a)ll' a0p' e0xqrw~n dh~ta polla\ manqa/nousin oi( sofoi/.

 But from enemies indeed the wise learn many things.

 Aristophanes, Birds (line 375)


Bird from Roman wall painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Epops addresses an angry mob of birds that plans to tear Pisthetaerus and his friend to pieces. He argues that they could learn many things from these enemies: "...it is the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; [380] and it is this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth."

 Although Birds (written in 414 B.C.) may be regarded as a "comedy of fantasy", some scholars believe that Aristophanes was satirizing Athens' decline from power as a result of its imperialistic aspirations. A year before he wrote the play, the Athenians had led an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Syracuse in Sicily. The main character Pisthetaerus persuades the birds to start a new city between Heaven and Earth because he is disillusioned by the bureaucracy in his own city. The human beings want to join this new utopia and Peisthetaerus and the birds must fight them off. Even the gods on Mt. Olympus are at the mercy of this utopic city state when Peisthetarus and his birds force starvation upon them.

Information from Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, search "Aristophanes."

P. Hearne, St. Paul's School, 2002