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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Building of Cloud-Cuckoo-Town

By Aristophanes (c. 448–c. 388 B.C.)

From ‘The Birds’: Translation of John Hookham Frere

[Enter Messenger, quite out of breath, and speaking in short snatches.]
Messenger—Where is he? Where? Where is he? Where? Where is he?—The president Peisthetairus?
Peisthetairus[coolly]—Here am I.

Mess.[in a gasp of breath]—Your fortification’s finished.
Peis.—Well! that’s well.

Mess.—A most amazing, astonishing work it is!

So that Theagenes and Proxenides

Might flourish and gasconade and prance away

Quite at their ease, both of them four-in-hand,

Driving abreast upon the breadth of wall,

Each in his own new chariot.
Peis.—You surprise me.

Mess.—And the height (for I made the measurement myself)

Is exactly a hundred fathoms.
Peis.—Heaven and earth!

How could it be? such a mass! who could have built it?

Mess.—The Birds; no creature else, no foreigners,

Egyptian bricklayers, workmen or masons.

But they themselves, alone, by their own efforts,—

(Even to my surprise, as an eye-witness)

The Birds, I say, completed everything:

There came a body of thirty thousand cranes,

(I won’t be positive, there might be more)

With stones from Africa in their craws and gizzards,

Which the stone-curlews and stone-chatterers

Worked into shape and finished. The sand-martens

And mud-larks, too, were busy in their department,

Mixing the mortar, while the water-birds,

As fast as it was wanted, brought the water

To temper and work it.
Peis.[in a fidget]—But who served the masons

Who did you get to carry it?
Mess.—To carry it?

Of course, the carrion crows and carrying pigeons.

Peis.[in a fuss, which he endeavors to conceal]—
Yes! yes! but after all, to load your hods,

How did you manage that?
Mess.—Oh, capitally,

I promise you. There were the geese, all barefoot

Trampling the mortar, and when all was ready

They handed it into the hods, so cleverly,

With their flat feet!
Peis.[a bad joke, as a vent for irritation]—
They footed it, you mean—

Come; it was handily done though, I confess.

Mess.—Indeed, I assure you, it was a sight to see them;

And trains of ducks there were, clambering the ladders

With their duck legs, like bricklayers’ ’prentices,

All dapper and handy, with their little trowels.

Peis.—In fact, then, it’s no use engaging foreigners;

Mere folly and waste, we’ve all within ourselves.

Ah, well now, come! But about the woodwork? Heh!

Who were the carpenters? Answer me that!

Mess.—The woodpeckers, of course: and there they were,

Laboring upon the gates, driving and banging,

With their hard hatchet-beaks, and such a din,

Such a clatter, as they made, hammering and hacking,

In a perpetual peal, pelting away

Like shipwrights, hard at work in the arsenal.

And now their work is finished, gates and all,

Staples and bolts, and bars and everything;

The sentries at their posts; patrols appointed;

The watchman in the barbican; the beacons

Ready prepared for lighting; all their signals

Arranged—but I’ll step out, just for a moment,

To wash my hands. You’ll settle all the rest.