Pisthetærus (pihs-theh-TI-ruhs), an old man of Athens who has left his native city in disapproval because of the corruption, especially the litigiousness, of his countrymen. High-spirited, comically fantastic, and sometimes even vulgar, he nevertheless has an underlying vein of hardheaded good sense that makes him despise hypocrites and frauds. He uses his oratorical skill to convince the birds that they are the superiors of the gods, and he proposes the creation of Nephelo-Coccygia, or “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” the strategic location of which will give the birds power over both gods and men. For his pains, he is awarded wings and a position of respect in the land of the birds. He adopts a very casual attitude toward the gods who come to negotiate a peace, and through shrewd dealing he wins not only the scepter of Zeus for the birds but also the hand of Basileia, or “Sovereignty,” and celestial bounty for himself.
Euelpides (ew-EHL-pih-deez), another old Athenian, Pisthetærus’ companion and foil. Not as sharply individualized, he is, like Pisthetærus, disgusted with Athenian life and ready to cooperate in his friend’s schemes. He too has a broadly comic wit and a keen eye for a pretty courtesan.
Epops (EH-pops), the hoopoe. Now King of the Birds, he was once Tereus, a king of Thrace and the son of Ares. After his marriage to Procne, he violated Procne’s sister Philomela and cut out her tongue so that she could not tell of the deed. All three were transformed by the gods: Tereus became a hoopoe (in the version of the myth followed by Aristophanes), Procne a nightingale, and Philomela a swallow. Epops is reunited with Procne in the land of the birds, where he has special status because he has human as well as bird knowledge. He is delighted with Pisthetærus’ suggestion regarding the foundation of Nephelo-Coccygia.
Trochilus (TROH-kih-luhs), the wren, a servant to Epops.
Phoenicopterus (fee-nih-KOP-tur-uhs), the flamingo, who attends the council of birds that votes to establish Nephelo-Coccygia.
A priest, who, after the establishment of Nephelo-Coccygia, makes sacrifices to all the bird gods and goddesses.
A poet, who addresses some rather bad verses to the new city.
Meton, a geometrician and astronomer,
an inspector of tributary towns
an inspector of tributary towns, and
a dealer in decrees
a dealer in decrees, who also arrive for the inaugural ceremonies but are driven away by Pisthetærus, who knows them to be frauds.
Iris (I-rihs), the messenger of Zeus who wanders into Nephelo-Coccygia on her way to command humankind to offer sacrifices to the gods. She is denied passage and treated impolitely because she has failed to get a safe conduct from the birds. She carries the news to Olympus that communication between gods and humans has been cut off.
Cinesias, a dithyrambic poet, and
an informer, who come to Nephelo-Coccygia seeking wings to aid them in attaining their various objectives. the first is sent to Thrace to fight; the second and third are beaten.
Prometheus (proh-MEE-thee-uhs), the Titan, who tells Pisthetærus that the gods are ready to come to terms with the birds because the smoke of sacrifices has been cut off and the Olympians are starving.
Poseidon (poh-SI-dehn), the god of the sea,
Herakles (HEH-reh-kleez), the demigod, and
Triballus (trih-BA-luhs), a barbarian god, who negotiate a truce with the birds by bargaining away the power of Zeus to Pisthetærus.