Aristophanes' The Birds is a comedy, but it does make a number of philosophical statements about the human condition, particularly the inability of human beings to accept reality for what it is. Instead, almost every character in the play (not only human but also bird and god) is shown to be dissatisfied with his or her lot in life and seeks to create a better city or world. The world turns out not to be better, but worse than the reality each seeks to escape. While Aristophanes, from his satirical perspective, may handle some characters more tenderly than others, all are skewered in one way or another as deluded or self-deluded, as alienated from reality. No character is happy and contented with his or her lot, but instead believes that there is some way to control others or otherwise exercise power in order to win that elusive happiness.
The two main characters are Pithetaerus and Euelpides, "Footloose" and "Footsore," and their adventures seeking the better life and the perfect city serve as the heart and soul of the play. They enter the play carrying birds, which they believe will lead them to that better life. Euelpides says to the crow, "Listen, bird. You're supposed to be guiding us. But all we do is go backwards and sideways, We haven't got that kind of time" (84). The crow responds by biting Euelpides.
In fact, the two characters were "going backwards and sideways" before they "went to the birds," and they will be going backwards and sideways throughout the play. It is obvious that we are in the company of two lost souls whose hopes of finding a better life, for themselves or for others, will likely not be fulfilled.
The two characters have left Athens because of their personal dissatisfactions and the turbulence of the city, which leaves them without a home and seeking a new home, home being a symbol for a place where one feels comfortable and safe, where one can be oneself. The problem is that these...