Birds - Aristophanes, Nan Dunbar The important thing to note about this review is that I'm reading the version of the Birds that's subtitled "A Modern Translation by William Arrowsmith." If you read a translation by someone else it's likely you'll have a different experience - but then, a lot of your enjoyment of Aristophanes will depend on the translator's own sense of humor.This is a text where it's critical to read the notes - not just for explanations but to get an idea of what Aristophanes is trying to make a joke about, but also to enjoy Arrowsmith. The man writes some delightful notes.You can read the plot on wikipedia, but the short version is that two Athenians go to the birds and convince them to set up a kingdom so that the Athenians don't have to go back to Athens, where there are too many taxes and fees, and other annoyances. Here one of the characters tells the beginning of why they left, p. 19. I've added the notes from the back of the book (for this quote, p 135-136) - this is a good example of the translator giving you background and also letting you know when he's substituted words:Euelpides:...Think of it man:here we are dying to go tell it to the Birds,*and then, by god, we can't even find the way.To the Audience.Yes, dear people, we confess we're completely mad.But it's not just like Sakas'* madness. Not a bit. For he, poor dumb foreigner, wants in, while we, born and bread Athenians both, true blue,true citizens, not afraid of any man,want out. Yes, we've spread our little feetand taken off. Not that we hate Athens - heavens, no. And not that dear old Athensisn't grand, that blessed land where men are free -to pay their taxes.*Relevant text from the Notes section:Sakas: [via note on text p. 18] "From the frequent allusions in the play to men who, technically ineligible, had somehow managed to get themselves enrolled as Athenian citizens, it's tempting to believe that proposals to revise the citizenship lists were in the air or had recently been carried out. The climax of these allusions comes in the final scene of the play, in which Posthetairos attempts to prove that Herakles is technically a bastard (and hence can not inherit Zeus' estate) since his mother was an ordinary mortal, i.e., of foreign stock."to pay their taxes": A slight modernization of the Greek which says: "to pay fines."Euelpides goes on to give specifics about what made them leave Athens: "legal locusts" - by which he means lawyers. Here's the section in the Notes on that reference, p. 136:"because of legal locusts": Aristophanes favorite complaint against Athens, and one which the entire Wasps is devoted. But although Aristophanes here develops Athens' love of litigation as the major source of dissatisfaction, elsewhere throughout the play other grievances emerge: the restless and mischievous Athenian character (called [Greek word I can't type!]); the plague of informers; the victimization of the Allies; the ambition for power, an ambition which knows no limits and whose only goal is World Mastery ([another word in Greek]).Another point I'll toss in here (for lack of a good transition elsewhere) is that the word/concept Cloudcuckooland (that has been tossed about in pop culture in various places) comes from this play. It's the name of the new kingdom/city that one of our Athenians (Pisthetairos) convinces the birds to build in the clouds.Many times Arrowsmith will explain what specific Greek he translated, how he modernized it into a joke we'd understand, and what the original was.[I was going to add an example quote here, but ran out of time on my trip and had to leave the book with my father - because he enjoys reading Aristophanes every now and then - and now don't have it to quote. So you'll just have to believe me when I say that Arrowsmith does this more than once.]I suggest that you be sure to read the Introduction after you've read the play - not because it spoils anything but because it explains a lot, and specifically gives reasons for how Arrowsmith has chosen to translate the play. p 13, Introduction:...For fidelity's sake, this is also a poetic version. A prose Aristophanes is to my mind as much a monstrosity as a limerick in prose paraphrase. And for much the same reasons. If Aristophanes is visibly obscene, farcical, and colloquial, he is also lyrical, elegant, fantastic, and witty. And a translation which, by flattening incongruities and tensions, reduces one dimension necessarily reduces the other. Bowdlerize Aristophanes and you sublimate him into something less vital and whole; prose him and you cripple his wit, dilute his obscenity and slapstick, and weaken his classical sense of the wholeness of human life.p 71-72, for those who haven't read Aristophanes, an example of his rude/obscene/however-you-categorize-it moments (not at first, I left in the comedy build up to it):Chorus:Friends, you haven't really lived till you've tried a set of FEATHERS!Think, spectators.Imagine yourself with a pair of wings!The sheer joy of it! Not having to sit those tragedies out!No getting bored. You merely flap your little wings and fly off home.You have a snack, then make it back to catch the COMIC play.Or again, suppose your're overtaken by a sudden need to crap.Do you do it in your pants?Not a bit.You just zoom off,fart and shit to your heart's content and whizz right back.Or perhaps you're having an affair - I won't name any names.You spot the lady's husband attending some meeting or other.Up you soar, flap your wings, through the window and into bed!You make it a quickie, of course, then flutter back to your seat.So what do you say?Aren't wings the most wonderful things?This is actually pretty mild stuff (for our day and age, not the Victorians), there's plenty of more racy, phalus-oriented material elsewhere. However this speech is being spoken by a chorus of birds (actors dressed humorously as birds, that is), and a good example of the weirdness/humor in this play.