Aristophanes (Frere 1909)/Birds

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Birds (Aristophanes).







Peisthetairus—An Athenian citizen, but disgusted with his own country, starts on his travels proposing to seek his fortune in the kingdom of the Birds. He is represented as the essential man of business and ability, the true political adventurer, the man who directs everything and everybody, who is never in the wrong, never at a loss, never at rest, never satisfied with what has been done by others, uniformly successful in his operations. He maintains a constant ascendency, or if he loses it for a moment, recovers it immediately.

Euelpides—A simple, easy-minded, droll companion, his natural follower and adherent, as the Merry Andrew is of the Mountebank. It will be seen that, like the Merry Andrew, he interposes his buffoonish comments on the grand oration delivered by his master.

Epops—King of the Birds, formerly Tereus king of Thrace, but long ago, according to the records of mythology, transformed into a Hoopoe. He appears as the courteous dignified sovereign of a primitive uncivilised race whom he is desirous to improve; he gives a gracious reception to strangers arriving from a country more advanced in civilisation and adopts the projects of aggrandisement suggested to him by Peisthetairus.

The Chorus of Birds, his subjects, retain, on the contrary, their hereditary hatred and suspicion of the human race; they are ready to break out into open mutiny against their king, and to massacre his foreign (human) advisers upon the spot. It is with the greatest difficulty that they can be prevailed upon to hear reason, and attend to the luminous exposition of Peisthetairus. His harangue has the effect of conciliating and convincing them; his projects are adopted without a dissentient voice. War is not immediately declared against the gods, but a sort of Mexican blockade is established by proclamation.

Prometheus—A malcontent deity, the ancient patron of the human race, still retaining a concealed attachment to the deposed dynasty of Saturn. He comes over secretly with intelligence which Peisthetairus avails himself of, and which proves ultimately decisive of the subjugation of the gods.

Neptune, Hercules, Triballus, or the Triballian—Joint ambassadors from the gods, commissioned to treat with Peisthetairus. Neptune is represented as a formal dignified personage of the old school. Hercules as a passionate, wrong-headed, greedy blockhead; he is cajoled and gained over by Peisthetairus, and in his turn intimidates the Triballian, an ignorant barbarian deity who is hardly able to speak intelligibly. They join together, Neptune is out-voted, and Peisthetairus concludes a treaty by which his highest pretensions are realised.

The characters above-mentioned are the only ones who contribute in any way to the progress of the drama; the remainder, a very amusing set of persons, are introduced in detached scenes, exemplifying the various interruptions and annoyances incident to the man of business, distracting his attention and embarrassing him in the exercise of his authoritative functions. There are, however, exceptions.

Iris, who is brought in, having been captured and detained for an infringement of the blockade.

A Priest, who comes to sacrifice at the inauguration of the new city.

Two messengers, arriving from different quarters with very interesting and satisfactory intelligence.

The rest are a mere series of intruders on the time and attention of the great man.

Poet—A ragged vagabond, who comes begging with an inaugural ode on the foundation of the new city.

A Soothsayer, arriving with oracles relative to the same important event, and a demand of perquisites due to himself by divine authority.

Meton, the Astronomer, proposes to make a plan and survey of the new city.

A Commissioner from Athens, a very authoritative personage.

A Vendor of copies of decrees: he enters reading them aloud like a hawker to attract purchasers.

Parricide—A young man, who has beaten his father and proposes to strangle him, offers himself as a desirable acquisition to the new colony.

Kinesias, the dithyrambic poet, applies for a pair of wings.

Informer—A young man whose hereditary trade is that of an informer, and whose practice extends to the Islands, comes with the same application.




A wild desolate country with a bare open prospect on one side, and some upright rocks covered with shrubs and brushwood in the centre of the stage. Peisthetairus and Euelpides appear as a couple of worn-out pedestrian travellers, the one with a Raven and the other with a Jackdaw on his hand. They appear to be seeking for a direction from the motions and signals made to them by the Birds.

Eu. (speaking to his Jackdaw).
Right on, do ye say? to the tree there in the distance?

Peis. (speaking first to his Raven, and then to his companion).
Plague take ye! Why this creature calls us back!

Eu. What use can it answer tramping up and down?
We're lost, I tell ye: our journey's come to nothing.

Peis. To think of me travelling a thousand stadia5
With a Raven for my adviser!

Eu. Think of me, too,
Going at the instigation of a Jackdaw,
To wear my toes and my toe nails to pieces!

Peis. I don't know even the country where we've got to.

Eu. And yet you expect to find a country here,
A country for yourself!

Peis. Truly not Ι;10
Not even Execestides[1] could do it,
That finds himself a native everywhere.

Eu. Oh dear! We're come to ruin, utter ruin!

Peis. Then go that way, can't ye: "the Road to Ruin!"

Eu. He has brought us to a fine pass, that crazy fellow,
Philocrates the poulterer; he pretended
To enable us to find where Tereus lives;15
The King that was, the Hoopoe that is now;
Persuading us to buy these creatures of him,
That Raven there for threepence,—and this other,
This little Tharrelides[2] of a Jackdaw,
He charged a penny for: but neither of 'em
Are fit for anything but to bite and scratch.
[Speaking to his Jackdaw.
Well, what are ye after now?—gaping and poking! 20
You've brought us straight to the rock. Where would you take us?
There's no road here!

Peis. No, none, not even a path.

Eu. Nor don't your Raven tell us anything?

Peis. She's altered somehow—she croaks differently.

Eu. But which way does she point? What does she say? 25

Peis. Say? Why, she says she'll bite my fingers off.

Eu. Well, truly it's hard upon us, hard indeed,
To go with our own carcasses to the crows,
And not be able to find 'em after all.
[Turning to the audience.[3]
For our design, most excellent spectators, 30
(Our passion, our disease, or what you will),
Is the reverse of that which Sacas[4] feels;
For he, though not a native, strives perforce
To make himself a citizen: whilst we,
Known and acknowledged as Athenians born
(Not hustled off, nor otherwise compelled)
Have deemed it fitting to betake ourselves
To these our legs, and make our person scarce. 35
Not through disgust or hatred or disdain
Of our illustrious birthplace, which we deem
Glorious and free; with equal laws ordained
For fine and forfeiture and confiscation,
With taxes universally diffused;
And suits and pleas abounding in the Courts.
For grasshoppers sit only for a month
Chirping upon the twigs; but our Athenians 40
Sit chirping and discussing all the year,
Perched upon points of evidence and law.
Therefore we trudge upon our present travels,
With these our sacrificial implements,
To seek some easier unlitigious place;
Meaning to settle there and colonise. 45
Our present errand is in search of Tereus,
(The Hoopoe that is now) to learn from him
If in his expeditions, flights, and journeys,
He ever chanced to light on such a spot.

Peis. Holloh!

Eu. What's that?

Peis. My Raven here points upwards.

Eu. Ay, and here's my Jackdaw too, 50
Gaping as if she saw something above.
Yes,—I'll be bound for it; this must be the place:
We'll make a noise, and know the truth of it.

Peis. Then "kick against the rock."[5]

Eu. Knock you your head
Against the rock!—and make it a double knock! 55

Peis. Then fling a stone at it!

Eu. With all my heart,
Holloh there!

Peis. What do you mean with your Holloh?
You should cry Hoop for a Hoopoe.

Eu. Well then, Hoop!
Hoop and holloh, there! Hoopoe, Hoopoe, I say!

Tr. What's here? Who's bawling there? Who wants my master? 60

[The door is opened, and both parties start at seeing each other.

Eu. Oh mercy, mighty Apollo! what a beak!

Tr. Out! out upon it! a brace of bird-catchers!

Eu. No, no! don't be disturbed; think better of us.

Tr. You'll both be put to death.

Eu. But we're not men.

Tr. Not men! what are ye? what do ye call yourselves? 65

Eu. The fright has turned me into a yellow-hammer.

Tr. Poh! Stuff and nonsense!

Eu. I can prove it to ye.

Tr. But your comrade here; what bird is he?

Peis. I'm changed to a Golden Pheasant just at present.

Eu. Now tell me, in heaven's name, what creature are ye?

Tr. I'm a slave bird.

Eu. A slave? how did it happen?
Were you made prisoner by a fighting cock? 70

Tr. No. When my master made himself a Hoopoe,
He begged me to turn bird to attend upon him.

Eu. Do birds then want attendance?

Tr. Yes, of course,
In his case, having been a man before, 75
He longs occasionally for human diet,
His old Athenian fare: pilchards, for instance.
Then I must fetch the pilchards; sometimes porridge;
He calls for porridge, and I mix it for him.

Eu.[6] Well, you're a dapper waiter, a didapper;
But didapper, I say, do step within there, 80
And call your master out.

Tr. But just at present
He's taking a little rest after his luncheon,
Some myrtle berries and a dish of worms.

Eu. No matter, call him here. We wish to speak to him.

Tr. (in the tone of Simple, Master Slender's serving man).
He'll not be pleased, I'm sure; but notwithstanding,
Since you desire it, I'll make bold to call him. [Exit.

Peis. (looking after him). Confound ye, I say, you've frightened me to death. 85

Eu. He has scared away my Jackdaw; it's flown away.

Peis. You let it go yourself, you coward.

Eu. Tell me,
Have not you let your Raven go?

Peis. Not I.

Eu. Where is it then?

Peis. Flown off of its own accord. 90

Eu. You did not let it go! you're a brave fellow!

[The Hoopoe from within.]

Hoo. Open the door, I say; let me go forth.

[The Royal Hoopoe appears with a tremendous beak and crest.]

Eu. Ο Hercules, what a creature! What a plumage!
And a triple tier of crests; what can it be!

Hoo. Who called? who wanted me? 95

Eu. May the heavenly powers . . .
. . . Confound ye, I say. [Aside.

Hoo. You mock at me perhaps,
Seeing these plumes. But, stranger, you must know—
That once I was a man.

Eu. We did not laugh
At you, Sir.

Hoo. What, then, were you laughing at?

Eu. Only that beak of yours seemed rather odd.

Hoo. It was your poet Sophocles[7] that reduced me 100
To this condition with his tragedies.

Eu. What are you, Tereus? Are you a bird, or what?

Hoo. A Bird.

Eu. Then where are all your feathers?

Hoo. Gone.

Eu. In consequence of an illness?

Hoo. No, the Birds
At this time of the year leave off their feathers, 105
But you! What are ye? Tell me.

Eu. Mortal men.

Hoo. What countrymen?

Eu. Of the country of the Triremes.[8]

Hoo. Jurymen, I suppose?

Eu. Quite the reverse,
We're anti-jurymen.

Hoo. Does that breed still 110
Continue amongst you?

Eu. Some few specimens[9]
You'll meet with, here and there, in country places.

Hoo. And what has brought you here? What was your object?

Eu. We wished to advise with you.

Hoo. With me! For what?

Eu. Because you were a man: the same as us;
And found yourself in debt: the same as us; 115
And did not like to pay: the same as us;
And after that, you changed into a bird;
And ever since have flown and wandered far
Over the lands and seas, and have acquired
All knowledge that a bird or man can learn.
Therefore we come as suppliants, to beseech 120
Your favour and advice to point us out
Some comfortable country, close and snug,
A country like a blanket or a rug,
Where we might fairly fold ourselves to rest.

Hoo. Do you wish then for a greater state than Athens?

Eu. Not greater; but more suitable for us.

Hoo. It's clear you're fond of aristocracy. 125

Eu. What him, the son of Scellias! Aristocrates?[10]
I abhor him.

Hoo. Well, what kind of a town would suit ye?

Eu. Why, such a kind of town as this, for instance,
A town where the importunities and troubles
Are of this sort. Suppose a neighbour calls
Betimes in the morning with a sudden summons: 130
"Now, don't forget," says he, "for heaven's sake,
To come to me to-morrow, bring your friends,
Children and all, we've wedding cheer at home.
Come early, mind ye, and if you fail me now,
Don't let me see your face, when I'm in trouble."

Hoo. So, you're resolved to encounter all these hardships! 135
[To Peisthetairus.
And what say you?

Peis. My fancy's much the same.

Hoo. How so?

Peis. To find a place of the same sort:
A kind of place, where a good jolly father
Meets and attacks me thus—"What's come to ye
With my young people? You don't take to 'em. 140
What! they're not reckoned ugly! You might treat 'em,
As an old friend, with a little attention surely,
And take a trifling civil freedom with 'em."

Hoo. Ay! You're in love I see with difficulties
And miseries. Well, there's a city in fact
Much of this sort; one that I think might suit ye,
Near the Red Sea.

Eu. No, no! not near the sea![11] 145
Lest I should have the Salaminian galley[12]
Arriving some fine morning, with a summons
Sent after me, and a pursuivant to arrest me.
But could not you tell us of some Grecian city? 150

Hoo. Why there's in Elis there, the town of Lepreum.

Eu. No, no! No Lepreums: nor no lepers neither.
No leprosies for me. Melanthius[13]
Has given me a disgust for leprosies.

Hoo. Then there's Opuntius in the land of Locris.

Eu. Opuntius? Me to be like Opuntius![14]
With his one eye! Not for a thousand drachmas.
But tell me among the birds here, how do ye find it? 155
What kind of an existence?

Hoo. Pretty fair;
Not much amiss. Time passes smoothly enough;
And money is out of the question. We don't use it.

Eu. You've freed yourselves from a great load of dross.

Hoo. We've our field sports. We spend our idle mornings
With banqueting and collations in the gardens, 160
With poppy-seeds and myrtle.

Eu. So your time
Is passed like a perpetual wedding-day.

[Peisthetairus, who has hitherto felt his way by putting Euelpides forward, and allowing him to take the lead, and who has paid no attention to this trifling inconclusive conversation, breaks out as from a profound reflective reverie.

Peis. Ha! What a power is here! What opportunities!
If I could only advise you. I see it all!
The means for an infinite empire and command!

Hoo. And what would you have us do? What's your advice?

Peis. Do? What would I have ye do? Why first of all
Don't flutter and hurry about all open-mouthed, 165
In that undignified way. With us, for instance,
At home, we should cry out, "What creature's that?"
And Teleas would be the first to answer:
"A mere poor creature, a weak restless animal,
A silly bird, that's neither here nor there."[15] 170

Hoo. Yes, Teleas might say so. It would be like him.
But tell me, what would you have us do?

Peis. (emphatically). Concentrate!
Bring all your birds together. Build a city.

Hoo. The birds! How could we build a city? Where?

Peis. Nonsense. You can't be serious. What a question!
Look down.

Hoo. I do.

Peis. Look up now. 175

Hoo. So I do.

Peis. Now turn your neck round.[16]

Hoo. I should sprain it though.

Peis. Come, what d'ye see?

Hoo. The clouds and sky; that's all.

Peis. Well, that we call the Pole and the Atmosphere;
And would it not serve you birds for a Metropole?

Hoo. Pole? Is it called a pole?

Peis. Yes, that's the name. 180
Philosophers of late call it the pole;
Because it wheels and rolls itself about
As it were, in a kind of a roly-poly way.[17]
Well, there then, you may build and fortify,
And call it your Metropolis—your Acropolis.
From that position you'll command mankind, 185
And keep them in utter thorough subjugation:
Just as you do the grasshoppers and locusts.
And if the gods offend you, you'll blockade 'em,
And starve 'em to a surrender.

Hoo. In what way?

Peis. Why thus. Your atmosphere is placed, you see,
In a middle point, just betwixt earth and heaven.
A case of the same kind occurs with us.
Our people in Athens, if they send to Delphi
With deputations, offerings, or what not,
Are forced to obtain a pass from the Bœotians:
Thus when mankind on earth are sacrificing, 190
If you should find the gods grown mutinous
And insubordinate, you could intercept
All their supplies of sacrificial smoke.

Hoo. By the earth and all its springs! springes and nooses![18]
Odds, nets and snares! This is the cleverest notion: 195
And I could find it in my heart to venture;
If the other Birds agree to the proposal.

Peis. But who must state it to them?

Hoo. You yourself,
They'll understand ye, I found them mere barbarians,
But living here a length of time amongst them,
I have taught them to converse and speak correctly.[19] 200

Peis. How will you summon them?

Hoo. That's easy enough;
I'll just step into the thicket here hard by,
And call my nightingale. She'll summon them.
And when they hear her voice, I promise you
You'll see them all come running here pell-mell.[20] 205

Peis. My dearest, best of Birds! don't lose a moment,
I beg, but go directly into the thicket;
Nay, don't stand here, go call your nightingale.

[Exit Hoopoe.

[Song from behind the scene, supposed to be sung by the Hoopoe.
Awake! awake!
Sleep no more, my gentle mate!
With your tiny tawny bill,
Wake the tuneful echo shrill,
On vale or hill; 210
Or in her airy, rocky seat,
Let her listen and repeat
The tender ditty that you tell,
The sad lament,
The dire event,
To luckless Itys that befell
Thence the strain
Shall rise again, 215
And soar amain,
Up to the lofty palace gate;
Where mighty Apollo sits in state;
In Jove's abode, with his ivory lyre,
Hymning aloud to the heavenly quire. 220
While all the gods shall join with thee
In a celestial symphony.

[A solo on the flute, supposed to be the nightingale's call.

Peis. Ο Jupiter! the dear, delicious bird!
With what a lovely tone she swells and falls,
Sweetening the wilderness with delicate air.

Eu. Hist!

Peis. What?

Eu. Be quiet, can't ye? 225

Peis. What's the matter?

Eu. The Hoopoe is just preparing for a song.

Hoo. Hoop! hoop!
Come in a troop,
Come at a call,
One and all,
Birds of a feather,
All together.
Birds of a humble, gentle bill,
Smooth and shrill,
Dieted on seeds and grain,
Rioting on the furrowed plain, 230
Pecking, hopping,
Picking, popping, 235
Among the barley newly sown.
Birds of bolder, louder tone,
Lodging in the shrubs and bushes,
Mavises and Thrushes,
On the summer berries brousing, 240
On the garden fruits carousing,
All the grubs and vermin smousing.

You that in a humbler station,
With an active occupation,
Haunt the lowly watery mead, 245
Warring against the native breed,
The gnats and flies, your enemies;
In the level marshy plain
Of Marathon, pursued and slain.

You that in a squadron driving 250
From the seas are seen arriving,
With the Cormorants and Mews
Haste to land and hear the news!
All the feathered airy nation,
Birds of every size and station,
Are convened in convocation.
For an envoy, queer and shrewd, 255
Means to address the multitude,
And submit to their decision
A surprising proposition,
For the welfare of the state
Come in a flurry,
With a hurry-scurry,
Hurry to the meeting and attend to the debate.

The first appearance of the Chorus must have been a critical point for the success of a play. The audience had been brought into good-humour by their favourite musical performer, by whom all the preceding songs were probably executed; for the dialogue on the stage passes solely between Peisthetairus and Euelpides, and the Hoopoe, who is supposed to sing, does not appear. The Chorus now appears, and in the original, forty lines follow, in which Peisthetairus and Euelpides act as showmen to the exhibition of twenty-four figures, dressed in imitation of the plumage of as many different kinds of birds, which are passed in review with suitable remarks as they successively take their places in the orchestra. This passage is here omitted. Whoever wishes to see how well it can be executed, may be referred to Mr. Cary's translation.

While the birds are bustling about in their new coop of the orchestra, Euelpides contemplates them with surprise, which soon changes to alarm.

The language of the Birds consists almost wholly of short syllables, the effect of which it is impossible to imitate in English. Some accents, which are added, may serve to mark the attempt: they are added also to two spondaic lines, of which the imitation is more practicable.

Eu.How they thicken, how thy muster, 305
How they clutter, how they cluster!
Now they ramble here and thither,
Now they scramble altogether.
What a fidgeting and clattering!
What a twittering and chattering,
Don't they mean to threaten us? What think ye?

Peis. Yes, methinks they do.

Eu. They're gaping with an angry look against us both.

Peis. It's very true.

Chorus. Where is He, the Mágistrate that assémbled us to deliberate. 310

Hoo. Friends and comrades, here am I, your old associate and ally.

Chorus. What have ye to commúnicate for the bénefit of the státe. 315

Hoo. A proposal safe and useful, practicable, profitable,
Two projectors are arrived here, politicians shrewd and able.

Chorus.Whee! Whaw! Where? Where?
What? What? What? What? What?

Hoo. I repeat it—human Envoys are arrived a steady pair 320
To disclose without reserve a most stupendous, huge affair.

Chorus. Chief, of all that ever were, the worst, the most unhappy one!
Speak, explain!

Hoo. Don't be alarmed!

Chorus. Alas! alas! what have you done?

Hoo. I've received a pair of strangers, who desired to settle here.

Chorus. Have you risked so rash an act?

Hoo. I've done it, and I persevere. 325

Chorus. But, where are they?

Hoo. Near beside you; near as I am; very near.

Chorus.Oút alás! oút alás!
We are betráyed, crúelly betrayed
To a calámitous end,
Our cómrade and our friénd,
Our compánion in the fiélds and in the pástures 330
Is the aúthor of all our míseries and dísasters.
Our áncient sácred láws and sólemn Oáth!
Tránsgréssing bóth!
Tréasonably delívering us as a prize
To our hórrible immemórial enemiés,
To a detéstable ráce
Exécrably base! 335
For the Bird our Chief, hereafter he must answer to the state;
With respect to these intruders, I propose, without debate,
On the spot to tear and hack them.

Eu. There it is, our death and ruin!
Ah, the fault was all your own, you know it; it was all your doing;
You that brought me here; and why?

Peis. Because I wanted an attendant. 340

Eu. Here, to close my life in tears.

Peis. No, that's a foolish fear, depend on't.

Eu. Why a foolish fear?

Peis. Consider; when you're left without an eye,
It's impossible in nature; how could you contrive to cry?

Chorus.Form in rank, Form in rank;
Then move forward and outflank:
Let me see them overpowered,
Hacked, demolished, and devoured; 345
Neither earth, nor sea, nor sky,
Nor woody fastnesses on high,
Shall protect them if they fly? 350
Where's the Captain? What detains him? What prevents us to proceed?
On the right there, call the Captain! Let him form his troop and lead.

Eu. There it is, where can I fly?

Peis. Sirrah, be quiet, wait a bit.

Eu. What, to be devoured amongst them!

Peis. Will your legs or will your wit 355
Serve to escape them?

Eu. I can't tell.

Peis. But I can tell; Do as you're bid;
Fight we must; You see the pot, just there before ye; Take the lid,
And present it for a shield; the spit will serve you for a spear;
With it you may scare them off, or spike them if they venture near.

Eu. What can I find to guard my eyes? 360

Peis. Why there's the very thing you wish,
Two vizard helmets ready made, the cullender and skimming dish.

Eu. What a clever, capital, lucky device, sudden and new!
Nicias[21] with all his tactics, is a simpleton to you.

Chorus. Steady, Birds! present your beaks! in double time, charge and attack,
Pounce upon them, smash the potlid, clapperclaw them, tear and hack. 365

Hoo. Tell me, most unworthy creatures, scandal of the feathered race;
Must I see my friends and kinsmen massacred before my face?

Chorus. What, do you propose to spare them? where will your forbearance cease,
Hesitating to destroy destructive creatures such as these? 370

Hoo. Enemies they might have been; but here they come, with fair design,
With proposals of advice, for your advantage and for mine.

Chorus. Enemies time out of mind! they that have spilt our fathers' blood,
How should they be friends of ours, or give us counsel for our good?

Hoo. Friendship is a poor adviser; politicians deep and wise375
Many times are forced to learn a lesson from their enemies;
Diligent and wary conduct is the method soon or late
Which an adversary teaches; whilst a friend or intimate
Trains us on to sloth and ease, to ready confidence; to rest,
In a careless acquiescence; to believe and hope the best.
Look on earth![22] behold the nations, all in emulation vieing,
Active all, with busy science engineering, fortifying;
To defend their hearths and homes, with patriotic industry,
Fencing every city round with massy walls of masonry:
Tactical devices old they modify with new design;
Arms offensive and defensive to perfection they refine;
Galleys are equipped and armed, and armies trained to discipline.
Look to life, in every part; in all they practise, all they know;
Every nation has derived its best instruction from the foe.380

Chorus. We're agreed to grant a hearing; if an enemy can teach
Anything that's wise or useful, let him prove it in his speech.

Peis. (aside). Let's retire a pace or two; you see the change in their behaviour.

Hoo. Simple justice I require, and I request it as a favour.

Chorus. Faith and equity require it, and the nation hitherto
Never has refused to take direction and advice from you.385

Peis. (aside). They're relenting by degrees;
Recover arms and stand at ease.

Chorus.[23] Back to the rear! resume your station,400
Ground your wrath and indignation!
Sheathe your fury! stand at ease,
While I proceed to question these:
What design has brought them here?405
Ho, there, Hoopoe! can't he hear?

Hoo.What's your question?

Chorus.Who are these?

Hoo.Strangers from the land of Greece.

Chorus.What design has brought them thence?410
What's their errand or pretence?

Hoo.They come here simply with a view
To settle and reside with you;
Here to remain and here to live.415

Chorus.What is the reason that they give?

Hoo.A project marvellous and strange.

Chorus.Will it account for such a change,
Coming here so vast a distance?
Does he look for our assistance
To serve a friend or harm a foe?420

Hoo.Mighty plans he has to show
(Hinted and proposed in brief)
For a power beyond belief;
Ocean, earth, he says, and air,
All creation everywhere,
Everything that's here or there,
An empire and supremacy
Over all beneath the sky,
Is attainable by you,425
Your just dominion and your due.

Chorus.Tell us, was he fool or mad?

Hoo.No, believe me: grave and sad.

Chorus.Did his reasons and replies
Mark him as discreet and wise?

Hoo.With a force, a depth, a reach
Of judgment; a command of speech;
An invention, a facility,
An address, a volubility,430
More than could be thought believable;
'Tis a varlet inconceivable!

Chorus.Let us hear him! let us hear him!
Bid him begin! for raised on high
Our airy fancy soars; and I
Am rapt in hope; ready to fly.

The King Hoopoe now gives some orders in a pacific spirit, directing that all warlike weapons be removed and hung up at the back of the chimney as before. He then calls upon Peisthetairus to communicate to the assembled commonalty the propositions which had been before discussed in private conference between themselves. Peisthetairus, however, sees his advantage and insists upon the previous conclusion of a formal treaty of peace; this is done, and the Chorus swear to it (relapsing for a moment into their real character) "as they hope to win the prize by unanimous vote." But if they should fail, they imprecate upon themselves the penalty of (gaining the prize notwithstanding, but) "gaining it only by a casting vote." Peace is proclaimed, the armament is dissolved by proclamation, and the Chorus recommence singing.

[To the Chorus.
Hoo.Here you, take these same arms, in the name of Heaven,435
And hang them quietly in the chimney corner;
[Turning to Peisthetairus.
And you communicate your scheme, exhibiting
Your proofs and calculations—the discourse
Which they were called to attend to.

Peis.No, not I!
By Jove; unless they agree to an armistice;440
Such as the little poor baboon, our neighbour,
The sword cutler, concluded with his wife;
That they shan't bite me, or take unfair advantage
In any way.

Chorus.We won't.

Peis.Well, swear it then!

Chorus.We swear; by our hope of gaining the first prize,445
With the general approval and consent,
Of the whole audience, and of all the judges—
And if we fail, may the reproach befall us,
Of gaining it, only by the casting vote.

It should seem that the success of this play must have been a subject of more than usual anxiety both to the Poet himself, and to the Choregus (the wealthy citizen charged with the expense and management of a theatrical entertainment), and his friends: we may conceive it to have been intended as a sedative to the mind of the commonalty, excited as they were at the time, almost to madness by the suspicion of a conspiracy against the religion and laws of the country; a suspicion originating in a profane outrage secretly perpetrated, to a great extent, in mere insolence and wantonness, by some young men of family. In the opinion, however, of the Athenian people, the offence was viewed in a very serious light, as the result of an extensive secret combination (on the part of persons bound and engaged to each other by their common participation in the guilt of sacrilege), preparatory to other attempts still more criminal and dangerous. In this state of things, and while the popular fury and jealousy upon religious subjects was at its height, the Poet ventured to produce this play; in which it will be seen, that the burlesque of the national Mythology is carried higher and continued longer than in any of his other existing plays. The confident hopes expressed by the Chorus were not ralised; the first prize was assigned to a play the title of which, the Comastæ, or Drunken Rioters, seems to imply that its chief interest must have been derived from direct allusions to the outrage above mentioned, and to the individuals suspected to have been engaged in it.

But we must return to the Herald dismissing the troops.

Her. Hear, ye good people all! the troop are ordered,
To take their arms within doors; and consult
On the report and entry to be made
Upon our journal of this day's proceedings.450

Chorus.Since time began
The race of man
Has ever been deceitful, faithless ever.
Yet may our fears be vain!
Speak therefore and explain:
If in this realm of ours,
Your clearer intellect, searching and clever,
Has noticed means or powers,455
Unknown and undetected,
In unambitious indolence neglected.
Guide and assist our ignorant endeavour:
You for your willing aid, and ready wit,
Will share with us the common benefit.
Now speak to the business and be not afraid460
The birds will adhere to the truce that we made.

The long series of Anapæstic lines which follows, holds the place of the debates which occur in other comedies, and which are conducted in Anapæstic verse. Peisthetairus could not properly have been matched with an opponent or antagonist; the uniformity of his speech is, however, relieved by the interruptions and comments of Euelpides, who acts an under part to him, much in the same style as a Merry Andrew to a Mountebank. Observe that Peisthetairus never vouchsafes an answer or takes any kind of notice of his companion, but proceeds continuously, except once or twice in reply to the Chorus and the Hoopoe.

Peis. I'm filled with the subject and long to proceed,
My rhetorical leaven is ready to knead.
Boy, bring me a crown[24] and a basin and ewer.

Eu. Why, what does he mean? Are we banqueting sure?

Peis. A rhetorical banquet, I mean; and I wish
To serve them at first with a sumptuous dish,465
To astound and delight them.[25] "The grief and compassion
That oppresses my mind on beholding a nation
A people of sovereigns" . . .

Chorus. Sovereigns we!

Peis. Of all the creation! of this man and me,
And of Jupiter too; for observe that your birth
Was before the old Titans, and Saturn and Earth.

Chorus. And Earth!470

Peis. I repeat it.

Chorus. That's wonderful news!

Peis. Your wonder implies a neglect to peruse,
And examine old Æsop; from whom you might gather,
That the lark was embarrassed to bury his father;
On account of the then non-existence of Earth;
And how to repair so distressing a dearth,
He adopted a method unheard of and new.475

Chorus. If the story you quote, is authentic and true,
No doubt can exist of our clear seniority;
And the gods must acknowledge our right to authority.

Eu. Your beaks will be worn with distinction and pride;
The woodpecker's title will scarce be denied;
And Jove the pretender, will surely surrender.480

Peis. . . . Moreover, most singular facts are combined
In proof, that the birds were adored by mankind:
For instance; the cock was a sovereign of yore
In the empire of Persia, and ruled it before
Darius's time; and you all may have heard,485
That his title exists, as the "Persian bird." . . .

Eu. And hence you behold him stalk in pride,
Majestic and stout, with a royal stride,
With his turban upright, a privilege known
Reserved to kings and kings alone.

Peis. . . . So wide was his empire, so mighty his sway,
That the people of earth to the present day,
Attend to his summons and freely obey:
Tinkers, tanners, cobblers, all,
Are roused from rest at his royal call,490
And shuffle their shoes on before it is light,
To trudge to the workshop.

Eu. I warrant you're right;
I know to my cost, by the cloak that I lost;
It was owing to him I was robbed and beguiled.
For a feast had been made for a neighbour's child,
To give it a name; and I went as a guest,
And sat there carousing away with the rest;
But drinking too deep, I fell soundly asleep;495
And he began crowing; and I never knowing,
But thinking it morning, went off at the warning,
(With the wine in my pate, to the city gate)
And fell in with a footpad was lying in wait,
Just under the town; and was fairly knocked down;
Then I tried to call out; but before I could shout,
He stripped me at once with a sudden pull,
Of a bran new mantle of Phrygian wool.

Peis. . . . Then the kite was the monarch of Greece heretofore . . .

Hoo. Of Greece?

Peis. . . . and instructed our fathers of yore,500
On beholding a kite, to fall down and adore . . .

Eu. Well, a thing that befell me, was comical quite,
I threw myself down on beholding a kite;
But turning my face up to stare at his flight,
With a coin in my mouth,[26] forgetting my penny,
I swallowed it down, and went home without any.

Peis. . . . In Sidon and Egypt the Cuckoo was king;
They wait to this hour for the Cuckoo to sing;
And when he begins, be it later or early,505
They reckon it lawful to gather their barley . . .

Eu. Ah, thence it comes our harvest cry,
Cuckoo, Cuckoo, to the passers-by.

Peis. . . . At an era moreover of modern date,
Menelaus the king, Agamemnon the great,
Had a bird as assessor attending in state,
Perched on his sceptre, to watch for a share
Of fees and emoluments, secret or fair.510

Eu. Ah, there I perceive, I was right in my guess,
For when Priam appeared in his tragical dress,
The bird on his sceptre, I plainly could see,
Was watching Lysicrates[27] taking a fee.

Peis. . . . Nay, Jupiter now that usurps the command,
Appears with an eagle, appointed to stand
As his emblem of empire; a striking example
Of authority once so extended and ample:515
And each of the gods had his separate fowl,
Apollo a Hawk, and Minerva an Owl.

Eu.[28] That's matter of fact and you're right in the main;
But what was the reason I wish you'd explain?

Peis. The reason was this: that the bird should be there,
To demand as of right a proportional share,
Of the entrails and fat, when an offering was made,
A suitable portion before them was laid:
Moreover you'll find, that the race of mankind
Always swore by a bird; and it never was heard
That they swore by the gods, at the time that I mention.520
And Lampon[29] himself, with a subtle intention,
Adheres to the old immemorial use;
He perjures and cheats us and swears "by the goose."
Thus far forth have I proved and shown
The power and estate that were once your own,
Now totally broken and overthrown:
And need I describe, your present tribe,
Weak, forlorn, exposed to scorn,
Distressed, oppressed, never at rest,
Daily pursued, with outrage rude;525
With cries and noise, of men and boys,
Screaming, hooting, pelting, shooting,
The fowler sets his traps and nets,
Twigs of bird-lime, loops, and snares,
To catch you kidnapped unawares;
Even within the temple's pale.
They set you forth to public sale,
Pawed and handled most severely:530
And not content with roasting merely,
In an insolent device,
Sprinkle you with cheese and spice;
With nothing of respect or favour,
Derogating from your flavour.535
Or for a further outrage, have ye
Soused in greasy sauce and gravy.

Hoo.Sad and dismal is the story,
Human stranger which you tell,
Of our fathers' ancient glory,
Ere the fated empire fell,540

From the depth of degradation,
A benignant happy fate
Sends you to restore the nation;
To redeem and save the state.545

I consign to your protection,
Able to preserve them best,
All my objects of affection,
My wife, my children, and my nest.

If the Reader should be inclined to pass over the next hundred lines, I should feel no wish to detain him. The subject of them has been pretty nearly anticipated, and the whole play is in fact too long.

Hoo. Explain then the method you mean to pursue
To recover our empire and freedom anew.
For thus to remain, in dishonour and scorn,
Our life were a burthen no more to be borne.

Peis. Then I move, that the birds shall in common repair550
To a centrical point, and encamp in the air;
And intrench and enclose it, and fortify there:
And build up a rampart, impregnably strong,
Enormous in thickness, enormously long;
Bigger than Babylon; solid and tall,
With bricks and bitumen, a wonderful wall.

Eu. Bricks and bitumen! I'm longing to see
What a daub of a building the city will be!

Peis. As soon as the fabric is brought to an end,
A herald or envoy to Jove we shall send,
To require his immediate prompt abdication;
And if he refuses, or shows hesitation,555
Or evades the demand; we shall further proceed,
With legitimate warfare avowed and decreed:
With a warning and notices, formally given,
To Jove, and all others residing in heaven,
Forbidding them ever to venture again
To trespass on our atmospheric domain,
With scandalous journies, to visit a list
Of Alcmenas and Semeles; if they persist
We warn them, that means will be taken moreover
To stop their gallanting and acting the lover.560
Another ambassador also will go
Despatched upon earth, to the people below,
To notify briefly the fact of accession;
And enforcing our claims upon taking possession:
With orders in future, that every suitor,
Who applies to the gods with an offering made,
Shall begin, with a previous offering paid
To a suitable Bird; of a kind and degree
That accords with the god, whosoever he be.565
In Venus's fane, if a victim is slain,
First let a Sparrow be feasted with grain
When gifts and oblations to Neptune are made,
To the Drake, let a tribute of barley be paid.
Let the Cormorant's appetite first be appeased,
And let Hercules then have an Ox for his feast.[30]
If you offer to Jove as the Sovereign above,
A Ram for his own; let the Golden-Crown,
As a sovereign Bird, be duly preferred,
Feasted and honoured, in right of his reign;
With a jolly fat pismire offered and slain.

Eu. A pismire, how droll! I shall laugh till I burst!
Let Jupiter thunder, and threaten his worst.570

Hoo. But mankind, will they, think ye, respect and adore,
If they see us all flying the same as before?
They will reckon us merely as Magpies and Crows.

Peis. Poh! nonsense, I tell ye—no blockhead but knows
That Mercury flies; there is Iris too;
Homer informs us how she flew:
"Smooth as a Dove, she went sailing along."
And pinions of gold, both in picture and song,
To Cupid and Victory fairly belong.575

Hoo. But Jove's thunder has wings; if he send but a volley
Mankind for a time may abandon us wholly.

Peis. What then? we shall raise a granivorous troop,
To sweep their whole crops with a ravenous swoop:
If Ceres is able, perhaps she may deign,
To assist their distress, with a largess of grain. . . .580

Eu. No no! she'll be making excuses, I warrant.

Peis. Then the Crows will be sent on a different errand,
To pounce all at once, with a sudden surprise,
On their oxen and sheep, to peck out their eyes,
And leave them stone blind for Apollo to cure:
He'll try it; he'll work for his salary sure!

Eu. Let the cattle alone; I've two beeves of my own:
Let me part with them first; and then do your worst.585

Peis. But, if men shall acknowledge your merit and worth,
As equal to Saturn, to Neptune, and Earth,
And to everything else; we shall freely bestow
All manner of blessings.

Hoo. Explain them and shew.

Peis. For instance: if locusts arrive to consume
All their hopes of a crop, when the vines are in bloom,
A squadron of Owls may demolish them all;
The Midges moreover, which canker and gall590
The figs and the fruit, if the Thrush is employed,
By a single battalion will soon be destroyed.

Hoo. But wealth is their object; and how can we grant it?

Peis. We can point them out mines; and our help will be wanted
To inspect, and direct navigation and trade;
Their voyages all will be easily made,
With a saving of time, and a saving of cost;
And a seaman in future will never be lost.595

Hoo. How so?

Peis. We shall warn them, "Now hasten to sail,
Now keep within harbour; your voyage will fail."

Eu. How readily then will a fortune be made!
I'll purchase a vessel and venture on trade.

Peis. And old treasure concealed will again be revealed;[31]
The Birds as they know it, will readily shew it.600
'Tis a saying of old, "My silver and gold
Are so safely secreted, and closely interred,
No creature can know it, excepting a Bird."

Eu. I'll part with my vessel, I'll not go aboard;
I'll purchase a mattock and dig up a hoard.

Hoo. We're clear as to wealth; but the blessing of health,
Is the gift of the gods.

Peis. It will make no such odds:
If they're going on well, they'll be healthy still,
And none are in health, that are going on ill.605

Hoo. But then for longevity; that is the gift
Of the gods.[32]

Peis. But the Birds can afford them a lift,
And allow them a century, less or more.

Hoo. How so?

Peis. From their own individual store:
They may reckon it fair, to allot them a share;
For old proverbs affirm, that the final term
Of a Raven's life exceeds the space
Of five generations of human race.

Hoo.[33] What need have we then for Jove as a king?610
Surely the Birds are a better thing!

Peis. Surely! surely! First and most,
We shall economise the cost
Of marble domes and gilded gates.
The Birds will live at cheaper rates,
Lodging, without shame or scorn,
In a maple or a thorn;615
The most exalted and divine
Will have an olive for his shrine.
We need not run to foreign lands,
Or Amnion's temple in the sands;
But perform our easy vows,
Among the neighbouring shrubs and boughs;620
Paying our oblations fairly,
With a pennyworth of barley.625

Chorus.[34] Ο best of all envoys, suspected before,
Now known and approved, and respected the more;
To you we resign the political lead,
Our worthy director in council and deed.

Elated with your bold design,
I swear and vow:630
If resolutely you combine
Your views and interests with mine;
In steadfast councils as a trusty friend,
Without deceit, or guile of fraudful end:
They that rule in haughty state,
The gods ere long shall abdicate635
Their high command;
And yield the sceptre to my rightful hand.

Then reckon on us for a number and force;
As on you we rely for a ready resource,
In council and policy, trusting to you,
To direct the design we resolve to pursue.

Hoo. That's well, but we've no time, by Jove, to loiter,
And dawdle and postpone like Nicias.[35]640
We should be doing something. First, however
I must invite you to my roosting place,
This nest of mine, with its poor twigs and leaves.
And tell me what your names are?

Peis. Certainly;
My name is Peisthetairus.[36]

Hoo. And your friend?

Eu. Euelpides from Thria.645

Hoo. Well, you're welcome—
Both of ye.

Peis. We're obliged.

Hoo. Walk in together.

Peis. Go first then, if you please.

Hoo. No, pray move forward.

Peis. But bless me . . . stop, pray . . . just for a single moment
Let's see . . . do tell me . . . explain . . . how shall we manage
To live with you . . . with a person wearing wings?
Being both of us unfledged?650

Hoo. Perfectly well!

Peis. Yes, but I must observe, that Æsop's fables
Report a case in point; the fox and eagle:
The fox repented of his fellowship;
And with good cause; you recollect the story.[37]

Hoo. Oh! don't be alarmed! we'll give you a certain root
That immediately promotes the growth of wings.655

Peis. Come, let's go in then; Xanthias, do you mind,
And Manodorus[38] follow with the bundles,

Chorus. Holloh!

Hoo. What's the matter?

Chorus. Go in with your party,
And give them a jolly collation and hearty.
But the Bird, to the Muses and Graces so dear,
The lovely sweet Nightingale, bid her appear,
And leave her amongst us, to sport with us here.660

Peis. (with a harried, nervous eagerness).
Ο yes, by Jove, indeed you must indulge them,[39]
Do, do me the favour, call her from the thicket!
For heaven's sake—let me entreat you—bring her here,
And let us have a sight of her ourselves.

Hoo. (with grave good breeding, implying a kind of rebuke to the
fussy importunity into which Peisthetairus had fallen).
Since it is your wish and pleasure it must be so;
Come here to the strangers, Procne! show yourself!665

Peis. Ο Jupiter, what a graceful, charming bird!
What a beautiful creature it is!

Eu. I'll tell ye what;
I could find in my heart to rumple her feathers.

Peis. And what an attire she wears, all bright with gold!670

Eu. Well, I should like to kiss her, for my part.

Peis. You blockhead, with that beak, she'd run you through.

Eu. By Jove, then, one must treat her like an egg;
Just clear away the shell and kiss her . . . thus.

Hoo. (gravely disapproving the liberties which are taken in his
presence). Let's go!

Peis. Go first then, and good luck go with us.675


The Actors having left the stage, the Parabasis ought to follow. It is here prefaced in a singular way by a complimentary song from the Chorus, addressed to the favourite female Musician.

Chorus.Ο lovely, sweet companion meet,
From morn to night my sole delight,
My little, happy, gentle mate,
You come, you come, Ο lucky fate,
Returning here with new delight,[39]
To charm the sight, to charm the sight,680
And charm the ear.
Come then anew combine
Your notes in harmony with mine,
And with a tone beyond compare
Begin your Anapæstic air.

The sudden passion for science among the Athenians, and the ridicule of it among the comic poets, has been already noticed.

Much might be said on the subject of the most splendid passage of the Parabasis, and of the philosophic system of which it presents the traces; but this would lead to considerations very remote from the imitation of actual life, and manners and character, which, as constituting the most singular excellence of the author, it has been the object of the translator to illustrate.

Of the Parabasis before us, the merits are well known, and perhaps no passage in Aristophanes has been oftener quoted with admiration. To bring the most sublime subjects within the verge of Comedy, and to treat of them with humour and fancy, without falling into vulgarity or offending the principles of good taste, seems a task which no poet whom we know of, could have accomplished: though, if we were possessed of the works of Epicharmus, it is possible that we might see other specimens of the same style.

Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span,685
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly, calamitous, creatures of clay!
Attend to the words of the Sovereign Birds,
(Immortal, illustrious, lords of the air)
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggles of misery, labour, and care.
Whence you may learn and clearly discern
Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn;
Which is busied of late, with a mighty debate,
A profound speculation about the creation,
And organical life, and chaotical strife,690
With various notions of heavenly motions,
And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains,
And sources of fountains, and meteors on high,
And stars in the sky. We propose by-and-by
(If you'll listen and hear) to make it all clear.
And Prodicus henceforth shall pass for a dunce,
When his doubts are explained and expounded at once.

Before the creation of Æther and Light,
Chaos and Night together were plight,
In the dungeon of Erebus foully bedight.
Nor Ocean, or Air, or substance was there,
Or solid or rare, or figure or form,
But horrible Tartarus ruled in the storm:
At length, in the dreary chaotical closet
Of Erebus old, was a privy deposit,
By Night the primæval in secrecy laid;
A Mystical Egg, that in silence and shade
Was brooded and hatched; till time came about:695
And Love, the delightful, in glory flew out,
In rapture and light, exulting and bright,
Sparkling and florid, with stars in his forehead,
His forehead and hair, and a flutter and flare,
As he rose in the air, triumphantly furnished
To range his dominions, on glittering pinions,
All golden and azure, and blooming and burnished:
He soon, in the murky Tartarean recesses,
With a hurricane's might, in his fiery caresses
Impregnated Chaos; and hastily snatched
To being and life, begotten and hatched,
The primitive Birds: but the Deities all,
The celestial Lights, the terrestrial Ball,700
Were later of birth, with the dwellers on earth,
More tamely combined, of a temperate kind;
When chaotical mixture approached to a fixture.
Our antiquity proved; it remains to be shown,
That Love is our author, and master alone,
Like him, we can ramble, and gambol and fly
O'er ocean and earth, and aloft to the sky:
And all the world over we're friends to the lover,705
And when other means fail, we are found to prevail,
When a Peacock or Pheasant is sent as a present.
All lessons of primary daily concern,
You have learnt from the Birds, and continue to learn,
Your best benefactors and early instructors;
We give you the warning of seasons returning.
When the Cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
In the middle air, with a creaking note,710
Steering away to the Lybian sands;
Then careful farmers sow their lands;
The crazy vessel is hauled ashore,
The sail, the ropes, the rudder and oar
Are all unshipped, and housed in store.
The Shepherd is warned, by the Kite reappearing,
To muster his flock, and be ready for shearing.
You quit your old cloak, at the Swallow's behest,
In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.715
For Delphi, for Ammon, Dondona, in fine,
For every oracular temple and shrine,
The Birds are a substitute equal and fair,
For on us you depend, and to us you repair
For counsel and aid, when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade:
Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye,
An Ox or an Ass, that may happen to pass,
A Voice in the street, or a Slave that you meet,
A Name or a Word by chance overheard,
If you deem it an Omen, you call it a Bird;720
And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow,
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.

Then take us as Gods, and you'll soon find the odds,[40]
We'll serve for all uses, as Prophets and Muses;
We'll give ye fine weather, we'll live here together;725
We'll not keep away, scornful and proud, a top of a cloud,
(In Jupiter's way); but attend every day,
To prosper and bless, all you possess,
And all your affairs, for yourselves and your heirs.730
And as long as you live, we shall give
You wealth and health, and pleasure and treasure,
In ample measure;
And never bilk you of pigeon's milk,
Or potable gold; you shall live to grow old,
In laughter and mirth, on the face of the earth,
Laughing, quaffing, carousing, bousing,
Your only distress, shall be the excess735
Of ease and abundance and happiness.



We see here a comic imitation of the Tragic Choruses of Phrynichus, a poet older than Æschylus, of whom Aristophanes always speaks with respect, as an improver of music and poetry—arts which in the judgment of the ancients were deemed inseparable; or if disjoined essentially defective and imperfect.

Muse, that in the deep recesses
Of the forest's dreary shade,
Vocal with our wild addresses;
Or in the lonely lowly glade,740
Attending near, art pleased to hear,
Our humble bill tuneful and shrill.

When, to the name of omnipotent Pan,
Our notes we raise, or sing in praise,745
Of mighty Cybele, from whom we began;
Mother of nature, and every creature,
Winged or unwinged, of birds or man.
Aid and attend, and chant with me
The music of Phrynichus, open and plain,
The first that attempted a loftier strain,750
Ever busy like the bee, with the sweets of harmony.


Is there any person present sitting a spectator here,
Who desires to pass his time, freely without restraint or fear?
Should he wish to colonise; he never need be checked or chid,
For the trifling indiscretions, which the testy laws forbid.755
Parricides are in esteem: among the birds we deem it fair,
A combat honourably fought betwixt a game cock and his heir!
There the branded runagate, branded and mottled in the face,760
Will be deemed a motley bird; a motley mark is no disgrace.
Spintharus, the Phrygian born, will pass a muster there with ease,
Counted as a Phrygian fowl; and even Execestides,[41]
Once a Carian and a slave, may there be nobly born and free;
Plume himself on his descent, and hatch a proper pedigree.765


This second sample of the style of Phrynichus may serve to give us a more distinct idea of it. It seems to have been one of essential grandeur and harmony, but trespassing occasionally into the regions of nonsense.

Thus the Swans in chorus follow,770
On the mighty Thracian stream,
Hymning their eternal theme.
Praise to Bacchus and Apollo:
The welkin rings, with sounding wings,
With songs and cries and melodies;
Up to the thunderous Æther ascending:775

Whilst all that breathe, on earth beneath,
The beasts of the wood, the plain and the flood,
In panic amazement are crouching and bending;
With the awful qualm, of a sudden calm,
Ocean and air in silence blending.
The ridge of Olympus is sounding on high,780
Appalling with wonder the lords of the sky,
And the Muses and Graces
Enthroned in their places,
Join in the solemn symphony.


Nothing can be more delightful than the having wings to wear!785
A spectator sitting here, accommodated with a pair,
Might for instance (if he found a tragic chorus dull and heavy)
Take his flight, and dine at home; and if he did not choose to leave ye,
Might return in better humour, when the weary drawl was ended.
Introduce then wings in use—believe me, matters will be mended:
Patroclides[42] would not need to sit there, and befoul his seat;790
Flying off he might return, eased in a moment, clean and neat.
Trust me wings are all in all! Diitrephes has mounted quicker
Than the rest of our aspirants, soaring on his wings of wicker:
Basket work, and Crates, and Hampers, first enabled him to fly;[43]
First a Captain, then promoted to command the cavalry;
With his fortunes daily rising, office and preferment new,
An illustrious, enterprising, airy, gallant Cockatoo.800

The exclusive functions of the Chorus being now at an end, the persons of the Drama appear again upon the stage; Peisthetairus and Euelpides, having been both in the meanwhile equipped with a sumptuous pair of wings. They are supposed to have been entertained behind the scenes, with a royal collation in the palace of the Hoopoe. Peisthetairus is accordingly in extreme good humour, and being now in the height of his advancement, recollects that it will be right to behave to his former comrade with the hearty familiarity of an old acquaintance; he accordingly begins with a ludicrous simile[44] on his appearance (a species of raillery common among the Athenians, but which was considered as the lowest species of jocularity). He takes his friend's retort in perfect good humour, and Euelpides is admitted as a third person, to consult, with him and the King, upon some unimportant matters, such as the name of the new City, and the choice of a patron Deity, upon all which topics, his idle buffoonish humour is not misplaced: but a more delicate point is afterwards brought into discussion (nothing less than the choice of a chief commander for the Citadel) which Euelpides treats with the same silly drollery as before. Peisthetairus is irritated, or pretends to be so, and dismisses him in a tone of authority, which the other resents, and appears on the point of mutinying; upon which Peisthetairus smooths him down again, as briefly as possible, and having accomplished this point, immediately turns away from him to call a servant.

Peis. Well, there it is! Such a comical set out,
By Jove, I never saw!

Eu. Why, what's the matter?
What are you laughing at?

Peis. At your pen feathers:
I'll tell ye exactly now, the thing you're like;
You're just the perfect image of a Goose,
Drawn with a pen in a writing master's flourish.805

Eu. And you're like a plucked Blackbird to a tittle.

Peis. Well then, according to the line in Æschylus,
"It's our own fault, the feathers are our own."[45]

Eu. Come, what's to be done.

Hoo. First, we must choose a name,
Some grand sonorous name, for our new city:810
Then we must sacrifice.

Eu. I think so too,

Peis. Let's see—let's think of a name—what shall it be?
What say ye, to the Lacedæmonian name?
Sparta sounds well—suppose we call it Sparta.

Eu. Sparta! What Sparto?[46] Rushes!—no, not I,
I'd not put up with Sparto for a mattress,
Much less for a city—we're not come to that.815

Peis. Come then, what name shall it be?

Eu. Something appropriate,
Something that sounds majestic, striking and grand,
Alluding to the clouds and the upper regions.

Peis. What think ye of Clouds and Cuckoos? Cuckoo-cloudlands
Or Nephelococcugia?

Hoo. That will do;
A truly noble and sonorous name!820

Eu. I wonder, if that Nephelococcugia,
Is the same place I've heard of: people tell me,
That all Theagenes's rich possessions
Lie there; and Æschines's whole estate.

Peis. Yes![47] and a better country it is by far,
Than all that land in Thrace, the fabulous plain
Of Phlegra; where those earthborn landed Giants
Were bullied and out-vapoured by the gods.825

Eu. It will be a genteelish, smart concern, I reckon,
This city of ours. . . . Which of the Deities
Shall we have for a patron? We must weave our mantle,
Our sacred mantle of course . . . the yearly mantle[48]
To one or other of 'em.

Peis. Well, Minerva?
Why should not we have Minerva? she's established,
Let her continue; she'll do mighty well.

Eu. No—there I object; for a well-ordered city,
The example would be scandalous; to see
The Goddess, a female born, in complete armour830
From head to foot; and Cleisthenes[49] with a distaff.

Peis. What warden will ye appoint for the Eagle tower,
Your Citadel, the fort upon the rock?

Hoo. That charge will rest with a chief of our own choice,
Of Persian race, a chicken of the game,
An eminent warrior.

Eu. Oh my chicky-hiddy—
My little master. I should like to see him,835
Strutting about and roosting on the rock.

Peis. Come, you now! please to step to the atmosphere;
And give a look to the work, and help the workmen;
And between whiles fetch brick and tiles, and such like;
Draw water, stamp the mortar—do it barefoot;
Climb up the ladders; tumble down again:840
Keep constant watch and ward; conceal your watch lights;
Then go the rounds, and give the countersign,
Till you fall fast asleep. Send heralds off,
A brace of them—one to the gods above;
And another, down below there, to mankind.
Bid them, when they return, inquire for me.845

Eu. For me! For me! You may be hanged for me.

Peis. Come, friend, go where I bid you; never mind;
The business can't go on without you, anyhow.
It's just a sacrifice to these new deities,
That I must wait for; and the priest that's coming.850
Holloh, you boy there! bring the basin and ewer!

In the passage which follows the author ridicules the rage for vulgar realities (a corruption of the theatric art, essentially destructive of all illusion, as we have witnessed at home, with real water, real horses, real elephants). The stage of Athens it should seem had been degraded by a real sacrifice, the paltriness of such a spectacle, is marked by the magnificent exhortation of the Chorus, contrasted with the meanness of the execution which they anticipate.

Chorus.We urge, we exhort you, and advise,
To ordain a mighty sacrifice;
And before the gods to bring
A stupendous offering;
Either a sheep or some such thing!
To please the critics of the age,
Sacrificed upon the stage.855
Sound amain the Pythian strain!
Let Chœris[50] be brought here to sing.

Peis. Have done there with your purring . . . Heaven and Earth,
What's here! I've seen many curious things,860
But never saw the like of this before,
A Crow with a flute and a mouthpiece. Priest, your office:
Perform it! Sacrifice to the new deities!

Pri. I will—but where's the boy gone with the basket?
Let us pray to the holy flame,865
And the holy Hawk that guards the same;
To the sovereign Deities,
All and each, of all degrees,
Female and male!

Chorus.Hail, thou Hawk of Sunium, hail!

Pri.To the Delian and the Pythian Swan,
And to the Latonian Quail,
All hail!

Chorus.To the Bird of awful stature,870
Mother of Gods, mother of Man;
Great Cybele! nurse of Nature!
Glorious Ostrich, hear our cry!
Fearful and enormous creature,
Hugest of all things that fly,875
O preserve and prosper us,
Thou mother of Cleocritus![51]
Grant the blessings that we seek,
For us, and for the Chians' eke!

Peis. That's right, the Chians—don't forget the Chians!880

Pri. To the Heroes, Birds, and Heroes' sons,
We call at once, we call and cry,
To the Woodpecker, the Jay, the Pie,
To the Mallard and the Wigeon,
To the Ringdove and the Pigeon,885
To the Petrel and Sea-mew,
To the Dottrel and Curlew,
To the Vultures and the Hawks,
To the Cormorants and Storks,
To the Rail, to the Quail,
To the Peewit, to the Tomtit.

Peisthetairus, who can do everything better than everybody else, undertakes to perform the sacrifice. This is sufficiently in character. By making him the chief operator, a greater comic effect is given to the series of interruptions which disturb him; until in despair he determines to transfer the sacrifice elsewhere. In this way the Poet avoids the vulgar reality which he had before ridiculed.

Peis. Have done there! call no more of 'em; are you mad?
Inviting all the Cormorants and Vultures,890
For a victim such as this! Why don't you see,
A kite at a single swoop, would carry it off?
Get out of my way there with your Crowns and Fillets,
I'll do it myself! I'll make the sacrifice!

Pri.Then must I commence again,895
In a simple, humble strain;
And invite the gods anew,
To visit us—but very few—
Or only just a single one,
All alone,
In a quiet, easy way;
Wishing you may find enough,[52]
If you dine with us to-day.900
Our victim is so poor and thin,
Merely bones, in fact, and skin.

Peis. We sacrifice and pray to the winged deities.

Enter a Poet, very ragged and shabby, with a very mellifluous
submissive mendicatory demeanour.

Poet."For the festive, happy day,
Muse prepare an early lay,
To Nephelococcugia."905

Peis. What's here to do? What are you? Where do you come from?

Poet. An humble menial of the Muses' train,
As Homer expresses it.910

Peis. A menial, are you?
With your long hair?[53] A menial?

Poet. 'Tis not that,
No! but professors of the poetical art,
Are simply styled, the "Menials of the Muses,"
As Homer expresses it.

Peis. Aye, the Muse has given you
A ragged livery. Well, but friend, I say—915
Friend!—Poet!—What the plague has brought you here?

Poet. I've made an Ode upon your new built City,
And a charming composition for a Chorus,
And another, in Simonides's manner.

Peis. (in a sharp, cross, examining tone). When were they made?
What time? How long ago?920

Poet. From early date, I celebrate in song,
The noble Nephelococcugian state.

Peis. That's strange, when I'm just sacrificing here,
For the first time, to give the town a name.

Poet.Intimations, swift as air,
To the Muses' ear are carried,
Swifter than the speed and force,
Of the fiery footed horse,925
Hence, the tidings never tarried;
Father, patron, mighty lord,[54]
Founder of the rising state,
What thy bounty can afford,
Be it little, be it great,
With a quick resolve, incline
To bestow on me and mine.930

Peisthetairus, the essential man of business and activity, entertaining a supreme contempt for his profession and person of the poet, is at no great pains to conceal it; but recollecting at the same time, that it is advisable to secure the suffrages of the literary world, and that the character of a patron is creditable to a great man, he patronises him accordingly, not at his own expense, but by bestowing upon him certain articles of apparel put in requisition for that purpose. This first act of confiscation is directed against the property of the church; the Scholiast informs us, that he begins by stripping the Priest.

Peis. This fellow will breed a bustle, and make mischief,
If we don't give him a trifle, and get rid of him.
You there, you've a spare waistcoat; pull it off!
And give it this same clever, ingenious poet—
There, take the waistcoat, friend! Ye seem to want it!935

Poet.Freely, with a thankful heart,
What a bounteous hand bestows,
Is received in friendly part;
But amid the Thracian snows,
Or the chilly Scythian plain,940
He the wanderer, cold and lonely,
With an under-waistcoat only,
Must a further wish retain;
Which, the Muse averse to mention,
To your gentle comprehension,
Trusts her enigmatic strain.945

Peis. I comprehend it enough; you want a jerkin;
Here, give him yours; one ought to encourage genius.
There, take it, and good bye to ye!

Poet. Well, I'm going;
And as soon as I get to the town, I'll set to work;
And finish something, in this kind of way.

[The Poet withdraws, gradually turning round and reciting. Peisthetairus does not appear to take notice, but watches till he is fairly gone.

"Seated on your golden throne,
Muse, prepare a solemn ditty,950
To the mighty,
To the flighty,
To the cloudy, quivering, shivering,
To the lofty seated city."

Peis. Well, I should have thought that jerkin might have cured him955
Of his "quiverings and shiverings." How the plague!
Did the fellow find us out? I should not have thought it.
Come, once again, go round with the basin and ewer.
Peace! Silence! Silence!

Enter a Soothsayer with a great air of arrogance and self-importance. He comes on the authority of a book of Oracles (which he pretends to possess, but which he never produces), in virtue of which he lays claim to certain sacrificial perquisites and fees. Peisthetairus encounters him with a different version composed upon the spot; in virtue of which he dismisses the Soothsayer with a good lashing.

Sooth. Stop the sacrifice!

Peis. What are you?960

Sooth. A Soothsayer, that's what I am.

Peis. The worse luck for ye.

Sooth. Friend, are you in your senses?[55]
Don't trifle absurdly with religious matters.
Here's a prophecy of Bakis, which expressly
Alludes to Nephelococcugia.

Peis. How came it, then, you never prophesied
Your prophecies before the town was built?

Sooth. The spirit withheld me.965

Peis. And is it allowable now,
To give us a communication of them?

Sooth. Hem!
"Moreover, when the Crows and Daws unite,
To build and settle, in the midway right,
Between tall Corinth and fair Sicyon's height,
Then to Pandora, let a milk white Goat971
Be slain, and offered, and a comely coat
Given to the soothsayer, and shoes a pair;
When he to you this oracle shall bear."

Peis. Are the shoes mentioned?

Sooth. (pretending to feel for his papers). Look at the book, and see!
"And let him have the entrails for his share."975

Peis. Are the Entrails mentioned?

Sooth. (as before). Look at the book, and see!
"If you, predestined youth, shall do these things,
Then you shall soar aloft, on eagle's wings;
But, if you do not, you shall never be
An Eagle, nor a Hawk, nor bird of high degree."

Peis. Is all this, there?

Sooth. (as before). Look at the book, and see!980

Peis. This oracle differs most remarkably,
From that which I transcribed in Apollo's temple.
"If at the sacrifice . . . [56] which you prepare,
An uninvited vagabond . . . should dare
To interrupt you, and demand a share,
Let cuffs and buffets . . . be the varlet's lot.
Smite him between the ribs . . . and spare him not."985

Sooth. Nonsense, you're talking!

Peis. (with the same action as the Soothsayer, as if he were feeling
for papers). Look at the book, and see!
"Thou shalt in no wise heed them, or forbear
To lash and smite those Eagles of the air,
Neither regard their names, for it is written,
Lampon and Diopithes shall be smitten."

Sooth. Is all this, there?

Peis. (producing a horsewhip). Look at the book, and see!
Get out! with a plague and a vengeance.

Sooth. Oh dear! oh!990

Peis. Go soothsay somewhere else, you rascal, run!

[Exit Sooth.


Meton the Astronomer appears, encumbered with a load of mathematical instuments, which are disposed about his person. He advances with short steps, a straight back, and his chin in the air, modifying, by what he conceives to be a tone of condescending familiarity, a manner of habitual self-importance.

Met. I'm come, you see, to join you.

Peis. (aside). (Another plague !)
For what? What's your design? Your plan, your notion?
Your scheme—your apparatus—your equipment—
Your outfit? What's the meaning of it all?

Met. I mean to take a geometrical plan995
Of your atmosphere—to allot it, and survey it
In a scientific form.

Peis. In the name of heaven!
Who are ye and what? What name? What manner of man?

Met. Who am I and what! Meton's my name, well known
In Greece, and in the village of Colonos.

Peis. But tell me, pray; these implements, these articles,
What are they meant for?

[Going up to him and pulling them about.

Met. These are—Instruments!
An atmospherical geometrical scale.
First, you must understand, that the atmosphere1000
Is formed—in a manner—altogether—partly,
In the fashion of a furnace, or a funnel;
I take this circular arc, with the movable arm,
And so, by shifting it round, till it coincides
At the angle;—you understand me?

Peis. Not in the least.

Met. (with animation and action illustrative of the proposed plan).
. . . I obtain a true division, with the quadrature
Of the equilateral circle. Here, I trace1005
Your market-place, in the centre, with the streets—
Converging inwards—and the roads, diverging—
From the circular wall, without—like solar rays
From the circular circumference of the Sun.

Peis. (in a pretended soliloquy; then calling to him with a tone of
mystery and alarm).
Another Thales! absolutely, a Thales!—

Met. (startled). Why, what's the matter?

Peis. You're aware,
That I've a regard for you. Take my advice;1010
Don't be seen here—Withdraw yourself—abscond!

Met. Is there any alarm or risk?

Peis. Why, much the same,
As it might be in Lacedæmon. There's a bustle
Of expelling aliens; people are dragged out
From the inns and lodgings, with a deal of uproar,
And blows and abuse in plenty, to be met with
In the public street.

Met. A popular tumult—heh?

Peis. (scandalised at the supposition). Oh, Fie! no, nothing of that kind.

Met. How do you mean then?1015

Peis. We're carrying into effect a resolution
Adopted lately; to discard and cudgel . . .
Coxcombs and Mountebanks . . . of every kind.

[During this speech Peisthetairus keeps his eye quietly fixed upon the Astronomer.

Met. Perhaps . . . I had best withdraw.

Peis. Why, yes, perhaps . . .
But yet, I would not answer for it, neither;
Perhaps, you may be too late; the blows I mentioned
Are coming—close upon you—there they come!

Met. Oh, bless me!

Peis. Did not I tell you, and give you warning?
Get out, you coxcomb, find out by your Geometry,
The road you came, and measure it back: you'd best.1020

[Exit Meton.

A Commissioner from Athens advances with an air of importance and ascendency; like other consequential persons sent on a foreign mission, he wishes it to be understood that he considers it a sort of banishment.

Com. Is nobody here? None of the Proxeni,
To receive and attend upon me?

Peis. What's all this?
Sardanapalus[57] in person come amongst us!

Com. I come, appointed as Commissioner
To Nephelococcugia.

Peis. A Commissioner!
What brings you here?

Com. A paltry scrap of paper.
A trifling, silly decree, that sent me away
Here to this place of yours.

Peis. Well now! suppose,
To make things easy on both sides—could not you
Just take your salary at once; and so return,
Without any further trouble?1025

Com. Truly, yes,
I've other affairs at home: a speech and a motion,
That I meant to have made in the general assembly,
About a business, that I took in hand,
On the part of my friend Pharnaces, the satrap.

Peis. Agreed then, and farewell. Here, take your salary.

Com. What's here?

[Peisthetairus has held out his left hand as if with an offer of money, he grasps the right hand of the Commissioner, and with this advantage proceeds to buffet him.

Peis. A motion on the part of Pharnaces!1030

Com. Bear witness here! I'm beaten and abused
In my character of Commissioner! [Exit Com.

Peis. Get out!
With your balloting-box and all. It's quite a shame,
Quite scandalous! They send commissioners here[58]
Before we've finished our first sacrifice.

Enter a Hawker with copies of new laws relating to the colony, which he has brought out with him for sale. Like all itinerant vendors of literature, he is trying to attract purchasers by reciting and bawling out select passages from the papers in his hand. The sale of them is his only object; and he is quite unconscious that the specimen which he recites is applicable to an incident which has just occurred. He enters on the opposite side with the monotonous chant of a vendor of a last dying speech, confronting Peisthetairus, who is returning after having driven out the Commissioner.


Haw. "Moreover, if a Nephelococcugian
Should assault or smite an Athenian citzen" . . .1035

Peis. What's this? What's all this trumpery paper here?

Haw. I've brought you the new laws and ordinances,
And copies of the last decrees to sell.

Peis. (drily and bitterly). Let's hear 'em.

Haw. "It is enacted and ordained
That the Nephelococcugians shall use
Such standard weights and measures" . . .1040

Peis. Friend, you'll find
Hard measure here, and a heavy weight, I promise you,
Upon your shoulders shortly.

Haw. What's the matter?
What's come to you?

Peis. Get out, with your decrees!
I've bloody decrees against you, dire decrees.1045

[Drives him off.

Com. (returning). I summon Peisthetairus to his answer,
in an action of assault and battery,
For the first day of the month, Munichion.

Peis. Ha, say you so? You're there again! Have at you.

[Drives him off.

Haw. (returning). "And in case of any assault or violence,1050
Against the person of the Magistrate." . . .

Peis. Bless me! What you! You're there again.

[Drives him off.

Com. (returning again). I'll ruin you;
I'll lay my damages at ten thousand drachmas.

Peis. In the meantime, I'll smash your balloting-boxes.

Com. Remember, how you effaced the public monument,[59]
On the pillar, and defiled it late last night.

Peis. Pah! stuff! There seize him, somebody. What you're off, too.1055
Come, let's remove, and get away from hence,
And sacrifice our goat, to the Gods within doors.

It is to be feared that, without having it pointed out to him, the Reader will hardly be aware that in some of the following lines an attempt is made to imitate the effect of the spondaic passages in the original.


Chorus.Henceforth—Our Worth,
Our Right—Our Might,
Shall be shown,
Acknowledged, known;
Mankind shall raise
Prayers, vows, praise,
To the Birds alone.1060
Our employ, is to destroy
The vermin train,
Ravaging amain,
Your fruits and grain:
We're the wardens
Of your gardens,
To watch and chase
The wicked race,
And cut them snorter,
In hasty slaughter.1070

The first lines of the Epirrema are descriptive of the cruel madness of the times.—See Note on page 155. Diagoras was a Poet, a foreigner resident at Athens (being suspected of Atheism and consequently of being an accomplice in the imaginary plot), he was proscribed and a price set upon his head; it seems also that, in other instances which are alluded to, assassination was encouraged by public rewards.

The history of a similar period. The times of Titus Oates's plot (admirably described by Roger North in his Examen) may serve to illustrate the lines 13 and 14, the community in both instances remaining subject to a reign of terror under obscure wretches whose sole instrument of dominion was perjury; as it was necessary for those Sovereign Witnesses to extort respectable subsidiary evidence in support of their main system of perjury, threats and imprisonment were the means employed in both instances, as appears by the narrative of Andocides.


At the present urgent crisis, all your efforts and attention
Are directed to secure Diagoras's apprehension:
Handsome bounties have been offered of a talent for his head
Likewise, with respect to Tyrants (Tyrants that are gone and dead)
Bounties of a talent each, for all that can be killed or caught:1075
With a zealous emulation, we, the Birds, have also thought
Just and proper, to proclaim, from this time forth, that we withdraw
From Philocrates, the fowler, the protection of the law:
Furthermore, we fix a price, for bringing him alive or dead,
Four, if he's secured alive; a single talent for his head:
He, that Ortolans and Quails to market has presumed to bring;1080
And the sparrows, six a penny, tied together in a string,
With a wicked art retaining, sundry Doves in his employ,
Fastened, with their feet in fetters, forced to serve for a decoy;
Farther, we declare and publish our command to men below,
All the Birds you keep in prison, to release, and let them go.1085
We shall, else, revenge ourselves, and we shall teach the tyrants yet,
How to chirp and dance in fetters, in the tangles of a net.

Chorus.Blest are they,
The Birds alway,
With perfect clothing,1090
Fearing nothing,
Cold or sleet or summer heat.
As it chances,
As he fancies,
Each his own vagary follows,
Dwelling in the dells and hollows
When, with eager weary strain,
The shrilly grasshoppers complain,1095
Parched upon the sultry plain;
Maddened with the raging heat,
We secure a cool retreat,
In the shady nooks and coves,
Recesses of the sacred groves,
Many a herb, and many a berry
Serves to feast, and make us merry.1100


To the judges of the prize, we wish to mention in a word,
The return we mean to make, if our performance is preferred.
First then, in your empty coffers, you shall see the sterling owl,[60]1105
From the mines of Laurium, familiar as a common fowl;
Roosting among the bags and pouches, each at ease upon his nest;
Undisturbed, rearing and hatching little broods of interest:
If you wish to cheat in office, but are inexpert and raw,
You should have a kite for agent, capable to gripe and claw;1110
Cranes and Cormorants shall help you, to a stomach and a throat;
When you feast abroad, but, if you give a vile, unfriendly vote,
Hasten and provide yourselves, each, with a little silver plate,
Like the statues of the gods, for the protection of his pate;1115
Else, when forth abroad you ramble, on a summer holiday,
We shall take a dirty vengeance, and befoul your best array.

In the following Scene a foot messenger arrives at full speed from the new city, apparently in a state of great exhaustion. He communicates his important intelligence to Peisthetairus in a single gasp of breath—"Your fortification's finished!" The report which he makes of the building of a new Babylon by the nation of the Birds, as it considerably exceeds even that license of assuming possibilities which is the privilege of the ancient comedy, may lead us to examine the mode of humourous contrivance by which the Author has managed in some degree to maintain that balance between truth and falsehood, which I have (in another place) endeavoured to point out as essential to the character of all dramatic representations whether serious or comic.

The interest which we take in the development of moral truth and in the illustration of human character, is so much stronger than that which we attach to mere matter of fact, that where the two are combined (that is to say, where a supposed fact is made the foundation of a new and striking illustration of character), our attention is, generally speaking, wholly directed to the latter, and we are inclined to take the fact for granted; as we allow the scrawl, which a mathematician draws, to stand for a circle or square, our whole attention being absorbed in the acquisition of a general and a permanent truth. It is, we believe, an established axiom in the art of lying, that almost anything may be made credible of almost any person, provided that the imaginary facts are accompanied by a just representation of the behaviour of the person, such as it might be supposed to be under the alleged circumstances; and this will be more strikingly the case, if some trait of his character, not generally observed, but likely to be immediately recognised, is exhibited for the first time. It has been observed elsewhere, of the Aristophanic, or ancient comedy, that it is essentially a grave, humorous, impossible Great Lie, related with an accurate mimicry of the language and manners of the persons introduced. As the humour of a Narrative Lie is more easily comprehended than that of a dramatic one, we may venture to examine the drama, such as it would have appeared, if it bad been helped out, in some degree, by a narrative comment; if, like the explanatory Heroic Prologue in Henry the Fifth, the ancient comedy had made use of a buffoonish prologue, explanatory and preparatory to the different scenes. We might susuppose Aristophanes or his Prolocutor on this occasion to have said: "Gentlemen, the information, which I apprehend you will shortly receive of the progress of the new buildings at Nephelococcugia, may perhaps strike you as extraordinary. I should not be surprised, if, to some amongst you, it should appear little short of being absolutely incredible; but I would not have you rely entirely upon your own judgment. There is Peisthetairus, who has every means of information, and of whose abilities you can have no doubt: you will see him as much astonished as any amongst you; and you will see him so for the first and only time. But, will he disbelieve the fact? Far from it. Like the judicious amongst yourselves, he will not entertain the least doubt of it; on the contrary, unless I am very much mistaken in his character, you will be able to detect evident symptoms of jealousy and uneasiness at the idea of such an object having been accomplished, independently of his direction and superintendence; and indeed, not without reason; for, you will see, that both the Chorus and the Μessenger himself appear to abate something of their accustomed respect and deference to him. You will observe likewise, that the Messenger is far from anticipating the slightest incredulity, as to the general fact of the completion of the work of which he himself has been a witness; while he is apparently very anxious in his negative testimony, as to the total absence of any extraneous aid or assistance whatever."

Peisthetairus. Well, Friends and Birds! the sacrifice has succeeded,
Our omens have been good ones: good and fair.
Hut what's the meaning of it? We've no news
From the new building yet! No messenger!1120
Oh! there, at last, I see—There's somebody
Running at speed, and panting like a racer.

Enter a Messenger, quite out of breath; and
speaking in short snatches

Mess. Where is he? Where? Where is he? Where? Where is he?—
The president Peisthetairus?

Peis. (coolly). Here am I.

Mess. (in a gasp of breath). Your fortification's finished.

  1. Execestides is attacked again in this play, as a foreign barbarian arrogating to himself the privileges of a true-born Athenian.
  2. Tharrelides was nicknamed Jackdaw, and Euelpides, in contempt of his Jackdaw, calls it a Tharrelides! The Raven and the Jackdaw are characteristic. Peisthetairus is the bearer of the sagacious bird, his companion is equipped with a Jackdaw.
  3. Peisthetairus, it will be seen, allows his companion to put himself forward, with the newly discovered natives; remaining himself in the background as the person of authority, making use of the other as his harbinger; he allows him also to address the audience, not choosing to compromise himself by unnecessary communications. The full and complete account of their motives and design is, moreover, much better suited to the careless gossiping character of Euelpides.
  4. Acestor, a tragical poet, not being a genuine Athenian, was called Sacas from the name of a Thracian tribe. We may suppose that Peisthetairus must have accompanied this speech with a grave authoritative gesture indicative of assent and approbation.
  5. "To kick against the rock" was proverbial.
  6. The Trochilus has been unnecessarily communicative, and shewn himself a very simple sort of a Serving-man; Eu. has tact enough to discover this, and assumes the ascendancy accordingly.
  7. In his tragedy of Tereus, Sophocles had represented him as transformed (probably only in the last scenes) with the head and beak of a bird.
  8. Gallies with three banks of oars. The Athenians were at that time undisputed masters of the sea.
  9. The love of litigation and the passion for sitting on Juries, with the exception of a few who retained their old agricultural habits, had infected the whole Athenian community.
  10. Little or nothing is known of Aristocrates. He lived to the end of the war, and acted in concert with Thrasybulus against Critias. Dem. in Timoc.
  11. A humorous blunder. The Red Sea was in fact as inaccessible to ancient European navigation as the Caspian.
  12. The Salaminian galley had been sent to arrest Alcibiades, then one of the joint commanders in Sicily. This was one of the most fatal acts of that popular insanity which it was the poet's object to mitigate and counteract.
  13. A tragic poet, said to have been leprous, ridiculed elsewhere by the author, and by other comic poets, as Plato and Callias.
  14. Nothing is recorded of Opuntius, except that he was reckoned a poltroon, and was blind of one eye.
  15. The lines between inverted commas may be understood either as the words of Teleas or as a description of him; the ambiguity exists in the original and is evidently intentional. It is continued in the next line of the Hoopoe's answer.
  16. See in The Knights a similar instance of ridiculous stage effect, where the Sausage-seller is mounted on his stool to survey the Athenian Empire.
  17. The comic poets ridiculed the new prevailing passion for astronomical and physical science. See further on the Parabasis and the scene where Meton the astronomer is introduced.
  18. The Hoopoe's exclamation and oath are in the original, as they are here represented, exactly in the style of Bob Acres!
  19. The characteristic impertinence of a predominant people, considering their own language as that which ought to be universally spoken.
  20. A female performer on the flute, a great favourite of the public and with the poet, after a long absence from Athens engaged to perform in this play, which was exhibited with an unusual recklessness of expense.
  21. Nicias was at this time in the chief command of the Sicilian expedition, Alcibiades having been recalled. See note to line 147.
  22. The vast changes and improvement in the practice and the art of war which took place about this time were a subject of general speculation and remark. The concise allusions in the text are therefore somewhat enlarged in the translation.
  23. Thirteen lines, which unaccompanied by the action on the stage would appear tiresome and unmeaning, are here omitted from 387 to 400.
  24. A crown was worn by the public orators when haranguing the people, and also at feasts.
  25. The inverted commas mark the premeditatedly abrupt exordium of Peisthetairus's harangue.
  26. It was usual with the Greeks to put small pieces of silver coin in their mouths, a custom which the turnpike men of Great Britain continued to retain within the recollection of the writer.
  27. Of Lysicrates, the Scholiast only informs us that he was a person in office known to be in the habit of taking bribes, a description which in relation to those times is hardly a distinction.
  28. This speech seems more properly to belong to the Hoopoe.
  29. As a substitute for common swearing, some persons (Socrates among the rest) made use of less offensive expletives, swearing "by the dog or by the goose." Lampon was a soothsayer, and thought it right probably to be scrupulous in using the name of the god. He is mentioned again in this play.
  30. With the writers of the old Comedy, extreme voracity was the characteristic attribute of Hercules.
  31. The want of stability and good faith, both in the Government and individuals, obliged the Greeks to secure their monied capital by concealment. Hence the vast collections of ancient coin which appear in the cabinets of antiquarians.

    Observe the shallow shatter-brained character of Euelpides.

  32. The origin of this notion of life being transferable, cannot be accounted for; in the form of a wish, it appears to have been common.
  33. This speech must belong to the Hoopoe. Aristophanes would not leave the result of the scene to be summed up by such a silly fellow as Euelpides. We see besides that Peisthetairus replies to it. He never replies to Euelpides.
  34. There can be no doubt that this speech belongs to the Chorus, though it may seem difficult to account for what is said of the sceptre, which it should seem ought rather to belong to the king. The Hoopoe, in answer, alludes to the inveterate vice of all Choruses—dawdling and inefficiency.
  35. The Athenians were at that time disappointed at Nicias's delay in not advancing immediately against Syracuse.
  36. Peisthetairus answers like a man of sense. Euelpides like a simpleton, and we see the effect of it on the king's mind. There is a momentary pause in the invitation, before they are both included in it.
  37. Peisthetairus has shown that he is not deficient in valour upon compulsion. But a character of extreme subtlety is always prone to suspicion, and the recollection of an example derived from ancient documents in Æsop's Fables, intimidates him for a moment, and makes him distrustful of the frank invitation of the king. He is then very much ashamed of himself, and, like Bacchus and Master Slender, begins giving orders to his servants, and is importunate and hurried and absurd. Thus the poet, who wanted some lines of strong importunity to mark the entrance of his favourite Musician, has contrived to give them to his principal personage, and at the same time to mark his character itself more distinctly, by this momentary failure of his habitual self-possession, originating in the apprehension of having lowered himself in the estimation of his host.
  38. These slaves do not appear elsewhere in the play; it might be doubted whether they appear here and whether Peisthetairus does not call for them in mere nervous absence of mind.
  39. 39.0 39.1 See what is said in the Preface. She had been engaged for this performance, and was newly arrived.
  40. The series of short lines at the end of a Parabasis was to be repeated with the utmost volubility and rapidity, as if in a single breath. A comic effect is sometimes produced in this way on our own stage.
  41. Already noted as a foreigner in the first scene of this play.
  42. The posthumous celebrity of Patroclides is not confined to this single event. He survived the accident many years, and was the author of a very salutary decree upon the principles advocated by the Poet in the Epirrema of The Frogs, but (as in the instance before us) he was again fatally too late. The decree was not passed till after the destruction of the navy at Ægos Potamos.
  43. His property consisted in a manufactory of this kind, by which he had grown rich.
  44. This is the sort of raillery which Bacchus prohibits in the contest between Euripides and Æschylus, and of which we have a specimen in The Wasps, v. 1308. Some modern traveller has told us that abusive similes in alternate extempore verse, serve for an amusement, at this day, to the boatmen of the Nile.
  45. Æschylus alludes to a fable in which an eagle complains of being wounded by an arrow feathered from his own wings.
  46. Sparto still retains its name, and is still used for mattresses and occasionally for cordage.
  47. Many Athenians (as Miltiades, Alcibiades, and Thucydides the historian) were proprietors of large estates in the Chersonese and along the coasts of Thrace: Theagenes, it seems, and Æschines, boasting of wealth which they did not possess, chose to talk of their estates in Thrace. In the last century the West Indies was the usual locality assigned to fabulous estates. Thrace was also mythologically fabulous as the field of battle between Jupiter and the Titans.
  48. See Knights, note on l. 56.
  49. Ridiculed for his effeminacy in various comedies.
  50. Chœris, a bad musician, (the constant butt of the comic poets), is called for, to complete the shabbiness of the performance. His representative, the Crow (who is the Chœris among the birds), sounds some discordant notes till Peisthetairus stops him.
  51. Of Cleocritus nothing is known, except that he was unfortunate in his figure, which was thought to resemble that of an ostrich.
  52. Ridicule of the vulgar reality, the poor half-starved sheep being standing on the stage.
  53. Slaves were forbidden to wear long hair.
  54. The Scholiast informs us that these lines are in ridicule of certain mendicatory passages in the Odes of Pindar; one in particular, addressed to Hiero on the foundation of a new city.
  55. See l. 1024 of The Knights, where there is the same allusion to disputes on the authentic copies of Oracles.
  56. The breaks in the text . . . may serve to indicate what was more distinctly expressed by the actor, viz., that Peisthetairus's Oracle is an extempore production.
  57. A name proverbial for pomp and luxury.
  58. Peisthetairus, in expectation of the Commissioner's return, is working himself into a proper state of wrath in order to be ready for him. Mere gratuitous complaint would not be suitable to his character.
  59. The sort of accusations which were current at the time similar to those of the mutilation of the Hermæ. Peisthetairus does not take any notice or bestow a whole line upon his accuser; the last words of the verse are addressed to the Hawker.
  60. The figure of an owl stamped on the coin of Athens.