A comic play by Aristophanes produced in 414 BCE at the Great Dionysia at the city of Athens; Aristophanes won second prize for this masterwork of comic indulgence; like most of Aristophanes’ comedies, this play is silly, dramatic and bitingly satirical.

The play revolves around the adventures of two Athenian men who left Athens in search of a bird-utopia where there were no corrupt politicians or wars; they both bought birds hoping that they would lead them to the abode of Tereus (the man who was turned into a hoopoe for the ill treatment of his wife, Prokne (Procne)).

The main character of this play is a clever man named Pisthetairos; he found Tereus in a state of severe feather loss and proceeded to convince the molting bird-man that if the birds would only unite, they could create their own dominion and rule over mortals and Immortals alike; a congregation of birds accepted Pisthetairos bizarre proposal and, using the talents of the various birds, built a walled city in the sky that would not allow commerce between heaven and earth, therefore denying the rule of the gods over the people of earth.

A variety of self appointed representatives from the earthbound people came to the bird city and demanded wings so that they might make the nation of birds as much like human civilization as possible; poets, prophets, priests, informers, politicians and a delinquent son all approached Pisthetairos and demand wings; he soundly beat and thrashed all of them while he explained their utter uselessness.

The chorus of the play is, of course, comprised of the Birds; they alternately accuse and praise the audience while they present rational arguments as to why the birds are in all ways superior to the human race; the goddess Iris arrived and was denounced by Pisthetairos; also, the great Immortal benefactor of the people of the earth, Prometheus, arrived to give Pisthetairos advice as to how he might successfully negotiate with the Olympian gods; a delegation arrived from Mount Olympos (Olympus) to sue for peace with the birds; the delegation is comprised of Poseidon, Herakles (Heracles) and a primitive god (who has recently come to reside on Mount Olympos because he is worshiped by the more base and stone-age minded politicians of Athens); Pisthetairos brokers a peace with the Immortals and the earth is saved from foolishness and folly (even though the play is itself a delightful exercise in foolishness and folly).

Aristophanes’ plays are sometimes difficult to appreciate because he was a very contemporary poet, i.e. he was writing for the Athenian audience of his day; he would use puns, parody regional accents and speak directly to the audience in ways that force modern translators to seek out the contextual meaning rather than the literal meaning of the poet’s words; for that reason, I suggest that if you find a translation that is difficult to enjoy, please don’t blame Aristophanes, simply look for a translation that you can enjoy; you may find this play at your local library in the 882 section or you can find a copy at which is linked to the Book Shop on this site.

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