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Theatre / The Birds

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The Birds (original: Ὄρνιθες — Ornithes) is a comedy by Aristophanes, first performed in 414 BC in Athens.

Peisthetairos and Euelpides, two Athenians dissatisfied with their native city and willing to emigrate, search the wilderness for Tereus, the Thracian king that was turned into a hoopoe by the gods. For birds, the creatures of the air so they believe must naturally know the entire world, and thus Tereus, a bird, yet still capable of human speech, will be able to advise them where on Earth living is best.

Their search is successful, but Tereus finds it hard to satisfy his visitors, as no city on Earth seems to quite meet their demands. At this point, Peisthetairos comes up with a brilliant idea: Why not stay with the birds? Not only is life as a bird paradisical, so Peistethairos considers, but he also convinces Tereus that, if only the birds would combine their strength and discover their true power, they could rule the entire Earth.

Tereus summons an assembly of all birds to introduce them to Peisthetairos' grand vision. At first, the birds threaten to peck the human intruders to death, but eventually Tereus' prestige and Peisthetairos' eloquence turn their hostility into enthusiasm, especially as Peisthetairos and Euelpides agree to let themselves be turned into birds with a magic root.

Thus commences the building of the mighty city of Cloudcuckooland (Νεφελοκοκκυγία — Nephelokokkygia), occupying the space between heaven and earth. And before you know it, the birds lay blockade to the air so the steam of humanity's sacrifices can no longer rise to Mount Olympus. Famine brings the gods to their knees, and Zeus finds it advisable to negotiate. But are the three emissaries he chooses, Poseidon, Heracles and the barbarian god Triballos, really the right men for the job?

... No.

The Trope Namer for Cloudcuckooland, though the Cloudcuckooland of The Birds is not strictly an example of the trope.

Available as a free e-book from various sources.

Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name released millenia later.


  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The use of a flute for nightingale song, due to the actor's lack of an oscine syrinx.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: The nightingale is said to be female, but still sings. Ancient Greek scholars actually believed that female nightingales sing.
  • Bird-Poop Gag: At one point the chorus (dressed up as birds) addresses the jurors of the play contest and urges them to award the first prize to The Birds. If they won't, then birds will bombard them with their droppings whenever they wear fine clothes.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The chorus promises all manner of benefits if the play wins the prize. If not, prepare to be bird-bombed.note 
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Euelpides wets himself upon seeing Tereus' slave (a human-sized bird).
  • Dumb Muscle: Aristophanes' Heracles is positively not the brightest bulb in the box.
  • Evil Uncle: Invoked by Peisthetairos when he convinces Heracles that his uncle Poseidon wants to trick him out of his inheritance.
  • Floating Continent
  • Food as Bribe: The promise of a meal of roasted bird is enough for Heracles to trade away the sceptre of Zeus, and with it, the rule of the world to the birds.
  • Funny Foreigner: Triballos, the "barbarian god", speaks a horribly mangled Greek.
  • God Needs Prayer Badly: Apparently the gods subside only on the steam of sacrifices rising from Earth below. When the birds intercept the sacrifical scents, they are screwed.
  • Greek Chorus
  • Karma Houdini: Played for Laughs. Despite Tereus' rape of his sister-in-law and Procne's Offing the Offspring in a revenge plan, they have fared well in the avian world.
  • Mighty Whitey: Since his involuntary transformation into a bird, Tereus has taught the birds to speak Greek and is highly respected by them.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Males variant: Ribald versions of this play contain references to a rooster's morning erection.
  • Non-Specifically Foreign: Triballos is the walking sum of all barbarian stereotypes, rather than any specific kind of barbarian.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Discussed when a short-sighted youth is interested in becoming an eagle for this reason. Peisthetairos dissuades him.
  • Take Over the World: With Peisthetairos as their brain, the birds assume control of the entire world.
  • Take That!: Tereus claims he is so ugly because Sophocles has "disfigured" him in his tragedy Tereus.
    • The play also includes not one but two jabs at Fat Coward Cleonymos.
  • Talk to the Fist, thou fraudulent soothsayer!
  • Winged Humanoid: Iris, the messenger of the gods sent from Mount Olympus.