art by Arlene Kim Suda

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The Birds, Aristophanes

Posted on November 9, 2016 by aks


Excerpt from The Birds by Aristophanes
(trans. by William Arrowsmith)

The Chorus turns sharply and faces the audience, while the
flutegirl begins the song of the nightingale at its most mournful.
The flute obbligato accompanies the Chorus throughout.

O suffering mankind,

lives of twilight,

race feeble and fleeting,

like the leaves scattered!

Pale generations,

creatures of clay,

the wingless, the fading!

Unhappy mortals,

shadows in time,

flickering dreams!

Hear us now,

the ever-living Birds,

the undying,

the ageless ones,

scholars of eternity.

Hear and learn from us

the truth

of all there is to know –

what we are,

and how the gods began,

of Chaos and Dark.

(And when you know

tell Prodikos to go

hang: he’s had it!)

There was Chaos at first

and Night and Space

and Tartaros.

There was no Earth.

No Heaven was.

But sable-winged Night

laid her wind-egg there

in the boundless lap

of infinite Dark.

And from that egg,

in the season’ revolving,

Love was born,

the graceful, the golden,

the whirlwind Love

on gleaming wings.

And there in the waste

of Tartaros,

Love with Chaos lay

and hatched the Birds.

We come from Love.

Love brought us to the light.

There were no gods

till Love had married

all the world in love.

Then the world was made.

Blue Heaven stirred,

and Ocean,

the Earth and ageless gods,

the blessed ones

who do not die.

But we came first.

We Birds were born

the first-born sons of Love,

in proof whereof

we wear Love’s wings,

we help his lovers.

How many pretty boys,

their prime not past,

abjuring Love,

have opening up their thighs

and yielded,

overborne by us,

bribed by a Bird,

a Coot, A Goose,

a Persian Cock!

Think of the services

we Birds perform

for all mankind.

We mark your seasons off,

summer, spring,

winter, fall.

When for Africa

the screaming Crane departs,

you sow your fields.

And then the sailor

takes his ease

and hangs his rudder up,

and thief Orestes

weaves himself a cloak

and robs no man.

And then the Kite appears,

whose coming says

the Spring is here,

the time has come

to shear the sheep.

And so the Swallow

brings his summer,

when mankind lays

its winter weeds away.

And we are Ammon

and Dadona.

We are your Apollo,

that prophetic voice

to whom you turn

in everything you do —

practical affairs,

commerce and trade,

and marriage too.

Birds are your signs,

and all your omens

are governed by Birds:

words are omens

sent by the Birds.

And the same for sneezes,

meetings, asses, voices:

all are omens,

and omens are Birds.

Who are we then

if we are not

your prophetic Apollo?


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