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 Background & Synopsis of Aristophanes' BIRDS

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عدد الرسائل : 111
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تاريخ التسجيل : 18/06/2008

مُساهمةموضوع: Background & Synopsis of Aristophanes' BIRDS   السبت ديسمبر 27, 2008 12:21 pm

Aristophanes' Birds was first performed at the City Dionysia Festival in Athens during the Spring of 414 BC. These were tumultuous times for the Athenians. They had been embroiled in the long and costly Peloponnesian War with the Spartans and in a bold display of imperialism designed to win the war, they had embarked on an audacious attack on the previously neutral island of Sicily. As a huge Athenian force lay camped under the walls of Syracuse, the remainder of the citizen body (Athenian adult males) gathered in the 16,000 seat theatre of Dionysus as they did every year to watch a collection of tragedies, comedies, and dithyrambic poetry spread over three days. Birds would have been performed by a company of four actors, a chorus of twenty-four, and several extras in the late afternoon following the performance of three tragedies and a comic satyr play. The large audience that was gathered in the open air theatre had known the work of Aristophanes for at least thirteen years and in that time, he had become one of Athens' leading comic playwrights.

Birds tells the story of an ordinary Athenian, Makedo, who sets out with his friend, Goodhope, to escape the hustle and bustle of congested city life. These old men are tired of the law courts, politics, false oracles, and military antics of their fellow citizens, and they resolve to seek out a place to live where they can end their days in peace and tranquillity absolving themselves of their civic responsibilities. To this end, our heroes seek out the Hoopoe. This is the mythical king, Tereus, famous in Athenian legends and the subject of a renowned play by Sophocles (now lost). Tereus was once the king of Thrace and married to the Athenian princess Procne. He raped Procne's sister, Philomena, and to prevent her from revealing the crime, he imprisoned her and cut out her tongue. But Philomena managed to inform her sister of the outrage, and in revenge, Procne killed her only son by Tereus, Itys. When Tereus discovered the crime, he took up his axe and perused the sisters, but the gods, taking pity, turned Procne into the nightingale (who we meet later in the play), Philomena into a swallow, and Tereus into the Hoopoe with its long, sharp beak.

On meeting the Hoopoe, and taking advantage of his advice, our heroes soon discover that there is no place in the known world that can evade the far reaching clutches of the Athenian Empire. The Hoopoe tells of his life with the birds, and their easy existence of eating and loving. This is perfect, and Makedo hatches an amazing idea. They will found a city of the birds and live among them. An exotic array of birds are called together and after the initial threat passes, these two age old enemies- Man and Bird- conspire to elect Makedo their representative and demand recognition for their city in the sky from both the gods above and the mortals below. Makedo creates an embargo and controls the air. No sacrifices will be allowed to pass through his territory and reach heaven, and the gods will be denied passage to earth. Man will be denied the comfort of their gods and the gods will starve from lack of sacrificial offerings.

But as Makedo tries to found his city, he is inundated with unsavory visitors from the very city that he is seeking to escape. These insidious interlopers try to impose Athenian ways upon his bird kingdom, and he dispatches them rudely- no doubt to the great delight of Aristophanes' original audience. In the following scene, we are told directly about the benefits of bird life. This theatrical device, the parabasis, is unique to Greek comedy and was often the place where the playwright himself, speaking through his chorus, would voice his opinions. Here the parabasis is woven into the general theme of the play: that of fantasy that ridicules the very concept of escapism.

As soon as the birds have fortified their city, their defenses are breached by a messenger of the gods, Iris the rainbow goddess. She is apprehended by Makedo and rudely subjected to "immigration procedures" and sent packing back up to heaven. Makedo reigns supreme. His bird kingdom is revered by mankind and he is crowned king (an image that the ultra democratic Athenians would have found repellent). Another group of Athenians come seeking wings, but much to the disappointment of Makedo, not to join him but to become more efficient at leading their wicked lives.
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Background & Synopsis of Aristophanes' BIRDS
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