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- The Birds - 7/19 -
your firesides; do not fail to read the decrees of dismissal we have posted.
CHORUS Man is a truly cunning creature, but nevertheless explain. Perhaps you are going to show me some good way to extend my power, some way that I have not had the wit to find out and which you have discovered. Speak! 'tis to your own interest as well as to mine, for if you secure me some advantage, I will surely share it with you. But what object can have induced you to come among us? Speak boldly, for I shall not break the truce, --until you have told us all.
PISTHETAERUS I am bursting with desire to speak; I have already mixed the dough of my address and nothing prevents me from kneading it.... Slave! bring the chaplet and water, which you must pour over my hands. Be quick!
f It was customary, when speaking in public and also at feasts, to wear a chaplet; hence the question Euelpides puts. --The guests wore chaplets of flowers, herbs, and leaves, which had the property of being refreshing.
EUELPIDES Is it a question of feasting? What does it all mean?
PISTHETAERUS By Zeus, no! but I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break down the hardness of their hearts. --I grieve so much for you, who at one time were kings...
CHORUS We kings! Over whom?
PISTHETAERUS ...of all that exists, firstly of me and of this man, even of Zeus himself. Your race is older than Saturn, the Titans and the Earth.
CHORUS What, older than the Earth!
PISTHETAERUS By Phoebus, yes.
CHORUS By Zeus, but I never knew that before!
PISTHETAERUS 'Tis because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never read your Aesop. 'Tis he who tells us that the lark was born before all other creatures, indeed before the Earth; his father died of sickness, but the Earth did not exist then; he remained unburied for five days, when the bird in its dilemma decided, for want of a better place, to entomb its father in its own head.
EUELPIDES So that the lark's father is buried at Cephalae.
f A deme of Attica. In Greek the word also means 'heads,' and hence the pun.
EPOPS Hence, if we existed before the Earth, before the gods, the kingship belongs to us by right of priority.
EUELPIDES Undoubtedly, but sharpen your beak well; Zeus won't be in a hurry to hand over his sceptre to the woodpecker.
PISTHETAERUS It was not the gods, but the birds, who were formerly the masters and kings over men; of this I have a thousand proofs. First of all, I will point you to the cock, who governed the Persians before all other monarchs, before Darius and Megabyzus. 'Tis in memory of his reign that he is called the Persian bird.
f One of Darius' best generals. After his expedition against the Scythians, this prince gave him the command of the army which he left in Europe. Megabyzus took Perinthos (afterwards called Heraclea) and conquered Thrace.
EUELPIDES For this reason also, even to-day, he alone of all the birds wears his tiara straight on his head, like the Great King.
f All Persians wore the tiara, but always on one side; the Great King alone wore it straight on his head.
PISTHETAERUS He was so strong, so great, so feared, that even now, on account of his ancient power, everyone jumps out of bed as soon as ever he crows at daybreak. Blacksmiths, potters, tanners, shoemakers, bathmen, corn-dealers, lyre-makers and armourers, all put on their shoes and go to work before it is daylight.
EUELPIDES I can tell you something about that. 'Twas the cock's fault that I lost a splendid tunic of Phrygian wool. I was at a feast in town, given to celebrate the birth of a child; I had drunk pretty freely and had just fallen asleep, when a cock, I suppose in a greater hurry than the rest, began to crow. I thought it was dawn and set out for Alimos. I had hardly got beyond the walls, when a footpad struck me in the back with his bludgeon; down I went and wanted to shout, but he had already made off with my mantle.
f Noted as the birthplace of Thucydides, a deme of Attica of the tribe of Leontis. Demosthenes tells us it was thirty-five stadia from Athens.
PISTHETAERUS Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.
EPOPS The Greeks?
PISTHETAERUS And when he was king, 'twas he who first taught them to fall on their knees before the kites.
f The appearance of the kite in Greece betokened the return of springtime; it was therefore worshipped as a symbol of that season.
EUELPIDES By Zeus! 'tis what I did myself one day on seeing a kite; but at the moment I was on my knees, and leaning backwards with mouth agape, I bolted an obolus and was forced to carry my bag home empty.
f To look at the kite, who no doubt was flying high in the sky. f As already shown, the Athenians were addicted to carrying small coins in their mouths. --This obolus was for the purpose of buying flour to fill the bag he was carrying
PISTHETAERUS The cuckoo was king of Egypt and of the whole of Phoenicia. When he called out "cuckoo," all the Phoenicians hurried to the fields to reap their wheat and their barley.
f In Phoenicia and Egypt the cuckoo makes its appearance about harvest-time.
EUELPIDES Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields, ye circumcised."
f This was an Egyptian proverb, meaning, 'When the cuckoo sings we go harvesting.' Both the Phoenicians and the Egyptians practised circumcision.
PISTHETAERUS So powerful were the birds that the kings of Grecian cities, Agamemnon, Menelaus, for instance, carried a bird on the tip of their sceptres, who had his share of all presents.
f The staff, called a sceptre, generally terminated in a piece of carved work, representing a flower, a fruit, and most often a bird.
EUELPIDES That I didn't know and was much astonished when I saw Priam come upon the stage in the tragedies with a bird, which kept watching Lysicrates to see if he got any present.
f A general accused of treachery. The bird watches Lysicrates, because, according to Pisthetaerus, he had a right to a share of the presents.
PISTHETAERUS But the strongest proof of all is, that Zeus, who now reigns, is represented as standing with an eagle on his head as a symbol of his royalty; his daughter has an owl, and Phoebus, as his servant, has a hawk.
f It is thus that Phidias represents his Olympian Zeus.
EUELPIDES By Demeter, 'tis well spoken. But what are all these birds doing in heaven?
PISTHETAERUS When anyone sacrifices and, according to the rite, offers the entrails to the gods, these birds take their share before Zeus. Formerly men always swore by the birds and never by the gods; even now Lampon swears by the goose, when he wants to lie....Thus 'tis clear that you were great and sacred, but now you are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Helots; stones are thrown at you as at raving madmen, even in holy places. A crowd of bird-catchers sets snares, traps, limed-twigs and nets of all sorts for you; you are caught, you are sold in heaps and the buyers finger you over to be certain you are fat. Again, if they would but serve you up simply roasted; but they rasp cheese into a mixture of oil, vinegar and laserwort, to which another sweet and greasy sauce is added, and the whole is poured scalding hot over your back, for all the world as if you were diseased meat.
f One of the diviners sent to Sybaris (in Magna Graecia, S. Italy) with the Athenian colonists, who rebuilt the town under the new name of Thurium.
CHORUS Man, your words have made my heart bleed; I have groaned over
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