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Orphic Hymns and the Sicilian Expedition

8 years

Between the Wasps and Birds almost a decade of history 422 Cleon dies fighting Brasidas in Amphipolis In their absence, no more barrier to temporary “peace of Nicias” Rise of Hyperbolus in Assembly 421 Aristophanes writes “Peace”

Trygaeus and the Dung-Beetle

Uneasy peace until 416: Seige of Melos by Athens

Sicilian Expedition

415: Ambassadors from Sicily arrive Alcibiades convinces assembly to go to war: Thuc. 6.

Huge gathering of forces

On eve of Expedition: Mutilation of the herms Alcibiades reputation: he is suspected of crime After expedition arrives in Sicily, he is recalled to Athens on a graphe He takes asylum in Sparta instead, begins counseling the Spartans

Birds: 414 BCE

Aristophanes writes Birds at about 34

Callistratus didaskalos again

Atmosphere of military optimism in Athens Athenians and the character Thucydides gives them: polypragmosyne Peishetairos-”persuasive friend”: quintessential Athenian

Escapist apragmosyne becomes the opposite

String of Athenian “visitors” to Cloudcuckooland. Utopian fantasy, all rules easily broken Subversion of power structures, but which ones?


Birds are traditionally part of religious divination become a replacement for Olympic pantheon Orphic type Theogony:

Phanes: Primal deity from “egg”>Eros: principle of reproduction

Orphéus (Ὀρφεύς), the founder of Mysteries (Τελετάρχης), tells us that within this undifferentiated mixture are Earth and Water [54] and it is from the dance of these two that everything which is comes to be. For Ageless (ἀγήραος) Time (Χρόνος) was moved by Necessity (Ἀνάγκη) [54] and gave birth to Aithír (Αἰθήρ) and a limitless chasm (χάσμα) which extended in every direction, and everything was in tumult. [66] In the Aithír, Time formed a silvery egg (ὠεόν or ᾠόν) [70], the offspring of Aithír and Kháos (Χάος) [79]. And the egg began to move in an enormous and wondrous circle [71] and from the egg Phánis (Φάνης) emerged, and as he was born, the Aithír and the Chasm were torn apart (ἐρράγη) [72].

Behold the son of Aithír! The First-Born (Πρωτογόνος) [86]! The Shining One (Φαέθων)! [73 & 74] Who by his nature illumines everything and was the first to appear in the Aithír! [75] Witness his four eyes looking everywhere [76] and marvel at his four horns! Behold his golden wings which flutter all about! [78] He bellows like a massive bull and roars like a lion! [79] He is Irikæpaios (Ἠριϰεπαῖος), both male and female [81], who harbors in his heart blind and swift Ǽrohs(Ἔρως) [82]! He is Mítis (Μῆτις), the progenitor of the Gods, who call him the Revealer and First-born [85]! He is the one with the mighty voice (Βρόμιος); he is all-seeing (πανόπτης) Zefs (Ζεύς) [170] ! He can be seen only by his daughter, but his effulgent light shining in the Aithír draws wonder for those who behold it, illuminating the world with great brilliance. [86]

Strategic displacement of the gods

Conceived as military exercise in human terms Peisthetairus wins when marries personification of power, Basileia Achieves Zeus’ thunderbolt Ostensibly does this for the Birds, but really men benefit


Story of Hoopoe: Tereus, Philomela, Procne Orphic Theogony vs. Hesiodic Apollo on swan chariot to Hyperboreans (Pindar) Eros as winged Prometheus and Eagle Hera and peacock Birds close to many gods-depicted on their heads:

Athena, Zeus, Hera, etc.



Harpies w/ Phineus

Harpies w/ Phineus

Birds, Food and Reversal

Birds were preferred food for Greeks P. is able to play on this in order to get their support Inversion of Norms: “utopian” theme like Krates’ Beasts Birds start slaving for P., building fortress of power

Music and Poetry

Many more lyric passages in play Musical solos by Procne, and another aulist Tereus would have sung “call” to Birds Many descriptions of Birds are less farcical and more poetic


God with bird on head? Owl coin? Trygaeus and Dung-Beetle Productions of A’s Birds: costumes Songs/lyrics of birds Procne/Tereus myth Orphic vs. Hesiodic Theogony Portrait Alcibiades