Aye, aye, my friend, 'tis indeed the road of "oh dears" we are
That Philocrates, the bird-seller, played us a scurvy trick,
when he pretended these two guides could help us to find Tereus,
the Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has
indeed sold us this jay, a true son of Tharelides, 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.
 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.
 An Athenian who had some resemblance to a jay--so says
the scholiast, at any rate.
Not even the vestige of a track in any direction.
And what does the crow say about the road to follow?
By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.
And which way does it tell us to go now?
It says that, by dint of gnawing, it will devour my fingers.
What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the birds,
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. That is why we started off
with a basket, a stew-pot and some myrtle boughs 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.
 Literally, 'to go to the crows,' a proverbial expression
equivalent to our 'going to the devil.'
 They leave Athens because of their hatred of lawsuits and informers;
this is the especial failing of the Athenians satirized in 'The Wasps.'
 Myrtle boughs were used in sacrifices, and the founding of every
colony was started by a sacrifice.
'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.
This is, then, truly a running-bird. Come, Trochilus, do us the
kindness to call your master.
 The Greek word for a wren is derived from the same root as 'to run.'
Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries
and a few grubs.
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.
And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?
No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.
Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.
I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.
 His name was Aristocrates; he was a general and commanded
a fleet sent in aid of Corcyra.
But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?
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."
Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships! And what say you?
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?"
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.
Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian
galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town
you can propose to us?
 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.
Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?
By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of
 A tragic poet, who was a leper; there is a play, of course,
on the word Lepreum.
Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.
I would not be Opuntian for a talent. But come, what is it like
to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.
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."
By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?
Or, if you like it, the land. And since it turns and passes through
the whole universe, it is called, 'pole.' If you build and
fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city.
In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers
and cause the gods to die of rabid hunger
The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi,
we ask the Boeotians 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.
Easily. I will hasten down to the coppice to waken my dear Procne!
as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing.
 As already stated, according to the legend accepted by Aristophanes,
it was Procne who was turned into the nightengale.
My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the coppice
and awaken Procne.
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, 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.)
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.
Ah! that's curious. I say, Epops, you are not the only one of your
This bird is the son of Philocles, who is the son of Epops; so
that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say,
Hipponicus, the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.
 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.
 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.
Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he
 This Callias, who must not be confounded with the foe
of Pisistratus, had ruined himself.
That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the
women too pluck out his feathers.
By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his name?
Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he is
Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest? But what is the meaning
of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double
 Cleonymus had cast away his shield; he was as great a glutton
as he was a coward.
 A race in which the track had to be circled twice.
They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their
mountains for greater safety.
 A people of Asia Minor; when pursued by the Ionians they took
refuge in the mountains.
Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering here?
By Phoebus! what a cloud! The entrance to the stage is no longer
visible, so closely do they fly together.
And who is it brings an owl to Athens?
 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.'
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.
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.
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
How will you be able to cry when once your eyes are pecked out?
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.
This is the fatal moment. Where shall I fly to, unfortunate wretch
that I am?
 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.
Protect them with this dish or this vinegar-pot.
Oh! what cleverness! what inventive genius! You are a great general,
even greater than Nicias, where stratagem is concerned.
 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
Forward, forward, charge with your beaks! Come, no delay. Tear,
pluck, strike, flay them, and first of all smash the stew-pot.
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.
 Procne, the daughter of Pandion, King of Athens.
Are wolves to be spared? Are they not our most mortal foes? So let
us punish them.
If they are your foes by nature, they are your friends in heart,
and they come here to give you useful advice.
Advice or a useful word from their lips, from them, the enemies of
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.
Well then, I agree, let us first hear them, for 'tis best;
one can even learn something in an enemy's school.
'Tis only justice, and you will thank me later.
Never have we opposed your advice up to now.
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.
You are right. But where shall we be buried, if we die?
In the Ceramicus; for, to get a public funeral, we shall tell
the Strategi that we fell at Orneae, fighting the country's foes.
 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.
 A town in Western Argolis, where the Athenians had been recently
defeated. The somewhat similar work in Greek signifies 'birds.'
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.