The Birds by Aristophanes
Comparison of Six Translations
compiled by Tracy Marks    (Torrey Philemon)
Aristophanes and Greek comedy classic chats in summer 2002 at Classica Book Discussions,
Webworkzone web site. For more information, please email Tracy Marks   

Stephen Halliwell translation
Aristophanes Birds and other Plays, Oxford's World Classics

Dudley Fitts translation
Aristophanes: Four Comedies
Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press,

[1434] INFORMER: I don't need preaching, thanks - just give me wings.

PISTHETAIROS:  I'm giving you wings by speaking now.

INFORMER: But how can words give wings?

PISTHETAIROS: Well words set everyone aflutter.

INFORMER: What, everyone?

PISTHETARIOS: You've surely heard
How fathers sit around in barbers' shops
Discussing their adolescent sons like this:
"My lad's been listening to Dieitrephes;
And now he's all aflutter to ride a horse."
Another claims his son loves tragedy:
It sets him all aflutter and blows his mind.

INFORMER: It's words
that give them WINGS?

PISTHETAIROS: It really is,
For words can make the mind soar high above
And life us up. And that's how I would like
To give you wings, by urging you to do
A decent job.

INFORMER: But that's not what I want!

PISTHETAIROS:  Then what's to be done?

INFORMER: I've got my family pride -
We've been informing since my granddad's time.
Please give me swift, light wings - just like a hawk's.
Then when I've issues summonses abroad
I'll get back here to bring the charge to court
Before I fly away again.

You mean you'll have the time to win the case
Before the foreigner even comes.

INFORMER: Wings I came for, not sermons.

PISTHETAIROS: I just gave you wings.

INFORMER: The devil you did.
All you've done is talk.

PISTHETAIROS: Haven't you heard
Of winged words?

INFORMER: Winged words?

PISTHETAIROS: Yes, or winged actions?
Say you go into a barber's. Well, they're all
sitting around there, swapping lies
about their sons and grandsons: 'I swear to God,'
one of them says,
'I don't know what to make of that boy of mine.
The horses have got him. Can't keep his feet on the ground."
Another one says, "That's nothing.
Mine wants to take a flier at writing plays,
The tragic bug's bitten him.'

INFORMER: So you think
Words can make wings?

PISTHETAIROS: That's it exactly.
Words heighten concepts; words raise a man
Out of himself. You came to me for wings -
All right you can have them. And what's more,
I'll throw in a word or two of good advice
About getting a job that you won't have to blush for.

INFORMER: No good. No good at all.


INFORMER: Family pride.
Can't let the old name down.
There's been informers in our family
Since I don't know when.  - But come,
Give me a couple of good swift wings, I don't care
What model, and I'll get back,
Denounce a few aliens, get them indicted here,
And then I'm off.

You'll have these men indicted
Before they have a chance to appear.

[1514] PROMETHEUS (portentously): He's done for - doomed is Zeus.

PISTHETARIOS:  Since when?

PROMETHEUS: It happened when you built your aerial city.
All sacrifice from men has finished now.
No smoke of animal thighs has risen up
Since the very day you colonized the sky.
Burnt offerings? None. We're fasting - like the women
At the Thesmophoria. Now the barbarian gods
Have become so hungry they're screeching out at us;
They say they'll bring an army down on Zeus
Unless he gets their markets opened up
To make their entrail imports safe again.

PISTHETARIOS: You mean that other gods,
Barbarian gods, live over you?

PROMETHEUS: Of course barbarians do
Ancestral gods of Execestides.

PISTHETARIOS: And what's the name
Of all these foreign gods?

PROMETHEUS: Their name?
They're called Triballians.

PISTHETARIOS: (cornily) Ah, I see.
That's why we think the gods send tribulations.

PROMETHEUS: Exactly right.
But let me warn you now:
You'll find that envoys come to seek a peace
From Zeus himself and from the Triballians too.
But you mustn't make a treaty unless Zeus
Gives his sceptre  Back again to all the birds,
And gives you Princess too to be your wife.

PISTHETAIROS: Who's Princess?

PROMETHEUS: She's a gorgeous nubile girl
Who oversees the thunderbolt of Zeus
And all the gifts he gives - intelligence,
Good government - moderation - shipyards -
Verbal abuse - state treasuries - even three obols!

PISTHETAIROS: She oversees them all for him?

So if he gives you her, you'll have the lot.
That's why I came down here, to tip you off.
I've always been a friend of men's, of course.

PISTHETAIROS: That's right.
It's thanks to you we cook our food.

PROMETHEUS:  Zeus is through.


Since you organized CloudCuckooland.
There's not been so much as a sniff of sacred smoke
Coming up to us from a single human altar.
I swear, we're hungrier
Than a Thesmophoria fast-day; and what's worse
The damnest lot of starving yowling gods
From the back country are talking about revolt
If Zeus doesn't manage to get a decent consignment
Of sacrificial cuts to keep us going.

PISTHETARIOS: Do you mean to tell me
That the Barbarians have gods of their own?

PROMETHEUS: What about Exekestides?
Doesn't he have to pray to something?

PISTHETARIOS: I see. But these forsaken gods,
What are they called?

PROMETHEUS: Triballians.

PISTHETARIOS: Tribal totems.

PROMETHEUS: I suppose so.
But this is what I have come down to tell you:
Zeus and these Triballians
Are sending a delegation
To look into what's going on here.
Take my advice:
Laugh at every offer they make to you
Until they swear to restore the Birds to power
And give you Basileia for a wife.

Who is this Baseileia?

She's the prettiest girl you ever saw,
Manages Zeus, takes care of his thunderbolts
And all the rest of his weapons - sagacity,
Legislation, rearmament, ideology, ultimatums,
Revenue officers, Jurymen -

PISTHETARIOS: She does all that?

That's only an outline. When you've got Basileia,
You've got everything.
I thought I ought to tell you.
I have a certain stake in humanity.

A well-broiled one, thanks to your foresightedness.
[1570] POSEIDON: Democracy!
Just where will it all end up,
When people like this get appointed by the gods?
....Right Heracles, what next?

HERAKLES: I've told you once:
I'd like to get my hands around his throat,
Whoever he is - blockading the gods like this.

POSIEDON: I must remind you, friends,
We've been elected
To negotiate a truce.

HERAKLES: Then strangle him twice!

POSEIDON: There! Democracy!
What sins are committed in thy name!
.....What's your plan, Heracles?

HERACLES: Just cream the guy
What shut the gods out with this here stone curtain.

POSEIDON: Yes, my good fellow;
But we're supposed to discuss peace.

HERACLES: All the more reason for creaming him,
I say.

[1640] PISTHETARIOS: The Triballian has the casting vote. Well then?

TRIBALLOS: Di luvvli tawli girli Pinci-cinsi.
Di birdi handi ova

HERACLES: (emphatically) He votes in favor.

He doesn't vote to hand her over at all!
He's simply twittering on just like the swallows.

PISTHETARIOS: Then the Triballian
Must break the tie. Vote, heavenly Hayseed!

Quiffing gamsel cockity, gotta tweet tweet.

HERACLES: He says yes.

POSEIDON: I doubt very much
That he says yes, or anything else that matters.
But let it pass.

[1692] CHORUS:
In the country of informers

By the water-clock you'll find them -
Nasty beasts who live by tongue-work.
All they sow and all they reap,
All that falls into their hands,
Comes to them by use of tongue.
Aliens they are - yes, men like
Gorgias, Philippos too!

Phoneya is that far country
Where the Englottogasters dwell:
They plough the fields there with their tongues
And sow and reap as well.

Oh blessed Englottogasters!
And yet we need not roam
In search of tongues as versatile:
They twitch for us at home:

The tongue that tells for ready cash,
The slimy tongue that smiles,
The paid, applauded patriot tongue
That guards us, and defiles.

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