Classics Aristophanes' Birds
S. Douglas Olson, Felice Stama
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0400


Aristophanes’ Birds was produced at the City Dionysia of spring 414 BCE, about a year after the launching of the ultimately disastrous Sicilian Expedition. It took second place behind Amipsias’s Kōmastai (Revellers), of which nothing survives, while Phrynichus Comicus’s Monotropos (The Man Who Lived Alone; Phryn. Com. frr. 19–31 Kassel–Austin) placed third. The play depicts the adventures of a pair of everyday Athenians, Peisetairos (lit. “Persuader of his companions”) and Euelpides (lit. “Hopeful”), who have chosen to abandon their trouble-filled native city in order to settle in a more congenial spot. In the Land of the Birds, somewhere at the distant edges of the world, they discover a pre-urban and almost pre-political paradise governed by King Tereus, who was transformed into a hoopoe in Sophocles’ Tereus. Peisetairos convinces the birds to form a great new city, “Cloudcuckooland,” which will cut the Olympian gods off from human sacrifices and thus make the birds all-powerful. Euelpides is quietly shoved out of the picture, and Peisetairos emerges triumphant at the end as a new universal tyrant. The extent to which the conclusion is supposed to be unsettling—in one of the penultimate scenes of the play, Peisetairos is seen happily roasting the bodies of birds who have rebelled against the new order and been converted into dinner—and how or if it serves as a comment on the Sicilian Expedition, is unclear.

General Bibliography

Storey 1987 offers an overview with annotated bibliography of scholarship on Birds up to that date. More recent bibliography is collected in Storey 1992, Lowe 2007, an updated version of Ussher 1979, and Holzberg 2018.

  • Holzberg, Niklas. 2018. Aristophanes: Eine Bibliographie.

    A list of titles in alphabetical order, followed by a systematic section. For Birds, see pp. 94–99.

  • Lowe, Nick J. 2007. Comedy. New Surveys in the Classics 37. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Aristophanes is discussed on pp. 21–62. For Birds, see pp. 44–45 with notes.

  • Storey, Ian C. 1987. Old Comedy 1975–1984. Échos du Monde Classique/Classical Views 6:1–46.

    Aristophanes is discussed on pp. 9–38. For Birds, see pp. 24–25.

  • Storey, Ian C. 1992. Δέκατον μὲν ἔτος τόδ’: Old Comedy 1982–1991. Antichthon 26:1–29.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0066477400000666

    For Birds, see p. 26.

  • Ussher, Robert G. 1979. Aristophanes. New Surveys in the Classics 13. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    For Birds, see p. 17 with notes.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.