« PreviousContinue »
of the seasons, nor the fruits of the earth, without permission from those winged deities of the middle region. He shows how mankind will lose nothing by this change of government; that the birds may be worshipped at a far less expense, nothing more than a few berries or a handful of corn; that they will need no sumptuous tem. ples; that, by their great knowledge of futurity, they will direct their good votaries in all their expeditions, so as they can never fail of success; that the ravens, famed for the length of their lives, may make a present of a century or two to their worshippers ; and, besides, the birds will ever be within call, when invoked, and not sit pouting in the clouds, and keeping their state so many miles off. The scheme is highly admired, and the two old men are to be made free of the city, and each of them is to be adorned with a pair of wings at the public charge. Epops invites them to his nest-royal, and entertains them nobly. The nightingale in the mean time joins the Chorus without, and the parabasis begins.
“ They sing their own nobility and ancient grandeur, their prophetic skill, the benefits they do mankind already, and all the good which they design them; they descant upon the power of music, in which they are such great masters, and intermix many strokes of satire; they show the advantages of flying, and apply it to several whimsical cases; and they invite all such as would be free from the heavy tyranny of human laws to live among them, where it is no sin to beat one's father, &c., &c.
“ The old men, now become birds, and magnificently fledged, after laughing awhile at the new and awkward figure they make, consult about the name which they shall give to their rising city, and fix upon that of Nephelococcygia, or Cuckoocloudland; and while one goes to superintend the workmen, the other prepares to sacri. fice for the prosperity of the city, which is growing apace.
• They begin a solemn prayer to all the birds of Olympus, putting the swan in the place of Apollo, the cock in that of Mars, and the ostrich in that of the great mother Cybele, &c.
“A miserable poet, having already heard of the new settlement, comes with some lyric poetry, which he has composed on this great occasion. Pisthetærus knows his errand from his looks, and makes them give him an old coat; but, not contented with that, he begs to have the waistcoat to it, in the elevated style of Pindar: they com. ply, and get rid of him.
“ The sacrifice is again interrupted by a begging prophet, who brings a cargo of oracles, partly relating to the prosperity of the city of Nephelococcygia, and partly to a new pair of shoes, of which he is in extreme want. Pisthetærus loses patience, and cuffs him and his religious trumpery off the stage.
Meto, the famous geometrician, comes next, and offers a plan which he has drawn for the new buildings, with much importance and impertinence : he meets with as bad a reception as the prophet.
“An ambassador, or licensed spy, from Athens arrives, and a legislator, with a body of new laws. They are used with abundance of indignity, and go off, threatening every body with a prosecution. The sacred rites being so often interrupted, they are forced to remove their altar, and finish them behind the scenes.
" The Chorus rejoice in their own increasing power; and (as about the time of the Dionysia it was usual to make proclamation against the enemies of the republic) they set a price upon the head of a famous poulterer, who has exercised infinite cruelties upon their friends and brethren; then they turn themselves to the judges and spectators, and promise, if this drama obtain the victory, how propitious they will be to them.
“ Pisthetærus returns, and reports, that the sacrifice appears auspicious to their undertaking: a messenger then enters, with an account how quick the works advance, and whimsically describes the employments allotted to the several birds, in different parts of the building.
“ Another messenger arrives in a violent hurry, to tell how somebody from heaven has deceived the vigilance of the jackdaws, who were upon guard, and passed through the gates down into the lower air; but that a whole squadron of light-winged forces were in pursuit of this insolent person, and hoped to fetch him back again. The birds are in great perturbation, and all in a flutter about it.
“ This proves to be Iris, who in her return is stopped short, and seized by order of Pisthetærus. He examines her, Where is her passport ? Whether she had leave from the watch? What is her business? Who she is?
in short, he treats her with great authority. She tells her name, and that she was sent by Jove with orders to mankind, that they should keep holiday, and perform a grand sacrifice; she wonders at their sauciness and mad. ness, and threatens them with all her father's thunder. The governor of Nephelococcygia returns it with higher menaces, and with language very indecent indeed for a goddess and a maid to hear.
“ The herald, who had been despatched to the lower world, returns with an account that all Athens was gone bird-mad; that it was grown a fashion to imitate them in their names and manners; and that shortly they might expect to see a whole convoy arrive, in order to settle among them. The Chorus run to fetch a vast cargo of feathers and wings to equip their new citizens, when they
66 The first who appears is a profligate young fellow, who hopes to enjoy a liberty which he could not enjoy so well at home, the liberty of beating his father. Pisthetærus allows it, indeed, to be the custom of his people ; but at the same time informs him of an ancient law preserved among the storks, that they shall maintain their parents in their old age. This is not at all agreeable to the youth : however, in consideration of his affection for the Nephelococcygians, Pisthetærus furnishes him with a feather for his helmet, and a cock's spur for a weapon, and advises him, as he seems to be of a military turn, to go into the army in Thrace.
“ The next is Cinesias, the dithyrambic writer, who is delighted with the thought of living among the clouds, amidst those airy regions, whence all his poetical flights are derived; but Pisthetærus will have no such animal among his birds : he drives him back to Athens with great contempt.
“ He then drives away also (but not without a severe whipping) an informer, who for the better despatch of business comes to beg a pair of wings to carry him round the islands and cities subject to Athens, whose inhabitants he is used to swear against for an honest livelihood, as did, he says, his fathers before him. The birds, in the ensuing chorus, relate their travels, and describe the strange things and strange men they have seen in them.
“A person in disguise, with all the appearance of caution and fear, comes to inquire for Pisthetærus, to whom he discovers himself to be Prometheus, and tells him, but first he makes them hold a large umbrella over his head for fear Jupiter should spy him,) that the gods are all in a starving, miserable condition; and, what is worse, that barbarian gods (who live no one knows where, in a part of heaven far beyond the gods of Greece) threaten to make war upon them, unless they will open the ports, and renew the intercourse between mankind and them, as of old. He advises Pisthetærus to make the most of this intelligence, and to reject all offers boldly which
Jupiter may make him, unless he will consent to restore to the birds their ancient power, and give him in marriage his favorite attendant, Basilea. This said, he slips back again to heaven, as he came. The Chorus continue an account of their travels.
“ An embassy arrives from heaven, consisting of Hercules, Neptune, and a certain Triballian god. As they approach the city walls, Neptune is dressing and scold. ing at the outlandish divinity, and teaching him how to carry himself a little decently. They find Pisthetærus busy in giving orders about a dish of wild fowl, (i. e. of birds which had been guilty of high misdemeanours, and condemned to die by the public,) which are dressing for his dinner. Hercules, who before was for bringing off the head of this audacious mortal without further conference, finds himself insensibly relent, as he snuffs the savory steam. He salutes Pisthetærus, who receives them very coldly, and is more attentive to his kitchen than to their compliment. Neptune opens his commission; owns that his nation (the gods) are not the better for this war, and on reasonable terms would be glad of a peace. Pisthetærus, according to the advice of Prometheus, proposes (as if to try them) the first condition, namely, that of Jupiter's restoring to the birds their ancient power; and, if this should be agreed to, he says that he hopes to entertain my lords the ambassadors at dinner. Hercules, pleased with this last compliment, so agreeable to his appetite, comes readily into all he asks; but is severely reproved by Neptune for his gluttony. Pisthetærus argues the point, and shows how much it would be for the mutual interest of both nations; and Neptune is hungry enough to be glad of some reasonable pretence to give the thing up. The Triballian god is asked his opinion for form : he mutters somewhat, which nobody understands, and so it passes for his consent. Here they