The plot starts off with two Athenians, Euelpides and Pisthetairos who are disenchanted with the current conditions in Athens and have decided that they need to start a new utopia which will satisfy all their needs . To fulfill the above requirement, they decide to go find cloudcuckooland aka Bird Utopia run by the Hoopoe . To find this place, an enterprising individual sells them a magpie and a crow which will act as a guide to the cloudcuckooland. The hoopoe turns out to be a charlatan who is happily willing to dupe them. This story has an charming premise , our perennial disenchantment with the human condition , the desire to further our lot and the power of invention that is our greatest achievement. While Euelpides and Pisthetarious are guilty of the previously mentioned traits , they are also gullible and extremely lazy which makes them extremely ripe targets for the Hoopoe who goes on to tell them that the sky is the abode of the Birds and they are even superior to the gods and our two Athenians can even communicate with them because he has taught the birds to speak Greek. It is followed by a charade of more humans dressed as birds , one comes as a Flamingo , another as a bird in a Persian attire who is described as a Bedouin bird (one of the Athenians wonders aloud as to how the Bedouin bird made it here without a camel bird) .It is followed by a hysterical chorus listing the advantages of feathers including one where we are informed that feathers are a big advantage for one that is having an affair with a married woman, if one spots the husband out and about , he can just fly in for a quickie with the winsome wife . The praise of the birds gets more amusing and exaggerated . Eventually a goddess , Iris comes with a message from Zeus demanding a sacrifice but she is dispatched rather rudely , followed by a round of self praise and applause . A chance comic meeting with Prometheus follows that the gods are starving because there has been no sacrifices made to the gods and Prometheus advises on the terms of peace which would be marrying Ms Universe who holds the keys to the universe . I thought that Ms Universe was Hera but apparently it is not and we are left in the dark as to the true identity of Ms Universe but it is made clear that Zeus cherishes her more than Hera , his own wife and sister. Eventually the gods sue for peace and Poseidon himself comes down along with Herakles . There is more comic relief where they discuss the illegitimacy of Herakles and his inability to inherit anything from Zeus with Herakles finally capitulating the wily arguments of Pisthetairos .
The play is rife with raunchy sexual innuendos and Aristophanes is not shy at all from using the vilest toilet humor to get his audience to laugh . When I was searching for images , almost all the images that I found had giant phalluses including the picture of the mug that I ended up choosing. Any actual photos of the play perfomed in modern times were similar. In my opinion the play is hysterical as it is and probably does not need the crude sexual humor but I suppose that the sexual humor makes the play more down to earth ,without it, the play needs the audience to make an effort to understand the humor but sexual humor needs no explanation or effort to understand
Why is this reading this play even important ? it starts off with that most familiar of desires , the desire to better our lot , that is the primary motivating driver in the play .It also depicts a freedom in society where nothing is sacred , they could poke fun at the gods and laugh at their foibles (quite a departure from today when we can’t even make fun of our political gods!!! authors can be sentenced to death or excommunicated if they write what is considered blasphemous , think Salman Rushdie or Nikos Kazantzakis). Another parallel that I saw with the play and modern times was the formation of cults . Cloudcuckooland is probably the ultimate utopian dream and cult rolled into one .
Aristophanes is a excellent judge of human character and he takes us on a merry ride where he shows the innocent Athenians slowly turn into rascals , a delightful play heavily laced with toilet and sexual humor .