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- The Birds - 6/19 -


That they may tear me to pieces?

PISTHETAERUS And how do you think to escape them?

EUELPIDES I don't know at all.

PISTHETAERUS Come, I will tell you. We must stop and fight them. Let us arm ourselves with these stew-pots.

EUELPIDES Why with the stew-pots?

PISTHETAERUS The owl will not attack us.[1]

f[1] An allusion to the Feast of Pots; it was kept at Athens on the third day of the Anthesteria, when all sorts of vegetables were stewed together and offered for the dead to Bacchus and Athene. This Feast was peculiar to Athens. --Hence Pisthetaerus thinks that the owl will recognize they are Athenians by seeing the stew-pots, and as he is an Athenian bird, he will not attack them.

EUELPIDES But do you see all those hooked claws?

PISTHETAERUS Seize the spit and pierce the foe on your side.

EUELPIDES And how about my eyes?

PISTHETAERUS Protect them with this dish or this vinegar-pot.

EUELPIDES Oh! what cleverness! what inventive genius! You are a great general, even greater than Nicias,[1] where stratagem is concerned.

f[1] Nicias, the famous Athenian general. --The siege of Melos in 417 B.C., or two years previous to the production of 'The Birds,' had especially done him great credit. He was joint commander of the Sicilian expedition.

CHORUS Forward, forward, charge with your beaks! Come, no delay. Tear, pluck, strike, flay them, and first of all smash the stew-pot.

EPOPS Oh, most cruel of all animals, why tear these two men to pieces, why kill them? What have they done to you? They belong to the same tribe, to the same family as my wife.[1]

f[1] Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens.

CHORUS Are wolves to be spared? Are they not our most mortal foes? So let us punish them.

EPOPS If they are your foes by nature, they are your friends in heart, and they come here to give you useful advice.

CHORUS Advice or a useful word from their lips, from them, the enemies of my forebears!

EPOPS The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. 'Tis just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, 'tis the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and 'tis this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.

CHORUS Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for 'tis best; one can even learn something in an enemy's school.

PISTHETAERUS Their wrath seems to cool. Draw back a little.

EPOPS 'Tis only justice, and you will thank me later.

CHORUS Never have we opposed your advice up to now.

PISTHETAERUS They are in a more peaceful mood; put down your stew-pot and your two dishes; spit in hand, doing duty for a spear, let us mount guard inside the camp close to the pot and watch in our arsenal closely; for we must not fly.

EUELPIDES You are right. But where shall we be buried, if we die?

PISTHETAERUS In the Ceramicus;[1] for, to get a public funeral, we shall tell the Strategi that we fell at Orneae,[2] fighting the country's foes.

f[1] A space beyond the walls of Athens which contained the gardens of the Academy and the graves of citizens who had died for their country. f[2] A town in Western Argolis, where the Athenians had been recently defeated. The somewhat similar work in Greek signifies 'birds.'

CHORUS Return to your ranks and lay down your courage beside your wrath as the Hoplites do. Then let us ask these men who they are, whence they come, and with what intent. Here, Epops, answer me.

EPOPS Are you calling me? What do you want of me?

CHORUS Who are they? From what country?

EPOPS Strangers, who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.

CHORUS And what fate has led them hither to the land of the birds?

EPOPS Their love for you and their wish to share your kind of life; to dwell and remain with you always.

CHORUS Indeed, and what are their plans?

EPOPS They are wonderful, incredible, unheard of.

CHORUS Why, do they think to see some advantage that determines them to settle here? Are they hoping with our help to triumph over their foes or to be useful to their friends?

EPOPS They speak of benefits so great it is impossible either to describe or conceive them; all shall be yours, all that we see here, there, above and below us; this they vouch for.

CHORUS Are they mad?

EPOPS They are the sanest people in the world.

CHORUS Clever men?

EPOPS The slyest of foxes, cleverness its very self, men of the world, cunning, the cream of knowing folk.

CHORUS Tell them to speak and speak quickly; why, as I listen to you, I am beside myself with delight.

EPOPS Here, you 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;[1] as for you, address the birds, tell them why I have gathered them together.

f[1] Epops is addressing the two slaves, no doubt Xanthias and Manes, who are mentioned later on.

PISTHETAERUS Not I, by Apollo, unless they agree with me as the little ape of an armourer agreed with his wife, not to bite me, nor pull me by the parts, nor shove things up my...

CHORUS You mean the...(PUTS FINGER TO BOTTOM) Oh! be quite at ease.

PISTHETAERUS No, I mean my eyes.

CHORUS Agreed.

PISTHETAERUS Swear it.

CHORUS I swear it and, if I keep my promise, let judges and spectators give me the victory unanimously.

PISTHETAERUS It is a bargain.

CHORUS And if I break my word, may I succeed by one vote only.

HERALD Hearken, ye people! Hoplites, pick up your weapons and return to


The Birds - 6/19

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