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