A play by Aristophanes, revised and illustrated by Ayal Pinkus
Euelpides and Pisthetaerus walk through a wild, desolate countryside with broken rocks and brushwood all around them.
carries a basket with pots and pans and follows a jay, and follows a crow.
(To his jay)So now you're telling me to walk to that tree, over there?
(To his crow)Damned beast! Are you now telling me that I should go back? Make up your mind!
We are exhausted, you horrible bird! We have been wandering around for days now, and you keep directing us back to the same spot!
Why did I listen to this stupid crow! It has made us walk for more than one hundred miles!
I agree. Why did I listen to this jay when all it does is infuriate me!
If I only knew where we were...
You don't know how we could go back to our home city?
Yes, my friend, I'm afraid we're lost.
That horrible bird-seller!
He made us believe that these two guides could lead us to His Hoopoeness, the bird who was once the human king Tereus.
He sold me this jay for a silver coin, and you that crow for three, but what can these birds do?
Their directions don't make any sense.(To his jay)What do you want us to do now?
Do you want us to fling ourselves head-first down these rocks? There is no road that way!
There's not even a hint of a track in any direction.
And what does the crow say about the road we should follow?
Wait, it wants to tell me something.
Oh, pray tell.
What does it want us to do now?
Oh, never mind. It's just biting my fingers.
We left our city to find the birds, but we haven't had much luck so far. (To the reader)It's not that I hate the city we come from.
I mean, we both come from respected and wealthy upper-class families, but the Athenians spend their whole lives in lawsuits, with lots of snitches running around to tell on you. I'm just fed-up with all of it.
I hate life there so much, and it just makes me long for the peace and quiet of the countryside!
And so here we are, far away from home with only a basket and a stew-pot, in search of a quiet place in the countryside where we can settle.
We're looking for His Hoopoeness, the human king who once turned into a bird.
He must have flown around a lot.
Maybe he knows a quiet place where we can live in peace.
The crow has been pointing me to something up there for some time now.
And the jay is also opening its beak and craning its neck to show me something.
Clearly, there are some birds over there.
We will know for sure if we make a noise to startle them.
Do you know what you should do? You should knock your leg against this rock.
I have a better idea: why don't you hit your head against that rock instead. It will make a louder noise.
Well, then, use a stone instead.
Why didn't I think of that!
grabs a stone and starts hammering hard with it on a rock.
Hey there! You! Servant! Servant!
What are you doing! You are yelling, “servant,” to summon His Hoopoeness! It would be much better if you shouted, “His Hoopoeness, His Hoopoeness!”
Well then, okay. His Hoopoeness! Must I knock again? His Hoopoeness!
Who's there? Who calls my master?
(Looking at )
Wow, you have an enormous beak!
(Looking at and )
Good god, evil bird catchers!
He is scary.
What a horrible monster.
You don't have to fear us.
We want to be a part of the bird community.
But you, yourself, in the name of God! What kind of an animal are you?
Why, I am a servant-bird.
When my master was turned into a bird, he begged me to become a bird also, to follow and to serve him.
Why would a bird need a servant?
It is probably because he used to be a human.
Sometimes he wants to eat a plate full of small fish; and then I take a plate and fly away to fetch him some.
And sometimes, when he wants some pea-soup, I grab a ladle and a pot and I run to get it for him.
Would you be so kind as to please call your master for us?
But he has just fallen asleep after he ate too many berries.
Doesn't matter; I want you to wake him up.
I think he will be angry if I do, but I will wake him up anyway, just to please you.
Good God, that was one scary bird!
Oh no! I was so scared of him that I lost my jay!
Ah! You big coward!
Were you so afraid that you let your jay go?
And I suppose you didn't lose your crow when you fell to the ground?
It... flew away, all by itself.
And you didn't stop it from leaving? You're such a coward yourself!
HIS HOOPOENESS springs from the forest.
Forest, open yourself to me so that I may go out!
By Heracles! What an amazingly beautiful creature! What plumage! What is this crown formed by a triple plume on his head?
The gods have not treated you well, it would seem to me!
Are you mocking me because of my feathers? I will have you know that I have been a man, strangers.
It is not you we are poking fun at.
It is your beak. It looks so... odd.
Oh, the tragedy of having been turned into a bird. It outrages me!
Know that I once was Tereus, a human king.
But what are you now? A bird, a peacock?
Then where are your feathers? Because I don't see them.
No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter. And other feathers grow in their place.
But tell me, who are you?
We? We are just mere mortals.
From the city of the beautiful galleys, Athens.
Are you jurors at some court of law?
No, if anything, we are anti-jurors.
Then there is such a thing as an anti-juror?
Yes, we exist, but you have to look really hard to find even a few of us in Athens.
And what brings you here?
We wished to pay you a visit.
We seek your advice, for the following reasons:
You used to be a man, like we are, and you used to have debts, like we have, and you used to not want to pay them, like we don't, now.
In addition, as you have turned into a bird, you have seen all the land and the seas while you were flying around.
That means you have all the knowledge of the humans as well as that of the birds.
And hence, we have come to you to beg you to direct us to some cosy town where we can live the easy life.
And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?
No, not a greater city, but rather one that is more pleasant to live in.
Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.
Me? Oh, god no!
I am afraid of the wars they fight.
So, then, what sort of city would please you the most?
A place where spending time with friends and family would be the most important thing one could do.
And what is your answer?
Ah, I see.
Well, there is a city full of the delights you are looking for. It is on the Red Sea.
Oh, please, no. Not a sea-port where galleys appear every morning, bringing officials of the Athenian Republic with them.
Don't you have a Greek town you can suggest to us?
Why not choose Lepreum in Elis to live in?
I'd rather not! I don't like the people who live there.
Then there are the Opuntian, among whom you could live.
I do not want to be be an Opuntian, either.
But tell us, what is it like to live with the birds?
You probably know really well.
Well, It is not a disagreeable life.
For starters, one has no wallet.
That alone would solve many problems, indeed.
For food, the gardens yield us white sesame, berries, poppies, and mint.
Well, that sounds like being pampered on a honeymoon.
Ha! I have a great idea!
And if you follow my advice, my plan will make the birds supremely powerful.
And your advice would be?
Well, to begin with, don't just fly around aimlessly; that is not smart.
When we humans see a thoughtless man wandering about, we think of him as someone who has lost his mind.
Your are right!
But what, then, should we do?
You should build a new city.
We birds, build a city?
But what kind of city should we build?
Oh, really? You must be a fool!
Now turn your head around.
Ah! This will be unpleasant for me if I end up twisting my neck!
Exactly! And is that not the territory of the birds?
How is this their territory?
Or, if you prefer, their land. Your territory, the clouds and the sky, cover the whole earth. If you build a wall around it to fortify it, you will turn your territory into a fortified city.
That way, you will reign over humankind the same way you already do over the grasshoppers, and you will cause the gods in the sky to die of raging hunger.
The air is between earth and heaven.
When we humans want to go to Delphi, we have to ask the Boeotians for permission to pass through.
In the same way, when men sacrifice to the gods, the smoke of the sacrifices passes through your territory, the sky and clouds, and unless the gods pay you, the birds, you can exercise your right to stop the smoke of the sacrifices from passing through your city and territory.
The sacrifices would never reach the gods.
My goodness! I have never heard of anything so clever! If the other birds approve, I am going to build the city along with you.
Who will explain this to them?
You must do it yourself. Before I came here, they were quite ignorant, but since I have lived with them for a while now, I have been able to teach them to speak.
But how can they be gathered together?
Easily. I will hasten to the trees to wake up the birds. As soon as they hear our voices, they will come flying to us as quickly as they can.
My dear bird, please, hurry. Fly into the forrest and awaken all the birds immediately.
flies off. A bird begins singing in the distance.
Oh! What a great throat that little bird possesses. He fills the whole forrest with a honey-sweet melody!
His Hoopoeness is going to sing again.
(In the forrest, singing)
Quick, quick, my fellow birds!
All who plunder the fertile
lands of the humans,
hurry, come here!
And you too, seagulls
who flit over the swelling
waves of the sea,
come here to listen to us.
And also let all the long-
necked birds assemble here;
know that a clever old man
has come to us,
bringing an entirely new idea
and proposing great reforms.
Let all the birds come
to the debate here!
I am looking at the skies, but I really can't see any.
It was really not worth His Hoopoeness' time to dive into that forest.
A pink, red-beaked, long-necked bird arrives and rests on one leg.
Wait, here's another bird.
Oh, wow! He is very handsome with his wings as crimson as a flame.
Yes, I believe so!
What kind of bird would this be?
His Hoopoeness will tell us.
What type of bird is this?
It is a bird from the marshes.
This one is called a flamingo.
Because there's another bird over there.
And this appears to be a foreign bird too.
It seems to have come from beyond the mountains.
It looks as solemn as it looks stupid.
What kind of bird is this?
Another hoopoe bird arrives.
And here's another bird with a crown.
Ah! That's interesting. That means, His Hoopoeness, that you are not the only one of your kind?
This bird is the son of my son, so I am his grandfather.
It appears he has lost a lot of his feathers!
That's because he is honest. The snitches preyed on him, and the women too, who plucked out his feathers.
Wow, do you see that bird with many colors? What is his name?
That one? That is the glutton.
And that swarm of birds gathering over there!
Yes! They're flying so close together that you can barely see the trees.
And there is a francolin!
Here is a kingfisher. And over there?
Who would be dumb enough to bring an owl to Athens? That city is already full of them!
There is a magpie, and there a turtle-dove, a swallow, a horned owl, a buzzard, a pigeon, a falcon, a ring-dove, a cuckoo, a red-foot, a red-cap, a purple-cap, a kestrel, a diver, an ousel, an osprey, a woodpecker.
Oh! So many birds!
So many blackbirds, too!
And how loud they caw, how fast they approach us!
What a noise! what a noise!
Are they here to hurt us?
They are opening their beaks and staring at us.
A CHORUS OF BIRDS arrives.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Who summoned us? Where are we to find him?
I have been waiting for you for so long! I didn't call on you for nothing. I have something to tell you.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:What is it that you have to tell us?
Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as pleasant as it has purpose.
Two men, who are nuanced reasoners, have come here in search of me.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Where? What? What are you saying?
I am saying that two old men have come from the abode of men to propose a vast and splendid scheme to us!
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Oh! Men among us! That is a horrible, it's a crime unheard of! What are you saying?
No! Don't worry. Don't let my words scare you.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:What have you done, then?
I have welcomed two men who wish to live with us.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:How dare you!
And I am delighted for having done so.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Where are they?
They are in your midst, right now, as I am.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:What? We have been betrayed!
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Our friend, he who picked up corn-seeds in the same plains as we did ourselves, has violated our ancient laws.
He has broken the oaths that bind all birds; he has laid a trap for us and handed us over to the attacks of that disgraceful race which, through the ages, never ceased to war against us.
As for this traitorous bird, we will decide what to do with him later, but the two old men shall be punished immediately; we are going to tear them to pieces!
You are the sole cause of all my problems. Why did you bring me here?
Or rather to see me melt into tears?
Don't be silly!
You are talking rubbish.
Well, how would you be able to cry if your eyes were pecked out?
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Move forward and attack!
Throw yourselves upon the enemy, spill his blood;
Fly around and surround them from all sides.
Let them suffer!
Let us get to work with our beaks, let us devour them.
Nothing can save them from our wrath, neither the mountain forests, nor the clouds that float in the sky, nor the foaming deep waters.
Come, peck, tear them to pieces.
Where is the chief of the cohort?
Let him engage with my right wing.
This is the fatal moment.
Where shall I flee to, unfortunate idiot that I am?
So that they may tear me to pieces?
And how do you think you can escape them?
Come, I will tell you.
We must stop and fight them. Let us arm ourselves with these stew-pots.
The owls will see our stew-pots and recognize that we are Athenians and they know we revere them.
They will not attack us.
But can you see all those hooked claws all around us?
Grab the spit and pierce the enemy on your side.
Protect them with this plate or this vinegar-pot.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Forward, forward, charge with your beaks!
Come, do not delay.
Tear, pluck, strike, flay them, and, above all, smash that stew-pot.
Oh, most cruel of all animals, why tear these two men to pieces, why kill them? What have they done to you?
They belong to my tribe, and to the same family as my wife.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Are wolves to be spared?
Are humans not our most mortal enemies?
So let us punish them.
They may be your enemies by nature, but these two men are your friends in heart, and they come here to give you useful advice.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Advice! From them! The enemies of our ancestors!
The wise can often benefit from the lessons of an enemy, for caution is the mother of safety.
An enemy can often teach you things you can not learn from a friend.
For example, it's the enemy armies and not the city's friends that taught cities to build high walls and to equip long vessels for war.
And it is this knowledge that protects children, servants, and wealth.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Well, then, we agree. Let us first hear them out.
Maybe we can even learn something from our enemies.
Their anger seems to cool. Draw back a little.
You're doing the right thing, and you will thank me later.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:We have always heeded your advice.
They are in a more peaceful mood now.
Let's put down our stew-pot and our two plates.
But let's stay near them, because we can't flee.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Return to your ranks and lay down your courage beside your anger as the Hoopoes do.
Let us ask these two men who they are, where they came from, and why they are here.
His Hoopoeness, answer me.
Are you addressing me?
What do you want from me?
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Who are these two men, and where are they from?
They are strangers who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:And what fate has led them here to the land of the birds?
Their love for you, and their wish to share your way of life. They want to live with you forever.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Really. And what are their plans?
Their plans are wonderful, incredible, and amazing.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Do they think they can gain some advantage?
Are they hoping to defeat their enemies with our help, or for us to be useful to their friends?
They speak of benefits so great that it is impossible to describe or imagine them.
In short: everything that you see around you shall be yours; everything that is here, there, above and below us.
That is what they are promising us.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Are they crazy?
No. They are the sanest people in the world.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Clever men?
They are the slyest of foxes, they are cleverness incarnated, men of the world, cunning, the cream of the intellectuals.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Tell them to speak, and to speak quickly because what you are telling us really excites us!
(Addressing two servants)You two there, take all these weapons and hang them up inside, close to the fire, near the figure of the god who presides there and under his protection.
As for you: address the birds. Tell them why I have gathered them together.
I won't, unless the birds agree not to bite me or tear me apart or scratch out my eyes.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:We swear, and in return, after you have finished talking, if we are not satisfied, we shall claim victory.
CHORUS OF BIRDS: (To )
We don't trust you, but we are willing to listen.
Maybe you can show us a clever new way to increase our power?
It's in your own best interest, as well as ours, because if you give us some advantage over others, we will, of course, share it with you.
But what could possibly have been the reason for you to visit us?
Be honest. We will not attack you. At least, not until you told us everything.
I am bursting with desire to speak.
Then what are you waiting for?
I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break down the hardness of their hearts.
(To the birds)I grieve so much for you, who were kings once—
CHORUS OF BIRDS:We were kings? Over whom?
—over everything that exists!
To begin with, right now, you are kings over me and over this man, and even over the God Zeus himself, because your race is older than Saturn, the Titans and the Earth.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Is our race older than the Earth?
CHORUS OF BIRDS:By Zeus, we didn't know that!
That is because you have never read Aesop's Fables.
Because if you had, you would have known that he tells us that the lark was born before all the other creatures, indeed even before the Earth existed.
His father died of sickness, but the Earth did not exist at that point.
The father remained unburied for five days.
Then, the bird, who wrestled with this dilemma, decided, for lack of a better place, to bury its father in its own head.
And so, if we existed before the Earth, before the gods even, the kingship belongs to us by right of seniority.
But you had better sharpen your beak, because Zeus won't be in a hurry to hand over his sceptre to woodpeckers.
I have lots of proof that it wasn't the gods but the birds who were formerly the masters and kings over mankind.
First of all, I will point you to the cock, who governed the Persians before all other monarchs, before Darius and Megabyzus.
It is in memory of his reign that he is called the Persian bird.
It is for this reason, also, even today, that he alone, of all the birds, wears his tiara straight on his head, like the Great Persian King.
The bird was so strong, so great, so feared, that even now, on account of his ancient power, everyone jumps out of bed as soon as the cock crows at daybreak.
And as a result, blacksmiths, potters, tanners, shoemakers, bathmen, corn-dealers, lyre-makers and armourers, all put on their shoes and go to work before daylight.
I can tell you something about that, because it was the cock's fault that I lost a splendid tunic of Phrygian wool.
I was at a feast in town to celebrate the birth of a child. I had drunk pretty freely and I had just fallen asleep when a cock, I suppose in a greater hurry than the rest, began to crow in the middle of the night.
I thought it was dawn and set out for Alimos.
I had hardly gotten beyond the walls of the city when a thief struck me in the back of my head with his stick.
Down I went.
I wanted to shout, but he had already made off with my mantle.
Before that, also, the bird of prey was the ruler and king over the Greeks.
And when he was king, it was he who first taught them to kneel before the birds of prey, as their appearance signalled the return of springtime.
The cuckoo was king of Egypt and of the whole of Phoenicia, because when he called out “cuckoo,” all the Phoenicians would hurry to the fields to reap their wheat and their barley, as the cuckoo makes its appearance around harvest-time.
And hence, no doubt, the proverb, “when the cuckoo sings, we go harvesting.”
The birds were so powerful, that the kings of Grecian cities, Agamemnon, Menelaus, for instance, carried a bird on the tip of their sceptres, and these tips were often given as presents.
I didn't know that, and I was very surprised when I saw Priam on the theater stage in the tragedies with a bird that kept watching Lysicrates to see if he got any presents.
But the strongest proof of all is that Zeus, who now reigns, is represented as standing with an eagle on his head as a symbol of his royalty; his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, his servant, has a hawk.
By Demeter, you have spoken well. But what are all these birds doing in heaven?
When any one human sacrifices an animal to the gods and, according to the rite, offers the animal intestines to these gods, the birds take their share before Zeus.
Before that, men had always sworn by the birds and never by the gods. Even now, Lampon swears by the goose when he wants to lie down.
So it is clear that even though you birds were once great, formidable, and sacred, you are now looked upon as servants, as fools.
Stones are thrown at you the same way they do at raving madmen, even in holy places.
A crowd of bird-catchers sets traps, twigs with glue, and nets of all sorts to catch you.
When you are caught, you are sold in heaps and the buyers finger you over to be sure that you are fat enough.
And if they would only serve you up simply roasted!
But no, they rasp cheese into a mixture of oil, vinegar and herbs, to which another sweet and greasy sauce is added, and the whole is poured scalding hot over your back.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Man, your words have made our hearts bleed.
We groaned over the betrayal of our fathers who had failed to pass the high ranks they held from their forefathers on to us.
But it is a benevolent Genius, a happy Fate, that sends you to us!
You shall be our deliverer and we place the destiny of our little ones and of our own in your hands with utmost confidence.
But hasten to tell us what must be done; because we would not be worthy to live, if we did not seek to regain our royalty by every possible means.
My advice is for the birds to gather together in one city, to build a wall of bricks around the air and the whole region of space that divides earth from heaven.
Oh, birds! What an amazing idea!
Then, when this has been done and completed, you demand back the empire from Zeus.
If he does not agree, if he refuses and does not at once surrender, you declare a sacred war against him and from that moment on, you forbid the gods to pass through your sky and clouds, as they had been freely doing until now.
If they try to pass through your territory, you put them in chains.
And you send another messenger to humankind, and you will announce to them that the birds are now the kings, and that in the future, they must first sacrifice to the birds, and only after that to the gods.
It is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird it has the most in common with.
For instance, if they are sacrificing to Aphrodite, then let them at the same time offer barley to the coot.
And if they are sacrificing a lamb to Poseidon, then let them dedicate wheat in honour of the duck, because water is the duck's domain as well as Poseidon's.
If a steer is offered to Heracles, then let honey-cakes be dedicated to the gull because the gull, like Heracles, is voracious.
And when a goat is slain for King Zeus, there is a King-Bird, the wren, to whom the sacrifice of a male mosquito should be given even before offering to Zeus.
This notion of punishing the gods delights me! And now, let the great Zeus thunder!
But how will humankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who have wings and fly?
That is nonsense!
Hermes is a god and he has wings, and so do many other gods.
For example, Victory flies with golden wings, and I am sure Eros has wings too, and Homer compares Iris to a timid dove.
If men, in their blindness, do not recognize you as gods and continue to worship the dwellers in Olympus, then a cloud of sparrows that are greedy for corn must descend upon their fields and eat up all their seeds.
We shall see then if the God Demeter will offer them any wheat during harvest time.
I am sure she will not, and you will see her come up with a thousand excuses.
The crows, too, will prove themselves useful by pecking out the eyes of the flocks and of the other animals owned by the humans.
Oh, no! Don't do that!
Wait until I sold my two young bulls!
If, on the other hand, they do recognize that you are God, and that you do rule over everything, then they will be lavished with rewards.
And how would we reward them?
For starters, the locusts will not eat up their vine-blossoms because a legion of owls and kestrels will devour them before they can.
Moreover, the mosquitos and the gall-bugs will no longer ravage the figs; a flock of thrushes will swallow all of them, down to the very last one.
And how will we make humans wealthy? That is what they want the most.
When they ask you, you will point them to the richest mines. And you will show boat owners where they can go to sell their goods, and not one shipwreck will ever happen again, or any sailor ever perish again.
No sailor will ever perish? How are we going to achieve that?
When humans ask the birds for advice, at least one bird will say, “Don't leave! There will be a storm,” or it will say, “Go! You will have a very profitable venture.”
If that is true, I will buy a trading-vessel myself and go to sea! I will not stay here with you.
You will discover treasures for them, ones that were buried in the past, because you know where they are.
After all, don't all pirates say, “Only the birds know where I hid my treasure?”
I will sell my boat and I will buy a spade to unearth the treasure-filled vessels.
And how are we going to give them health, something only the gods can give them?
If they are happy, is that not the most important thing that will contribute to their health?
And how will humans grow old now, as only the gods can decide on that? Must humans now die young?
Well, the birds will add three hundred years to their lives!
From whom will they take these years?
From themselves, of course!
Don't you know that the cawing crow lives five times as long as a human?
Ah! These birds are far better kings for us humans than the great God Zeus!
far better, are they not? And, last but not least, we will not have to build temples made of stone for them, ones that are closed with gates of gold!
They will live amongst the bushes and in the thickets of green oak.
Even the most highly respected and revered birds won't need any temple other than the foliage of the olive tree.
We will not have to go to Delphi or to Ammon to sacrifice any more.
Instead, we shall, standing erect in the midst of arbutus and wild olives, and holding forth our hands filled with wheat and barley, beg them to allow us a share of the blessings they enjoy, and we will get them immediately, in exchange for just a few grains of wheat.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Old man whom we disliked at first, you are now to us the dearest man of all!
Never shall we, if we can help it, fail to follow your advice.
Inspired by your words, we threaten our rivals, the gods, and we swear that if you march in alliance with us against the gods and are faithful to our just, loyal and sacred bond, we shall soon have shattered their sceptre.
It is our role to take, it was yours to advise.
By Zeus! Let us waste no more time!
Let us act as quickly as possible... First, come with me and enter the nest I built with brushwood and blades of straw, and tell me your names.
Good! And may you fare well.
starts to leave.
Hey! Hello! Come back! How are we supposed to follow you? You can fly, but we can't.
Do you remember Aesop's fable that tells the story of the fox who did not end up too well, because he had made an alliance with the eagle?
Calm down. I will give you a special root to eat, and then wings will grow on your shoulders.
In that case, please lead us. Servants, pick up our baggage.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Take them off to dine well.
Lead the way, and may good fortune be with us.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
You weak mortals! Chained to earth, you are as frail as the foliage of the woods.
To us, you are but mere shadows on the ground.
We are immortal creatures, god-like, heavenly, forever young and absorbed in eternal thoughts.
Listen to us, and we shall tell you everything there is to know about all the matters between heaven and earth.
We shall also tell you everything there is to know about us, the birds.
What we are like. And how the formation of the gods, the rivers, and everything else began with us.
Even the wisest philosophers will envy you for your knowledge.
In the beginning, there was only Chaos, Night, Darkness, and the hell in the deep Underworld.
Earth, the Air and the Heavens did not exist yet.
Then, one day, the black-winged Night laid an egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of the Darkness.
After a long time, the egg hatched.
And from this egg sprang the graceful God called Eros, with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest.
He mated in the deep Underworld with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and from that, our race hatched forth, the race of the birds, which was the first to see the light.
The race of the Immortal Gods did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world.
And only then, from their marriage, could the Heaven, the Ocean, and the Earth be created, and from that, finally, the race of the gods sprang into being.
Therefore, our origin is much older than that of the Gods up in the sky.
We are the offspring of Eros; there is a lot of evidence to prove it.
And the services which we render to you, mere mortals! How important they are!
First of all, the birds mark the seasons for you: springtime, summer, autumn, and winter.
When the screaming crane migrates to Libya, it warns the farmer to sow, the boatsman to take his ease in his home, and the human to weave a tunic so that the rigorous cold may not drive him to steal clothes from others.
When the bird of prey reappears, he signals the return of spring and of the period when the fleece of the sheep must be clipped.
Is the swallow in sight?
Then everyone should hasten to sell their warm tunic to buy some light clothes.
We are your gods, we are your oracles; we are your Ammon, your Delphi, your Dodona, your Phoebus and Apollo.
Before undertaking anything, whether a business transaction, a marriage, or the purchase of food, you consult the birds.
With you, even a word is an omen, you call a sneeze an omen, a meeting an omen, an unknown sound an omen, a servant or an ass an omen.
You therefore also listen to all the signals we give you. Everything we do is an omen to you.
Is it not clear to you that we are your prophetic Apollo?
If you recognize us to be your gods, we will be your divining Muses.
Through us, you will know about the weather; the winds and the seasons, the summer, the winter, and the temperate months.
We will not hide behind the highest clouds like Zeus does, but instead, we will dwell among you.
And we will give you health and wealth, a long life, peace, youth, laughter, songs and feasts to you and to your children and the children of your children.
In short, we will make sure that all of you humans will be so well off, that you will be comfortable, mellow, and satiated with enjoyment.
Understand that everything that is disgraceful and forbidden by law on earth is, on the contrary, honourable among us, the birds.
For instance, among you it is considered a crime to beat up other people, but with us, it is considered an estimable deed.
To us, it is fine to run straight at someone and to hit them, saying, “come, lift your claws if you want to fight.”
You condemn the servant who runs away, but to us, he is just like a spotted francolin.
Are you from a poor family? Among us, you can choose any other bird to be your mate, whether you're rich or poor.
Does a man want to escape through the gates of the city to flee from their enemy? Let him become a partridge, because among us, there is no shame in escaping as cleverly as a partridge.
And there is also nothing more useful and more pleasant than having wings.
For example, imagine a man who is dying of hunger!
If he were winged, he would fly off.
He could just go home to dine and come back with his stomach filled.
Someone who is desperate to relieve themselves would not have to soil their underwear. Instead, they could fly away, satisfy their needs, and return.
Is it not the most priceless possession to have, to be winged?
If there is anyone among you humans who wishes to spend the rest of their lives quietly among the birds, then let them come to us!
and return with wings.
(Looking at 's new wings)
Well, hello! What's this?
I have never seen anything so silly in my entire life.
You look ridiculous!
It's your wings. Do you know what you look like? You look like a goose painted by some amateur painter.
And you look like an un-shaven blackbird.
We did ask for this transformation.
Now tell me, what should we do next?
First, you must give our city a great and famous name, and then you must sacrifice to the gods.
Let's see. What shall we name our city?
Would you like to have a pretentious-sounding name? Shall we call it Sparta?
What? Call my town Sparta? Why, no, I would rather not lead an austere, Spartan life, even if I had nothing but bundles of straw to lay myself on.
Well then, what name do you suggest?
Some name borrowed from the clouds, from these lofty regions in which we live—in short, some well-known name.
Do you like the name Cloud-Cuckooland?
Oh my goodness! That truly is a brilliant name!
Is Cloud-Cuckooland the kind of city where inhabitants promise everything and never keep their word?
No, it shall rather be like a decent city, one that is protected by the gods.
Oh! That will be a splendid city!
But what god shall we choose to be its patron?
Whom shall we drape the sacred cloth over that we shall weave for them?
Why not choose the patron-goddess of Athens?
Oh, wow, yes, the same pattron-goddess!
If we chose that one female deity, that would anger the Athenian officials to no end, and that would be amazing!
And who will guard the walls around our new city?
One bird among us is of Persian descent, and this bird is considered the bravest and strongest of us all, a true fighting Cock.
Great! A noble cock! That would be a great choice of bird to defend our rocky home.
Come! Into the air you go to help the workers who are building the wall.
Carry up rubble.
Work hard there; mix the mortar, take up the baskets with building materials and then tumble down the ladder as fast as you can, and repeat.
Stand guard, and make sure the fire keeps smouldering beneath the ashes.
Go around the walls with a bell in hand to wake the guards who might have fallen asleep, and feel free to sleep there for a few minutes yourself.
And when building has finished, request two heralds to come and visit us here; one herald from the gods above, and the other from humankind on earth.
And for you; please feel free to remain here and do absolutely nothing. I hope you catch the plague!
Go, my friend, go to where I just sent you, because without you, my orders will probably not be obeyed.
As for me, I want to prepare the sacrifices to the new god, and I am going to summon the priest who must be at the ceremony.
Bring me the basket and the holy water.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
We shall do as you do, and we shall wish as you wish, and we beg you to send your powerful and solemn prayers to the gods, and in addition to castrate a sheep as a token of our gratitude.
Let us sing a chant in honour of the god.
Let us sing, sing, sing!
Enough with the singing!
Stop, and get to work!
A PRIEST arrives.
A Priest has arrived!
It is high time that we sacrifice to the new gods.
I will begin.
We pray to the Goddess of the fireplace of the birds, to the bird of prey who looks after the fireplace, and to all the other god and goddess-birds.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Oh! Pray to the hawk, sacred guardian of Sunium, oh, god of the storks!
PRIEST:We pray to the swan of Delos, to Latona the mother of the quails, and to Artemis, the goldfinch.
PRIEST:And to Bacchus, the finch and Cybele, the ostrich and mother of the gods and humankind.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Oh! Sovereign ostrich, grant health and safety to the Cloud-Cuckoolanders as well as to the most faithful allies of Athens—
The most faithful allies of Athens!
Don't make me laugh.
Athens has no allies.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:—to the heroes, and the birds, and the sons of heroes, to the porphyrion, the pelican, the spoon-bill, the redbreast, the grouse, the peacock, the horned-owl, the teal, the bittern, the heron, the stormy petrel, the fig-pecker, the titmouse—
You idiots! Why are you inviting the vultures and the sea-eagles?
Can't you see that a single bird of prey would chase away all the other birds?
Stop! stop! You are driving me crazy with your endless list.
Leave us, you with your headbands and everything.
I shall complete the sacrifice alone, by myself.
We have a problem.
It is crucial that I sing another sacred chant for the rite of the holy water, and that I invoke the immortals, or at least one of them, but I can only do that if you have some suitable food to offer him.
And from what I can see here, all you seem to have is nail clippings and hair.
Let us now rather send our sacrifices and our prayers to the winged gods.
A POET arrives.
POET:Oh, Muse! Why don't you celebrate your city Cloud-Cuckooland in happy songs?
Who do we have here?
Where did you come from?
Tell me, who are you?
POET:I am he whose language is sweeter than honey, the zealous slave of the Muses, as Homer has it.
You, a slave?
But you don't have long hair like a slave.
No, I don't.
But the fact of the matter is that all poets like me are the tireless slaves of the Muses, according to Homer.
Your hooded coat hides your face well.
But, poet, what ill wind drove you here?
POET:I have composed verses in honour of your Cloud-Cuckooland, a host of splendid dithyrambs and verses to be sung by maidens worthy of Simonides himself.
And how long ago did you compose them?
I have sung in honor of this city for a very, very long time!
A very long time indeed.
But how can that possibly be true!
With this sacrifice, I am only just now celebrating the founding of this city just right now.
I have only just named it!
POET:“Just as the chargers fly with the speed of the wind, so does the voice of the Muses take its flight.”
(To the reader)He will drive us crazy if we don't get rid of him somehow. Maybe he will leave us if we give him a present.
Hey! You there! You, with your fur coat and
Take off your fur coat and give it to this clever poet.
(To the POET)
Come, take this fur; you seem to me to be shivering with cold.
My Muse will gladly accept this gift.
But let us rehearse my verses now, so that you may remember them.
Oh! What a pest!
It seems to be impossible to get rid of him!
“Straton wanders among the Scythian nomads, but has no linen garment. He is sad at only wearing an animal's pelt and no tunic.”
Do you get what I am trying to say?
I understand. You want me to give you a tunic as well.
Hey! You! Take off yours; we must help the poet. (To the POET)
Come, take this tunic. And now, leave us.
I am going, and as I leave, I leave you with these verses, which I dedicate to this city:
“Phoebus of the golden throne, celebrate this ice-cold, freezing city which I have travelled through fruitful and snow-covered plains to reach.
The POET prances away.
Why are you singing about frost?
Thanks to the tunic, you will no longer feel cold.
Ah! How could this damned poet have found out about our city so quickly? (To the PRIEST)Priest, now come and take the holy water and walk around the altar.
PRIEST:Let us all be silent!
The PRIEST prepares to sacrifice a goat.
A PROPHET arrives.
PROPHET:Do not sacrifice the goat.
Who I am?
I am a prophet.
You terrible person, do not insult sacred things.
You should know that there is an oracle of Bacis which has made predictions about your city, Cloud-Cuckooland.
Why did you not tell me that before I founded my city?
PROPHET:The divine spirit was against it.
Well, it is best for us if we know what the oracle had to say.
PROPHET:“But when the wolves and the white crows shall dwell together between Corinth and Sicyon—”
Why would the Corinthians concern me?
That is how the oracle indicated the regions around the sky and the clouds, around your city.
“They must first sacrifice a white-fleeced goat to Pandora, and also give the prophet who first reveals my words a good hooded coat and new sandals.”
Are you not wearing sandals?
I am not finished.
“And besides this, also a goblet of wine and a good share of the intestines of the sacrificial goat.”
Of the intestines—is that what the oracle said?
I am not finished.
“If you do as I command, you shall be an eagle among the clouds. And if not, you shall be neither a turtle-dove, nor an eagle, or even a woodpecker.”
PROPHET:I am not finished.
What this oracle says is very different from what Apollo wrote to me:
“If an impostor comes without invitation to annoy you during the sacrifice of a goat and to demand a share of the victim, apply a stout stick to his ribs.”
PROPHET:You are talking nonsense.
“And don't spare him, even if he were an eagle from out of the clouds, or the great prophet Lampon himself or the great Diopithes.”
PROPHET:Is all of that written there?
Here, read it yourself, and then go and hang yourself.
beats the PROPHET with a stick.
PROPHET:Oh! What an unfortunate fool I am.
Go away, and take your prophecies with you.
The PROPHET escapes.
A LAND SURVEYOR arrives.
LAND SURVEYOR:I have come to help you.
Yet another pest! What have you come to do? What's your plan? What's the purpose of your journey?
LAND SURVEYOR:I want to survey the plains of the air for you and to parcel them into lots.
In the name of the gods, who are you?
LAND SURVEYOR:Who am I? I am Meton, the land surveyor who is known throughout Greece.
These are the tools I use for measuring the air.
In truth, the spaces in the air have precisely the form of a furnace.
With this bent ruler, I draw a line from top to bottom.
From one of its points, I describe a circle with the compass.
Do you understand?
With the straight ruler I set to work to inscribe a square within this circle.
In its center will be the market-place into which all the straight streets will lead, converging to this center like a star, which, although only orbicular, sends forth its rays in a straight line from all sides.
Meton, are you a wise man?
LAND SURVEYOR:Why do you ask?
Because I have some friendly advice for you:
Use your legs. Run.
LAND SURVEYOR:Why? What do I have to fear?
It's the same thing you have to fear in Sparta:
Strangers are beaten heavily with sticks and driven away while stones rain down on them as thick as hail.
LAND SURVEYOR:Is there an insurrection in your city?
LAND SURVEYOR:What's wrong then?
We have all agreed to sweep all quacks and impostors far away from our borders.
LAND SURVEYOR:Then I'm off.
(Beats him)I fear it is too late. The thunder growls already.
LAND SURVEYOR:Oh, why me...
The LAND SURVEYOR runs away.
I warned you.
Now, be off, and do your surveying somewhere else.
An INSPECTOR arrives.
INSPECTOR:Where are my bodyguards?
INSPECTOR:I have been arbitrarily chosen to come to Cloud-Cuckooland as an inspector.
An inspector! And who sent you here, you rascal?
INSPECTOR:A decree of the governor.
Will you just pocket your salary, do nothing, and be off?
Yes! That was my plan.
I am also urgently needed in Athens to attend the assembly, to protect the interests of the Pharnaces. (To the reader)They were smart enough to pay me a bribe.
(Beats the INSPECTOR)
Take this, then, and be off. See, here is your salary.
INSPECTOR:What are you doing! Do you know who I am?
Yes. You are the one who has to defend the Pharnaces at the Athenian assembly. You have no business here.
INSPECTOR: (To the others)You shall testify that he dared to hit me! Me! The inspector!
Leave now, at once!
This is unbelievable! They send us inspectors before we have so much as paid one sacrifice to the gods.
The INSPECTOR leaves.
An ANNOUNCER OF DECREES arrives.
ANNOUNCER OF DECREES:“If the Cloud-Cuckoolander does wrong to the Athenian—”
Now whatever are these stupid papers for?
ANNOUNCER OF DECREES:I am an announcer of decrees, and I have come here to tell you the laws of your new city.
The laws of our new city?
ANNOUNCER OF DECREES:“The Cloud-Cuckoolanders shall adopt the same weights, measures and decrees as the Olophyxians who groan under our rule.”
(Beats him)You shall groan like them.
ANNOUNCER OF DECREES:Hey! What do you think you are you doing?
(Kicks him away)Now will you leave us? And take your decrees with you! Because otherwise, I will let YOU experience some of MY decrees.
The INSPECTOR returns.
INSPECTOR:I have come to accuse Pisthetaerus of outrageous behavior.
Ha! My friend! Are you still there?
The ANNOUNCER OF DECREES returns.
ANNOUNCER OF DECREES:“Should anyone drive away the magistrates and not receive them, according to the decree duly posted—”
Are you also still here?
INSPECTOR:You will suffer! I'll have you condemned to a fine of ten thousand drachmae.
And I'll smash your face.
INSPECTOR:Do you recall that evening when you defecated against the column where the decrees are posted?
The INSPECTOR runs off.
Oh, so now you don't want to be here any longer?
Let us get inside as quickly as possible.
We will sacrifice the goat inside.
Pisthetaerus and the PRIEST leave.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
From now on, it is to us
that humans must direct their sacrifices and their prayers.
From now on, they shall obey our laws!
Nothing will escape our sight or our might. We can oversee the entire universe.
We shall preserve the nectar in the flower by destroying the thousands of voracious insects which attack the trees and feed on the seeds in the grounds.
We shall destroy those who ravage the balmy terrace gardens like a deadly plague.
All these gnawing, crawling creatures will perish under the lashes of our wings.
We now declare: “Praise him who kills the bird-seller, and even more so if he brings him to us alive, because bird-sellers skewer finches together, and then they sell them at the rate of a silver coin for seven.
They torture the thrushes by blowing them up so that they look bigger.
They stick their own feathers into the nostrils of blackbirds. They collect pigeons and shut them up and force them, tied in a net, to lure and capture other birds.”
And if anyone is keeping birds locked up in cages in his yard, then tell him to let them loose immediately.
Those who disobey, shall be seized by the birds and we shall put them in chains, so that we, in turn, may use them to lure and capture other men.
How lucky also, indeed, is the race of winged birds who do not need a coat in winter!
Neither do we fear the relentless rays of the fiery summer; when the divine grasshopper is intoxicated with the sunlight and when noon is burning the ground, we break out into beautiful melody.
Our home is beneath the foliage in the flowery meadows.
We winter in deep caverns where we frolic with the mountain nymphs, while in spring we despoil the gardens of the Graces and gather the white, virgin berry on the myrtle bushes.
We now want to speak to the judges about the prize we are going to award to you if you work with us. If you are favourable to us, we will shower you with gifts far greater than anyone else has ever received.
Firstly, no judge shall ever be without the owls they need. You shall see them homing with you, building their nests in your money-bags and laying coins.
In addition, you shall be housed like the gods, because we shall erect roofs over your dwellings.
If you hold some public post and you want to do a little stealing, we will give you the sharp claws of a hawk.
When you want to fine-dine, we shall provide you with the best crops.
But, if your judgements are against us, don't fail to cover yourselves with metal shields like they do with statues, or else, you had better watch out! Because the day will come that when you wear a white tunic, all the birds will soil it with their droppings.
The sacrifice of the goat was succesful.
But I see no messenger coming from the wall to tell us what is happening.
Ah! Here comes one running to us, out of breath as if he were running the marathon.
A MESSENGER arrives.
Where, where is he?
Where, where, where is he?
Where, where, where is he?
Where is Pisthetaerus, our leader?
MESSENGER:The wall is finished.
It is the most beautiful, the most magnificent work of art anyone has ever seen.
The gate is so broad that the two largest gods could easily pass each other in their chariots, even if they were drawn by steeds as big as the Trojan horse.
MESSENGER:Its length is one hundred stadia;
I measured it myself.
A decent length! And who built such a wall?
The birds did! It was only built by the birds.
No Egyptian brickmaker, no stone-mason, no carpenter assisted them. The birds did it all by themselves.
I could hardly believe my eyes. Thirty thousand cranes came from Libya with a supply of stones intended for the foundations.
The water-rails chiselled them with their beaks.
Ten thousand storks were busy making bricks; plovers and other water fowl carried water into the air.
And who carried the mortar?
MESSENGER:The herons did, in baskets.
But how could they put the mortar into baskets?
MESSENGER:Oh! That was a truly clever invention; the geese used their feet like spades; they buried them in the pile of mortar and then emptied them into the baskets.
Ah! All the great things feet can do!
You should have seen how eagerly the ducks carried the bricks.
To finish the wall, the swallows came flying with their beaks full of mortar and their trowel on their back.
Who would want paid servants after this?
But tell me, who did the woodwork?
The birds, again. And they were clever carpenters, too, the pelicans, because they squared up the gates with their beaks in such a way that one would have thought they were using axes; the noise was just like that of a dockyard.
Now the whole wall is tight everywhere, securely bolted and well guarded; it is patrolled, bell in hand to keep guards awake; the sentinels stand everywhere and beacons burn on the towers.
But I must run off to clean myself; the rest is your responsibility.
The MESSENGER leaves.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Well, look at that! Are you not astonished that the wall was completed so quickly?
By the gods, yes, and with good reason. It is really unbelievable.
But here comes another messenger from the wall to bring us some further news!
What a troubled look he has!
SECOND MESSENGER:Oh! Oh my!
A terrible thing has happened.
A god sent by Zeus has passed through our gates and has penetrated the realms of the air.
The jays, who are on guard during the day, hadn't noticed.
That is a disgraceful and criminal deed. Which god was it?
SECOND MESSENGER:We don't know that. All we know is that he has wings.
Why were there no guards sent at once?
We have dispatched thirty thousand hawks of the corps of the Athenian cavalry.
All the hook-clawed birds are moving against him; the kestrel, the buzzard, the vulture, the great-horned owl; they cleave the air so that it resounds with the flapping of their wings.
They are looking everywhere for the god, who cannot be far away.
And, indeed, if am not mistaken, he is now coming from over there.
Everyone arm themselves with slings and arrows!
Soldiers, come here, and shoot and strike!
Someone give me a sling so I can join!
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
A terrible war is breaking out between us and the gods!
Come, let each one of us guard the Air in which the clouds float.
Make sure that no god enters it without our knowledge.
Scan all sides with your glance. Listen!
I think I can hear the rustle of the swift wings of a god from heaven.
IRIS appears from above and stops her descent mid-air.
Hello, you woman! Where are you flying to?
Halt, don't move! Stay still!
Do not beat your wings even one more time!
Who are you, and where are you from? You must tell us!
I come from the home of the Olympian gods.
I am Iris, Goddess of the rainbow, messenger of the gods.
Order a buzzard to arrest her.
Arrest me? Don't make me laugh.
And what's with all these insults?
I don't understand what is happening.
Which gate did you take to pass through the wall, you lousy woman?
Through which gate? Well, I don't know...
Can you hear how she derides us.
Did you present yourself to the officers in command of the jays? Why don't you answer. Do you have a permit bearing the seal of the storks?
No head-bird gave you a safe-passage?
A safe-passage, to me? You idiot!
Ah! And so you slipped into this city on the sly and into these realms of air-city that doesn't belong to you.
And what other roads can the gods travel?
I have no idea, and I don't care. But they won't pass this way. And you still dare to complain!
You deserve to be punished to death.
I am immortal, you moron.
You would still have died. Oh! How could we possibly tolerate this! Imagine the entire universe obeying us while the gods continued to do whatever they wanted without understanding that they must now submit to our law?
Tell me, where are you flying to?
Me? I am the messenger of Zeus to humankind, and I am going to tell them to sacrifice sheep and oxen on the altars and to fill their streets with the rich smoke of burning fat.
Which gods? Well, I mean us, ourselves, the gods of heaven.
Men now see the birds as gods, and it is to them that they must now offer their sacrifices, and not to Zeus at all!
Oh! You idiot! Don't anger the gods, because you will end up terribly.
Zeus would annihilate your race; the lightning would strike you and consume both your body and the ports to your palace.
That is enough.
Be quiet, and listen to me.
Do you think I am a servant, and do you think you can scare me with your threats?
Know that if Zeus worries me again, I shall lead my eagles, who are armed with lightning, and reduce his dwelling and that of Amphion to cinders.
I shall send more than six hundred porphyrions clothed in leopards' skins up to heaven to fight against him.
And remember that in the past, just a single porphyrion gave him enough to do.
As for you, his messenger; if you keep annoying me, I will break your legs. Even though you are Iris, and despite my age, you will be amazed at what I am capable of.
May you perish, you horrible man!
You are dismissed.
Stretch your wings, or else watch out for storming birds!
If my father does not punish you for your insults...
Ha! Go elsewhere to roast weaker folk than us with your lightning.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:From now on, we forbid the gods, the sons of Zeus, to pass through our city, and the humans to send them the smoke of their sacrifices through our space.
It is strange that the messenger we sent to the humans has never returned.
A HERALD arrives.
HERALD:Oh, you honourable, blessed Pisthetaerus, you very wise man, illustrious man, gracious man, I bow deeply before your greatness—
HERALD:All the people are filled with admiration for your wisdom, and they award you this golden crown.
I accept it. But tell me, why do the people admire me?
Oh, it is because you founded such an illustrious city in the sky. The people hold you in such high esteem!
And now, many people burn with desire to live in this air city you created!
Before your city was built, all men had a mania for Sparta; long hair and fasting were held in honour, men became dirty like Socrates and they carried sticks.
But now, everything has changed!
As soon as the sun rises, they all jump out of bed together to search for food the same way you do.
The bird-madness is so obvious. Many people now even name themselves after birds.
There is an extraordinary food merchant who styles himself after the partridge; Menippus calls himself the swallow; Opuntius the one-eyed crow; Philocles the lark; Theogenes the fox-goose; Lycurgus the ibis; Chaerephon the bat; Syracosius the magpie; Midias the quail.
And, fair enough, Midias indeed does look like a quail that has been hit hard over the head.
Out of love for the birds, people now repeatedly sing all the songs that praise the swallow, the teal, the goose or the pigeon. Everywhere you look, you see wings, and at every event, you see lots of feathers.
That's what is happening down there right now.
Also, more than ten thousand folk will be coming here soon to ask you for feathers and hooked claws.
So make sure to supply yourself with enough wings for the immigrants!
Ah! By Zeus, we have to do something.
Leave as quickly as possible, and fill every basket you can find with wings.
My servant will bring them to me outside the walls, where I will welcome those who arrive.
The HERALD leaves.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:This town will soon be inhabited by a crowd of men.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Folk are more and more delighted with it.
Come, hurry up and bring them along.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:People will find everything that pleases them here; wisdom, love, beauty, the sweet face of gentle peace.
A SERVANT stumbles into sight.
Oh! You lazy servant! Why don't you hurry up?
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Let a basket of wings be brought speedily. Come, beat this servant as we do, and put some life into him; he is as lazy as an ass.
CHORUS OF BIRDS: (To the SERVANT)
You, Servant! Start by putting this pile of wings in order.
Divide them into three parts according to the birds from whom they came; the singing, the prophetic and the aquatic birds.
Then you must take care to distribute them to the men according to their character.
(To the SERVANT)
Oh, I can't keep my hands to myself any longer; you are such a slow and lazy servant. Now hurry up already!
CRIMINAL: (Hidden)Oh! How I hope I can become an eagle who soars in the skies! Oh! Might I fly above the azure waves of the barren sea!
Ha! It would seem the news was true; I do hear someone coming who is talking about wings.
The CRIMINAL sneaks nearer.
CRIMINAL:Nothing would be more amazing than to be able to fly. I burn with desire to live under the same laws as the birds; I am bird-mad and I flew to you, because I want to live with you and to obey your laws.
Which laws? The birds have many laws.
CRIMINAL:All of them; but the one that pleases me most is that among the birds, it is considered a fine thing to peck and kill someone.
That is true! According to our laws, that is fine.
CRIMINAL:And that is why I want to live here, because I want to kill others and steal their wealth.
But we also have a very old law that states,
“When the community of birds has supported you, then you must in return also support the other birds.”
CRIMINAL:It is hardly worth my while to come all this way to be told to take care of other people!
Don't worry, young friend.
Since you are so eager, I am going to give you these black wings.
In addition, I will give you some good advice that I received myself when I was young.
Don't strike other people.
Instead, take these wings in one hand and these spurs in the other; imagine you have a cock's crest on your head and go and mount guard and fight; live on your pay and respect the life of others.
Accept these wings.
CRIMINAL: (Accepts the wings)
By Bacchus! You have spoken well.
You have convinced me. I will follow your advice.
You're a gallant fellow! Very well, then! Fly to the walls of our city to help fight and protect us.
The CRIMINAL leaves.
A BARD arrives.
BARD: (Singing)“On my wings I soar off to Olympus; in its capricious flight my Muse flutters along the thousand paths of poetry in turn—”
This is a fellow who will need a whole shipload of wings.
BARD: (Singing)“—and being fearless and vigorous, it is seeking fresh outlet.”
Welcome, Bard. Why have you come here, and why are you walking in circles?
BARD:“I want to become a bird, a tuneful nightingale.”
Enough of that sort of ditty. Tell me what you want.
BARD:Give me wings and I will fly into the topmost airs to gather fresh songs in the clouds, in the midst of the vapours and the fleecy snow.
Gather songs in the clouds?
It is on them the whole of our modern-day art depends.
The most brilliant singers are those that flap their wings in empty space and are clothed in mist and dense obscurity.
To appreciate this, all you have to do is listen.
Oh no! Please, don't sing!
By Hermes! You will listen!
“I shall travel through thine ethereal empire like a winged bird, who cleaveth space with his long neck—”
BARD:“—as I soar over the seas, carried by the breath of the winds—”
Stop right now or I will strangle you.
BARD:“—now rushing along the tracks of Notus, now nearing Boreas across the infinite wastes of the ether.”
tries to strangle him, and the BARD moves out of his way each time that comes near him.
BARD:Ah! Old man, you're not very good at this!
Why? Are you not delighted to be moving through the air?
BARD:For you to treat me, a singing poet as renowned as I am, a bard for whom the rich tribes of Athens fight with each other, in this appalling manner!
Will you stay with us and form a chorus of winged birds?
You are making fun of me, that much is clear.
But know that I shall never leave you in peace if I do not have wings with which to traverse the air.
A SNITCH arrives, a young man wearing a ragged coat, the tatters of which hang down like wings.
The coat could not possibly protect him from the cold.
Oh swallow with the long spotted wings, tell me, who are these birds with luxurious feathers, who look so dumb to me?
I would have preferred to destroy the rich.
(Looking at the SNITCH)
Oh! It is truly an invasion of idiots that threatens us.
Here comes another one of them.
SNITCH:You, swallow with the long spotted wings, I summon you once more to answer me.
I think he's talking to his ragged coat!
He must be longing for the warmth of spring.
SNITCH:Where is he who gives out wings to all the people who come here?
It is I, but you must tell me what you want them for.
You don't want to know.
I just want wings, and therefore, you must give me wings.
Do you want to fly straight to a town where nice warm coats are made?
Well, okay, if you really want to know:
my job is to accuse the rich citizens of the islands, and to drag them before the courts and extract money from them.
I am an accuser of the islands, a snitch—
—a starter of lawsuits.
Hence I have a great need for wings to prowl around the cities so that I can find people that I can drag to court.
Would you be able to do a better job if you had wings?
Yes, and I would no longer need to fear pirates.
I could return with the cranes, loaded with a supply of lawsuits.
So you use all your youthful energy to destroy strangers?
Why shouldn't I?
I don't know how to do anything else.
There are honest ways of making a living at your age without all these dirty tricks.
SNITCH:My friend, I am asking you for wings, not advice.
And it is exactly my words that will give you wings.
SNITCH:And how can you give a man wings with your words?
Because that is how all flying starts.
Have you not often heard fathers say,
“It's astonishing how Diitrephes' advice has made my son fly to horse-riding.”—“Mine,” another might say, “has flown towards tragic poetry on the wings of his imagination.”
SNITCH:So words give you wings?
Words give wings to the mind and they make a man soar to heaven.
I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to a more honourable trade.
SNITCH:But I do not want to.
And how do you see your future?
I won't betray my upbringing.
From one generation to the next, we have lived by informing the authorities.
And that is why I want you to quickly give me some light, fast hawk or kestrel wings, so that I can call out the islanders, convey the accusation here, and then rapidly fly back there again on my wings to do it again.
I see. If you work that way, the victim will be convicted by a judge before he even had a chance to defend himself in court.
SNITCH:That's exactly right.
And while he is traveling across the sea, and on his way over here, you will be flying back to the islands to plunder his property.
SNITCH:You've hit the nail on the head. That is precisely my plan. I must go back and forth as fast as a humming bird.
I get the idea now. Wait, I believe I've got some fine 'Corcyraean wings.'
gets out a whip.
SNITCH:Oh no, why are you threatening me with a whip!
No, you don't understand—these are the wings that will make you fly!
applies the whip.
Take your flight, clear off, you miserable mutt, or you will soon see what comes of gossiping and lying.
The SNITCH leaves.
Come, let us collect our wings and leave.
The god PROMETHEUS arrives, wearing a mask.
Oh, I hope the god Zeus does not see me here!
Where is Pisthetaerus?
Ha! What's this?
A masked man?
Can you see any god behind me?
No, none. But tell me, who are you?
Can you please tell me what time it is?
The time? Well, it's past noon. Who are you?
So it is not morning anymore? Is it later now? That would be good. I hope it gets dark soon again, because I don't want Olympus to see me here.
On my word! But you are starting to bore me.
What is Zeus doing? Is he dispersing the clouds or gathering them? This is important to me, because the clouds prevent Zeus from seeing me.
Be careful now, or I might lose my patience.
Come, I will raise my mask and show my face.
Ah! It is you, Prometheus!
Stop! Stop! Don't talk so loud!
(Speaking louder)Why, what's the matter, PROMETHEUS?
Hush! hush! Don't call me by my name; you will be my ruin! If Zeus would see me here...
But, if you want me to tell you how things are going in heaven, take this umbrella and shield me, so that the gods don't see me.
be something Prometheus would do.
Come then, quickly, and don't be afraid. Talk to me.
Okay then, listen.
It's all over with Zeus.
Since you founded this city in the air.
There is not a man left now who sacrifices to the gods.
The smoke of the sacrificed animals no longer reaches us.
Not the smallest offering comes to us!
We are forced to fast as if we were at the festival of Demeter.
The barbarian gods, who are dying of hunger, are bawling like Illyrians and threaten to make an armed descent upon Zeus if he does not open markets where meat of the sacrificed animals is sold.
What? Are there are other gods besides you, barbarian gods who also live above Olympus?
If there were no barbarian gods, who would be the patron of Execestides?
And what is the name of these gods?
They're called the Triballi, and they are coarse men, obscene debauchees, and greedy parasites.
Ah, I see. And it is from that, I am sure, that we derive the expression 'trials and tribulations.'
Probably. But one thing that I can tell you for sure is that Zeus and the Triballi are going to send deputies here to negotiate for peace with you.
Now, I would advise you to not accept, unless Zeus restores the sceptre to the birds and gives you Basileia in marriage.
A very fine young damsel. She is the one who makes the lightning for Zeus; all things come from her: wisdom, good laws, virtue, the fleet, calumnies, the public paymaster and the silver coin treasury.
Ah! Then she is a sort of chief of staff to the god Zeus.
Yes, precisely. If he allows you to marry her, her almighty power will be yours.
That is what I have come to tell you; because you know that I do my best to please humans.
Oh, yes, I know!
It is thanks to you that we have fire so that we can roast our meat.
I hate the gods, as you know.
Yes, we know you always hated them.
Towards them I am a veritable misanthrope; but I must return quickly, so give me the umbrella; if Zeus should see me from up there, he would just think I was a human escorting young ladies.
POSEIDON appears, accompanied by HERACLES.
This is the city of Cloud-Cuckooland to which we have come as ambassadors.
Heracles, tell me, how do you think we should approach this?
I have already told you that I want to strangle the fellow who has dared to cross our path.
But, my friend, we are envoys of peace.
All the more reason why I wish to strangle him.
(To a SERVANT)
Hand me the cheese-grater; bring me the silphium for sauce; pass me the cheese and watch the coals.
Mortal human! I will have you know that you are now in the presence of two gods!
pretends not to have seen the gods at first, and pretends to be very engaged with his cooking.
Now I have to prepare my silphium pickle.
HERACLES softens at sight of the food—Heracles is a glutton.
These are birds that have been sentenced to death for attacking the people's friends.
And you are seasoning them before answering us?
Ah! Heracles! welcome, welcome!
What's the matter?
The gods have sent us here as ambassadors, to negotiate peace.
SERVANT:There's no more oil in the flask.
pretends to forget the presence of the ambassador gods.
But the birds must be properly smothered in oil.
We have no interest in fighting you.
As for you, be our friend, and we promise that you shall always have rainwater in your pools, and the warmest of warm weather.
As far as these things are concerned, we have the authority to offer you that.
We have never been the aggressors.
And even now, we are as well disposed for peace as you yourselves are, provided that you agree to one equitable condition, namely, that Zeus yield his sceptre to the birds.
Only if this is agreed to, will I invite you, the ambassadors, to dinner.
That's good enough for me.
I vote for peace.
You are nothing but a fool and a glutton.
Do you really want to dethrone your own father, in exchange for just some food?
What an error of judgment you make!
The gods will be much more powerful if the birds govern the earth.
Currently, the humans are hidden underneath the clouds. They can escape your observation and commit perjury in your name.
But if you had the birds for your allies, and a man failed to keep his sworn promise, the crow would dive down upon him unawares and pluck out his eyes on your behalf.
That is a clever idea, why did I not come up with that!
So you approve. Good.
But here is another thing in which we can serve you.
If a man vows to offer a sacrifice to some god, and then procrastinates, pretending that the gods can wait, and thus does not keep his word, we shall punish his stinginess.
While he is counting his money or is taking a bath, a bird of prey will, without him realizing it, relieve him of either his coins or his clothes, equal to the value of a couple of sheep, and carry it off to the gods.
I vote for restoring the sceptre to the birds.
If that is the opinion of you both, then, for the sake of peace, I will consent too.
We grant the sceptre.
Ah! I nearly forgot that there is one more condition.
I will open this space to Zeus if, and only if, the young Basileia is given to me in marriage.
Then you don't want peace.
Let us withdraw.
It matters mighty little to me. Servant, look to the gravy.
What an odd fellow this Poseidon is! Where are you off to? Are we going to war about a woman?
What else? Well, we could conclude peace.
Oh! you simpleton! Are you always fooled this easily?
Why, you are seeking your own downfall.
If Zeus were to die, after having yielded them the sovereignty, you would be ruined, for you are the heir of all the wealth he will leave behind.
Oh! By the gods! How he is cajoling you.
Step aside, so that I may have a word in private with you.
Your uncle is getting the better of you, my poor friend.
The law will not allow you a silver coin of the paternal property, because you are a bastard and not a legitimate child.
Me, a bastard? What are you trying to tell me?
Why, certainly! Are you not born of a stranger woman?
Besides, is not Athene recognized as Zeus' sole heiress?
And no daughter would be that, if she had a legitimate brother.
But what if my father wished to give me his property on his death-bed, even if I am a bastard?
The law forbids it, and this same Poseidon who accompanies you would be the first to lay claim to his wealth, by virtue of being his legitimate brother.
Listen, this is Solon's Athenian law: “A bastard shall not inherit, if there are legitimate children; and if there are no legitimate children, the property shall pass on to the nearest kin.”
And I get nothing whatsoever of the paternal property?
Absolutely nothing. And tell me, has your father officially claimed you as his?
No, and I have always been surprised by that omission.
What troubles you, that you now shake your fist at the heaven?
Do you want to fight it?
Well, be on my side, and I will make you a king and I will feed you on bird's milk and honey.
Your proposal seems fair to me.
I cede to you the young damsel.
I would vote against this if it were up to me...
But for the sake of peace, I will now hold my tongue. You two arrange the matter and make peace, since you both agree to do it this way.
We have decided to grant you everything that you asked for.
Come up there with us to receive Basileia and the celestial bounty.
Here are the birds I prepared, already cut up and very suitable for a wedding feast.
You go and, if you like, I will stay here to roast them.
Leave you to roast them!
You would eat them as soon as we left. Come along with us.
Ah! How well I could have treated myself!
Let someone bring me a beautiful and magnificent tunic for the wedding.
The MESSENGER returns.
Oh, you, whose unbounded happiness I cannot express in words, happy race of airy birds, receive your king in your fortunate city.
More brilliant than the brightest star that illuminates the earth, he is approaching his glittering golden palace; the sun itself does not shine with more dazzling glory.
He is entering with his bride Basileia at his side, whose beauty no human tongue can express.
In his hand, he brandishes the lightning, the winged shaft of Zeus; perfumes of unspeakable sweetness pervade the ethereal realms.
It is a glorious spectacle to see the clouds of incense wafting in light whirlwinds before the breath of the Zephyr!
But here he is himself. Divine Muse! Let thy sacred lips begin with songs of happy omen.
CHORUS OF BIRDS: (Dancing)
Step to the right! To the left! Advance!
Fly around this happy mortal, whom Fortune loads with her blessings.
Oh! Oh! What grace! What beauty!
Oh, a marriage so auspicious for our city! All honour to this man!
It is through him that the birds are called to such glorious destinies.
Let your wedding hymns and your wedding songs greet him and his Basileia!
It was in the midst of such festivities that the Fates formerly united Olympian Here to the King who governs the gods from the summit of his inaccessible throne.
Oh! Virgin beauty! Rosy Eros with the golden wings who held the reins and guided the chariot; It was he who presided over the union of Zeus and our fortunate Hero. Oh! Virgin beauty!
I am delighted with your songs, I applaud your verses.
Now celebrate the thunder that I hold that shakes the earth, the flaming lightning of Zeus and the terrible flashing thunderbolt.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:
Oh, thou golden flash of lightning!
Oh, you divine shafts of flame, that Zeus has hitherto shot forth!
Oh, you rolling thunders that bring down the rain!
It is by the order of OUR king that you shall now stagger the earth! Oh, virgin!
It is through you that he commands the universe and that he makes Basileia, whom he has robbed from Zeus, take her seat at his side.
Oh! Virgin beauty!
Let all the winged tribes of our fellow-citizens follow the bridal couple to the palace of Zeus where I am henceforth to reign!
Stretch forth your hands, my dear wife!
Take hold of me by my wings and let us dance; I am going to lift you up and carry you through the air.
CHORUS OF BIRDS:Oh, joy! Victory is a beautiful thing, oh, you greatest of the gods!