Aristophanes
Birds

 


 

Translator’s Note

This translation by Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC, has certain copyright restrictions. For information please use the following link: Copyright. For comments or question please contact Ian Johnston. To see a list of other translations and lectures by Ian Johnston, use this link: johnstonia

This text is available in the form of a Word or Publisher file for those who would like to print it off as a small book. There is no charge for these files. For details, please use the following link: Publisher files. A printed paperback book of this text is available from Richer Resources Publications.

The translator would like to acknowledge the very valuable help he received from the notes in Alan H. Sommerstein’s edition of The Birds (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1987).

This text was first published in 2008. Minor formatting changes were made in 2014.

Note that in the following translation the normal numbers refer to this text, while the numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text. Links to explanatory endnotes are indicated by an asterisk (*).

 

Historical Note

The Birds was first produced at the drama festival in 414 BC, where it won second prize. At this period, during the Peloponnesian War, Athens was very powerful and confident, having just launched the expedition to Sicily, fully expecting to triumph in that venture and in the larger war.

 

Birds

Dramatis Personae

PISTHETAIROS: a middle-aged Athenian
EUELPIDES:
 a middle-aged Athenian
SERVANT-BIRD:
 a slave serving Tereus, once a man
TEREUS:
 a hoopoe bird, once a man
FLAMINGO
PEACOCK
A SECOND HOOPOE
GLUTTON-BIRD
: a fictitious species
CHORUS LEADER
CHORUS:
 of birds
XANTHIAS:
 slave serving Pisthetairos
MANODOROS:
 slave serving Euelpides, also called MANES.
PROCNE:
 a nightingale with a woman’s body, consort of Tereus.
PRIEST
POET
ORACLE MONGER:
 a collector and interpreter of oracles
METON:
 a land surveyor
COMMISSIONER OF COLONIES:
 an Athenian official
STATUTE SELLER:
 man who sells laws
FIRST MESSENGER:
 a construction-worker bird
SECOND MESSENGER:
 a soldier bird
IRIS:
 messenger goddess, daughter of Zeus
FIRST HERALD:
 a bird
YOUNG MAN:
 young Athenian who wants to beat up his father
CINESIAS:
 a very bad dithyrambic poet and singer
SYCOPHANT:
 a common informer
PROMETHEUS:
 the Titan
POSEIDON:
 god of the sea, brother of Zeus
HERCULES:
 the legendary hero, now divine
TRIBALLIAN GOD:
 an uncouth barbarian god
PRINCESS:
 a divine young lady
SECOND HERALD

Scene: A rugged, treed wilderness area up in the rocky hills. Enter Pisthetairos and Euelpides, both very tired. They are clambering down from the rocky heights towards the level stage. Pisthetairos has a crow perched on his arm or shoulder, and Euelpides has a jackdaw. Both Pisthetairos and Euelpides are carrying packs on their back. They are followed by two slaves carrying more bags. The slaves stay well out of the way until they get involved in the action later on.

EUELPIDES [speaking to the bird he is carrying]
        
 Are you telling us to keep going straight ahead?
        
 Over there by that tree?

PISTHETAIROS
                                   
                        Blast this bird—
        
 it’s croaking for us to head back, go home.

EUELPIDES
      
 Why are we wandering up and down like this?
        
 You’re such a fool—this endless weaving round
        
 will kill us both.

PISTHETAIROS
                          
                            I must be an idiot
        
 to keep hiking on along these pathways,
        
 a hundred miles at least, and just because
        
 that’s what this crow keeps telling me to do.

EUELPIDES
        
 What about me? My poor toe nails are thrashed.                            10
         I’ve worn them out because I’m following
        
 what this jackdaw says.

PISTHETAIROS [looking around]
                                           
                    I have no idea
        
 where on earth we are.

EUELPIDES
                      
                            You mean from here
        
 you couldn’t make it back to your place?                                                                 [10]

PISTHETAIROS:
        
 No way—not even Execestides
        
 could manage that.*

EUELPIDES
                
                   We’re in a real mess.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Well, you could try going along that pathway.

[The two men start exploring different paths down to opposite sides of the stage]

EUELPIDES
        
 We two were conned by that Philokrates,
        
 the crazy vendor in the marketplace
        
 who sells his birds on trays. He claimed these two               20
         would take us straight to Tereus the hoopoe,
        
 a man who years ago became a bird.
        
 That’s why we paid an obol for this one,
        
 this jackdaw, son of Tharreleides.*
        
 and three more for the crow. And then what?
        
 The two know nothing, except how to bite.

[The jackdaw with Euelpides begins to get excited about something. Euelpides talks to the bird]

         What’s got your attention now? In those rocks?                                               [20]
         You want to take us there? There’s no way through.

PISTHETAIROS [calling across the stage to Euelpides]
        
 By god, the same thing over here, no road.

EUELPIDES
        
 What’s your crow saying about the pathway?                                       30

PISTHETAIROS
        
 By god, it’s not cawing what it did before.

EUELPIDES [shouting]
        
 But what’s it saying about the road?

PISTHETAIROS
                                
                                             Nothing—
        
 it’s saying nothing, just keeps on croaking—
        
 something about biting my fingers off.

EUELPIDES [addressing the audience]
        
 Don’t you think it’s really odd the two of us,
        
 ready and eager to head off for the birds,*
        
 just can’t find the way. You see, we’re not well.
        
 All you men sitting there to hear our words,                                                        [30]
         we’re ill with a disease, not like the one
        
 which Sacas suffers,* no—the opposite.                                                     40
        
 He’s no true citizen, yet nonetheless
        
 he’s pushing his way in by force, but we,
        
 both honoured members of our tribe and clan,*
        
 both citizens among you citizens,
        
 with no one trying to drive us from the city,
        
 have winged our way out of our native land
        
 on our two feet. We don’t hate the city
        
 because we think it’s not by nature great
        
 and truly prosperous—open to all,
        
 so they can spend their money paying fines.                                        50
         Cicadas chirp up in the trees a while,
        
 a month or two, but our Athenians                                                                                [40]
         keep chirping over lawsuits all their lives.
        
 That’s why right now we’ve set off on this trip,
        
 with all this stuff—basket, pot, and myrtle boughs.*
        
 We’re looking for a nice relaxing spot,
        
 where we can settle down, live out our lives.
        
 We’re heading for Tereus, that hoopoe bird—
        
 we’d like to know if in his flying around
        
 he’s seen a city like the one we want.                                                          60

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Hey!

EUELPIDES
                   What?

PISTHETAIROS
                               My crow keeps cawing upwards—
         up there.

EUELPIDES
        
 My jackdaw’s looking up there, too,                                                                              [50]
         as if it wants to show me something.
        
 There must be birds around these rocks. I know—
        
 let’s make noise and then we’ll see for sure.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You know what you should do? Kick that outcrop.

EUELPIDES
        
 Why not use your head? There’d be twice the noise.

[Pisthetairos and Euelpides start climbing back up the rocky outcrops towards a door in the middle of the rocks]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Pick up a stone and then knock on the door.

EUELPIDES
        
 All right. Here I go.

[Euelpides knocks very loudly on the door and calls out]

                                                           Hey, boy . . . boy!

PISTHETAIROS
        
 What are you saying? Why call the hoopoe “boy”?                         70
         Don’t say that—you should call out
      
 [giving a bird call]
                                            
 “hoopoe-ho.”

EUELPIDES [knocking on the door and calling again]
        Hoopoe-ho! . . . Should I knock again? . . . Hoopoe-ho!

SERVANT-BIRD [inside]
        
 Who is it? Who’s shouting for my master?                                                              [60]

[The door opens and an actor-bird emerges. He has a huge beak which terrifies Euelpides and Pisthetairos.
They fall back in fear, and the birds they have been carrying disappear]

EUELPIDES
        
 My lord Apollo, save us! That gaping beak—

SERVANT-BIRD [also frightened]
         Oh, oh, now we’re in for it. You two men,
         you’re bird-catchers!

EUELPIDES
     
                            Don’t act so weird!
         Can’t you say something nice?

SERVANT-BIRD [trying to scare them off]
                                           You two men will die!

EUELPIDES
        
 But we’re not men.

SERVANT-BIRD
        
                                                    What? What are you, then?

EUELPIDES
        
 Well . . . I’m a chicken-shitter . . . a Libyan bird . . .

SERVANT-BIRD
        
 That’s rubbish.

EUELPIDES
                          
 No, it’s not—I’ve just dropped my load—            80
         down both my legs. Take a look.

SERVANT-BIRD
                      
                                     And this one here?

         What kind of bird is he?

                                    [to Pisthetairos]
                                                                            
 Can you speak?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Me?
. . . a crapper-fowl . . . from Phasis.

EUELPIDES
        
 God knows what kind of animal you are!

SERVANT-BIRD
        
 I’m a servant bird.

EUELPIDES
                                     Beaten by some rooster
                                                           [70]
       in a cock fight?

SERVANT-BIRD
                         
                    No.
It was my master—
         when he became a hoopoe, well, I prayed
         that I could turn into a bird. That way
         he’d still have me to serve and wait on him.

EUELPIDES
        
 Does a bird need his own butler bird?                                                         90

SERVANT-BIRD
        
 He does—I think it’s got something to do
       with the fact that earlier he was a man.
       So if he wants to taste some fish from Phalerum,
       I grab a plate and run off for sardines.
       If he wants soup, we need pot and ladle,
       so I dash off for the spoon.

EUELPIDES
                  
                                      A runner bird—
         that’s what you are.
Well, my little runner,
         do you know what we’d like to have you do?
                                                                    [80]
         Go call your master for us.

SERVANT-BIRD
                          
                             But he’s asleep—
         for heaven’s sake, his after-dinner snooze—                     
100
         he’s just had gnats and myrtle berries.

EUELPIDES
        
 Wake him up anyway.

SERVANT-BIRD
                 
                                      I know for sure
         he’ll be annoyed, but I’ll do it, just for you.

[Exit Servant-Bird back through the doors]

PISTHETAIROS
         
 Damn that bird—he scared me half to death.

EUELPIDES
        
 Bloody hell—he frightened off my bird!

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You’re such a coward—the worst there is.
        
 Were you so scared you let that jackdaw go?

EUELPIDES
        
 What about you? Didn’t you collapse
        
 and let your crow escape?

PISTHETAIROS
         
                                     Not me, by god.

EUELPIDES
        
 Where is it then?

PISTHETAIROS
             
                   It flew off on its own.                                                          110            [90]

EUELPIDES
        
 You didn’t let go? What a valiant man!

TEREUS: [from inside, speaking in a grand style]
        
 Throw open this wood, so I may issue forth.

[The doors open. Enter Tereus, a hoopoe bird, with feathers on his head and wings but none on his body.
He struts and speaks with a ridiculously affected confidence. Euelpides and Pisthetairos are greatly amused
at his appearance]

EUELPIDES
    
     O Hercules, what kind of beast is this?
        
 What’s that plumage? What sort of triple crest?

TEREUS
        
 Who are the persons here who seek me out?

EUELPIDES
        
 The twelve gods, it seems, have worked you over.*

TEREUS
        
 Does seeing my feathers make you scoff at me?
        
 Strangers, I was once upon a time a man.

EUELPIDES
        
 It’s not you we’re laughing at.

TEREUS
                                                              
 Then what is it?

EUELPIDES
        
 It’s your beak—to us it looks quite funny.                                            120

TEREUS
        
 It’s how Sophocles distorts Tereus                                                                           [100]
         that’s me—in his tragedies.

EUELPIDES
                                           
 You’re Tereus?
        
 Are you a peacock or a bird?*

TEREUS
                                               
 I am a bird.

EUELPIDES
        
 Then where are all your feathers?

TEREUS
    
                                         They’ve fallen off.

EUELPIDES
        
 Have you got some disease?

TEREUS
        
                                             No, it’s not that.
        
 In winter time all birds shed their feathers,
        
 then new ones grow again. But tell me this—
        
 who are the two of you?

EUELPIDES
                     
                  Us?
We’re human beings.

TEREUS
        
 From what race were you born?

EUELPIDES
                     
                                            Our origin?

        
 In Athens—which makes the finest warships.                                   130

TEREUS
        
 Ah, so you’re jury-men, are you?

EUELPIDES
                       
                                               No, no.

        
 We’re different—we keep away from juries.

TEREUS
        
 Does that seedling flourish in those parts?                                                           [110]

EUELPIDES
        
 If you go searching in the countryside,
        
 you’ll find a few.

TEREUS
           
                  So why have you come here?
        
 What do you need?

EUELPIDES
                    
                  To talk to you.

TEREUS
                
                                             What for?        

EUELPIDES
        
 Well, you were once a man, as we are now.
        
 You owed people money, as we do now.
        
 You loved to skip the debt, as we do now.
        
 Then you changed your nature, became a bird.                             140
         You fly in circles over land and sea.
        
 You’ve learned whatever’s known to birds and men.
        
 That’s why we’ve come as suppliants to you,                                                     [120]
         to ask if you can tell us of some town,
        
 where life is sheepskin soft, where we can sleep.

TEREUS
        
 Are you looking for a mighty city,
        
 more powerful than what Cranaus built?*

EUELPIDES
        
 Not one more powerful, no.
What we want
        
 is one which better suits the two of us.

TEREUS
        
 You clearly want an aristocracy.                                         150

EUELPIDES
        
 Me?
No, not at all. The son of Scellias
        
 is someone I detest.*

TEREUS
                
                                         All right, then,
        
 What kind of city would you like to live in?

EUELPIDES
        
 I’d like a city where my biggest problem
        
 would be something like this—in the morning
        
 a friend comes to my door and says to me,
        
 “In the name of Olympian Zeus, take a bath,                                                   [130]
         an early one, you and your children,
        
 then come to my place for the wedding feast
        
 I’m putting on. Don’t disappoint me now.                                           160
         If you do, then don’t come looking for me
        
 when my affairs get difficult for me.”*

TEREUS
        
 By heaven, you poor man, you do love trouble.
        
 What about you?

PISTHETAIROS
                      
         I’d like the same.

TEREUS
 
                                                      Like what?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 To have the father of some handsome lad
        
 come up to me, as if I’d done him wrong,
        
 and tell me off with some complaint like this—
        
 “A fine thing there between you and my son,                                                  [140]
         you old spark. You met him coming back
        
 from the gymnasium, after his bath—                                170
         you didn’t kiss or greet him with a hug,
        
 or even try tickling his testicles—
        
 yet you’re a friend of mine, his father.”

TEREUS
        
 How you yearn for problems, you unhappy man.
        
 There is a happy city by the sea,
        
 the Red Sea, just like the one you mention.*

EUELPIDES
        
 No, no.
Not by the sea! That’s not for us,
        
 not where that ship Salamia can show up
        
 with some man on board to serve a summons
        
 early in the morning. What about Greece?                                         180
         Can you tell us of some city there?*

TEREUS
        
 Why not go and settle down in Elis—
        
 in Lepreus?

EUELPIDES
                         
                  In Leprous?
By the gods,
        
 I hate the place—although I’ve never seen it—                                               [150]
         it’s all Melanthius’ fault.*

TEREUS
    
                                             You could go
        
 to the Opuntians—they’re in Locris
        
 you might settle there.

EUELPIDES
                              
                           Be Opuntius
        
 no way, not for a talent’s weight in gold.*
        
 But what’s it like here, living with the birds?
        
 You must know it well.

TEREUS
      
                                             It’s not unpleasant.                                190
         First of all, you have to live without a purse.

EUELPIDES
        
 So you’re rid of one great source of fraud in life.

TEREUS
        
 In the gardens we enjoy white sesame,                                                                   [160]
        
 the myrtles, mint, and poppies.

EUELPIDES
                     
                                    So you live
        
 just like newly-weds.

PISTHETAIROS
        
                                    That’s it! I’ve got it!
        
 I see a great plan for this race of birds—
        
 and power, too, if you’ll trust what I say.

TEREUS
        
 What do you want to get us all to do?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 What should you be convinced to do? Well, first,
        
 don’t just fly about in all directions,                                                           200
         your beaks wide open—that makes you despised.
        
 With us, you see, if you spoke of men
        
 who always flit about and if you asked,
        
 “Who’s that Teleas” someone would respond,
        
 “The man’s a bird—he’s unreliable,
        
 flighty, vague, never stays in one place long.”*                                              [170]

TEREUS
        
 By
Dionysus, that’s a valid point—
        
 the criticism’s fair. What should we do?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Settle down together in one city.

TEREUS
        
 What sort of city could we birds set up?                                                 210

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Why ask that? What a stupid thing to say!
        
 Look down.

TEREUS
          
                  All right.

PISTHETAIROS
           
                           Now look up.

TEREUS
   
                                                      I’m looking up.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Turn your head round to the side.

TEREUS
           
                                                     By
Zeus,
        
 this’ll do me good, if I twist off my neck.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 What do you see?

TEREUS
                             
 Clouds and sky.

PISTHETAIROS
                                                     
 Well, then,
        
 isn’t this a staging area for birds?

TEREUS
        
 A staging area?
How come it’s that?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You might say it’s a location for them—                                                                [180]
         there’s lots of business here, but everything
        
 keeps moving through this zone, so it’s now called            220
         a staging place. But if you settled here,
        
 fortified it, and fenced it off with walls,
        
 this staging area could become your state.
        
 Then you’d rule all men as if they’re locusts
        
 and annihilate the gods with famine,
        
 just like in Melos.*

TEREUS
                                   
 How’d we manage that?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Look, between earth and heaven there’s the air.
        
 Now, with us, when we want to go to Delphi,
        
 we have to ask permission to pass through
        
 from the Boeotians. You should do the same.                                  230
         When men sacrifice, make gods pay you cash.                                                [190]
         If not, you don’t grant them rights of passage.
        
 You’ll stop the smell of roasting thigh bones
        
 moving through an empty space and city
        
 which don’t belong to them.

TEREUS
             
                                                               Wow!!! Yippee!!
        
 By earth, snares, traps, nets, what a marvellous scheme!
        
 I’ve never heard a neater plan! So now,
        
 with your help, I’m going to found a city,
        
 if other birds agree.

PISTHETAIROS
       
                                                     The other birds?

        
 Who’s going to lay this business out to them?                                  240

TEREUS
        
 You can do it. I’ve taught them how to speak.                                                  [200]
         Before I came, they could only twitter,
        
 but I’ve been with them here a long, long time.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 How do you call to bring them all together?

TEREUS
        
 Easy.
I’ll step inside my thicket here,
        
 and wake my nightingale. Then we’ll both call.
        
 Once they hear our voices they’ll come running.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 O, you darling bird, now don’t just stand there—
        
 not when I’m begging you to go right now,
        
 get in your thicket, wake your nightingale.                                         250

[Tereus goes back through the doors]*

TEREUS [singing]
                 
 Come my queen, don’t sleep so long,
                 
 pour forth the sound of sacred song—                                                      [210]
                  lament once more through lips divine
                 
 for Itys, your dead child and mine,
                 
 the one we’ve cried for all this time.*

                  Sing out your music’s liquid trill
                 
 in that vibrato voice—the thrill
                 
 which echoes in those purest tones
                 
 through leafy haunts of yew trees roams
                 
 and rises up to Zeus’ throne.                                                               260

                  Apollo with the golden hair
                 
 sits listening to your music there—
                 
 and in response he plucks his string—
                 
 his lyre of ivory then brings
                 
 the gods themselves to dance and sing.

                  Then from gods’ mouths in harmony                                                         [220]
                  come sounds of sacred melody.

[A flute starts playing within, in imitation of the nightingale’s song. The melody continues for a few moments]

EUELPIDES
        
 By lord Zeus, that little birdie’s got a voice!
        
 She pours her honey all through that thicket!

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Hey!

EUELPIDES
       
                  What?

PISTHETAIROS
            
                           Shut up.

EUELPIDES
        
                                               Why?

PISTHETAIROS
            
                                                    That hoopoe bird—            270                          
         he’s all set to sing another song.

TEREUS [issuing a bird call to all the birds. His song or chant is accompanied by the flute indicating the nightingale’s song]

         Epo-popo-popo-popo-popoi,
        
 Io, io, ito, ito, ito, ito.

         Come here to me,
        
 all you with feathers just like mine,                                                                            [230]
         all you who live in country fields
        
 fresh-ploughed, still full of seed,
        
 and all you thousand tribes
        
 who munch on barley corn
        
 who gather up the grain,                                                                                        280
         and fly at such a speed
        
 and utter your sweet cries,
        
 all you who in the furrows there
        
 twitter on the turned-up earth,
        
 and sweetly sing
        
 tio tio tio tio tio tio tio tio

         All those of you
        
 who like to scavenge food
        
 from garden ivy shoots,                                                                                                           [240]
         all you in the hills up there                                                 290
         who eat from olive and arbutus trees.
        
 come here as quickly as you can,
        
 fly here in answer to this call—
        
 trio-to trio-to toto-brix!

         And every one of you
        
 in low-lying marshy ground
        
 who snap sharp-biting gnats,
        
 by regions of well-watered land,
        
 and lovely fields of Marathon,
        
 all you variously coloured birds,                                                                     300
         godwits and francolins—
        
 I’m calling you.

         You flocks who fly across the seas                                                                                 [250]
         across the waves with halcyons
        
 come here to learn the news.
        
 We’re all assembling here,
        
 all tribes of long-neck birds.
        
 A shrewd old man’s arrived—
        
 he’s here with a new plan,
        
 a man of enterprise,                                                                                                   310
         all set to improvise.
        
 So gather all of you
        
 to hear his words.

[The final words gradually change from coherent speech into a bird call]

         Come here, come here,
        
 come here, come here.
        
 Toro-toro toro-toro-tix
        
 Kik-kabau, kik-kabau.
                                                                                                             [260]
         Toro-toro toro-toro li-li-lix

[Euelpides and Pisthetairos start looking up into the sky for birds]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Seen any birds lately?

EUELPIDES
              
                         No, by Apollo, I haven’t—
        
 even though I’m staring up into the sky,                                                320
         not even blinking.

PISTHETAIROS
                                
                    It seems to me
        
 that hoopoe bird was just wasting time
        
 hiding, like a curlew, in that thicket,
        
 and screaming out his bird calls—
        
 [imitating Tereus] po-poi po-poi        

[There is an instant response to Pisthetairos’ call from off stage, a loud bird call which really scares Pisthetairos and Euelpides]

BIRD [offstage]
        
 Toro-tix, toro-tix.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Hey, my good man, here comes a bird.

[Enter a flamingo, very tall and flaming red-something Pisthetairos and Euelpides have never seen]

EUELPIDES
                        
                                                By
Zeus,
        
 that’s a bird? What kind would you call that?
        
 It couldn’t be a peacock, could it?

[Tereus re-enters from the thicket]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Tereus here will tell us. Hey, my friend,                                                 330
         what’s that bird there?

TEREUS
         
                                    Not your everyday fowl—
        
 the kind you always see. She’s a marsh bird.                                                      [270]

EUELPIDES
        
 My goodness, she’s gorgeous—flaming red!

TEREUS
        
 Naturally, that’s why she’s called Flamingo.

[A second bird enters, a Peacock]

EUELPIDES [to Pisthetairos]
        
 Hey . . .

PISTHETAIROS
                          
 What is it?

EUELPIDES
                                            
 Another bird’s arrived.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You’re right. By god, this one looks really odd.
        
 [To Tereus] Who’s this bizarre bird-prophet of the Muse,
        
 this strutter from the hills?

TEREUS
         
                                    He’s called the Mede.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 He’s a Mede? By lord Hercules, how come
        
 a Mede flew here without his camel?                                                         340

EUELPIDES
        
 Here’s another one . . .

[The next bird enters, another Hoopoe]

                                   . . . what a crest of feathers!
PISTHETAIROS
 [To Tereus]
        
 What’s this marvel? You’re not the only hoopoe?                                         [280]
         This here’s another one?

TEREUS
    
                                    He’s my grandson—
        
 son of Philocles the Hoopoe—it’s like
        
 those names you pass along, when you call
        
 Hipponicus the son of Callias,
        
 and Callias son of Hipponicus.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 So this bird is Callias. His feathers—
        
 he seems to have lost quite a few.

TEREUS
    
                                                      Yes, that’s true—
        
 being a well-off bird he’s plucked by parasites,                               350
         and female creatures flock around him, too,
        
 to yank his plumage out.

[Enter the Glutton-bird, an invented species, very fat and brightly coloured]

PISTHETAIROS
                               
                                          By Poseidon,
        
 here’s another bright young bird. What’s it called?

TEREUS
        
 This one’s the Glutton-bird.

PISTHETAIROS
                                   
 Another glutton?

        
 Cleonymus is not the only one?*

EUELPIDES
        
 If this bird were like our Cleonymus,                                                                        [290]
         wouldn’t he have thrown away his crest?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Why do all the birds display such head crests?
        
 Are they going to run a race in armour?

TEREUS
        
 No, my dear fellow, they live up on the crests,                                360
         because it’s safer, like the Carians.*

PISTHETAIROS [looking offstage]
        
 Holy Poseidon, do you see those birds!
         What a fowl bunch of them—all flocking here!

EUELPIDES [looking in the same direction]
         Lord Apollo, there’s a huge bird cloud! Wow!
        
 So many feathered wings in there I can’t see
        
 a way through all those feathers to the wings.

[Enter the Chorus of Birds in a dense mass. Pisthetairos and Euelpides clamber up the rock to get a better look at them]

PISTHETAIROS
            
                                  Hey, look at that—
        
 it’s a partridge, and that one over there,
        
 by Zeus, a francolin—there’s a widgeon—
        
 and that’s a halcyon!

EUELPIDES
   
                                What’s the one behind her?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 What is it? It’s a spotted shaver.

EUELPIDES
             
                                                      Shaver?
                                   370
         You mean there’s a bird that cuts our hair?

PISTHETAIROS
             
                                             Why not?
        
 After all, there’s that barber in the city—
        
 the one we all call Sparrow Sporgilos.*                                                                    [300]
         Here comes an owl.

EUELPIDES
          
                  Well, what about that?
        
 Who brings owls to Athens?*

PISTHETAIROS [identifying birds in the crowd]
                         
                   . . . a turtle dove,
        
 a jay, lark, sedge bird . . .

EUELPIDES
                  
                   . . . finch, pigeon . . .

PISTHETAIROS
                   
                                             . . . falcon,
        
 hawk, ring dove . . .

EUELPIDES
              
                   . . . cuckoo, red shank . . .

PISTHETAIROS
               
                                              . . . fire-crest . . .

EUELPIDES
        
 . . . porphyrion, kestrel, dabchick, bunting,
        
 vulture, and that one’s there’s a . . . [he’s stumped]

PISTHETAIROS
                           
                           . . . woodpecker!!

EUELPIDES
        
 What a crowd of birds! A major flock of fowls!                               380
         All that twitter as they prance around,
        
 those rival cries! . . . Oh, oh, what’s going on?
        
 Are they a threat? They’re looking straight at us—
        
 their beaks are open!

PISTHETAIROS
              
                  It looks that way to me.

CHORUS LEADER [starting with a bird call]
        
 To-toto-to to-toto-to to-to.
                                                                                                 [310]
         Who’s been calling me?
        
 Where’s he keep his nest?

TEREUS
        
 I’m the one. I’ve been waiting here a while.
        
 I’ve not left my bird friends in the lurch.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Ti-tit-ti ti-tit-ti ti-ti-ti-ti                                                       390
         tell me as a friend what you have to say.

TEREUS
        
 I have news for all of us—something safe,
        
 judicious, sweet, and profitable.
        
 Two men have just come here to visit me,
        
 two subtle thinkers . . .

CHORUS LEADER [interrupting]
        
 What? What are you saying?

TEREUS
        
 I’m telling you two old men have arrived—                                                       [320]
         they’ve come from lands where human beings live
        
 and bring the stalk of a stupendous plan.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 You fool! This is the most disastrous thing
        
 since I was hatched. What are you telling us?                                   400

TEREUS
        
 Don’t be afraid of what I have to say.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 What have you done to us?

TEREUS
                                                     
 I’ve welcomed here
        
 two men in love with our society.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 You dared to do that?

TEREUS
                                            
 Yes, indeed, I did.
        
 And I’m very pleased I did so.

CHORUS LEADER
    
                           These two men of yours,
        
 are they among us now?

TEREUS
         
                           Yes, as surely as I am.

CHORUS [breaking into a song of indignation]
                 
 Aiiii, aiiiii
                 
 He’s cheated us,
                 
 he’s done us wrong.
                 
 That friend of ours,                                                                                       410
                  who all along
                 
 has fed with us
                 
 in fields we share,                                                                                                           [330]
                  now breaks old laws
                 
 and doesn’t care.

                  We swore a pact
                 
 of all the birds.
                 
 He’s now trapped us
                 
 with deceitful words—
                 
 so power goes                                                             420
                  to all our foes,
                 
 that wicked race
                 
 which since its birth
                 
 was raised for war
                 
 with us on earth.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 We’ll have some words with that one later.
        
 These two old men should get their punishment—
        
 I think we should give it now. Let’s do it—
        
 rip ’em to pieces, bit by bit.

PISTHETAIROS
                        
                           We’re done for.

EUELPIDES
        
 It’s all your fault—getting us into this mess.                                       430
         Why’d you bring me here?

PISTHETAIROS
                 
                           I wanted you to come.                                                    [340]

EUELPIDES
  
       What? So I could weep myself to death?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Now, you’re really talking nonsense—
        
 how do you intend to weep, once these birds
        
 poke out your eyes?

CHORUS [advancing towards Pisthetairos and Euelpides
                                        On, on . . .
        
 let’s move in to attack,
        
 and launch a bloody rush,
        
 come in from front and back,
        
 and break ’em in the crush—
        
 with wings on every side                                                     440
         they’ll have no place to hide.

         These two will start to howl,
        
 when my beak starts to eat
        
 and makes ’em food for fowl.
        
 There’s no well-shaded peak,
        
 no cloud or salt-grey sea                                                                                                        [350]
         where they can flee from me.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Now let’s bite and tear these two apart!
        
 Where’s the brigadier? Bring up the right wing!

[The birds start to close in on Pisthetairos and Euelpides, cowering up on the rocks]

EUELPIDES
        
 This is it! I’m done for. Where can I run?                                             450

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Why aren’t you staying put?

EUELPIDES
                                            
 Here with you?

        
 I don’t want ’em to rip me into pieces.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 How do you intend to get away from them?

EUELPIDES
        
 I haven’t a clue.

PISTHETAIROS
                
                           Then I’ll tell you how—
        
 we have to stay right here and fight it out.
        
 So put that cauldron down.

[Pisthetairos takes the cauldron from Euelpides and sets it down on the ground in front of them]

EUELPIDES
                
                           What good’s a cauldron?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 It’ll keep the owls away from us.

EUELPIDES
        
 What about the birds with claws?

PISTHETAIROS [rummaging in the pack]
                                                   
 Grab this spit—
        
 stick it in the ground in front of you.

EUELPIDES
        
 How do we protect our eyes?                                                                                             [360]

PISTHETAIROS [producing a couple of tin bowls]
                                               An upturned bowl.
                                       460
         Set this on your head.

EUELPIDES: [putting the tin bowl upside down on his head and holding up the pot, with the spit stuck in the ground]
                                                      That’s brilliant!
        
 What a grand stroke of warlike strategy!
        
 In military matters you’re the best—
        
 already smarter than that Nikias*

[Pisthetairos and Euelpides, with tin bowls on their heads, await the birds’ charge-with Pisthetairos hiding behind
Euelpides, who is holding up the big pot. Their two slaves cower behind them]

CHORUS LEADER
                                  
                  El-el-el-eu . . . Charge!
        
 Keep those beaks level—no holding back now!
        
 Pull ‘em, scratch ’em, hit ’em, rip their skins off!
        
 Go smash that big pot first of all.

[As the Chorus is about to start its charge, Tereus rushes in between the two men and the Chorus and tries
to stop the Chorus Leader]

TEREUS
        
 Hold on, you wickedest of animals!
        
 Tell me this: Why do you want to kill these men,                        470
         to tear them both to bits? They’ve done no wrong.
        
 Besides, they’re my wife’s relatives, her clansmen.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Why should we be more merciful to them
        
 than we are to wolves? What other animals
        
 are greater enemies of ours than them?
        
 Have we got better targets for revenge?                                                                 [370]

TEREUS
        
 Yes, by nature enemies—but what if
        
 they’ve got good intentions? What if they’ve come
        
 to teach you something really valuable?

CHORUS LEADER
        
 How could they ever teach us anything,                                                 480
         or tell us something useful—they’re enemies,
        
 our feathered forefathers’ fierce foes.

TEREUS
        
 But folks with fine minds find from foemen
        
 they can learn a lot. Caution saves us all.
        
 We don’t learn that from friends. But enemies
        
 can force that truth upon us right away.
        
 That’s why cities learn, not from their allies,
        
 but from enemies, how to build high walls,
        
 assemble fleets of warships—in that way,
        
 their knowledge saves their children, homes, and goods.   490           [380]

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Well, here’s what seems best to me—first of all,
        
 let’s hear what they have come to say. It’s true—
        
 our enemies can teach us something wise.

PISTHETAIROS [to Euelpides}
        
 I think their anger’s easing off. Let’s retreat.

[Pisthetairos and Euelpides inch their way toward the doors, still bunched together, with Euelpides holding up the pot]

TEREUS [to the Chorus Leader]
        
 It’s only fair—and you do owe me a favour,
        
 out of gratitude.

CHORUS LEADER
      
                                                   In other things,
        
 before today, we’ve never stood against you.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 They’re acting now more peacefully to us—
        
 so put that pot and bowl down on the ground.
        
 But we’d better hang onto the spit, our spear.                                  500
         We’ll use it on patrol inside our camp                                                                      [390]
         right by this cauldron here. Keep your eyes peeled—
        
 don’t even think of flight.

[Euelpides puts down the cauldron, removes his tin-plate helmet, and marches with the spear back and forth
by the cauldron, on guard]

EUELPIDES
        
 What happens if we’re killed? Where on earth
        
 will we be buried?

PISTHETAIROS
                         
                                      In
Kerameikos
        
 where the potters live—they’ll bury both of us.
        
 We’ll get it done and have the public pay—
        
 I’ll tell the generals we died in battle,
        
 fighting with the troops at Orneai.*

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Fall back into the ranks you held before.                                              510            [400]
         Bend over, and like well-armed soldier boys,
        
 put your spirit and your anger down.
        
 We’ll look into who these two men may be,
        
 where they come from, what their intentions are.

[The Chorus of Birds breaks up and retreats]

         Hey, Hoopoe bird, I’m calling you!

TEREUS
   
                                             You called?
        
 What would you like to hear?

CHORUS LEADER
                     
                                    These two men—
        
 where do they come from and who are they?

TEREUS
        
 These strangers are from Greece, font of wisdom.

CHORUS LEADER
       
  What accident or words                                                                                                          [410]
         now brings them to the birds?                                                                          520

TEREUS
        
 The two men love your life,
        
 adore the way you live—
        
 they want to share with you
        
 in all there is to give.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 What’s that you just said?
        
 What plan is in their head?

TEREUS
        
 Things you’d never think about—
        
 you’ll be amazed—just hear him out.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 He thinks it’s good that he
        
 should stay and live with me?                                                                           530
         Is he trusting
in some plan
        
 to help his fellow man
        
 or thump his enemy?                                                                                                                 [420]

TEREUS
        
 He talks of happiness
        
 too great for thought or words
        
 He claims this emptiness—
        
 all space—is for the birds—
         here, there, and everywhere.
         You’ll be convinced, I swear.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Is he crazy in the head?                                                                                           540

TEREUS
        
 He is shrewder than I said.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 A brilliant thinking box?

TEREUS
        
 The subtlest, sharpest fox—
         he’s been around a lot
         knows every scheme and plot.
                                                                                        [430]

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Ask him to speak to us, to tell us all.
         As I listen now to what you’re telling me,
         it makes me feel like flying—taking off!

TEREUS [to the two slaves]
         Take their suits of armour in the house—
         hang the stuff up in the kitchen there,
                                                    550
         beside the cooking stool—may it bring good luck!

[turning to Pisthetairos]

         Now you. Lay out your plans—explain to them
         the reason why I called them all together.

[Pisthetairos is struggling with the servants, refusing to give up his armour]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 No.
By Apollo, I won’t do it—
         not unless they swear a pact with me
         just like one that monkey Panaitios,
                                                                         [440]
         who makes our knives, had his wife swear to him—
         not to bite or pull my balls or poke me.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 You mean up your . . .

PISTHETAIROS
                            No, not there.
I mean the eyes.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Oh, I’ll agree to that.

PISTHETAIROS
                                     Then swear an oath on it.
                                      560

CHORUS LEADER
        
 I swear on this condition—that I get
         all the judges’ and spectators’ votes and win.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Oh, you’ll win!

CHORUS LEADER
                   
               And if I break the oath
         then let me win by just a single vote.
         Listen all of you! The armed infantry
         can now pick up their weapons and go home.
         Keep an eye out for any bulletins
         we put up on our notice boards.
                                                                                    [450]

CHORUS [singing]
        
 Man’s by nature’s born to lie.
         But state your case. Give it a try.
                                                                   570
         There’s a chance you have observed
         some useful things inside this bird,
         some greater power I possess,
         which my dull brain has never guessed.
         So tell all here just what you see.
         If there’s a benefit to me,
         we’ll share in it communally.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Tell us the business that’s brings you here.                                                          [460]
         Persuade us of your views. So speak right up.
         No need to be afraid—we’ve made a pact—                      
580
         we won’t be the ones who break it first.

PISTHETAIROS [aside to Euelpides]
         By god, I’m full of words, bursting to speak.
         I’ve worked my speech like well-mixed flour—
         like kneading dough. There’s nothing stopping me.

[giving instructions to the two slaves]

         You, lad, fetch me a speaker’s wreath—and, you,
         bring water here, so I can wash my hands.

[The two slaves go into the house and return with a wreath and some water]

EUELPIDES [whispering to Pisthetairos]
         You mean it’s time for dinner? What’s going on?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 For a long time now I’ve been keen, by god,
         to give them a stupendous speech—overstuffed—
         something to shake their tiny birdy souls.
                                           590

[Pisthetairos, with the wreath on his head, now turns to the birds and begins his formal oration]

         I’m so sorry for you all, who once were kings . . .

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Kings? Us? What of?

PISTHETAIROS
                            You were kings indeed,
         you ruled over everything there is—
         over him and me, first of all, and then
         over Zeus himself. You see, your ancestry
         goes back before old Kronos and the Titans,
         way back before even Earth herself!*

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Before the Earth?

PISTHETAIROS
       
                             Yes, by Apollo.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Well, that’s something I never knew before!                                                     [470]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 That’s because you’re naturally uninformed—                   600
         you lack resourcefulness. You’ve not read Aesop.
         His story tells us that the lark was born
         before the other birds, before the Earth.
         Her father then grew sick and died. For five days
         he lay there unburied—there was no Earth.
         Not knowing what to do, at last the lark,
         at her wits’ end, set him in her own head.

EUELPIDES
        
 So now, the father of the lark lies dead
         in a headland plot.

PISTHETAIROS
                            
                      So if they were born
         before the Earth, before the gods, well then,
                                    610
         as the eldest, don’t they get the right to rule?

EUELPIDES
        
 By Apollo, yes they do.

[addressing the audience]

                                                      So you out there,
         look ahead and sprout yourselves a beak—
         in good time Zeus will hand his sceptre back
                                                   [480]
         to the birds who peck his sacred oaks.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Way back then it wasn’t gods who ruled.
         They didn’t govern men. No. It was the birds.
         There’s lots of proof for this. I’ll mention here
         example number one—the fighting cock—
         first lord and king of all those Persians,
                                                620
         well before the time of human kings—
         those Dariuses and Megabazuses.
         Because he was their king, the cock’s still called
         the Persian Bird.

EUELPIDES
  
                             That’s why to this very day
         the cock’s the only bird to strut about
         like some great Persian king, and on his head
         he wears his crown erect.

PISTHETAIROS
            
                                      He was so great,
         so mighty and so strong, that even now,
         thanks to his power then, when he sings out
         his early morning song, all men leap up                            
630
         to head for work—blacksmiths, potters, tanners,                                         [490]
         men who deal in corn or supervise the baths,
         or make our shields or fabricate our lyres—
         they all lace on their shoes and set off in the dark.

EUELPIDES
        
 I can vouch for that! I had some bad luck,
         thanks to that cock—I lost my cloak to thieves,
         a soft and warm one, too, of Phrygian wool.
         I’d been invited to a festive do,
         where some child was going to get his name,
         right here in the city. I’d had some drinks—                      
640
         and those drinks, well, they made me fall asleep.
         Before the other guests began to eat,
         that bird lets rip his cock-a-doodle-doo!
         I thought it was the early morning call.
         So I run off for Halimus*—but then,
         just outside the city walls, I get mugged,
         some coat thief hits me square across the back—
         he used a cudgel! When I fall down there,
         about to cry for help, he steals my cloak!

PISTHETAIROS
        
 To resume—way back then the Kite was king.                                650
         He ruled the Greeks.

CHORUS LEADER
                
                    King of the Greeks!!

PISTHETAIROS
                    
                                           That’s right.
         As king he was the first to show us how
                                                                 [500]
         to grovel on the ground before a kite.
        
EUELPIDES
         By
Dionysus, I once saw a kite
         and rolled along the ground, then, on my back,
         my mouth wide open, gulped an obol down.
         I had to trudge home with an empty sack.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Take Egypt and Phoenicia—they were ruled
         by Cuckoo kings. And when they cried “Cuckoooo!!”
         all those Phoenicians harvested their crop—                     
660
         the wheat and barley in their fields.

EUELPIDES
               
                                                        That’s why
         if someone’s cock is ploughing your wife’s field,
         we call you “Cuckoo!”—you’re being fooled!*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 The kingship of the birds was then so strong
         that in the cities of the Greeks a king—
         an Agamemnon, say, or Menelaus—
         had a bird perched on his regal sceptre.
         And it got its own share of all the gifts
                                                                    [510]
         the king received.

EUELPIDES
                             Now, that I didn’t know.
         I always get amazed in tragedies        
670
         when some king Priam comes on with a bird.
         I guess it stands on guard there, keeping watch
         to see what presents Lysicrates gets.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Here’s the weirdest proof of all—lord Zeus
         who now commands the sky, because he’s king,
         carries an eagle on his head. There’s more—
         his daughter has an owl, and Apollo,
         like a servant, has a hawk.

EUELPIDES
                        
                                              That’s right,
         by Demeter! What’s the reason for those birds?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 So when someone makes a sacrifice                                   680
         and then, in accordance with tradition,
         puts the guts into god’s hands, the birds
         can seize those entrails well before Zeus can.
         Back then no man would swear upon the gods—
         they swore their oaths on birds. And even now,
                                           [520]
         our Lampon seals his promises “By Goose,”
         when he intends to cheat.*
 In days gone by,
         all men considered you like that—as great
         and sacred beings. Now they all think of you
         as slaves and fools and useless layabouts.
                                            690
         They throw stones at you, as if you’re mad.
         And every hunter in the temples there
         sets up his traps—all those nooses, gins,
         limed sticks and snares, fine mesh and hunting nets,
         and cages, too. Then once they’ve got you trapped,
         they sell you by the bunch. Those who come to buy
         poke and prod your flesh.
If you seem good to eat,
                                    [530]
         they don’t simply roast you by yourself—no!
         They grate on cheese, mix oil and silphium
         with vinegar—and then whip up a sauce,
                                             700
         oily and sweet, which they pour on you hot,
         as if you were a chunk of carrion meat.

CHORUS
                 
 This human speaks
                           of our great pain
                  our fathers’ sins
                                                                                                               [540]
                           we mourn again—
                  born into rule,
                           they threw away
                  what they received,
                           their fathers’ sway.
                                                                         710

                  But now you’ve come—
                           fine stroke of fate—
                  to save our cause.
                           Here let me state
                  I’ll trust myself
                           and all my chicks
                  to help promote
                           your politics.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 You need to stick around to tell us all
         what we should do. Our lives won’t be worth living           
720
         unless by using every scheme there is
         we get back what’s ours—our sovereignty.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Then the first point I’d advise you of is this:                                                       [550]
         there should be one single city of the birds.
         Next, you should encircle the entire air,
         all this space between the earth and heaven,
         with a huge wall of baked brick—like Babylon.

EUELPIDES
        
 O Kebriones and Porphyrion!
         What a mighty place! How well fortified!*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 When you’ve completed that, demand from Zeus              730
         he give you back your rule. If he says no,
         he doesn’t want to and won’t sign on at once,
         you then declare a holy war on him.
         Tell those gods they can’t come through your space
         with cocks erect, the way they used to do,
         rushing down to screw another woman—
         like Alkmene, Semele, or Alope.*
         For if you ever catch them coming down
         you’ll stamp your seal right on their swollen pricks—
                                    [560]
         they won’t be fucking women any more.                                              740
         And I’d advise you send another bird
         as herald down to human beings to say
         that since the birds from now on will be kings,
         they have to offer sacrifice to them.
         The offerings to the gods take second place.
         Then each of the gods must be closely matched
         with an appropriate bird. So if a man
         is offering Athena holy sacrifice,
         he must first give the Coot some barley corn.
         If sacrificing sheep to god Poseidon,
                                                         750
         let him bring toasted wheat grains to the Duck.
         And anyone who’s going to sacrifice
         to Hercules must give the Cormorant
         some honey cakes. A ram for Zeus the king?
         Then first, because the Wren is king of birds,
         ahead of Zeus himself, his sacrifice
         requires the worshipper to execute
         an uncastrated gnat.

EUELPIDES
                                
                    I like that bit about
         the slaughtered gnat. Now thunder on, great Zan.*
                                    [570]

CHORUS LEADER
        
 But how will humans think of us as gods                            760
         and not just jackdaws flying around on wings?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 A foolish question.
Hermes is a god,
         and he has wings and flies—so do others,
         all sorts of them. There’s Victory, for one,
         with wings of gold. And Eros is the same.
         Then there’s Iris—just like a timorous dove,
         that’s what Homer says.

EUELPIDES
                         
                               But what if Zeus
         lets his thunder peal, then fires down on us
         his lightning bolt—that’s got wings as well.

PISTHETAIROS [ignoring Euelpides]
           
 Now, if men in their stupidity                                            770
         think nothing of you and keep worshipping
         Olympian gods, then a large cloud of birds,
         of rooks and sparrows, must attack their farms,
         devouring all the seed. And as they starve,
         let Demeter then dole out grain to them.
                                                            [580]

EUELPIDES
        
 She won’t be willing to do that, by Zeus.
         She’ll make excuses—as you’ll see.

PISTHETAIROS
                         
                                   Then as a test,
         the ravens can peck out their livestock’s eyes,
         the ones that pull the ploughs to work the land,
         and other creatures, too. Let Apollo                                  
780
         make them better—he’s the god of healing.
         That’s why he gets paid.

EUELPIDES
                                      But you can’t do this
         ’til I’ve sold my two little oxen first.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 But if they think of you as god, as life,
         as Earth, as Kronos and Poseidon, too,
         then all good things will come to them.

CHORUS LEADER
                       
                        Tell me
         what these good things are.

PISTHETAIROS
   
                                                       Well, for starters,
         locusts won’t eat the blossoms on their vines.
         The owls and kestrels in just one platoon
         will rid them of those pests. Mites and gall wasps              
790           [590]
         won’t devour the figs. One troop of thrushes
         will eradicate them one and all.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 But how will we make people wealthy?
         That’s what they mostly want.

PISTHETAIROS
             
                                      When people come
         petitioning your shrines, the birds can show
         the mining sites that pay. They’ll tell the priest
         the profitable routes for trade. That way
         no captain of a ship will be wiped out.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Why won’t those captains come to grief?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 They’ll always ask the birds about the trip.                                          800
         Their seer will say, “A storm is on the way.
         Don’t sail just yet” or “Now’s the time to sail—
         you’ll turn a tidy profit.”

EUELPIDES
                        
                            Hey, that’s for me—
         I’ll buy a merchant ship and take command.
         I won’t be staying with you.

PISTHETAIROS
             
                             Birds can show men
         the silver treasures of their ancestors,
         buried in the ground so long ago.
         For birds know where these are. Men always say,
                                       [600]
         “No one knows where my treasure lies, no one,
         except perhaps some bird.”

EUELPIDES
              
                                     I’ll sell my boat.                                         810
         I’ll buy a spade and dig up tons of gold.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 How will we provide for human health?
         Such things dwell with the gods.

PISTHETAIROS
                                     If they’re doing well,
         is that not giving them good health?

EUELPIDES
         
                                               You’re right.
         A man whose business isn’t very sound
         is never medically well.

CHORUS LEADER
                                      
                                      All right,
         but how will they get old? That’s something, too,
         Olympian gods bestow. Must they die young?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 No, no, by god.
The birds will add on years,
         three hundred more.

CHORUS LEADER
                                 
 And where will those come from?                       820

PISTHETAIROS
        
 From the birds’ supply.
You know the saying,
         “Five human lifetimes lives the cawing crow.”*

EUELPIDES
        
 My word, these birds are much more qualified                                               [610]
         to govern us than Zeus.

PISTHETAIROS
                        
                             Far better qualified!
         First, we don’t have to build them holy shrines,
         made out of stone, or put up golden doors
         to decorate their sanctuaries. They live
         beneath the bushes and young growing trees.
         As for the prouder birds, an olive grove
         will be their temple. When we sacrifice,
                                                830
         no need to go to Ammon or to Delphi—
         we’ll just stand among arbutus trees
                                                                         [620]
         or oleasters with an offering—
         barley grains or wheat—uttering our prayers,
         our arms outstretched, so from them we receive
         our share of benefits. And these we’ll gain
         by throwing them a few handfuls of grain.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Old man, how much you’ve been transformed for me—
         From my worst enemy into my friend,
         my dearest friend. These strategies of yours—                  
840
         I
’ll not abandon them, not willingly.

CHORUS
        
 The words you’ve said make us rejoice—
         and so we’ll swear with just one voice
         an oath that if you stand with me—
                                                                          [630]
         our thoughts and aims in unity—
         honest, pious, just, sincere,
         to go against the gods up there,
         if we’re both singing the same song
         the gods won’t have my sceptre long.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Whatever can be done with force alone                             850
         we’re ready to take on—what requires brains
         or thinking through, all that stuff’s up to you.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 That’s right, by Zeus. No time for dozing now,                                               [640]
         or entertaining doubts, like Nikias.*
         No—let’s get up and at it fast.

TEREUS
        
 But first, you must come in this nest of mine,
         these sticks and twigs assembled here. So now,
         both of you, tell us your names.

PISTHETAIROS
            
                                        That’s easy.
         My name’s Pisthetairos.

TEREUS
           
                             And this man here?

EUELPIDES
        
 I’m Euelpides, from Crioa.                                                                                    860

TEREUS
        
 Welcome both of you!

PISTHETAIROS and EUELPIDES
                       
                    Thanks very much.

TEREUS
        
 Won’t you come in?

PISTHETAIROS
                  
                    Let’s go. But you go first—
         show us the way.

TEREUS
      
                    Come on, then.

[Tereus enters his house]

PISTHETAIROS [holding back, calling into the house]
                                                                
    But . . . it’s strange . . .
         Come back a minute.

[Tereus reappears at the door]

                                                      Look, tell us both
         how me and him can share the place with you
         when you can fly but we’re not able to.
                                                                  [650]

TEREUS
        
 I don’t see any problem there.

PISTHETAIROS
                 
                                               Maybe,
         but in Aesop’s fables there’s a story told
         about some fox who hung around an eagle,
         with unfortunate results.

TEREUS
                                               Don’t be afraid.
                                               870
         We have a little root you nibble on—
         and then you’ll grow some wings.

PISTHETAIROS
               
                                               All right then,
         let’s go.
 [To the slaves] Manodorus, Xanthias,
         bring in our mattresses.

CHORUS LEADER [to Tereus]
                           
                   Hold on a second—
         I’m calling you.

TEREUS
      
                                   Why are you calling me?

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Take those two men in—give ‘em a good meal.
         But bring your tuneful nightingale out here,
         who with the Muses sings such charming songs—
         leave her with us so we can play together.
                                                          [660]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Yes, by god—agree to their request.                                                           880
              
 Bring out your little birdie in the reeds.

EUELPIDES
        
 For gods’ sake, bring her out, so we can see
              this lovely nightingale of yours.

TEREUS
        
 If that’s what you both want, it must be done.
         [calling inside]
        
 Come here, Procne. Our guests are calling you.

[Enter Procne from the house. She has a nightingale’s head and wings but the body of a young woman.
She is wearing gold jewellery]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Holy Zeus, that’s one gorgeous little bird!
               What a tender chick!

EUELPIDES
             
                            How I’d love to help that birdie
        
 spread her legs, if you catch my drift.

PISTHETAIROS
               
                                                       Look at that—
        
 all the gold she’s wearing—just like a girl.                                                            [670]

EUELPIDES
        
 What I’d like to do right now is kiss her.                                                890

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You idiot—look at that beak she’s got,
        
 a pair of skewers.

EUELPIDES
                              
                                         All right, by god,
        
 we’ll treat her like an egg—peel off the shell,
         take it clean off her head, and then we’ll kiss her.

TEREUS
        
 Let’s get inside.

PISTHETAIROS
  
                    You lead us in—good luck to all!

[Pisthetairos, Euelpides, Tereus, Xanthias, and Manodorus enter the house]

CHORUS [singing to Procne]
                  Ah, my tawny throated love,
                  of all the birds that fly above
                  you’re dearest to my heart
                  your sweet melodious voice
                  in my song plays its part—                                        
900
                  my lovely Nightingale,
                           you’ve come,
                                                                                                       [680]
                           you’ve come.
                  And now you’re here with me.
                  Pour forth your melody.
                  Pipe out the lovely sounds of spring,
                  a prelude to my rhythmic speech
                  in every melody you sing.

[Procne plays on the flute for a few moments as the Chorus Leader prepares to address the audience directly.
He steps forward getting close to the spectators]

CHORUS LEADER
         Come now, you men out there, who live such dark, sad lives—
         you’re frail, just like a race of leaves—you’re shaped from clay,           

         you tribes of insubstantial shadows without wings,
         you creatures of a day, unhappy mortal men,
         you figures from a dream, now turn your minds to us,
         the eternal, deathless, air-borne, ageless birds,
         whose wisdom never dies, so you may hear from us
         the truth about celestial things, about the birds—
                                       [690]
         how they sprang into being, how the gods arose,
         how rivers, Chaos, and dark Erebus were formed*
         about all this you’ll learn the truth. And so from me
         tell Prodicus in future to depart.*
 At the start,                                 920
         there was Chaos, and Night, and pitch-black Erebus,
         and spacious Tartarus. There was no earth, no heaven,
         no atmosphere. Then in the wide womb of Erebus,
         that boundless space, black-winged Night, first creature born,
         made pregnant by the wind, once laid an egg. It hatched,
         when seasons came around, and out of it sprang Love—
         the source of all desire, on his back the glitter
         of his golden wings, just like the swirling whirlwind.
         In broad Tartarus, Love had sex with murky Chaos.
         From them our race was born—our first glimpse of the light.
      930
         Before that there was no immortal race at all,
         not before Love mixed all things up. But once they’d bred
                       [700]
         and blended in with one another, Heaven was born,
         Ocean and Earth—and all that clan of deathless gods.
         Thus, we’re by far the oldest of all blessed ones,
         for we are born from Love. There’s lots of proof for this.
         We fly around the place, assisting those in love—
         the handsome lads who swear they’ll never bend for sex,
         but who, as their young charms come to an end, agree
         to let male lovers bugger them, thanks to the birds,
                    940
         our power as gifts—one man gives a porphyrion,
        
 another man a quail, a third one gives a goose,
        
 and yet another offers up a Persian Fowl.*
        
 All mortals’ greatest benefits come from us birds.
        
 The first is this: we make the season known—springtime,
        
 winter, autumn—it’s time to sow, as soon as Crane
        
 migrates to Lybia with all that noise. He tells                                                   [710]
         the master mariner to hang his rudder up
        
 and go to sleep awhile. He tells Orestes, too,
        
 to weave himself a winter cloak, so he won’t freeze            950
         when he sets out again to rip off people’s clothes.*
        
 Then after that the Kite appears, to let you know
        
 another season’s here—it’s time to shear the sheep.
        
 Then Swallow comes. Now you should sell your winter cloak
        
 and get yourself a light one. So we’re your Ammon,
        
 Delphi and Dodona—we’re your Apollo, too.*
        
 See how, in all your business, you first look to birds—
        
 when you trade, buy goods, or when a man gets married.
        
 Whatever you think matters in a prophecy,
        
 you label that a bird—to you, Rumour’s a bird;                                              [720]
         you say a sneeze or a chance meeting is a bird,
        
 a sound’s a bird, a servant’s a bird—and so’s an ass.
        
 It’s clear you look on us as your Apollo.

CHORUS
        
 So you ought to make gods of your birds,
        
 your muses prophetic, whose words
        
 all year round you’ve got,
        
 unless it’s too hot.
        
 Your questions will always be heard.

         And we won’t run away to a cloud
        
 and sit there like Zeus, who’s so proud—                            970
         we’re ready to give,
        
 hang out where you live,
        
 and be there for you in the crowd.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Yes, to you, your children, and their children, too,                                     [730]
         we’ll grant wealth and health, good life, and happiness,
        
 peace, youth, laughter, dances, festivals of song—
         and birds’ milk, too—so much, you’ll find yourself worn out
         with our fine gifts—yes, that’s how rich you’ll be.

CHORUS
                  O woodland Muse
                           Tio-tio-tio-tiotinx                                             
980
                  my muse of varied artful song
                  on trees and from high mountain peaks
                                                [740]
                           tio-tio-tio-tiotinx
                  to your notes I sing along
                  in my leafy ash tree seat.
                           tio-tio-tio-tiontinx
                  From my tawny throat I fling
                  my sacred melodies to Pan.
                  In holy dance I chant and sing
                  our mother from the mountain land.
                                        990
                           Toto-toto-toto-toto-toto-totinx
                  Here Phrynichus would always sip
                                                               [750]
                  ambrosial nectar from our tone
                  to make sweet music of his own.
                           tio-tio-tio-tiotinx.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 If there’s someone out there in the audience
         who’d like to spend his future life among the birds
         enjoying himself, he should come to us. Here, you see,
         whatever is considered shameful by your laws,
         is all just fine among us birds. Consider this—                  
1000
         if your tradition says one shouldn’t beat one’s dad,
         up here with us it’s all right if some young bird
         goes at his father, hits him, cries, “You wanna fight?
         Then put up your spur!” If out there among you all
                                    [760]
         there is, by chance, a tattooed slave who’s run away,
         we’ll call him a spotted francolin. Or else,
         if someone happens to be Phrygian, as pure
         as Spintharos, he’ll be a Philemon-bred finch.
         If he’s like Execestides, a Carian slave,
         let him act the Cuckoo—steal his kin from us—                
1010
         some group of citizens will claim him soon enough.
         And if the son of Peisias still has in mind
         betraying our city gates to worthless men,
         let him become his father’s little partridge cock—
         for us there’s nothing wrong with crafty partridge stock.

CHORUS
       
                    Tio-tio-tio-tio-tinx-
                           That’s how the swans
                                                                                   [770]
                           massed in a crowd
                           with rustling wings
                           once raised aloud                                             
1020
                           Apollo’s hymn.

                           Tio-tio-tio-tio-tinx
                           They sat in rows
                           on river banks
                           where Hebros flows.
                           Tio-tio-tio-tio-tinx

                           Their song then rose
                           through cloud and air—
                           it cast its spell
                           on mottled tribes                                             
1030
                           of wild beasts there—
                           the silent sky
                           calmed down the sea.
                           Toto-toto-toto-toto-totinx.

                           Olympus rang—                                                                                               [780]
                           amazement seized
                           its lords and kings.
                           Then Muses there
                           and Graces, too,
                           voiced their response—                                    
1040
                           Olympus sang.
                           Tio-tio-tio-tio-tiotinx.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 There’s nothing sweeter or better than growing wings.
         If any of you members of the audience
         had wings, well, if you were feeling bored or hungry
         with these tragic choruses, you could fly away,
         go home for dinner, and then, once you’d had enough,
         fly back to us again. Or if, by any chance,
         a Patrocleides sits out there among you all,
                                                        [790]
         dying to shit, he wouldn’t have to risk a fart                       1050
         in his own pants—he could fly off and let ’er rip,
         take a deep breath, and fly back down again.
         If it should be the case that one of you out there
         is having an affair, and you observe her husband
         sitting here, in seats reserved for Council men,
         well, once again, you could fly off and fuck the wife,
         then fly back from her place and take your seat once more.
         Don’t you see how having wings to fly beats everything?
         Just look at Diitrephes—the only wings he had
         were handles on his flasks of wine, but nonetheless,
                    1060
         they chose him to lead a squad of cavalry,
         then for a full command, so now, from being nobody,
         he carries out our great affairs—he’s now become
                                    [800]
         a tawny civic horse-cock.*

[Enter Pisthetairos and Euelpides from Tereus’ house. They now have wings on and feathers on their heads
instead of hair}

PISTHETAIROS
      
                             Well, that’s that. By Zeus,
         I’ve never seen a more ridiculous sight!

EUELPIDES
        
 What are you laughing at?

PISTHETAIROS
                
                              At your feathers.

         Have you any idea what you look like—
         what you most resemble with those feathers on?
         A goose painted by some cheap artiste!

EUELPIDES
        
 And you look like a blackbird—one whose hair                 1070
         has just been cut using a barber’s bowl.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 People will use us as metaphors—
         as Aeschlyus would say, “We’re shot by feathers
         not from someone else but of our very own.”

CHORUS LEADER
        
 All right, then.
What do we now need to do?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 First, we have to name our city, something
         fine and grand. Then after that we sacrifice
                                                       [810]
         an offering to the gods.

EUELPIDES
        
                             That’s my view, too.

CHORUS LEADER
        
 So what name shall we give our city?

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Well, do you want to use that mighty name                       1080
         from Lacedaimon—shall we call it Sparta?

EUELPIDES
        
 By
Hercules, would I use that name Sparta
         for my city? No. I wouldn’t even try
         esparto grass to make my bed, not if
         I could use cords of linen.*

PISTHETAIROS
                            All right then, what name
         shall we provide?

CHORUS LEADER
                
                    Some name from around here—
         to do with clouds, with high places full of air,
         something really extra grand.

PISTHETAIROS
                    
                                      Well, then,
         how do you like this: Cloudcuckooland?

CHORUS LEADER
        
 Yes! That’s good! You’ve come up with a name                  1090          [820]
         that’s really wonderful—it’s great!

EUELPIDES
           
                                               Hang on,
         is this Cloudcuckooland the very spot
         where Theogenes keeps lots of money,
         and Aeschines hides all his assets?*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 It’s even more than that—it’s Phlegra Plain,
         the place where gods beat up on all the giants
         in a bragging match.*

EUELPIDES
            
                             This fine metropolis!
         O what a glittering thing this city is!
         Now who should be the city’s guardian god?
         Who gets to wear the sacred robes we weave?
                                1100

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Why not let Athena do the guarding?

EUELPIDES
        
 But how can we have a finely ordered state
         where a female goddess stands there fully armed,
                                      [830]
         while Cleisthenes still fondles weaving shuttles.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Well, who will hold our city’s strong Storkade?

CHORUS LEADER
        
 A bird among us of a Persian breed—
         it’s said to be the fiercest anywhere
         of all the war god’s chicks.

EUELPIDES
               
                                      Some princely cocks?

         They’re just the gods to live among the rocks!

PISTHETAIROS [to Euelpides]
         Come now, you must move up into the air,
                                       1110
         and help the ones who’re building up the wall—
         hoist rubble for ’em, strip and mix the mortar,
         haul up the hod, and then fall off the ladder.
                                                   [840]
         Put guards in place, and keep all fires concealed.
         Make your inspection rounds holding the bell.*
         Go to sleep up there. Then send out heralds—
         one to gods above, one down to men below.
         And then come back from there to me.

EUELPIDES
              
                                                  And you?
         You’ll stay here? Well, to hell with you . . .

PISTHETAIROS
                      
                                         Hey, my friend,
         you should go where I send you—without you                  
1120
         none of that work I mentioned will get done.
         We need a sacrifice to these new gods.
         I’ll call a priest to organize the show.

[Euelpides exits.  Pisthetairos calls to the slaves through the doors of Tereus’ house]

         You, boy, pick up the basket, and you,
         my lad, grab up the holy water.
                                                                                       [850]

[Pisthetairos enters the house. As the Chorus sings, the slaves emerge and prepare for the sacrifice.
The Chorus is accompanied by a raven playing the pipes]

CHORUS
                 
 I think it’s good and I agree,
                  your notions here are fine with me,
                  a great big march with dancing throngs
                  and to the gods send holy songs,
                  and then their benefits to keep                                 
1130
                  we’ll sacrifice a baby sheep—
                  let go our cry, the Pythian shout,
                  while Chaeris plays our chorus out.

[The Raven plays erratically on the pipe. Pisthetairos comes out of the house. He brings a priest with him,
who is leading a small scrawny goat for the sacrifice]

PISTHETAIROS [to the Raven]
        
 Stop blowing all that noise! By Hercules,
         what’s this? I’ve seen some strange things, heaven knows,
                 [860]
         but never this—a raven with a pipe
         shoved up his nose. Come on, priest, work your spell,
         and sacrifice to these new gods as well.

PRIEST
        
 I’ll do it. But where’s the basket-bearing boy?

[The slave appears with the basket]

         Let us now pray to Hestia of the birds,*                                                 1140
         and to the Kite that watches o’er the hearth,
         to all Olympian birds and birdesses . . .

PISTHETAIROS [to himself]
        
 O Hawk of Sunium, all hail to you,
         Lord of the Sea . . .

PRIEST
         
                    And to the Pythian Swan of Delos—
         let’s pray to Leto, mother of the quail
                                                                      [870]
         to Artemis the Goldfinch . . .

PISTHETAIROS
                          
                    Ha! No more goddess
         of Colaenis now, but goldfinch Artemis . . .

PRIEST
        
 . . . to Sabazdios, Phrygian frigate bird,
         to the great ostrich mother of the gods                    
1150
         and of all men . . .

PISTHETAIROS
    
                    . . . to Cybele, our ostrich queen,
         mother of Cleocritos*
 . . .

PRIEST
 
                                      . . . may they give
         to all Cloudcuckooites security,
         good health, as well—and to the Chians, too.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 I do like that—the way those Chians                                                                          [880]
         always get tacked on everywhere—

PRIEST
        
 . . . to Hero birds, and to their chicks,
        
 to Porphyrions and Pelicans,
        
 both white and grey, to Raptor-birds and Pheasants,
        
 Peacocks and Warblers . . .

[The Priest starts to get carried away]

                                                                                &nbs p;               . . . Ospreys and Teals
        
 Herons and Gannets, Terns, small Tits, big Tits, and . . .           1160

PISTHETAIROS [interrupting]
        
 Hold on, dammit—stop calling all these birds.
        
 You idiot! In what sort of sacrifice                                                                                [890]
         does one call for ospreys and for vultures?
        
 Don’t you see—one kite could snatch this goat,
        
 then carry it away? Get out of here,
        
 you and your garlands, too. I’ll do it myself—
        
 I’ll offer up this beast all on my own.

[Pisthetairos pushes the Priest away. Exit Priest]

CHORUS
           
       Now once again I have to sing
                  a song to purify you all,
                  a holy sacred melody.
                                                                                1170
                  The Blessed Ones I have to call—
                  but if you’re in a mood to eat
                  we just need one and not a score
                  for here our sacrificial meat
                                                                                [900]
                  is horns and hair, and nothing more.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 Let us pray while we make sacrifice
         to our feathery gods . . .
 [raises his eyes to sky and shuts his eyes]

[A poet suddenly bursts on the scene reciting his verses as he enters]

POET [reciting]
        
 O Muse, in your songs sing the renown
         of Cloudcuckooland—this happy town . . .

PISTHETAIROS
         Where’d this thing come from? Tell me—who are you?
                    1180

POET
        
 Me?
I’m a sweet tongued warbler of the words—
         a nimble servant of the Muse, as Homer says.
                                                [910]

PISTHETAIROS
        
 You’re a slave and wear your hair that long?

POET
        
 No, but all poets of dramatic songs
         are nimble servants of the Muse, as Homer says.

PISTHETAIROS
        
 No doubt that’s why your nimble cloak’s so thin.
         But, oh poet, why has thou come hither?

POET
        
 I’ve been making up all sorts of splendid songs
         to celebrate your fine Cloudcuckoolands
         dithyrambs and virgin songs and other tunes                    
1190
         after the style of that Simonides.*

PISTHETAIROS
        
 When did you compose these tunes? Some time ago?                                     [920]

POET
        
 O long