The slyest of foxes, cleverness its very self, men of the world,
cunning, the cream of knowing folk.
Tell them to speak and speak quickly; why, as I listen to you,
I am beside myself with delight.
Here, you there, take all these weapons and hang them up inside
close to the fire, near the figure of the god who presides there and
under his protection; as for you, address the birds, tell them why
I have gathered them together.
 Epops is addressing the two slaves, no doubt Xanthias and Manes,
who are mentioned later on.
Not I, by Apollo, unless they agree with me as the little ape of
an armourer agreed with his wife, not to bite me, nor pull me by the
parts, nor shove things up my...
You mean the...(PUTS FINGER TO BOTTOM) Oh! be quite at ease.
And if I break my word, may I succeed by one vote only.
Hearken, ye people! Hoplites, pick up your weapons and return to
your firesides; do not fail to read the decrees of dismissal we have
Man is a truly cunning creature, but nevertheless explain. Perhaps
you are going to show me some good way to extend my power, some way
that I have not had the wit to find out and which you have discovered.
Speak! 'tis to your own interest as well as to mine, for if you secure
me some advantage, I will surely share it with you. But what object
can have induced you to come among us? Speak boldly, for I shall not
the truce, --until you have told us all.
I am bursting with desire to speak; I have already mixed the dough
of my address and nothing prevents me from kneading it.... Slave! bring
the chaplet and water, which you must pour over my hands. Be quick!
 It was customary, when speaking in public and also at feasts,
to wear a chaplet; hence the question Euelpides puts. --The guests wore
chaplets of flowers, herbs, and leaves, which had the property of being
Is it a question of feasting? What does it all mean?
By Zeus, no! but I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break down
the hardness of their hearts. --I grieve so much for you, who
at one time were kings...
'Tis because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never read
your Aesop. 'Tis he who tells us that the lark was born
before all other creatures, indeed before the Earth; his father died
of sickness, but the Earth did not exist then; he remained unburied
for five days, when the bird in its dilemma decided, for want of
a better place, to entomb its father in its own head.
So that the lark's father is buried at Cephalae.
 A deme of Attica. In Greek the word also means 'heads,'
and hence the pun.
Hence, if we existed before the Earth, before the gods,
the kingship belongs to us by right of priority.
Undoubtedly, but sharpen your beak well; Zeus won't be in a hurry
to hand over his sceptre to the woodpecker.
It was not the gods, but the birds, who were formerly the masters
and kings over men; of this I have a thousand proofs. First of all,
I will point you to the cock, who governed the Persians before
all other monarchs, before Darius and Megabyzus. 'Tis in memory
of his reign that he is called the Persian bird.
 One of Darius' best generals. After his expedition against
the Scythians, this prince gave him the command of the army which he
left in Europe. Megabyzus took Perinthos (afterwards called Heraclea)
and conquered Thrace.
For this reason also, even to-day, he alone of all the birds wears
his tiara straight on his head, like the Great King.
 All Persians wore the tiara, but always on one side; the Great King
alone wore it straight on his head.
He was so strong, so great, so feared, that even now, on account
of his ancient power, everyone jumps out of bed as soon as ever he
crows at daybreak. Blacksmiths, potters, tanners, shoemakers, bathmen,
corn-dealers, lyre-makers and armourers, all put on their shoes and
go to work before it is daylight.
I can tell you something about that. 'Twas 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 Alimos. 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.
 Noted as the birthplace of Thucydides, a deme of Attica of
the tribe of Leontis. Demosthenes tells us it was thirty-five stadia
Formerly also the kite was ruler and king over the Greeks.
And when he was king, 'twas he who first taught them to fall
on their knees before the kites.
 The appearance of the kite in Greece betokened the return of
springtime; it was therefore worshipped as a symbol of that season.
By Zeus! 'tis 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 bag home empty.
 To look at the kite, who no doubt was flying high in the sky.
 As already shown, the Athenians were addicted to carrying small
coins in their mouths. --This obolus was for the purpose of buying flour
to fill the bag he was carrying
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.
 In Phoenicia and Egypt the cuckoo makes its appearance about
Hence no doubt the proverb, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! go to the fields,
 This was an Egyptian proverb, meaning, 'When the cuckoo sings we
go harvesting.' Both the Phoenicians and the Egyptians practised
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.
 The staff, called a sceptre, generally terminated in a piece
of carved work, representing a flower, a fruit, and most often a bird.
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.
 A general accused of treachery. The bird watches Lysicrates,
because, according to Pisthetaerus, he had a right to a share
of the presents.
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
 It is thus that Phidias represents his Olympian Zeus.
By Demeter, 'tis well spoken. But what are all these birds doing
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; even now Lampon swears
by the goose,
when he wants to lie....Thus 'tis clear that you were great and
sacred, but now you
are looked upon as slaves, as fools, as Helots; 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.
 One of the diviners sent to Sybaris (in Magna Graecia, S. Italy)
with the Athenian colonists, who rebuilt the town under the new name
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. 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 means.
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!
 As if he were saying, "Oh, gods!" Like Lampon, he swears by the birds,
instead of swearing by the gods. --The names of these birds are those of two
of the Titans.
Th[en], this being 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 lust, as hitherto, for the purpose of fondling
their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles! if they try to pass
through, you infibulate them with rings so that they can work no
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; is a
steer being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to
the gull; is a goat 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.
 Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon, King of Thebes and mother
of Heracles. --Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Hermione and mother
of Bacchus; both seduced by Zeus. --Alope, daughter of Cercyon,
a robber, who reigned at Eleusis and was conquered by Perseus. Alope
was honoured with Posidon's caresses; by him she had a son named
Hippothous, at first brought up by shepherds but who afterwards
was restored to the throne of his grandfather by Theseus.
 Because water is the duck's domain, as it is that of Posidon.
 Because the gull, like Heracles, is voracious.
 The Germans still call it 'Zaunkonig' and the French 'roitelet,'
both names thus containing the idea of 'king.'
This notion of an immolated gnat delights me! And now let the great
But how will mankind recognize us as gods and not as jays? Us, who
have wings and fly?
You talk rubbish! Hermes is a god and has wings and flies, and
so do many other gods. First of all, Victory flies with golden
wings, Eros is undoubtedly winged too, and Iris is compared by Homer
to a timorous dove. If men in their blindness do not recognize you
as gods and continue to worship the dwellers in Olympus, then a cloud
of sparrows greedy for corn must descend upon their fields and eat up
all their seeds; we shall see then if Demeter will mete them out
 The scholiast draws our attention to the fact that Homer says this
of Here and not of Iris (Iliad, V, 778); it is only another proof that
the text of Homer has reached us in a corrupted form, or it may be that
Aristophanes was liable, like other people, to occasional mistakes of
By Zeus, she'll take good care she does not, and you will see
her inventing a thousand excuses.
The crows too will prove your divinity to them by pecking out
the eyes of their flocks and of their draught-oxen; and then let
Apollo cure them, since he is a physician and is paid for
Firstly, the locusts shall not eat up their vine-blossoms; a legion
of owls and kestrels will devour them. Moreover, the gnats
and the gall-bugs shall no longer ravage the figs; a flock
of thrushes shall swallow the whole host down to the very last.
And how shall we give wealth to mankind? This is their strongest
When they consult the omens, you will point them to the richest
mines, you will reveal the paying ventures to the diviner, and not
another shipwreck will happen or sailor perish.
From whom? Why, from themselves. Don't you know the cawing crow
lives five times as long as a man?
Ah! ah! these are far better kings for us than Zeus!
Far better, are they not? And firstly, we shall not have to build
them temples of hewn stone, closed with gates of gold; they will
dwell amongst the bushes and in the thickets of green oak; the most
venerated of birds will have no other temple than the foliage of the
olive tree; we shall not go to Delphi or to Ammon to sacrifice; but
standing erect in the midst of arbutus and wild olives and holding
forth our hands filled with wheat and barley, we shall pray them
to admit us to a share of the blessings they enjoy and shall at once
obtain them for a few grains of wheat.
 A celebrated temple to Zeus in an oasis of Libya.
Old man, whom I detested, you are now to me the dearest of all;
never shall I, if I can help it, fail to follow your advice.
Inspirited by your words, I threaten my rivals the gods, and I
swear that if you march in alliance with me against the gods and are
faithful to our just, loyal and sacred bond, we shall soon have
shattered their sceptre. 'Tis our part to undertake the toil,
'tis yours to advise.
By Zeus! 'tis no longer the time to delay and loiter like
Nicias; let us act as promptly as possible.... In the first place,
come, enter my nest built of brushwood and blades of straw, and tell
me your names.
 Nicias was commander, along with Demosthenes, and later on
Alcibiades, of the Athenian forces before Syracuse, in the ill-fated
Sicilian Expedition, 415-413 B.C. He was much blamed for dilatoriness
Take them off to dine well and call your mate, the melodious
Procne, whose songs are worthy of the Muses; she will delight our
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
 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.
Let is be as you desire. Come forth, Procne, show yourself to these strangers.
Oh! great Zeus! what a beautiful little bird! what a dainty
form! what brilliant plumage!
 The actor, representing Procne, was dressed out as a courtesan, but wore
a mask of a bird.
Do you know how dearly I should like to splint her legs for her?
She is dazzling all over with gold, like a young girl.
 Young unmarried girls wore golden ornaments; the apparel of married women
was much simpler.
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
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 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.
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
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,
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?
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. I poured forth sacred strains from my golden throat
in honour of the god Pan, 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, 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." The runaway slave,
whom you brand, is only a spotted francolin with us. Are you
Phrygian like Spintharus? Among us you would be the Phrygian bird,
the goldfinch, of the race of Philemon. Are you a slave and
a Carian like Execestides? Among us you can create yourself
fore-fathers; 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 most priceless gift of all, to be winged? Look at Diitrephes!
His wings were only wicker-work ones, and yet he got himself chosen
Phylarch and then Hipparch; from being nobody, he has risen
to be famous; 'tis now the finest gilded cock of his tribe.
 The actor, representing Procne, was a flute-player.
 Meaning, "We are your oracles." --Dodona was an oracle in Epirus.
--The temple of Zeus there was surrounded by a dense forest, all
the trees of which were endowed with the gift of prophecy; both
the sacred oaks and the pigeons that lived in them answered
the questions of those who came to consult the oracle in pure Greek.
 The Greek word for 'omen' is the same as that for 'bird.'
 A satire on the passion of the Greeks for seeing an omen
 The 'Mother of the Gods'; roaming the mountains, she held dances,
always attended by Pan and his accompanying rout of Fauns and Satyrs.
 An allusion to cock-fighting; the birds are armed with brazen spurs.
 An allusion to the spots on this bird, which resemble the scars
left by a branding iron.
 He was of Asiatic origin, but wished to pass for an Athenian.
 Or Philamnon, King of Thrace; the scholiast remarks that
the Phrygians and the Thracians had a common origin.
 The Greek word here is also the name of a little bird.
 A basket-maker who had become rich. --The Phylarchs were the
headmen of the tribes. They presided at the private assemblies
and were charged with the management of the treasury. --The Hipparchs,
as the name implies, were the leaders of the cavalry; there were
only two of these in the Athenian army.
 A fanciful name constructed from [the word for] a cloud, and
[the word for] a cuckoo; thus a city of clouds and cuckoos.
--'Wolkenkukelheim' is a clever approximation in German.
Cloud-cuckoo-town, perhaps, is the best English equivalent.
Oh! capital! truly 'tis a brilliant thought!
Is it in Nephelococcygia that all the wealth of Theovenes and most
of Aeschines' is?
 He was a boaster nicknamed 'smoke,' because he promised
a great deal and never kept his word.
Oh! noble chick! What a well-chosen god for a rocky home!
Come! into the air with you to help the workers who are building
the wall; carry up rubble, strip yourself to mix the mortar, take up
the hod, tumble down the ladder, an you like, post sentinels, keep
the fire smouldering beneath the ashes, go round the walls, bell
in hand, and go to sleep up there yourself; then d[i]spatch two
heralds, one to the gods above, the other to mankind on earth
and come back here.
 To waken the sentinels, who might else have fallen asleep.
--There are several merry contradictions in the various parts
of this list of injunctions.
As for yourself, remain here, and may the plague take you for
a troublesome fellow!
Go, friend, go where I send you, for without you my orders
cannot be obeyed. For myself, I want to sacrifice to the new god,
and I am going to summon the priest who must preside at the ceremony.
Slaves! slaves! bring forward the basket and the lustral water.
I do as you do, and I wish as you wish, and I implore you to
address powerful and solemn prayers to the gods, and in addition to
immolate a sheep as a token of our gratitude. Let us sing the
Pythian chant in honour of the god, and let Chaeris accompany our
PISTHETAERUS (TO THE FLUTE-PLAYER)
Enough! but, by Heracles! what is this? Great gods! I have seen
many prodigious things, but I never saw a muzzled raven.
 In allusion to the leather strap which flute-players wore
to constrict the cheeks and add to the power of the breath.
The performer here no doubt wore a raven's mask.
Priest! 'tis high time! Sacrifice to the new gods.
I begin, but where is he with the basket? Pray to the Vesta
of the birds, to the kite, who presides over the hearth, and
to all the god and goddess-birds who dwell in Olympus.
Oh! Hawk, the sacred guardian of Sunium, oh, god of the storks!
Pray to the swan of Delos, to Latona the mother of the quails, and to
Artemis, the goldfinch.
'Tis no longer Artemis Colaenis, but Artemis the goldfinch.
 Hellanicus, the Mitylenian historian, tells that this surname
of Artemis is derived from Colaenus, King of Athens before Cecrops
and a descendant of Hermes. In obedience to an oracle he erected
a temple to the goddess, invoking her as Artemis Colaenis (the Artemis
And to Bacchus, the finch and Cybele, the ostrich and mother
of the gods and mankind.
Oh! sovereign ostrich, Cybele, The mother of Cleocritus,
grant health and safety to the Nephelococcygians as well as
to the dwellers in Chios...
 This Cleocritus, says the scholiast, was long-necked and strutted
like an ostrich.
The dwellers in Chios! Ah! I am delighted they should be thus
mentioned on all occasions.
 The Chians were the most faithful allies of Athens, and hence
their name was always mentioned in prayers, decrees, etc.
...to the heroes, the birds, to the sons of heroes, to
the porphyrion, the pelican, the spoon-bill, the redbreast, the grouse,
the peacock, the horned-owl, the teal, the bittern, the heron,
the stormy petrel, the fig-pecker, the titmouse...
Stop! stop! you drive me crazy with your endless list. Why,
wretch, to what sacred feast are you inviting the vultures and
the sea-eagles? Don't you see that a single kite could easily carry off
the lot at once? Begone, you and your fillets and all; I shall know
how to complete the sacrifice by myself.
It is imperative that I sing another sacred chant for the rite
of the lustral water, and that I invoke the immortals, or at least one
of them, provided always that you have some suitable food to offer
him; from what I see here, in the shape of gifts, there is naught
whatever but horn and hair.
Let us address our sacrifices and our prayers to the winged gods.
Oh, Muse! celebrate happy Nephelococcygia in your hymns.
What have we here? Where did you come from, tell me? Who are you?
I am he whose language is sweeter than honey, the zealous slave
of the Muses, as Homer has it.
Oh! 'tis long, aye, very long, that I have sung in honour of this city.
But I am only celebrating its foundation with this sacrifice;
I have only just named it, as is done with little babies.
 This ceremony took place on the tenth day after birth, and
may be styled the pagan baptism.
"Just as the chargers fly with the speed of the wind, so does
the voice of the Muses take its flight. Oh! thou noble founder of
the town of Aetna, thou, whose name recalls the holy sacrifices,
make us such gift as thy generous heart shall suggest."
 Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse. --This passage is borrowed from Pindar.