The Birds

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501

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Tired of the strife and complexity of modern urban life, Pisthetairos and Euelpides leave Athens to find Tereus, a king who was changed into a bird. Because Tereus has flown extensively, they hope that he can tell them where to find a peaceful place.

After learning how pleasantly the birds live, though, they determine to create a bird empire in the sky that will overthrow the gods. The birds at first object but at length are persuaded to construct an airy Cloud-Cuckoo-Land that will blockade Olympus into submission. Starving, the gods yield. Pisthetairos marries the divine Basileia and is transformed into a bird-god.

In the desire of Pisthetairos and Euelpides for peace one senses the war-weariness of the Athenians after decades of conflict with Sparta, but this topic is in the background. The chief object of the satire is instead the inability of Athenians, perhaps of Man, to accept a quiet life. Pisthetairos and Euelpides are not content with the uncluttered existence that the birds enjoy; they reject the Athenian empire only to found another.

The play also warns against the dangers of ambition. Fired by dreams of divinity, the birds make Pisthetairos their ruler. Yet at the end of the play, he celebrates his wedding and apotheosis with a dinner of roasted birds. Aristophanes thus warns his audience against demagogues.

Despite these serious concerns, the play remains lighthearted. Throughout, Aristophanes shows a love of nature and her bounty, and in Pisthetairos’ transformation, he presents the ultimate fusion of man and nature. The Athenians cannot escape from their basic impulses, but in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land audiences can find relief from, as well as insights into, their daily lives.

Bibliography:

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.

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