John Henry Wright.

Masterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; online

. (page 16 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 16 of 29)
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Risen to the height of her : so, hand in hand,
The two might go together, live and die.

Beside, when he found speech, you guess the speech.

He could not think he saw his wife again :

It was some mocking God that used the hliss im

To make him mad I Till Herakles must help :

Assure him that no spectre mocked at all ;

He was embracing whom he buried once.

Still, — did he touch, might he address the true, —

True eye, true body of the true live wife f was

And Herakles said, smiling, " All was truth.
Spectre ? Admetos had not made his guest
One who played ghost-invoker, or such cheat !


O, lie might speak and have response, in time !
All heart could wish was gained now — life for death :
''lOnly, the rapture must not grow immense : r ^^^^is^i ^
iTake care, nor wake the envy of the Gods ! " ^ '■^ r-^-imi^-

*' O thou, of greatest Zeus true son," — so spohe

Admetos when the closing word must come,

" Go ever in a glory of success, 1995

And save, that sire, his offspring to the end !

For thou hast — only thou — raised me and mine

Up again to this light and life ! " Then asked ^

Tremblingly, how was trod the perilous path

Out of the dark into the light and life : 2000

How it had happened with Alkestis there.

And Herakles said little, but enough —

How he engaged in combat with that king

0' the daemons : how the field of contest lay 2004

By the tomb's self : how he sprang from ambuscade,

Captured Death, caught him in that pair of hands.

Sut all the time, Alkestis moved not once
Out of the set gaze and the silent smile ;
And a cold fear ran through Admetos^ frame:
Why does she stand and front me, silent thus ? " ^ 2010


Herakles solemnly replied " Not yet
Is it allowable thou hear the things
She has to tell thee ; let evanish quite
That consecration to the lower Gods,

1 A proud heart called down the vengeance of Nemesis.

2 Verses 1998-2006 are a paraphrase.

^ The poet gives an explanation of the silence of Alcestis, which
was necessary, since the actor who had taken this part was otherwise


And on our upper world the third day rise ! 2015

Lead her in, meanwhile ; good and true thou art,

Good, true, remain thou ! Practise piety

To stranger-guests the old way I So, farewell I

Since forth I fare, fulfil my urgent task

Set by the king, the son of Sthenelos." ^ 2020

Fain would Admetos heep that splendid smile
Ever to light him. " Stay with us, thou heart !
Remain our house-friend ! "

" At some other day !
Now, of necessity, I haste ! " smiled he.
" But mayst thou prosper, go forth on a foot 2025

Sure to return ! Through all the tetrarchy
Command my subjects that they institute
Thanksgiving-dances for the glad event.
And bid each altar smoke with sacrifice !
For we are minded to begin a fresh 2030

Existence, better than the life before ;
Seeing I own myself supremely blest."

Whereupon all the friendly moralists
Drew this conclusion : chirped^ each heard to each :
" Manifold are thy shapings, Providence ! 2035

Many a hopeless matter Gods arrange.
What we expected never came to pass :
What we did not expect, Gods brought to bear ;
So have things gone, this whole experience through ! "

1 Enrystheus.


Although Comedy originated about the same time as
Tragedy, the middle of the sixth century before Christ, it
was not recognized by the Athenian State until after the
Persian Wars, when it was admitted to the official programme
of the City Dionysia. The subject of the comic performances
was far less restricted than that of the tragic, — mythology,
the basis of tragedy, being here treated only in parody, —
and the chorus was often used as the mouthpiece of the poet
to speak directly to the audience. The essence of the Old
Comedy, says Sir Richard Jebb, " was a satirical censorship,
unsparing in personalities, of public and of private life —
of morality, of statesmanship, of education, of literature, of
social usage — in a word, of everything which had an inter-
est for the city or which could amuse the citizens. Pre-
serving all the freedom of banter and of riotous fun to
which its origin gave it an historical right, it aimed at asso-
ciating with this a strong practical purpose — the expres-
sion of a democratic public opinion in such a form that no
misconduct or folly could altogether disregard it. . . . At
Athens the poet of the Old Comedy had an influence analo-
gous, perhaps, rather to that of a journalist than to that of
the modern dramatist."

The eleven Greek comedies which have come down to us
are all from the hand of one author — - fortunately for us by
far the greatest of the comedians — Aristophanes. Little is
Anown of his life beyond the fact that he brought out his
first play in 427 B. C, when " almost a boy." His birth
was probably in or about the year 448 b. c, and his death


about 385 b. C. He was an " Athenian of the Athenians."
He belonged to the conservative party, and seemed op-
posed to every sign of democracy or innovation.

It was on this ground that he was so bitter an enemy of
the poet Euripides, who had deviated from the established
path of tragedy. The Frogs, presented to the public in 405
B. c. shortly after the death of both Sophocles and Euripides,
is the culmination of the attack upon the latter. In this play
Dionysus goes down to Hades to bring back a poet, since all
the great poets of Athens were now dead, and his festivals,
at which all plays were presented, were left without fitting
celebration. Aeschylus and Euripides contend in the lower
world for the palm of tragedy, which Sophocles yields with-
out a contest to the former, and it is at length awarded to

In the Birds, an earlier play of 414 B. c, Feithetaerus
(Flausible) and Euelpides (Hopeful), two enterprising
Athenians, who are weary of the unending lawsuits in their
own town, persuade the birds under the leadership of King
Hoopoe to build a city — Cloud-cuckoohorough i — in mid-
air. This cuts off the gods from men, and causes the gods
so much inconvenience that they send envoys to treat with
the birds. Finally Feithetaerus marries Basileia (Frin-
cess), the daughter of Zeus. The play was probably in-
tended in part to ridicule the ambition of the Athenians in
making the disastrous expedition which went the year be-
fore against Syracuse under Alcibiades and Nicias ; but it
is as fanciful as the " Midsummer Night's Dream."

The following translations are by John Hookham Frere.
Often they are free paraphrases, strongly contrasted with
Mr. Browning's literalness.

1 Nephelococcugia. See page 267.




Peisthetairus.i Euelpides. Hoopoe.

Scene. — A wild desolate country with a hare open prospect on one
side, and some upright rocks covered with shrubs and brushivood in
the centre of the stage. Peisthetairus and Euelpides appear
as a couple of toorn-out pedestrian travellers, the one with a raven
and the other with a jackdaio on his hand. They appear to he
seeking for a direction, from the motions and signals made to
them by the Birds.

Euelpides \^speaking to his jachdaw~\. Riglit on,

do ye say ? to the tree there in the distance ?
Peisthetairus \_speahing first to his ranen^ and then
to his companion']. Plague take ye! Why
this creature calls us back !
Euelpides. What use can it answer tramping up
and down ?
We 're lost, I tell ye : our journey 's come to nothing.
Peisthetairus. To think of me travelling a thousand
stadia s

With a raven for my adviser !

Euelpides. Think of me too,

Going at the instigation of a jackdaw,
To wear my toes and my toe-nails to pieces !

Peisthetairus. I don't know even the country where

we 've got to.
Euelpides. And yet you expect to find a country
here, lo

A country for yourself !

Peisthetairus. Truly not I ;

^ Peithetaerus is the better form, but the translator's spelling has
been preserved.


Not even Execestides ^ could do it,
That finds himself a native everywhere.

Euelpides. Oh dear ! We 're come to ruin, utter

ruin !
Peisthetairus. Then go that way, can't ye : " the
Road to Ruin • " , i^

Euelpides. He has brought us to a fine pass, that
crazy fellow,
Philocrates the poulterer ; he pretended
To enable us to find where Tereus lives ; ^
The king that was, the Hoopoe that is now ;
Persuading us to buy these creatures of him, 20

That raven there for threepence, — and this other,
This little Tharrelides ^ of a jackdaw,
He charged a penny for : but neither of 'em
Are fit for anything but to bite and scratch.
\_Speaking to his Jackdaw.']

Well, what are ye after now ? — gaping and poking !
You 've brought us straight to the rock. Where
would you take us ? 26

There 's no road here !

Peisthetairus. No, none, not even a path.

Euelpides. Nor don't your raven tell us anything ?
Peisthetairus. She 's altered somehow — she croaks

Euelpides. But which way does she point ? What
does she say? 30

Peisthetairus. Say ? Why, she says she '11 bite my
fingers off.

1 He is attacked again in this play, as a foreign barbarian arrogat-
ing to himself the privileges of a true-born Athenian.

2 See page 257, line 1 19, page 261 , note 2.

^ Tharrelides was nicknamed Jackdaw, and Euelpides in contempt of
Ms jackdaw caWa it a Tharrelides ! The raven and the ;jackdaw are
characteristic. Peisthetairus is the bearer of the sagacious bird, his
companion is equipped with a jackdaw.


Euelpides, Well, truly it 's hard upon us, hard in-
To go with our own carcases to the crows,^
And not be able to find 'em after all.
Turning to the audience.'^

For our design, most excellent spectators, 35

(Our passion, our disease, or what you will)

Is the reverse of that which Sacas ^ feels ;

For he, though not a native, strives perforce

To make himself a citizen : whilst we.

Known and acknowledged as Athenians born 4o

(Not hustled off, nor otherwise compelled),

Have deemed it fitting to betake ourselves

To these our legs, and make our person scarce.

Not through disgust or hatred or disdain
Of our illustrious birthplace, which we deem 45

Glorious and free ; with equal laws ordained
For fine and forfeiture and confiscation,
With taxes universally diffused ;
And suits and pleas abounding in the Courts.

For grasshoppers sit only for a month 50

Chirping upon the twigs ; but our Athenians
Sit chirping and discussing all the year,
Perched upon points of evidence and law.

1 " Go to the crows " was a common expression, meaning-, "Go to
the devil."

2 Peisthetairus, it will be seen, allows his companion to put himself
forward, with the newly discovered natives ; remaining himself in the
background as the person of authority, making use of the other as
his herald ; he allows him also to address the audiences, not choos-
ing to compromise himself by unnecessary communications.

The full and complete account of their motives and design is,
moreover, much better suited to the careless gossiping character of

^ Acestor, a tragical poet, not being a genuine Athenian, was called
Sacas, from the name of a Scythian tribe.


Therefore we trudge upon our present travels,
With these our sacrificial implements, 55

To seek some easier unlitigious place ;
Meaning to settle there and colonize.
Our present errand is in search of Tereus
(The Hoopoe that is now), to learn from him
If in his expeditions, flights, and journeys, eo

He ever chanced to light on such a spot.

Peisthetairus. Holloh !

Euelpides. What's that?

Peisthetairus. My raven here points upwards.

Decidedly !

Euelpides, Ay, and here 's my jackdaw too,
Gaping as if she saw something above.
Yes, — I '11 be bound for it ; this must be the place :
We '11 make a noise, and know the truth of it. 66

Peisthetairus. Then " kick against the rock." ^

Euelpides. Knock you your head

Against the rock ! — and make it a double knock !

Peisthetairus, Then fling a stone at it !

Euelpides, With all my heart,

Holloh there !

Peisthetairus. What do you mean with your Hol-
loh ? 70
You should cry Hoop for a Hoopoe.

Euelpides. Well then, Hoop !

Hoop and holloh, there ! — Hoopoe, Hoopoe, I say !

Trochilus, the Hoopoe's servant. What 's here ?
Who 's bawling there ? Who wants my mas-

[ The door is opened, and both parties start at seeing
each other.

Eueljndes. Oh mercy, mighty Apollo ! what a beak !

1 " To kick against the rock " was proverbial.


TrocJiilus. Out ! out upon it ! a brace of bird-
catchers ! 75
Euelpides, No, no ; don't be disturbed ; think

better of us.
TrocJiilus. You '11 both be put to death.
Euelpides. But we 're not men.

Trochilus, Not men ! what are ye ? what do ye

call yourselves ?
Euelpides. The fright has turned me into a yel-
low-hammer. 79
Trochilus, Poh ! Stuff and nonsense !
Euelpides. I can prove it to ye.
Search !

Trochilus. But your comrade here ; what bird is he?
Peisthetairus. I 'm changed to a golden pheasant

just at present.
Euelpides. Now tell me, in heaven's name, what

creature are ye?
Trochilus. I 'm a slave bird.

Euelpides. A slave ? how did it happen ?

Were you made prisoner by a fighting cock ? 85

Trochilus. No. When my master made himself a
He begged me to turn bird to attend upon him.
Euelpides. Do birds then want attendance ?
Trochilus. Yes, of course,

In his case, having been a man before.
He longs occasionally for human diet, so

His old Athenian fare : pilchards, for instance.
Then I must fetch the pilchards ; sometimes por-
ridge ;
He calls for porridge, and I mix it for him.

Euelpides. Well, you 're a dapper waiter, a di-
dapper ;


But didapper, I say, do step within there, 95

And call your master out.

Trochilus. But just at present

He 's taking a little rest after his luncheon.
Some myrtle berries and a dish of worms.

Euelpides. No matter, call him here. We wish to
speak to him.

Trochilus. He '11 not be pleased, I 'm sure ; but

notwithstanding, 100

Since you desire it, I '11 make bold to call him. \^Exit.

Peisthetairus \loohing after Mm~\. Confound ye,
I say, you 've frightened me to death.

Eueljoides. He has scared away my jackdaw ; it 's
flown away.

Peisthetairus. You let it go yourself, you coward.

Euelpides. Tell me.

Have not you let your raven go ?

Peisthetairus. Not I. 105

Euelpides. Where is it then ?

Peisthetairus. Flown off of its own accord.

Euelpides. You did not let it go ! you 're a brave
fellow !

Tlie Hoopoe from within.
Hoopoe. Open the door, I say ; let me go forth.
The royal Hoopoe appears with a tremendous leak and crest.

Euelpides. O Hercules, what a creature ! What a
plumage !
And a triple tier of crests ; what can it be ! no

Hoopoe. Who called ? who wanted me ?

Euelpides. May the heavenly powers ....

.... Confound ye, I say \^aside~\.

Hoopoe. You mock at me perhaps.

Seeing these plumes. But, stranger, you must know —


That once I was a man.

Eiieljndes. We did not laugh

At you, sir.

Hoopoe. What, then, were you laughing at ? ns

Euelpides. Only that beak of yours seemed rather

Hoopoe. It was your poet Sophocles ^ that reduced
To this condition with his tragedies.

Euelpides. What are you, Tereus ? Are you a
bird, or what ? U9

Hoopoe. A bird.

Euelpides. Then where are all your feathers ?

Hoopoe. Gone.

Euelpides. In consequence of an illness ?

Hoopoe. No, the birds

At this time of the year leave off their feathers.
But you ! What are ye ? Tell me.

Euelpides. Mortal men.

Hoopoe. What countrymen ?

Euelpides. Of the country of the Triremes.^

Hoopoe. Jurymen, I suppose ?

Euelpides. Quite the reverse.

We 're anti-jurymen.

Hoopoe. Does that breed still 126

Continue amongst you ?

Euelpides. Some few specimens ^

You '11 meet with, here and there, in country places.

1 In his trag-edy of Tereus, Sophocles had represented him as
transformed (probably only in the last scenes) with the head and beak
of a bird.

2 Galleys with three banks of oars. The Atlienians were at that
time undisputed masters of the sea.

^ The love of litigation and the passion for sitting on juries seems


Hoojpoe, And what has brought you here ? What
was your object ?

Euelpides. We wished to advise with you.

Hoopoe. With me ! For what ?

Euelpides. Because you were a man : the same as
us ; 131

And found yourself in debt : the same as us ;
And did not like to pay : the same as us ;
And after that, you changed into a bird ;
And ever since have flown and wandered far 135

Over the lands and seas, and have acquired
All knowledge that a bird or man can learn.

Therefore we come as suppliants, to beseech
Your favor and advice to point us out
Some comfortable country, close and snug, i40

A country like a blanket or a rug,
Where we might fairly fold ourselves to rest.

Hoopoe. Do you wish then for a greater State than
Athens ?

Euelpides. Not greater ; but more suitable for us.

Peisthetairus. Ha ! What a power is here ! What
opportunities ! 170

If I could only advise you. I see it all !
The means for an infinite empire and command !
Hoopoe. And what would you have us do ? What 's

your advice ?
Peisthetairus. Do ? What would I have ye do ?
Why first of all
Don't flutter and hurry about all open-mouthed, 175
In that undignified way. With us, for instance,
At home, we should cry out '' What creature 's that ? "

to have infected the whole Athenian community with the exception
of a few who retained their old agricultural habits.


And Teleas would be the first to answer,

" A mere poor creature, a weak restless animal,

A silly bird, that 's neither here nor there." ^ iso

Hoopoe, Yes, Teleas might say so. It would he
like him.
But tell me, what would you have us do ?

Peisthetairus [emphatically~\. Concentrate!

Bring all your birds together. Build a city.

Hoopoe. The birds ! How could we build a city ?
Where ?

Peisthetairus. Nonsense. You can't be serious.
What a question ! iss

Look down.

Hoopoe. I do.

Peisthetairus. Look up now.

Hoopoe. So I do.

Peisthetairus. Now turn your neck round.

Hoopoe. I should sprain it though.

Peisthetairus. Come, what d' ye see ?

Hoopoe. The clouds and sky ; that 's all.

Peisthetairus. Well, that we call the pole and the
atmosphere ;
And would it not serve you birds for a metropole ? i90

Hoopoe. Pole ? Is it called a pole ?

Peisthetairus. Yes, that 's the name.

Philosophers of late call it the pole ;
Because it wheels and rolls itself about.
As it were, in a kind of a roly-poly way.^
Well, there then, you may build and fortify, 195

^ The lines between inverted commas may be understood either as
the words of Teleas or as a description of him ; the ambiguity exists
in the original and is evidently intentional. It is continued in the
next line of the Hoopoe's answer.

2 The comic poets ridiculed the new prevailing' passion for astro*
nomieal and physical science.


And call it your Metropolis — your Acropolis.
From that position you '11 command mankind,
And keep tliem in utter, thorough subjugation : .
Just as you do the grasshoppers and locClsts.
And if the gods offend you, you '11 blockade 'em, 200
And starve 'em to a surrender.

Hoopoe. In what way ?

Peisthetairus. Why, thus. Your atmosphere is
placed, you see.
In a middle point, just betwixt earth and heaven.

A case of the same kind occurs with us.
Our people in Athens, if they send to Delphi ^ 205

With deputations, offerings, or what not,
Are forced to obtain a pass from the Boeotians :
Thus when mankind on earth are sacrificing,
If you should find the Gods grown mutinous
And insubordinate, you could intercept 210

All their supplies of sacrificial smoke.

Hoopoe. By the earth and all its springs ! springes
and nooses ! ^
Odds, nets and snares ! This is the cleverest notion :
And I could find it in my heart to venture,
If the other birds agree to the proposal. 215

Peisthetairus. But who must state it to them ?

Hoopoe. You yourself.

They '11 understand ye, I found them mere barbari-'

But living here a length of time amongst them,
I have taught them to converse and speak correctly.^

^ The most famous oracle of Apollo was at Delphi.

2 The Hoopoe's exclamation and oath are in the orig'inal, as they
are here represented, exactly in the style of Boh Acres.

^ The characteristic impertinence of a predominant people, con-
sidering their own language as that which ought to he universally


Peisthetairus. How will you summon them ?

Hoopoe, That 's easy enough ;

I '11 just step into the thicket here hard by, 221

And call my nightingale.^ She '11 summon them.
And when they hear her voice, I promise you
You '11 see them all come running here pell-mell.

Peisthetairus. My dearest, best of birds ! don't
lose a moment, 225

I beg, but go directly into the thicket ;
Nay, don't stand here, go call your nightingale.

\_Exit Hoopoe.

Song from behind the scene, supposed to he sung by the Hoopoe.

Awake ! awake ! •

Sleep no more, my gentle mate !

With your tiny tawny bill, 230

Wake the tuneful echo shrill,

On vale or hill ;
Or in her airy, rocky seat.
Let her listen and repeat

The tender ditty that you tell, 235

The sad lament.
The dire event,
To luckless Itys ^ that befell.
Thence the strain

Shall rise again, 240

And soar amain,

^ A female performer on the flute, a great favorite of the public
and with the poet, after a long' absence from Athens eng-aged to per-
form in this play, which was exhibited with an unusual recklessness of

'^ Itys was killed by his mother Procne and served up to his father
Tereus to eat, as revenge for wrong done her. The gods, in indigna-
tion, changed Tereus into a hoopoe, and Procne into a nightingale, in
■which form she ever bewails her lost son.


Up to the lofty palace gate,
Where mighty Apollo sits in state ;
In Jove's abode, with his ivory lyre.
Hymning aloud to the heavenly choir. 245

While all the gods shall join with thee
In a celestial symphony.
A solo on thejiute, supposed to he the nightingale'' s call
Peisthetairus, O Jupiter ! the dear, delicious bird !
With what a lovely tone she swells and falls.
Sweetening the wilderness with delicate air. 250

Euelpides. Hist !
Peisthetairus. What ?
Euelpides. Be quiet, can't ye ?

Peisthetairus. What 's the matter ?

Euelpides. The Hoopoe is just preparing for a song.
Hoopoe, Hoop ! hoop !

Come in a troop,

Come at a call, 255

One and all.
Birds of a feather,
All together.
Birds of a humble, gentle bill,
Smooth and shrill, 260

Dieted on seeds and grain.
Rioting on the furrowed plain,
Pecking, hopping.
Picking, popping.
Among the barley newly sown. 265

Birds of bolder, louder tone,

Lodging in the shrubs and bushes,
Mavises and thrushes.
On the summer berries browsing.
On the garden fruits carousing, 270

All the grubs and vermin smousing.



You that in a humbler station,

With an active occupation,

Haunt the lowly watery mead,

Warring against the native breed, . 275

The gnats and flies, your enemies ;
In the level marshy plain
Of Marathon, pursued and slain.

You that in a squadron driving

From the seas are seen arriving, 280

With the cormorants and mews

Haste to land and hear the news !

All the feathered airy nation.

Birds of every size and station,

Are convened in convocation. 285

For an envoy, queer and shrewd,

Means to address the multitude,
And submit to their decision
A surprising proposition.
For the welfare of the State. 290

Come in a flurry,

With a hurry-scurry.
Hurry to the meeting and attend to the debate.

Address of the Chorus to the Audience {The
so-called .Parahasis^.

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 s

(Immortal, illustrious, lords of the air),

Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,


Your struggles of misery, labor, and care.
Whence you may learn and clearly discern
Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn ; lo

Which is busied of late, with a mighty debate,
A profound speculation about the creation,
And organical life, and chaotical strife,
With various notions of heavenly motions.
And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains, 15

Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 16 of 29)