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- The Birds - 3/19 -


EPOPS Who wants me?

EUELPIDES The twelve great gods have used you ill, meseems.

EPOPS Are you chaffing me about my feathers? I have been a man, strangers.

EUELPIDES 'Tis not you we are jeering at.

EPOPS At what, then?

EUELPIDES Why, 'tis your beak that looks so odd to us.

EPOPS This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once was Tereus.[1]

f[1] Sophocles had written a tragedy about Tereus, in which, no doubt, the king finally appears as a hoopoe.

EUELPIDES You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?[1]

f[1] [O]ne would expect the question to be "bird or man." --Are you a peacock? The hoopoe resembles the peacock inasmuch as both have crests.

EPOPS I am a bird.

EUELPIDES Then where are your feathers? For I don't see them.

EPOPS They have fallen off.

EUELPIDES Through illness?

EPOPS No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter, and others grow in their place. But tell me, who are you?

EUELPIDES We? We are mortals.

EPOPS From what country?

EUELPIDES From the land of the beautiful galleys.[1]

f[1] Athens.

EPOPS Are you dicasts?[1]

f[1] The Athenians were madly addicted to lawsuits. (See 'The Wasps.')

EUELPIDES No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.

EPOPS Is that kind of seed sown among you?[1]

f[1] As much as to say, 'Then you have such things as anti-dicasts?' And Euelpides practically replaces, 'Very few.'

EUELPIDES You have to look hard to find even a little in our fields.

EPOPS What brings you here?

EUELPIDES We wish to pay you a visit.

EPOPS What for?

EUELPIDES Because you formerly were a man, like we are, formerly you had debts, as we have, formerly you did not want to pay them, like ourselves; furthermore, being turned into a bird, you have when flying seen all lands and seas. Thus you have all human knowledge as well as that of birds. And hence we have come to you to beg you to direct us to some cosy town, in which one can repose as if on thick coverlets.

EPOPS And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?

EUELPIDES No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.

EPOPS Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.

EUELPIDES I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.[1]

f[1] His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded a fleet sent in aid of Corcyra.

EPOPS But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?

EUELPIDES A place where the following would be the most important business transacted. --Some friend would come knocking at the door quite early in the morning saying, "By Olympian Zeus, be at my house early, as soon as you have bathed, and bring your children too. I am giving a nuptial feast, so don't fail, or else don't cross my threshold when I am in distress."

EPOPS Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships! And what say you?

PISTHETAERUS My tastes are similar.

EPOPS And they are?

PISTHETAERUS I want a town where the father of a handsome lad will stop in the street and say to me reproachfully as if I had failed him, "Ah! Is this well done, Stilbonides! You met my son coming from the bath after the gymnasium and you neither spoke to him, nor embraced him, nor took him with you, nor ever once twitched his parts. Would anyone call you an old friend of mine?"

EPOPS Ah! wag, I see you are fond of suffering. But there is a city of delights, such as you want. 'Tis on the Red Sea.

EUELPIDES Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian[1] galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town you can propose to us?

f[1] The State galley, which carried the officials of the Athenian republic to their several departments and brought back those whose time had expired; it was this galley that was sent to Sicily to fetch back Alcibiades, who was accused of sacrilege.

EPOPS Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?

EUELPIDES By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of Melanthius.[1]

f[1] A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course, on the word Lepreum.

EPOPS Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.

EUELPIDES I would not be Opuntian[1] for a talent. But come, what is it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.

f[1] An allusion to Opuntius, who was one-eyed.

EPOPS Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.

EUELPIDES That does away with much roguery.

EPOPS For food the gardens yield us white sesame, myrtle-berries, poppies and mint.

EUELPIDES Why, 'tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.[1]

f[1] The newly-married ate a sesame-cake, decorated with garlands of myrtle, poppies and mint.

PISTHETAERUS Ha! I am beginning to see a great plan, which will transfer the supreme power to the birds, if you will but take my advice.

EPOPS Take your advice? In what way?

PISTHETAERUS In what way? Well, firstly, do not fly in all directions with open beak; it is not dignified. Among us, when we see a thoughtless man, we ask, "What sort of bird is this?" and Teleas answers, "'Tis a man who has no brain, a bird that has lost his head, a creature you cannot catch, for it never remains in any one place."

EPOPS By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?


The Birds - 3/19

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