F. E. ROMER
Aristophanes constructed Nephelokokkugia in the developing context of pre-utopian myths and proto-utopian literature as they existed in the intellectual life at the end of the fifth century. 1' He pondered the problem of human perfectibility and explored an ideal "no place"--where human nature (albeit in a very Athenian guise) might run its natural course. First, Aristophanes inverted the evolutionary trend of fifth-century anthropology (cf. Anaxagoras and Demokritos) 2, which held that human beings, by virtue of their intellect, had evolved from a primitive state of animality (θηριώδης βίος as Demokritos apparently put it: 68B5 D.-K.). 3 Second, he had reaffirmed the idea that human life is somehow cyclical, that, however much things change, they return to something very like their original condition, that the new is old. Returning to origins in order to start again provides a key theme in Birds and raises suspicions about the play's outcome. I hope in this essay both to provoke and to engender discussion about the implications of this cyclicality for interpreting the play as a whole. Illusion and reality are never what they seem in Birds: "a human being always is, in fact, by nature a tricky critter in every way" (451-52), and humans are also enemies by nature to birds (τὴν φύσιν μὲν ἐχθροί 371; cf. also 334-35).
In this comedy, two disaffected Athenians searching for a happier home and a better world ultimately found a new city among the birds. Peisetairos and Euelpides bring with them the generic paraphernalia with which to conduct a