returns with "news of the birds' victory to their joyful king," relates how all on earth are seized with the ornitho-mania, and are coming, thick as the leaves in Vallambrosa, "to visit and subscribe allegiance to the new gods." The human visitants are rather of the "selecti e profanis"-a parricide, a dithyrambic poet, and a sycophant; the first to be allowed to beat and kill his parents according to birdlaw; the second to be fledged, that he may fly aloft and gather airy thoughts; and the last, that he may fly from place to place, informing here, there, and everywhere, at once, he being a firm believer in Sir Boyle Roach's creed, "that a man cannot be in two places at once barring he was a bird. These suppliants thrashed off, Prometheus shirks on under an umbrella, and thus hidden from the gaze of Jupiter, "turns snitch upon his palls" (to use Mr. Ainsworth's fashionable dictionary), and reveals the famishing state of the dwellers on Olympus. He has hardly shrunk off under his gingham, ere an embassy arrives from the gods to patch up a peace on the best terms possible. Neptune, Hercules, and a Triballian god, who hardly understands, and certainly cannot speak, Greek, are the plenipotentiaries. Neptune fights for good terms, and is backed by Hercules, until the charms of a good feed, and the smell of the good things preparing under his very nose, seduce this everhungry god from his duty. He forthwith rats, and being joined by the Triballian, a truce on the modern reciprocity, or all-onone-side system, is concluded: the gods get food, and the birds their ancient sovereignty, and their king is rewarded with the hand of Jove's own daughter, Basilæa.

From such quaint and amusing materials is it possible to elicit a continued series of political allusions to, and caricatures of, any serious subject, and much less such an one as the great Sicilian expedition? "Non fumum ex fulgore sed ex fumo dare lucem." Nothing like trying.

Now, before we proceed to our view of the case, let us premise that this is not the first time that a political interpretation has been given to this play. Ages ago it was believed that the gods were the Athenians-the birds, Spartans-Nephelococcygia, the fortress of Deceleia-and the intention, to starve out Athens. If the author of this interpretation meant the actual building of the fortress, he endued our author with the* power of second sight, as the first stone of that fortress was

*The departure of the expedition to Sicily is generally placed under the year of Arimnestus, but as it was not until after Midsummer, θέρους μεσουντος ηδη, and the new Archons came in at Midsummer, the fleet must have sailed during the year of Chabrias, in which the argument with the birds is corrected by Philochorus, apud Schol. Aves.


not laid until a full year after the drama was acted. If he merely alluded to the advice of Alcibiades, why even then he left for the entire, thinking out, composition, rehearsal and getting up of the play, a space of time too short even for the ready wit and persevering industry of Aristophanes. Besides, to have represented the fickle Athenians by sober Dorian deities -the sober, slow, but sure Spartans, by volatile birds, were enough to have ensured the rejection of the drama by such a quick-witted audience as were present at its first appearance.

To recover the lost key of this play, we must first discover who and what are the parties, the actors in this busy scene; what nation is hidden under the form of men, what under that of birds, and what under that of starved deities; the first the originators, the second the undertakers, the last the sufferers from this most original scheme. The classes once determined, we must apply a similar method of investigation to the individual actors of the drama: and, referring to the events in the political world at the time of the play, and shortly antecedent to its representation, discover the originals of the shrewd Peisthetairos, the gullible Euelpides, the more gullible Epops, Prometheus the king's evidence, and the outwitted, out-protocolled negociators.

However different, at first sight, the contending parties may appear, a closer and more careful investigation assures us of their similarity in very many of their habits and customs, as well public as private; and enables us to lay down this primary rule, that, although they may differ, as one tribe does and will from its immediate neighbour, yet that they are all of one nation, or rather, tribes situated in different parts of one great country -of whom two, namely the birds and the gods, have been contending from very ancient times for the rule over the other and inferior tribe of men. That the gods and birds are each tribes of Greece, we may conclude from the prevalence of the laws of Solon among both parties; that the men are also of that land, the great similarity and almost identity of their habits, morals, and manners, with those of the birds, may be taken as conclusive evidence. To which, then, of the many component tribes of Greece shall we liken these three contending parties?

Among the Greeks, to whom shall we liken the greatest actors in this drama, the ancient nation of the birds? Do we

(767)the play was performed 'επὶ Χαβρίου 'Α'ρχουντος, εις άστυ consequently, in the spring of the year 414 B.C.; Deceleia was founded in the year after, and Alcibiades must have fled to Sparta in the fall of the year preceding the representation, or about four months before the play was brought out. See Clinton's Fasti, year 414 B.C.

not, in them, recognise the volatile and fickle Antochthones of Attica ? the fellow-citizens of Solon, Themistocles, and Cleon ? In the fickleness of the winged race, as shewn in their sudden alteration of conduct towards Peisthetairos and Euelpides soon after their first introduction to these two worthies-in their partiality for subtle refinements and sophistry (312), * in their love for projects which flattered their vanity and fostered their inordinate desire of universal dominion,† in their admission of runaway slaves (748), in their daily occupation from an early age in the coining of laws and decrees (1248),§ in the conduct of the young towards their parents (746), we may perceive a direct and cutting satire on the follies and vices so peculiar to the people of Attica, and to the inhabitants of her metropolis in particular. Moreover, in this play the birds are particularly charged with flying about with open mouths, ever gapingχεχηνότες (166), a propensity of the Athenians, noticed by the same writer in “ The Knights” (1962), and by Demosthenes as still their vice, in his first " Philippic." Again, add to this evidence, the form of the dedication αυτοισι και χίοισι (855),** the election of Minerva Polias as Protectress of Nephelococcygia (808),++ the transplanting the φυλη Κέκροπιs among the

* See the description of Peisthetairos, beginning" αφατον ως φρόνιμος quoted afterwards.

+ See the entire chorus from 725-780.

† Χοἐιδὲ τυγχάνει τις υμῶν δραπέτης εστιγμένος

§ Αγγ

ατταγάς ουτος παρ' ἡμιν ποικ λος κεκλήσεται. Aves. 748. πάντα δ ̓ ὑπὸ τῆς ἡδονῆς

ποιοῦσι ἅπερ ὄρνιθες ἐκμιμούμενοι.

πρῶτον μὲν ἐυθὺς πάντες ἐξ ευνῆς ἅμα
ἐπέτονθ ̓ ἔωθεν ὥσπερ ἡμεις 'επὶ νομόν
Κάπειτ' ἂν ἄμα κατῆραν ἐς τα βιβλία

εἶτ' απενέμοντ' ἐνταυθα τὰ ψηφίσματα.—Aves. 1244.

|| Χοπἐι γαρ ἐνθάδ' ἐστὶν αἰσχρὸν τὸν πατέρα τύπτειν νόμῳ τοῦτ' ἐκει καλὸν παρ' ἡμῖν ἐστιν, ἤν τις τῷ πατρὶ

προσδραμὼν ἔιπῃ πατάξας, αιρε πλήκτρον, εἰ μαχει.—Aves.744

Π ΑΛ—Καὶ μὴν ἐγὼ σέ, ὦ Δῆμε, θεραπεύσω καλῶς,

ὥσθ' ὁμολογέιν σε μηδέν ̓ ἀνθρώπων ἐμοῦ

ιδεῖν άμεινον τῇ Κεχηναίων πόλει.—Equites. 1262. ΠΕ-μὴ περιπέτεσθε πανταχῆ κεχηνότες.—Aves. 166.

** ΙΕ-διδόναι Νεφελοκοκκυγιοισιν ὑγίειαν καὶ σωτηρίαν, αυτοῖσι καὶ


ΠΕ—χίοισιν ἦσθην πανταχοῦ προσκειμένοις.—855.

++ Εν—λιπαρὸν τὸ χρῆμα τῆς πόλεως τίς δαὶ θεος πολιοῦχος έσται; τῷ ξανοῦμεν τὸν πέπλον

ΠΕτι δ' οὐκ Αθηναίαν ἐῶμεν πολιάδα;-806-8.

birds (1366),* and, last, the epithet of Mapa, the favorite epithet of Athens, the burthen of Pindar's "Ode to the Arapai και 'αοιδίμοι ̓Αθῆναι,”—for which poem he was fined by his jealous countrymen, and rewarded by the Athenians with a statue and the more substantial honour of the red gold. How the Athenians prided themselves on this epithet, Aristophanes has humorously shown in his "Acharnians" (584); a place well worthy of comparison with the 806th line of this play.† These scraps and bits of evidence, when united, almost force us to adopt the view of the matter taken by the learned Professor, that the birds are the fit and proper representatives of the Athenian people. The men hold a station of dependence alike on gods and birds, they are the prize of the contest, and are to be transferred, willy nilly, from the conquered to the conquerors. They are Greeks, but not Athenians, alike in many points and differing in many others are they not the representatives of those dependent tribes of Greece, whose allegiance was ever transferred from the weaker to the stronger party? And, then, who were the gods? in their descent they were very birdlike juniors, indeed, to the ancient Lords of Heaven, but still of the same descent; like the men they were greedy, voluptuous, and sensual, and compelled to pay obedience to the birds-friends, indeed, to men, but at enmity with the new city and its inhabitants-once lords of Heaven and patrons of earth. By this new plot to be deprived of their ancient sovereignty— the means by which their ruin was to be worked, starvationthe agents of the plot, their ancient enemies the birds, joined with their former dependents the men; or, to descend from the clouds, Sparta, the ancient rival of the Athenians, by a union of all, even her former dependents, with her old enemy, were to be starved into submission, and the Hegemony of Greece transferred to the Athenian people. Do we not now perceive why the dramatis persona of this play should bear a family likeness as Greeks, but, at the same time, characteristic differences as Lacedæmonians, Athenians, and the remaining nations of Greece.

* ΠΕβουλει διδάσκειν καὶ παρ' ἡμῖν οὖν μένων
Λεωτροφίδη χορὸν πετομένων ὀρνέων
Κεκροπίδα φυλὴν ;-1364-6.

† Εν-λιπαρὸν τὸ χρῆμα τῆς πόλεως.Aves. 806.
Χοπ ει δέ τις ὑμᾶς ἐποθωπέυσας λιπαρὰς καλέσειεν Αθήνας

εὕρετο πᾶν ἂν διὰ τὰς λιπαράς, ἀφύων τιμὴν περιάψας-
Acharn. 584.

Χοὦ ταὶ λιπαρὰι και ἰοστέςανοι 'και ἀριφήλωτοι ̓Αθῆναι.

Equites. 1329.

The actors discovered-to what expedition of the Athenians shall we liken the building of this city in mid-air, and the fatal consequences that resulted to the representatives of the Lacedæmonians from its foundation? Our Professor says, the great Sicilian expedition, and the ultimate projects consequent upon its success as conceived by Alcibiades and his partisans-and we think he proves his theory. For we must not suppose that the ultimate object of this expedition was the mere conquest of the small though fruitful island of Sicily; that isle subjugated, it looked forward to the conquest of Italy and Carthage, that from the almost inexhaustible resources of those countries a navy might be constructed and equipped, sufficient to blockade the Peloponnese, starve out the Spartans and their adherents, and transfer the Hegemony of Greece from the Dorian to the Ionian race.

The historian of the Peloponnesian war, when commenting on the first speech of Alcibiades on the Sicilian expedition, assigns, as the origin of that orator's eagerness, his expectation of eventually gaining possession of Italy and Carthage by that armament. Again, Alcibiades, when replying to the cautious speech of Nicias, indicates that the conquest of Sicily would probably lead to the subjugation of the entire Peloponnese beneath the power of the Athenians.* This reserve, in a public oration, was no more than prudent, as any premature disclosure of its intended extension might have appeared so very visionary and impracticable, as to have been the means of causing the rejection of the scheme even by an Athenian ecclesia.

In the year following, when he had escaped to Sparta, he then, in order to render his appeal to the Spartans more forcible, openly declared the ultimate objects of that plan as they had existed in the minds and wishes of that large body of the Athenian populace who looked up to him as their leader.† "We undertook, then, this expedition (said the son of Clinias, to the Spartan gerusia), in order, if we could, to subdue, first of all the Siceliots, and after them the inhabitants of Italy; and then to attempt the dependencies of the Carthaginians and Carthage herself. Finally, if these or most of these enterprises had succeeded, we should then have made an attack on the Peloponnese, bringing thither the whole force of Greece sup

* Καὶ ̓ελπίζων Σικελίαν τε δι' ἀυτοῦ και
Καρχηδόνα λήψεσθαι.—Thuc. vi. 15.

Καὶ άμα ἢ τῆς Ἑλλάδος τῶν 'εκει προσγενομένων, πάσης τῷ εἰκότι άρξομεν.-Thuc. vi. 18.

This is the principal passage on the subject, for a paraphrase of which see Plutarch's Alcib. 17.; and for a similar view, Plut. Nicias 12.

« VorigeDoorgaan »