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The Birds


作者: Aristophanes

标签: 经典



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图书介绍


  • Author: Aristophanes

Introduction



'The Birds' differs markedly from all the other Comedies of Aristophanes which have come down to us in subject and general conception. It is just an extravaganza pure and simple--a graceful, whimsical theme chosen expressly for the sake of the opportunities it afforded of bright, amusing dialogue, pleasing lyrical interludes, and charming displays of brilliant stage effects and pretty dresses. Unlike other plays of the same Author, there is here apparently no serious political MOTIF underlying the surface burlesque and buffoonery.

Some critics, it is true, profess to find in it a reference to the unfortunate Sicilian Expedition, then in progress, and a prophecy of its failure and the political downfall of Alcibiades. But as a matter of fact, the whole thing seems rather an attempt on the dramatist's part to relieve the overwrought minds of his fellow- citizens, anxious and discouraged at the unsatisfactory reports from before Syracuse, by a work conceived in a lighter vein than usual and mainly unconnected with contemporary realities. The play was produced in the year 414 B.C., just when success or failure in Sicily hung in the balance, though already the outlook was gloomy, and many circumstances pointed to impending disaster. Moreover, the public conscience was still shocked and perturbed over the mysterious affair of the mutilation of the Hermae, which had occurred immediately before the sailing of the fleet, and strongly suspicious of Alcibiades' participation in the outrage. In spite of the inherent charm of the subject, the splendid outbursts of lyrical poetry in some of the choruses and the beauty of the scenery and costumes, 'The Birds' failed to win the first prize. This was acclaimed to a play of Aristophanes' rival, Amipsias, the title of which, 'The Comastoe,' or 'Revellers,' "seems to imply that the chief interest was derived from direct allusions to the outrage above mentioned and to the individuals suspected to have been engaged in it."

For this reason, which militated against its immediate success, viz. the absence of direct allusion to contemporary politics-- there are, of course, incidental references here and there to topics and personages of the day--the play appeals perhaps more than any other of our Author's productions to the modern reader. Sparkling wit, whimsical fancy, poetic charm, are of all ages, and can be appreciated as readily by ourselves as by an Athenian audience of two thousand years ago, though, of course, much is inevitably lost "without the important adjuncts of music, scenery, dresses and what we may call 'spectacle' generally, which we know in this instance to have been on the most magnificent scale."

The plot is this. Euelpides and Pisthetaerus, two old Athenians, disgusted with the litigiousness, wrangling and sycophancy of their countrymen, resolve upon quitting Attica. Having heard of the fame of Epops (the hoopoe), sometime called Tereus, and now King of the Birds, they determine, under the direction of a raven and a jackdaw, to seek from him and his subject birds a city free from all care and strife." Arrived at the Palace of Epops, they knock, and Trochilus (the wren), in a state of great flutter, as he mistakes them for fowlers, opens the door and informs them that his Majesty is asleep. When he awakes, the strangers appear before him, and after listening to a long and eloquent harangue on the superior attractions of a residence among the birds, they propose a notable scheme of their own to further enhance its advantages and definitely secure the sovereignty of the universe now exercised by the gods of Olympus.

The birds are summoned to meet in general council. They come flying up from all quarters of the heavens, and after a brief mis- understanding, during which they come near tearing the two human envoys to pieces, they listen to the exposition of the latters' plan. This is nothing less than the building of a new city, to be called Nephelococcygia, or 'Cloud-cuckoo-town,' between earth and heaven, to be garrisoned and guarded by the birds in such a way as to intercept all communication of the gods with their worshippers on earth. All steam of sacrifice will be prevented from rising to Olympus, and the Immortals will very soon be starved into an acceptance of any terms proposed. The new Utopia is duly constructed, and the daring plan to secure the sovereignty is in a fair way to succeed. Meantime various quacks and charlatans, each with a special scheme for improving things, arrive from earth, and are one after the other exposed and dismissed. Presently arrives Prometheus, who informs Epops of the desperate straits to which the gods are by this time reduced, and advises him to push his claims and demand the hand of Basileia (Dominion), the handmaid of Zeus. Next an embassy from the Olympians appears on the scene, consisting of Heracles, Posidon and a god from the savage regions of the Triballians. After some disputation, it is agreed that all reasonable demands of the birds are to be granted, while Pisthetaerus is to have Basileia as his bride. The comedy winds up with the epithalamium in honour of the nuptials.

Dramatis Personae



EUELPIDES
PISTHETAERUS
EPOPS (the Hoopoe)
TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops
PHOENICOPTERUS
HERALDS
A PRIEST
A POET
A PROPHET
METON, a Geometrician
A COMMISSIONER
A DEALER IN DECREES
IRIS
A PARRICIDE
CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard
AN INFORMER
PROMETHEUS
POSIDON
TRIBALLUS
HERACLES
SLAVES OF PISTHETAERUS
MESSENGERS
CHORUS OF BIRDS

SCENE: A wild, desolate tract of open country; broken rocks and brushwood occupy the centre of the stage.

The Birds



EUELPIDES (TO HIS JAY)[1]
Do you think I should walk straight for yon tree?

[1] Euelpides is holding a jay and Pisthetaerus a crow; they are the guides who are to lead them to the kingdom of the birds.

PISTHETAERUS (TO HIS CROW)
Cursed beast, what are you croaking to me?...to retrace my steps?

EUELPIDES
Why, you wretch, we are wandering at random, we are exerting ourselves only to return to the same spot; 'tis labour lost.

PISTHETAERUS
To think that I should trust to this crow, which has made me cover more than a thousand furlongs!

EUELPIDES
And that I to this jay, which has torn every nail from my fingers!

PISTHETAERUS
If only I knew where we were....

EUELPIDES
Could you find your country again from here?

PISTHETAERUS
No, I feel quite sure I could not, any more than could Execestides[1] find his.

[1] A stranger who wanted to pass as an Athenian, although coming originally for a far-away barbarian country.

EUELPIDES
Oh dear! oh dear!

PISTHETAERUS
Aye, aye, my friend, 'tis indeed the road of "oh dears" we are following.

EUELPIDES
That Philocrates, the bird-seller, played us a scurvy trick, when he pretended these two guides could help us to find Tereus,[1] the Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has indeed sold us this jay, a true son of Tharelides,[2] for an obolus, and this crow for three, but what can they do? Why, nothing whatever but bite and scratch! --What's the matter with you then, that you keep opening your beak? Do you want us to fling ourselves headlong down these rocks? There is no road that way.

[1] A king of Thrace, a son of Ares, who married Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens, whom he had assisted against the Megarians. He violated his sister-in-law, Philomela, and then cut out her tongue; she nevertheless managed to convey to her sister how she had been treated. They both agreed to kill Itys, whom Procne had borne to Tereus, and dished up the limbs of his own son to the father; at the end of the meal Philomela appeared and threw the child's head upon the table. Tereus rushed with drawn sword upon the princesses, but all the actors in this terrible scene were metamorph[o]sed. Tereus became an Epops (hoopoe), Procne a swallow, Philomela a nightingale, and Itys a goldfinch. According to Anacreon and Apollodorus it was Procne who became the nightingale and Philomela the swallow, and this is the version of the tradition followed by Aristophanes.

[2] An Athenian who had some resemblance to a jay--so says the scholiast, at any rate.

PISTHETAERUS
Not even the vestige of a track in any direction.

EUELPIDES
And what does the crow say about the road to follow?

PISTHETAERUS
By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.

EUELPIDES
And which way does it tell us to go now?

PISTHETAERUS
It says that, by dint of gnawing, it will devour my fingers.

EUELPIDES
What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the birds,[1] do everything we can to that end, and we cannot find our way! Yes, spectators, our madness is quite different from that of Sacas. He is not a citizen, and would fain be one at any cost; we, on the contrary, born of an honourable tribe and family and living in the midst of our fellow-citizens, we have fled from our country as hard as ever we could go. 'Tis not that we hate it; we recognize it to be great and rich, likewise that everyone has the right to ruin himself; but the crickets only chirrup among the fig-trees for a month or two, whereas the Athenians spend their whole lives in chanting forth judgments from their law-courts.[2] That is why we started off with a basket, a stew-pot and some myrtle boughs[3] and have come to seek a quiet country in which to settle. We are going to Tereus, the Epops, to learn from him, whether, in his aerial flights, he has noticed some town of this kind.

[1] Literally, 'to go to the crows,' a proverbial expression equivalent to our 'going to the devil.'

[2] They leave Athens because of their hatred of lawsuits and informers; this is the especial failing of the Athenians satirized in 'The Wasps.'

[3] Myrtle boughs were used in sacrifices, and the founding of every colony was started by a sacrifice.

PISTHETAERUS
Here! look!

EUELPIDES
What's the matter?

PISTHETAERUS
Why, the crow has been pointing me to something up there for some time now.

EUELPIDES
And the jay is also opening its beak and craning its neck to show me I know not what. Clearly, there are some birds about here. We shall soon know, if we kick up a noise to start them.

PISTHETAERUS
Do you know what to do? Knock your leg against this rock.

EUELPIDES
And you your head to double the noise.

PISTHETAERUS
Well then use a stone instead; take one and hammer with it.

EUELPIDES
Good idea! Ho there, within! Slave! slave!

PISTHETAERUS
What's that, friend! You say, "slave," to summon Epops! It would be much better to shout, "Epops, Epops!"

EUELPIDES
Well then, Epops! Must I knock again? Epops!

TROCHILUS
Who's there? Who calls my master?

PISTHETAERUS
Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak![1]

[1] The actors wore masks made to resemble the birds they were supposed to represent.

TROCHILUS
Good god! they are bird-catchers.

EUELPIDES
The mere sight of him petrifies me with terror. What a horrible monster.

TROCHILUS
Woe to you!

EUELPIDES
But we are not men.

TROCHILUS
What are you, then?

EUELPIDES
I am the Fearling, an African bird.

TROCHILUS
You talk nonsense.

EUELPIDES
Well, then, just ask it of my feet.[1]

[1] Fear had had disastrous effects upon Euelpides' internal economy, and this his feet evidenced.

TROCHILUS
And this other one, what bird is it?

PISTHETAERUS
I? I am a Cackling,[1] from the land of the pheasants.

[1] The same mishap had occurred to Pisthetaerus.

EUELPIDES
But you yourself, in the name of the gods! what animal are you?

TROCHILUS
Why, I am a slave-bird.

EUELPIDES
Why, have you been conquered by a cock?

TROCHILUS
No, but when my master was turned into a peewit, he begged me to become a bird too, to follow and to serve him.

EUELPIDES
Does a bird need a servant, then?

TROCHILUS
'Tis no doubt because he was a man. At times he wants to eat a dish of loach from Phalerum; I seize my dish and fly to fetch him some. Again he wants some pea-soup; I seize a ladle and a pot and run to get it.

EUELPIDES
This is, then, truly a running-bird.[1] Come, Trochilus, do us the kindness to call your master.

[1] The Greek word for a wren is derived from the same root as 'to run.'

TROCHILUS
Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries and a few grubs.

EUELPIDES
Never mind; wake him up.

TROCHILUS
I an certain he will be angry. However, I will wake him to please you.

PISTHETAERUS
You cursed brute! why, I am almost dead with terror!

EUELPIDES
Oh! my god! 'twas sheer fear that made me lose my jay.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! you great coward! were you so frightened that you let go your jay?

EUELPIDES
And did you not lose your crow, when you fell sprawling on the ground? Pray tell me that.

PISTHETAERUS
No, no.

EUELPIDES
Where is it, then?

PISTHETAERUS
It has flown away.

EUELPIDES
Then you did not let it go? Oh! you brave fellow!

EPOPS
Open the forest,[1] that I may go out!

[1] No doubt there was some scenery to represent a forest. Besides, there is a pun intended. The words answering for 'forests' and 'door' in Greek only differ slightly in sound.

EUELPIDES
By Heracles! what a creature! what plumage! What means this triple crest?

EPOPS
Who wants me?

EUELPIDES
The twelve great gods have used you ill, meseems.

EPOPS
Are you chaffing me about my feathers? I have been a man, strangers.

EUELPIDES
'Tis not you we are jeering at.

EPOPS
At what, then?

EUELPIDES
Why, 'tis your beak that looks so odd to us.

EPOPS
This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once was Tereus.[1]

[1] Sophocles had written a tragedy about Tereus, in which, no doubt, the king finally appears as a hoopoe.

EUELPIDES
You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?[1]

[1] One would expect the question to be "bird or man." --Are you a peacock? The hoopoe resembles the peacock inasmuch as both have crests.

EPOPS
I am a bird.

EUELPIDES
Then where are your feathers? For I don't see them.

EPOPS
They have fallen off.

EUELPIDES
Through illness?

EPOPS
No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter, and others grow in their place. But tell me, who are you?

EUELPIDES
We? We are mortals.

EPOPS
From what country?

EUELPIDES
From the land of the beautiful galleys.[1]

[1] Athens.

EPOPS
Are you dicasts?[1]

[1] The Athenians were madly addicted to lawsuits. (See 'The Wasps.')

EUELPIDES
No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.

EPOPS
Is that kind of seed sown among you?[1]

[1] As much as to say, 'Then you have such things as anti-dicasts?' And Euelpides practically replaces, 'Very few.'

EUELPIDES
You have to look hard to find even a little in our fields.

EPOPS
What brings you here?

EUELPIDES
We wish to pay you a visit.

EPOPS
What for?

EUELPIDES
Because you formerly were a man, like we are, formerly you had debts, as we have, formerly you did not want to pay them, like ourselves; furthermore, being turned into a bird, you have when flying seen all lands and seas. Thus you have all human knowledge as well as that of birds. And hence we have come to you to beg you to direct us to some cosy town, in which one can repose as if on thick coverlets.

EPOPS
And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?

EUELPIDES
No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.

EPOPS
Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.

EUELPIDES
I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.[1]

[1] His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded a fleet sent in aid of Corcyra.

EPOPS
But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?

EUELPIDES
A place where the following would be the most important business transacted. --Some friend would come knocking at the door quite early in the morning saying, "By Olympian Zeus, be at my house early, as soon as you have bathed, and bring your children too. I am giving a nuptial feast, so don't fail, or else don't cross my threshold when I am in distress."

EPOPS
Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships! And what say you?

PISTHETAERUS
My tastes are similar.

EPOPS
And they are?

PISTHETAERUS
I want a town where the father of a handsome lad will stop in the street and say to me reproachfully as if I had failed him, "Ah! Is this well done, Stilbonides! You met my son coming from the bath after the gymnasium and you neither spoke to him, nor embraced him, nor took him with you, nor ever once twitched his parts. Would anyone call you an old friend of mine?"

EPOPS
Ah! wag, I see you are fond of suffering. But there is a city of delights, such as you want. 'Tis on the Red Sea.

EUELPIDES
Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian[1] galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town you can propose to us?

[1] The State galley, which carried the officials of the Athenian republic to their several departments and brought back those whose time had expired; it was this galley that was sent to Sicily to fetch back Alcibiades, who was accused of sacrilege.

EPOPS
Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?

EUELPIDES
By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of Melanthius.[1]

[1] A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course, on the word Lepreum.

EPOPS
Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.

EUELPIDES
I would not be Opuntian[1] for a talent. But come, what is it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.

[1] An allusion to Opuntius, who was one-eyed.

EPOPS
Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.

EUELPIDES
That does away with much roguery.

EPOPS
For food the gardens yield us white sesame, myrtle-berries, poppies and mint.

EUELPIDES
Why, 'tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.[1]

[1] The newly-married ate a sesame-cake, decorated with garlands of myrtle, poppies and mint.

PISTHETAERUS
Ha! I am beginning to see a great plan, which will transfer the supreme power to the birds, if you will but take my advice.

EPOPS
Take your advice? In what way?

PISTHETAERUS
In what way? Well, firstly, do not fly in all directions with open beak; it is not dignified. Among us, when we see a thoughtless man, we ask, "What sort of bird is this?" and Teleas answers, "'Tis a man who has no brain, a bird that has lost his head, a creature you cannot catch, for it never remains in any one place."

EPOPS
By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?

PISTHETAERUS
Found a city.

EPOPS
We birds? But what sort of city should we build?

PISTHETAERUS
Oh, really, really! 'tis spoken like a fool! Look down.

EPOPS
I am looking.

PISTHETAERUS
Now look upwards.

EPOPS
I am looking.

PISTHETAERUS
Turn your head round.

EPOPS
Ah! 'twill be pleasant for me, if I end in twisting my neck!

PISTHETAERUS
What have you seen?

EPOPS
The clouds and the sky.

PISTHETAERUS
Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?

EPOPS
How their pole?

PISTHETAERUS
Or, if you like it, the land. And since it turns and passes through the whole universe, it is called, 'pole.'[1] If you build and fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city.[2] In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and cause the gods to die of rabid hunger

[1] From [the word meaning] 'to turn.'

[2] The Greek words for 'pole' and 'city' only differ by a single letter.

EPOPS
How so?

PISTHETAERUS
The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi, we ask the Boeotians[1] for leave of passage; in the same way, when men sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise the right of every nation towards strangers and don't allow the smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory.

[1] Boeotia separated Attica from Phocis.

EPOPS
By earth! by snares! by network![1] I never heard of anything more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going to build the city along with you.

[1] He swears by the powers that are to him dreadful.

PISTHETAERUS
Who will explain the matter to them?

EPOPS
You must yourself. Before I came they were quite ignorant, but since I have lived with them I have taught them to speak.

PISTHETAERUS
But how can they be gathered together?

EPOPS
Easily. I will hasten down to the coppice to waken my dear Procne![1] as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing.

[1] As already stated, according to the legend accepted by Aristophanes, it was Procne who was turned into the nightengale.

PISTHETAERUS
My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the coppice and awaken Procne.

EPOPS
Chase off drowsy sleep, dear companion. Let the sacred hymn gush from thy divine throat in melodious strains; roll forth in soft cadence your refreshing melodies to bewail the fate of Itys,[1] which has been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of Zeus, where Phoebus listens to you, Phoebus with his golden hair. And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips rushes a sacred chant of blessed voices. (THE FLUTE IS PLAYED BEHIND THE SCENE.)

[1] The son of Tereus and Procne.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has filled the whole coppice with honey-sweet melody!

EUELPIDES
Hush!

PISTHETAERUS
What's the matter?

EUELPIDES
Will you keep silence?

PISTHETAERUS
What for?

EUELPIDES
Epops is going to sing again.

EPOPS (IN THE COPPICE)
Epopoi poi popoi, epopoi, popoi, here, here, quick, quick, quick, my comrades in the air; all you who pillage the fertile lands of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and devour the barley seeds, the swift flying race who sing so sweetly. And you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little cry of tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio; and you who hop about the branches of the ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the wild olive berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto, trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in the marshy vales, and you who dwell in the fine plain of Marathon, all damp with dew, and you, the francolin with speckled wings; you too, the halcyons, who flit over the swelling waves of the sea, come hither to hear the tidings; let all the tribes of long-necked birds assemble here; know that a clever old man has come to us, bringing an entirely new idea and proposing great reforms. Let all come to the debate here, here, here, here. Torotorotorotorotix, kikkobau, kikkobau, torotorotorotorolililix.

PISTHETAERUS
Can you see any bird?

EUELPIDES
By Phoebus, no! and yet I am straining my eyesight to scan the sky.

PISTHETAERUS
'Twas really not worth Epops' while to go and bury himself in the thicket like a plover when a-hatching.

PHOENICOPTERUS
Torotina, torotina.

PISTHETAERUS
Hold, friend, here is another bird.

EUELPIDES
I' faith, yes, 'tis a bird, but of what kind? Isn't it a peacock?

PISTHETAERUS
Epops will tell us. What is this bird?

EPOPS
'Tis not one of those you are used to seeing; 'tis a bird from the marshes.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson as flame.

EPOPS
Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.[1]

[1] An African bird, that comes to the southern countries of Europe, to Greece, Italy, and Spain; it is even seen in Provence.

EUELPIDES
Hi! I say! You!

PISTHETAERUS
What are you shouting for?

EUELPIDES
Why, here's another bird.

PISTHETAERUS
Aye, indeed; 'tis a foreign bird too. What is this bird from beyond the mountains with a look as solemn as it is stupid?

EPOPS
He is called the Mede.[1]

[1] Aristophanes amusingly mixes up real birds with people and individuals, whom he represents in the form of birds; he is personifying the Medians here.

PISTHETAERUS
The Mede! But, by Heracles, how, if a Mede, has he flown here without a camel?

EUELPIDES
Here's another bird with a crest.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! that's curious. I say, Epops, you are not the only one of your kind then?

EPOPS
This bird is the son of Philocles, who is the son of Epops;[1] so that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say, Hipponicus,[2] the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.

[1] Philocles, a tragic poet, had written a tragedy on Tereus, which was simply a plagiarism of the play of the same name by Sophocles. Philocles is the son of Epops, because he got his inspiration from Sophocles' Tereus, and at the same time is father to Epops, since he himself produced another Tereus.

[2] This Hipponicus is probably the orator whose ears Alcibiades boxed to gain a bet; he was a descendant of Callias, who was famous for his hatred of Pisistratus.

PISTHETAERUS
Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he has lost![1]

[1] This Callias, who must not be confounded with the foe of Pisistratus, had ruined himself.

EPOPS
That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the women too pluck out his feathers.

PISTHETAERUS
By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his name?

EPOPS
This one? 'Tis the glutton.

PISTHETAERUS
Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he is Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest?[1] But what is the meaning of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double stadium prize?[2]

[1] Cleonymus had cast away his shield; he was as great a glutton as he was a coward.

[2] A race in which the track had to be circled twice.

EPOPS
They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their mountains for greater safety.[1]

[1] A people of Asia Minor; when pursued by the Ionians they took refuge in the mountains.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering here?

EUELPIDES
By Phoebus! what a cloud! The entrance to the stage is no longer visible, so closely do they fly together.

PISTHETAERUS
Here is the partridge.

EUELPIDES
Faith! there is the francolin.

PISTHETAERUS
There is the poachard.

EUELPIDES
Here is the kingfisher. And over yonder?

EPOPS
'Tis the barber.

EUELPIDES
What? a bird a barber?

PISTHETAERUS
Why, Sporgilus is one.[1] Here comes the owl.

[1] An Athenian barber.

EUELPIDES
And who is it brings an owl to Athens?[1]

[1] The owl was dedicated to Athene, and being respected at Athens, it had greatly multiplied. Hence the proverb, 'taking owls to Athens,' similar to our English 'taking coals to Newcastle.'

PISTHETAERUS
Here is the magpie, the turtle-dove, the swallow, the horned owl, the buzzard, the pigeon, the falcon, the ring-dove, the cuckoo, the red-foot, the red-cap, the purple-cap, the kestrel, the diver, the ousel, the osprey, the woodpecker.

EUELPIDES
Oh! oh! what a lot of birds! what a quantity of blackbirds! how they scold, how they come rushing up! What a noise! what a noise! Can they be bearing us ill-will? Oh! there! there! they are opening their beaks and staring at us.

PISTHETAERUS
Why, so they are.

CHORUS
Popopopopopopopoi. Where is he who called me? Where am I to find him?

EPOPS
I have been waiting for you this long while! I never fail in my word to my friends.

CHORUS
Titititititititi. What good thing have you to tell me?

EPOPS
Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as pleasant as it is to the purpose. Two men, who are subtle reasoners, have come here to seek me.

CHORUS
Where? What? What are you saying?

EPOPS
I say, two old men have come from the abode of men to propose a vast and splendid scheme to us.

CHORUS
Oh! 'tis a horrible, unheard-of crime! What are you saying?

EPOPS
Nay! never let my words scare you.

CHORUS
What have you done then?

EPOPS
I have welcomed two men, who wish to live with us.

CHORUS
And you have dared to do that!

EPOPS
Aye, and am delighted at having done so.

CHORUS
Where are they?

EPOPS
In your midst, as I am.

CHORUS
Ah! ah! we are betrayed; 'tis sacrilege! Our friend, he who picked up corn-seeds in the same plains as ourselves, has violated our ancient laws; he has broken the oaths that bind all birds; he has laid a snare for me, he has handed us over to the attacks of that impious race which, throughout all time, has never ceased to war against us. As for this traitorous bird, we will decide his case later, but the two old men shall be punished forthwith; we are going to tear them to pieces.

PISTHETAERUS
'Tis all over with us.

EUELPIDES
You are the sole cause of all our trouble. Why did you bring me from down yonder?

PISTHETAERUS
To have you with me.

EUELPIDES
Say rather to have me melt into tears.

PISTHETAERUS
Go to! you are talking nonsense.

EUELPIDES
How so?

PISTHETAERUS
How will you be able to cry when once your eyes are pecked out?

CHORUS
Io! io! forward to the attack, throw yourselves upon the foe, spill his blood; take to your wings and surround them on all sides. Woe to them! let us get to work with our beaks, let us devour them. Nothing can save them from our wrath, neither the mountain forests, nor the clouds that float in the sky, nor the foaming deep. Come, peck, tear to ribbons. Where is the chief of the cohort? Let him engage the right wing.

EUELPIDES
This is the fatal moment. Where shall I fly to, unfortunate wretch that I am?

PISTHETAERUS
Stay! stop here!

EUELPIDES
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]

[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.

[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]

[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.

[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.

[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.

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