Read an Excerpt
Twelve Classic One-Act Plays
By Mary Carolyn Waldrep
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
EPOPS (THE HOOPOE)
CINESIAS, a Dithyrambic Bard
TROCHILUS, Servant to Epops AN INFORMER
METON, a Geometrician
SERVANT OF PISTHETÆRUS
A DEALER IN DECREES
CHORUS OF BIRDS
Scene: A wild, desolate tract of open country; broken rocks and brushwood occupy the centre of the stage.
EUELPIDES [to his jay]. Do you think I should walk straight for yon tree?
PISTHETÆRUS [to his crow]. Cursed beast, what are you croaking to me? ... to retrace my steps?
EUELPIDES. Why, you wretch, we are wandering at random, we are exerting ourselves only to return to the same spot; 'tis labour lost.
PISTHETÆRUS. To think that I should trust to this crow, which has made me cover more than a thousand furlongs!
EUELPIDES. And that I to this jay, who has torn every nail from my fingers!
PISTHETÆRUS. If only I knew where we were....
EUELPIDES. Could you find your country again from here?
PISTHETÆRUS. No, I feel quite sure I could not, any more than could Execestides find his.
EUELPIDES. Oh dear! oh dear!
PISTHETÆRUS. Aye, aye, my friend, 'tis indeed the road of "oh dears" we are following.
EUELPIDES. That Philocrates, the bird-seller, played us a scurvy trick,when he pretended these two guides could help us to find Tereus, the Epops, who is a bird, without being born of one. He has indeed sold us this jay, a true son of Tharelides, for an obolus, and this crow for three, but what can they do? Why, nothing whatever but bite and scratch!—What's the matter with you then, that you keep opening your beak? Do you want us to fling ourselves headlong down these rocks? There is no road that way.
PISTHETÆRUS. Not even the vestige of a track in any direction.
EUELPIDES. And what does the crow say about the road to follow?
PISTHETÆRUS. By Zeus, it no longer croaks the same thing it did.
EUELPIDES. And which way does it tell us to go now?
PISTHETÆRUS. It says that, by dint of gnawing, it will devour my fingers.
EUELPIDES. What misfortune is ours! we strain every nerve to get to the birds, do everything we can to that end, and we cannot find our way! Yes, spectators, our madness is quite different from that of Sacas. He is not a citizen, and would fain be one at any cost; we, on the contrary, born of an honourable tribe and family and living in the midst of our fellow-citizens, we have fled from our country as hard as ever we could go. 'Tis not that we hate it; we recognize it to be great and rich, likewise that everyone has the right to ruin himself; but the crickets only chirrup among the fig-trees for a month or two, whereas the Athenians spend their whole lives in chanting forth judgments from their law-courts. That is why we started off with a basket, a stewpot and some myrtle boughs and have come to seek a quiet country in which to settle. We are going to Tereus, the Epops, to learn from him, whether, in his aerial flights, he has noticed some town of this kind.
PISTHETÆRUS. Here! look!
EUELPIDES. What's the matter?
PISTHETÆRUS. Why, the crow has been pointing me to something up there for some time now.
EUELPIDES. And the jay is also opening its beak and craning its neck to show me I know not what. Clearly, there are some birds about here. We shall soon know, if we kick up a noise to start them.
PISTHETÆRUS. Do you know what to do? Knock your leg against this rock.
EUELPIDES. And you your head to double the noise.
PISTHETÆRUS. Well then use a stone instead; take one and hammer with it.
EUELPIDES. Good idea! Ho there, within! Slave! slave!
PISTHETÆRUS. What's that, friend! You say, "slave," to summon Epops! 'Twould be much better to shout, "Epops, Epops!"
EUELPIDES. Well then, Epops! Must I knock again? Epops!
TROCHILUS. Who's there? Who calls my master?
EUELPIDES. Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak!
TROCHILUS. Good god! they are bird-catchers.
EUELPIDES. The mere sight of him petrifies me with terror. What a horrible monster.
TROCHILUS. Woe to you!
EUELPIDES. But we are not men.
TROCHILUS. What are you, then?
EUELPIDES. I am the Fearling, an African bird.
TROCHILUS. You talk nonsense.
EUELPIDES. Well, then, just ask it of my feet.
TROCHILUS. And this other one, what bird is it?
PISTHETÆRUS. I? I am a Cackling, from the land of the pheasants.
EUELPIDES. But you yourself, in the name of the gods! what animal are you?
TROCHILUS. Why, I am a slave-bird.
EUELPIDES. Why, have you been conquered by a cock?
TROCHILUS. No, but when my master was turned into a peewit, he begged me to become a bird too, to follow and to serve him.
EUELPIDES. Does a bird need a servant, then?
TROCHILUS. 'Tis no doubt because he was a man. At times he wants to eat a dish of loach from Phalerum; I seize my dish and fly to fetch him some. Again he wants some pea-soup; I seize a ladle and a pot and run to get it.
EUELPIDES. This is, then, truly a running-bird. Come, Trochilus, do us the kindness to call your master.
TROCHILUS. Why, he has just fallen asleep after a feed of myrtle-berries and a few grubs.
EUELPIDES. Never mind; wake him up.
TROCHILUS. I an certain he will be angry. However, I will wake him to please you.
PISTHETÆRUS. You cursed brute! why, I am almost dead with terror!
EUELPIDES. Oh! my god! 'twas sheer fear that made me lose my jay.
PISTHETÆRUS. Ah! you great coward! were you so frightened that you let go your jay?
EUELPIDES. And did you not lose your crow, when you fell sprawling on the ground? Pray tell me that.
PISTHETÆRUS. No, no.
EUELPIDES. Where is it, then?
PISTHETÆRUS. It has flown away.
EUELPIDES. Then you did not let it go! Oh! you brave fellow!
EPOPS. Open the forest, that I may go out!
EUELPIDES. By Heracles! what a creature! what plumage! What means this triple crest?
EPOPS. Who wants me?
EUELPIDES. The twelve great gods have used you ill, meseems.
EPOPS. Are you chaffing me about my feathers? I have been a man, strangers.
EUELPIDES. 'Tis not you we are jeering at.
EPOPS. At what, then?
EUELPIDES. Why, 'tis your beak that looks so odd to us.
EPOPS. This is how Sophocles outrages me in his tragedies. Know, I once was Tereus.
EUELPIDES. You were Tereus, and what are you now? a bird or a peacock?
EPOPS. I am a bird.
EUELPIDES. Then where are your feathers? For I don't see them.
EPOPS. They have fallen off.
EUELPIDES. Through illness?
EPOPS. No. All birds moult their feathers, you know, every winter, and others grow in their place. But tell me, who are you?
EUELPIDES. We? We are mortals.
EPOPS. From what country?
EUELPIDES. From the land of the beautiful galleys.
EPOPS. Are you dicasts?
EUELPIDES. No, if anything, we are anti-dicasts.
EPOPS. Is that kind of seed sown among you?
EUELPIDES. You have to look hard to find even a little in our fields.
EPOPS. What brings you here?
EUELPIDES. We wish to pay you a visit.
EPOPS. What for?
EUELPIDES. Because you formerly were a man, like we are, formerly you had debts, as we have, formerly you did not want to pay them, like ourselves; furthermore, being turned into a bird, you have when flying seen all lands and seas. Thus you have all human knowledge as well as that of birds. And hence we have come to you to beg you to direct us to some cosy town, in which one can repose as if on thick coverlets.
EPOPS. And are you looking for a greater city than Athens?
EUELPIDES. No, not a greater, but one more pleasant to dwell in.
EPOPS. Then you are looking for an aristocratic country.
EUELPIDES. I? Not at all! I hold the son of Scellias in horror.
EPOPS. But, after all, what sort of city would please you best?
EUELPIDES. A place where the following would be the most important business transacted.—Some friend would come knocking at the door quite early in the morning saying, "By Olympian Zeus, be at my house early, as soon as you have bathed, and bring your children too. I am giving a nuptial feast, so don't fail, or else don't cross my threshold when I am in distress."
EPOPS. Ah! that's what may be called being fond of hardships! And what say you?
PISTHETÆRUS. My tastes are similar.
EPOPS. And they are?
PISTHETÆRUS. I want a town where the father of a handsome lad will stop in the street and say to me reproachfully as if I had failed him, "Ah! Is this well done, Stilbonides! You met my son coming from the bath after the gymnasium and you neither spoke to him, nor embraced him, nor took him with you, nor ever once twitched his parts. Would anyone call you an old friend of mine?"
EPOPS. Ah! wag, I see you are fond of suffering. But there is a city of delights, such as you want. 'Tis on the Red Sea.
EUELPIDES. Oh, no. Not a sea-port, where some fine morning the Salaminian galley can appear, bringing a writ-server along. Have you no Greek town you can propose to us?
EPOPS. Why not choose Lepreum in Elis for your settlement?
EUELPIDES. By Zeus! I could not look at Lepreum without disgust, because of Melanthius.
EPOPS. Then, again, there is the Opuntian, where you could live.
EUELPIDES. I would not be Opuntian for a talent. But come, what is it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.
EPOPS. Why, 'tis not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.
EUELPIDES. That does away with much roguery.
EPOPS. For food the gardens yield us white sesamè, myrtle-berries, poppies and mint.
EUELPIDES. Why, 'tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.
PISTHETÆRUS. Ha! I am beginning to see a great plan, which will transfer the supreme power to the birds, if you will but take my advice.
EPOPS. Take your advice? In what way?
PISTHETÆRUS. In what way? Well, firstly, do not fly in all directions with open beak; it is not dignified. Among us, when we see a thoughtless man, we ask, "What sort of bird is this?" and Teleas answers, "'Tis a man who has no brain, a bird that has lost his head, a creature you cannot catch, for it never remains in any one place."
EPOPS. By Zeus himself! your jest hits the mark. What then is to be done?
PISTHETÆRUS. Found a city.
EPOPS. We birds? But what sort of city should we build?
PISTHETÆRUS. Oh, really, really! 'tis spoken like a fool! Look down.
EPOPS. I am looking.
PISTHETÆRUS. Now look upwards.
EPOPS. I am looking.
PISTHETÆRUS. Turn your head round.
EPOPS. Ah! 'twill be pleasant for me, if I end in twisting my neck!
PISTHETÆRUS. What have you seen?
EPOPS. The clouds and the sky.
PISTHETÆRUS. Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?
EPOPS. How their pole?
PISTHETÆRUS. Or, if you like it, the land. And since it turns and passes through the whole universe, it is called, 'pole.' If you build and fortify it, you will turn your pole into a fortified city. In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and cause the gods to die of rabid hunger.
EPOPS. How so?
PISTHETÆRUS. The air is 'twixt earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi, we ask the Botians for leave of passage; in the same way, when men sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise the right of every nation towards strangers and don't allow the smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory.
EPOPS. By earth! by snares! by network! I never heard of anything more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going to build the city along with you.
PISTHETÆRUS. Who will explain the matter to them?
EPOPS. You must yourself. Before I came they were quite ignorant, but since I have lived with them I have taught them to speak. PISTHETÆRUS. But how can they be gathered together?
EPOPS. Easily. I will hasten down to the coppice to waken my dear Procnè! as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing.
PISTHETÆRUS. My dear bird, lose no time, I beg. Fly at once into the coppice and awaken Procnè.
EPOPS. Chase off drowsy sleep, dear companion. Let the sacred hymn gush from thy divine throat in melodious strains; roll forth in soft cadence your refreshing melodies to bewail the fate of Itys, which has been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of Zeus, where Phbus listens to you, Phbus with his golden hair. And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips rushes a sacred chant of blessed voices.
[The flute is played behind the scene.]
PISTHETÆRUS. Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has filled the whole coppice with honey-sweet melody!
PISTHETÆRUS. What's the matter?
EUELPIDES. Will you keep silence?
PISTHETÆRUS. What for?
EUELPIDES. Epops is going to sing again.
EPOPS [in the Coppice]. Epopoi, poi, popoi, epopoi, popoi, here, here, quick, quick, quick, my comrades in the air; all you, who pillage the fertile lands of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and devour the barley seeds, the swift flying race who sing so sweetly. And you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little cry of tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio, tio; and you who hop about the branches of the ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the wild olive berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto, trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in the marshy vales, and you who dwell in the fine plain of Marathon, all damp with dew, and you, the francolin with speckled wings; you too, the halcyons, who flit over the swelling waves of the sea, come hither to hear the tidings; let all the tribes of long-necked birds assemble here; know that a clever old man has come to us, bringing an entirely new idea and proposing great reforms. Let all come to the debate here, here, here, here. Torotorotorotorotix, kikkobau, kikkobau, torotorotorotorolililix.
PISTHETÆRUS. Can you see any bird?
EUELPIDES. By Phbus, no! and yet I am straining my eyesight to scan the sky.
PISTHETÆRUS. 'Twas really not worth Epops' while to go and bury himself in the thicket like a plover when a-hatching.
PHNICOPTERUS. Torotina, torotina.
PISTHETÆRUS. Hold, friend, here is another bird.
EUELPIDES. I' faith, yes! 'tis a bird, but of what kind? Isn't it a peacock?
PISTHETÆRUS. Epops will tell us. What is this bird?
EPOPS. 'Tis not one of those you are used to seeing; 'tis a bird from the marshes.
PISTHETÆRUS. Oh! oh! but he is very handsome with his wings as crimson as flame.
EPOPS. Undoubtedly; indeed he is called flamingo.
EUELPIDES. Hi! I say! You!
PISTHETÆRUS. What are you shouting for?
EUELPIDES. Why, here's another bird.
PISTHETÆRUS. Aye, indeed; 'tis a foreign bird too. What is this bird from beyond the mountains with a look as solemn as it is stupid?
EPOPS. He is called the Mede.
PISTHETÆRUS. The Mede! But, by Heracles! how, if a Mede, has he flown here without a camel?
EUELPIDES. Here's another bird with a crest.
PISTHETÆRUS. Ah! that's curious. I say, Epops, you are not the only one of your kind then?
EPOPS. This bird is the son of Philocles, who is the son of Epops; so that, you see, I am his grandfather; just as one might say, Hipponicus, the son of Callias, who is the son of Hipponicus.
PISTHETÆRUS. Then this bird is Callias! Why, what a lot of his feathers he has lost!
EPOPS. That's because he is honest; so the informers set upon him and the women too pluck out his feathers.
PISTHETÆRUS. By Posidon, do you see that many-coloured bird? What is his name?
EPOPS. This one? 'Tis the glutton.
PISTHETÆRUS. Is there another glutton besides Cleonymus? But why, if he is Cleonymus, has he not thrown away his crest? But what is the meaning of all these crests? Have these birds come to contend for the double stadium prize?
EPOPS. They are like the Carians, who cling to the crests of their mountains for greater safety.
PISTHETÆRUS. Oh, Posidon! do you see what swarms of birds are gathering here?
EUELPIDES. By Phbus! what a cloud! The entrance to the stage is no longer visible, so closely do they fly together.
PISTHETÆRUS. Here is the partridge.
EUELPIDES. Faith! there is the francolin.
PISTHETÆRUS. There is the poachard.
EUELPIDES. Here is the kingfisher. And over yonder?
EPOPS. 'Tis the barber.
EUELPIDES. What? a bird a barber
PISTHETÆRUS. Why, Sporgilus is one. Here comes the owl.
EUELPIDES. And who is it brings an owl to Athens?
PISTHETÆRUS. Here is the magpie, the turtle-dove, the swallow, the horned owl, the buzzard, the pigeon, the falcon, the ring-dove, the cuckoo, the red-foot, the red-cap, the purple-cap, the kestrel, the diver, the ousel, the osprey, the woodpecker.
EUELPIDES. Oh! oh! what a lot of birds! what a quantity of blackbirds! how they scold, how they come rushing up! What a noise! what a noise! Can they be bearing us ill-will? Oh! there! there! they are opening their beaks and staring at us.
PISTHETÆRUS. Why, so they are.
CHORUS. Popopopopopopopoi. Where is he who called me? Where am I to find him?
EPOPS. I have been waiting for you this long while! I never fail in my word to my friends.
CHORUS. Titititititititi. What good thing have you to tell me? EPOPS. Something that concerns our common safety, and that is just as pleasant as it is to the purpose. Two men, who are subtle reasoners, have come here to seek me.
Chorus. Where? What? What are you saying?
EPOPS. I say, two old men have come from the abode of men to propose a vast and splendid scheme to us.
CHORUS. Oh! 'tis a horrible, unheard-of crime! What are you saying?
EPOPS. Nay! never let my words scare you.
CHORUS. What have you done then?
EPOPS. I have welcomed two men, who wish to live with us.
Excerpted from Twelve Classic One-Act Plays by Mary Carolyn Waldrep. Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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