The Places of Song in Aristophanes’ Birds

Dan Sofaer

Birds’ Ideal Music between Tradition and Utopia

Scholars of Greek Old Comedy often treat comic lyric in a limited manner: meters are analyzed, the occasional allusion to Anacreon or Pindar is noted, the emotional effect of a song is surmised, but somehow these analyses rarely affect our reading of the play in its larger context. For that, we are advised to make ourselves well-informed about law courts, contemporary political figures, and other prosaic facts, from the dull to the obscene. Such an approach to the lyrics of comedy is, as I will be arguing here, inadequate, largely because music in its various guises was such an important fact of life in Athens, so much so that even the most frivolous-sounding comic song may have had serious overtones by virtue of its intervention in an ongoing discourse about music and society. For recovering this socially charged musical discourse, recent studies of nondramatic lyric could provide alternative approaches, as they emphasize less the personal/confessional (and bare textual) aspect and more the social, religious, and economic aspects of performance occasions. [1] For the Greeks, as these other studies show, a song is more than just words and music: who is singing, who is listening, and where and when and to what instruments a song is sung reveal as much as the song itself. Complications arise when applying these contextual approaches to comic lyric, since it is part of a genre with its own conventions and occasions. Still, taking as our model the many later efforts at remembering archaic lyric poets during antiquity, we might try to join in this process and understand the way archaic poetry was remembered in comedy and what this remembrance signifies within the larger cultural framework. A play that suggests itself as a classic example of comedy remembering lyric is Aristophanes’ Birds. [2] M. S. Silk has lately called into question the inflated praise of earlier scholars, [3] and it is still unclear how these lyrics should be appreciated: the range of Aristophanes’ lyric styles is considerable, and the musical structure of entire plays deserves consideration as well. [4] That Aristophanes’ relationship to the earlier lyric poets was more than parodic, that he aspired to be taken as an authoritative maker of songs, is suggested by the substantial archaic lyric echoes of two of his parabasis odes. [5] We also face a question: how traditional are Aristophanes’ comedies and their music? Anton Bierl, for example, sees Aristophanes as the inheritor of a living chorus culture, while Evanghelos Moutsopoulos sees Aristophanes’ music as part of the new ethopoietic tendencies associated with Damon. [6] Can both be correct? Yet this would present a problem, since two disparate aspects of the same poet and culture would be treated in incommensurable terms, at least if Moutsopoulos’s “ethopoietic” approach implies a level of artistic autonomy incompatible with the inheritance and management of a chorus culture.
Without pretending to resolve this issue, I hope that an investigation of Birds, written in the midst of Aristophanes’ career and at a transitional point in Athenian musical practice, [7] may help us further address it. To make a start, let us imagine that Birds might do for lyric what Frogs does for tragedy: place it under scrutiny, through the citing and enacting of positive and negative examples. This represents lyric’s encounter with Aristophanes as a critic, but since he had to try to please his audience as well, we can also see it as lyric’s encounter with the Athenian public. As Richard Martin points out, “in Birds, it seems that the lyric . . . is always tugging against the social” (Martin 1999:198). Aristophanes evaluates lyric through performance, and thus the judgments expressed must be seen in the context of the production, comic conventions, and plot. But we also need to take into account the larger contexts evoked by the music. In the end, as I hope to show, comedy does take song seriously, [8] both by producing exemplary music and by responding to contemporary musical and cultural issues. The musical teaching that results may not be as coherent and explicitly propositional as that of a philosopher like Plato (and for this we may perhaps be grateful), but it is likely to be more practical and dynamic, since it comes from an actual musical practitioner.
A final general consideration: Birds is a utopia of sorts. Scholars are divided on how the Athenian public would have received the utopian vision of Cloud-cuckoo-land. The old discussion of political allegory versus escapist fantasy has developed into a disagreement mostly to do with Peisetairos’ acquisition of power over the cosmos. [9] Utopia, however, may be the best place from which to take our bearings: the play constructs a world in which songs both old and new play a large part. We therefore must try to discern how that music sounds against the play’s fantastic world-building. Attention to the graceful music of the play could make us more tolerant of Peisetairos’ lust for power. Or perhaps the total control of music in Cloud-cuckoo-land should remind us of Plato’s harsher reforms. In either case, I take as my goal to try to extricate the play’s lyric ideals from the rest of Birds’ imaginary cosmos, keeping in mind its complicated, possibly contentious relationship to the Athenian musical culture of which it was part.

Song vs. Speech

As a starting point for gaining a sense of Birds’ comic lyric, and how it relates to its surroundings, it is helpful to refer to Old Comedy’s distinctive juxtaposition of song and speech. The comic agon and parabasis contain songs and speeches in alternation,“epirrhematic syzygy,” but these syzygies represent only a part of the mediation that takes place over a whole comedy between song and speech. A thorough review of the various song types and their dramatic contexts on the scale of Bernhard Zimmermann’s cannot be undertaken here, [10] but we can focus instead on a still more basic structural principle, namely, the performance and avoidance of song. In Wasps, for example, the pattern is striking: several hundred lines of relatively prosaic subject matter (1–216, 471–1008) are followed by an explosion of song language and song-oriented action (217–221, 1224–1246, 1450–1473). This alternating pattern does not always correspond to the sung and spoken meters of the play and the traditionally recognized comic structures, but instead reflects the shifting content of a given comedy, the dramatic fate and social status of its characters, and many other more-than-aesthetic factors. This alternation of song and speech may only finally be comprehensible in terms of comedy’s claim to mediate song’s relation to speech for the culture it serves. [11]
In Birds the place of song and speech is first addressed in the following lines:
οἱ μὲν γὰρ οὖν τέττιγες ἕνα μῆν᾽ ἢ δύο
ἐπὶ τῶν κραδῶν ᾄδουσ᾽, Ἀθηναῖοι δ᾽ ἀεὶ
ἐπὶ τῶν δικῶν ᾄδουσι πάντα τὸν βίον.

As you know, cicadas sing for just a month or two
out on their branches, Athenians sing constantly at court cases
their whole lives long.
Birds 39–41
These lines refer primarily to Athenian litigiousness, but the song metaphor is not accidental. It prepares us for the notion that the lost Athenians on stage may find a place where singing has its natural place.
Throughout the play, song and speech are brought into confrontation, with Peisetairos representing the powers of speech and the Bird chorus representing the powers of song. Peisetairos, λεπτὸς λογιστής that he is (317: ‘subtle reckoner’), devotes lines 462–626 to the amazing attributes of birds without mentioning the beauty or expressiveness of their songs, apart from the rooster’s not very lyrical wake-up call (489). [12] The play’s speeches have little to say about bird song; that is left for the Bird chorus to demonstrate when Peisetairos has left the stage. Peisetairos later copes with several human singers, striving to keep their song in its place. Finally, he himself joins in the singing (1743). We could imagine a different comedy in which a tuneful Papageno engaged in lyric dialogue with nature’s songsters from the start, but Peisetairos’ preference for logoi is constantly in evidence: “now I will wing you by speaking,” he says to the sycophant (1437: νῦν τοι λέγων πτερῶ σε), and at the end, “I enjoy these hymns, I enjoy these songs, and I admire their logoi” (1744: ἄγαμαι δὲ λόγων). [13]
The logoi of the play, its rhetorical, discursive tours de force, its constative speech, leave at least three major windows for birds and singing: the Hoopoe’s song and the two parabases. Elsewhere, logoi predominate, especially during the crucial negotiations with the enraged chorus: “what logos?”(314); “don’t fear the logos” (323); “there is a further logos” (336); “It’s sensible first to hear the logoi” (381–382); “what logoi do they speak?” (416). The chorus finally says, λόγων ἀνεπτέρωμαι (433), applying a typical song metaphor (with erotic connotations as well) to song’s opposite. [14] Peisetairos then readies his logos, switching to a baking metaphor: “one logos is kneaded and ready” (462). Some near-synonyms of logos and legein also contribute to Peisetairos’ persuasive discourse, such as phrazô, didaskô, [15] and the peithô of his name, and his speeches include the picture of the polis as a polos (178–193), the use of tekmeria (482–521) and fable (471–475), all of which can perhaps be understood as different kinds of logoi. But, as the man-bird confrontation appears to suggest, the explicit term logos occupies an extreme position on a spectrum with aoidê at the other extreme. Thus, the right relationship of song and speech is not only part of the comic medium in general; it may also be a utopian goal this particular comedy conjures up by bringing men and birds on stage and attempting their reconciliation through a dynamic juxtaposition of song and speech.

The Bird Chorus

If the Birds represent song in this play, we might also ask (before going on to look at the lyrics themselves): what, musically and culturally, is involved in bringing on stage a chorus of birds? With what expectations would a chorus of birds be viewed by an Athenian audience? The bird chorus traditions of Old Comedy would be the first place to look for an answer, but we don’t know much about them. [16] Admittedly, birds are never solely lyrical creatures, either in this play or elsewhere in Greek tradition. Nan Dunbar’s commentary is full of other aspects of bird life, and elsewhere she suggests that Aristophanes learned about birds from eating them. [17] Another important aspect of birds for Greeks is their aggressive behavior and appearance in competitive games: cock-fights and quail-tapping are attested throughout the centuries, and from the “Getty Birds” and some of the earlier representations of bird choruses on vase paintings, one can guess that roosterlike aggressiveness played a large part in earlier bird choruses. [18] But Aristophanes, without excluding these aspects, appears to have emphasized especially lyric, epic, and even religious symbolism for his chorus. So without going so far as to use Birds as evidence of forgotten bird cult (with the drukolaptes starring as a Greek relative to King Picus), [19] we are entitled to focus on the traditional, musical associations of the Bird chorus as comprising a key theme of the play, exceptional as they may be for extant Old Comedy.
We are doubtless dealing with many layers of significance, and the following list of considerations is not meant to be exhaustive: 1) from the reactions of the protagonists it is clear that birds are potentially fearful creatures, especially man-sized semi-birds like Tereus. Not only are humans scared at the prospect of encountering the Hoopoe, [20] but throughout the play, humor is interspersed with strangeness; the Birds confront humans with their mortality at the Homeric opening of the parabasis (685–687): “Come, men of short life, like the generation of leaves.” There is sometimes the sense, along with all the exuberant fantasy, that we are far from the safety of the city. From what we know about the significance of birds elsewhere in Greek tradition, this sense of the uncanny about the chorus need not surprise us. As Ovid went on to exploit, many myths resulted in the transformation of humans into birds, and many species were therefore associated with these partly terrible, partly merciful outcomes. 2) The seemingly effortless improvisations of many species, especially the nightingale, served as a model for oral performance in general, and for Alcman’s choral poems in particular. [21] 3) The ability to fly is represented in one of the most ubiquitous of metaphors, “winged words” and its many variants. A wing seemed a power, analogous to a sail or an oar, or to the songs that spread the fame of heroes, athletes, or beautiful youths. [22] 4) On the divine level, wings belong to gods that carry messages and are most directly involved in the human world: Hermes, Eros, Iris, Athena Nike. In Homer, Athena may change into an ἀνόπαια, if such be a bird (Odyssey i 320). At least one scholar has connected this and a few other Homeric god-into-bird transformations and similes with the possible epiphantic status of bird images in Minoan and Mycenean cult. [23] 5) Although less commonly found in the historical period than the reading of entrails, the mantic significance of bird flight is preserved in Homer, and Hesiod’s Works and Days probably led straight into a discussion of birds and mantic matters (see M. L. West’s edition of Works and Days, 364–365). Therefore, to sum up, although a bird cannot actually assume the godhead without a comic effect, we can see them ensconced at almost any other level of religious and poetic practice: they or their wings adorn, herald, reveal, symbolize power and immortality, while they above all sing as model singers.
This inherited bird conglomerate, associated with the divine but not itself authoritative, combined with Old Comedy’s own tendency to make a place for song as a separate focus, makes it probable that the lyrics of the play would have had a special resonance and would have been taken as more than parody. Other scholars have noted the serious voice of the Bird chorus and its religious overtones, including its similarity to some tragic lyrics, and these approaches deserve further elaboration. [24] Recently, however, Andrew Barker has argued that the nightingale’s role is probably a risqué spoof on certain aspects of the New Music (Barker 2004:185–204). How should this affect our view of the chorus and its singing? Especially given that the nightingale is the most prominently lyrical bird in the play, the question must be addressed. It might be said in response to Barker that such a joke could become tedious if it were to dominate the whole play. I make the following working assumption: the Hoopoe’s prelude may well be, as Barker maintains, a pastiche of genres (192), and the nightingale may at times be portrayed as an immodest auletris representing the prostitution of music; nonetheless, the chorus could eventually achieve a kind of authority by performing one or more types of music meant to be exemplary, and in some sense utopian, despite the raunchy humor. Though it is often very hard to point to where exactly in the text one begins and the other leaves off, parody and positive example can be seen as two edges of the same musical-critical attack, in which Aristophanes could present both negative and positive views, in both parodic and serious moods, resulting in this comedy’s particular brand of spoudaiogeloion.
The opening lyrics have been much discussed. [25] For our purposes, it is best to think of them as a kind of overture to the lyrics sung by the Birds themselves. Compared to Aristophanes’ other extant plays, the choral entry, sometimes itself a lyrical moment, even for the speaking characters of the early plays, is greatly expanded. [26] This expansion, however, does not emphasize the force of the chorus or its cohesion; it is accomplished at the price of the chorus’s unity. Musical roles are assigned to several figures: the aulete, the Hoopoe, the Nightingale. The birds are a messy chorus at first, and here we should remind ourselves that the positive symbolic potential of birds referred to above may apply more to individual birds and species: once a large group of different species is assembled together, we have more what one of the protagonists calls a κακὸν ὀρνέων (294–295)—a potentially annoying, if also exciting, crowd of birds. [27] The diversity and strangeness of the chorus is worth considering in the light of the unity and social cohesiveness we usually associate with Athenian choruses. The civic themes of the play, including its utopian city-building, are in tension with this chaotic arrival. But for the comic χορευταί, a guise of diversity (and, one imagines, maybe even preening in response to all the attention) will be exchanged for a more cohesive dance and song, first in hostility and then in submission to Peisetairos’ new plan. Accordingly, the catalogue of meters of the Hoopoe’s song is replaced by some agitated dochmiacs in their first songs (327–335, 343–351), and then, in response to the Hoopoe’s and Peisetairos’ persuasions, the music is elevated to a more stable and impressive-sounding pair of songs in dactylo-epitrite. The first reads:
Man was born always and in every way a tricky thing.
Tell me, though—for you might reveal something fine and
What you see at hand, some greater power neglected
By my mind devoid of understanding.
Whatever you see, tell the public. For whatever good you
Will be held in common by all.
Birds 451–459
Zimmermann observes that the contrast between excited singers and stately dactylo-epitrite might have a comic effect (Zimmermann 1985–1987, 2:108). The first line, however, with its gnomic pessimism reminiscent of Simonides, [28] does have a disconcerting force of its own, which may have carried through the whole stanza, despite its otherwise colloquial, demagogic language. The whimsical incongruity of a gnomic utterance about “human nature” (implied by the verb πέφυκεν) coming from a chorus of birds bemoaning the effects of human trickery, and referring to their own proverbial stupidity, does not exclude a serious commitment to listen and obey if persuaded. The traditionally choral meter, rare for comedy, [29] contributes to this effect of a performed commitment and gives the chorus itself a new, more unified shape on stage.
Once they have been persuaded to found a city together with humans and to seize control of the known world, the next major task of the Birds is to provide the music for that world (737–751, 769–783; 1058–1070, 1088–1100). [30] The chorus do not bid the actors farewell, and this may give the kommation’s opening a certain abruptness. [31] The ithyphallic meter and some of the language are reminiscent of the Rhodean swallow song (PMG 848), but ἦλθες can also express joy at being reunited with one’s philoi. [32] There is also a reference at lines 682–683 to a well-known poem about the aulos (PMG 947b):
O dearest of all birds.
Fellow singer of my hymns.
Nightingale, fellow nurseling.
You’ve come, you’ve come. You’ve appeared
producing a song that is sweet to me
… as you play the
Fine-sounding aulos, amidst spring noises.
Birds 677–683
Despite the raucous fun that Barker and others point to in this scene, this lyric prepares us for the parabasis odes by sounding a springlike note. As with the Hoopoe’s song, we can take some of the aesthetic pressure off if we conceive of it as a prelude or ouverture.
It is important for my reading that in the parabasis odes, the Birds sing of themselves not merely as birds, but as fellow-creatures with others in a landscape that is enchanted by their song and where the songs and dances they sing and perform for Pan and the Mountain Mother are sacred songs and dances: νόμους ἱερούς and σεμνὰ χορεύματα (745–746). [33] They also derive this sacred, musical authority from a very particular source: Phrynichus, one of the first tragedians. His presence as a once-productive bee may imply that comedy now produces the kinds of songs the tragedians produced in the good old days, when a tragic poet appears to have been an intriguing hybrid of lyric poet and actor-tragedian. [34]
Muse of the thicket—tio tio tio tio tiotinx—variegated Muse
With you I make numinous, lyrical hymns to Pan
Through my vibrant cheek
While perched in the leafy mannah ash—tio tio tio tinx
In glens and on mountain tops—tio tio tio tio
And sacred dances for the Mountain Mother—tototo tototo totototinx
Whence also once Phrynichus … often found nourishment
Of lasting melody bringing sweet song—tio tio tio tinx.
Birds 737–752
This rather convoluted lyric suggests several overlapping spaces: first, the thicket, as home of the local Muse. [35] Then, in a relative clause (it is a mark of high style to connect relative and vocative), μεθ’ ἣς ἐγώ, the song connects this place with other places known for birdsong: glens and mountaintops. Then, after another relative, ἔνθεν, Phrynichus is seen to occupy yet another space and time (the tense is switched to the imperfect). Each of these relatives are best taken as referring back to the Muse at the beginning of the stanza. The language of the ode is highly organized, as can be seen in the humming repetition of the mu sound and the syllable mel-, which connects ‘Muse’ to ‘bee’, ‘ash tree’, and ‘song (limb)’. Yet there is also variation within the stanza, and departure from traditional forms. The poetic locutions “on mountain tops” and “perched” are very close to Homer and archaic lyric yet not exact borrowings. [36] ἀναφαίνω with reference to sound is unusual (compare Aeschylus Suppliants 829), but must have accorded well with the simultaneously verbal and visual song and dance. The combination of dactyls and trochees is also unusual. But the mannah ash (μελία) is the right choice of tree, solid and Homeric, and possibly chosen as a tree of origins. [37] Thus, the lyric has more of solidity and rootedness than one would expect from a chorus of Birds.
When approaching the antode’s whooping swans and awe-struck gods, we do need to keep a sharp eye out for parody. Kenneth Dover points out that the very language of this ode reappears in Thesmophoriazusae to the response bombax! (45; see Dover 1972:147–148). Still, the immediately preceding ode is probably the more important referent, and the links between the odes are subtle: the swans ‘occupy’ the river bank (774: ὄχθῳ ἐφεζόμενοι) just as the singer ‘perched’ on the mannah-ash (742: ἑζόμενος μελίας ἔπι φυλλοκόμου). Bremer and Sommerstein argue that Alcaeus’ Hymn to Apollo is specifically invoked here, but the legendary song of the swan is well-known from Homer to Callimachus and is found in a fragment of Aristophanes, so the exclusively Alcaean reference seems uncertain. [38] The song also strives for the stunned effect of some Homeric similes, in which the night sky is illuminated by Zeus’ thunderbolt, or simply by the breaking of αἰθήρ through the clouds (Iliad VIII 555–558, XVI 297–300). The language is high and has archaic elements, but so did much of the new lyric. [39] The stretching of linguistic convention in such a phrase as ‘wailed a song’ (μέλος . . . ἐπωλόλυξαν) could be parodic or sincere. Given this difficulty, it may be helpful to ask a more basic question: what is the myth of Apollo’s birth and chariot-ride doing in the stanza and how has it been transformed? The answer is less parodic than profoundly comic: the swans, from the very start of the stanza, have assumed a position in the myth in keeping with the recent promotion of birds to rulers of the cosmos: their whooping at Apollo’s birth is recalled as an event that foreshadowed the age of bird rule. The myth is now really about the contributions of swans to a divine music for which Apollo was once the sounding board. Thus they occupy the prominent position in the stanza, and the god is a direct object, never hymnically addressed (ἴακχον Ἀπόλλω). Since this is such a clear departure from any known hymn to Apollo, it seems likely that the parabasis stretches its initial seriousness to the breaking point. The ode to the Muse of the Thicket had shown the sacredness and originality of comic song, but the swans, while in a sense partaking in this sacred song, could be said to overextend themselves by taking comic song to a realm of hymn where it might not comfortably belong.
In the second parabasis, a still more comprehensive perspective is taken, with the Birds replacing Zeus as all-seeing deities and protectors of the earth’s produce:
Any moment now, all mortals
Will sacrifice to me, all-seeing and all-ruling,
And pray sincerely. For I observe the whole earth,
And I preserve the flourishing grains and fruits
By killing all species of the insect race.
Birds 1058–1064
The repetition of the word ‘all’ and a series of fifty-one consecutive long syllables produce an effect of comprehensive grandiosity. [40] A panoptic [41] view of the seasons is taken, with the birds effortlessly enduring them. Archaic poets were greatly interested in the seasons (e.g. Alcman 20 Page, Hesiod’s Works and Days), but this picture of birds equally content in all seasons bespeaks an enlightened optimism not found in earlier poetry. [42] Yet by including a certain number of harsh-sounding phrases for the birds’ insecticide—“killing all kinds of beasts,” “I kill whoever hatefully outrages fragrant gardens,” “they perish beneath the murders of my wing”—the poet keeps the language from being too flowery and otiose, and some traditional/choral bird aggression is preserved. Similarly, the cicada, now assuming its honorary epithet ἀχέτας, [43] makes a sharp, songlike noise (ὀξὺ μέλος . . . βοᾷ), and the comic cretics also cut through the more splendid long syllables. Thus, the overall effect is of a tranquility that is also piercing. The nightingale’s thicket is not without its solid branches and thorns. The traditional resonances of this ode, however, are not so easily pinned down. Probably no one poet is referred to; rather, the verses follow the evocations of place that Homer, Sappho, Alcman, Pindar, and Sophocles all exhibit, shorn of the sometimes fearful specificity of divine encounters in natural landscapes, not to speak of the obligations of prayer, processions, and sacrifice. [44]
Finally, to hazard a guess, the style of aulos-playing that accompanied these lyrics may have been associated with spring and called “Phrygian” in a recondite, archaic sense. [45] The point of this playing, whatever name we assign it (and we can actually hear an echo of it, thanks to the τιὸ τιὸ τιό of the chorus, which presumably would have somehow matched the playing), was probably to induce a kind of tranquility. This musical clue helps assure that the Bird chorus was meant as a serious evocation of auletic/lyric traditions despite the spoofs on contemporary music and musicians throughout. Recent studies of the aulos as an energizing and even threatening instrument provide a neat contrast to this utopian aulos-playing. Plato would remove the aulos from his utopia (leaving, suggestively, a syrinx for herdsmen—399d8), but Aristophanes was in a position to refine and archaize his aulos in practice. Implicitly, then, the parodies of New Music and recovery of an older, simpler music [46] are compatible.

Lyrical Interruptions: Literary Criticism in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land?

More can be discovered about Birds’ ideal music by looking at the non-ideal music of the intruder scenes. [47] These intruders are rejected both on aesthetic grounds and for the social roles they claim. Their language is made up of clichés about flying and poorly-digested quotations, but, equally importantly, the genres they bring, encomiastic ode and dithyramb, are too embedded in demanding cultural practices to be acceptable in Cloud-cuckoo-land, where birds are to provide the music gratis.
The play has already targeted some poets and promoted others, and this is one of Aristophanes’ constant themes, [48] but in no other extant intruder scenes (such as Acharnians and Peace) do poets and music figure so prominently. This is partly explained by the musical influence already exerted by the Birds: Athens has gone bird-mad and this means everyone is singing (1300–1303). But a begging poet—the first real intruder—arrives before singing has become the rage:
Poet: Muse, call the Land of the Cloud and Cuckoo blissful
In your songs of hymn.
Peisetairos: Where did this business come from? Hey, who are you?
Poet: I am a nimble follower of the Muses, for I sing a song of sweet-tongued words
according to Homer …
Peisetairos: Well, you’re certainly wearing a hole-y little cloak. But, poet, why have
you made your damned way here?
Poet: I’ve made songs for your Nephelokokkugia, lots of nice dithyrambs, [49] songs for
young women, and à la Simonides.
Birds 904–910, 915–919
In his poverty, the beggar-poet is eager to offer any genre for any occasion, but also seems dimly aware that foundation songs are called for. There follow several Pindaric quotes that some have taken as an oblique criticism of Pindar’s obscurity. However, from his costume and begging, the audience would have immediately been able to distinguish this bettelpoet, as Kugelmeier calls him, from the wealthy Theban. There is other evidence that Aristophanes admired Pindar (see n4 above). Still, the fact that the poet limits his quotations to Pindar is striking. The joke is apparently that, despite the various goods he has promised, Pindar’s poems are what he has memorized and he will recite Pindar in all circumstances. And it makes for a comic effect to have the poet beg for basic necessities in high-flown, Pindareia epea. But the reference to Hieron may also throw a sidelight on the colonial enterprise of Cloud-cuckoo-land. The quote runs: “but [there is] some swift rumour of the Muses, like the rapid sparkle of horses. You, dear founder of Aetna, named after holy places, give us whatever you gladly wish to give, you your very self [τεᾷ κεφαλᾷ]” (924–930). As is clear from his response, “this guy is just gonna cause us a lot of problems” (τουτὶ παρέξει τὸ κακὸν ἡμῖν πράγματα), this is not the kind of attention Peisetairos wants, despite his self-proclamation as city-founder. What would the Athenian audience have made of this reference to Pindar and Hieron and its rejection? Is it simply a famous and appropriate poem to quote? Or were they meant to think about it in connection to the colonizing themes of the play? At first glance, these themes might seem remote to an Athenian audience, but if we keep in mind the intense involvement of Athens with colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily, especially in 415, then maybe we should reconsider the assumption that the Athenians only attended plays to hear about themselves. [50] The play had already contained many references to colonies, and the audience would have been readied for this perspective. [51] Thus, mocking a relationship between colonial founder and poet belonging to a bygone age might have dramatized the novelty of Birds’ colonial enterprise.
Pindaric style is not wholly rejected in the play, as for instance in the lyric dialogue at 1313–1322, in which a few Pindaric notes are sounded and interrupted, and high lyric style and bustle are combined in a striking way:
Chorus: Soon someone will call this city most populous.
Peisetairos: Just let that be our luck!
Chorus: Desires prevail over my city.
Peisetairos: Hey, carry faster.
Chorus: What noble thing is lacking for a man to live with? Wisdom, longing,
immortal graces, and the face of serene and gentle peace of mind.
Birds 1313–1322
The meter here is anapaestic, a meter closely related to the dactylic parabasis ode, but now comic interruption has been included in the high style. The epithet πολυάνωρ, ‘abundant in men’, is a rare one, but the idea is familiar to the lyric tradition, especially if we think of the near-synonyms εὔανδρος and εὐανδρία. [52] Dunbar rightly sees an ironic contrast between the wing-carrying and the “peace of mind” (Dunbar 1995:649). But despite the irony, these Pindaric concepts are seen positively enough to motivate the enterprise and flurry. Thus, on the whole, it may be a mistake to see a criticism of Pindar in Birds.
The next poet-intruder is Kinesias the dithyrambist. He is not offering his poetry but has come demanding wings with the next wave of intruders. His singing represents Athenian bird-madness within the illusion of the drama, where everyone is singing (1300: ᾔδον δ’ ὑπὸ φιλορνιθίας πάντες μέλη) but also leads to a confrontation between comedy and dithyramb as competing Athenian cultural institutions. Kinesias’ personal attributes may also have a few literary-critical ramifications. For instance, Peisetairos welcomes him as φιλύρινος Κινεσίας (1378). Lime wood is a light and flimsy wood, and the implication may be that his verse is λεπτός in a negative sense. [53] It may not be an accident that the birds, despite their own partly aethereal nature, are associated with more solid woods, holm-oak (615—as are the Acharnians at Acharnains 180) and mannah ash (742). Is his ‘bandy-leggedness” (1379: πόδα . . . κυλλὸν . . . κυκλεῖς) meant to reflect his clumsy handling of metrical feet? To make a contrast, Kinesias and his diction are cloudy, the birds are connected to the thicket, to marshes, gardens, fields, the sea (230–254); Kinesias wishes he could fly (1383: βούλομαι μετάρσιος κτλ.), while the Birds can fly; Kinesias borrows from other lyric poets (especially from Anacreon), but the Birds do not borrow as much as one would expect; Kinesias’ poetry is represented as polymetric and artificial (Dunbar 1995:662), with alliteration and repetition (1395–1396). The songs of the Birds are mostly solid blocks made up of one or two meters (since they do not sing the opening catalogue). But the contrast may extend further: for Kinesias, a social/artistic role is comically suggested and rejected. Peisetairos cracks a revealing joke: “Well, would you be willing to stay here and take on a chorus of shrikes?” [54] Kinesias wants nothing to do with a bird chorus. “You gotta be kidding me,” he replies (καταγελᾷς μου, δῆλος εἶ). Kinesias, as a dithyrambist, depends on a choregic system that operates according to phyle. Slater has already pointed out that there may be a metatheatrical reference to the playful rivalry between dramatic recruitment of choruses (according to deme) and dithyrambic recruitment (see Slater 1997:90n40). Perhaps, in this archaizing utopia, the word φυλή (‘tribe’) has been linked to the related word φῦλον, used by Alcman as a synonym of animal genus (compare 251: φῦλα μετ’ ἀλκυόνεσσι ποτῆται, as well as 1088–1089: εὔδαιμον φῦλον . . . οἰονῶν, with Alcman 89.6, 106 Page), and Peisetairos’ offer of a bird φυλή should be taken as a mocking pun. In any case, the joke reveals that dithyramb does not belong in Cloud-cuckoo-land because human choruses do not belong, and the heroic/mythic subjects of dithyramb do not belong either, as we have seen from the birds’ lyrics.

Epilogue: In the Basket of Muses

Taken together, then, the lyrics and the intruder scenes of Birds embody a musical policy: that only songs in relatively simple yet lively meters be performed, with sweet yet sharp language, accompanied by a gentle, springlike aulos, alluding to birds and poets of old, but avoiding myth and foundation legend, polymetry and ecstatic passions. Would any Athenian have wanted to live in such a place? Perhaps not. But what might such a fantasy have meant to its audience? How might they have placed it? Such questions are always hazardous, and I can only offer a suggestion: Birds’ musical fantasy expresses a late-fifth-century aspiration, which existed alongside political and cultic realities, and of which birds were one of the emblems. What aspiration? Precisely the aspirations of a life according to music, free of the obligations of the polis. This does not, I should add, mean a life without any obligations at all, for within the world-building program of the drama plenty of musical discipline is necessary. But it does mean a departure from the more warm-blooded, demanding deities of the Athenian calendar, from jury- to trireme-service. [55] This comes across most clearly at the end of the agon (especially at 611–626 and 723–725), where it is agreed by both parties that birds are going to be more serviceable deities than the Olympians with their temples to build and festivals to celebrate and pay for all year round. Birds can be worshiped in bushes at no expense, and trips to Delphi and Ammon will no longer be necessary:
Euelpides: Hey-o, won’t these birds be much better for us as rulers?
Peisetairos: Hell yeah. First of all, we won’t have to build them stone temples, provided with golden doors, but instead they’ll live under bushes and holm oak. Yes, an olive tree will do for the holiest of them.
Birds 610–618
These immanent deities will never run off and hide in the clouds like Zeus (726–728). The play’s frequent representation of the birds as Muses (724: ἕξετε χρῆσθαι μάντεσι Μούσας, 737: Μοῦσα λοχμαῖα), or as accompanying Muses (782–784: Μοῦσαί τ’ ἐπωλόλυξαν. τιὸ τιὸ τιοτίγξ), or as themselves ‘musical’ (1332: μουσικά, of songbirds), as well as the more mysterious epithet μουσόμαντις (276), and, finally, the prominence of music in the play altogether, leads us to suspect that the Muses (along with Apollo, their musical director) are its most significant deities, and in a sense it is really they who have replaced the Olympians as objects of worship.
The semantics of Muses and music are very much alive and contested in this period, and not a fixed convention (see, in general, Murray and Wilson 2004). Although the word μουσεῖον never actually appears in the text, it may be a word that corresponds in some sense to Cloud-cuckoo-land. Pieria, [56] on the north slope of Olympus, which Euripides calls a μούσειος ἕδρα (Bacchae 410), or Helicon, where, by the following centuries at least, a μουσεῖον would house Hesiod’s writings (Pausanius IX 31.4 with Strabo IX 2.25) and where musical competitions (Athenaeus XIV 629a) would be overseen by the nearby Boeotians, were actual places where music was sacralized. But metaphorically, especially for Euripides, μουσεῖα are ‘places of bird-song’, though the meaning can be extended to include singing creatures as well (cf. Kannicht on Euripides Helen 174 and fr. 88). In Athens, a μουσεῖον (a shrine to the Muses often supplied with running water) often formed part of an association, such as a school, including philosophical schools. [57] A διδασκαλεῖον (the large private space set up by a choregos for choral training) might have been provided with such a shrine to slake the thirst of dancers, and in later usage the two words could be used synonymously (see Wilson 2000:72, 338, and Scholia ad Aeschines 1.10). The word’s meaning and usage could be a matter of debate: Aristotle (Rhetoric 1406a24) censures Alcidamas’ phrase “Nature’s school of the Muses had he inherited,” presumably as an ineffective, overly complicated metaphor. Alcidamas also had named his book Μουσεῖον and was probably thinking along the same lines as Aristophanes when he appealed to the Muses as patrons, but his association of rhetoric and the Muses was rare and in keeping, perhaps, with his insistence on improvisation and performance. At any rate, seeing Birds in terms of these synchronic struggles over music would help us contextualize the chorus’ debt to diachronic lyric traditions.
Within the play, alongside Peisetairos’ world-encompassing ambition, there are desires expressed for a simple, leisurely lifestyle of wedding feasts and hanging around gymnasia (128–142). Even the Hoopoe, charmingly, speaks like a cultured Athenian, using litotes and the fashionable term τριβή: “Life among the birds? Really not a bad way to spend your time” (156: οὐκ ἄχαρις εἰς τὴν τριβήν). As many scholars have noted, the play does not maintain this peaceful thread, but explodes into political fantasy. The lyrics do, however, keep the desires expressed at the beginning for a simpler life alive throughout the play. What these Athenians are partially looking for, and what the lyrics deliver, is the sense of a disciplined cultural association, freer than political/legal bodies, with their fines (38), their endless jury duty, their hassles and dangers of ostracism and war. Having set out to get as far away from Athens as possible, in reality, I would suggest, the play’s music travels about as far away as Socrates and Phaedrus on their walk along the Ilisos, or as far as Plato himself when he founded the Academy at nightingale-haunted Colonus.
Perhaps the Muses never quite had belonged to the city. From Hesiod’s encounter onward, they owe their authority to a certain removal from the negotiations of the agora. Thus Plutarch remarks, “They established μουσεῖα at the farthest places from the cities” (Moralia 521d). [58] That is what our play’s music has done—it has set out for a kind of cultural sanctuary. It is part of Aristophanes’ complexity that a serious, sanctified musical discourse can be extricated from the midst of what is otherwise a mocking, irreverent confrontation with the polis.
Indeed, the musically significant aspects of Birds I have been pointing to may have been better appreciated by the poet-scholars of Alexandria than by more recent scholars. Birds may have been read by the Alexandrians as the obscure handbook of cultural symbols, of poetic know-how, that it perhaps really is. Callimachus’ treatise On Birds probably purported to discuss all the birds mentioned in the play, and poetry, ornithology, and mantic science appear to have been connected for Callimachus. [59] References to birds played a large part in literary criticism: even if we don’t accept Housman’s conjecture ἀηδονίδες at Aetia fr. 1.16, the same passage contains the wish, “let me be the winged one [πτερόεις, of the cicada],” and the noun ‘nightingale’ was soon made a synonym for poetry itself, as for example at Callimachus Epigrams 2.5 Pfeiffer, “your poetry lives on” (τεαὶ ἀηδόνες). This meaning can be traced back to fr. 74 of Phrynichus Comicus, a contemporary of Aristophanes, where a bad poet is called Μουσῶν σκελετός, ἀηδόνων ἠπίαλος, ὕμνος Ἄιδου “Muses’ cadaver, nightingales’ nightmare, hymn of death.” As has recently been discovered, it was left to Posidippus to revive Homeric mantic language, integrating it with more recent tales about birds in significant flight (see Baumbach and Trampedach 2004). Finally, the library of Alexandria itself, with its associated μουσεῖον (equipped with walkways and trees) was called a Μουσέων τάλαρος. It has recently been maintained that Timon of Phlius here refers to no bookworm cage at all, but to a very pleasant, open basket full of warblers (Cameron 1995:31–32; see also Mineur 1985:383–387). In any case, the phrase suggests an ensemble of birdlike humans, a little like the cast of Birds, utterly devoted to cultural pursuits. Basket or cage, the library would be outlived by the nightingale, who sang on, as Gregory Nagy has shown, through the troubadours to Thomas Hardy (Nagy 1996:212): “the song of the nightingale is the very opposite of an ad hoc invention: it is a song of continuity, . . . that cannot end with the death of the songbird.”


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[ back ] 1. I would especially like to thank Mark Griffith for his help with this essay. I am also indebted to D. J. Mastronarde and R. P. Martin for two helpful courses in Aristophanes, and to all those at Berkeley who commented on this paper. [ back ] See, for instance, Gentili 1988; Calame 1977 (vol. 1 translated into English as Calame 1997); Nagy 1990:9 (“If the occasion [of a song] should ever be lost or removed, then the intent of the utterance is destabilized”); Kurke 1991.
[ back ] 2. See Herington 1985, Kugelmeier 1996. Some scholars now consider it a misnomer to speak of lyric in Athenian drama, but when looking for reflections of archaic lyric songs and occasions in drama, the term remains meaningful despite the fact that dramatic songs were accompanied by the aulos.
[ back ] 3. Silk 1980. See also Perkell 1993, Mathews 1997, and Silk 2000 for a response and a more favorable reading of the Hoopoe’s song.
[ back ] 4. My approach to musical design is a slightly complicated one: I assume, unlike Bernhard Zimmermann (see n10 below), that the lyrics of Birds are somewhat independent from the surrounding dialogue and interact more with one another and with lyric traditions than with the prosaic language and action of the rest of the play. This separate appreciation of a play’s music I take to be a prerequisite for a subsequent investigation of the relationship of a play’s music to the music and culture surrounding it. For a discussion of metrical design, see Parker 1994.
[ back ] 5. See Fraenkel 1962:191–215 (on parabasis odes) and Bremer 1991. For Kugelmeier (1996:2), “reflex” is a wider category than parody or paratragedy and can include direct quotation, altered quotation, lost quotation, and reflections of poets as personalities. An example of a lyric reflection is Peace 796–801: “With such music must the skillful poet hymn public hymns [δαμώματα] of the pretty-haired Graces / When the spring swallow makes a full-voiced noise, perching / But let not Morsimos be granted a chorus,” reflecting Stesichorus PMG 212: “With such music must we hymn public hymns of the pretty-haired Graces, luxuriously discovering a Phrygian note / when spring is coming.” Compare Corinna PMG 690. Kugelmeier considers the self-reference “skillful poet” to be typical of comic reflection of lyric. The meter of the added phrase is the typically comic ithyphallic. Some other lyric reflections (discussed by Kugelmeier): PMG 851 and Acharnians 263–279 reflect a similar tradition; Pindar fr. 76 is reflected in Acharnians 636–640, fr. 89a in Knights 1264–1273.
[ back ] 6. Bierl (2001:19) studies the chorus in immediate relation to the Athenian audience instead of as an ideal spectator of the action: “Dieser communis opinio stellen wir ein dynamisches, offenes und transversales Modell entgegen: der dramatische Chor kann aus dem inneren Plot heraus die aüsere Kommunikationsebene übergreifen, ohne die Dimension des Fiktionalen ganz auf-zugeben.” Bierl’s approach may lend itself more to Thesmophoriazusae, which he mainly treats, than to Birds. On the ethopoietic approach see Moutsopoulos 2000:59–82.
[ back ] 7. Wilson 2000 argues convincingly that the robustness of the choregic institution well into the fourth century makes it impossible to speak of “choral decline” in any overall sense, as had Kranz’s Stasimon. Aristophanes’ own practice does reveal some changes, however. McEvilley 1970 notes the greater proportion of lyrics not found in the typical comic song positions (such as the parodos, parabasis, etc.) in the later plays. See also Nagy 1990:108: “the point remains that the old traditions of lyric are obsolescent by the time of Aristophanes, and in fact . . . Birds is the last attested comedy of Aristophanes that mentions or parodies the compositions of Pindar.” I will have more to say about the “Pindaric poet” below. For two different accounts of changing Athenian choral/musical practice, compare C. Segal in CHCL 1:242–244 (“By the last quarter of the century the festivals which provided the occasion for song were losing their religious basis”) and Kurke 2000:85–87, stressing more musical professionalization, the competing performances of the law courts and assembly, and changes in education.
[ back ] 8. See Herington 1985:106: “ ‘The craft’ is referred to with enormous respect by all parties [of the Cloudsagon]. It, alone, escapes any kind of mockery in this play, and indeed in Aristophanes’ work generally.”
[ back ] 9. Several of the chapters in Dobrov 1997 portray Peisetairos as a sophist at odds with Athenian democratic norms; Nan Dunbar has argued that some of these readings depend on a scrutiny of the play available more to scholars than the Athenian audience; see Dunbar 1996. MacDowell 1995:224 also rejects the picture of Peisetairos as sophist: “There is a fundamental reason why all interpretations of this type must be rejected. The spectators are encouraged to identify themselves with Peisetairos and to side with him against his opponents throughout the play, and at the end he is triumphantly successful.” I agree with MacDowell about Peisetairos, but I also agree with Gilbert Murray’s emphasis on poetry in the play. MacDowell seems less justified in saying (227): “it will not do to call Cloudcuckooland the land of poetry; poetry is the only profession of which Peisetairos expels not just one but two practitioners.” These practitioners may be excluded so as to include other musical practice. A play about music need not be merely an escapist fantasy on that account.
[ back ] 10. Zimmermann (1985–1987), in his important analysis of song types, focuses on the relationship between song and plot in a way that can reduce song to a function of the plot. But the songs can also be seen as semi-independent units more in relation to each other and to other traditions than to the immediately surrounding action.
[ back ] 11. Nagy 1990:36 stresses this opposition: “We cannot say that the iambic trimeter of Athenian tragedy and comedy is lyric for the simple reason that it is patently recited as opposed to sung. As for what is sung, we call that lyric by opposition to what is recited. . . . Thus the opposition of song and poetry in tragedy not only recapitulates diachronically an earlier opposition of SONG and speech, it also imitates synchronically the actual opposition of song and speech in real life.” In Wasps, singing in court is seen as a problem by Bdelycleon, at least, and he wins the agon by directing his father’s attention to prosaic facts. Philocleon is, on the other hand, an accomplished singer, storyteller, and revelrous trouble-maker, whatever his limitations as an aristocratic symposiast. A fragment of Farmers (fr. 101 K-A) runs “the old men in session still say, when a poor defense speech is given, ‘you’re singing’” (ἔτι γὰρ λέγουσ’ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι καθήμενοι / ὅταν κακῶς τις ἀπολογῆται τὴν δίκην / ᾄδεις). See also Hall 1995:39–58, and 2002:7: “in [tragic] iambics people constantly use such verbs as legein and phrazein in reference to their own speech and that of their interlocutors, whereas the semantic range referring to lyric utterance, which includes melpein and aidein, is quite different.” See also Dunbar 1995 ad Birds 39–41, where she compares the French expression ‘chansons!’ meaning ‘nonsense!’
[ back ] 12. Contrast Democritus B 154 D-K, where birds’ song is their most useful product for man, along with house-building: “We are pupils of the animals in the most important things: the spider for spinning and mending, the swallow for building, and the songsters, swan and nightingale, for singing, by way of imitation” (trans. Kathleen Freeman).
[ back ] 13. Calame 2004:179 takes these logoi to be “words of praise” close in sense to muthoi as used by Xenophanes and Pindar. See Xenophanes 1.14 Gentili/Prato.
[ back ] 14. 431–433: “command him to speak, to speak / for I am all aflutter / hearing the speeches you’re speaking about.” Note also 461. Admittedly, ἀναπτερόω (433) is also a prose word; for its elevated usage, Aeschylus Libation Bearers 228. Confrontation of song and speech might also be discerned in Zethus and Amphion’s dispute over the best life in Euripides’ Antiope. Zethus says to his brother (188N): “stop melodizing [but Kannicht in TGF prints Wilamowitz’s ματᾴζων instead of Nauck’s μελῳδῶν] and cultivate the eumousia of wars.” At some point Amphion says (202N): “Well, I would sing and speak something wise” (ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ᾄδοιμι καὶ λέγοιμί τι / σοφόν). This can be understood as a typical Greek polarity meaning something like “all language acts,” but comedy plays on the potential tension in this polarity (see n10 above).
[ back ] 15. Slater 1997:79–80 portrays Peisetairos as a chorodidaskalos: “The teaching role is then assumed by Peisetairos . . . a process which describes equally well the chorodidaskalos’ task and the process of political persuasion.” The audience might also have noticed his distance as a speaker of logoi from a chorus of singing animals. Note also the unusual use of διδάσκω at 548, 550, with Dunbar’s paraphrase ad loc., “I instruct you to do x, which would not have occurred to you.” See Pickard-Cambridge 1968:55, on this verb in inscriptions as indicating the play was produced in person by the poet, and Pickard-Cambridge 1968:71 on διδασκαλία as the word for the dramatic poet’s training of the chorus.
[ back ] 16. See Dunbar 1995:228, and in general, for discussion and illustrations, Sifakis 1971. Aristophanes later wrote a play called Storks. Magnes had already written a play called Birds (scholium on Knights 522), and we hear of another in the Suda (K 2340). Kantharos later wrote a Nightingales. Since Hesiod and Bacchylides refer to poets as songbirds (Works and Days 208; Bacchylides 3.98), one is tempted to suppose a link between these plays and plays with choruses related to (though not necessarily consisting entirely of) poets: Archilochoi, Hesiodoi, Cleoboulinai. Aristophanes’ Gerytades featured contemporary poets as well (though not a chorus of poets) conversing in Hades. But useful as such a connection between birds, choruses, and poets would be for reading Birds, there is no evidence for these themes being brought together in early Old Comedy so far as I know.
[ back ] 17. See Dunbar 1994:113–129. The juxtaposition of the lyrical birds 3–5 of the chorus penelops, alkuon, and keirulos is suggestive, but they only make up one-eighth of the twenty-four-person chorus. Birds in edible guise appear frequently in comedy (Acharnians 1007; Clouds 339; Peace 1149, 1197).
[ back ] 18. For quail-fights and quail-tapping, cf. Birds 1299, with Dunbar’s note (1995 ad loc.), Chrysippus SVF 3.167, and Marcus Aurelius I 6 (which should probably read καὶ τὸ μὴ ὀρτυγοκοπεῖν). The aggressive aspects of birds are discussed by Green 1985:2:95–118. Green 1985 also argues for a uniform chorus resembling the ithyphallic rooster-men on the vase. The vase may be connected to the production, but it is hard to believe it actually represents the chorus. A few other negative connotations of birds are pomposity (as with Lamachus’ feather plume) and a lightweight mentality (as at Plato Timaeus 91d6, Sophocles Antigone 342–343).
[ back ] 19. Harrison 1927:94–117 remains a stimulating discussion of birds in Greek life. See also Forbes Irving 1990, especially 96–127 on bird metamorphoses.
[ back ] 20. On the “mortal terror” of Tereus, see Gelzer 1996:194–215. Note also the frequent and not wholly ironical use of δεινός (13, 27, 63). The motif of a journey out of Athens and into an archaic world was also explored in Amphiaraus, in which a father and son visit that hero’s cave. Gilbert Murray suggested that this play was written in the interval before Birds and that both are “plays of regeneration” (1933:138). The meter of the following fragment of Amphiaraus (fr. 30 K-A) indicates it was probably part of the parabasis and hence may have been a message straight from Aristophanes: “I know I’m doing something old-fashioned, I’m aware of what I’m doing” (οἶδα μὲν ἀρχαῖόν τι δρῶν, κοὐχι λέληθ’ ἐμαυτόν). Moulton 1996 emphasizes the novelty of Aristophanes’ myth-making in Birds, but this novelty is interwoven with archaism. Take, for example, the reference to Athens as Kranaoi (123). The word ἀρχαῖος is also the key to the Birds’ claim to power (469). Admittedly, much of the archaic language is in the first place paratragic, as is Tereus himself (Sophocles had recently staged a Tereus), but paratragedy has an added force in the quasi-archaic world of Birds. The play may contain archaizing music as well, as I will try to show.
[ back ] 21. Many cultures imitate birds, and this need not exclude serious content. For a description of a bird-song cycle that fuses bird mimesis, emergence, and home-finding myth and comedy in California among the Cahuilla (a tribe of the San Joaquin valley in and around Palm Springs), see Apodaca 1999:152. See also Felds 1990 on the Kaluli of New Guinea and their bird mimesis. Compare also Calame 1983:480 on Alcman fr. 140 = 40 Page, and 91 = 39 Page for the idea of learning song from birds as connected to oral performance. Birds are also at least twice evoked in Alcman’s longest extant choral fragment (1.60–63, 100–101 Page). Why does Alcman have his young dancers compare themselves to birds? Calame’s explanation (1977 2:72–82) is compelling whether or not one accepts his view of the poem as an initiatory rite: the dancers compare themselves to birds so as to include themselves in a heavenly–earthly scheme in which they are subordinate to the Sirens (cf. the rhetorical force of fr. 1.98 Page: σιαὶ γάρ). Birds contains no such theme of earthly subordination . The comparison with Alcman thus must also be made a contrast. Lyric poetry may have freed itself of any obvious paedogogical responsibilities in this play. The fact that lines 250–251 probably echo Alcman (among a covey of other birds and meters) only drives this difference home. The metrical difference is worth noting: Aristophanes has lightened his meter, including only two dactylic metra per line instead of the three of the original poem, if this is an allusion to the original poem.
[ back ] 22. See especially Theognis 237–254: σοὶ μὲν ἐγὼ πτέρ’ ἔδωκα, κτλ.—as well as Pindar Pythian 8.34, Nemean 6.48–49, Nemean 7.22; see also Euripides Helen 147 for the wings/sails metaphor and LSJ s.v. πτερόν III 1. In tragedy and in other emotionally charged situations, according to Padel 1992:96–97: “when people are mad, very afraid, drunk, angry, youthfully reckless, or much in love, their soul, thumos or nous ‘flies.’” For a wing as having a “power,” see Plato Phaedrus 246d6: πέφυκεν ἡ πτεροῦ δύναμις τὸ ἐμβριθὲς ἄγειν ἄνω.
[ back ] 23. Nilsson 1950:330–340, 491–496. In Homer, the gods sometimes change themselves into birds, but never into other animals: Odyssey i 320, iii 372, xxii 240; Iliad V 778, VII 59. One should not speculate that Aristophanes is unconsciously expressing vestiges of belief, but that he and his audience might have encountered the same imagery in what was to them already archaic art and felt a similar puzzlement to ours, without, perhaps, the same comfortable distance. For a more recent discussion of bird epiphany in ancestor cult, and some parallel evidence concerning the Ugaritic and Phoenician marzeah, see Carter 1995:285–312.
[ back ] 24. Perkell 1993:2–5, though she concludes this quality is ultimately delusive. Mathews 1997 calls attention to significant repetitions and compares the style to that of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, 668–678.
[ back ] 25. References in n3 above. See also Nagy 1996:41n7 on ἰτώ/ἴτω. Representing birds in this and other passages leads to some striking metrical features. “Twittering, especially at moments of emotion, is mimicked by resolution” (Parker 1997:240–241). Torrents of short syllables can give the impression of metrical chaos. Compare Pratinas’ hyporchema’s opening lines as discussed by Anderson 1966:47. Some other observations on the play’s meter: “It is a unique feature of Birds that dochmiacs are also found interspersed in passages where the singer or singers show no signs of extraordinary excitement”; “The repeated use of certain rhythms with structural and thematic functions, which is so common a feature of Aristophanes’ plays, is absent here . . . the chief metrical characteristic of the play is diversity: every major type of meter found in Attic drama is represented” (Parker 1997:297). However, within this diversity there may be a progression toward order, from the extreme diversity of the Hoopoe’s song, to the pathetic dactylo-epitrite of the Birds’ pledge of allegiance to Peisetairos (451–459), to the quiet majesty of the dactylo-trochaic parabasis odes, and finally, to the still more majestic fifty-one consecutive long syllables (technically anapaests) of the second parabasis. Admittedly, this progression does not account for all the lyric of the play, but includes nearly all the high points. For the problems involved in discussing the structure of a whole play, see Parker 1994.
[ back ] 26. The lines of early plays showing the convention of heralding the chorus raise audience expectations, sometimes in lyrical language: Wasps 218–221, Knights 225–227, Acharnians 179–181, Peace 289–300. These passages show the transition from speech to song to be both deliberate and exciting.
[ back ] 27. For birds as an annoyance (in this case eagle, swan, and “strange bird”), see Euripides Ion 154–183.
[ back ] 28. PMG 520, 1–2: ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μέν / κάρτος. . . . Cf. also PMG 525, 527, Semonides 1.3–4 West: νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀλλ’ ἐπήμεροι / ἂ δὴ βοτὰ ζόουσιν, οὐδὲν εἰδότες. Admittedly, the Birds’ attack on man as ‘tricky’ is slightly off-beat from these graver expressions of pessimism.
[ back ] 29. Clouds 457–475 and Assembly Women 571–580 are two other examples, as well as Knights 1264ff. and Peace 775ff., which reflect earlier poetry (see n5 above). See Parker 1997:89–90, comparing the Birds’ use of dactylo-epitrite here to Stesichorus, especially because of the “long dactylic sequences which sometimes open with [two shorts].”
[ back ] 30. I anticipate the objection that the parabasis’s music is solely for the Athenian public (thus Bremer 1991:159 takes the wail of the Muses and Graces as built-in applause), that the illusion is wholly broken and hence the lyrics are not strictly relevant to the world being built; but a) the parabasis of Birds does not include the usual intrusion of the poet’s voice speaking directly to the public, and b) the lyrics in particular develop meter and language used earlier in the play. So the parabasis does seem more inwardly referential than most.
[ back ] 31. MacDowell 1995, commenting on Wasps 1009, notes the fixed convention ἴτε χαίροντες vel sim., in the first five comedies.
[ back ] 32. Cf. Odyssey xvi 23: ἦλθες, Τηλέμαχε, γλυκερὸν φάος. Also Sappho 1.5, 1.25, Euripides Ion 887, Theocritus 12.1, Catullus 9.5 (venisti. O mihi nuntii beati). Trygaios welcomes Opora with a similar Sapphic echo: ὦ φιλτάτη, δεῦρ’ ἐλθὲ καὶ δός μοι κύσαι (Peace 709).
[ back ] 33. I have settled for the translation ‘numinous’ for hieros, thinking of the Latin phrase numen inest said by Ovid of a grove upon entering it (Fasti III 295–296).
[ back ] 34. Phrynichus, unlike the strictly lyric poets, was native to Athens, and this makes him a natural predecessor. In no other Aristophanic reference does he so clearly serve as a poetic model. “It may be that . . . Ar. is at least partially echoing a song by [Phrynichus]”; Dunbar 1995 ad loc. Note Φρύνιχος ὡσπερεί μέλιττα and compare Wasps 1490, where Phrynichus crouches, ὥς τις ἀλέκτωρ. These similar-sounding words used in connection to Phrynichus may imply the “as if” of play-acting as well as simile. The surviving, mostly Aristophanean, reminiscences of Phrynichus form a fascinating composite. We hear of him as a writer of a steamy love song quoted by Sophocles for the benefit of a youth (Ion of Chios FGH 392 6); as a lyric poet whom Aristophanes’ Aeschylus dared not try to rival (Frogs 1299–1300), as well-dressed and closely juxtaposed with Ibycus and Anacreon at Thesmophoriazusae 161–165, and as the favorite poet of the old jurors in Wasps 200 who sing ἀρχαιομελισιδωνοφρυνιχήματα (“honey-sweet-Pete-Seeger-Guantanamera-songs-of-old”). Phrynichus was one of the first actor-dramatists (hypokritai), who had the ability to affect the city all-too-powerfully with his personifications (Herodotus VI 21). He was also said to have taught dance (TGF 1 Thespis 10). A strikingly similar picture of poets “carrying” the sweetness of song from gardens to human beings is found at Plato Ion 534a–b.
[ back ] 35. Bremer 1991:146–147 discusses Aristophanes’ unusual use of “driving” his Muses and “using” them. Muses in Aristophanes (Acharnians 665; Wasps 1022, 1028; Peace 816; Lysistrata 1295; Frogs 229, 674) often have a local, and sometimes a rustic character.
[ back ] 36. The use of the adjectival ὄρειος, rare in archaic verse, may make the song sound a little more up-to-date than the noun constructions usually employed. Compare κορυφαῖς ἐν ὀρείαις (740) with ἐν κορυφαῖς ὀρέων of Alcman (PMG 56); the two words are also juxtaposed in Homer (Odyssey ix 121; and Iliad II 456: οὔρεος ἐν κορυφῇς). See Calame 1983:521. See also Anacreon (PMG 357): ὑψηλὰς ὀρέων κορυφάς. For “perched,” a verb almost inseparable from the representation of birds in archaic poetry, cf. Odyssey xix 520: καθεζομένη (of the nightingale); also Ibycus PMG 317 (Wilamowitz’s conjecture): ἱζάνοισι (of the penelops and halkuon). Cf. also Hesychius ἰζίνες· οἰωνοί. The penelops is represented by Ibycus as perching, despite the fact that it was, according to the scholiast, a ducklike creature. Dunbar 1995 (ad 98) says this could be poetic license, but if so, what motivates it? The audience expected to hear about perching when birds were sung about. ‘Bird’ requires ‘tree’. This is no merely verbal formula but has to do with the evocation of place. Once you have a bird, a tree, and a rock, a place can constitute a grove. See Burkert 1985:84–87. For an interpretation of the penelops as a bird of lament, associated with Penelope and the halkuon, see Levaniouk 1999.
[ back ] 37. Used for spear shafts, and tree nymphs were said to be born from it (see Hesiod Theogony 187, with West’s commentary). A tradition existed that mankind were born from it as well (see Hesychius, LSJ suppl. s.v. μελία: μελίας καρπός· τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος). Kakridis (ad loc.) says the poet mentions this tree for the wordplay alone, but its physical characteristics may be important as well.
[ back ] 38. Sommerstein (ad 769–784) points out the switch to a past tense at 772, referring to a mythic occasion. See Campbell’s Greek Lyric Poetry (Loeb) for Terpander 1 = Alcman 12A (P.Oxy. 2737 = Aristophanes fr. 590 K.-A). “The swan [sings] something of the kind to the accompaniment of its wings” (κύκνος ὑπὸ πρεγύγων τοιόνδε). The attribution of this fragment to no less than four poets by Alexandrian scholars shows the difficulty in looking exclusively to Alcaeus. In the shorter Hymn to Apollo (21), consisting of five lines, the singer (ἀοιδός) “always sings of Apollo while holding his shrill lyre,” while the swans sing in the present tense, at the bank of the river Peneios. Kugelmeier 1996:218 prefers to see a reworking of Alcmanic material (cf. PMG 56, 89) and meter.
[ back ] 39. See, for example, Hordern 2002:36: “Despite Timotheus’ reputation for innovation, his phraseology and vocabulary are at times highly traditional.”
[ back ] 40. This meter was associated with Terpander (PMG 698: Ζεῦ πάντων ἀρχά, πάντων ἁγήτωρ . . .) and is also used by Euripides at Iphigineia in Tauris 123–129, a run of forty-four consecutive long syllables.
[ back ] 41. παντότης is found at Aeschylus Suppliants 139, referring to Zeus, the “all-seeing father,” and similarly at Eumenides 1045, emphatically ending the Oresteia trilogy.
[ back ] 42. Compare Xenophon Memorabilia IV 3 (thought by some to be spurious).
[ back ] 43. Birds 1095–1096. Applied by Euripides to the swan at Electra 151 and by [Aeschylus] to the shepherd’s pipe at Prometheus 574–575.
[ back ] 44. In archaic poetry, a garden or grove is often a place for a seduction or rape: Iliad XIV 347–349; Hymn to Demeter; Archilochus 196a.42–44W; Anacreon PMG 346, 408 (image of a fawn in a wood), 417.6 (νῦν δὲ λειμῶνάς τε βόσκεαι). Erotic overtones are hard to find in the lyrics of Birds (except perhaps 1097–1101 where the chorus envisions sporting with mountain nymphs). The nightingale is elsewhere subject to some subtle and not so subtle attentions, but they are not expressed in song. Has nature here been de-eroticized for the sake of tranquility? Whatever erotic associations birds might have in the play, there is little sense of an erotic encounter. Arrowsmith 1973:119–167 connects the lust for power with sexual lust and would treat the tranquility of the play as ironic. Another attitude to nature found in archaic poetry is the appreciation of fertile soil (and in an inverse trope the affirmation of one’s homeland despite the lack of fertile soil). This is closer to the attitude of the Birds to the earth they oversee, as protectors of its fertility against insects (ἀνθηρός in 1093 is close to Sappho’s ἀνθεμώδης at 96.14 Lobel-Page, for example). See Le Meur 1988:20–22.
[ back ] 45. The idea of a mild or gentle Phrygian style may sound surprising, but see Anderson 1996:46, based largely on PMG 56 (Apollo as aulos player), Alcaeus’ hymn 307 I (b), Alcman PMG 126, and Stesichorus PMG 212 (“having gently [ἁβρῶς] discovered a Phrygian tune with spring on its way,” a lyric Aristophanes recalls in Peace [see n5 above]). Not all auloi are loud and threatening: PMG 375 (Anacreon spoke of tender half-auloi for use in festivities more than competitions). For later antiquity, West cites Plutarch Moralia 713a: “The aulos is not to be kept from the table; libations call for it, along with the wreath, and it sounds a divine note to accompany a paean . . . pouring out a sweet sound that brings calm [γαλήνη] deep in the soul.” The springlike note is reinforced by mentions of spring in the play: 682–683 (κρέκουσ’ αὐλὸν φθέγμασιν ἠρινοῖς), 1099. To appreciate how exceptional this tranquilizing use of the aulos might be for theater, compare Wilson 1999 and Martin 2003, who rightly see the aulos as energizing, wild, and in tension with male civic identity. But adjectives like σύναuλος, ἔναυλος (which also means ‘of the farm’), and φίλαυλος of the dolphin (Euripides Electra 435), also imply harmony, tranquility. Compare Anacreontea 60.10. See also West 1992:181: “There was ritual aulos music in the Phrygian mode attributed to Olympus, including some used in the cult of the Mother of the Gods,” citing PMG 810 (Telestes). “These were perhaps the pieces of Olympus that Plato and Aristotle admired as having the power to arouse and inspire, and as revealing those who stand in need of the gods. . . . If so, it goes some way towards explaining Plato’s hospitality towards Phrygian.” It may be that Aristophanes was similarly hospitable to aulos-playing in an archaically tinged Phrygian mode.
[ back ] 46. At least one other poet/musician was known for archaizing (we do not know when he lived): Pankrates. [Plutarch] Moralia 1137f: ἐζήλου γοῦν, ὡς αὐτὸς ἔφη, τὸν Πινδάρειόν τε καὶ Σιμωνίδειον τρόπον καὶ καθόλου τὸ ἀρχαῖον καλούμενον ὑπὸ τῶν νῦν. See Kugelmeier 1996: 112n203.
[ back ] 47. For the technique of teaching music by negative example, see Plutarch Demetrius 1.6, of a music teacher who takes his student out to a theater to hear how music should not be played. See Bélis 1999:30–31.
[ back ] 48. G. Murray 1933: 156: “At least eleven poets and musicians come in for some chaff,” only a slight exaggeration. Poets already probably mocked: Akestor (31), Sophocles (through the parody of his Tereus), Melanthios (151), and Diagoras of Melos (1073), who is probably the poet of PMG 738–739. However, Dunbar 1995 (ad 766) finds the theory that Meles was Cinesias’ father “improbable.”
[ back ] 49. πολλὰ καὶ καλά. Kugelmeier 1996: 109: “Sowie das marktschreierisch klingende Angebot. . . .”
[ back ] 50. If this passage is focused on Pindar specifically as a poet for colonies, then it cannot be used to indicate declining comprehension of Pindar’s encomia in general. (Hamilton 2003: 17–23 is exaggerated, using such terms as “irrelevant,” and “expired worldview.”) We do not know the context or speaker of Eupolis’ fragment (398 K.-A.) on the silencing of Pindar, or of the fragment about the lyric poets (148 K.-A.), so it is also difficult to draw conclusions on this basis. Plato’s references to Pindar show that Pindar’s verse was part of the education of late-fifth-century upper-class Athenians (Kurke 1991: 5n17).
[ back ] 51. How is Birds a play about colonization? It seems strategically to confuse us: the protagonists set out on foot instead of building ships (cf. Iliad II 664 for this as a typical stage in founding a colony): τόνδε τὸν βάδον βαδίζομεν (42). The items they have with them may or may not be for a foundation ceremony, and they speak ambiguously of their purposes: καθιδρυθέντε διαγενοίμεθ’ ἄν (45). The stem hidru is suggestive of foundations, but διαγίγνομαι, ‘live one’s life’, does not sound like the rigorous planning required in a new colony. Their bird guides, whom they bought instead of encountering, are on their wrists instead of leading them from above. What sort of oracle is Tereus? Above all, they lack the piety required of colonial founders, cf. Malkin 1987:183. Malkin’s treatment of Lampon in this play relies on late sources, but his general portrait of changing trends in colonization in the fifth century is highly relevant: colonies were breaking away from their mother cities (Thucydides VII 57), new colonies were no longer led by individuals with Delphic authority but by delegates, and even by Hieron’s time Sicily was no longer a frontier and his colonization of Aetna was seen by some as a selfish effort to gain founder’s honors (Diodorus Siculus XI 66.4). See Asheri in CAH. While Birds, it is now agreed, is no allegory for the Sicilian expedition, its colonial chaos may reflect some of these Sicilian realities.
[ back ] 52. πολυάνωρ: Euripides Iphigenia in Taurus 1281; IG 4.12 129.12: σώιζετε τόνδ’ Ἐπιδαύρου ναὸν ἐν εὐνομίαι πολυάνορι. εὔανδρος: PMG 856; ἄγετ’ ὦ Σπάρτας εὐάνδρου are warlike anapaests a little like these (but with one fewer foot per line) and once attributed to Tyrtaeus. Admittedly, εὐανδρία has an added connotation of manly courage that is absent from πολυάνωρ.
[ back ] 53. Not always with positive associations. See Cameron 1995:488–493. Cf. also Aristophanes Gerytades 156 K-A, with Athenaeus’ comment (XII 551a): “he lambasts them as λεπτοί, having them sent as ambassadors to the [older] poets in Hades.”
[ back ] 54. Dunbar 1995 accepts the emendation (at 1407) Κρεκοπίδα (as humorously derived from an unidentified bird species, κρεκίς, which I have translated ‘shrike’) for the manuscript reading Κεκροπίδα. A scribe ignorant of the bird κρεκίς may have altered the text to match the φυλή name, missing the pun.
[ back ] 55. Note the lack of references to Dionysus in this play, and of his κίσσος (mentioned only at 238), which is usually frequent in descriptions of natural scenery, as at Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus 674. Is this because birds, wings, etc., are foreign to Dionysus’ symbolic realm? One notes, however, the presence of a winged man (below the handle of neck amphora Oxford 1965.126, reproduced in the plate following p. 289 in Sourvinou-Inwood 2003 and discussed at 111–112) in a scene representing the welcoming of Dionysus to Attica. This shows that bird costume and Dionysus belong together from very early in Attic visual traditions.
[ back ] 56. Already used as a metaphor for poetry by Sappho (55.3) and Pindar (Olympian 9.27, 6.42) on which see Le Meur 1988:37–38.
[ back ] 57. Wilamowitz argued that this indicated that the schools were really thiasoi, but cf. Lynch 1972:108–134.
[ back ] 58. See P. Murray 2004:365–389, who emphasizes the opposition between Muses and rhetorical tekhnê.
[ back ] 59. For Callimachus’ On Birds, see Pfeiffer’s edition, frs. 414–428, and Dunbar 1995:33. Fr. 428 Pfeiffer concerns the inauspiciousness of the κρέξ for newlyweds, and elsewhere he wrote of ἴυγξ, daughter of Echo (fr. 685), who drugged Zeus, slept with him, and was transformed by Hera into her current state. Judging from some archaic lyric fragments, this interest in specific birds and their attributes went back to the late archaic period, and the preservation of these quotations by Alexandrian scholarship suggests that the Alexandrian poets regarded the earlier poets as shrewd in these matters. Cf. PMG 606 (Tzetzes), “the swallow is called κωτίλη by Simonides and Anacreon for its garrulousness”; PMG 538 (Etymologicum Magnum), “All larks must naturally have a crest”; PMG 586 (ἀηδόνες πολυκώτιλοι); PMG 437, calling the κόκκυξ “a spring bird like a ἱέραξ or a most pitiful bird.”