The Birds by Aristophanes
Comparison of Six Translations
compiled by Tracy Marks    (Torrey Philemon)
Aristophanes book chat July 12, 2002 at Classica Book Discussions,
Webworkzone web site. For more information, please email Tracy Marks   

Eugene O'Neill translation (also here )
William Arrowsmith translation

[1268] INFORMER: My friend, I am asking you for wings, not for words.

PITHETAERUS: It's just my words that gives you wings.

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

PITHETAERUS: They all start this way.


PITHETAERUS: 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."

[1280] INFORMER: So that words give wings?

PITHETAERUS: 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.

[1285] INFORMER: But I do not want to.

PITHETAERUS: 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.

[1290] PITHETAERUS: I see. In this way the stranger will be condemned even before he appears.

INFORMER: That's just it.

[1294] PITHETAERUS: And while he is on his way here by sea, you will be flying to the islands to despoil him of his property.

INFORMER: Listen, mister: it's wings I want, not words.

PISTHETAIROS: But my words ARE wings.

INFORMER: Your words are wings?

PISTHETAIROS: But of course. How else do you think mankind won its wings if not from words?

INFORMER: From words?

PISTHETAIROS: Wings from words. You know the old men, how they loll around at the barber shop grousing and bitching about the younger generation? -

"Thanks to that damned Dieitrephes and his damned advice," growls one, "my boy has flown the family nest to take a flier on the horses."

"Hell, " pipes another, " you should see that kid of mine: he's gone so damn batty over those tragic plays, he flies into fits of ecstasy and gets goosebumps all over."

INFORMER: And that's how words give wings?

PISTHETAIROS: Right. Through dialectic the mind of man take wing and soars; he is morally and spiritually uplifted. And so I hoped with words of good advice to wing you on our way toward some honest trade.

INFORMER: It just won't work.

PISTHETAIROS: But why won't it?

INFORMER: I can't disgrace the family name. We've been informers now for several generations, you see. So give me wings - Hawk's or Kestrel's will suit me fine, but anything all right by me provided they're fast and light. I'll slip them on, dart out toe the islands with stacks of subpoenas and summons, whizz back home to defend the case in court, then zip right back to the islands again.

PISTHETAIROS: I get it. When they arrive, they find their case is lost by default; they've been condemned in absentia.

[1513] PROMETHEUS: Zeus is done for.

PITHETAERUS: 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. The barbarian gods, who are dying of hunger, are bawling like Illyrians and threaten to make an armed descent upon Zeus, if he does not open markets where joints of the victims are sold.

PISTHETAERUS: And what is the name of these gods?

PROMETHEUS: Their name? Why, the Triballi.

[1530] PISTHETAERUS: Ah, indeed! 'tis from that no doubt that we derive the word tribulation.

PISTHETAERUS: 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 with them, unless Zeus restores the scepter to the birds and gives you Basileia in marriage.

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.

[1544] PROMETHEUS: Yes, precisely. If he gives you her for your wife, yours will be the almighty for you know my constant and habitual goodwill towards men.

PISTHETAERUS: Oh, yes! it's thanks to you that we roast our meat.

PROMETHEUS: Zeus has had it.


PROMETHEUS: Since the moment you founded the city of Cloudcuckooland. Since that day not a single sacrifice, not even a whiff of smoke, no savories, no roast, nothing at all has floated up to heaven. In consequence, my friend, Olympos is starving to death. And that's not the worst of it. All the Stone Age gods from the hill country have gone wild with hunger, screaming and gibbering away like a lot of savages. And what's more, they've threatened war unless Zeus succeeds in getting your Bird-embargo lifted and the tidbit shipments back on the move once more.

PISTHETARIOS: You mean to say there are OTHER gods in Heaven? Stone Age gods?

PROMETHEUS: Stone Age gods for Stone Age people Exekestides must have something to worship.

PISTHETAIROS: Heavens, they MUST be savages. But what do you call them?

PROMETHEUS: We call them Triballoi.

PISTHETAIROS: Triballoi? From the same root as our word "trouble," I suppose.

PROMETHEUS: Very probably. I think. But give me your attention. At present these Triballoi gods have joined with Zeus to send an official embassy to sue for peace. Now here's the policy you must follow: flatly reject any offers of peace they make you until Zeus agrees to restore his sceptre to the Birds and consents to give you Miss Universe as your wife.

PISTHETAIROS: But who's Miss Universe?

PROMETHEUS: A sort of Beauty Queen, the sign of Empire, and the symbol of divine supremacy. It's she who keeps the keys to Zeus' thunderbolts and all his other treasures - Divine Wisdom, Good Government, Common Sense, Naval Bases, Slander, Libel, Political Graft, Sops to the Voters -

PISTHETAIROS: And SHE keeps the keys?

PROMETHEUS: Take it from me, friend. Marry Miss Universe and the world is yours. You understand why I had to tell you this? As Prometheus, after all, my philanthropy is proverbial?

PISTHETAIROS: Yes, we worship you as the inventor of the barbecue.

[1570] POSEIDON:  Oh! democracy!
whither, oh! whither are you leading us?
Is it possible that the gods have chosen
such an envoy? .....Tell me, Herakles,
What are we going to do?

HERAKLES:  I have already told you
that I want to strangle the fellow
who dared to wall us out.

POSEIDON: But, my friend,
We are envoys of peace.

HERAKLES: All the more reason
Why I wish to strangle him.

POSEIDON: O Democracy,
I fear your days are numbered
If Heaven's diplomatic corps is recurited like this....
-Look here, Herakles, how should we proceed
in your opinion?

HERAKLES:  You hoid me, Poseidon.
If I had my way, I'd throttle the guy,
any guy, what dared blockage the gods.

POSEIDON: My dear nephew,
have you forgotten that the purpose of our mission here
Is to treat for peace?

HERAKLES: I'd throttle him all the more.

[1676] PISTHETAERUS: Then it all depends on the Triballus. To the Triballus. What do you say?

TRIBALLUS: Givum bird pretty gel bigum queen.

HERACLES: He says give her.

POSEIDON: Why no, he does not say anything of the sort, or else, like the swallows he does not know how to walk.

PISTHETARIOS: Then it rests with Triballos.
-What's your verdict, my friend?

TRIBALLOS: Gleep? Schnoozer, skirt wotta twatch snock! Birdniks pockle. Ugh.

HERACLES: He said she's for the Boids. I hoid him.

POSEIDON: And I distinctly heard him say the opposite: A firm No - with a few choice obscenities added.

HERACLES: The poor dumb sap never said a doity word. All he said was: Give 'er to the Boids.

[1688] CHORUS: (singing)
At Phanae, near the Clepsydra, there dwells a people who have neither faith nor law,
the Englottogastors, who reap, sow,
pluck the vines and the figs with their tongues;
they belong to a barbaric race,
and among them the Philippi
and the Gorgiases are to be found.....

CHORUS: (singing)
Beneath the clock in a courtroom
down in the Land of Gab
We saw a weird race of people
earning their bred by blab.
Their name is the Claptraptummies.
Their only tool is talk
They sow and reap and shake the figs
by dexterous yakkity-yak.
Their tongues and twaddle mark them off,
barbarians every one;
but the worst of all are in the firm

THE BIRDS (in Greek)
THE ACHARNIANS translations
GO TO: Tracy/Torrey's Ancient Sites Web Pages