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).


'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.



     EPOPS (the Hoopoe)
     TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops
     A POET
     METON, a Geometrician
     CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard

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

EUELPIDES (TO HIS JAY)(1) Do you think I should walk straight for yon

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

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

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

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.


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

TROCHILUS Why, I am a slave-bird.

EUELPIDES Why, have you been conquered by a cock?

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

EUELPIDES Does a bird need a servant, then?

TROCHILUS 'Tis no doubt because he was a man. At times he wants to eat a
dish of loach from Phalerum; I seize my dish and fly to fetch him some.
Again he wants some pea-soup; I seize a ladle and a pot and run to get

EUELPIDES This is, then, truly a running-bird.(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

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.


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,

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

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

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

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

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!


PISTHETAERUS What's the matter?

EUELPIDES Will you keep silence?


EUELPIDES Epops is going to sing again.

EPOPS (IN THE COPPICE) Epopoi poi popoi, epopoi, popoi, here, here,
quick, quick, quick, my comrades in the air; all you who pillage the
fertile lands of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and
devour the barley seeds, the swift flying race who sing so sweetly. And
you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little
cry of tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio; and you who hop about the
branches of the ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the
wild olive berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto,
trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in the
marshy vales, and you who dwell in 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,

PISTHETAERUS Can you see any bird?

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

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

PHOENICOPTERUS Torotina, torotina.

PISTHETAERUS Hold, friend, here is another bird.

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

PISTHETAERUS Epops will tell us. What is this bird?

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

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

EPOPS Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.(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

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

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

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

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

EPOPS Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as
pleasant as it is to the purpose. Two men, who are subtle reasoners,
have come here to seek me.

CHORUS Where? What? What are you saying?

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

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

EPOPS Nay! never let my words scare you.

CHORUS What have you done then?

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

CHORUS And you have dared to do that!

EPOPS Aye, and am delighted at having done so.

CHORUS Where are they?

EPOPS In your midst, as I am.

CHORUS Ah! ah! we are betrayed; 'tis sacrilege! Our friend, he who
picked up corn-seeds in the same plains as ourselves, has violated our
ancient laws; he has broken the oaths that bind all birds; he has laid a
snare for me, he has handed us over to the attacks of that impious race
which, throughout all time, has never ceased to war against us. As for 
this traitorous bird, we will decide his case later, but the two old men
shall be punished forthwith; we are going to tear them to pieces.

PISTHETAERUS 'Tis all over with us.

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

PISTHETAERUS To have you with me.

EUELPIDES Say rather to have me melt into tears.

PISTHETAERUS Go to! you are talking nonsense.


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

CHORUS Io! io! forward to the attack, throw yourselves upon the foe,
spill his blood; take to your wings and surround them on all sides. Woe
to them! let us get to work with our beaks, let us devour them. Nothing
can save them from our wrath, neither the mountain forests, nor the
clouds that float in the sky, nor the foaming deep. Come, peck, tear
to ribbons. Where is the chief of the cohort? Let him engage the right

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

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

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.


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

PISTHETAERUS It is a bargain.

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

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

CHORUS Man is a truly cunning creature, but nevertheless explain.
Perhaps you are going to show me some good way to extend my power,
some way that I have not had the wit to find out and which you have
discovered. Speak! 'tis to your own interest as well as to mine, for if
you secure me some advantage, I will surely share it with you. But what
object can have induced you to come among us? Speak boldly, for I shall
not break the truce,--until you have told us all.

PISTHETAERUS I am bursting with desire to speak; I have already mixed
the dough of my address and nothing prevents me from kneading it....
Slave! bring the chaplet and water, which you must pour over my hands.
Be 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

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

PISTHETAERUS By Zeus, no! but I am hunting for fine, tasty words to
break down the hardness of their hearts.--I grieve so much for you, who
at one time were kings...

CHORUS We kings! Over whom?

PISTHETAERUS ...of all that exists, firstly of me and of this man, even
of Zeus himself. Your race is older than Saturn, the Titans and the

CHORUS What, older than the Earth!

PISTHETAERUS By Phoebus, yes.

CHORUS By Zeus, but I never knew that before!

PISTHETAERUS 'Tis because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never
read your Aesop. 'Tis he who tells us that the lark was born before all
other creatures, indeed before the Earth; his father died of sickness,
but the Earth did not exist then; he remained unburied for five days,
when the bird in its dilemma decided, for want of a better place, to
entomb its father in its own head.

EUELPIDES So that the lark's father is buried at Cephalae.(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

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

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

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

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

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

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

f(1) In sacrifices.

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

PISTHETAERUS If on the other hand they recognize that you are God, the
principle of life, that you are Earth, Saturn, Posidon, they shall be
loaded with benefits.

EPOPS Name me one of these then.

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