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- The Birds - 9/19 -


PISTHETAERUS Euelpides, of the deme of Thria.

EPOPS Good! and good luck to you.

PISTHETAERUS We accept the omen.

EPOPS Come in here.

PISTHETAERUS Very well, 'tis you who lead us and must introduce us.

EPOPS Come then.

PISTHETAERUS Oh! my god! do come back here. Hi! tell us how we are to follow you. You can fly, but we cannot.

EPOPS Well, well.

PISTHETAERUS Remember Aesop's fables. It is told there, that the fox fared very ill, because he had made an alliance with the eagle.

EPOPS Be at ease. You shall eat a certain root and wings will grow on your shoulders.

PISTHETAERUS Then let us enter. Xanthias and Manes,[1] pick up our baggage.

f[1] Servants of Pisthetaerus and Euelpides.

CHORUS Hi! Epops! do you hear me?

EPOPS What's the matter?

CHORUS Take them off to dine well and call your mate, the melodious Procne, whose songs are worthy of the Muses; she will delight our leisure moments.

PISTHETAERUS Oh! I conjure you, accede to their wish; for this delightful bird will leave her rushes at the sound of your voice; for the sake of the gods, let her come here, so that we may contemplate the nightingale.[1]

f[1] It has already been mentioned that, according to the legend followed by Aristophanes, Procne had been changed into a nightingale and Philomela into a swallow.

EPOPS Let is be as you desire. Come forth, Procne, show yourself to these strangers.

PISTHETAERUS Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty form! what brilliant plumage![1]

f[1] The actor, representing Procne, was dressed out as a courtesan, but wore a mask of a bird.

EUELPIDES Do you know how dearly I should like to splint her legs for her?

PISTHETAERUS She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl.[1]

f[1] Young unmarried girls wore golden ornaments; the apparel of married women was much simpler.

EUELPIDES Oh! how I should like to kiss her!

PISTHETAERUS Why, wretched man, she has two little sharp points on her beak!

EUELPIDES I would treat her like an egg, the shell of which we remove before eating it; I would take off her mask and then kiss her pretty face.

EPOPS Let us go in.

PISTHETAERUS Lead the way, and may success attend us.

CHORUS Lovable golden bird, whom I cherish above all others, you, whom I associate with all my songs, nightingale, you have come, you have come, to show yourself to me and to charm me with your notes. Come, you, who play spring melodies upon the harmonious flute,[1] lead off our anapaests.[2]

Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream, hearken to us, who are immortal beings, ethereal, ever young and occupied with eternal thoughts, for we shall teach you about all celestial matters; you shall know thoroughly what is the nature of the birds, what the origin of the gods, of the rivers, of Erebus, and Chaos; thanks to us, even Prodicus[3] will envy you your knowledge.

At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin is very much older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We are the offspring of Eros; there are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we lend assistance to lovers. How many handsome youths, who had sworn to remain insensible, have not been vanquished by our power and have yielded themselves to their lovers when almost at the end of their youth, being led away by the gift of a quail, a waterfowl, a goose, or a cock.[4]

And what important services do not the birds render to mortals! First of all, they mark the seasons for them, springtime, winter, and autumn. Does the screaming crane migrate to Libya, --it warns the husbandman to sow, the pilot to take his ease beside his tiller hung up in his dwelling,[5] and Orestes[6] to weave a tunic, so that the rigorous cold may not drive him any more to strip other folk. When the kite reappears, he tells of the return of spring and of the period when the fleece of the sheep must be clipped. Is the swallow in sight? All hasten to sell their warm tunic and to buy some light clothing. We are your Ammon, Delphi, Dodona, your Phoebus Apollo.[7] Before undertaking anything, whether a business transaction, a marriage, or the purchase of food, you consult the birds by reading the omens, and you give this name of omen[8] to all signs that tell of the future. With you a word is an omen, you call a sneeze an omen, a meeting an omen, an unknown sound an omen, a slave or an ass an omen.[9] Is it not clear that we are a prophetic Apollo to you? If you recognize us as gods, we shall be your divining Muses, through us you will know the winds and the seasons, summer, winter, and the temperate months. We shall not withdraw ourselves to the highest clouds like Zeus, but shall be among you and shall give to you and to your children and the children of your children, health and wealth, long life, peace, youth, laughter, songs and feasts; in short, you will all be so well off, that you will be weary and satiated with enjoyment.

Oh, rustic Muse of such varied note, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, I sing with you in the groves and on the mountain tops, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx.[10] I poured forth sacred strains from my golden throat in honour of the god Pan,[11] tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, from the top of the thickly leaved ash, and my voice mingles with the mighty choirs who extol Cybele on the mountain tops,[12] tototototototototinx. 'Tis to our concerts that Phrynichus comes to pillage like a bee the ambrosia of his songs, the sweetness of which so charms the ear, tio, tio, tio, tio, tinx.

If there be one of you spectators who wishes to spend the rest of his life quietly among the birds, let him come to us. All that is disgraceful and forbidden by law on earth is on the contrary honourable among us, the birds. For instance, among you 'tis a crime to beat your father, but with us 'tis an estimable deed; it's considered fine to run straight at your father and hit him, saying, "Come, lift your spur if you want to fight."[13] The runaway slave, whom you brand, is only a spotted francolin with us.[14] Are you Phrygian like Spintharus?[15] Among us you would be the Phrygian bird, the goldfinch, of the race of Philemon.[16] Are you a slave and a Carian like Execestides? Among us you can create yourself fore-fathers;[17] you can always find relations. Does the son of Pisias want to betray the gates of the city to the foe? Let him become a partridge, the fitting offspring of his father; among us there is no shame in escaping as cleverly as a partridge.

So the swans on the banks of the Hebrus, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx, mingle their voices to serenade Apollo, tio, tio, tio, tio. tiotinx, flapping their wings the while, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx; their notes reach beyond the clouds of heaven; all the dwellers in the forest stand still with astonishment and delight; a calm rests upon the waters, and the Graces and the choirs in Olympus catch up the strain, tio, tio, tio, tio, tiotinx.

There is nothing more useful nor more pleasant than to have wings. To begin with, just let us suppose a spectator to be dying with hunger and to be weary of the choruses of the tragic poets; if he were winged, he would fly off, go home to dine and come back with his stomach filled. Some Patroclides in urgent need would not have to soil his cloak, but could fly off, satisfy his requirements, and, having recovered his breath, return. If one of you, it matters not who, had adulterous relations and saw the husband of his mistress in the seats of the senators, he might stretch his wings, fly thither, and, having appeased his craving, resume his place. Is it not


The Birds - 9/19

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