September 7th, 2016

Cloud cuckoo land

Recently a commenter used the phrase “cloud cuckoo land” to refer to something outlandish in the political realm.

I’d heard the phrase before, and always had thought it was of relatively recent vintage—sort of like “la-la land” or “tinfoil hats.” But curious, I Googled it, and discovered to my surprise that the phrase is actually ancient. It’s a literary reference to something from the play “The Birds” by Aristophenes, believe it or not:

Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, wrote and directed a drama The Birds, first performed in 414 BC, in which Pisthetaerus, a middle-aged Athenian persuades the world’s birds to create a new city in the sky to be named Nubicuculia or Cloud Cuckoo Land (Νεφελοκοκκυγία, Nephelokokkygia), thereby gaining control over all communications between men and gods.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer used the word (German Wolkenkuckucksheim) in his publication On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason in 1813, as well as later in his main work The World as Will and Representation and in other places. Here, he gave it its figurative sense by reproaching other philosophers for only talking about Cloud-cuckoo-land.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche refers to the term in his essay “On Truth and Lying in a Nonmoral Sense.”

Author Edward Crankshaw used the term when discussing the Deak-Andrassy Plan of 1867 in his 1963 book The Fall of the House of Habsburg (Chapter 13, “The Iron Ring of Fate”).

The Wiki article then goes on to tell of many instances of the phrase’s use in politics by people such as Thatcher, Gingrich, Henry Wallace, and Paul Krugman, plus some artistic references to it.

I had no idea.

That’s one of the wonderful things about the internet. It’s one of the things that keeps me up at night, too—following the long and winding road of associations.

10 Responses to “Cloud cuckoo land”

  1. Yancey Ward Says:

    Interesting. I remember the idea from the play, but don’t remember it from the Friedrich Nietzsche essay- both of which I read while in college.

  2. Yancey Ward Says:

    And the funny thing is that I read both of them the same semester, and never made the connection that I remember.

  3. Brian Swisher Says:

    I knew that. I also know the croaking chorus from “The Frogs” of Aristphanes.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I can’t recall ever having heard the term before, though certainly the word cukoo itself. What I find most interesting is the appropriateness of this term when applied to the disagreement here as to whether we should vote for Trump. More than a few here assert myself to be firmly ensconced within Cloud cuckoo land 🙂 Of course I hold the same but opposite view. As always, reality will have the last say…

  5. miklos000rosza Says:

    I acted in that play by Aristophanes when I was in 8th grade.

  6. Ryan Says:

    It’s also a setting for part of the Lego Movie (and one of my favorite parts, no less)

  7. Martin Says:

    A more contemporary reference:

  8. CDville Says:

    Martin, I followed the link to that tvtrope site and found this: “The name of the trope comes from the city built on air above the Greek plain in Aristophanes’ play The Birds, 414 B.C., whose ruler had quite a large mental gap between the dreamy, wide-eyed, idealistic Utopia that he imagined his city to be and the brutal totalitarian regime that he had actually imposed on it.”

  9. Martin Says:

    Once more it seems “There is no new thing under the sun”.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    examples of “Cloud cuckoo land”
    i prefer “bat sh*t crazy”…
    among many other colorful terms.

    here are two SJW feminist BLM, etc..

    Crazy Feminist Gets Triggered and Screams Over Man’s Name

    Feminist’s CRAZY MELTDOWN in a Taxi over Bobblehead toy

    its interesting seeing the movement i helped create and such go forward – MGTOW is in many countries now, funded, etc… i guess i missed out on an alternative career… ha ha.. (you can read my articles if you can find them… )

    NEONEOCON: The Wiki article then goes on to tell of many instances of the phrase’s use in politics by people such as Thatcher, Gingrich, Henry Wallace, and Paul Krugman, plus some artistic references to it.

    I had no idea.

    can i file this under “read what the opposition reads” to understand them? that i had said they look down on you because you dont, and they ignore your commentary because we dont… ie. they think they are better edumacated and so your thoughts and ideas arent worth hearing as they are not even in their context!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    they quote lots of other old things…
    and only those who have read the cannons and all that poli sci, and the leaders of feminist commentary, and on and on… can even think of participating..

    Kennedy said: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country

    but that was really Pericles… ruler of tyre..
    for a start i would start with the historians and rhetoric/speech experts… like Livius, plutarch, etc.
    or Tacitus or Cicero…

    they are way ahead of you
    you cant even speak with them given one does not have the right “references” and knowlege, so can have nothing to add…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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