Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Cloudcuckooland. Imaginary city-state of the birds, located in the sky and invented by Aristophanes, who set another play, The Frogs (405 b.c.e.), in another imaginary place, mythical Hades. Two humans leave their own city of Athens and seek Hoopoe, the bird king, at a desolate cliffside vaguely described as a “hundred-mile hike” from home. Hoopoe’s roost is a leafy thicket wheeled onstage with its master; the humans must sprout wings to accept Hoopoe’s offer of hospitality inside. Hoopoe satisfies his guests’ quest for a perfect city-state of rest and relaxation by agreeing to help them establish such a utopia for the birds. Various charlatans from Athens are subsequently driven off as they seek selfish advantage in the new city.


*Athens. Democratic ancient Greek city-state at the height of its imperial power when this play was produced during a major state religious festival. The chorus of birds shifts its focus from the imaginary setting of the play to the real location of the production by addressing the audience directly in choral interludes which allow Aristophanes, himself a citizen of Athens, to express his political views to the assembled citizenry and delegates from subject allies. Throughout the play, places are mentioned relevant to Athens’s contemporary political situation, such as the Greek city-states Sparta and Corinth, Athens’s enemies; Persia and Babylon, representing an imperial eastern threat; Lydia and Phrygia, Asiatic regions that supplied slaves; the Aegean islands of Chios and Melos, subject allies of Athens, and so on. Some obscure towns are named solely for humorous effect, such as Olophyxia or “Groansville” in the northern Aegean, and Corinth’s neighbor Orneai or “Birdland.”

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus. Mythical mountain dwelling of the Greek gods, located somewhere above the birds’ territory. Rest and relaxation triumph over politics when the gods cede their universal sovereignty to Cloudcuckooland in order to continue receiving men’s sacrifices, which must pass through its territory.

The Birds Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dearden, C. W. The Stage of Aristophanes. London: Athlone Press, 1976. The work is an overview of Greek theatrical conventions that uses the plays of Aristophanes as models. It discusses form, staging, settings, the chorus, and the use of actors and masks. Each of the plays is discussed individually.

Dover, K. J. Aristophanic Comedy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972. Textual criticism of the plays of Aristophanes. Discusses The Birds as fantasy and as one of the few by the writer that does not point toward a didactic change in politics. Includes a discussion of the sexual humor of the time and the role of women in Greek society as reflected in the plays.

Ehrenberg, Victor. The People of Aristophanes. London: Methuen, 1974. Discussion of the creation of types as caricatures of Athenian society. An analysis of old Attic comedy from a sociological perspective.

Lord, Louis E. Aristophanes: His Plays and His Influence. New York: Cooper Square, 1963. Traces Aristophanes’ influence on Athenian society as well as on later German, French, and English writers. Also presents an overview of Greek comedy as the origin and model for later sociological and political satire.

Spatz, Lois. Aristophanes. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A discussion of the evolution of Greek plays and their religious connection to the festival of Dionysus. Presents each play chronologically and depicts the historical context in which it was created.