This play was exhibited at the Great or City Festival of Bacchus in the year 414 b.c. The struggle in Sicily, which was to end so disastrously for Athens in the following year, was then going on; and it has been suggested that the poet's purpose was to warn his countrymen against wild and hare-brained expeditions and schemes of conquest. This suggestion is scarcely probable, for the expedition had hitherto had a fair measure of success, and was still greatly popular at Athens. The question, however, need not be here discussed; but it may be well to mention, for the benefit of readers not familiar with the history of the time, an important incident connected with it. Alcibiades had been one of the chief advocates of the expedition, and had been appointed one of the three generals in command, Nicias and Lamachus being his colleagues. On the eve of embarkation an extraordinary outrage was committed in the city. This was the simultaneous mutilation of all the pedestal statues of Hermes that stood in the streets and public places of Athens. Suspicion at once fell on Alcibiades and the riotous young aristocrats in whose society he lived. The fact that almost the only statue spared was one that stood near his house was thought to point to his guilt, though to us it suggests that the affair was the work of his enemies. Alcibiades begged that the matter should be inquired into at once. This he could not bring about; but he was permitted, even compelled, to accompany the expedition. Not long afterwards he was recalled to take his trial, and one of the state galleys was sent to fetch him. He obeyed the summons, but escaped on his way home, and took refuge at Sparta. There he exerted himself to do all the injury possible to his country.
Two citizens of Athens, of whom one had the name of Plausible, and the other of Hopeful, Plausible being the leader, set out from Athens in search of some country where they might live at peace, being free from the troubles of lawsuits and debts. Plausible had bought a raven and Hopeful a jackdaw, hoping that they might be useful to them as guides. They had a notion of finding King Tereus, who many years before had married an Athenian princess, and had been changed into a hoopoe, or, as some said, a hawk; and a bird-seller in the city had persuaded them that these creatures would help them to do so. Tereus, if they could light upon him, would tell them of some country or other that he had seen in his migrations. After many wanderings, in which their guides, as far as they could make out, did nothing but contradict each other and bite their masters' fingers, they came to a great rock, where their guides behaved in such a way as to make them believe that they had reached their journey's end. Hopeful gave a kick to the rock, calling out at the same time, "Hoopoe! Hoopoe!"
"Who wants the master?" said the porter, who turned out to be a sandpiper. The visitors did not by any means please him. "A couple of bird-catching villains," he said, when he had taken a look at them. "You shall both be put to death." They roundly denied that they were men. Hopeful declared that he was a bird from Africa; Plausible professed to come from the river Phasis. With some unwillingness the porter consented to call his master who was having a sleep after his midday meal of myrtle-berries and winged ants.
Before long King Hoopoe appeared, a majestic creature with a triple crest, and inquired of the strangers what they wanted. They replied that they had come to consult him.
King-Hoopoe. "Consult me? About what?"
Hopeful. "You were once a man, as we are; you owed money, as we do; you were glad to get off paying it, as we are; after this you were changed into a bird; you have flown over lands and seas, and have all the feelings both of a bird and of a man; we have come therefore to you, hoping that if you have seen in your journeyings any snug country where we might find a comfortable place to lie down in, you would tell us of it."
K. H. "Do you want a finer city than Athens?"
Hope. "Not a finer one certainly, but one that would suit us better."
K. H. "What kind of a place are you thinking of?"
Hope. "Why, a place where the most important business they do is of this kind. Your friend comes to your door the first thing in the morning and says, 'Mind you come, you and your children, dressed in your best, for I am to give a wedding feast.' "
K. H. "Well, I know of a place that might suit you near the Red Sea."
Hope. "No; that won't do. It must not be anywhere near the sea, or else I shall have the state galley coming after me some fine morning, with an order for my arrest. But tell me, what kind of a life do you lead among the birds here? Of course you know all about it."
K. H. "Not a bad one, on the whole. You can get on without money."
Hope. "Then you get rid of a vast amount of trouble."
At this point Plausible broke in with an idea of his own. "I see a great future," he said, "for the race of birds, if you will only listen to me."
K. H. "Listen to you,—about what?"
Plausible. "Do you ask about what? First, you mustn't go gaping about everywhere with open bills. It is quite an undignified thing to do. Among us, when we see any one particularly apt to change, we say, 'He is a flighty, volatile creature.' "
K. H. "By Bacchus! you are right. Well, what do you advise?"
Plaus. "Found a city, I say, a city of birds."
K. H. "How could we birds possibly found a city?"
Plaus. "How can you ask? Nothing could be easier. Look down."
K. H. "I am looking down."
Plaus. "Now look up."
K. H. "I am looking up."
Plaus. "Now turn your neck round."
K. H. "What good shall I get by ricking my neck?"
Plaus. "Did you see anything?"
K. H. "I saw the clouds and the sky."
Plaus. "Well, that is the 'pole' of the birds."
K. H. "Pole of the birds'! What do you mean?"
Plaus. "I mean that the birds will there get a polity. Make a city of this, and men will be as much in your power as if they were so many locusts; and as for the gods, you will starve them out just as we starved the poor wretches in Melos."
K. H. "How is that to be managed?"
Plaus. "Don't you see? The air is between the gods and the earth; so, just as we, when we want to send to Delphi, have to ask the Botians for a passage, the gods will have to come to you, and unless they pay you a proper tribute, you won't let the smell of the sacrifices go through your territory."
K. H. "Good! good! Earth and clouds! springs and nooses! I never heard a cleverer thing in my life. I am quite ready to help you found the city you talk of; that is, if the other birds agree."
Plaus. "But who is to explain the matter to them?"
K. H. "You. They know Greek now; before I came among them they had only their own foreign lingo, but I have taught them the language."
Plaus. "And how can you collect them?"
K. H. "I will just step into the thicket here and call the nightingale. They'll come fast enough when they hear her voice."
The king then summoned his herald by a song:—
"Come, gentle mate, from sleep awake;
The sacred strain
With which, O minstrel bird, you make
For Itys lost complaint so sweet,
That through the woodland to the feet
Of Zeus above, the song ascends,
Where golden-haired Apollo lends,
Touching his ivory-pedalled lyre,
Such answering music that the choir
Of all the blessed gods who throng
The courts of heaven join the song."
This was answered by a burst of music, as of the most exquisitely played flute, from the neighbouring thicket:—
Io io, ito ito, do tio, tiu."
Then the king began again:—
"Now come at my call,
Now come one and all,
From ploughland and plain,
Ye feeders on grain;
Tio tio tio tio tio tio tio tio;
From garden and glade,
Where a shelter is made
By the ivy's deep shade;
From mountain and hill,
Ye on berries that feed;
From marsh and from mead
Well watered and flat
Where the trumpet sounds shrill
Of your quarry, the gnat.
You, who on the swell
Of the wide-rolling sea
With the kingfisher dwell,
Come, obedient to me.
Before long a vast crowd of birds had assembled. The king told them the business on which he had called them together—two ambassadors from mankind had come to make a proposal of great importance to the bird-nation. This announcement was not received with any favour. Their king, the birds declared, had betrayed them, and broken their laws. He had introduced into their country two creatures of a race which from its birth was hostile to the bird-nation. For this he would have to answer at some future time; the first thing to be done was to put the intruders to death. Accordingly the birds proceeded to put themselves in battle array, the strangers meanwhile arming themselves with the first things that came ready to their hands, the lid of a pot for a shield and a spit for a spear. The two parties were about to come to blows, when King Hoopoe made another effort to preserve the peace.
K. H. "Vilest of all creatures, do you intend to kill, for no reason at all, two strangers who are my wife's countrymen and kinsmen?"
Birds. "Why should we spare them? They are the worst enemies we have."
K. H. "Enemies, perhaps, by nature, but friends in intention and come hither to teach us something very useful."
Birds. "How can they teach us anything useful? They were our grandfathers' enemies, and they are ours."
K. H. "Still, the wise learn even from their enemies, caution, for instance; your friends don't teach you that. Isn't it from their enemies that men learn to build lofty walls, and ships of war, and so keep themselves and their belongings safe?"
These arguments prevailed so far that a truce was called. The birds gave up their hostile attitude, and the men laid down their arms.
Plausible then proceeded to address them with much solemnity, having first washed his hands and put a chaplet on his head. "My friends," he began, "I am sorely troubled when I consider your present condition, you who were kings in old time."
Birds. "We kings! Kings of what?"
Plaus. "Kings of everything and everybody. You were older, you must understand, than Chronos and the Titans and the earth."
Birds. "We older than the earth!"
Plaus. "Yes; it is so."
Birds. "Well, that I never knew before."
Plaus. "Of course not; because you have not been properly educated. You have not read what Ĉsop tells about the Lark; how his father died, and he did not know where to bury him, because as yet there was no earth; so he buried him in his own head. As for the fact that birds were kings in old time, there is an abundance of proof. Take the Cock: he was king of Persia once, long before the time of Darius. Isn't he called the 'Persian bird' to this day? And isn't it a proof of his old power, that even now, as soon as his voice is heard in the morning, all sorts of people—brass-workers, potters, cobblers, and the rest of them—jump up, put on their shoes, and go about their business, even though it is still dark? Then the Kite was once king of the Greeks."
Birds. "The Kite king of the Greeks!"
Plaus. "Yes; don't people make a bow to him to this day? Then the Cuckoo was king of Egypt and all Phnicia. Even now, when he cries 'cuckoo' these people begin to cut their corn. Again, not so very long ago, in our own cities,
kings such as Agamemnon or Menelaus had a bird sitting on their sceptres who had his share of all the dues that they received. Zeus—and this, mark you, is the weightiest proof of all—has an eagle on his head, by way of token of his kingship; and his daughter Athené has an owl, and Apollo a hawk. What do you suppose to be the meaning of all this? Why, that when any sacrifice was made to the god, the bird had his share first,—yes, before the god himself. Yes; in old time men thought you holy and venerable; how do they treat you now?
"Why, they pelt you with stones, and they trap you with snares,
And the branches on which you may light unawares
With bird-lime they smear, and all this in the pale
Of the temples they do, and they hawk you for sale,
Heaped together in baskets, and those who would buy
In most impudent fashion your plumpness will try;
And when they would cook you, it is not enough
Just to roast, but they mingle some horrible stuff
With garlic and oil and a dozen things more,
For a sauce on your delicate members to pour."
Birds. "Oh, sad is the story you bring to our ears,
Dear stranger, I heard it with shame and with tears;
To think of our glory so sadly decayed,
The rule of our fathers so weakly betrayed;
'Tis surely the happiest fortune that brings
Such a friend to our help. For if once we were kings,
'Tis a shame and disgrace not to be so again;
And this is the point we would have you explain."
Plaus. "To begin with, you birds must build one great city and surround it with a wall of baked bricks, just as if it were another Babylon. Then you must send an embassy to Zeus and require him to surrender the kingdom to you. If he refuses, or makes any difficulty, you must forbid him and his gods to pass through your domain on any errand or pretext whatsoever. After this you must send a herald to men, and bid them make their sacrifices in future to you and not to the gods."
K. H. "But will men really look upon us as gods when they see us flying about and having wings?"
Plaus. "Why not? Does not Hermes use wings? Hasn't Victory pinions of gold? And Eros, too? And doesn't Homer say that Iris flew like a ringdove?"
K. H. "But suppose Zeus should send his thunder, what then?"
Plaus. "Oh! we'll soon teach them that we and not the gods are the people to be feared. We will send a flock of sparrows to eat up the grain in their fields; and the ravens to pick out the eyes of their sheep and their plough-oxen. Let Demeter feed the men and Apollo heal the beasts—if they can!"
Hope. (interrupting). "Very good; but I should like to sell my two bullocks before we try this."
Plaus. "But if, on the other hand, men have the good sense to give you the honours that really belong to you, they will get all kinds of blessings. Say that a flock of locusts comes when the vines are in bloom, a troop of owls or hawks will eat them up; then as for the maggots which spoil their figs, a flock of thrushes will dispose them.
K. H. "But how will we make them rich? That is the thing they really care about?"
Plaus. "Easily enough. You will show them profitable mines, and good places for trade and will take care than no seaman be lost."
K. H. "How shall we manage that?"
Plaus. "When they consult the oracle about a voyage some bird will give them information. 'Don't sail now,' it will say, 'there is going to be a storm'; or, 'Sail now; you will make a good thing of it.'" Hope. (interrupting). "I am not going to stop with you. I shall buy a merchantman, and make a fortune by trade."
Plaus. "Then the birds will show them treasures that have been buried in former times. They know all about such things. Don't people say, 'Nobody knows of the hoard, except it may be a bird'?"
Hope. "I shall sell my merchantman, buy a mattock, and dig up pots full of money."
K. H. "How shall we give them health? Health is a gift of the gods."
Hope. "That won't matter much. Depend upon it that a man is never ill if his affairs go well, and never well if they go ill."
K. H. "How about long life? That again is a gift of heaven. Must they die in their youth?
Plaus. "Certainly not. The birds will add three hundred years or so to their span."
K. H. "Where will they get them? Why from their own store to be sure. Don't you know that the crow outlives five generations of men?"
Hope. "It is quite clear that the birds will make much better kings than Zeus."
Plaus. "Yes; and men will no longer have to build temples of stone and gold-plated doors. The birds will be quite content to live in the trees; and ilex will do for the commoner sort, and the most exalted will have an olive-tree. There will be no more need to go to Delphi or Ammon; men will stand in a shrubbery with a pennyworth of barley in their hands,—that will be sacrifice enough for these easy-going deities."
King Hoopoe now proceeded to invite the two friends to come into this nesting-place, as he called it; they should be enrolled, he said, in the bird-nation. The difficulty of their having no wings wherewith to fly would be easily got over. There was a root he knew of which would make wings grown without any loss of time. While they were gone to go through the ceremony of becoming naturalized citizens, and to fit themselves out with feathers, the assembled birds sang a ditty in which they set forth the superiority of their race over men.
"Ye children of man! whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly, calamitous creatures of clay!
Attend to the words of the Sovereign Birds,
Immortal, illustrious, lords of the air,
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggle of misery, labour, and care.
All lessons of primary, daily concern
You have learnt from the Birds and continue to learn.
When the crane flies away to the Libyan sands,
The farmer bethinks him of sowing his lands,
And the seaman his rudder unships, for no more
Can he venture to sail, till the winter is o'er;
Then the spring is at hand, when the hawk reappears,
And the shepherd who sees him gets ready his shears;
When the swallow comes back, then your cloak you may sell,
A light, summer vest will do perfectly well;
For all matters of moment it clearly appears
The Birds are your oracles, prophets, and seers;
We give counsel and aid when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade;
An ox or an ass that may happen to pass;
A voice in the street or a slave that you meet;
A name or a word that by chance you have heard,
If you think it an omen you call it a bird.
If you'll make us your gods, at all seasons you'll find
We are equally helpful and equally kind;
We sha'n't hurry off, sitting scornful and proud,
In the fashion of Zeus, on the top of a cloud.
We shall ever be near you to help and to bless;
To you and your children we'll give to possess
All things that are good,—life, happiness, health,
Peace, plenty, and laughter, and feasting and wealth;
For, what is the most unattainable thing?
'Pigeons' milk '—and that in abundance we'll bring,
Till the general plenty among you be such
That your only complaint will be having too much."
By this time the two friends had come back, equipped for the functions which they would have in future to perform. The first thing to be done was to give the new city a name. "Cloud Cuckoo Land" was finally settled upon, and the tutelary deity was to be a gamecock. The builders were set to work, and an inaugurating sacrifice was performed to the new deities. This had scarcely been done when a poet appeared on the scene, with a ready-made ode.
"Muse, prepare a noble ditty,
Hymning with your choicest lay,
This the new-built, happy city,
Plaus. "What have we got here? Who are you, sir?"
Poet. "Singer of melodious strain,
Servant in the Muses' train."
Plaus. "A servant with long hair!"
Poet. "All who teach the art of song are 'servants of the Muses,' as Homer puts it."
Plaus. "Well, what have you come here for?"
Poet. "I have brought an assortment of verses,—some epic poems, songs for a chorus of girls, and a trifle in Simonides's manner."
Plaus. "But when did you make all these?"
Poet. "Long have I named this city's noble name."
Plaus. "Well, that is odd, for I've only just given it."
Poet. "Faster than steed to the Muses' court
Ever is carried the swift report.
But thou who hast founded this noble state
Haste to my needs to dedicate
Some kindly gift, be it small or great."
Plaus. "This fellow will give us a lot of trouble unless we get rid of him. You there (speaking to a slave)—you have got a jerkin as well as a tunic. Give him the jerkin. So clever a poet well deserves it. There, poet, take the jerkin. You seem very cold."
Poet. "My patron, thanks! The friendly Muse
This little boon will not refuse,
Yet hath another lay for thee,
A strain of Pindar's minstrelsy."
Plaus. "We are not going to get rid of him just yet, I see."
Poet. "Among the wandering tribes that stray
O'er Scythian plains he makes his way,
A bard ill-clad and all alone,
No woven garment cloth he own;
Harken! my meaning canst thou guess,
He wears a jerkin tunic-less."
Plaus. "I guess that you want the tunic. Here, fellow; off with it. You ought to help a poor poet."
The next visitor was a dealer in prophecies. "Stop the sacrifice," he cried, as soon as he appeared; "I have a prophecy of Bacis that speaks expressly about Cloud Cuckoo Land."
Plaus. "But why did we not hear of it before the city was founded?"
Soothsayer. "The divine voice forbade me."
Plaus. "Well, there is nothing like having the words."
Sooth. "In the days when the jackdaws and crows shall unite,
Midway between Corinth and Sicyon's height,
A fair city to build—"
Plaus. "But what have I got to do with Corinth?"
Sooth. "Oh! Bacis meant the air under the figure of Corinth,—
"A fair city to build, you must offer a goat
Milk-white to Pandora, presenting a coat
Without spot, and of sandals a handsome new pair,
To the man who this prophecy first shall declare."
Plaus. "Does he mention the sandals?"
Sooth. "Yes; look at the book. But listen again:
"And a cup he must have and some flesh for his share."
Plaus. "Does he mention the flesh?" Sooth. "Yes; look at the book. But he goes on:—
"My bidding obey, noble youth, and you fly,
To an eagle transformed, through the realms of the sky;
Refuse, neither eagle nor dove will you be,
Nor even a woodpecker tapping a tree."
Plaus. "Does he say all that?"
Sooth. "Yes; look at the book."
Plaus. "Do you know that the prophecy that I have got—and I wrote it down from the very lips of Apollo —is quite different. Listen:—
"When you sacrifice first, should some vagabond dare,
Whom you have not invited, to ask for a share,
Smite him hard in the ribs, I command you, nor care
For his eagles that fly in the regions of air."
Sooth. "That is nonsense."
"Look at the book!" cried Plausible; and, producing a stout cudgel, he drove the fellow away.
The next arrival was an astronomer, carrying some mathematical instruments, with which he proposed to measure out and survey the territory of the new state. He was no more welcome than his predecessor. Plausible professed to respect him, and indeed to see in him another Thales; but gave him some friendly advice to the effect that he had better be going about his business. There was trouble brewing, he said; it was likely that all strangers would be expelled from the country, especially strangers of the impostor kind. This was a hint that the astronomer could not but take. "I am off," he said.—"Very good," said Plausible; "but you are scarcely in time. The trouble is come," he added, administering a sound cuff. "There," he said, "you can measure your way back, I suppose."
Next came an inspector from Athens. "Where is the consul?" he asked, as he strutted in.
Plaus. "Who is this Sardanapalus?"
Insp. "I am the duly appointed inspector to the city of Cloud Cuckoo Land."
Plaus. "An inspector, are you? Well, don't you think you might take your fees at once, and go back without giving us any trouble?"
Insp. "A good idea that! I did want to stop at home, and propose something in the Assembly. I have some business in hand for the Persians."
Plaus. (striking him). "Here is your pay; take it, and off with you!"
Insp. "I protest that I, an inspector from Athens, am being assaulted."
Plaus. "Off with you, ballot-boxes and all. The idea of sending an inspector before we have even sacrificed!"
The next interruption came from a merchant who had a brand-new constitution to sell. Plausible treated him with as little ceremony as the others, and then, despairing of quiet, resolved to finish the sacrifice indoors. When everything had been duly performed, with, as it appeared, the happiest omens for the future, a messenger appeared, to announce the completion of the wall. So broad it was that two chariots could be driven on it side by side, while it was no less than a hundred fathoms high. The speed with which so vast a work had been completed astonished Plausible, and he demanded particulars. "Who had done it?"
First Messenger. "Do you ask who did it? The birds, and nobody else. There wasn't an Egyptian bricklayer, or mason, or carpenter. They did it all themselves. I was amazed to see it. About thirty thousand Cranes came from Africa. They had swallowed the stones with which to build the fortifications. These the Water-rails worked up with their beaks. Ten thousand Storks laid the bricks, and the Curlews and River-birds brought water. The Herons carried the mud, and the Geese trod it with their broad feet. The Ducks were the bricklayers' labourers, and the Woodpeckers did the carpentering. And now the work is finished,—gates, and staples, and bars; the sentries are set, the beacons are in the towers; in fact, everything is ready."
A second messenger now arrived, but his news was less satisfactory. One of the gods had bolted through the gates, in spite of the Jackdaws on guard. What god he was, no one knew, but only that he had wings. However, a squadron of thirty thousand Hawks had been sent after him. He could not have gone far. Indeed, almost before the messenger had finished, the intruder came flying back. It was Iris, the messenger of Zeus, clad in the colours of the rainbow.
Plaus. "What is your name, may I ask?"
Iris. "Iris of the swift foot."
Plaus. "Why does not some one take her into custody?"
Iris. "Take me into custody! What madness is this?"
Plaus. "You will repent of this."
Iris. "This is really too absurd."
Plaus. "Tell me which gate you came in by."
Iris. "I know nothing about your gates."
Plaus. "See how she pretends to be ignorant. Did you go to the General of the Jackdaws? or can you show the seal of the Storks?"
Iris. "Is the man in his senses?"
Plaus. "Then I understand that none of the bird-commanders gave you a pass."
Iris. "Gave me a pass indeed!"
Plaus. "How dare you then come quietly flying through other people's city, through the air, in fact?"
Iris. "What other way can we fly from heaven to earth?"
Plaus. "That I can't say; you are not going to fly this way. Do you know that it would serve you right if you were put to death?"
Iris. "Put to death! But I am an Immortal."
Plaus. "That makes no difference. It would be a terrible state of things, if, while everybody else submits to us, you gods are rebellious, and won't understand that we are your masters. But tell me, where were you flying to?"
Iris. "I? I was flying from Father Zeus to tell men that they must sacrifice sheep and oxen as usual to the Olympian gods."
Plaus. "What gods do you say?"
Iris. "What gods? The gods in heaven, of course."
Plaus. "Do you call yourselves gods?"
Iris. "What others are there?"
Plaus. "The birds are now gods. It is to them that sacrifice must be made, not, by Zeus! to Zeus."
Iris. "Fool, fool, stir not the gods' most awful wrath,
Lest Justice, wielding Zeus's strong pickaxe, smite
Thy race to utter ruin, and the bolt,
Descending in the lightnings' lurid flame,
Thee and thy dwelling's last recess consume."
Plaus. "Listen thyself. Cease now thy vaporous threats;
Be silent; think not that in me thou seest
Some Lydian slave or Phrygian whom the sound
Of bombast hyperbolical may scare.
For If thy Zeus shall vex me more, I send
My eagles armed with firebrands who shall lay
The towers of heaven in ashes. And for thee,
Madam, depart in haste and shun thy fate."
Iris. "My father shall speak to you."
Plaus. "No, no, my dear; you must find some younger man."
Iris immediately flew off skywards.
A herald now arrived with the news of the extraordinary popularity of the birds among mankind. Everybody was devoted to them. Before the new city was founded Spartan ways were all the fashion. Men walked about the streets with their hair long, half-starved themselves, and did as little washing as Socrates. Now, birds were the rage—men rose with the lark, hatched plots against each other, in fact did their best to make themselves like winged creatures. The new city must therefore prepare for a great immigration. There would be at least ten thousand applications for citizenship, and all the new-comers would of course want wings. Of these the authorities of Cloud Cuckoo Land at once set themselves to lay in a store. While they were thus engaged the new arrivals began to drop in. The first was a young fellow who sang as he came:—
"I'd fain be an eagle who soars on high,
O'er the land and the rolling sea to fly."
Plaus. "The news was true. Here comes a fellow singing about eagles."
Young Man. "Of all things flying is the most delightful. I am in love with your laws, my dear birds, and want to live under them."
Plaus. "What law in particular are you so fond of?"
Y. M. "The one that makes it lawful for a young bird to kick his father."
Plaus. "Yes; we do think it a fine thing for a chicken to get the better of his father."
Y. M. "That is why I want to migrate. My idea is to strangle my father and take possession of his property."
Plaus. "But, sir, we have a law that the young cranes must support their father."
Y. M. "Support my father indeed! That would not suit me at all."
Plaus. "Well, my young friend, I will give you a piece of advice. You seem fond of fighting. Go off to Thrace, and have your fill of it there. But you will hardly do for us."
The next arrival was a lyric poet, who wanted wings, that he might mount into the clouds, and search among them for fine ideas. After him came an informer, who thought it would be very convenient if he could fly from place to place in search of victims, without any of the dangers of travel. All that he got was what Plausible called a slashing pair of wings, but was really a cowhide whip very vigorously applied.
But now came a more important visitor, Prometheus, wrapped up in a close disguise and in a terrible fright lest Zeus should see him. At last, finding from his inquiries that all was safe, he came out from his concealment and was heartily welcomed.
Plaus. "My dear Prometheus!"
Prometheus. "Hush! hush! Don't make a noise."
Plaus. "What is the matter?"
Pro. "Don't mention my name. I am undone if Zeus sees me. Here, hold this umbrella over me while we talk."
Plaus. "Very good; an excellent idea of yours. It is all safe; talk away."
Pro. "Zeus is ruined."
Plaus. "Since when?"
Pro. "Since you built your city. From that time we have not had the smell of a single sacrifice from earth. We are simply starving; and the end of it is that the barbarian gods vow that they will invade the realm of Zeus, unless he consents to open the ports and to let sacrifice smoke enter free."
Plaus. "Barbarian gods! I did not know that there were such beings. What is their name?"
Pro. "Triballi. But listen. You will have an embassy coming here very soon from Zeus and the Triballi. But don't you make peace unless Zeus restores the sovereignty to the birds, and gives you the lady Queenship to wife."
Plaus. "Who is the lady Queenship?"
Pro. "The prettiest girl in the world. She keeps Zeus's thunderbolts for him, and, in fact, everything that he has got,—order, temperance, the navy, and the jurymen's fees."
Plaus. "She's his general steward, you mean."
Pro. "Just so. Get her, and you get everything. This is what I came to tell you. I was always partial to men, you know."
Plaus. "Very true. It is only you we have to thank for being able to cook our victuals."
Pro. "Yes; and I hate the gods."
Plaus. "Very true again; that was always your way."
Pro. "Yes. I am a regular Timon. But now hold the umbrella over me. If Zeus should see me he'll only think I am walking in a procession."
Hercules and Poseidon.
Prometheus had scarcely gone, when the embassy arrived. There were three envoys, Poseidon, Hercules, and a Triballian god.
Poseidon. (addressing the Triballian). "What are you doing there? Is that the way to wear your cloak? Not on the left like that; on the right side always. Democracy, what are you bringing us to, when a fellow like that is put on an embassy?"
Triballian (to Poseidon, who is trying to arrange his cloak). "Hands off, will you?"
Pos. "Confound you!—the most barbarous god I ever saw! Well, Hercules, what are we to do?"
Hercules. "You heard my opinion. Throttle the villain."
Pos. "But we came to treat for a peace."
Her. "I don't care. I say, throttle the villain."
Plausible took no notice whatever of the new arrivals. "Give me the cheese-grater," he said to his assistant. "Now a little cheese; now a blast with the bellows."
Her. "Man, we three gods greet you heartily."
Plaus. "Grate the cheese."
Hercules, always a great eater, and now furiously hungry, was profoundly interested in the cooking, and could not help showing it. "What meat is this?"
Plaus. "Certain birds rebelled against the bird-state, and were condemned to death."
Her. "And you are grating cheese over them."
Plaus. "O my dear Hercules, how are you? What brings you here?"
Her. "We have come from the gods to treat for peace."
A slave. "There is no oil in the flask, sir."
Plaus. "Get some, my man; bird-meat must have plenty of oil with it."
Her. "The war brings us no good. As for you, by being on good terms with us you can always have rain in your cisterns, and always fine weather. We have come, you will understand, with full powers to treat."
Plaus. "Well, we did not begin the war, you know, and we are quite ready to make peace, if you are willing to do the right thing. Give back to the birds the power which they once possessed, and the matter is settled. On these terms I invite the ambassadors to breakfast."
Her. "These terms satisfy me; I vote for accepting them."
Pos. "You are a fool and a glutton. Are you going to rob your father of his kingdom?"
Plaus. "Don't you think that you gods will be all the more powerful if we birds rule the lower region? As things are now, men take your name in vain, because you can't see them for the clouds. Call the birds to help you, and as soon as any rascal for-swears himself, a crow will have his eye out in a trice."
Pos. "That is well put."
Her. "And so I think."
Pos. (to the Triballian). "And what is your opinion?"
Trib. "Say true."
Plaus. "He agrees, you see. Then, again, men make vows, and are a long time in paying them. 'The gods are easy creditors,' they say. Well, we will set that right for you."
Plaus. "When the man is counting out his money, a hawk will fly down, snatch the price of a couple of sheep, and carry it off."
Her. "I vote to give back the kingdom to the birds."
Plaus. "Ask the Triballian what he thinks."
Her. (showing his fist to the Triballian). "Vote yes, or you shall suffer for it."
Trib. "Ya, ya, goot, goot."
Pos. "Well, if you think so, I agree."
Plaus. "There is another little matter which I have just remembered. Zeus may keep Heré, but I must have the lady Queenship to wife."
Pos. "I see you don't really want peace; we shall go.
Plaus. "I don't care. Cook, take care to make the sauce sweet enough."
Her. "My good Poseidon, are we to have war just about a mere woman?"
Pos. "What are we to do then?"
Her. "Make peace, I say."
Pos. "Don't you see, you silly fellow, how you are being cheated? Supposing Zeus should die, when he has handed over the kingdom to this fellow here, you would be a beggar. Otherwise, of course, all the property he may leave will come to you.
Plaus. "Now, Hercules, listen to me. Your uncle is cheating you; you are not a legitimate son, and you would have nothing. Your father couldn't leave you his property even if he wished to do it. 'Failing legitimate children, to the testator's brother,' that is how the law runs. Your uncle would have it all. Now, put in your lot with us, and I'll make it worth your while."
Her. "You are quite right about the girl. I'm for giving her up."
Pos. "I vote against the proposition."
Plaus. "The matter rests with the Triballian. Triballian, what do you say?"
Trib. "Pitty girli and great Queendi I give to Birdi."
Pos. "Well, have your own way; I shall say nothing now."
Plausible, accordingly, departed to heaven to fetch his bride, Hercules staying behind to look after the cooking. In a very short time he returned, bringing the fair lady with him, and was greeted with a song of welcome from his subjects:—
"Stand aside and clear the ground,
Spreading in a circle round
With a worthy welcoming;
To salute our noble king,167
In his splendour and his pride,
Coming hither, side by side,
With his lovely, happy bride.
Oh, the fair, delightful face!
What a figure! what a grace!
What a presence! what a carriage!
What a noble, worthy marriage!
Let the birds rejoice and sing
At the wedding of their king,
Raising to the vanquished sky
Sound of lyre and pĉan high."