Aristophanes, The Birds, 414 BCE
The Birds (Greek: Ὄρνιθες Ornithes) is a comedy by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed in 414 BCE at the City Dionysia where it won second prize. (Wikipedia, s.v. The Birds (play))
Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, wrote and directed a drama The Birds, first performed in 414 BCE, in which Pisthetaerus, a middle-aged Athenian persuades the world's birds to create a new city in the sky to be named [...] Cloud Cuckoo Land (Νεφελοκοκκυγία Nephelococcygia, sometimes known as Nubicucculia in Latin), thereby gaining control over all communications between men and gods. (Wikipedia, s.v. Cloud Cuckoo Land)
The play begins with two middle-aged men stumbling across a hillside wilderness, guided by a pet crow and a pet jackdaw. One of them advises the audience that they are fed up with life in Athens, where people do nothing all day but argue over laws, and they are looking for Tereus, a king who was once metamorphosed into the Hoopoe, for they believe he might help them find a better life somewhere else. Just then a very large and fearsome bird emerges from a camouflaged bower, demanding to know what they are up to and accusing them of being bird-catchers. He turns out to be the Hoopoe's servant.
[Hoopoe is ἔποψ epops in Greek, and upupa in Latin; hence the scientific name, Upupa epops.]
They appease him and he returns indoors to fetch his master. Moments later the Hoopoe himself appears—a not very convincing bird who attributes his lack of feathers to a severe case of moulting. He is happy to discuss their plight with them and meanwhile one of them has a brilliant idea—the birds, he says, should stop flying about like idiots and instead should build themselves a great city in the sky, since this would not only allow them to lord it over men, it would also enable them to blockade the Olympian gods in the same way that the Athenians had recently starved the island of Melos into submission. (Wikipedia, s.v. The Birds (play))
A performance of the play The Birds by Aristophanes: a man is performing on a stage attended by a man with wings and a young boy, other people dressed in bird costume are gathered around the front of the stage. Etching by Henry Gillard Glindoni. Image available on Wikimedia under the CC BY 4.0 International license.
The following excerpts are from the English translation by Eugene O'Neill, Jr., New York, Random House, 1938, available at Perseus.
Pisthetaerus: First I advise that the birds gather together in one city and that they build a wall of great bricks, like that at Babylon, round the plains of the air and the whole region of space that divides earth from heaven.
Epops: Oh, Cebriones! oh, Porphyrion! what a terribly strong place!
Pisthetaerus: Then, when this has been well done and completed, you demand back the empire from Zeus; if he will not agree, if he refuses and does not at once confess himself beaten, you declare a sacred war against him and forbid the gods henceforward to pass through your country with their tools up, as hitherto, for the purpose of laying their Alcmenas, their Alopes, or their Semeles! if they try to pass through, you put rings on their tools so that they can't make love any longer. You send another messenger to mankind, who will proclaim to them that the birds are kings, that for the future they must first of all sacrifice to them, and only afterwards to the gods; that it is fitting to appoint to each deity the bird that has most in common with it. For instance, are they sacrificing to Aphrodite, let them at the same time offer barley to the coot; are they immolating a sheep to Poseidon, let them consecrate wheat in honor of the duck; if a steer is being offered to Heracles, let honey-cakes be dedicated to the gull; if a goat is being slain for King Zeus, there is a King-Bird, the wren, to whom the sacrifice of a male gnat is due before Zeus himself even.
Messenger: The wall is finished.
Pisthetaerus: That's good news.
Messenger: It's a most beautiful, a most magnificent work of art. The wall is so broad that Proxenides, the Braggartian, and Theogenes could pass each other in their chariots, even if they were drawn by steeds as big as the Trojan horse.
Pisthetaerus: That's fine!
Messenger: Its length is one hundred stadia; I measured it myself.
Pisthetaerus: A decent length, by Poseidon! And who built such a wall?
Messenger: Birds —birds only; they had neither Egyptian brickmaker, nor stonemason, nor carpenter; the birds did it all themselves; I could hardly believe my eyes. Thirty thousand cranes came from Libya with a supply of stones, intended for the foundations. The water-rails chiselled them with their beaks. Ten thousand storks were busy making bricks; plovers and other water fowl carried water into the air.
Pisthetaerus: And who carried the mortar?
Messenger: Herons, in hods.
Pisthetaerus: But how could they put the mortar into the hods?
Messenger: Oh! it was a truly clever invention; the geese used their feet like spades; they buried them in the pile of mortar and then emptied them into the hods.