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The Birds

410 BC
THE BIRDS
by Aristophanes
anonymous translator
CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY
EUELPIDES
PITHETAERUS
TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops
Epops (the Hoopoe)
A BIRD
A HERALD
A PRIEST
A POET
AN ORACLE-MONGER
METON, a Geometrician
AN INSPECTOR
A DEALER IN DECREES
IRIS
A PARRICIDE
CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Poet
AN INFORMER
PROMETHEUS
POSIDON
TRIBALLUS
HERACLES
SLAVES OF PITHETAERUS
MESSENGERS
CHORUS OF BIRDS
BIRDS
(SCENE:-A wild and desolate region; only thickets, rocks, and a
single tree are seen. EUELPIDES and PITHETAERUS enter, each with a
bird in his hand.)

EUELPIDES (to his jay)
Do you think I should walk straight for yon tree?
PITHETAERUS (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; we're wasting our time.
PITHETAERUS
To think that I should trust to this crow, which has made me cover
more than a thousand furlongs!
EUELPIDES
And that I, in obedience to this jay, should have worn my toes
down to the nails!
PITHETAERUS
If only I knew where we were....
EUELPIDES
Could you find your country again from here?
PITHETAERUS
No, I feel quite sure I could not, any more than could Execestides
find his.
EUELPIDES
Alas!
PITHETAERUS
Aye, aye, my friend, it's surely the road of "alases" 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, the
Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has indeed sold us
this jay, a true son of Tharrhelides, for an obolus, and this crow for
three, but what can they do? Why, nothing whatever but bite and
scratch! (To his jay) 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.
PITHETAERUS
Not even the vestige of a trail in any direction
EUELPIDES
And what does the crow say about the road to follow?
PITHETAERUS
By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.
EUELPIDES
And which way does it tell us to go now?
PITHETAERUS
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
crows, 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. It's not that we hate it; we recognize it to be
great and rich, likewise that everyone has the right to ruin himself
paying taxes; but the crickets only chirrup among the fig-trees for
a month or two, whereas the Athenians spend their whole lives in
chanting forth judgments from their law-courts. That is why we started
off with a basket, a stew-pot and some myrtle boughs! and have come to
seek a quiet country in which to settle. We are going to Tereus, the
Epops, to learn from him, whether, in his aerial flights, he has
noticed some town of this kind.
PITHETAERUS
Here! look!
EUELPIDES
What's the matter?
PITHETAERUS
Why, the crow has been directing me to something up there for some
time now.
EUELPIDES
And the jay is also opening it 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.
PITHETAERUS
Do you know what to do? Knock your leg against this rock.
EUELPIDES
And you your head to double the noise.
PITHETAERUS
Well then use a stone instead; take one and hammer with it.
EUELPIDES
Good idea! (He does so.) Ho there, within! Slave! slave!
PITHETAERUS
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 (rushing out of a thicket)
Who's there? Who calls my master?
PITHETAERUS (in terror)
Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak!
(He defecates. In the confusion both the jay and the crow fly
away.)
TROCHILUS (equally frightened)
Good god! they are bird-catchers.
EUELPIDES (reassuring himself)
But is it so terrible? Wouldn't it be better to explain things?
TROCHILUS (also reassuring himself)
You're done for.
EUELPIDES
But we are not men.
TROCHILUS
What are you, then?
EUELPIDES (defecating also)
I am the Fearling, an African bird.
TROCHILUS
You talk nonsense.
EUELPIDES
Well, then, just ask it of my feet.
TROCHILUS
And this other one, what bird is it? (To PITHETAERUS) Speak up
PITHETAERUS (weakly)
I? I am a Crapple, from the land of the pheasants.
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 hoopoe, he begged me to
become a bird also, to follow and to serve him.
EUELPIDES
Does a bird need a servant, then?
TROCHILUS
That's no doubt because he was once a man. At times he wants to
eat a dish of sardines 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. Come, Trochilus, do us the
kindness to call your master.
TROCHILUS
Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries
and a few grubs.
EUELPIDES
Never mind; wake him up.
TROCHILUS
I an; certain he will be angry. However, I will wake him to please
you.
(He goes back into the thicket.)
PITHETAERUS (as soon as TROCHILUS is out of sight)
You cursed brute! why, I am almost dead with terror!
EUELPIDES
Oh! my god! it was sheer fear that made me lose my jay.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! you big 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? Tell me that.
PITHETAERUS
Not at all.
EUELPIDES
Where is it, then?
PITHETAERUS
It flew away.
EUELPIDES
And you did not let it go? Oh! you brave fellow!
EPOPS (from within)
Open the thicket, that I may go out!
(He comes out of the thicket.)
EUELPIDES
By Heracles! what a creature! what plumage! What means this triple
crest?
EPOPS
Who wants me?
EUELPIDES (banteringly)
The twelve great gods have used you ill, it seems.
EPOPS
Are you twitting me about my feathers? I have been a man,
strangers.
EUELPIDES
It's not you we are jeering at.
EPOPS
At what, then?
EUELPIDES
Why, it's your beak that looks so ridiculous to us.
EPOPS
This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once
was Tereus.
EUELPIDES
You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?
EPOPS
I am a bird.
EUELPIDES
Then where are your feathers? I don't see any.
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 beautful galleys.
EPOPS
Are you dicasts?
EUELPIDES
No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.
EPOPS
Is that kind of seed sown among you?
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 live in.
EPOPS
Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.
EUELPIDES
I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.
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 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! (To
PITHETAERUS) And what say you?
PITHETAERUS
My tastes are similar.
EPOPS
And they are?
PITHETAERUS
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 kissed him, nor took
him with you, nor ever once felt his balls. 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. It's on the Red Sea.
EUELPIDES
Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian
galley can appear, bringing a process-server along. Have you no
Greek town you can propose to us?
EPOPS
Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?
EUELPIDES
By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of
Melanthius.
EPOPS
Then, again, there is the Opuntian Locris, where you could live.
EUELPIDES
I would not be Opuntian for a talent. But come, what is it like to
live with the birds? You should know pretty well.
EPOPS
Why, it's not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has
no purse.
EUELPIDES
That does away with a lot of 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.
PITHETAERUS
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?
PITHETAERUS
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, "It's 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?
PITHETAERUS
Found a city.
EPOPS
We birds? But what sort of city should we build?
PITHETAERUS
Oh, really, really! you talk like such a fool! Look down.
EPOPS
I am looking.
PITHETAERUS
Now look up.
EPOPS
I am looking.
PITHETAERUS
Turn your head round.
EPOPS
Ah! it will be pleasant for me if I end in twisting my neck of!
PITHETAERUS
What have you seen?
EPOPS
The clouds and the sky.
PITHETAERUS
Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?
EPOPS
How their pole?
PITHETAERUS
Or, if you like it, their place. And since it turns and passes
through the whole universe, it is called 'pole.' If you build and
fortify it, you will turn your pole into a city. In this way you
will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and you will
cause the gods to die of rabid hunger
EPOPS
How so?
PITHETAERUS
The air is between earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi,
we ask the Boeotians for leave of passage; in the same way, when men
sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise
the right of every nation towards strangers and don't allow the
smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory.
EPOPS
By earth! by snares! by network! by cages! I never heard of
anything more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I
am going to build the city along with you.
PITHETAERUS
Who will explain the matter to them?
EPOPS
You must yourself. Before I came they were quite ignorant, but
since have lived with them I have taught them to speak.
PITHETAERUS
But how can they be gathered together?
EPOPS
Easily. I will hasten down to the thicket to waken my dear
Procne and as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot
wing.
PITHETAERUS
My dear bird, lose no time, please! Fly at once into the thicket
and awaken Procne.
(EPOPS rushes into the thicket.)
EPOPS (from within; singing)
Chase off drowsy sleep, dear companion. Let the sacred hymn gush
from thy divine throat in melodious strains; roll forth in soft
cadence your refreshing melodies to bewail the fate of Itys, which has
been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise
through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of
Zeus, where Phoebus listens to you, Phoebus with his golden hair.
And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers
the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips pours forth a
sacred chant of blessed voices.
(The flute is played behind the scene, imitating the song of the
nightingale.)
PITHETAERUS
Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has
filled the whole thicket with honey-sweet melody!
EUELPIDES
Hush!
PITHETAERUS
What's the matter?
EUELPIDES
Be still!
PITHETAERUS
What for?
EUELPIDES
Epops is going to sing again.
EPOPS (in the thicket, singing)
Epopopoi popoi popopopoi 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 that sings so sweetly. And you whose
gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little cry of
tiotictiotiotiotiotiotio; and you who hop about the branches of the
ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the wild
olive-berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto,
trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in
the marshy vales, and you who dwell in the fine plain of Marathon, all
damp with dew, and you, the francolin with speckled wings; you too,
the halcyons, who flit over the swelling waves of the sea, come hither
to hear the tidings; let all the tribes of long-necked birds
assemble here; know that a clever old man has come to us, bringing
an entirely new idea and proposing great reforms. Let all come to
the debate here, here, here, here. Torotorotorotorotix, kikkabau,
kikkabau, torotorotorolililix.
PITHETAERUS
Can you see any bird?
EUELPIDES
By Phoebus, no! and yet I am straining my eyesight to scan the
sky.
PITHETAERUS
It was hardly worth Epops' while to go and bury himself in the
thicket like a hatching plover.
A BIRD (entering)
Torotix, torotix.
PITHETAERUS
Wait, friend, there's a bird.
EUELPIDES
By Zeus, it is a bird, but what kind? Isn't it a peacock?
PITHETAERUS (as EPOPS comes out of the thicket)
Epops will tell us. What is this bird?
EPOPS
It's not one of those you are used to seeing; it's a bird from the
marshes.
EUELPIDES
Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson as
flame.
EPOPS
Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.
EUELPIDES (excitedly)
Hi! I say! You!
PITHETAERUS
What are you shouting for?
EUELPIDES
Why, here's another bird.
PITHETAERUS
Aye, indeed; this one's a foreign bird too. (To EPOPS) What is
this bird from beyond the mountains with a look as solemn as it is
stupid?
EPOPS
He is called the Mede.
EUELPIDES
The Mede! But, by Heracles, how, if a Mede, has he flown here
without a camel?
PITHETAERUS
Here's another bird with a crest.
(From here on, the numerous birds that make up the CHORUS keep
rushing in.)
EUELPIDES
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; so
that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say,
Hipponicus, the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.
EUELPIDES
Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he
has lost!
EPOPS
That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the
women too pluck out his feathers.
EUELPIDES
By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his name?
EPOPS
This one? That's the glutton.
EUELPIDES
Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he is
Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest? But what is the meaning
of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double
stadium prize?
EPOPS
They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their
mountains for greater safety.
PITHETAERUS
Oh, Posidon! look what awful 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.
PITHETAERUS
Here is the partridge.
EUELPIDES
Why, there is the francolin.
PITHETAERUS
There is the poachard.
EUELPIDES
Here is the kingfisher. (To EPOPS) What's that bird behind the
king fisher?
EPOPS
That's the barber.
EUELPIDES
What? a bird a barber?
PITHETAERUS
Why, Sporgilus is one.
EPOPS
Here comes the owl.
EUELPIDES
And who is it brings an owl to Athens?
EPOPS (pointing to the various species)
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...
PITHETAERUS
Oh! what a lot of birds!
EUELPIDES
Oh! what a lot of blackbirds!
PITHETAERUS
How they scold, how they come rushing up! What a noise! what a
noise!
EUELPIDES
Can they be bearing us ill-will?
PITHETAERUS
Oh! there! there! they are opening their beaks and staring at us.
EUELPIDES
Why, so they are.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Popopopopopo. Where is he who called me? Where am I to find him?
EPOPS
I have been waiting for you a long while! I never fail in my
word to my friends.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Tititititititi. What good news have you for me?
EPOPS
Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as
pleasant as it is to the point. Two men, who are subtle reasoners,
have come here to seek me.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Where? How? What are you saying?
EPOPS
I say, two old men have come from the abode of humans to propose a
vast and splendid scheme to us.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Oh! it's a horrible, unheard-of crime! What are you saying?
EPOPS
Never let my words scare you.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
What have you done to me?
EPOPS
I have welcomed two men, who wish to live with us.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And you have dared to do that!
EPOPS
Yes, and I am delighted at having done so.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And are they already with us?
EPOPS
Just as much as I am.
CHORUS (singing)
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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
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.
PITHETAERUS
It's all over with us.
EUELPIDES
You are the sole cause of all our trouble. Why did you bring me
from down yonder?
PITHETAERUS
To have you with me.
EUELPIDES
Say rather to have me melt into tears.
PITHETAERUS
Go on! you are talking nonsense. How will you weep with your
eyes pecked out?
CHORUS (singing)
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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Come, peck, tear to ribbons. Where is the chief of the cohort? Let
him engage the right wing.
(They rush at the two Athenians.)
EUELPIDES
This is the fatal moment. Where shall I fly to, unfortunate wretch
that am?
PITHETAERUS
Wait! Stay here!
EUELPIDES
That they may tear me to pieces?
PITHETAERUS
And how do you think to escape them?
EUELPIDES
I don't know at all.
PITHETAERUS
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?
PITHETAERUS
The owl will not attack us then.
EUELPIDES
But do you see all those hooked claws?
PITHETAERUS
Take the spit and pierce the foe on your side.
EUELPIDES
And how about my eyes?
PITHETAERUS
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, where stratagem is concerned.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Forward, forward, charge with your beaks! Come, no delay. Tear,
pluck, strike, flay them, and first of all smash the stew-pot.
EPOPS (stepping in front of the CHORUS)
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.
LEADER OF THE 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.
LEADER OF THE 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. It is just such a thing as one will not learn
from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with,
it's the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high
walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it's this knowledge that
protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for that is best;
one can even learn something in an enemy's school.
PITHETAERUS (to EUELPIDES)
Their wrath seems to cool. Draw back a little.
EPOPS
It's only justice, and you will thank me later.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Never have we opposed your advice up to now.
PITHETAERUS
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?
PITHETAERUS
In the Ceramicus; for, to get a public funeral, we shall tell
the Strategi that we fell at Orneae, fighting the country's foes.
LEADER OF THE 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?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Who are they? From what country?
EPOPS
Strangers, who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.
LEADER OF THE 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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Indeed, and what are their plans?
EPOPS
They are wonderful, incredible, unheard of.
LEADER OF THE 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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Are they mad?
EPOPS
They are the sanest people in the world.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Clever men?
EPOPS
The slyest of foxes, cleverness its very self, men of the world,
cunning, the cream of knowing folk.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Tell them to speak and speak quickly; why, as I listen to you, I
am beside myself with delight.
EPOPS (to two attendants)
Here, you there, take all these weapons and hang them up inside
dose to the fire, near the figure of the god who presides there and
under his protection; (to PITHETAERUS) as for you, address the
birds, tell them why I have gathered them together.
PITHETAERUS
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
balls, nor shove things into my...
EUELPIDES (bending over and pointing his finger at his anus)
Do you mean this?
PITHETAERUS
No, I mean my eyes.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Agreed.
PITHETAERUS
Swear it.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
I swear it and, if I keep my promise, let judges and spectators
give me the victory unanimously.
PITHETAERUS
It is a bargain.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And if I break my word, may I succeed by one vote only.
EPOPS (as 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 (singing)
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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
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.
PITHETAERUS
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!
EUELPIDES
Is it a question of feasting? What does it all mean?
PITHETAERUS
By Zeus, no! but I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break
down the hardness of their hearts. (To the CHORUS) I grieve so much
for you, who at one time were kings...
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
We kings? Over whom?
PITHETAERUS
...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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
What, older than the Earth!
PITHETAERUS
By Phoebus, yes.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
By Zeus, but I never knew that before!
PITHETAERUS
That's because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never
read your Aesop. He is the one 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.
PITHETAERUS
Hence, if they existed before the Earth, before the gods, the
kingship belongs to them 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.
PITHETAERUS
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 Megabazus. It's in memory of his
reign that he is called the Persian bird.
EUELPIDES
For this reason also, even to-day, he alone of all the birds wears
his tiara straight on his head, like the Great King.
PITHETAERUS
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,
corndealers, 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. It was 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 Halimus. 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.
PITHETAERUS
Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
The Greeks?
PITHETAERUS
And when he was king, he was the one who first taught them to fall
on their knees before the kites.
EUELPIDES
By Zeus! that's what I did myself one day on seeing a kite; but at
the moment I was on my knees, and leaning backwards with mouth
agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my meal-sack home
empty.
PITHETAERUS
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.
EUELPIDES
Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields,
ye circumcised."
PITHETAERUS
So powerful were the birds that the kings of Grecian cities,
Agamemnon, Menelaus, for instance, carried a bird on the tip of
their sceptres, who had his share of all presents.
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 to see if he got any present.
PITHETAERUS
But the strongest proof of all is that Zeus, who now reigns, is
represented as standing with an eagle on his head as a symbol of his
royalty; his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, as his servant, has a
hawk.
EUELPIDES
By Demeter, the point is well taken. But what are all these
birds doing in heaven?
PITHETAERUS
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.
EUELPIDES
And even now Lampon swears by the goose whenever he wishes to
deceive someone.
PITHETAERUS
Thus it is clear that you were once great and sacred, but now
you are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Maneses; stones are thrown
at you as at raving madmen, even in holy places. A crowd of
bird-catchers sets snares, traps, limed twigs and nets of all sorts
for you; you are caught, you are sold in heaps and the buyers finger
you over to be certain you are fat. Again, if they would but serve you
up simply roasted; but they rasp cheese into a mixture of oil, vinegar
and laserwort, to which another sweet and greasy sauce is added, and
the whole is poured scalding hot over your back, for all the world
as if you were diseased meat.
CHORUS (singing)
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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
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.
PITHETAERUS
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! what a terribly strong place!
PITHETAERUS
Then, when this has been 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 their tools up, as hitherto, for the purpose of laying
their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles! if they try to pass
through, you put rings on their tools so that they can't make love any
longer. You send another messenger to mankind, who will proclaim to
them that the birds are kings, that for the future they must first
of all sacrifice to them, and only afterwards to the gods; that it
is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird that has most in common
with it. For instance, are they sacrificing to Aphrodite, let them
at the same time offer barley to the coot; are they immolating a sheep
to Posidon, let them consecrate wheat in honour of the duck; if a
steer is being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to
the gull; if a goat is being slain for King Zeus, there is a
King-Bird, the wren, to whom the sacrifice of a male gnat is due
before Zeus himself even.
EUELPIDES
This notion of an immolated gnat delights me! And now let the
great Zeus thunder!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But how will mankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who
have wings and fly?
PITHETAERUS
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.
EUELPIDES
But will not Zeus thunder and send his winged bolts against us?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
If men in their blindness do not recognize us as gods and so
continue to worship the dwellers in Olympus?
PITHETAERUS
Then a cloud of sparrows greedy for corn must descend upon their
fields and eat up all their seeds; we shall see then if Demeter will
mete them out any wheat.
EUELPIDES
By Zeus, she'll take good care she does not, and you will see
her inventing a thousand excuses.
PITHETAERUS
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.
EUELPIDES
Oh! don't do that! Wait first until I have sold my two young
bullocks.
PITHETAERUS
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.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Name me one of these then.
PITHETAERUS
Firstly, the locusts shall not eat up their vine-blossoms; a
legion of owls and kestrels will devour them. Moreover, the gnats
and the gallbugs shall no longer ravage the figs; a flock of
thrushes shall swallow the whole host down to the very last.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And how shall we give wealth to mankind? This is their strongest
passion.
PITHETAERUS
When they consult the omens, you will point them to the richest
mines, you will reveal the paying ventures to the diviner, and not
another shipwreck will happen or sailor perish.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
No more shall perish? How is that?
PITHETAERUS
When the auguries are examined before starting on a voyage, some
bird will not fail to say, "Don't start! there will be a storm," or
else, "Go! you will make a most profitable venture."
EUELPIDES
I shall buy a trading-vessel and go to sea, I will not stay with
you.
PITHETAERUS
You will discover treasures to them, which were buried in former
times, for you know them. Do not all men say, "None knows where my
treasure lies, unless perchance it be some bird."
EUELPIDES
I shall sell my boat and buy a spade to unearth the vessels.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And how are we to give them health, which belongs to the gods?
PITHETAERUS
If they are happy, is not that the chief thing towards health? The
miserable man is never well.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Old Age also dwells in Olympus. How will they get at it? Must they
die in early youth?
PITHETAERUS
Why, the birds, by Zeus, will add three hundred years to their
life.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
From whom will they take them?
PITHETAERUS
From whom? Why, from themselves. Don't you know the cawing crow
lives five times as long as a man?
EUELPIDES
Ah! ah! these are far better kings for us than Zeus!
PITHETAERUS (solemnly)
Far better, are they not? And firstly, we shall not have to
build them temples of hewn stone, closed with gates of gold; they will
dwell amongst the bushes and in the thickets of green oak; the most
venerated of birds will have no other temple than the foliage of the
olive tree; we shall not go to Delphi or to Ammon to sacrifice; but
standing erect in the midst of arbutus and wild olives and holding
forth our hands filled with wheat and barley, we shall pray them to
admit us to a share of the blessings they enjoy and shall at once
obtain them for a few grains of wheat.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Old man, whom I detested, you are now to me the dearest of all;
never shall I, if I can help it, fail to follow your advice.
CHORUS (singing)
Inspirited by your words, I threaten my rivals the gods, and I
swear that if you march in alliance with me against the gods and are
faithful to our just, loyal and sacred bond, we shall soon have
shattered their sceptre,
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
We shall charge ourselves with the performance of everything
that requires force; that which demands thought and deliberation shall
be yours to supply.
EPOPS
By Zeus! it's no longer the time to delay and loiter like
Nicias; let us act as promptly as possible.... In the first place,
come, enter my nest built of brushwood and blades of straw, and tell
me your names.
PITHETAERUS
That is soon done; my name is Pithetaerus, and his, Euelpides,
of the deme Crioa.
EPOPS
Good! and good luck to you.
PITHETAERUS
We accept the omen.
EPOPS
Come in here.
PITHETAERUS
Very well, you are the one who must lead us and introduce us.
EPOPS
Come then.
(He starts to fly away.)
PITHETAERUS (stopping himself)
Oh! my god! do come back here. Hi! tell us how we are to follow
you. You can fly, but we cannot.
EPOPS
Well, well.
PITHETAERUS
Remember Aesop's fables. It is told there that the fox fared
very badly, because he had made an alliance with the eagle.
EPOPS
Be at ease. You shall eat a certain root and wings will grow on
your shoulders.
PITHETAERUS
Then let us enter. Xanthias and Manodorus, pick up our baggage.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hi! Epops! do you hear me?
EPOPS
What's the matter?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Take them off to dine well and call your mate, the melodious
Procne, whose songs are worthy of the Muses; she will delight our
leisure moments.
PITHETAERUS
Oh! I conjure you, accede to their wish; for this delightful
bird will leave her rushes at the sound of your voice; for the sake of
the gods, let her come here, so that we may contemplate the
nightingale.
EPOPS
Let is be as you desire. Come forth, Procne, show yourself to
these strangers.
(PROCNE appears; she resembles a young flute-girl.)
PITHETAERUS
Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty
form! what brilliant plumage! Do you know how dearly I should like
to get between her thighs?
EUELPIDES
She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl. Oh! how I
should like to kiss her!
PITHETAERUS
Why, wretched man, she has two little sharp points on her beak!
EUELPIDES
I would treat her like an egg, the shell of which we remove before
eating it; I would take off her mask and then kiss her pretty face.
EPOPS
Let us go in.
PITHETAERUS
Lead the way, and may success attend us.
(EPOPS goes into the thicket, followed by PITHETAERUS and
EUELPIDES.)
CHORUS (singing)
Lovable golden bird, whom I cherish above all others, you, whom
I associate with all my songs, nightingale, you have come, you have
come, to show yourself to me and to charm me with your notes. Come,
you, who play spring melodies upon the harmonious flute, lead off
our anapests.
(The CHORUS turns and faces the audience.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail
as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but
darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream, hearken to
us, who are immortal beings, ethereal, ever young and occupied with
eternal thoughts, for we shall teach you about all celestial
matters; you shall know thoroughly what is the nature of the birds,
what the origin of the gods, of the rivers, of Erebus, and Chaos;
thanks to us, even Prodicus will envy you your knowledge.
At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and
deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly,
black-winged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite
deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages,
sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as
the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark
Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was
the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist
until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world,
and from their marriage Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race
of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin is very much
older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We are the offspring of
Eros; there are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we
lend assistance to lovers. How many handsome youths, who had sworn
to remain insensible, have opened their thighs because of our power
and have yielded themselves to their lovers when almost at the end
of their youth, being led away by the gift of a quail, a waterfowl,
a goose, or a cock.
And what important services do not the birds render to mortals!
First of all, they mark the seasons for them, springtime, winter,
and autumn. Does the screaming crane migrate to Libya,-it warns the
husbandman to sow, the pilot to take his ease beside his tiller hung
up in his dwelling, and Orestes to weave a tunic, so that the rigorous
cold may not drive him any more to strip other folk. When the kite
reappears, he tells of the return of spring and of the period when the
fleece of the sheep must be clipped. Is the swallow in sight? All
hasten to sell their warm tunic and to buy some light clothing. We are
your Ammon, Delphi, Dodona, your Phoebus Apollo. Before undertaking
anything, whether a business transaction, a marriage, or the
purchase of food, you consult the birds by reading the omens, and
you give this name of omen to all signs that tell of the future.
With you a word is an omen, you call a sneeze an omen, a meeting an
omen, an unknown sound an omen, a slave or an ass an omen. Is it not
clear that we are a prophetic Apollo to you? (More and more rapidly
from here on.) If you recognize us as gods, we shall be your
divining Muses, through us you will know the winds and the seasons,
summer, winter, and the temperate months. We shall not withdraw
ourselves to the highest clouds like Zeus, but shall be among you
and shall give to you and to your children and the children of your
children, health and wealth, long life, peace, youth, laughter,
songs and feasts; in short, you will all be so well off, that you will
be weary and cloyed with enjoyment.
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
Oh, rustic Muse of such varied note, tiotiotiotiotiotinx, I sing
with you in the groves and on the mountain tops, tiotiotiotinx. I
poured forth sacred strains from my golden throat in honour of the god
Pan, tiotiotiotinx, from the top of the thickly leaved ash, and my
voice mingles with the mighty choirs who extol Cybele on the
mountain tops, totototototototototinx. 'Tis to our concerts that
Phrynichus comes to pillage like a bee the ambrosia of his songs,
the sweetness of which so charms the ear, tiotiotiotinx.
LEADER OF FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
If there is one of you spectators who wishes to spend the rest
of his life quietly among the birds, let him come to us. All that is
disgraceful and forbidden by law on earth is on the contrary
honourable among us, the birds. For instance, among you it's a crime
to beat your father, but with us it's an estimable deed; it's
considered fine to run straight at your father and hit him, saying,
"Come, lift your spur if you want to fight." The runaway slave, whom
you brand, is only a spotted francolin with us. Are you Phrygian
like Spintharus? Among us you would be the Phrygian bird, the
goldfinch, of the race of Philemon. Are you a slave and a Carian
like Execestides? Among us you can create yourself fore-fathers; you
can always find relations. Does the son of Pisias want to betray the
gates of the city to the foe? Let him become a partridge, the
fitting offspring of his father; among us there is no shame in
escaping as cleverly as a partridge.
SECOND SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
So the swans on the banks of the Hebrus, tiotiotiotiotiotinx,
mingle their voices to serenade Apollo, tiotiotiotinx, flapping
their wings the while, tiotiotiotinx; their notes reach beyond the
clouds of heaven; they startle the various tribes of the beasts; a
windles sky calms the waves, totototototototototinx; all Olympus
resounds, and astonishment seizes its rulers; the Olympian graces
and Muses cry aloud the strain, tiotiotiotinx.
LEADER OF SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
There is nothing more useful nor more pleasant than to have wings.
To begin with, just let us suppose a spectator to be dying with hunger
and to be weary of the choruses of the tragic poets; if he were
winged, he would fly off, go home to dine and come back with his
stomach filled. Some Patroclides, needing to take a crap, would not
have to spill it out on his cloak, but could fly off, satisfy his
requirements, let a few farts and, having recovered his breath,
return. If one of you, it matters not who, had adulterous relations
and saw the husband of his mistress in the seats of the senators, he
might stretch his wings, fly to her, and, having laid her, resume
his place. Is it not the most priceless gift of all, to be winged?
Look at Diitrephes! His wings were only wicker-work ones, and yet he
got himself chosen Phylarch and then Hipparch; from being nobody, he
has risen to be famous; he's now the finest gilded cock of his tribe.
(PITHETAERUS and EUELPIDES return; they now have wings.)
PITHETAERUS
Halloa! What's this? By Zeus! I never saw anything so funny in all
my life.
EUELPIDES
What makes you laugh?
PITHETAERUS
Your little wings. D'you know what you look like? Like a goose
painted by some dauber.
EUELPIDES
And you look like a close-shaven blackbird.
PITHETAERUS
We ourselves asked for this transformation, and, as Aeschylus
has it, "These are no borrowed feathers, but truly our own."
EPOPS
Come now, what must be done?
PITHETAERUS
First give our city a great and famous name, then sacrifice to the
gods.
EUELPIDES
I think so too.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Let's see. What shall our city be called?
PITHETAERUS
Will you have a high-sounding Laconian name? Shall we call it
Sparta?
EUELPIDES
What! call my town Sparta? Why, I would not use esparto for my
bed, even though I had nothing but bands of rushes.
PITHETAERUS
Well then, what name can you suggest?
EUELPIDES
Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions in
which we dwell-in short, some well-known name.
PITHETAERUS
Do you like Nephelococcygia?
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Oh! capital! truly that's a brilliant thought!
EUELPIDES
Is it in Nephelococcygia that all the wealth of Theogenes and most
of Aeschines' is?
PITHETAERUS
No, it's rather the plain of Phlegra, where the gods withered
the pride of the sons of the Earth with their shafts.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Oh! what a splendid city! But what god shall be its patron? for
whom shall we weave the peplus?
EUELPIDES
Why not choose Athene Polias?
PITHETAERUS
Oh! what a well-ordered town it would be to have a female deity
armed from head to foot, while Clisthenes was spinning!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Who then shall guard the Pelargicon?
PITHETAERUS
A bird.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
One of us? What kind of bird?
PITHETAERUS
A bird of Persian strain, who is everywhere proclaimed to be the
bravest of all, a true chick of Ares.
EUELPIDES
Oh! noble chick!
PITHETAERUS
Because he is a god well suited to live on the rocks. Come! into
the air with you to help the workers who are building the wall;
carry up rubble, strip yourself to mix the mortar, take up the hod,
tumble down the ladder, if you like, post sentinels, keep the fire
smouldering beneath the ashes, go round the walls, bell in hand, and
go to sleep up there yourself then despatch two heralds, one to the
gods above, the other to mankind on earth and come back here.
EUELPIDES
As for yourself, remain here, and may the plague take you for a
troublesome fellow!
(He departs.)
PITHETAERUS
Go, friend, go where I send you, for without you my orders
cannot be obeyed. For myself, I want to sacrifice to the new god,
and I am going to summon the priest who must preside at the
ceremony. Slaves! slaves! bring forward the basket and the lustral
water.
CHORUS (singing)
I do as you do, and I wish as you wish, and I implore you to
address powerful and solemn prayers to the gods, and in addition to
immolate a sheep as a token of our gratitude. Let us sing the
Pythian chant in honour of the god, and let Chaeris accompany our
voices.
PITHETAERUS
Enough! but, by Heracles! what is this? Great gods! I have seen
many prodigious things, but I never saw a muzzled raven. (The PRIEST
arrives.) Priest! it's high time! Sacrifice to the new gods.
PRIEST
I begin, but where is the man with the basket? Pray to the
Hestia of the birds, to the kite, who presides over the hearth, and to
all the god and goddess-birds who dwell in Olympus...
PITHETAERUS
Oh! Hawk, the sacred guardian of Sunium, oh, god of the storks!
PRIEST
...to the swan of Delos, to Leto the mother of the quails, and to
Artemis, the goldfinch...
PITHETAERUS
It's no longer Artemis Colaenis, but Artemis the goldfinch.
PRIEST
...to Bacchus, the finch and Cybele, the ostrich and mother of the
gods and mankind...
PITHETAERUS
Oh! sovereign ostrich Cybele, mother of Cleocritus!
PRIEST
...to grant health and safety to the Nephelococcygians as well as
to the dwellers in Chios...
PITHETAERUS
The dwellers in Chios! Ah! I am delighted they should be thus
mentioned on all occasions.
PRIEST
...to the heroes, the birds, to the sons of heroes, to the
porphyrion, the pelican, the spoon-bill, the redbreast, the grouse,
the peacock, the horned-owl, the teal, the bittern, the heron, the
stormy petrel, the fig-pecker, the titmouse...
PITHETAERUS
Stop! stop! you drive me crazy with your endless list. Why,
wretch, to what sacred feast are you inviting the vultures and the
sea-eagles? Don't you see that a single kite could easily carry off
the lot at once? Begone, you and your fillets and all; I shall know
how to complete the sacrifice by myself.
(The PRIEST departs.)
It is imperative that I sing another sacred chant for the rite
of the lustral water, and that I invoke the immortals, or at least one
of them, provided always that you have some suitable food to offer
him; from what I see here, in the shape of gifts, there is naught
whatever but horn and hair.
PITHETAERUS
Let us address our sacrifices and our prayers to the winged gods.
(A POET enters.)
POET
Oh, Muse! celebrate happy Nephelococcygia in your hymns.
PITHETAERUS
What have we here? Where did you come from, tell me? Who are you?
POET
I am he whose language is sweeter than honey, the zealous slave of
the Muses, as Homer has it.
PITHETAERUS
You a slave! and yet you wear your hair long?
POET
No, but the fact is all we poets are the assiduous slaves of the
Muses, according to Homer.
PITHETAERUS
In truth your little cloak is quite holy too through zeal! But,
poet, what ill wind drove you here?
POET
I have composed verses in honour of your Nephelococcygia, a host
of splendid dithyrambs and parthenia worthy of Simonides himself.
PITHETAERUS
And when did you compose them? How long since?
POET
Oh! 'tis long, aye, very long, that I have sung in honour of
this city.
PITHETAERUS
But I am only celebrating its foundation with this sacrifice; I
have only just named it, as is done with little babies.
POET
"Just as the chargers fly with the speed of the wind, so does
the voice of the Muses take its flight. Oh! thou noble founder of
the town of Aetna, thou, whose name recalls the holy sacrifices,
make us such gift as thy generous heart shall suggest."
(He puts out his hand.)
PITHETAERUS
He will drive us silly if we do not get rid of him by some
present. (To the PRIEST'S acolyte) Here! you, who have a fur as well
as your tunic, take it off and give it to this clever poet. Come, take
this fur; you look to me to be shivering with cold.
POET
My Muse will gladly accept this gift; but engrave these verses
of Pindar's on your mind.
PITHETAERUS
Oh! what a pest! It's impossible then to get rid of him!
POET
"Straton wanders among the Scythian nomads, but has no linen
garment. He is sad at only wearing an animal's pelt and no tunic."
Do you get what I mean?
PITHETAERUS
I understand that you want me to offer you a tunic. Hi! you (to
the acolyte), take off yours; we must help the poet....Come, you, take
it and get out.
POET
I am going, and these are the verses that I address to this
city: "Phoebus of the golden throne, celebrate this shivery,
freezing city; I have travelled through fruitful and snow-covered
plains. Tralala! Tralala!"
(He departs.)
PITHETAERUS
What are you chanting us about frosts? Thanks to the tunic, you no
longer fear them. Ah! by Zeus! I could not have believed this cursed
fellow could so soon have learnt the way to our city. (To a slave)
Come, take the lustral water and circle the altar. Let all keep
silence!
(An ORACLE-MONGER enters.)
ORACLE-MONGER
Let not the goat be sacrificed.
PITHETAERUS
Who are you?
ORACLE-MONGER
Who am I? An oracle-monger.
PITHETAERUS
Get out!
ORACLE-MONGER
Wretched man, insult not sacred things. For there is an oracle
of Bacis, which exactly applies to Nephelococcygia.
PITHETAERUS
Why did you not reveal it to me before I founded my city?
ORACLE-MONGER
The divine spirit was against it.
PITHETAERUS
Well, I suppose there's nothing to do but hear the terms of the
oracle.
ORACLE-MONGER
"But when the wolves and the white crows shall dwell together
between Corinth and Sicyon..."
PITHETAERUS
But how do the Corinthians concern me?
ORACLE-MONGER
It is the regions of the air that Bacis indicates in this
manner. "They must first sacrifice a white-fleeced goat to Pandora,
and give the prophet who first reveals my words a good cloak and new
sandals."
PITHETAERUS
Does it say sandals there?
ORACLE-MONGER
Look at the book. "And besides this a goblet of wine and a good
share of the entrails of the entrails of the victim."
PITHETAERUS
Of the entrails-does it say that?
ORACLE-MONGER
Look at the book. "If you do as I command, divine youth, you shall
be an eagle among the clouds; if not, you shall be neither
turtle-dove, nor eagle, nor woodpecker."
PITHETAERUS
Does it say all that?
ORACLE-MONGER
Look at the book.
PITHETAERUS
This oracle in no sort of way resembles the one Apollo dictated to
me: "If an impostor comes without invitation to annoy you during the
sacrifice and to demand a share of the victim, apply a stout stick
to his ribs."
ORACLE-MONGER
You are drivelling.
PITHETAERUS
Look at the book. "And don't spare him, were he an eagle from
out of the clouds, were it Lampon himself or the great Diopithes."
ORACLE-MONGER
Does it say that?
PITHETAERUS
Look at the book and go and hang yourself.
ORACLE-MONGER
Oh! unfortunate wretch that I am.
(He departs.)
PITHETAERUS
Away with you, and take your prophecies elsewhere.
(Enter METON, With surveying instruments.)
METON
I have come to you...
PITHETAERUS (interrupting)
Yet another pest! What have you come to do? What's your plan?
What's the purpose of your journey? Why these splendid buskins?
METON
I want to survey the plains of the air for you and to parcel
them into lots.
PITHETAERUS
In the name of the gods, who are you?
METON
Who am I? Meton, known throughout Greece and at Colonus.
PITHETAERUS
What are these things?
METON
Tools for measuring the air. In truth, the spaces in the air
have precisely the form of a furnace. With this bent ruler I draw a
line from top to bottom; from one of its points I describe a circle
with the compass. Do you understand?
PITHETAERUS
Not in the least.
METON
With the straight ruler I set to work to inscribe a square
within this circle; in its centre will be the market-place, into which
all the straight streets will lead, converging to this centre like a
star, which, although only orbicular, sends forth its rays in a
straight line from all sides.
PITHETAERUS
A regular Thales! Meton...
METON
What d'you want with me?
PITHETAERUS
I want to give you a proof of my friendship. Use your legs.
METON
Why, what have I to fear?
PITHETAERUS
It's the same here as in Sparta. Strangers are driven away, and
blows rain down as thick as hail.
METON
Is there sedition in your city?
PITHETAERUS
No, certainly not.
METON
What's wrong then?
PITHETAERUS
We are agreed to sweep all quacks and impostors far from our
borders.
METON
Then I'll be going.
PITHETAERUS
I'm afraid it's too late. The thunder growls already.
(He beats him.)
METON
Oh, woe! oh, woe!
PITHETAERUS
I warned you. Now, be off, and do your surveying somewhere else.
(METON takes to his heels. He is no sooner gone than an INSPECTOR
arrives.)
INSPECTOR
Where are the Proxeni?
PITHETAERUS
Who is this Sardanapalus?
INSPECTOR
I have been appointed by lot to come to Nephelococcygia. as
inspector.
PITHETAERUS
An inspector! and who sends you here, you rascal?
INSPECTOR
A decree of Teleas.
PITHETAERUS
Will you just pocket your salary, do nothing, and get out?
INSPECTOR
Indeed I will; I am urgently needed to be at Athens to attend
the Assembly; for I am charged with the interests of Pharnaces.
PITHETAERUS
Take it then, and get on your way. This is your salary.
(He beats him.)
INSPECTOR
What does this mean?
PITHETAERUS
This is the assembly where you have to defend Pharnaces.
INSPECTOR
You shall testify that they dare to strike me, the inspector.
PITHETAERUS
Are you not going to get out with your urns? It's not to be
believed; they send us inspectors before we have so much as paid
sacrifice to the gods.
(The INSPECTOR goes into hiding. A DEALER IN DECREES arrives.)
DEALER IN DECREES (reading)
"If the Nephelococcygian does wrong to the Athenian..."
PITHETAERUS
What trouble now? What book is that?
DEALER IN DECREES
I am a dealer in decrees, and I have come here to sell you the new
laws.
PITHETAERUS
Which?
DEALER IN DECREES
"The Nephelococcygians shall adopt the same weights, measures
and decrees as the Olophyxians."
PITHETAERUS
And you shall soon be imitating the Ototyxians.
(He beats him.)
DEALER IN DECREES
Ow! what are you doing?
PITHETAERUS
Now will you get out of here with your decrees? For I am going
to let you see some severe ones.
(The DEALER IN DECREES departs; the INSPECTOR comes out of
hiding.)
INSPECTOR (returning)
I summon Pithetaerus for outrage for the month of Munychion.
PITHETAERUS
Ha! my friend! are you still here?
(The DEALER IN DECREES also returns.)
DEALER IN DECREES
"Should anyone drive away the magistrates and not receive them,
according to the decree duly posted..."
PITHETAERUS
What! rascal! you are back too?
(He rushes at him.)
INSPECTOR
Woe to you! I'll have you condemned to a fine of ten thousand
drachmae.
PITHETAERUS
And I'll smash your urns.
INSPECTOR
Do you recall that evening when you crapped on the column where
the decrees are posted?
PITHETAERUS
Here! here! let him be seized. (The INSPECTOR runs off.) Why,
don't you want to stay any longer? But let us get indoors as quick
as possible; we will sacrifice the goat inside.
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
Henceforth it is to me that mortals must address their
sacrifices and their prayers. Nothing escapes my sight nor my might.
My glance embraces the universe, I preserve the fruit in the flower by
destroying the thousand kinds of voracious insects the soil
produces, which attack the trees and feed on the germ when it has
scarcely formed in the calyx; I destroy those who ravage the balmy
terrace gardens like a deadly plague; all these gnawing crawling
creatures perish beneath the lash of my wing.
LEADER OF FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
I hear it proclaimed everywhere: "A talent for him who shall
kill Diagoras of Melos, and a talent for him who destroys one of the
dead tyrants." We likewise wish to make our proclamation: "A talent to
him among you who shall kill Philocrates, the Struthian; four, if he
brings him to us alive. For this Philocrates skewers the finches
together and sells them at the rate of an obolus for seven. He
tortures the thrushes by blowing them out, so that they may look
bigger, sticks their own feathers into the nostrils of blackbirds, and
collects pigeons, which he shuts up and forces them, fastened in a
net, to decoy others." That is what we wish to proclaim. And if anyone
is keeping birds shut up in his yard, let him hasten to let them
loose; those who disobey shall be seized by the birds and we shall put
them in chains, so that in their turn they may decoy other men.
SECOND SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
Happy indeed is the race of winged birds who need no cloak in
winter! Neither do I fear the relentless rays of the fiery dog-days;
when the divine grasshopper, intoxicated with the sunlight, as noon is
burning the ground, is breaking out into shrill melody; my home is
beneath the foliage in the flowery meadows. I winter in deep
caverns, where I frolic with the mountain nymphs, while in spring I
despoil the gardens of the Graces and gather the white, virgin berry
on the myrtle bushes.
LEADER OF SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
I want now to speak to the judges about the prize they are going
to award; if they are favourable to us, we will load them with
benefits far greater than those Paris received. Firstly, the owls of
Laurium, which every judge desires above all things, shall never be
wanting to you; you shall see them homing with you, building their
nests in your money-bags and laying coins. Besides, you shall be
housed like the gods, for we shall erect gables over your dwellings;
if you hold some public post and want to do a little pilfering, we
will give you the sharp claws of a hawk. Are you dining in town, we
will provide you with stomachs as capacious as a bird's crop. But,
if your award is against us, don't fail to have metal covers fashioned
for yourselves, like those they place over statues; else, look out!
for the day you wear a white tunic all the birds will soil it with
their droppings.
PITHETAERUS
Birds! the sacrifice is propitious. But I see no messenger
coming from the wall to tell us what is happening. Ah! here comes
one running himself out of breath as though he were in the Olympic
stadium.
MESSENGER (running back and forth)
Where, where, where is he? Where, where, where is he? Where,
where, where is he? Where is Pithetaerus, our leader?
PITHETAERUS
Here am I.
MESSENGER
The wall is finished.
PITHETAERUS
That's good news.
MESSENGER
It's a most beautiful, a most magnificent work of art. The wall is
so broad that Proxenides, the Braggartian, and Theogenes could pass
each other in their chariots, even if they were drawn by steeds as big
as the Trojan horse.
PITHETAERUS
That's fine!
MESSENGER
Its length is one hundred stadia; I measured it myself.
PITHETAERUS
A decent length, by Posidon! And who built such a wall?
MESSENGER
Birds-birds only; they had neither Egyptian brickmaker, nor
stone-mason, nor carpenter; the birds did it all themselves; I could
hardly believe my eyes. Thirty thousand cranes came from Libya with
a supply of stones, intended for the foundations. The water-rails
chiselled them with their beaks. Ten thousand storks were busy
making bricks; plovers and other water fowl carried water into the
air.
PITHETAERUS
And who carried the mortar?
MESSENGER
Herons, in hods.
PITHETAERUS
But how could they put the mortar into the hods?
MESSENGER
Oh! it was a truly clever invention; the geese used their feet
like spades; they buried them in the pile of mortar and then emptied
them into the hods.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! to what use cannot feet be put?
MESSENGER
You should have seen how eagerly the ducks carried bricks. To
complete the tale, the swallows came flying to the work, their beaks
full of mortar and their trowels on their backs, just the way little
children are carried.
PITHETAERUS
Who would want paid servants after this? But tell me, who did
the woodwork?
MESSENGER
Birds again, aid clever carpenters too, the pelicans, for they
squared up the gates with their beaks in such a fashion that one would
have thought they were using axes; the noise was just like a dockyard.
Now the whole wall is tight everywhere, securely bolted and well
guarded; it is patrolled, bell in hand; the sentinels stand everywhere
and beacons burn on the towers. But I must run off to clean myself;
the rest is your business.
(He departs.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS (to PITHETAERUS)
Well! what do you say to it? Are you not astonished at the wall
being completed so quickly?
PITHETAERUS
By the gods, yes, and with good reason. It's really not to be
believed. But here comes another messenger from the wall to bring us
some further news! What a fighting look he has!
SECOND MESSENGER (rushing in)
Alas! alas! alas! alas! alas! alas!
PITHETAERUS
What's the matter?
SECOND MESSENGER
A horrible outrage has occurred; a god sent by Zeus has passed
through our gates and has penetrated the realms of the air without the
knowledge of the jays, who are on guard in the daytime.
PITHETAERUS
It's a terrible and criminal deed. What god was it?
SECOND MESSENGER
We don't know that. All we know is, that he has got wings.
PITHETAERUS
Why were not patrolmen sent against him at once?
SECOND MESSENGER
We have despatched thirty thousand hawks of the legion of
Mounted Archers. All the hook-clawed birds are moving against him, the
kestrel, the buzzard, the vulture, the great-horned owl; they cleave
the air so that it resounds with the flapping of their wings; they are
looking everywhere for the god, who cannot be far away; indeed, if I
mistake not, he is coming from yonder side.
PITHETAERUS
To arms, all, with slings and bows! This way, all our soldiers;
shoot and strike! Some one give me a sling!
CHORUS (singing)
War, a terrible war is breaking out between us and the gods! Come,
let each one guard Air, the son of Erebus, in which the clouds
float. Take care no immortal enters it without your knowledge.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Scan all sides with your glance. Hark! methinks I can hear the
rustle of the swift wings of a god from heaven.
(The Machine brings in IRIS, in the form of a young girl.)
PITHETAERUS
Hi! you woman! where, where, are you flying to? Halt, don't
stir! keep motionless! not a beat of your wing! (She pauses in her
flight.) Who are you and from what country? You must say whence you
come.
IRIS
I come from the abode of the Olympian gods.
PITHETAERUS
What's your name, ship or head-dress?
IRIS
I am swift Iris.
PITHETAERUS
Paralus or Salaminia?
IRIS
What do you mean?
PITHETAERUS
Let a buzzard rush at her and seize her.
IRIS
Seize me? But what do all these insults mean?
PITHETAERUS
Woe to you!
IRIS
I do not understand it.
PITHETAERUS
By which gate did you pass through the wall, wretched woman?
IRIS
By which gate? Why, great gods, I don't know.
PITHETAERUS
You hear how she holds us in derision. Did you present yourself to
the officers in command of the jays? You don't answer. Have you a
permit, bearing the seal of the storks?
IRIS
Am I dreaming?
PITHETAERUS
Did you get one?
IRIS
Are you mad?
PITHETAERUS
No head-bird gave you a safe-conduct?
IRIS
A safe-conduct to me. You poor fool!
PITHETAERUS
Ah! and so you slipped into this city on the sly and into these
realms of air-land that don't belong to you.
IRIS
And what other roads can the gods travel?
PITHETAERUS
By Zeus! I know nothing about that, not I. But they won't pass
this way. And you still dare to complain? Why, if you were treated
according to your deserts, no Iris would ever have more justly
suffered death.
IRIS
I am immortal.
PITHETAERUS
You would have died nevertheless.-Oh! that would be truly
intolerable! What! should the universe obey us and the gods alone
continue their insolence and not understand that they must submit to
the law of the strongest in their due turn? But tell me, where are you
flying to?
IRIS
I? The messenger of Zeus to mankind, I am going to tell them to
sacrifice sheep and oxen on the altars and to fill their streets
with the rich smoke of burning fat.
PITHETAERUS
Of which gods are you speaking?
IRIS
Of which? Why, of ourselves, the gods of heaven.
PITHETAERUS
You, gods?
IRIS
Are there others then?
PITHETAERUS
Men now adore the birds as gods, and it's to them, by Zeus, that
they must offer sacrifices, and not to Zeus at all!
IRIS (in tragic style)
Oh! fool! fool! fool! Rouse not the wrath of the gods, for it is
terrible indeed. Armed with the brand of Zeus, justice would
annihilate your race; the lightning would strike you as it did
Licymnius and consume both your body and the porticos of your palace.
PITHETAERUS
Here! that's enough tall talk. Just you listen and keep quiet!
Do you take me for a Lydian or a Phrygian and think to frighten me
with your big words? Know, that if Zeus worries me again, I shall go
at the head of my eagles, who are armed with lightning, and reduce his
dwelling and that of Amphion to cinders. I shall send more than six
hundred porphyrions clothed in leopards' skins up to heaven against
him; and formerly a single Porphyrion gave him enough to do. As for
you, his messenger, if you annoy me, I shall begin by getting
between your thighs, and even though you are Iris, you will be
surprised at the erection the old man can produce; it's three times as
good as the ram on a ship's prow!
IRIS
May you perish, you wretch, you and your infamous words!
PITHETAERUS
Won't you get out of here quickly? Come, stretch your wings or
look out for squalls!
IRIS
If my father does not punish you for your insults...
(The Machine takes IRIS away.)
PITHETAERUS
Ha!... but just you be off elsewhere to roast younger folk than us
with your lightning.
CHORUS (singing)
We forbid the gods, the sons of Zeus, to pass through our city and
the mortals to send them the smoke of their sacrifices by this road.
PITHETAERUS
It's odd that the messenger we sent to the mortals has never
returned.
(The HERALD enters, wearing a golden garland on his head.)
HERALD
Oh! blessed Pithetaerus, very wise, very illustrious, very
gracious, thrice happy, very...Come, prompt me, somebody, do
PITHETAERUS
Get to your story!
HERALD
All peoples are filled with admiration for your wisdom, and they
award you this golden crown.
PITHETAERUS
I accept it. But tell me, why do the people admire me?
HERALD
Oh you, who have founded so illustrious a city in the air, you
know not in what esteem men hold you and how many there are who burn
with desire to dwell in it. Before your city was built, all men had
a mania for Sparta; long hair and fasting were held in honour, men
went dirty like Socrates and carried staves. Now all is changed.
Firstly, as soon as it's dawn, they all spring out of bed together
to go and seek their food, the same as you do; then they fly off
towards the notices and finally devour the decrees. The bird-madness
is so clear that many actually bear the names of birds. There is a
halting victualler, who styles himself the partridge; Menippus calls
himself the swallow; Opuntius the one-eyed crow; Philocles the lark;
Theogenes the fox-goose; Lycurgus the ibis; Chaerephon the bat;
Syracosius the magpie; Midias the quail; indeed he looks like a
quail that has been hit hard on the head. Out of love for the birds
they repeat all the songs which concern the swallow, the teal, the
goose or the pigeon; in each verse you see wings, or at all events a
few feathers. This is what is happening down there. Finally, there are
more than ten thousand folk who are coming here from earth to ask
you for feathers and hooked claws; so, mind you supply yourself with
wings for the immigrants.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! by Zeus, there's no time for idling. (To some slaves) Go as
quick as possible and fill every hamper, every basket you can find
with wings. Manes will bring them to me outside the walls, where I
will welcome those who present themselves.
CHORUS (Singing)
This town will soon be inhabited by a crowd of men. Fortune
favours us alone and thus they have fallen in love with our city.
PITHETAERUS (to the slave MANES, who brings in a basket full of
wings)
Come, hurry up and bring them along.
CHORUS (singing)
Will not man find here everything that can please him-wisdom,
love, the divine Graces, the sweet face of gentle peace?
PITHETAERUS (as MANES Comes in with another basket)
Oh! you lazy servant! won't you hurry yourself?
CHORUS (singing)
Let a basket of wings be brought speedily. Come, beat him as I do,
and put some life into him; he is as lazy as an ass.
PITHETAERUS
Aye, Manes is a great craven.
CHORUS (singing)
Begin by putting this heap of wings in order; divide them in three
parts according to the birds from whom they came; the singing, the
prophetic and the aquatic birds; then you must take care to distribute
them to the men according to their character.
PITHETAERUS (to MANES, who is bringing in another basket)
Oh! by the kestrels! I can keep my hands off you no longer; you
are too slow and lazy altogether.
(He hits MANES, who runs away. A young PARRICIDE enters.)
PARRICIDE (singing)
Oh! might I but become an eagle, who soars in the skies! Oh! might
I fly above the azure waves of the barren sea!
PITHETAERUS
Ha! it would seem the news was true; I hear someone coming who
talks of wings.
PARRICIDE
Nothing is more charming than to fly; I am bird-mad and fly
towards you, for I want to live with you and to obey your laws.
PITHETAERUS
Which laws? The birds have many laws.
PARRICIDE
All of them; but the one that pleases me most is that among the
birds it is considered a fine thing to peck and strangle one's father.
PITHETAERUS
Yes, by Zeus! according to us, he who dares to strike his
father, while still a chick, is a brave fellow.
PARRICIDE
And therefore I want to dwell here, for I want to strangle my
father and inherit his wealth.
PITHETAERUS
But we have also an ancient law written in the code of the storks,
which runs thus, "When the stork father has reared his young and has
taught them to fly, the young must in their turn support the father."
PARRICIDE (petulantly)
It's hardly worth while coming all this distance to be compelled
to keep my father!
PITHETAERUS
No, no, young friend, since you have come to us with such
willingness, I am going to give you these black wings, as though you
were an orphan bird; furthermore, some good advice, that I received
myself in infancy. Don't strike your father, but take these wings in
one hand and these spurs in the other; imagine you have a cock's crest
on your head and go and mount guard and fight; live on your pay and
respect your father's life. You're a gallant fellow! Very well,
then! Fly to Thrace and fight.
PARRICIDE
By Bacchus! You're right; I will follow your counsel.
PITHETAERUS
It's acting wisely, by Zeus.
(The PARRICIDE departs, and the dithyrambic poet CINESIAS
arrives.)
CINESIAS (singing)
"On my light pinions I soar off to Olympus; in its capricious
flight my Muse flutters along the thousand paths of poetry in turn..."
PITHETAERUS
This is a fellow will need a whole shipload of wings.
CINESIAS (singing)
"...and being fearless and vigorous, it is seeking fresh outlet."
PITHETAERUS
Welcome, Cinesias, you lime-wood man! Why have you come here
twisting your game leg in circles?
CINESIAS (singing)
"I want to become a bird, a tuneful nightingale."
PITHETAERUS
Enough of that sort of ditty. Tell me what you want.
CINESIAS
Give me wings and I will fly into the topmost airs to gather fresh
songs in the clouds, in the midst of the vapours and the fleecy snow.
PITHETAERUS
Gather songs in the clouds?
CINESIAS
'Tis on them the whole of our latter-day art depends. The most
brilliant dithyrambs are those that flap their wings in empty space
and are clothed in mist and dense obscurity. To appreciate this,
just listen.
PITHETAERUS
Oh! no, no, no!
CINESIAS
By Hermes! but indeed you shall. (He sings.) "I shall travel
through thine ethereal empire like a winged bird, who cleaveth space
with his long neck..."
PITHETAERUS
Stop! Way enough!
CINESIAS
"...as I soar over the seas, carried by the breath of the
winds..."
PITHETAERUS
By Zeus! I'll cut your breath short.
(He picks up a pair of wings and begins trying to stop CINESIAS'
mouth with them.)
CINESIAS (running away)
"...now rushing along the tracks of Notus, now nearing Boreas
across the infinite wastes of the ether." Ah! old man, that's a pretty
and clever idea truly!
PITHETAERUS
What! are you not delighted to be cleaving the air?
CINESIAS
To treat a dithyrambic poet, for whom the tribes dispute with each
other, in this style!
PITHETAERUS
Will you stay with us and form a chorus of winged birds as slender
as Leotrophides for the Cecropid tribe?
CINESIAS
You are making game of me, that's clear; but know that I shall
never leave you in peace if I do not have wings wherewith to
traverse the air.
(CINESIAS departs and an INFORMER arrives.)
INFORMER
What are these birds with downy feathers, who look so pitiable
to me? Tell me, oh swallow with the long dappled wings.
PITHETAERUS
Oh! it's a regular invasion that threatens us. Here comes
another one, humming along.
INFORMER
Swallow with the long dappled wings, once more I summon you.
PITHETAERUS
It's his cloak I believe he's addressing; it stands in great
need of the swallows' return.
INFORMER
Where is he who gives out wings to all comers?
PITHETAERUS
Here I am, but you must tell me for what purpose you want them.
INFORMER
Ask no questions. I want wings, and wings I must have.
PITHETAERUS
Do you want to fly straight to Pellene?
INFORMER
I? Why, I am an accuser of the islands, an informer...
PITHETAERUS
A fine trade, truly!
INFORMER
...a hatcher of lawsuits. Hence I have great need of wings to
prowl round the cities and drag them before justice.
PITHETAERUS
Would you do this better if you had wings?
INFORMER
No, but I should no longer fear the pirates; I should return
with the cranes, loaded with a supply of lawsuits by way of ballast.
PITHETAERUS
So it seems, despite all your youthful vigour, you make it your
trade to denounce strangers?
INFORMER
Well, and why not? I don't know how to dig.
PITHETAERUS
But, by Zeus! there are honest ways of gaining a living at your
age without all this infamous trickery.
INFORMER
My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.
PITHETAERUS
It's just my words that gives you wings.
INFORMER
And how can you give a man wings with your words?
PITHETAERUS
They all start this way.
INFORMER
How?
PITHETAERUS
Have you not often heard the father say to young men in the
barbers' shops, "It's astonishing how Diitrephes' advice has made my
son fly to horse-riding."-"Mine," says another, "has flown towards
tragic poetry on the wings of his imagination."
INFORMER
So that words give wings?
PITHETAERUS
Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to
heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to
some less degrading trade.
INFORMER
But I do not want to.
PITHETAERUS
What do you reckon on doing then?
INFORMER
I won't belie my breeding; from generation to generation we have
lived by informing. Quick, therefore, give me quickly some light,
swift hawk or kestrel wings, so that I may summon the islanders,
sustain the accusation here, and haste back there again on flying
pinions.
PITHETAERUS
I see. In this way the stranger will be condemned even before he
appears.
INFORMER
That's just it.
PITHETAERUS
And while he is on his way here by sea, you will be flying to
the islands to despoil him of his property.
INFORMER
You've hit it, precisely; I must whirl hither and thither like a
perfect humming-top.
PITHETAERUS
I catch the idea. Wait, I've got some fine Corcyraean wings. How
do you like them?
INFORMER
Oh! woe is me! Why, it's a whip!
PITHETAERUS
No, no; these are the wings, I tell you, that make the top spin.
INFORMER (as PITHETAERUS lashes him)
Oh! oh! oh!
PITHETAERUS
Take your flight, clear off, you miserable cur, or you will soon
see what comes of quibbling and lying. (The INFORMER flees. To his
slaves) Come, let us gather up our wings and withdraw.
(The baskets are taken away.)
CHORUS (singing)
In my ethereal flights I have seen many things new and strange and
wondrous beyond belief. There is a tree called Cleonymus belonging
to an unknown species; it has no heart, is good for nothing and is
as tall as it is cowardly. In springtime it shoots forth calumnies
instead of buds and in autumn it strews the ground with bucklers in
place of leaves.
Far away in the regions of darkness, where no ray of light ever
enters, there is a country, where men sit at the table of the heroes
and dwell with them always-except in the evening. Should any mortal
meet the hero Orestes at night, he would soon be stripped and
covered with blows from head to foot.
(PROMETHEUS enters, masked to conceal his identity.)
PROMETHEUS
Ah! by the gods! if only Zeus does not espy me! Where is
Pithetaerus?
PITHETAERUS
Ha! what is this? A masked man!
PROMETHEUS
Can you see any god behind me?
PITHETAERUS
No, none. But who are you, pray?
PROMETHEUS
What's the time, please?
PITHETAERUS
The time? Why, it's past noon. Who are you?
PROMETHEUS
Is it the fall of day? Is it no later than that?
PITHETAERUS
This is getting dull!
PROMETHEUS
What is Zeus doing? Is he dispersing the clouds or gathering them?
PITHETAERUS
Watch out for yourself!
PROMETHEUS
Come, I will raise my mask.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! my dear Prometheus!
PROMETHEUS
Sh! Sh! speak lower!
PITHETAERUS
Why, what's the matter, Prometheus?
PROMETHEUS
Sh! sh! Don't call me by my name; you will be my ruin, if Zeus
should see me here. But, if you want me to tell you how things are
going in heaven, take this umbrella and shield me, so that the gods
don't see me.
PITHETAERUS
I can recognize Prometheus in this cunning trick. Come, quick
then, and fear nothing; speak on.
PROMETHEUS
Then listen.
PITHETAERUS
I am listening, proceed!
FROM-ETHEUS
Zeus is done for.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! and since when, pray?
PROMETHEUS
Since you founded this city in the air. There is not a man who now
sacrifices to the gods, the smoke of the victims no longer reaches us.
Not the smallest offering comes! We fast as though it were the
festivall of Demeter. The barbarian gods, who are dying of hunger, are
bawling like Illyrians and threaten to make an armed descent upon
Zeus, if he does not open markets where joints of the victims are
sold.
PITHETAERUS
What! there are other gods besides you, barbarian gods who dwell
above Olympus?
PROMETHEUS
If there were no barbarian gods, who would be the patron of
Execestides?
PITHETAERUS
And what is the name of these gods?
PROMETHEUS
Their name? Why, the Triballi.
PITHETAERUS
Ah, indeed! 'tis from that no doubt that we derive the word
'tribulation.'
PROMETHEUS
Most likely. But one thing I can tell you for certain, namely,
that Zeus and the celestial Triballi are going to send deputies here
to sue for peace. Now don't you treat with them, unless Zeus
restores the sceptre to the birds and gives you Basileia in marriage.
PITHETAERUS
Who is this Basileia?
PROMETHEUS
A very fine young damsel, who makes the lightning for Zeus; all
things come from her, wisdom, good laws, virtue, the fleet, calumnies,
the public paymaster and the triobolus.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! then she is a sort of general manageress to the god.
PROMETHEUS
Yes, precisely. If he gives you her for your wife, yours will be
the almighty power. That is what I have come to tell you; for you know
my constant and habitual goodwill towards men.
PITHETAERUS
Oh, yes! it's thanks to you that we roast our meat.
PROMETHEUS
I hate the gods, as you know.
PITHETAERUS
Aye, by Zeus, you have always detested them.
PROMETHEUS
Towards them I am a veritable Timon; but I must return in all
haste, so give me the umbrella; if Zeus should see me from up there,
he would think I was escorting one of the Canephori.
PITHETAERUS
Wait, take this stool as well.
(PROMETHEUS leaves. PITHETAERUS goes into the thicket.)
CHORUS (singing)
Near by the land of the Sciapodes there is a marsh, from the
borders whereof the unwashed Socrates evokes the souls of men.
Pisander came one day to see his soul, which he had left there when
still alive. He offered a little victim, a camel, slit his throat and,
following the example of Odysseus, stepped one pace backwards. Then
that bat of a Chaerephon came up from hell to drink the camel's blood.
(POSIDON enters, accompanied by HERACLES and TRIBALLUS.)
POSIDON
This is the city of Nephelococcygia, to which we come as
ambassadors. (To TRIBALLUS) Hi! what are you up to? you are throwing
your cloak over the left shoulder. Come, fling it quick over the
right! And why, pray, does it draggle in this fashion? Have you ulcers
to hide like Laespodias? Oh! democracy! whither, oh! whither are you
leading us? Is it possible that the gods have chosen such an envoy?
You are undisturbed? Ugh! you cursed savage! you are by far the most
barbarous of all the gods.-Tell me, Heracles, what are we going to do?
HERACLES
I have already told you that I want to strangle the fellow who
dared to wall us out.
POSIDON
But, my friend, we are envoys of peace.
HERACLES
All the more reason why I wish to strangle him.
(PITHETAERUS comes out of the thicket, followed by slaves, who are
carrying various kitchen utensils; one of them sets up a table
on which he places poultry dressed for roasting.)
PITHETAERUS
Hand me the cheese-grater; bring me the silphium for sauce; pass
me the cheese and watch the coals.
HERACLES
Mortal! we who greet you are three gods.
PITHETAERUS
Wait a bit till I have prepared my silphium pickle.
HERACLES
What are these meats?
PITHETAERUS
These are birds that have been punished with death for attacking
the people's friends.
HERACLES
And you are going to season them before answering us?
PITHETAERUS (looking up from his work for the first time)
Ah! Heracles! welcome, welcome! What's the matter?
POSIDON
The gods have sent us here as ambassadors to treat for peace.
PITHETAERUS (ignoring this)
There's no more oil in the flask.
HERACLES
And yet the birds must be thoroughly basted with it.
POSIDON
We have no interest to serve in fighting you; as for you, be
friends and we promise that you shall always have rain-water in your
pools and the warmest of warm weather. So far as these points go we
are plenipotentiaries.
PITHETAERUS
We have never been the aggressors, and even now we are as well
disposed for peace as yourselves, provided you agree to one
equitable condition. namely, that Zeus yield his sceptre to the birds.
If only this is agreed to, I invite the ambassadors to dinner.
HERACLES
That's good enough for me. I vote for peace.
POSIDON
You wretch! you are nothing but a fool and a glutton. Do you
want to dethrone your own father?
PITHETAERUS
What an error. Why, the gods will be much more powerful if the
birds govern the earth. At present the mortals are hidden beneath
the clouds, escape your observation, and commit perjury in your
name; but if you had the birds for your allies, and a man, after
having sworn by the crow and Zeus, should fail to keep his oath, the
crow would dive down upon him unawares and pluck out his eye.
POSIDON
Well thought of, by Posidon!
HERACLES
My notion too.
PITHETAERUS (to TRIBALLUS)
And you, what's your opinion?
TRIBALLUS
Nabaisatreu.
PITHETAERUS
D'you see? he also approves. But listen, here is another thing
in which we can serve you. If a man vows to offer a sacrifice to
some god, and then procrastinates, pretending that the gods can
wait, and thus does not keep his word, we shall punish his stinginess.
POSIDON
Ah! and how?
PITHETAERUS
While he is counting his money or is in the bath, a kite will
relieve him, before he knows it, either in coin or in clothes, of
the value of a couple of sheep, and carry it to the god.
HERACLES
I vote for restoring them the sceptre.
POSIDON
Ask Triballus.
HERACLES
Hi Triballus, do you want a thrashing?
TRIBALLUS
Sure, bashum head withum stick.
HERACLES
He says, "Right willingly."
POSIDON
If that be the opinion of both of you, why, I consent too.
HERACLES
Very well! we accord you the sceptre.
PITHETAERUS
Ah! I was nearly forgetting another condition. I will leave Here
to Zeus, but only if the young Basileia is given me in marriage.
POSIDON
Then you don't want peace. Let us withdraw.
PITHETAERUS
It matters mighty little to me. Cook, look to the gravy.
HERACLES
What an odd fellow this Posidon is! Where are you off to? Are we
going to war about a woman?
POSIDON
What else is there to do?
HERACLES
What else? Why, conclude peace.
POSIDON
Oh! you blockhead! do you always want to be fooled? Why, you are
seeking your own downfall. If Zeus were to die, after having yielded
them the sovereignty, you would be ruined, for you are the heir of all
the wealth he will leave behind.
PITHETAERUS
Oh! by the gods! how he is cajoling you. Step aside, that I may
have a word with you. Your uncle is getting the better of you, my poor
friend. The law will not allow you an obolus of the paternal property,
for you are a bastard and not a legitimate child.
HERACLES
I a bastard! What's that you tell me?
PITHETAERUS
Why, certainly; are you not born of a stranger woman? Besides,
is not Athene recognized as Zeus' sole heiress? And no daughter
would be that, if she had a legitimate brother.
HERACLES
But what if my father wished to give me his property on his
death-bed, even though I be a bastard?
PITHETAERUS
The law forbids it, and this same Posidon would be the first to
lay claim to his wealth, in virtue of being his legitimate brother.
Listen; thus runs Solon's law: "A bastard shall not inherit, if
there are legitimate children; and if there are no legitimate
children, the property shall pass to the nearest kin."
HERACLES
And I get nothing whatever of the paternal property?
PITHETAERUS
Absolutely nothing. But tell me, has your father had you entered
on the registers of his phratry?
HERACLES
No, and I have long been surprised at the omission.
PITHETAERUS
Why do you shake your fist at heaven? Do you want to fight? Why,
be on my side, I will make you a king and will feed you on bird's milk
and honey.
HERACLES
Your further condition seems fair to me. I cede you the young
damsel.
POSIDON
But I, I vote against this opinion.
PITHETAERUS
Then it all depends on the Triballus. (To the TRIBALLUS) What do
you say?
TRIBALLUS
Givum bird pretty gel bigum queen.
HERACLES
He says give her.
POSIDON
Why no, he does not say anything of the sort, or else, like the
swallows he does not know how to walk.
PITHETAERUS
Exactly so. Does he not say she must be given to the swallows?
POSIDON (resignedly)
All right, you two arrange the matter; make peace, since you
wish it so; I'll hold my tongue.
HERACLES
We are of a mind to grant you all that you ask. But come up
there with us to receive Basileia and the celestial bounty.
PITHETAERUS
Here are birds already dressed, and very suitable for a nuptial
feast.
HERACLES
You go and, if you like, I will stay here to roast them.
PITHETAERUS
You to roast them? you are too much the glutton; come along with
us.
HERACLES
Ah! how well I would have treated myself!
PITHETAERUS
Let some one bring me a beautiful and magnificent tunic for the
wedding.
(The tunic is brought. PITHETAERUS and the three gods depart.)
CHORUS (singing)
At Phanae, near the Clepsydra, there dwells a people who have
neither faith nor law, the Englottogastors, who reap, sow, pluck the
vines and the figs with their tongues; they belong to a barbaric race,
and among them the Philippi and the Gorgiases are to be found; 'tis
these Englottogastorian Philippi who introduced the custom all over
Attica of cutting out the tongue separately at sacrifices.
(A MESSENGER enters.)
MESSENGER (in tragic style)
Oh, you, whose unbounded happiness I cannot express in words,
thrice happy race of airy birds, receive your king in your fortunate
dwellings. More brilliant than the brightest star that illumes the
earth, he is approaching his glittering golden palace; the sun
itself does not shine with more dazzling glory. He is entering with
his bride at his side, whose beauty no human tongue can express; in
his hand he brandishes the lightning, the winged shaft of Zeus;
perfumes of unspeakable sweetness pervade the ethereal realms. 'Tis
a glorious spectacle to see the clouds of incense wafting in light
whirlwinds before the breath of the zephyr! But here he is himself.
Divine Muse! let thy sacred lips begin with songs of happy omen.
(PITHETAERUS enters, with a crown on his head; he is accompanied
by BASILEIA.)
CHORUS (singing)
Fall back! to the right! to the left! advance! Fly around this
happy mortal, whom Fortune loads with her blessings. Oh! oh! what
grace! what beauty! Oh, marriage so auspicious for our city! All
honour to this man! 'tis through him that the birds are called to such
glorious destinies. Let your nuptial hymns, your nuptial songs,
greet him and his Basileia! 'Twas in the midst of such festivities
that the Fates formerly united Olympian Here to the King who governs
the gods from the summit of his inaccessible throne. Oh! Hymen! oh!
Hymenaeus! Rosy Eros with the golden wings held the reins and guided
the chariot; 'twas he, who presided over the union of Zeus and the
fortunate Here. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus!
PITHETAERUS
I am delighted with your songs, I applaud your verses. Now
celebrate the thunder that shakes the earth, the flaming lightning
of Zeus and the terrible flashing thunderbolt.
CHORUS (singing)
Oh, thou golden flash of the lightning! oh, ye divine shafts of
flame, that Zeus has hitherto shot forth! Oh, ye rolling thunders,
that bring down the rain! 'Tis by the order of our king that ye
shall now stagger the earth! Oh, Hymen! 'tis through thee that he
commands the universe and that he makes Basileia, whom he has robbed
from Zeus, take her seat at his side. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus!
PITHETAERUS (singing)
Let all the winged tribes of our fellow-citizens follow the bridal
couple to the palace of Zeus and to the nuptial couch! Stretch forth
your hands, my dear wife! Take hold of me by my wings and let us
dance; I am going to lift you up and carry you through the air.
(PITHETAERUS and BASILEIA leave dancing; the CHORUS follows
them.)
CHORUS (singing)
Alalai! Ie Paion! Tenilla kallinike! Loftiest art thou of gods!


THE END
.
 

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