The Birds (cont'd)
 

INFORMER
I? Why, I am an accuser of the islands,[1] an informer...

[1] His trade was to accuse the rich citizens of the subject islands, and drag them before the Athenian court; he explains later the special advantages of this branch of the informer's business.

PISTHETAERUS
A fine trade, truly!

INFORMER
...a hatcher of lawsuits. Hence I have great need of wings to prowl round the cities and drag them before justice.

PISTHETAERUS
Would you do this better if you had wings?

INFORMER
No, but I should no longer fear the pirates; I should return with the cranes, loaded with a supply of lawsuits by way of ballast.

PISTHETAERUS
So it seems, despite all your youthful vigour, you make it your trade to denounce strangers?

INFORMER
Well, and why not? I don't know how to dig.

PISTHETAERUS
But, by Zeus! there are honest ways of gaining a living at your age without all this infamous trickery.

INFORMER
My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.

PISTHETAERUS
'Tis just my words that give you wings.

INFORMER
And how can you give a man wings with your words?

PISTHETAERUS
'Tis thus that all first start.

INFORMER
All?

PISTHETAERUS
Have you not often heard the father say to young men in the barbers' shops, "It's astonishing how Diitrephes' advice has made my son fly to horse-riding." --"Mine," says another, "has flown towards tragic poetry on the wings of his imagination."

INFORMER
So that words give wings?

PISTHETAERUS
Undoubtedly; words give wings to the mind and make a man soar to heaven. Thus I hope that my wise words will give you wings to fly to some less degrading trade.

INFORMER
But I do not want to.

PISTHETAERUS
What do you reckon on doing then?

INFORMER
I won't belie my breeding; from generation to generation we have lived by informing. Quick, therefore, give me quickly some light, swift hawk or kestrel wings, so that I may summon the islanders, sustain the accusation here, and haste back there again on flying pinions.

PISTHETAERUS
I see. In this way the stranger will be condemned even before he appears.

INFORMER
That's just it.

PISTHETAERUS
And while he is on his way here by sea, you will be flying to the islands to despoil him of his property.

INFORMER
You've hit it, precisely; I must whirl hither and thither like a perfect humming-top.

PISTHETAERUS
I catch the idea. Wait, i' faith, I've got some fine Corcyraean wings.[1] How do you like them?

[1] That is, whips--Corcyra being famous for these articles.

INFORMER
Oh! woe is me! Why, 'tis a whip!

PISTHETAERUS
No, no; these are the wings, I tell you, that set the top a-spinning.

INFORMER
Oh! oh! oh!

PISTHETAERUS
Take your flight, clear off, you miserable cur, or you will soon see what comes of quibbling and lying. Come, let us gather up our wings and withdraw.

CHORUS
In my ethereal flights I have seen many things new and strange and wondrous beyond belief. There is a tree called Cleonymus belonging to an unknown species; it has no heart, is good for nothing and is as tall as it is cowardly. In springtime it shoots forth calumnies instead of buds and in autumn it strews the ground with bucklers in place of leaves.[1]

Far away in the regions of darkness, where no ray of light ever enters, there is a country, where men sit at the table of the heroes and dwell with them always--save always in the evening. Should any mortal meet the hero Orestes at night, he would soon be stripped and covered with blows from head to foot.[2]

[1] Cleonymous is a standing butt of Aristophanes' wit, both as an informer and a notorious poltroon.

[2] In allusion to the cave of the bandit Orestes; the poet terms him a hero only because of his heroic name Orestes.

PROMETHEUS
Ah! by the gods! if only Zeus does not espy me! Where is Pisthetaerus?

PISTHETAERUS
Ha! what is this? A masked man!

PROMETHEUS
Can you see any god behind me?

PISTHETAERUS
No, none. But who are you, pray?

PROMETHEUS
What's the time, please?

PISTHETAERUS
The time? Why, it's past noon. Who are you?

PROMETHEUS
Is it the fall of day? Is it no later than that?[1]

[1] Prometheus wants night to come and so reduce the risk of being seen from Olympus.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh! 'pon my word! but you grow tiresome.

PROMETHEUS
What is Zeus doing? Is he dispersing the clouds or gathering them?[1]

[1] The clouds would prevent Zeus seeing what was happening below him.

PISTHETAERUS
Take care, lest I lose all patience.

PROMETHEUS
Come, I will raise my mask.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! my dear Prometheus!

PROMETHEUS
Stop! stop! speak lower!

PISTHETAERUS
Why, what's the matter, Prometheus?

PROMETHEUS
H'sh! h'sh! Don't call me by my name; you will be my ruin, if Zeus should see me here. But, if you want me to tell you how things are going in heaven, take this umbrella and shield me, so that the gods don't see me.

PISTHETAERUS
I can recognize Prometheus in this cunning trick. Come, quick then, and fear nothing; speak on.

PROMETHEUS
Then listen.

PISTHETAERUS
I am listening, proceed!

PROMETHEUS
It's all over with Zeus.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! and since when, pray?

PROMETHEUS
Since you founded this city in the air. There is not a man who now sacrifices to the gods; the smoke of the victims no longer reaches us. Not the smallest offering comes! We fast as though it were the festival of Demeter.[1] The barbarian gods, who are dying of hunger, are bawling like Illyrians[2] and threaten to make an armed descent upon Zeus, if he does not open markets where joints of the victims are sold.

[1] The third day of the festival of Demeter was a fast.

[2] A semi-savage people, addicted to violence and brigandage.

PISTHETAERUS
What! there are other gods besides you, barbarian gods who dwell above Olympus?

PROMETHEUS
If there were no barbarian gods, who would be the patron of Execestides?[1]

[1] Who, being reputed a stranger despite his pretension to the title of a citizen, could only have a strange god for his patron or tutelary deity.

PISTHETAERUS
And what is the name of these gods?

PROMETHEUS
Their name? Why, the Triballi.[1]

[1] The Triballi were a Thracian people; it was a term commonly used in Athens to describe coarse men, obscene debauchees and greedy parasites.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah, indeed! 'tis from that no doubt that we derive the word 'tribulation.'[1]

[1] There is a similar pun in the Greek.

PROMETHEUS
Most likely. But one thing I can tell you for certain, namely, that Zeus and the celestial Triballi are going to send deputies here to sue for peace. Now don't you treat, unless Zeus restores the sceptre to the birds and gives you Basileia[1] in marriage.

[1] i.e. the 'supremacy' of Greece, the real object of the war.

PISTHETAERUS
Who is this Basileia?

PROMETHEUS
A very fine young damsel, who makes the lightning for Zeus; all things come from her, wisdom, good laws, virtue, the fleet, calumnies, the public paymaster and the triobolus.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! then she is a sort of general manageress to the god.

PROMETHEUS
Yes, precisely. If he gives you her for your wife, yours will be the almighty power. That is what I have come to tell you; for you know my constant and habitual goodwill towards men.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh, yes! 'tis thanks to you that we roast our meat.[1]

[1] Prometheus had stolen the fire from the gods to gratify mankind.

PROMETHEUS
I hate the gods, as you know.

PISTHETAERUS
Aye, by Zeus, you have always detested them.

PROMETHEUS
Towards them I am a veritable Timon;[1] but I must return in all haste, so give me the umbrella; if Zeus should see me from up there, he would think I was escorting one of the Canephori.[2]

[1] A celebrated misanthrope, contemporary to Aristophanes. Hating the society of men, he had only a single friend, Apimantus, to whom he was attached, because of their similarity of character; he also liked Alcibiades, because he foresaw that this young man would be the ruin of his country.

[2] The Canephori were young maidens, chosen from the first families of the city, who carried baskets wreathed with myrtle at the feast of Athene, while at those of Bacchus and Demeter they appeared with gilded baskets. --The daughters of 'Metics,' or resident aliens, walked behind them, carrying an umbrella and a stool.

PISTHETAERUS
Wait, take this stool as well.

CHORUS
Near by the land of the Sciapodes[1] there is a marsh, from the borders whereof the odious Socrates evokes the souls of men. Pisander[2] came one day to see his soul, which he had left there when still alive. He offered a little victim, a camel,[3] slit his throat and, following the example of Ulysses, stepped one pace backwards.[4] Then that bat of a Chaerephon[5] came up from hell to drink the camel's blood.

[1] According to Ctesias, the Sciapodes were a people who dwelt on the borders of the Atlantic. Their feet were larger than the rest of their bodies, and to shield themselves from the sun's rays they held up one of their feet as an umbrella. --By giving the Socratic philosophers the name of Sciapodes here Aristophanes wishes to convey that they are walking in the dark and busying themselves with the greatest nonsense.

[2] This Pisander was a notorious coward; for this reason the poet jestingly supposes that he had lost his soul, the seat of courage.

[3] Considering the shape and height of the camel, [it] can certainly not be included in the list of SMALL victims, e.g. the sheep and the goat.

[4] In the evocation of the dead, Book XI of the Odyssey.

[5] Chaerephon was given this same title by the Herald earlier in this comedy. --Aristophanes supposes him to have come from hell because he is lean and pallid.

POSIDON[1]
This is the city of Nephelococcygia, Cloud-cuckoo-town, whither we come as ambassadors. (TO TRIBALLUS) Hi! what are you up to? you are throwing your cloak over the left shoulder. Come, fling it quick over the right! And why, pray, does it draggle in this fashion? Have you ulcers to hide like Laespodias?[2] Oh! democracy![3] whither, oh! whither are you leading us? Is it possible that the gods have chosen such an envoy?

[1] Posidon appears on the stage accompanied by Heracles and a Triballian god.

[2] An Athenian general. --Neptune is trying to give Triballus some notions of elegance and good behaviour.

[3] Aristophanes supposes that democracy is in the ascendant in Olympus as it is in Athens.

TRIBALLUS
Leave me alone.

POSIDON
Ugh! the cursed savage! you are by far the most barbarous of all the gods. --Tell me, Heracles, what are we going to do?

HERACLES
I have already told you that I want to strangle the fellow who has dared to block us in.

POSIDON
But, my friend, we are envoys of peace.

HERACLES
All the more reason why I wish to strangle him.

PISTHETAERUS
Hand me the cheese-grater; bring me the silphium for sauce; pass me the cheese and watch the coals.[1]

[1] He is addressing his servant, Manes.

HERACLES
Mortal! we who greet you are three gods.

PISTHETAERUS
Wait a bit till I have prepared my silphium pickle.

HERACLES
What are these meats?[1]

[1] Heracles softens at sight of the food. --Heracles is the glutton of the comic poets.

PISTHETAERUS
These are birds that have been punished with death for attacking the people's friends.

HERACLES
And you are seasoning them before answering us?

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! Heracles! welcome, welcome! What's the matter?[1]

[1] He pretends not to have seen them at first, being so much engaged with his cookery.

HERACLES
The gods have sent us here as ambassadors to treat for peace.

A SERVANT
There's no more oil in the flask.

PISTHETAERUS
And yet the birds must be thoroughly basted with it.[1]

[1] He pretends to forget the presence of the ambassadors.

HERACLES
We have no interest to serve in fighting you; as for you, be friends and we promise that you shall always have rain-water in your pools and the warmest of warm weather. So far as these points go we are armed with plenary authority.

PISTHETAERUS
We have never been the aggressors, and even now we are as well disposed for peace as yourselves, provided you agree to one equitable condition, namely, that Zeus yield his sceptre to the birds. If only this is agreed to, I invite the ambassadors to dinner.

HERACLES
That's good enough for me. I vote for peace.

POSIDON
You wretch! you are nothing but a fool and a glutton. Do you want to dethrone your own father?

PISTHETAERUS
What an error! Why, the gods will be much more powerful if the birds govern the earth. At present the mortals are hidden beneath the clouds, escape your observation, and commit perjury in your name; but if you had the birds for your allies, and a man, after having sworn by the crow and Zeus, should fail to keep his oath, the crow would dive down upon him unawares and pluck out his eye.

POSIDON
Well thought of, by Posidon![1]

[1] Posidon jestingly swears by himself.

HERACLES
My notion too.

PISTHETAERUS (TO THE TRIBALLIAN)
And you, what's your opinion?

TRIBALLUS
Nabaisatreu.[1]

[1] The barbarian god utters some gibberish which Pisthetaerus interprets into consent.

PISTHETAERUS
D'you see? he also approves. But hear another thing in which we can serve you. If a man vows to offer a sacrifice to some god, and then procrastinates, pretending that the gods can wait, and thus does not keep his word, we shall punish his stinginess.

POSIDON
Ah! ah! and how?

PISTHETAERUS
While he is counting his money or is in the bath, a kite will relieve him, before he knows it, either in coin or in clothes, of the value of a couple of sheep, and carry it to the god.

HERACLES
I vote for restoring them the sceptre.

POSIDON
Ask the Triballian.

HERACLES
Hi Triballian, do you want a thrashing?

TRIBALLUS
Saunaka baktarikrousa.

HERACLES
He says, "Right willingly."

POSIDON
If that be the opinion of both of you, why, I consent too.

HERACLES
Very well! we accord the sceptre.

PISTHETAERUS
Ah! I was nearly forgetting another condition. I will leave Here to Zeus, but only if the young Basileia is given me in marriage.

POSIDON
Then you don't want peace. Let us withdraw.

PISTHETAERUS
It matters mighty little to me. Cook, look to the gravy.

HERACLES
What an odd fellow this Posidon is! Where are you off to? Are we going to war about a woman?

POSIDON
What else is there to do?

HERACLES
What else? Why, conclude peace.

POSIDON
Oh! you ninny! do you always want to be fooled? Why, you are seeking your own downfall. If Zeus were to die, after having yielded them the sovereignty, you would be ruined, for you are the heir of all the wealth he will leave behind.

PISTHETAERUS
Oh! by the gods! how he is cajoling you. Step aside, that I may have a word with you. Your uncle is getting the better of you, my poor friend.[1] The law will not allow you an obolus of the paternal property, for you are a bastard and not a legitimate child.

[1] Heracles, the god of strength, was far from being remarkable in the way of cleverness.

HERACLES
I a bastard! What's that you tell me?

PISTHETAERUS
Why, certainly; are you not born of a stranger woman? Besides, is not Athene recognized as Zeus' sole heiress? And no daughter would be that, if she had a legitimate brother.

HERACLES
But what if my father wished to give me his property on his death-bed, even though I be a bastard?

PISTHETAERUS
The law forbids it, and this same Posidon would be the first to lay claim to his wealth, in virtue of being his legitimate brother. Listen; thus runs Solon's law: "A bastard shall not inherit, if there are legitimate children; and if there are no legitimate children, the property shall pass to the nearest kin."[1]

[1] This was Athenian law.

HERACLES
And I get nothing whatever of the paternal property?

PISTHETAERUS
Absolutely nothing. But tell me, has your father had you entered on the registers of his phratria?[1]

[1] The poet attributes to the gods the same customs as those which governed Athens, and according to which no child was looked upon as legitimate unless his father had entered him on the registers of his phratria. The phratria was a division of the tribe and consisted of thirty families.

HERACLES
No, and I have long been surprised at the omission.

PISTHETAERUS
What ails you, that you should shake your fist at heaven? Do you want to fight it? Why, be on my side, I will make you a king and will feed you on bird's milk and honey.

HERACLES
Your further condition seems fair to me. I cede you the young damsel.

POSIDON
But I, I vote against this opinion.

PISTHETAERUS
Then it all depends on the Triballian. (TO THE TRIBALLIAN.) What do you say?

TRIBALLUS
Big bird give daughter pretty and queen.

HERACLES
You say that you give her?

POSIDON
Why no, he does not say anything of the sort, that he gives her; else I cannot understand any better than the swallows.

PISTHETAERUS
Exactly so. Does he not say she must be given to the swallows?

POSIDON
Very well! you two arrange the matter; make peace, since you wish it so; I'll hold my tongue.

HERACLES
We are of a mind to grant you all that you ask. But come up there with us to receive Basileia and the celestial bounty.

PISTHETAERUS
Here are birds already cut up, and very suitable for a nuptial feast.

HERACLES
You go and, if you like, I will stay here to roast them.

PISTHETAERUS
You to roast them! you are too much the glutton; come along with us.

HERACLES
Ah! how well I would have treated myself!

PISTHETAERUS
Let some[one] bring me a beautiful and magnificent tunic for the wedding.

CHORUS[1]
At Phanae,[2] near the Clepsydra,[3] there dwells a people who have neither faith nor law, the Englottogastors,[4] who reap, sow, pluck the vines and the figs[5] with their tongues; they belong to a barbaric race, and among them the Philippi and the Gorgiases[6] are to be found; 'tis these Englottogastorian Philippi who introduced the custom all over Attica of cutting out the tongue separately at sacrifices.[7]

[1] The chorus continues to tell what it has seen on its flights.

[2] The harbour of the island of Chios; but this name is here used in the sense of being the land of informers ([from the Greek for] 'to denounce').

[3] i.e. near the orators' platform, in the Public Assembly, or because there stood the water-clock, by which speeches were limited.

[4] A coined name, made up of [the Greek for] the tongue, and [for] the stomach, and meaning those who fill their stomach with what they gain with their tongues, to wit, the orators.

[5] [The Greek for] a fig forms part of the word which in Greek means an informer.

[6] Both rhetoricians.

[7] Because they consecrated it specially to the god of eloquence.

A MESSENGER
Oh, you, whose unbounded happiness I cannot express in words, thrice happy race of airy birds, receive your king in your fortunate dwellings. More brilliant than the brightest star that illumes the earth, he is approaching his glittering golden palace; the sun itself does not shine with more dazzling glory. He is entering with his bride at his side,[1] whose beauty no human tongue can express; in his hand he brandishes the lightning, the winged shaft of Zeus; perfumes of unspeakable sweetness pervade the ethereal realms. 'Tis a glorious spectacle to see the clouds of incense wafting in light whirlwinds before the breath of the Zephyr! But here he is himself. Divine Muse! let thy sacred lips begin with songs of happy omen.

[1] Basileia, whom he brings back from heaven.

CHORUS
Fall back! to the right! to the left! advance![1] Fly around this happy mortal, whom Fortune loads with her blessings. Oh! oh! what grace! what beauty! Oh, marriage so auspicious for our city! All honour to this man! 'tis through him that the birds are called to such glorious destinies. Let your nuptial hymns, your nuptial songs, greet him and his Basileia! 'Twas in the midst of such festivities that the Fates formerly united Olympian Here to the King who governs the gods from the summit of his inaccessible throne. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus! Rosy Eros with the golden wings held the reins and guided the chariot; 'twas he, who presided over the union of Zeus and the fortunate Here. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus!

[1] Terms used in regulating a dance.

PISTHETAERUS
I am delighted with your songs, I applaud your verses. Now celebrate the thunder that shakes the earth, the flaming lightning of Zeus and the terrible flashing thunderbolt.

CHORUS
Oh, thou golden flash of the lightning! oh, ye divine shafts of flame, that Zeus has hitherto shot forth! Oh, ye rolling thunders, that bring down the rain! 'Tis by the order of OUR king that ye shall now stagger the earth! Oh, Hymen! 'tis through thee that he commands the universe and that he makes Basileia, whom he has robbed from Zeus, take her seat at his side. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaeus!

PISTHETAERUS
Let all the winged tribes of our fellow-citizens follow the bridal couple to the palace of Zeus[1] and to the nuptial couch! Stretch forth your hands, my dear wife! Take hold of me by my wings and let us dance; I am going to lift you up and carry you through the air.

[1] Where Pisthetaerus is henceforth to reign.

CHORUS
Oh, joy! Io Paean! Tralala! victory is thing, oh, thou greatest of the gods!