Aristophanes Birds as a Satiric Politic Comedy
Aristophanes, a well-known comedic playwright of ancient Athens, focused his work around the moral, political, and social sentiments of the core conservative upper class Athenians. His comedy is often seen as a satire and a farce, in which his plots are not subtle nor complicated. One of Aristophanes longest surviving form of playwrights is Birds, which was performed in 414 BC at the City Dionysia. Birds takes on a politically satirical approach on emphasizing the rule of Peisetaerus, the protagonist, who is plagued by the debt and lawsuits in the city of Athens. Upon seeking a more peace embedded community, he proposes the ingenious idea of creating a bird dominated kingdom in the sky, greatly similar to the imperialistic acquisitions that led the Athenians to undertake the Sicilian expedition.
In the play Birds, Aristophanes connects the political events occurring in Athens at the time, to place an emphasis on the many benefits of imperialistic endeavors, from the foundation of a utopian bird city to gaining supremacy above the gods, and conversely acknowledges the perils associated with creating one superior leading power due to the rise in competitive forces and tension afflicting neighboring cities. In classical Athens, extraordinary ideas were often brought to light by men living an indelible mark such as philosophers, artists, and politicians. During the early 400 BC, Athens was a great military power involved in two wars, against the Persians and Spartans during the Peloponnesian war.
Playwrights, much like Aristophanes, explored this turbulent time, known for satirizing contemporary Athenians while also addressing the most critical issues of his days. Birds is a story about two disgruntled Athenian men, named Peisetaerus and Euelipides, who have abandoned the city of Athens, fed up by the endless lawsuits, and are in search for better lives. As they flee from a life of disillusionment, they are in search for Tereus, a once human king, who had been transformed into a hoopoe bird, to seek advice and novelty of a more peaceful city. After some conversing, Peisetaerus has the idea that all the birds should unite build a utopian city-state between heaven and the mortals on earth. As he is led to an avian realm, Peisetaerus plans to create an ideal community by the name of “cloud-cuckoo-land”.
However, as laws are implemented, in which access to the skies is rigorously controlled because the gods are cut off from their earthly devotees, what initially seems to be a utopia swiftly changes as politics come into play. In the play Birds, Aristophanes works to satirize the political developments in Athens by exploring the benefits of imperialistic endeavors which include the creation of a ‘utopian’ city, and a strict passage control from the sky to the gods of sacrificial aromas, prospectively granting birds the divinest of powers. To begin with, Peisetaerus, marks his earliest mission alongside Euelipides, to confer with Tereus the Hoopoe, in search for a peaceable place far from the law abiding ideals of Athens. Upon much delegation, Peisetaerus works to convince Tereus and the birds to create a city in the sky as a means of regaining their status as the original gods.
According to Peisetaerus, “it’s a place to visit so that’s why now it’s merely called a site. But as soon as you settle in and fortify it, this site will instead being called a city”. This initial prodigious proposal of creating a new bird kingdom, marks the earliest form of imperialistic rule in the play, which Peisetaerus ensures will not only benefit the birds but establish celestial power. The series of evidence Peisetaerus displays to the chorus of birds entails the imperialistic benefits of creating this new city, which urges the bird community to finally agree upon the proposition. Peisetaerus argues that creating “cloud-cuckoo-land,” will be advantageous and beneficial for the birds as they will gain immediate respect as the high and the holy in the community and will have great control of the labor performed by the mortals, because of the birds well known positive attributes of dignity across the past societies.
He states, “So powerful, so great and mighty was the [Persian Bird], that to this very day, as a result of that long-ago power, he has only to sing reveille and everyone jumps up to work: smiths, potters, tanners, cobblers, grain traders…in the dark men put on their shoes and set forth-”. Additionally, Peisetaerus also exclaims that, “of all Egypt and Phoenicia; whenever the cuckoo said ‘cuckoo,’ all the Phoenicians would start reaping the wheat and barley in their fields…and so dominant was their dominion that in the Greek cities, a bird would be perched on [the Kings] scepter, getting a share of his presents”. Therefore, due to the many convincing imperialistic benefits that may be available to the birds, the chorus is compelled to agree upon the ordeal, granting Peisetaerus with a set of wings- transforming him into a bird-like god, allowing him to live among the others as the considerably blessed, divine and immortal rule- marked significant imperialistic tradition in the play.
Moreover, Peisetaerus used his oratorical skill to further convince the birds of the imperialistic benefits, that upon declaring the bird city, they would be superior than the gods and the morals, due to the strategic location of the site in the sky. Peisetaerus remarks, “Alright, whenever humans sacrifice to the gods, you won’t let the aroma of the thigh-bones pass through, unless the gods pay you some tribute”. In other words, Peisetaerus works in a clever manner to successfully convince the birds by highlighting the various advantages, prospectively securing through force and persuasion, a blessed state of peace in which all opposing forces have been subordinated to his rule.
Although Aristophanes highlights the benefits of imperialism, he also acknowledges the perils associated, from the overbearing power of Peisetaerus as a means of gaining supremacy over the gods, to the rising clash of tension from mortals and the gods, due to the increasing control of the birds and their ability to inflict punishment upon those who recalcitrant to submit to the new avian regime. Despite the fact that the realms of imperialism coincide with the idea of acquiring rule over most of the peoples, in the play Birds, Peisetaerus does so to the extent of which it is hardly an occasion for merriment and revelry. Instead, he largely turns the focus on the detrimental visions of ones own selfish and imperialistic ambitions.The original impulse behind the venture of Peisetaerus, once a middle aged Athenian man, was to namely find a peaceful, less contentious place than the city of Athens.
This all seems to have been suddenly forgotten in the new scheme of creating an all-powerful state among the birds, in which the majority of the focus is placed upon seizing control over the universe from the gods. This can be seen in the play when Peisetaerus begins to take charge of things, commanding Euelipides to oversee the building of the city walls, in which he states, “Then I instruct you first to make a single city of birds; then encircle the whole atmosphere, all the area between the earth and sky, with a wall of big baked bricks, like Babylon”. This in turn becomes a detrimental influence of imperialistic endeavors because Peisetaerus soon begins to organize and lead the birds into creating hostility amongst the city, with the mortals and the gods, by encouraging motives for war and battle.
As the second messenger relays to Peisetaerus that the city is experiencing terrible problems as Iris, one of Zeus’ gods, flies through the gates and into cloud-cuckoo-land, Peisetaerus embarks a much more militaristic and destructive approach to the situation. He states, “Then shouldn’t we be taking up some slings and arrows? All support personnel fall in! Shoot and sling”. Alongside the fact that Iris was denied passage to the birds airspace, she was also treated impolitely my remarks such as, “dirty slut.” She was threatened to mandate by the rules of the law or death would be cloaked upon her because it is now the gods turn to obey the superior birds. Peisetaerus delegates, “The birds are gods to humans now, and to them must humans sacrifice, not, by Zeus, to Zeus!”. Additionally, another peril associated with imperialism is inflicted upon the gods and the mortals.
“But if out of ignorance they still consider you nothing and consider the Olympian gods, then a cloud of sparrows and seed pickers must arise and gobble up their seed in the fields…And the ravens should peck out the eyes of the oxen harnessed to plough their land, and of their sheep”. Because of the extraordinary qualities birds seem to offer, such as placing an end to plagues of locusts and determining seasonal patters, the mortals are obligated to submit to the new avian. If they chose to disagree, Peisetaerus argues that the birds must promulgate laws forbidding crimes against their kind and should forcefully impose punishment upon the actions of those who recalcitrant by pecking out their eyes. There are many parallels that can be drawn between the actual events occurring at the time in Athens and the various pitfalls of imperialism established in the play by Aristophanes. To begin with, this play in its entity, equates cloud-cuckoo-land to imperial Athens during the early 400 BC, as the city was haunted by political fatigue and Greco-Persian war outbreaks. During this time, the Athenians were compelled to create the Delian League
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below