976. Did birds have a leading role in other ancient literature? Aristophanes (about 448-385 B.C.), the great Athenian dramatist and poet, often used natural forms in his comedies. The Birds is one of his finest. His references in this play to superstitions then current are interesting today:
For every oracular temple and shrine,
The birds are a substitute equal and fair
For on us you depend and to us you repair
For counsel and aid when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade.
Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye,
An ox or an ass that may happen to pass,
A voice in the street, or a slave you may meet,
A name or a word, by chance overheard,
If you deem it an omen, you call it a Bird,
And if birds are your omens, it will clearly follow
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.
Text: 1001 Questions Answered About Birds by Allan D. Cruickshank and Helen G. Cruickshank (Toronto, General Publishing Company, 1958).
Pictures by Elisabeth Frink. Upper: Kestrel (1974) ; Lower: Golden Eagle (1974).