THE BIRDS By Aristophanes (Translator uncredited. Footnotes have been retained because they provide the meanings of Greek names, terms and ceremonies and explain puns and references otherwise lost in translation. Occasional Greek words in the footnotes have not been included. Footnote numbers, in brackets, start anew at (1) for each piece of dialogue, and each footnote follows immediately the dialogue to which it refers, labeled thus: f(1). INTRODUCTION 'The Birds' differs markedly from all the other Comedies of Aristophanes which have come down to us in subject and general conception. It is just an extravaganza pure and simple--a graceful, whimsical theme chosen expressly for the sake of the opportunities it afforded of bright, amusing dialogue, pleasing lyrical interludes, and charming displays of brilliant stage effects and pretty dresses. Unlike other plays of the same Author, there is here apparently no serious political MOTIF underlying the surface burlesque and buffoonery. Some critics, it is true, profess to find in it a reference to the unfortunate Sicilian Expedition, then in progress, and a prophecy of its failure and the political downfall of Alcibiades. But as a matter of fact, the whole thing seems rather an attempt on the dramatist's part to relieve the overwrought minds of his fellow-citizens, anxious and discouraged at the unsatisfactory reports from before Syracuse, by a work conceived in a lighter vein than usual and mainly unconnected with contemporary realities. The play was produced in the year 414 B.C., just when success or failure in Sicily hung in the balance, though already the outlook was gloomy, and many circumstances pointed to impending disaster. Moreover, the public conscience was still shocked and perturbed over the mysterious affair of the mutilation of the Hermae, which had occurred immediately before the sailing of the fleet, and strongly suspicious of Alcibiades' participation in the outrage. In spite of the inherent charm of the subject, the splendid outbursts of lyrical poetry in some of the choruses and the beauty of the scenery and costumes, 'The Birds' failed to win the first prize. This was acclaimed to a play of Aristophanes' rival, Amipsias, the title of which, 'The Comastoe,' or 'Revellers,' "seems to imply that the chief interest was derived from direct allusions to the outrage above mentioned and to the individuals suspected to have been engaged in it." For this reason, which militated against its immediate success, viz. the absence of direct allusion to contemporary politics--there are, of course, incidental references here and there to topics and personages of the day--the play appeals perhaps more than any other of our Author's productions to the modern reader. Sparkling wit, whimsical fancy, poetic charm, are of all ages, and can be appreciated as readily by ourselves as by an Athenian audience of two thousand years ago, though, of course, much is inevitably lost "without the important adjuncts of music, scenery, dresses and what we may call 'spectacle' generally, which we know in this instance to have been on the most 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 mis-understanding, during which they come near tearing the two human envoys to pieces, they listen to the exposition of the latters' plan. This is nothing less than the building of a new city, to be called Nephelococcygia, or 'Cloud-cuckoo-town,' between earth and heaven, to be garrisoned and guarded by the birds in such a way as to intercept all communication of the gods with their worshippers on earth. All steam of sacrifice will be prevented from rising to Olympus, and the Immortals will very soon be starved into an acceptance of any terms proposed. The new Utopia is duly constructed, and the daring plan to secure the sovereignty is in a fair way to succeed. Meantime various quacks and charlatans, each with a special scheme for improving things, arrive from earth, and are one after the other exposed and dismissed. Presently arrives Prometheus, who informs Epops of the desperate straits to which the gods are by this time reduced, and advises him to push his claims and demand the hand of Basileia (Dominion), the handmaid of Zeus. Next an embassy from the Olympians appears on the scene, consisting of Heracles, Posidon and a god from the savage regions of the Triballians. After some disputation, it is agreed that all reasonable demands of the birds are to be granted, while Pisthetaerus is to have Basileia as his bride. The comedy winds up with the epithalamium in honour of the nuptials. THE BIRDS DRAMATIS PERSONAE EUELPIDES PISTHETAERUS EPOPS (the Hoopoe) TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops PHOENICOPTERUS HERALDS A PRIEST A POET A PROPHET METON, a Geometrician A COMMISSIONER A DEALER IN DECREES IRIS A PARRICIDE CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard AN INFORMER PROMETHEUS POSIDON TRIBALLUS HERACLES SLAVES OF PISTHETAERUS MESSENGERS CHORUS OF BIRDS SCENE: A wild, desolate tract of open country; broken rocks and brushwood occupy the centre of the stage. EUELPIDES (TO HIS JAY)(1) Do you think I should walk straight for yon tree? f(1) Euelpides is holding a jay and Pisthetaerus a crow; they are the guides who are to lead them to the kingdom of the birds. PISTHETAERUS (TO HIS CROW) Cursed beast, what are you croaking to me?... to retrace my steps? 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 that I to this jay, which 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(1) find his. f(1) A stranger who wanted to pass as an Athenian, although coming originally for a far-away barbarian country. 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,(1) the Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has indeed sold us this jay, a true son of Tharelides,(2) for an obolus, and this crow for three, but what can they do? Why, nothing whatever but bite and scratch!--What's the matter with you then, that you keep opening your beak? Do you want us to fling ourselves headlong down these rocks? There is no road that way. f(1) A king of Thrace, a son of Ares, who married Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens, whom he had assisted against the Megarians. He violated his sister-in-law, Philomela, and then cut out her tongue; she nevertheless managed to convey to her sister how she had been treated. They both agreed to kill Itys, whom Procne had borne to Tereus, and dished up the limbs of his own son to the father; at the end of the meal Philomela appeared and threw the child's head upon the table. Tereus rushed with drawn sword upon the princesses, but all the actors in this terrible scene were metamorph(o)sed. Tereus became an Epops (hoopoe), Procne a swallow, Philomela a nightingale, and Itys a goldfinch. According to Anacreon and Apollodorus it was Procne who became the nightingale and Philomela the swallow, and this is the version of the tradition followed by Aristophanes. f(2) An Athenian who had some resemblance to a jay--so says the scholiast, at any rate. 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 fingers. EUELPIDES What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the birds,(1) do everything we can to that end, and we cannot find our way! Yes, spectators, our madness is quite different from that of Sacas. He is not a citizen, and would fain be one at any cost; we, on the contrary, born of an honourable tribe and family and living in the midst of our fellow-citizens, we have fled from our country as hard as ever we could go. 'Tis not that we hate it; we recognize it to be great and rich, likewise that everyone has the right to ruin himself; but the crickets only chirrup among the fig-trees for a month or two, whereas the Athenians spend their whole lives in chanting forth judgments from their law-courts.(2) That is why we started off with a basket, a stew-pot and some myrtle boughs(3) and have come to seek a quiet country in which to settle. We are going to Tereus, the Epops, to learn from him, whether, in his aerial flights, he has noticed some town of this kind. f(1) Literally, 'to go to the crows,' a proverbial expression equivalent to our 'going to the devil.' f(2) They leave Athens because of their hatred of lawsuits and informers; this is the especial failing of the Athenians satirized in 'The Wasps.' f(3) Myrtle boughs were used in sacrifices, and the founding of every colony was started by a sacrifice. PISTHETAERUS Here! look! 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! It would be much better to shout, "Epops, Epops!" EUELPIDES Well then, Epops! Must I knock again? Epops! TROCHILUS Who's there? Who calls my master? PISTHETAERUS Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak!(1) f(1) The actors wore masks made to resemble the birds they were supposed to represent. 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.(1) f(1) Fear had had disastrous effects upon Euelpides' internal economy, and this his feet evidenced. TROCHILUS And this other one, what bird is it? PISTHETAERUS I? I am a Cackling,(1) from the land of the pheasants. f(1) The same mishap had occurred to Pisthetaerus. EUELPIDES But you yourself, in the name of the gods! what animal are you? 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 it. EUELPIDES This is, then, truly a running-bird.(1) Come, Trochilus, do us the kindness to call your master. f(1) The Greek word for a wren is derived from the same root as 'to run.' 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 an 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. PISTHETAERUS No, no. 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,(1) that I may go out! f(1) No doubt there was some scenery to represent a forest. Besides, there is a pun intended. The words answering for 'forests' and 'door' in Greek only differ slightly in sound. 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, strangers. 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.(1) f(1) Sophocles had written a tragedy about Tereus, in which, no doubt, the king finally appears as a hoopoe. EUELPIDES You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?(1) f(1) (O)ne would expect the question to be "bird or man."--Are you a peacock? The hoopoe resembles the peacock inasmuch as both have crests. 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.(1) f(1) Athens. EPOPS Are you dicasts?(1) f(1) The Athenians were madly addicted to lawsuits. (See 'The Wasps.') EUELPIDES No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts. EPOPS Is that kind of seed sown among you?(1) f(1) As much as to say, 'Then you have such things as anti-dicasts?' And Euelpides practically replaces, 'Very few.' 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.(1) f(1) His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded a fleet sent in aid of Corcyra. 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 parts. 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(1) galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town you can propose to us? f(1) 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. EPOPS Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement? EUELPIDES By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of Melanthius.(1) f(1) A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course, on the word Lepreum. EPOPS Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live. EUELPIDES I would not be Opuntian(1) for a talent. But come, what is it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well. f(1) An allusion to Opuntius, who was one-eyed. EPOPS Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse. 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.(1) f(1) The newly-married ate a sesame-cake, decorated with garlands of myrtle, poppies and mint. 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.'(1) If you build and fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city.(2) In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and cause the gods to die of rabid hunger. f(1) From (the word meaning) 'to turn.' f(2) The Greek words for 'pole' and 'city' only differ by a single letter. EPOPS How so? PISTHETAERUS The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi, we ask the Boeotians(1) for leave of passage; in the same way, when men sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise the right of every nation towards strangers and don't allow the smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory. f(1) Boeotia separated Attica from Phocis. EPOPS By earth! by snares! by network!(1) I never heard of anything more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going to build the city along with you. f(1) He swears by the powers that are to him dreadful. 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 Procne!(1) as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing. f(1) As already stated, according to the legend accepted by Aristophanes, it was Procne who was turned into the nightengale. PISTHETAERUS My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the coppice and awaken Procne. 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,(1) which has been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of Zeus, where Phoebus listens to you, Phoebus with his golden hair. And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips rushes a sacred chant of blessed voices. (THE FLUTE IS PLAYED BEHIND THE SCENE.) f(1) The son of Tereus and Procne. PISTHETAERUS Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has filled the whole coppice with honey-sweet melody! EUELPIDES Hush! PISTHETAERUS What's the matter? EUELPIDES Will you keep silence? PISTHETAERUS What for? 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 chicago 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 sky. 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 peacock? 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 marshes. PISTHETAERUS Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson as flame. EPOPS Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.(1) f(1) An African bird, that comes to the southern countries of Europe, to Greece, Italy, and Spain; it is even seen in Provence. 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.(1) f(1) Aristophanes amusingly mixes up real birds with people and individuals, whom he represents in the form of birds; he is personifying the Medians here. 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;(1) so that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say, Hipponicus,(2) the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus. f(1) 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 llc Sophocles' Tereus, and at the same time is father to Epops, since he himself produced another Tereus. f(2) 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. PISTHETAERUS Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he has lost!(1) f(1) This Callias, who must not be confounded with the foe of Pisistratus, had ruined himself. 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 name? 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?(1) But what is the meaning of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double stadium prize?(2) f(1) Cleonymus had cast away his shield; he was as great a glutton as he was a coward. f(2) A race in which the track had to be circled twice. EPOPS They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their mountains for greater safety.(1) f(1) A people of Asia Minor; when pursued by the Ionians they took refuge in the mountains. PISTHETAERUS Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering here? 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.(1) Here comes the owl. f(1) An Athenian barber. EUELPIDES And who is it brings an owl to Athens?(1) f(1) The owl was dedicated to Athene, and being respected at Athens, it had greatly multiplied. Hence the proverb, 'taking owls to Athens,' similar to our English 'taking coals to Newcastle.' 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 woodpecker. 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 him? 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. EUELPIDES How so? PISTHETAERUS How will you be able to cry when once your eyes are pecked out? 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.(1) f(1) An allusion to the Feast of Pots; it was kept at Athens on the third day of the Anthesteria, when all sorts of vegetables were stewed together and offered for the dead to Bacchus and Athene. This Feast was peculiar to Athens.--Hence Pisthetaerus thinks that the owl will recognize they are Athenians by seeing the stew-pots, and as he is an Athenian bird, he will not attack them. 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,(1) where stratagem is concerned. f(1) 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 expedition. 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.(1) f(1) Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens. 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 forebears! 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;(1) for, to get a public funeral, we shall tell the Strategi that we fell at Orneae,(2) fighting the country's foes. f(1) A space beyond the walls of Athens which contained the gardens of the Academy and the graves of citizens who had died for their country. f(2) A town in Western Argolis, where the Athenians had been recently defeated. The somewhat similar work in Greek signifies 'birds.' 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;(1) as for you, address the birds, tell them why I have gathered them together. f(1) Epops is addressing the two slaves, no doubt Xanthias and Manes, who are mentioned later on. 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 parts, 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. PISTHETAERUS Swear it. 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 posted. 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 quick!(1) f(1) 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 refreshing. 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 Earth. 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.(1) f(1) A deme of Attica. In Greek the word also means 'heads,' and hence the pun. 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.(1) 'Tis in memory of his reign that he is called the Persian bird. f(1) 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. 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.(1) f(1) All Persians wore the tiara, but always on one side; the Great King alone wore it straight on his head. 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 about that. 'Twas the cock's fault that I lost a splendid tunic of Phrygian wool. I was at a feast in town, given to celebrate the birth of a child; I had drunk pretty freely and had just fallen asleep, when a cock, I suppose in a greater hurry than the rest, began to crow. I thought it was dawn and set out for Alimos.(1) I had hardly got beyond the walls, when a footpad struck me in the back with his bludgeon; down I went and wanted to shout, but he had already made off with my mantle. f(1) Noted as the protogroup birthplace of Thucydides, a deme of Attica of the tribe of Leontis. Demosthenes tells us it was thirty-five stadia from Athens. 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.(1) f(1) The appearance of the kite in Greece betokened the return of springtime; it was therefore worshipped as a symbol of that season. 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(1) with mouth agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my bag home empty.(2) f(1) To look at the kite, who no doubt was flying high in the sky. f(2) 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 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.(1) f(1) In Phoenicia and Egypt the cuckoo makes its appearance about harvest-time. EUELPIDES Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields, ye circumcised."(1) f(1) This was an Egyptian proverb, meaning, 'When the cuckoo sings we go harvesting.' Both the Phoenicians and the Egyptians practised circumcision. PISTHETAERUS So powerful were the birds that the kings of Grecian cities, Agamemnon, Menelaus, regen, for instance, carried a bird on the tip of their sceptres, who had his share of all presents.(1) f(1) The staff, called a sceptre, generally terminated in a piece of carved work, representing a flower, a fruit, and most often a bird. 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(1) to see if he got any present. f(1) A general accused of treachery. The bird watches Lysicrates, because, according to Pisthetaerus, he had a right to a share of the presents. 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;(1) his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, as his servant, has a hawk. f(1) It is thus that Phidias represents his Olympian Zeus. 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 men always swore by the birds and never by the gods; even now Lampon(1) swears by the goose, when he wants to lie....Thus 'tis clear that you were great and sacred, but now you are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Helots; stones are thrown at you as at raving madmen, even in holy places. A crowd of bird-catchers sets snares, traps, limed-twigs and nets of all sorts for you; you are caught, you are sold in heaps and the buyers finger you over to be certain you are fat. Again, if they would but serve you up simply roasted; but they rasp cheese into a mixture of oil, vinegar and laserwort, to which another sweet and greasy sauce is added, and the whole is poured scalding hot over your back, for all the world as if you were diseased meat. f(1) 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 Thurium. 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!(1) what a terribly strong place! f(1) 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. PISTHETAERUS Th(en), this being well done and completed, you demand back the empire from Zeus; if he will not agree, if he refuses and does not at once confess himself beaten, you declare a sacred war against him and forbid the gods henceforward to pass through your country with lust, as hitherto, for the purpose of fondling their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles!(1) if they try to pass through, you infibulate them with rings so that they can work no longer. You send another messenger to mankind, who will proclaim to them that the birds are kings, that for the future they must first of all sacrifice to them, and only afterwards to the gods; that it is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird that has most in common with it. For instance, are they sacrificing to Aphrodite, let them at the same time offer barley to the coot; are they immolating a sheep to protogroup Posidon, let them consecrate wheat in honour of the duck;(2) is a steer being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to the gull;(3) is a goat being slain for King Zeus, there is a King-Bird, the wren,(4) to whom the sacrifice of a male gnat is due before Zeus himself even. f(1) Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, King of Thebes and mother of Heracles.--Semele, the daughter of Christos Cadmus and Hermione and mother of Bacchus; both seduced by Zeus.--Alope, daughter of Cercyon, a robber, who reigned at Eleusis and was conquered by Perseus. Alope was honoured with Posidon's caresses; by him she had a son named Hippothous, at first brought up by shepherds but who afterwards was restored to the throne of his grandfather by Theseus. f(2) Because water is the duck's domain, as it is that of Posidon. f(3) Because the gull, like Heracles, is voracious. f(4) The Germans still call it 'Zaunkonig' and the French 'roitelet,' both names thus containing the idea of 'king.' 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.(1) 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. f(1) The scholiast draws our attention to the fact that Homer says this of Here and not of Iris (Iliad, V, 778); it is only another proof that the text of Homer has reached us in a corrupted form, or it may be that Aristophanes was liable, like other people, to occasional mistakes of quotation. 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 purpose.(1) f(1) In sacrifices. EUELPIDES Oh! don't do that! Wait first until I have sold my two young bullocks. 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.