Weak mortals, chained to the earth, crea...

The Birds

Leader of the Chorus

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Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures

of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race,

whose life is but darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of

a dream, hearken to us, who are immortal beings, ethereal, ever young

and occupied with eternal thoughts, for we shall teach you about all

celestial matters; you shall know thoroughly what is the nature of

the birds, what the origin of the gods, of the rivers, of Erebus,

and Chaos; thanks to us, even Prodicus will envy you your knowledge.

At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep

Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, black-winged

Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus,

and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful

Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of

the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like

himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see

the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought

together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage

Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race of blessed gods sprang

into being. Thus our origin is very much older than that of the dwellers

in Olympus. We are the offspring of Eros; there are a thousand proofs

to show it. We have wings and we lend assistance to lovers. How many

handsome youths, who had sworn to remain insensible, have opened their

thighs because of our power and have yielded themselves to their lovers

when almost at the end of their youth, being led away by the gift

of a quail, a waterfowl, a goose, or a cock.

And what important services do not the birds render to mortals! First

of all, they mark the seasons for them, springtime, winter, and autumn.

Does the screaming crane migrate to Libya,-it warns the husbandman

to sow, the pilot to take his ease beside his tiller hung up in his

dwelling, and Orestes to weave a tunic, so that the rigorous cold

may not drive him any more to strip other folk. When the kite reappears,

he tells of the return of spring and of the period when the fleece

of the sheep must be clipped. Is the swallow in sight? All hasten

to sell their warm tunic and to buy some light clothing. We are your

Ammon, Delphi, Dodona, your Phoebus Apollo. Before undertaking anything,

whether a business transaction, a marriage, or the purchase of food,

you consult the birds by reading the omens, and you give this name

of omen to all signs that tell of the future. With you a word is an

omen, you call a sneeze an omen, a meeting an omen, an unknown sound

an omen, a slave or an ass an omen. Is it not clear that we are a

prophetic Apollo to you?  (More and more rapidly from here on.)  If

you recognize us as gods, we shall be your divining Muses, through

us you will know the winds and the seasons, summer, winter, and the

temperate months. We shall not withdraw ourselves to the highest clouds

like Zeus, but shall be among you and shall give to you and to your

children and the children of your children, health and wealth, long

life, peace, youth, laughter, songs and feasts; in short, you will

all be so well off, that you will be weary and cloyed with enjoyment.

Aristophanes, The Birds.

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