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ARISTOPHANES BIRDS

TRANSLATORS NOTE
By Graham Kirby

The Birds is a comedy by the Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BC


at the City Dionysia where it won second prize.
Birds is especially popular with modern audiences as it is the perfect
realisation of fantasy (and the play from where we get our English
expression Cloud Cuckooland). Is it only co-incidence that this most
fantastic of plays took place when Athenian hubris reached its zenith
with the spectacularly ill-conceived Sicilian expedition. Probably yes! It
has been called a fairly conventional example of Old Comedy. It tackles
the discontent there was at the time in Athens but does not aim its fair
at particular figures, instead its lampooning comes in later and builds up
to a crescendo at the end.
Euelpides (Good Hope) and Pithetaerus (Trusting) leave Athens to live
with the birds who seem to them to lead an ideal existence. In doing so
they found a new city in the clouds which they call Cloud Cuckooland
(Nephelokokkygia). It is the perfect city from where they can escape the
travails and complications of city life but is soon interrupted by those
from whom they were originally trying to flee. Whether by accident or
design Pithetaerus soon takes on a darker and more tyrannical role and
he assumes responsibility for the city and pits himself against the
immortal gods. It is a battle which he ultimately wins and ends the play
as more powerful than Zeus. It is a battle between rational idealisation
and irrational realism, the latter coming out on top but as a student once
said to me with one arm raised like Che Guevara: Youve gotta have
hope!
The Birds, which The Iris Project first staged as part of the Iris Festival of
Greek Drama in 2008 at the Scoop More London, is one of the most
satisfying Greek plays to put on with a younger cast: there is fantasy, a
chorus of birds beautifully adorned as a Greek chorus should be -,
some brilliantly funny archetypal characters which stretch actors
potential, loads of small but important part and various mythological
character. Throw in a bit of satire and it is near perfect. Moreover in this
adaptation the parabasis, half way through the play, retains the simple
message of the original and gives the chorus an important role.
Most of the parts can be played by either girls or boys (perhaps with the
exception of some of immortals and heroes) and there was little risqu
humour to edit although I left one brilliant joke from the original in the
parabasis. A few but only a few characters have been excised or

elided but other than that it is the closest in terms of text and structure
to the original that I have translated and abridged.
Performed by London schools in 2009 there are some references that
would need to be updated or changed an easy task and there is also
some great audience interactive, which I have inserted as breaking the
fourth wall was often an element of Aristophanes.
I really hope you enjoy reading or performing Birds as much as well all
enjoyed staging it!