Narrator: Dear Audience, methinks some of today’s thinkers at times search for a city brimming with care and strife; and if they don’t find one, they’ll try to make one. This is unlike the two ancient Athenians, Euelpides and Pisthetaeus, who asked the birds to help them find a city free of care and strife.*
Narrator: Ladies and Gentlemen,
We revisit Aristophanes’
Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Taking in hand
Our electronic plumed pen
Let’s listen to the birds’
Point of view (with a chorus from the frogs, too!)
Is what they say, true?
We leave the answer
Up to YOU!
I am a very proud bird, indeed.
Let me tell you,
In ancient Greece, Cloud Cuckoo Land
Was named after me!
Oh, my crest may be spikey,
But I’m sure you will like me!
Come, let us search
For the new Utopia,
Looking past today’s myopia,
Let my song into your heart burst,
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
Place: A wooden feeding tray hung in an old tree in a garden.
A gray dove
A flock of small brown birds (some with scarlet feathers on their heads and breasts)
A small turtle
A mother falcon
A Cuckoo Bird
Act I The Discussion Group
Narrator: The gray dove flapped its wings as it flew around the feeding tray, causing the smaller birds to take flight. Then, she began to gobble up great scoops of birdseed. In between bites, she said to turtle, who basked in the sun, “So, Aristophanes should have chosen turtles instead of birds to dramatize his comedy? Do I state your point correctly?”
Narrator: A small brown bird landed opposite the dove on the wooden tray.
“Hey, save some of that birdseed for the rest of us!”
“The strongest shall survive in this world,” cooed the dove.
“Which is stronger,” asked the bird, “you or that falcon streaking toward us?”
Narrator: There was a great flutter of feathers as the falcon landed on a branch of the tree. The whole tree shook. He sat there looking like a huge exclamation mark with wings.
“You can come out,” (Narrator) Falcon called to the birds who had vanished, one and all, including the gray dove. ” I just ate some field mice and I couldn’t eat another bite – not even a plump, juicy, tasty, dove.”
“How do you feel about turtles?” asked the turtle who had drawn his head and feet into his shell.
“I tell you, I couldn’t eat another bite. I just want to join your discussion group.”
“Well, to bring you up to date,” said the dove, “Turtle thinks Aristophanes should have chosen turtles instead of birds to dramatize his comedy, ‘The Birds.'”
“Yes,” said Turtle, peeking out of his shell, “Turtles can withdraw into their shells and think in peace and quiet, for long periods of time, without having to worry about being eaten up!”
“Hah,” cried dove, “You don’t withdraw to think, you do it to hide – and then you usually fall asleep!”
“I don’t fall asleep,” turtle answered indignantly, “I contemplate nothingness. If some religions and philosophers can do it, I can do it, too!”
“Some contemplation,” sniffed Dove. “All I hear coming from your shell is, ‘S-N-O-R-E, SNORT! Wibble, wibble, wibble.'” As at the moment, that was the exact sound coming from Turtle’s shell, the discussion turned to other directions.
Falcon asked, “What is Turtle talking about, ‘contemplating nothingness?'”
“As I understand it,” a small brown bird piped up, “for some thinkers, ‘nothingness’ is another kind of ‘something’, sort of a different state of consciousness; or so some believe.”
Narrator: Suddenly, there was a flash as if a ruby had taken flight, and there was a low-pitched hum, as if someone had twanged a taut, thick rubber band. They all followed the movement of a tiny bird, which floated past them, its wings moving so fast, they were just a blur.
Ruby fire in flight,
Crystalline pendant, bright,
Your wings a silvery blur of light,
Tiny Kite of Delight,
You lift our heart to new heights!
“That’s our hummingbird,” said Dove. “If you listen, you’ll hear him singing his morning hymn.”
“If so,” said one of the birds, “there are those today who would say he is evil, as they believe all who worship religions to be evil, because it is based in faith, not reason.”
“Well,” said Gray Dove, “I have faith that some people will find an excuse to do evil no matter what their beliefs or philosophy.”
“Yes,” Falcon agreed. “And then there are those who believe that people who don’t believe in God are wicked.”
Narrator: Hummingbird flew to a high, thin twig and perched, still for the moment, his chest shimmering like a fiery broach.
“Hummingbird,” asked Falcon, “What do you believe?”
Narrator: Speaking in a surprisingly deep voice, Hummingbird said, “I believe in the warmth of the sun, and the sweetness of the flowers.”Narrator: A large bumblebee landed on a blossom near the little bird, who floated to another twig. Hummingbird continued, “Whether it results from nature (it just is there), or from God, that which is, is a great, awesome reality; if one falls back in sheer wonder of it, is it a sin?” Narrator: The little bird began to flit from flower to flower, plunging its needle-like beak into the blossoms, lost in sipping nectar from the petals’ depth.
A frog suddenly rose from the pond. “Yes, you hang on every word of Hummingbird, but do you ever listen to the frogs?”
“Frogs are also beautiful, ,” another frog croaked. “WE shimmer like jewels in the sunlight, too!”
“GARUMPH, GARUMPH, EEP, EEP, EEP,
We are the frogs and we weep, weep, weep!
Now, we are happy with our swamp, Though it is rather damp,
GARUMPH, GARUMPH, EEP, EEP, EEP!
“GARUMPH, GARUMPH, GLEEP, GLEEP, GLEEP,
You ask, why do we weep?
Well, poets write loads of odes to birds,
But for frogs they have hardly one word!
GARUMPH, GARUMPH, QUEEP, QUEEP, QUEEP!”
“We believe in that Great Frog in the Sky,
Whose tongue moves faster than the eye.
His crown is an upside-down spittoon,
On moonless nights you can hear him croon,
GARUMPH, GARUMPH, DEEP, DEEP, DEEP!”
“Wait…wait,” (Narrator) interrupted, a new bird, with piercing eyes, and and a rather tousled crest.
“Who are you,” a frog asked?
“I’m Cuckoo Bird. You’ve heard my song: Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”
“Yes, we have. We try to drown it out with our chorus.”
“Do you really believe in a Frog God whose crown is an upside-down spittoon?”
“Yes, and If some thinkers think WE’RE evil,
They had just better keep their tongues civil,
Or, let them go to the devil!
But we don’t mean to quibble.
HARUMPH, HARUMPH, PEEVIL, PEEVIL!”
“Well, I think you’re EVIL! Your beliefs are not based in science or logic or reason! ” cried Cuckoo Bird.
“YOU’RE Cuckoo!” shouted Croaky, the frog. Narrator: Croaky opened his mouth, intending to stick his tongue out and give Cuckoo Bird the raspberry, but his frog friend, Rivette, pulled him back and into a crack of a large rock. “Croaky, listen to me,” she said, “do you realize his diet includes frogs?”
Narrator: Cuckoo Bird flushed a deep red and his crest fanned out into spiky feathers. “Humph,” he sputtered at Croaky, “The sanction of morality will be torn from such as you! You don’t deserve to be treated with respect. I will see that your name is removed from the subscriber list of the Amphibian and Avis1 Review & Newsletter! FURTHER, loyal followers will remove your name from their mailing lists and withdraw their invitations intended for you to relevant social events and functions!”
Narrator: Croaky shouted from the rock, “They’re going to remove my name from their mailing lists, and isolate me socially, on your say so, without knowing the facts first hand?”
“Maybe they have a lot of faith in Cuckoo Bird,” said Turtle sleepily. Cuckoo Bird glared at turtle.
Turtle pulled his head into his shell: “I’m sorry, I meant, t-t-trust.” Cuckoo bird continued to glare at Turtle. Turtle pulled his legs and tail into his shell: “C-C-Confidence! I meant, maybe they have a lot of confidence in him!”
“Oh!” Croaky grinned, “I’m glad that everyone is becoming so reasonable, and people are becoming such fact-based, independent thinkers.
Two Mockingbirds flew near Cuckoo Bird. “There he is,” one shouted. “There’s that atheist, Cuckoo Bird. He’s the one who wrote the book about all religions being wicked because they’re not based in science. He’s evil and bad!” “Evil! Wicked! Burn his book! Burn his book!” the other Mockingbird cried.
“Hem,” Falcon interrupted, “I’m hungry. I could use a little snack.”
Narrator: WHOOOSH! All the birds and frogs disappeared from sight. Turtle jumped up with a start, crawled quickly to the pond and sank into the water then tried to burrow into the mud.
“Tsk! Tsk!” said Falcon, “Maybe I should have worded that more tactfully.”
ACT II In the Clouds
Narrator: “S-C-H-R-E-E! S-C-H-R-E-E!” Falcon is flying high in the sky searching for food. As he flies, he begins to mumble to himself, “Atheists condemning religion, religions condemning atheists – and they say nature is cruel.” Falcon mused, “Thinkers and philosophers condemning one another, not just as wrong or mistaken, but as evil. Man doesn’t need so much to learn to agree, as he needs to learn to disagree, in truth, peace and dignity.”
Narrator: Suddenly, he plummets down, like a falling rock, and grasps a pigeon in midair. The force of the jolt instantly breaks the bird’s neck. Falcon thought, “Some people call animals cruel in their way of killing other animals to eat. Yet, if I were to measure many a man’s compassion for the animals or fish he kills for his food, I’d bring along a thimble as my instrument of measurement. In contrast, the Ananzi have great respect and concern for the animals they must kill for food. They try to make their death as quick and painless as possible. They compose chants in honor of them. I guess such beliefs might be considered primitive and mystic by some thinkers today – maybe even evil by some, as its not based in science.”***
Act III Mother Falcon Vents!
Narrator: Falcon flies to his nest, high on the side of a mountain cliff, where his mate is feeding their nestlings. He and his mate begin to tear the bird Falcon caught apart and feed it to the baby falcons. “It’s about time you came back to help me. I’ve worked my feathers to the shaft trying to catch enough to feed them.”
“I’m sorry I’m late. I was talking to the birds in the garden about what’s wrong with the world, and time just slipped by.”
“Well, maybe you should have talked about family responsibility when you have a nestful of babies; or the importance of the role of the female parent. After all, with the very stuff of her body, the mother forms the eggs and continues the species, even though she is usually weaker than the male. She is weaker because she is specialized to form new life. Yet, many think because she is weaker, she is inferior to the male. We need to learn there are different types of strength, not just physical strength.”
Narrator: Falcon told his mate how Turtle thought Aristophanes should have used turtles instead of birds to dramatize his comedy.
“Well, let me tell you, Turtle has time to participate in such discussions. Turtles dig a hole, lay their eggs, cover them up, walk away and never look back. You know, I’d like to join those discussions once in a while!”
“But my love, the last time we had a babysitter, our babies tried to devour her!” said Falcon.
Well, next time, I’ll make sure they’re well fed and asleep when I leave them.”
Narrator: He finished bringing her up to date on the discussion, including the frogs’, the Cuckoo Bird’s, and the Mockingbirds’ encounters. Mother Falcon fretted, “I hope those Mockingbirds don’t start burning books! I haven’t finished reading, ‘Falcon Nestling Development, The First 30 Days,’ by Dr. Schock.”
“I’m sure they won’t dear,” Falcon tried to soothe her. “Well, it does have some rather revealing photos of naked baby birds before they grow feathers.” “You have been cooped up too much,” Falcon replied. “Why don’t you go and see if the discussion has started up again. I’ll take care of the babies.”
She said, “It looks like all the thinkers are at each other’s throats in the New Cloud Cuckoo Land. And they say we’re uncivilized! Instead of joining the discussion, I think I’ll just fly over the meadow. It should be real pretty there now. At least there, no one can label me as evil because I believe in God OR because I think nature is a stunning miracle whether it was created or not! But for now, I’ll just leave our babies with you.”
Narrator: And she flew off, just to contemplate whatever she felt like contemplating including nothingness if she so chose; suddenly, she felt a feeling of peace and happiness, along with a flush of faith in herself. She didn’t feel these people, some of whom might call her evil for the way she thought, were in return evil. She just thought, in this regard, they were probably just a bunch of damn fools who didn’t know any better! And she laughed.
Thank you for fun and laughter
In Cloud Cuckoo Land
*Nepheloccygia, or Cloud Cuckoo Town, was performed in 414 BCE at the City Dionysia festival (www.ancient-literature.com/greece_aristophanes_birds-html)s
**The Frogs by Aristophanes, an ancient greek comedy performed at Lenaia at the Festival of Dionysus in Athens 405 BC (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Frogs)
***Ancient Echoes by Mary Summer Rain, Meal Thanksgiving Prayer, page 19, Hunting Prayer, page 23 (Ancient Echoes, The Anansazi Book of Chants, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. 1993)
1 Avis “The singular form of the Latin word for bird.” (icowikia.com/wiki/avion)