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 17 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 17 of 29)
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And sources of fountains, and meteors on high.
And stars in the sky. We propose by-and-by
(If you '11 listen and hear) to make it all clear.
And Prodicus ^ henceforth shall pass for a dunce.
When his doubts are explained and expounded at
once. 20

Before the creation of Aether and Light,
Chaos and Night together v^^ere plight.
In the dungeon of Erebus foully bedight.
Nor Ocean, or Air, or substance was there,
Or solid or rare, or figure or form, 26

But horrible Tartarus ruled in the storm :

At length, in the dreary chaotical closet
Of Erebus old, was a privy deposit.
By Night the primaeval in secrecy laid ;
A Mystical Egg, that in silence and shade so

Was brooded and hatched ; till time came about :
And Love, the delightful, in glory flew out,
In rapture and light, exulting and bright.
Sparkling and florid, with stars in his forehead,
His forehead and hair, and a flutter and flare, 35

As he rose in the air, triumphantly furnished
To range his dominions, on glittering pinions,
All golden and azure, and blooming and burnished :
1 A Sophist of Ceos, contemporary with Socrates.


He soon, in the murky Tartarean recesses,
With a hurricane's might, in his fiery caresses 4o

Impregnated Chaos ; and hastily snatched
To being and life, begotten and hatched,
The primitive Birds : but the Deities all,
The celestial Lights, the terrestrial Ball,
Were later of birth, with the dwellers on earth, 45
More tamely combined, of a temperate kind ;
When chaotical mixture approached to a fixture.

Our antiquity jDroved, it remains to be shown.
That Love is our author, and master alone ;
Like him, we can ramble, and gambol and fly 58

O'er ocean and earth, and aloft to the sky :
And all the world over we 're friends to the lover.
And when other means fail, we are found to pre*

When a peacock or pheasant is sent as a present.

All lessons of primary daily concern, 55

You have learnt from the Birds, and continue to

Your best benefactors and early instructors ;
We give you the warning of seasons returning.

When the cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
In the middle air, with a creaking note, 60

Steering away to the Lybian ^ sands ;
Then careful farmers sow their lands ;
The crazy vessel is hauled ashore.
The sail, the ropes, the rudder and oar
Are all unshipped, and housed in store. 65

The shepherd is warned, by the kite reappearing,
To muster his flock, and be ready for shearing.

You quit your old cloak, at the swallow's behest,
In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.
1 The cranes went to Africa to spend the winter.


For Delphi, for Ammon, Dodona/ in fine, 70

For every oracular temple and shrine,
The Birds are a substitute equal and fair.
For on us you depend, and to us you repair
For counsel and aid, when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade : 75

Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye.
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 by chance overheard.
If you deem it an omen, you call it a Bird ; ^ so

And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow.
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.

Then take us as gods, and you '11 soon find the
odds, ^
We '11 serve for all uses, as Prophets and Muses ;
We '11 give ye fine weather, we '11 live here together ; 85
We '11 not keep away, scornful and proud, a-top of a

(In Jupiter's way) ; but attend every day,
To prosper and bless, all you possess.
And all your affairs, for yourselves and your heirs.
And as long as you live, we shall give 90

You wealth and health, and pleasure and treasure,
In ample measure ;
And never bilk you of pigeon's milk,
Or potable gold ; you shall live to grow old,

1 Ammon was an oracle of Zeus in Libya. For Dodona, see the
Prometheus of Aeschylus, page 115, line 769.

2 The Greek word for bird came to be used for omen, since omens
were so frequently taken from the flight of birds. See the Prometheus
of Aeschylus, p. 108, line 557.

^ The series of short lines at the end of a Parabasis was to be re-
peated with the utmost volubility and rapidity, as if in a single breath-
A. comic effect is sometimes produced in this way on our own stage.


In laughter and mirth, on the face of the earth, 95
Laughing, quaffing, carousing, bousing.
Your only distress, shall be the excess
Of ease and abundance and happiness.
• ..•••••

Men come to enjoy the New City^s privileges.
Poet. " For the festive, happy day,
Muse prepare an early lay,
To Nephelococcugia."
Peisthetairus. What 's here to do ? What are

you ? Where do you come from ?
Poet. An humble menial of the Muses' train, 5
As Homer expresses it.

Peisthetairus. A menial, are you?

With your long hair ? ^ A menial ?

Poet. 'T is not that,

No ! but professors of the poetical art
Are simply styled the " Menials of the Muses,"
As Homer expresses it.

Peisthetairus. Aye, the Muse has given you

A ragged livery. Well, but friend, I say — n

Friend ! — Poet ! — What the plague has brought you
here ?
Poet. I 've made an ode upon your new-built city,
And a charming composition for a chorus,
And another, in Simonides's manner. 15

Peisthetairus. When were they made? What

time ? How long ago ?
Poet. From early date, I celebrate in song,
The noble Nephelococcugian State.

Peisthetairus. That 's strange, when I'm just sacri-
ficing here.
For the first time, to give the town a name. 26

^ Slaves were forbidden to wear long hair.


Poet, Intimations, swift as air,

To the Muses' ear, are carried,
Swifter than the speed and force
Of the fiery -footed horse ;

Hence, the tidings never tarried. 25

Father, patron, mighty lord,^

Founder of the rising State,
What thy bounty can afford,

Be it little, be it great.
With a quick resolve, incline so

To bestow on me and mine.
JPeisthetairus. This fellow will breed a bustle, and
make mischief,
If we don't give him a trifle, and get rid of him.
You there,^ you 've a spare waistcoat ; pull it off !
And give it this same clever, ingenious poet — 35

There, take the waistcoat, friend ! Ye seem to want it I
Poet. Freely, with a thankful heart.

What a bounteous hand bestows,
Is received in friendly part ;

But amid the Thracian snows, 40

Or the chilly Scythian plain.

He the wanderer, cold and lonely.
With an under-waistcoat only,
Must a further wish retain ;

Which, the Mnse averse to mention, 45
To your gentle comprehension,
Trusts her enigmatic strain.
PeistJietairus. I comprehend it enough ; you want
a jerkin ;

1 The Scholiast informs us that these lines are in ridicule of certain
mendicatory passages in the poems of Pindar ; one in particular, ad-
dressed to Hiero on the foundation of a new city.

2 Tills was said to the priest who was conducting a sacrifice.


Here, give Mm yours ; one ought to encourage gen-
There, take it, and good-by to ye !

Poet} Well, I 'm going ;

And as soon as I get to the town, I '11 set to work ; 51
And finish something, in this kind of way.

" Seated on your golden throne,
Muse, prepare a solemn ditty,

To the mighty, 55

To the flighty.
To the cloudy, quivering, shivering,
To the lofty-seated city."

Peisthetairus. Well, I should have thought that
jerkin might have cured him
Of his " quiverings and shiverings." How the
plague. 60

Did the fellow find us out? I should not have thought it.
Come, once again, go round with the basin and
Peace ! Silence ! Silence ! ^

Enter a Soothsayer with a great air of arrog-ance and^self -importance.
He comes on the authority of a book of Oracles (which he pretends
to possess, but which he never produces), in virtue of which he lays
claim to certain sacrificial perquisites and fees. Peisthetairus en-
counters him with a different version composed upon the spot ; in
virtue of which he dismisses the Soothsayer with a good lashing-.

Soothsayer. Stop the sacrifice !

Peisthetairus. What are you ?

Soothsayer, A Soothsayer, that 's what I am.

^ The Poet withdraws, gradually turning round and reciting. Peis-
thetairus does not appear to take notice, but watches till he is fairly

^ Sacrifices were to be performed in silence in order to avoid the
chance of words of ill-omen.


JPeisthetairus. The worse luck for ye.
Soothsayer. Friend, are you in your senses ?

Don't trifle absurdly with religious matters. 66

Here 's a prophecy of Bakis, which expressly
Alludes to Nephelococcugia.

JPeisthetairus. How came it, then, you never pro-
Your prophecies before the town was built ? 79

Soothsayer. The spirit withheld me.
Peisthetairus. And is it allowable now,

To give us a communication of them ?

Soothsayer. Hem !

" Moreover, when the crows and daws unite,
To build and settle, in the midway right,
Between tall Corinth and fair Sicyon's height,
Then to Pandora, let a milk white goat tg

Be slain, and offered, and a comely coat
Given to the Soothsayer, and shoes a pair ;
When he to you this Oracle shall bear."
Peisthetairus. Are the shoes mentioned ?
Soothsayer [pretending to feel for his papers^.

Look at the book, and see !
"And let him have the entrails ^ for his share." 81
Peisthetairus. Are the entrails mentioned ?
Soothsayer [as hefore'] . Look at the book, and see !
" If you, predestined youth, shall do these things.
Then you shall soar aloft, on eagle's wings ;
But, if you do not, you shall never be 85

An eagle, nor a hawk, nor bird of high degree."
Peisthetairus. Is all this, there?
Soothsayer [c/s 5e/bre]. Look at the book, and see!
Peisthetairus. This Oracle differs most remark-
From that which /transcribed in Apollo's temple.
1 The heart, liver, and lungs.


** If at the sacrifice . . . ^ which you prepare, 90
An uninvited vagabond . . . should dare
To interrupt you, and demand a share,
Let cuffs and buffets ... be the varlet's lot.
Smite him between the ribs . . . and spare
him not."
Soothsayer. Nonsense you 're talking !
Peisthetairus [with the same action as the Sooth-
SAYEE, as if he were feeling for 'pa])ers\ Look at
the book, and see ! 95

" Thou shalt in no wise heed them, or forbear
To lash and smite those eagles of the air,
Neither regard their names, for it is written,
Lampon and Diopithes shall be smitten."
Soothsayer. Is all this there ?

Peisthetairus \_producing a horsewhip~\. Look at
the book and see ! 100

Get out ! with a plague and a vengeance.

Soothsayer. O dear ! oh !

Peisthetairus. Go soothsay somewhere else, you

rascal, run ! \_Exit Soothsayer,

The Completion of the Ne%D City.

Enter a Messenger, quite out of breath ; and speaking in short


Messenger. Where is he ? Where ? Where is he ?
Where ? Where is he ?
The president Peisthetairus ?

Peisthetairus \_coolly~\. Here am I.

Messenger [in a gasp of hreatli\. Your fortifica-
tion 's finished.

^ The breaks in the text may serve to indicate what was raore dis-
tinctly expressed by the actor, namely, that Peisthetairus's Oracle is
an extempore production.


Peisthetairus. Well, that 's well.

Messenger. A most amazing, astonisliing work it is !
So, that Theagenes and Proxenides ^ 5

Might flourish and gasconade and prance away,
Quite at their ease, both of them four-in-hand,
Driving abreast upon the breadth of the wall,
Each in his own new chariot.

Peisthetairus. You surprise me.

Messenger. And the height (for I made the mea-
surement myself) 10
Is exactly a hundred fathoms.

Peisthetairus. Heaven and earth !

How could it be ? such a mass ! who could have built

Messenger. The Birds ; no creature else, no for-
Egyptian bricklayers, workmen or masons,
But, they themselves, alone, by their own efforts 15
(Even to my surprise, as an eye-witness), —
The Birds, I say, completed everything :
There came a body of thirty thousand cranes
(I won't be positive, there might be more)
With stones from Africa, in their craws and gizzards,
Which the stone-curlews and stone-chatterers 21

Worked into shape and finished. The sand-martens
And mud-larks, too, were busy in their department.
Mixing the mortar, while the water birds.
As fast as it was wanted, brought the water 25

To temper, and work it.

Peisthetairus [in afidget~\. But, who served the
masons ?
Who did you get to carry it ?

^ Pretenders to great wealth and affecting extraordinary expense
and display.


Messenger. To carry it ?

Of course, the carrion crows, and carrying pigeons.
JPeisthetairus [in a fuss^ which he endeavors to
conceal^. Yes! yes! But after ail, to load
your hods,
How did you manage that ?

Messenger, Oh capitally, so

I promise you. There were the geese, all barefoot
Trampling the mortar, and, when all was ready,
They handed it into the hods, so cleverly,
With their flat feet !

Peisthetairus. [A had johe^ as a vent for irrita-
tion.^^ They Jvoted it, you mean —
Come ; it was handily done though, I confess. 35
Messenger. Indeed, I assure you, it was a sight to
see them ;
And trains of ducks, there were, clambering the lad-
With their duck legs, like bricklayer's 'prentices,
All dapper and handy, with their little trowels.

Peisthetairus.^ In fact, then, it 's no use engaging
foreigners, 40

Mere folly and waste, we 've all within ourselves.
Ah, well now, come ! But about the woodwork ?
Who were the carpenters ? Answer me that !

Messenger. The woodpeckers, of course : and there
they were,
Laboring upon the gates, driving and banging, 45

1 Like Falstaff, when he is annoyed and perplexed, joking per-

2 Peisthetairus is at a loss ; unable to think of a new objection, he
maintains his importance by a wise observation. As soon as an ob-
jection occurs, he states it with great eagerness ; but with no better
success than before.


With their hard hatchet beaks, and such a din,
Such a clatter, as they made, hammering and hack-
In a perpetual peal, pelting away
Like shipwrights, hard at work in the arsenal.

And now their work is finished, gates and all, 50
Staples and bolts, and bars and everything ;
The sentries at their posts ; patrols appointed ;
The watchmen in the barbican ; the beacons
Ready prepared for lighting ; all their signals
Arranged — but I '11 step out, just for a moment, 55
To wash my hands. You '11 settle all the rest.

The Visit of Prometheus.
Prometheus. Peisthetairus. Chorus.

Prometheus \_enters muffled up^peeping about him
with a look of anxiety and suspicion^, O dear !
If Jupiter should chance to see me !
Where 's Peisthetairus ? Where ?

Peisthetairus. Why, what 's all this ?

This fellow muf&ed up ?

Prometheus. Do look behind me ,•

Is anybody watching ? any gods
Following and spying after me ?

Peisthetairus. No, none, 5

None that I can see, there 's nobody. But you !
What are ye ?

Prometheus. Tell me, what 's the time of day ?

Peisthetairus. Why, noon, past noon ; but tell me,
who are ye ? Speak.

Prometheus. Much past, — how much ?

Peisthetairus [^aside']. Confound the fool, I say.
The insufferable blockhead !


Prometheus. How 's the sky ? lo

Open or overcast? Are there any clouds?

PeistJietairus \_aloud and angrily'^. Be hanged !

Prometheus. Then I'll disguise myself no longer.

Peisthetairus. My dear Prometheus !

Prometheus. Hold your tongue, I beg ;

Don't mention my name ! If Jupiter should see me,
Or overhear ye, I 'm ruined and undone.^ • is

But now, to give you a full complete account
Of everything that 's passing, there in heaven —
The present state of things. . . . But first I '11 trouble

To take the umbrella, and hold it overhead.
Lest they should overlook us.

Peisthetairus. What a thought ! 20

Just like yourself ! A true Promethean thought !
Stand under it, here ! Speak boldly ; never fear.

Prometheus. D' ye mind me ?

Peisthetairus. Yes, I mind ye. Speak away.

Prometheus [emphatically']. Jupiter 's ruined.

Peisthetairus. Ruined ! How ? Since when ?

Prometheus. From the first hour you fortified and
planted 25

Your atmospheric settlements. Ever since.
There 's not a mortal offers anything
In the shape of sacrifice. No smoke of victims !
No fumes of incense ! Absolutely nothing !
We 're, keeping a strict fast — fasting perforce, so

From day to day — the whole community.

And the inland barbarous gods in the upper coun«
Are broken out, quite mutinous and savage,
With hunger and anger ; threatening to come down
^ See the Prometheus of Aeschylus, pag^e 101, line 364.


With all their force ; if Jupiter refuses 35

To open tlie ports, and allow them a free traffic
For their entrails and intestines,^ as before.

Peisthetairus [a little annoyed at being obliged to
ask the question']. What — are there other
barbarous gods, besides,
In the upper country?

Prometheus. Barbarous ? — to be sure !

They 're all of Execestides's kindred.^ 40

Peisthetairus [as before hesitating^ but with a
sort of affected ease] . Well — but — the
name now. The same barbarous deities —
What name do you call 'em ?

Prometheus. \_su7'2)rised at Peisthetairus's igno-
rance] . Call them ! The Triballi ! ^
Peisthetairus [giving vent to his irritation by a
forced joke]. Ah ! well then, that accounts
for our old saying : —
Confound the Tribe of them !

Prometheus \_annoyed and drily]. Precisely so.
But, now to business. Thus much, I can tell ye ; 45
That envoys will arrive immediately
From Jupiter and those upland wild Triballi,
To treat for a peace. But, you must not consent
To ratify or conclude,* till Jupiter
Acknowledges the sovereignty of the birds ; 50

Surrendering up to you the sovereign queen.
Whom you must marry.

Peisthetairus. Why, what queen is that ?

1 Of the sacrifices. Compare pag-e 270, line 81.

2 Noted elsewhere in this play as having no jnst claim to the rights
of a citizen.

3 A barbarous people of Thrace. See page 419.

* Allusions to the Prometheus of Aeschylus, pages 95, 127.


Prometheus. What queen ? A most delightful
charmmg girl,
Jove's housekeeper, that manages his matters,
Serves out his thunderbolts, arranges everything ; 55
The constitutional laws and liberties,
Morals and manners, the marine department,
Freedom of speech, and threepence for the juries.

PeistJietairus. Why, that seems all in all.

Prometheus. Yes, everything,

I tell ye, in having her, you 've everything : 60

I came down hastily, to say thus much ;
I 'm hearty, ye know ; I stick to principle.
Steady to the human interest — always was.^

Peisthetairus. Yes ! we 're obliged to you for our
roast victuals.

Prometheus. And I hate these present gods, you
know, most thoroughly. 65

I need not tell you that.

Peisthetairus ^ [with a sort of half sneer]. No,
no, you need not.
You 're known of old, for an enemy to the gods.

Prometheus. Yes, yes, like Timon, I 'm a perfect
Timon ; ^
Just such another. But I must be going ;
Give me the umbrella ; if Jupiter should see me, 70
He '11 think that I 'm attending a procession.*

1 Prometheus had incurred the wrath of Jupiter by his kindness
to mankind in having' bestowed on them the gift of fire.

^ Peisthetairus, who has learned all that he wanted to know, does
not care to lose his time in listening to professions of zeal and attach-
ment. He contrives, however, to conclude civilly with a piece of
obliging attention.

^ Timon of Athens (see p. 445) hated gods as well as mien.

* The Canephoroi were followed by a person bearing an umbrella
and a folding chair.


Peisthetairus. That 's well, but don't forget the
folding cliair,
For a part of your disguise. Here, take it with you.

The Gods and the Birds make a Truce,
Neptune. The Triballian Envoy. Hercules.

Neptune. There 's Nephelococcugia, that 's the town,
The point we 're bound to, with our embassy.

Turning to the Triballian.
But you ! What a figure have ye made yourself !
What a way to wear a mantle ! slouching off
From the left shoulder ! hitch it round, I tell ye, 5
On the right side. For shame — come — so ; that 's

These folds, too, bundled up. There, throw them

Even and easy — so. Why, you 're a savage,
A natural born savage. Oh ! democracy !
What will it bring us to? When such a ruffian 10
Is voted into an embassy !

Trihallian \to Neptune, who is pulling his dress

about^. Come, hands off ! Hands off !
Neptune. Keep quiet, I tell ye, and hold your
For a very beast : in all my life in heaven,
I never saw such another. — Hercules, 14

I say, what shall we do ? What should you think ?
Hercules. What would I do ? What do I think ?
I 've told you
Already ... I think to throttle him — the fellow.
Whoever he is, that 's keeping us blockaded.^

Neptune. Yes, my good friend ; but we were sent,
you know.
To treat for a peace. Our embassy is for peace. 20

^ Hercules's instinctive impulse is to use force.


Hercules. That makes no difference ; or if It does,
It makes me long to throttle him the more.

Peisthetairus [very busy, affecting not to see them.~\
Give me the Silphium spice. Where 's the
cheese-grater ?
Bring cheese here, somebody ! Mend the charcoal
Hercules. Mortal, we greet you and hail you !
Three of us — 25

Three deities.

Peisthetairus [without loohing up\. But I 'm en-
gaged at present ;
A little busy, you see, mixing my sauce.

Hercules. Why sure ! How can it be ? what dish
is this ?
Birds seemingly ! ^

Peisthetairus [loithout looking up~\. Some indi-
vidual birds,
Opposed to the popular democratic birds, 30

Rendered themselves obnoxious.

Hercules. So, you 've plucked them,

And put them into sauce, promsionally f

Peisthetairus [loohing up~\ . Oh ! bless me, Her-
cules, I 'm quite glad to see you.
What brings you here ?

Hercules. We 're come upon an embassy

From heaven, to put an end to this same war. ... 35

Servant [to Peisthetaikus]. The cruet 's empty,

our oil is out.
Peisthetairus. No matter.

Fetch more, fetch plenty, I tell ye. We shall want it.
Hercules. For, in fact, it brings no benefit to us,

^ Hercules was proverbially a gourmand. It is through this weak-
ness that Peisthetairus wins him over to his side.


The continuance of the war prolonging it ;

And you yourselves, by being on good terms 4o

Of harmony with the gods . . . why, for the future,

You 'd. never need to know the want of rain,

For water in your tanks ; and we could serve ye

With reasonable, seasonable weather.

According as you wished it, wet or dry. 45

And this is our commission coming here,

As envoys, with authority to treat.

Peisthetairus. Well, the dispute, you know, from

the beginning,
Did not originate with us. The war
(If we could hope in any way to bring you 50

To reasonable terms) might be concluded.
Our wishes, I declare it, are for peace.
If the same wish prevails upon your partj
The arrangement in itself is obvious*
A retrocession on the part of Jupiter. 55

The birds, again to be reintegrated
In their estate of sovereignty. This seems
The fair result ; and if we can conclude,
I shall hope to see the ambassadors to supper. 59

Hercules. Well, this seems satisfactory ; I consent.
Neptune [to Hercules]. What's come to ye?

What do ye mean ? Are ye gone mad ?
You glutton ; would you ruin your own father,^
Depriving him of his ancient sovereignty ?

Peisthetairus ^ [to Neptune] . Indeed ! And would

not it be a better method 65

For all you deities, and confirm your power.
To leave the birds to manage things below ?
You sit there, muffled in your clouds above,

^ Jupiter (Zeus).

2 With the civil, good-humored sneer of a superior understanding.


While all mankind are shifting, skulking, lurking,
And perjuring themselves here out of sight. 70

Whereas, if you would form a steady strict
Alliance with the Birds, when any man
(Using the common old familiar oath —
" By Jupiter and the crow ") forswore himself.
The crow would pick his eyes out, for his pains. 75
Neptune, Well, that seems plausible — that 's

fairly put.
Hercules. I think so, too.
Peisthetairus \to the Triballian]. Well, what

say you ?
Triballian. Say true.^

Peisthetairus^ Yes. He consents, you see ! But
I '11 explain now
The services and good offices we could do you. so

Suppose a mortal made a vow, for instance.
To any of you ; then he delays and shuffles,
And says, " the gods are easy creditors."
In such a case, we could assist ye, I say,

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 17 of 29)