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THE BIRDS by Aristophanes, Part 11

That is soon done; my name is Pithetaerus, and his, Euelpides,
of the deme Crioa.
Good! and good luck to you.
We accept the omen.
Come in here.
Very well, you are the one who must lead us and introduce us.
Come then.
(He starts to fly away.)
PITHETAERUS (stopping himself)
Oh! my god! do come back here. Hi! tell us how we are to follow
you. You can fly, but we cannot.
Well, well.
Remember Aesop's fables. It is told there that the fox fared
very badly, because he had made an alliance with the eagle.
Be at ease. You shall eat a certain root and wings will grow on
your shoulders.
Then let us enter. Xanthias and Manodorus, pick up our baggage.
Hi! Epops! do you hear me?
What's the matter?
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.
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
Let is be as you desire. Come forth, Procne, show yourself to
these strangers.
(PROCNE appears; she resembles a young flute-girl.)
Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty
form! what brilliant plumage! Do you know how dearly I should like
to get between her thighs?
She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl. Oh! how I
should like to kiss her!
Why, wretched man, she has two little sharp points on her beak!
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.
Let us go in.
Lead the way, and may success attend us.
(EPOPS goes into the thicket, followed by PITHETAERUS and
CHORUS (singing)
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, lead off
our anapests.
(The CHORUS turns and faces the audience.)
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 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 opened their thighs because of 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.
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, and ORESTES 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. 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 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. Is it not
clear that we are a prophetic Apollo to you? (More and more rapidly
from here on.) 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 cloyed with enjoyment.


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