| Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers|
|by Mary E. Burt|
|Twenty-seven stories adapted for young children from selections of works of classic writers of the ancient world. The stories were chosen by the author for their inspirational value, either 'because they contained fine moral points, or else because they were poetic statements of natural phenomena which might enhance the study of natural science.' Writers represented in the collection include Plato, Homer, Hesiod, Aristophanes, Pliny, and Ovid. Ages 6-9 |
WHY THE QUARRELSOME MEN WERE LOCKED OUT OF BIRD CITY
 THERE was once a beautiful people where for a long time
people were good and brave and happy. They sang sweet
songs, told pleasant stories, built great temples and
offered sacrifices to the gods. But it came about as
time passed on, that they grew selfish, each man
desiring the things that belonged to some other man,
and when he could not get them he went to law about it
to make the other man give them up.
There were two men living in the beautiful city who
 of all this wrangle and made up their minds
that they would go off to a pleasanter place. So each
 them bought a bird; one bought a magpie and the
other a jackdaw, to show them the way to a better land.
They travelled about for many days, tramping up and
down, watching every motion of the birds, so that they
might find the way to a happy land.
At last the birds flew straight up into the air and of
course the two travellers had to follow them. When
they had gone up far enough they came to a country
where they found a king who had once been a man and had
lived in the beautiful city. But he too had become
tired of seeing people quarrel, and he had run away up
to bird-land where he
 had changed into a hoopoe and
lived in peace.
The two travellers came to the door of King Hoopoe and
knocked very loudly, but no one answered them, so they
cried at the tops of their voices, "Hoop! Hoop!
Hoopoe!" and the king’s servant came to the door.
The servant was a very large bird, but he was
 he saw the travellers, for he was
afraid that they were a pair of birdcatchers, so he
told them that they had better be off of the birds
would get after them and put them to death.
The scared the travellers and they told him they were
changing into birds themselves and asked him who he
was. The servant replied that he was once a slave and
that he lived with his master in the beautiful city.
But when Hoopoe ran away from the quarreling city and
came up to bird-land, he came too, and was changed
into a slave-bird, in order that he might still wait
upon his master.
 "King Hoppoe has not forgotten that he was once a man,"
said the slave-bird, "and sometimes he longs to eat
bread and honey or porridge. So I bake bread for him
and mix porridge when he wants it."
"I wish you would call your master out so that we may
talk with him," said one of the travellers.
"I do not like to do that," said the slave-bird. "He
has been eating a bowl of berries, and a plate of
worms, and now he is taking a little rest."
The travellers insisted however, that King Hoopoe
should be called to the door, and the slave-bird was
obliged to call him, and the royal Hoopoe came out. He
 tremendous beak and crest, but few feathers and
was very ridiculous in his appearance. Hoopoe
received the strangers kindly and asked them why they
had come to bird-land, so they told him that they had
run away from the beautiful city where there were so
many quarrels, and had come to bird-land, where they
hoped to build a city up in the air, between heaven and
"Men live on earth," said the travellers, "and the gods
live up in the heavens, and if we build a city between
them, we shall be masters of both. The gods live on
the smoke that comes up to them from the
sacri-  fices which men burn on their altars.
If we build our city between them we shall starve the
gods, and then they will be obliged to come down and
beg us to be kind to them and they will pay us taxes."
King Hoopoe forgot for a little while that he had left
the beautiful city to get away from quarrels, and
thought the travellers were very smart men, and that it
would be a clever idea to build the city. Then he
called all the birds together to tell them what the
strangers had proposed, and they came running and
scrambling with a great clatter, crying "Where are the
men who want to build a city in bird-land?
Whaw! Where? Where? What? What? What? What?"
At first the birds looked fierce and angry. I think
that they were afraid that the travellers meant to
catch their king and carry him off. They formed in
ranks like soldiers and acted as if they intended to
tear the strangers to pieces.
The travellers seized some huge kettle-covers and held
them up before their faces so that the birds should not
dash at their eyes with their strong beaks. But old
King Hoopoe told them to stand back and treat the men
kindly since they were friends.
Then the travellers told all the birds that if they
would help to
 build the city they should rule over the
gods. "It is only right," said they, "for you are
older than the gods and the older ones should rule over
the younger. It is a well-known fact," continued the
strangers, "that birds are older than the earth even.
For the lark had no place to bury his father, because
the earth had not then been invented. And it is true,
too, that mankind worshipped the birds once.
But the Gods overcame the birds, and now Jupiter always
appears carrying an eagle, Minerva an owl, Apollo a
Hawk, and so on." The birds listened with great
interest to the flattering speeches of the
and asked how they should make Jupiter and his Olympian
host surrender to the birds. "This is the way to do
it," said the travellers. "We will build the city and
put very strong walls around it and make forts to
defend it. Then we will starve out the gods by keeping
from them the incense which comes up from their altars
on earth. They will dispatch messengers down to earth
to find out why men do not send up any more incense.
We will capture their messengers and keep them until
the gods come down and offer to pay us tribute.
And we will send a messenger down to men and tell them
 every time they offer a sacrifice to Venus, they
must feast the sparrows with grain; every time they
offer gifts to Neptune, they must feast the ducks and
drakes with barley and so on until all the birds are
And if the people on earth agree to do this we will
offer to equip an army of owls to destroy the
grasshoppers that eat up their vines, and an army of
thrushes to destroy the worms which spoil their figs,
and so on with all the other insects which injure their
crops; and we will help them further by sending the
sea-mew to guide their ships over the stormy sea, and
there is a bird that can point out to them
 where gold
and silver is hidden away in the earth."
The birds were pleased with this arrangement and went
to work with a right good will to build the city.
There were thirty-thousand cranes who brought stones
from Africa in their gizzards, and the curlews worked
them into shape. The mud-larks and the sand-martins
mixed mortar, and the water-birds brought water to
soften the mortar. The crows and pigeons helped the
masons; and the geese, all barefoot, trampled down the
mortar and put it into hods, while an army of ducks
climbed up the ladders with the hods, and used their
 for trowels to smooth down the plaster.
The woodpeckers were the carpenters and they made a
great clatter hammering away hard at work. When the
city was all finished, the put the jackdaws upon the
tower to watch over the city and catch any of the
messengers from the gods who might be sent down to
earth to demand sacrifices of men.
It was not long before a messenger appeared in sight.
The beautiful Iris, with her rainbow-robes came flying
down, and not knowing that the birds had built a city
in the air, she flew right into their midst. The birds
were greatly excited. They sent an army of
then-thousand hawks, and twenty-thousand hobby-hawks
and a great number of vultures, falcons, ospreys,
eagles, and other birds to catch her.
On every side there was a rushing and whizzing sound as
the birds flew hither and thither searching for her.
The travellers were the first to see her and they
cried, "Halt! Stop this instant! Who are you? Where
to you come from?"
"Why, I come from Mount Olympus, to be sure,"said Iris,
"And I am sent by father Jupiter to command mortals to
sacrifice to him."
"Which of the city-gates did you enter? Did any of the
bird-masters examine you and let you pass through our
city? Ho, guards! take her and lead her to prison!"
When Iris heard this she was indignant and told them
that she did not know there was any bird city, so the
travellers and the birds advised her to go back to
Mount Olympus and tell her father Jupiter that he must
pay the birds a tribute of money whenever he sent a
messenger to earth. And they
 told Iris that they
would steal her beautiful rainbow-colors away from her
if she ever dared to come that way again.
The unhappy goddess flew back to Mount Olympus and
repeated to Jupiter all that had happened. It was a
sad time for Jupiter and the rest of the Olympian gods.
They waited long and patiently for the smoke of
sacrifices to come to them.
At last when they began to starve, the sent Hercules
and Neptune down to promise the birds that they should
be well paid if they would allow the smoke to come up
to the gods from the altars on earth.
 And they promised to give the birds water for their
tanks and rainy weather, or dry weather, or any sort of
weather for which they had a mind to ask. They gave
another promise, too, that one of
 the travellers who
had taught the birds to build the city should have a
beautiful goddess for a wife. The birds received old
Neptune and Hercules very kindly and agreed to allow
the gods to have their incense, and they had a gay
wedding for the traveller and the goddess, and all the
birds and all the gods became good friends.
Now when the quarrelsome men down on earth saw the good
fortune of the travellers they were wild with envy.
Each man wanted to build a city and become very rich
and very famous all in a minute. They wanted to go up
to bird-land and
 live in the bird-city and have the
gods pay them taxes.
And they were so greedy and so conceited that they even
thought they ought to have goddesses for wives,
although they were so dreadfully common that they could
not have told a goddess from a pig with a ring in its
And these quarrelsome said to themselves, "If we can
get into the bird-city we will live in the bird-palaces
which are much grander than our houses, and after a
while we will kill all the birds or drive them down to
earth to make nests in the trees."
So the quarrelsome sent a messenger up to the bird-city
 flattering messages and this is what he said:
"Oh, beautiful birds, the people on earth have sent you
a gold medal to show how much they admire you. And
you, oh travellers, have become the founders of this
great city, you do not know how much you too are
admired and watched. Birds and travellers are all the
The people on earth do everything just as the birds do.
They rise with the lark, they scratch and scrabble,
they pick and peck, and they all wish for wings to fly.
They try to sing like birds and there are thousands of
them who are preparing to come up to live in your
bird-city, so that they can get
 wings and claws, marry
goddesses, and collect taxes from the gods".
But King Hoopoe said to the city-guards, "Lock the
gates. We do not want quarrelsome men to come up here.
They will quarrel with the birds as they quarrel with
each other, and rob them of their homes and kill them.
They will quarrel with our friends, the gods, and keep
their incense from them, and they will forget to
So the gates to the bird-city were locked and the
quarrelsome men had to stay on earth. But the happy
birds went singing and flying wherever they pleased.
Sometimes they flew off into the blue sky
 among the
clouds and rainbows. Sometimes they flew down to earth
to destroy grasshoppers and worms, or to eat grain from
the altars of the gods.
Sometimes they flew up to Mount Olympus and gave lovely
concerts, singing sweet melodies in chorus before the
gods. And the gods were pleased to hear their sweet
songs and told them that the heavens were more
beautiful because they were there. But there happiest
days were spent with their mates and young ones in
their pretty homes in bird-land.
And now, I am sure, we all feel sorry for the
quarrelsome men, because they are shut out of the
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