THE BIRDS by Aristophanes, Part 09
I can tell you something about that. It was 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 Halimus. 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.
Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
And when he was king, he was the one who first taught them to fall
on their knees before the kites.
By Zeus! that's 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 meal-sack home
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.
Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields,
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.
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.
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
By Demeter, the point is well taken. But what are all these
birds doing in heaven?
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.
And even now Lampon swears by the goose whenever he wishes to
Thus it is clear that you were once great and sacred, but now
you are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Maneses; 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.
Man, your words have made my heart bleed; I have groaned over
the treachery of our fathers, who knew not how to transmit to us the
high rank they held from their forefathers. But 'tis a benevolent
Genius, a happy Fate, that sends you to us; you shall be our deliverer
and I place the destiny of my little ones and my own in your hands
with every confidence.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But hasten to tell me what must be done; we should not be worthy
to live, if we did not seek to regain our royalty by every possible
First I advise that the birds gather together in one city and that
they build a wall of great bricks, like that at Babylon, round the
plains of the air and the whole region of space that divides earth
Oh, Cebriones! oh, Porphyrion! what a terribly strong place!
Then, when this has been well done and completed, you demand
back the empire from Zeus; if he will not agree, if he refuses and
does not at once confess himself beaten, you declare a sacred war
against him and forbid the gods henceforward to pass through your
country with their tools up, as hitherto, for the purpose of laying
their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles! if they try to pass
through, you put rings on their tools so that they can't make love any
longer. You send another messenger to mankind, who will proclaim to
them that the birds are kings, that for the future they must first
of all sacrifice to them, and only afterwards to the gods; that it
is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird that has most in common
with it. For instance, are they sacrificing to Aphrodite, let them
at the same time offer barley to the coot; are they immolating a sheep
to Posidon, let them consecrate wheat in honour of the duck; if a
steer is being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to
the gull; if a goat is being slain for King Zeus, there is a
King-Bird, the wren, to whom the sacrifice of a male gnat is due
before Zeus himself even.
This notion of an immolated gnat delights me! And now let the
great Zeus thunder!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But how will mankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who
have wings and fly?