and even of him I don't know
quite what to think.

HERACLES. Then there's Sophocles, who is greater than Euripides; if you
must absolutely bring someone back from Hades, why not make him live

DIONYSUS. No, not until I have taken Iophon by himself and tested him for
what he is worth. Besides, Euripides is very artful and won't leave a
stone unturned to get away with me, whereas Sophocles is as easy-going
with Pluto as he was when on earth.

HERACLES. And Agathon? Where is he?[397]

DIONYSUS. He has left me; 'twas a good poet and his friends regret him.

HERACLES. And whither has the poor fellow gone?

DIONYSUS. To the banquet of the blest.

HERACLES. And Xenocles?[398]

DIONYSUS. May the plague seize him!

HERACLES. And Pythangelus?[399]

XANTHIAS. They don't say ever a word of poor me, whose shoulder is quite

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