New ideas come slowly and in The Clouds traditions of mythology of the gods is being challenged by the rise of natural philosophers [Pre-Socratic] ...Thales, Anaximander, Anaxagoras, etc. Aristophanes was a writer of comedies and probably best known for Lysistrata .
The play begins with Strepsiades suddenly sitting up in bed while his son, Pheidippides, remains blissfully asleep in the bed next to him. Strepsiades complains to the audience that he is too worried about household debts to get any sleep – his wife (the pampered product of an aristocratic clan) has encouraged their son's expensive interest in horses. Strepsiades, having thought up a plan to get out of debt, wakes the youth gently and pleads with him to do something for him. Pheidippides at first agrees to do as he's asked then changes his mind when he learns that his father wants to enroll him in The Thinkery, a school for nerds and intellectual bums that no self-respecting, athletic young man dares to be seen with. Strepsiades explains that students of The Thinkery learn how to turn inferior arguments into winning arguments and this is the only way he can beat their aggrieved creditors in court. Pheidippides however will not be persuaded and Strepsiades decides to enroll himself in The Thinkery in spite of his advanced age. There he meets a student who tells him about some of the recent discoveries made by Socrates, the head of The Thinkery, including a new unit of measurement for ascertaining the distance jumped by a flea (a flea's foot, created from a minuscule imprint in wax), the exact cause of the buzzing noise made by a gnat (its arse resembles a trumpet) and a new use for a large pair of compasses (as a kind of fishing-hook for stealing cloaks from pegs over the gymnasium wall). Impressed, Stepsiades begs to be introduced to the man behind these discoveries. The wish is soon granted: Socrates appears overhead, wafted in a basket at the end of a rope, the better to observe the Sun and other meteorological phenomena. The philosopher descends and quickly begins the induction ceremony for the new elderly student, the highlight of which is a parade of the Clouds, the patron goddesses of thinkers and other layabouts. The Clouds arrive singing majestically of the regions whence they arose and of the land they have now come to visit, loveliest in all Greece. Introduced to them as a new devotee, Strepsiades begs them to make him the best orator in Greece by a hundred miles. They reply with the promise of a brilliant future. Socrates leads him into the dingy Thinkery for his first lesson and The Clouds step forward to address the audience.
Putting aside their cloud-like costumes, The Chorus declares that this is the author's cleverest play and that it cost him the greatest effort. It reproaches the audience for the play's failure at the festival, where it was beaten by the works of inferior authors, and it praises the author for originality and for his courage in lampooning influential politicians such as Cleon. The Chorus then resumes its appearance as clouds, promising divine favours if the audience punishes Cleon for corruption and rebuking Athenians for messing about with the calendar, since this has put Athens out of step with the moon.
Socrates returns to the stage in a huff, protesting against the ineptitude of his new elderly student. He summons Strepsiades outside and attempts further lessons, including a form of meditative incubation in which the old man lies under a blanket while thoughts are supposed to arise in his mind naturally. The incubation results in Strepsiades masturbating under the blanket and finally Socrates refuses to have anything more to do with him. The Clouds advise him to find someone younger to do the learning for him. His son, Pheidippides, subsequently yields to threats by Strepsiades and reluctantly returns with him to the Thinkery, where they encounter the personified arguments Superior and Inferior, associates of Socrates. Superior Argument and Inferior Argument debate with each other over which of them can offer the best education. Superior Argument sides with Justice and the gods, offering to prepare Pheidippides for an earnest life of discipline, typical of men who respect the old ways; Inferior Argument, denying the existence of Justice, offers to prepare him for a life of ease and pleasure, typical of men who know how to talk their way out of trouble. At the end of the debate, a quick survey of the audience reveals that buggers - people schooled by Inferior Arguments - have got into the most powerful positions in Athens. Superior Argument accepts his inevitable defeat, Inferior Argument leads Pheidippides into the Thinkery for a life-changing education and Strepsiades goes home happy. The Clouds step forward to address the audience a second time, demanding to be awarded first place in the festival competition, in return for which they promise good rains - otherwise they'll destroy crops, smash roofs and spoil weddings.
The story resumes with Strepsiades returning to The Thinkery to fetch his son. A new Pheidippides emerges, startlingly transformed into the pale nerd and intellectual bum that he had once feared to become. Rejoicing in the prospect of talking their way out of financial trouble, Stepsiades leads the youth home for celebrations, just moments before the first of their aggrieved creditors arrives with a witness to summon him to court. Strepsiades comes back on stage, confronts the creditor and dismisses him contemptuously. A second creditor arrives and receives the same treatment before Strepsiades returns indoors to continue the celebrations. The Clouds sing ominously of a looming debacle and Stepsiades again comes back on stage, now in distress, complaining of a beating that his new son has just given him in a dispute over the celebrations. Pheidippides emerges coolly and insolently debates with his father a father's right to beat his son and a son's right to beat his father. He ends by threatening to beat his mother also, whereupon Strepsiades flies into a rage against The Thinkery, blaming Socrates for his latest troubles. He leads his slaves, armed with torches and mattocks, in a frenzied attack on the disreputable school. The alarmed students are pursued offstage and the Chorus, with nothing to celebrate, quietly departs.
Next is an essay on The Clouds followed by the text and then a few links.
The following is the text of a lecture by Ian Johnston, delivered in part in the main lecture...in November 1998. References to the text are to the Arrowsmith translation in Four Plays by Aristophanes, Penguin, 1962.
"On Satire in Aristophanes's The Clouds"
Today I want to begin by considering a curious topic: What is laughter and why do we like to experience laughter, both in ourselves and others? This will, I hope, serve as something of an entry point into a consideration of the social importance and uses of laughter in cultural experience. And this point, in turn, will assist in an introduction to the importance of humour and laughter in an important form of literature, namely, satire. All of this, I trust, will help to illuminate what is going on in the Aristophanic comedy we are studying this week, The Clouds.
To cover all these points is a tall order, and as usual I'm going to be skating on thin ice at times, but unless we have some sense of the social importance of humour and group laughter, then we may fail fully to understand just what Aristophanic satire is and what it sets out to do.
B. Laughter as a Shared Social Experience
Why do people laugh? And what is laughter? I don't propose to answer this very complex psychological problem, but I would like to make some observations about laughter and humour which may help to clarify the issues usefully.
When you think about it, laughter is a curious phenomenon. People momentarily lose their poise, screw their faces up into funny expressions, often rock their bodies back and forth, and emit strange animal like noises which in almost any other circumstance would be considered socially quite unacceptable--snorting, wheezing, and so on. This odd behaviour is usually accompanied by feelings of emotional satisfaction so strong that the first impulse after a good laugh is to see if one can experience it again.
Also, the best laughter appears to be a group phenomenon. That is, we laugh best when we are with others and when they are engaging in the same sort of behaviour. That which occasions laughter, the joke, is above all a social phenomenon. It requires a teller and an audience. We don't tell jokes to ourselves, or if we do, they may prompt a modest chuckle. But when we get to the pub, we tell the same joke to a group and laugh uproariously along with all the others. When we hear a good joke, we normally don't immediately want to run away and ponder it alone in the woods; we think about what fun we're going to have telling it to a group of people who don't know it and thus repeat the experience we have just been through. For it's a curious fact that, even if we know the joke, we can derive considerable pleasure and laughter from hearing it or telling it again in the right context. In other words, the group response is, I would suggest, one key to understanding why laughter matters.
That's why a laugh track is an important part of TV comedy. After all, watching television is not really a group experience, so if we are to enjoy the laughter a group has to be manufactured for us, so that we have the impression of participating in a group experience. In a tense TV drama, we don't have a "gasp" track or anything that might put us in imaginary touch with a group undergoing the same experience. That's not necessary, because in such situations we are very alone in some ways. But anything that we are supposed to laugh at is just not as funny if we are very conscious that there's no one else participating with us. As the old saying has it, "Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone."
Now, this on the face of it is odd. Human beings seem to derive great pleasure in sitting around listening to stories or seeing behaviour which then reduces them to a state in which they momentarily lose control of themselves and revert to strange animal-like behaviour, totally unbecoming to anyone who has any concern for self-control or a normal reasonably dignified appearance.
And this I think offers an important insight into the nature of laughter. When we laugh we are acknowledging that a good deal of what we do in life is rather silly, that human life is full of aspirations to be something better than we really are. A joke, and our shared response to a joke, deflates the dignity and self-control and self-imposed value that human beings place on themselves. When we laugh we are, in a sense, acknowledging that by our temporary loss of self-control and dignity.
For example, to take the simplest and commonest form of a joke. We spend a lot of time trying to walk upright in a graceful and well coordinated manner, and an important part of our self-identity is that we, well, are worth looking at: cool, dignified, and coordinated. Yet, nothing is funnier to us than to see someone take a well-staged pratfall, to slip on the banana peel, to lose the equilibrium we try so hard to maintain, which is such an important part of our individual dignity. Similarly, when someone is trying to reach up to the stars and his pants fall down (often as a reaction to the effort of reaching upward), we see that as funny, because its a sudden and unexpected reminder of the ambivalence of being a human being, a creature who aspires to great things in search of nobility but who has to cover his rather silly looking backside. The temporary and unexpected loss of control over ourselves registers as a shared agreeable experience.
C. A Sense of Humour
We talk about people having a sense of humour. What we mean, I think, by this phrase is the ability to perceive a certain discrepancy between the normal behaviour and the unexpected deflation of it. When a joke presents itself in language, responding to it with a sense of humour depends upon being able to see the ways in which language may be manipulated in unexpected ways to produce a curious effect, contrary to what we might have expected.
The most obvious example of this is the pun, which depends upon the audience's ability to recognize the way in which a particular word can be unexpectedly manipulated to produce an effect contrary to our expectations. Some people have great difficulty appreciating puns--they don't see the humour of treating language that way, either because they don't see the multi-layered meanings of words or because they see them but they don't think it's very funny to treat language that way or because they find the pun just too common and obvious a form of comic surprise.
Possessing a sense of humour is a complex business. It's not just a matter of rational understanding. We all know how lame it is to have a joke explained. The source of the humour may be exposed, but the joke is not funny any more. In other words, if the punch line doesn't have a punch, a sudden and instantaneous effect, then the joke doesn't do its work properly.
Another point here, of course, is that a sense of humour is something often unique to a particular cultural group. That's clear enough, given that humour has to draw upon the shared experiences of the group in order to contradict them or surprise them. Listening to Bill Cosby's story about Noah makes little sense to anyone who is quite unfamiliar with the story, who has never wondered exactly what a "cubit" it, or who has no knowledge of what modern suburban living really is. That's one reason perhaps why one can learn the language of a country very well and yet still find much of its humour incomprehensible or unfunny (e.g., American Jewish humour, Chicano humour, and so on).
D. The Joke: Some Thoughts About Structure
The things that make us laugh, I would suggest, are often of this nature. They are out of the blue reminders that, for all our pretensions to greatness, nobility, value and what not, we are curious animals, whose body parts and behaviour can often reveal that we are quite ridiculous, no matter how hard we try to avoid that truth. When we laugh together, we are sharing an insight into our common human nature.
Hence, the common observation that the most basic joke is one that contradicts our expectations (this is a standard Aristophanic device). In telling a joke, we set up certain expectations, which are then violated or altered in some unexpected way. The humour comes from a shared recognition that we've been had, that our human natures are somehow rather different from what we had imagined. Telling a joke well thus often requires two things: the ability to set up the expectation and then the ability to deliver the punch line which contradicts or deflates that expectation in an unexpected manner.
We all know people who are very poor joke tellers. They have no sense of structure or they blow the punch line too early. And few things are more frustrating to listen to than someone who tells jokes badly. Presenting a joke requires a certain sophistication, either in physical presentation or in the verbal telling, and if it's not done right, then the shared group experience doesn't take place. Setting up the joke is probably the more difficult part of the exercise, a fact which may be the reason why in a comedy twosome, like Abbott and Costello, the straight man, the set up artist, usually gets more pay than the deliverer of the punch line.
The ability to tell jokes well, however, is an enormous social asset, primarily because it's the quickest way to get the group's attention, to consolidate the feeling of a group as a group, and to transform any disunity or irritation into a pleasant, non-threatening, shared social experience. Many people, like myself, learn early in life that telling jokes or transforming potentially threatening situations into jokes is an enormously powerful survival tactic. If you can make someone who is threatening you laugh with you, then you have transformed the situation from one of danger to yourself into one of a shared moment of understanding of your common humanity.
The Greeks themselves had a favorite story about this phenomenon. It featured their most popular folk hero, Hercules. On one of his adventures he captured two nasty brothers, the Cercopes, and was carrying them off to do away with them. As they lay hanging down Hercules's back they started making jokes about his hairy, ugly rump. They were so funny that they got Hercules laughing so that he couldn't stop, and he had to let them go. After all, it's difficult to feel hostile towards someone who is constantly making you laugh together.
E. The Two-Edged Nature of the Joke
I have tried to stress the social basis for the humour which arises from sharing a joke in order to bring out the first key point of this lecture, that laughter and the presentations of jokes which bring it about, is above all else a social experience which has to be shared in order to be effective. Someone who is incapable of participating in a joke, for whom there is no laughter of the sort I have been describing, is in some important ways cut off from full participation in many of the most important ways in which groups consolidate their identity and learn together.
It's important to stress that not all jokes work in the same ways. There are, for example, at least two common effects of jokes--those which reinforce a group's identity by excluding others and those which educate the group into a new awareness of itself. For instance, a good deal of the most common colloquial humour is what we might call "locker room" laughter, the shared experience which comes from making fun of someone whom the group wishes to exclude. For it's clear that one of the most powerful ways in which a group of people can repel any outsiders or deal with the threat of unwelcome intrusions by outsiders is to make fun of such outsiders, to, in effect, dehumanize them, so that what we are sharing in our laughter is the shared awareness that we are better than such people.
Such "exclusionary" humour is the basis for a good deal of humour which these days we consider unacceptable--racist jokes, sexist jokes, ethnic jokes (The Andrew Dice Clay school of comic performance). While we disapprove of such humour often for the very Platonic reason that it corrupts our understanding of others not immediately like ourselves, we have to recognize that it is amazingly popular, no where more so than on the Internet. If we need any evidence of the importance many people place on using jokes and shared laughter as a means of maintaining a sense of exclusionary solidarity in the face of constant threats of intrusion, we have only to dial up an appropriate "hate" address on the Internet.
But humour can also be educational, that is, it can transform our understanding of the group, and by doing that in a way that we all share it can effect a pleasant, yet very effective transformation of the situation. To listen to Bill Cosby, for example, is to be reminded through laughter, that the life of a black child or parent is, for all our particular racial stereotyping, a shared human experience. In laughing at what we share together, we are unconsciously transforming our understanding of our mutual relationship in a common group. That why, in a sense, one of the surest ways to educate a group into a new awareness of something is through comedy.
And that's the reason perhaps why often we find stand up comedians in the forefront of those who are pushing hardest at our understanding of ourselves, frequently in very painful ways. When Lenny Bruce used to stand up and chant the word "Nigger" at his audience or make jokes about dope addicts and prostitutes he was, in effect, pushing at the envelope of what that group accepted as normal. For many people, his jokes were offensive, that is, the shock or the punch line was too unexpected to overcome the built-in habits of the group. But for those who found themselves laughing at the humour, the experience was, in a small but important way, a means of reminding them of the limits of their understanding and thus, to a certain extent, an expansion of their knowledge of what the group was and what it might include. When we laugh at Bill Cosby's humour, for example, we are ignoring or forgetting the fact that he is an Afro-American different from white folks and are acknowledging our common human identity.
F. Satire: A General Definition
The mention of the name Lenny Bruce brings me to the main point of the first part of this lecture, the particular form of humour which we call satire. We are all more or less familiar with what satire is, since we are exposed to it a good deal, but its precise literary sense may not be quite so clear.
Formally defined, satire is "A composition in verse or prose holding up vice or folly to ridicule or lampooning individuals. . . . The use of ridicule, irony, sarcasm, etc., in speech or writing for the ostensible purpose of exposing and discourage vice or folly."
In other words, satire is a particular use of humour for overtly moral purposes. It seeks to use laughter, not just to remind us of our common often ridiculous humanity, but rather to expose those moral excesses, those corrigible sorts of behaviour which transgress what the writer sees as the limits of acceptable moral behaviour.
Let me put this another way. If we see someone or some group acting in a way we think is morally unacceptable and we wish to correct such behaviour, we have a number of options. We can try to force them to change their ways (through threats of punishment); we can deliver stern moral lectures, seeking to persuade them to change their ways; we can try the Socratic approach of engaging them in a conversation which probes the roots of their beliefs; or, alternatively, we can encourage everyone to see them as ridiculous, to laugh at them, to render them objects of scorn for the group. In doing so we will probably have at least two purposes in mind: first, to effect some changes in the behaviour of the target (so that he or she reforms) and, second, to encourage others not to behave in such a manner.
In that sense, what sets satire apart from normal comedy (and the two often shade into each other in ways which make an exact border line difficult to draw), is that in satire there is usually a clear and overt didactic intention, a clear moral lesson is the unifying power of the work. Whereas in normal comedy, we are being asked to laugh at ourselves and our common human foibles, in satire the basis of the humour is generally some corrigible unwelcome conduct in a few people or in a particular typical form of human behaviour. Normal comedy, if you will, reminds us of our incorrigible human limitations; satire focus rather on those things which we can correct in order to be better than we are (or, if not better, at least not as bad). This is no doubt a somewhat muddied distinction at this point, but it should become clearer as we proceed.
At the basis of every good traditional satire is a sense of moral outrage or indignation: This conduct is wrong and needs to be exposed. Hence, to adopt a satiric stance requires a sense of what is right, since the target of the satire can only be measured as deficient if one has a sense of what is necessary for a person to be truly moral. And if this satire is to have any effect, if it is to be funny, then that sense of shared moral meaning must exist in the audience as well. Satire, if you like, depends upon a shared sense of community standards, so that what is identified as contrary to it can become the butt of the jokes.
This moral basis for satire helps to explain why a satire, even a very strong one which does nothing more than attack unremittingly some target, can offer a firm vision of what is right. By attacking what is wrong and exposing it to ridicule the satirist is acquainting the reader with a shared positive moral doctrine, whether the satire actually goes into that doctrine in detail or not. Aristophanes in the Clouds may be taking a harshly critical view of Socrates (and others, as we shall see), but there may well be an important positive moral purpose behind that.
[I should note here that it is possible to write satire in the absence of any shared sense of moral standards, but the result is a curious form of "black" satire. This genre is particularly common today. Modern satire typically makes everything look equally ridiculous. In such a satiric vision, there is no underlying vision of what right conduct is and the total effect, if one tries to think about it, is very bleak indeed--a sense that we might as well laugh at the ridiculousness of everything because nothing has any meaning. Whether we call this Monty Python or Saturday Night Live or This Hour Has Twenty-two Minutes or whatever, it seems to add up to an attitude that since there's no significant meaning to anything, we might as well laugh at everything. That will enable us to retreat with style from the chaos. Such an attitude is very much at odds with traditional satire, which tends to work in the service of a moral vision which is being abused by particular people or particular conduct]
G. Satire: Some Comments on the Range
Given that central to what we call traditional satire is some underlying moral vision, so that the "negative" portrayal of the target works in the service of a "positive" vision, it is clear that satire can take on a wide range of tones. That is, the moral indignation at the heart of the satirist can lead him to something really vicious and savage, an unrelenting and unforgiving attack on what he sees as extreme moral corruption in what he is ridiculing, or, alternatively, the indignation of the satirist may temper itself with some affection for the target, so that the satire is much more good natured, less abusive and aggressive, even to the point where we are not sure just how much the comic portrait is really satiric or simply comic (as in, say, a celebrity "roast," where a group of people attack one of their friends, but do so in an affectionate way, so that the target really has nothing to complain about, even if some of the jokes hit a tender nerve at times).
Satire thus can come in many forms, from savage to gentle, but it remains satire so long as we feel that the writer's main purpose is making us laugh at conduct which he believes ought to be corrected. Whether we see Aristophanes's portrayal of Socrates as aggressively vicious or as much more affectionately funny, the satiric purpose remains clear so long as we sense that Aristophanes intends us to see the Thinkery as something we should not place our faith in, as something ridiculous. To the extent that Socrates and the Thinkery become attractive to us (say, because of the energy and humour of the place), the satiric purpose is diminished. More of this later.
H. Satire: Some Basic Techniques
How does a satirist set about ridiculing the vice and folly she wants the audience to recognize as unacceptable? Remember that the challenge to the satirist is to get the moral point across with humour, so that the audience or the reader laughs in the appropriate manner. Put another way, the challenge is to put across serious matters in humorous ways.
Let me restate this point because it is crucial. The central message of satire is often very simple and can be stated quickly. Satire is, for reasons we shall consider in a moment, not a genre which encourages complex explorations of deep psychological issues in the characters. It's much more like a repetitive insistence on the foolishness of certain kinds of behaviour. So the problem for the satirist is to make his treatment funny, that is, to keep the jokes coming quickly and with sufficient variety so that the audience stays interested in what is going on. Nothing is staler in art than a satire which runs out of steam or which starts to repeat itself in predicable ways. That's why the staple form for modern satire is the short skit--set up, punch line, fade out. In a longer satire, like an Aristophanic play or Swift's Gulliver's Travels the problem is to keep the reader interested through one's technique.
Well, there are a number of basic strategies. I list them here in no particular order.
1. First, the satirist sets up a target--either a person like Socrates or Strepsiades or Pisthetairos or a group like the Thinkery--which will symbolize the conduct he wishes to attack. Satire, in other words, has a clear target. Setting up the target in a way that can generate humour in a variety of ways is an important talent. The Thinkery, for instance, is not just a one-line joke about the nature of Sokratic inquiry; in the play it becomes the source for a number of other jokes, verbal and visual, e.g., Socrates hanging in a basket, the pot bellied stove (always emitting strange smoke), the students gazing at the ground with their bums in the air, all sorts of strange quasi-philosophical mumbo jumbo, and so on. On the stage, the Thinkery is a fertile source for humorous variety; the initial message may be simple and repetitive, so to keep the audience interested the theatrical presentation has to be varied and funny. Nothing is duller than a humorless satire.
But in The Clouds the target is not just Socrates. Another target is clearly the middle-aged Athenian male, Strepsiades, full of energy and crudity, desperate to sort out the difficulties of his personal life (the problems of belonging to a litigious, imperialistic society from which traditional systems of order have disappeared). And this Groucho Marx like character is put into hopelessly exaggerated situations, where he has to deal with the Thinkery. His reasons for wanting to have anything to do with Socrates and his manner of dealing with his trouble (in all its variety) is the source of most of the satire and identifies for us Aristophanes's main target--the average Athenian citizen. Clearly, most Athenians are not exactly like Strepsiades, but there's enough connection between him and the average citizen to make the satiric point clear enough.
2. Second, the satirist will typically exaggerate and distort the target in certain ways in order to emphasize the characteristics he wishes to attack and, most importantly, to provide recurring sources of humour. Such exaggeration and distortion are key elements in the humour. The target must be close enough to the real thing for us to recognize what is going on, but sufficiently distorted to be funny, an exaggeration, often a grotesque departure from normality. The Clouds still can provide an amusing and provocative evening's entertainment for someone who has never heard of Socrates, but obviously the person who does have some familiarity with that figure is going to derive a great deal more from the play.
The example of a political cartoon is instructive here. When we laugh at the cartoon of, say, Clinton, we are responding to two things: a recognition of the original and of what the satirist has done to distort the original so as to make it ridiculous for a particular purpose. The cartoon may still be very funny for someone who doesn't know Clinton, but some of the immediate edge will clearly be lost.
In that sense, all satire is, of course, unfair, if by that we mean that the depiction of the target is not life-like, not a true copy, not naturalistic. Of course, it's not. There would be no cartoon if all we had was a photograph of Clinton. Making the targets ridiculous means bending them out of shape (as in a distorting mirror), not beyond recognition but certainly far from their normal appearance. The point of the satire often lies in the nature of the distortion. Much of the best satire depends, in other words, on a skillful caricature or cartoon, rather than on any attempt at a life-like rendition of the subject.
So to complain that Socrates in The Clouds is nothing like the real Socrates is to miss the point. Aristophanes is setting up his Socrates to symbolize in a ridiculously distorted manner certain ways of behaving which he wishes his audience to recognize as absurd. At the same time, the portrait has to have some recognizable connection to Socrates if the play is to make a connection with the audience. But it's important, too, to recognize that the main satire may not be directed so much at Socrates, ridiculous as he is, but at Strepsiades for his desire to believe in Socrates for his own self-interested purposes.
Such distortion obviously involves setting up a certain distance between the target and the audience. That is, we are not in a satire invited to consider the inner feelings of the targets or to speculate on any complex psychological motives for why they behave the way they do. The satirist focuses his ridicule on external behaviour, not on speculating about possible complex psychological motivation for that behaviour. To do the latter is to bring the audience into the inner workings of the target's heart and mind, and once one has done that, it is difficult to respond to the target satirically. As the old French saying has it, "Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner" ["To understand everything is to forgive everything"]. For that reason it's difficult to satirize anyone whose inner psychological troubles are well known. Richard Nixon was easy to satirize until he broke down on national television and bared his truly desperate feelings to the world.
3. Once the target is delineated in an appropriately distorted way, the satire proceeds by an unrelenting attack. Here the satirist has a variety of weapons, ranging from rude direct insults and a lot of robust physical humour (pratfalls, misunderstandings, mock fights, farting, waving the phallus in the air) to more complex assaults parodying various forms of language and belief. The Clouds is justly famous as a very robust satire featuring a wide variety of satiric techniques, some very corny, some rude, some very physical, some sophisticated parody (in language), some pointed personal references to members of the audience, a direct address to the audience, some lyrical interludes, lots of dancing and singing and music, and a wealth of technical detail in the stage design and costumes, and so on, a whole arsenal of techniques designed above all else to keep the attack varied and funny (with no concessions to political correctness). The audience doesn't have time to pause, because something new and unexpected is about to happen at almost every moment.
This emphasis on the variety of an unremitting attack may help to explain the structure of Aristophanic comedy, which at first glance seems to suffer from the lack of any complex plot. In a sense it is a very linear form of drama in which one incident follows hard upon the heels of another, more like a series of skits held together by a common central character, than a carefully crafted story in which a lot of the interest comes from curious twists and turns in the plot.
This form of play, the Aristophanic comedy, is technically called Old Comedy, and it is, as I have observed, marked by a continuing variety in what goes on, more like an old style pantomime than the sorts of situation comedies we are used to (which derive from what we call New Comedy). The story, such as it is, focuses on one person's attempts to cope with the complexities of Athenian life in the face of very odd circumstances marked by all sorts of interruptions. As a vehicle for dramatic variety it is unsurpassed, but it certainly won't answer the needs of those who demand the consistent depiction of a naturalistic slice of life drama with an intricate plot.
A good many of these attacks are going to draw upon the shared cultural milieu of the playwright and the audience (names of particular people and events, excerpts from particularly well known speeches or plays, references to current affairs, and so on). The aim of the satirist is to deliver an unremitting attack on the target which the audience can laugh at, so that the audience's shared response, its laughter, can effectively deal with the behaviour which the satirist wishes to correct.
In this connection, the notion and use of satiric irony is important. This is a technique which, as its name suggests, confronts the audience with the discrepancy between what characters say and do and what we fully understand by their actions. To appreciate satire, that is, we have to have a sense of where the satirist is coming from, so that we recognize the distortion and the ridiculous behaviour for what it is. If we fail to see the satiric irony at work, then our response may defeat the purposes of the satirist, because we will be tempted to say one of two things: (a) well, life's not like that so I don't see the point (e.g., there is such place as the Thinkery and that portrait of Socrates is just stupid, because he's not like that in real life) or (b) hey, I think that action by the target is just great; maybe we should all be more like that (e.g., Hey that's a great idea. I think I'll enroll my son at the Thinkery).
If we fail to see the function of the satiric irony, in other words, we may dismiss the fiction as mere stupidity, or we may embrace it as something admirable. So the challenge of the satirist is to make the satiric intention clear but not overly obvious, so that the audience derives a certain pleasure from participating in the in-joke, in seeing what the writer is getting at through the humour.
That quality of satire makes it, for all its frequent crudity and knock-about farce, a much more "intellectual" genre than many others. To appreciate satire one has to be able to recognize the continuing existence of different levels of meaning (that is, of irony), and the more sophisticated the satire the more delicate the ironies. Or, put another way, satire requires a certain level of education and sophistication in the audience. People can still respond to the fun of Aristophanes, to the dramatic action and the crude fun, but with no sense for satiric irony, the point of the piece will get rather lost.
4. In assaulting the target in this way, the satirist is going to be pushing hard at the edge of what the audience is prepared to accept. If the satirist wants really to connect with the audience, then the writer is going often to be pushing language at the audience in new ways, taking risks with what they are prepared to accept. After all, if the purpose is to wake people up to the moral realities of their daily situation, then often some fairly strong language and surprising imagery is going to be in order. That, of course, presents the risk of offending the audience's taste. If an audience turns away from the work in disgust, then they are not going to attend to whatever important moral lesson the satirist is striving to call attention to. Hence the more aggressive the satirist, the more delicately the writer has to walk along the line of what is acceptable and what is not. It's no accident that expanding the envelope of what is acceptable on the stage or in prose is often the work of our satirists.
This point is worth stressing, because if a satirist is really touching a nerve in the audience, then a common response is to find ways to neutralize the satire. I have sketched out four of the common methods one can use to do that: (a) take the satire literally and dismiss it as absurd or embrace it as a good idea (the satiric irony is thus lost and the point of the satire evaporates), (b) reject the satire because it is too rude or crude (it offends my taste); (c) reject the satire because it is "unfair" or not sufficiently true to life (this is very similar to point a above); (d) reject the satire by failing to respond to the ironies.
I. Is Satire Ever Effective?
How effective is satire at realizing its objective, that is, the moral reformation of the audience? I suppose the short answer is not very often, especially nowadays, when being laughed at is often a sign of celebrity rather than something one is automatically ashamed of. I suspect that in closely knit groups, where one's status and dignity are important, becoming a laughing stock is something one worries about. Under these circumstances, the satirist may indeed really connect with the target. That, however, may prompt extreme hostility to the writer rather than a reformation of the target's character.
Swift observed that satire is like a mirror in which people see everyone's face except their own. That, I suspect, is a very accurate observation, and to that extent the satirist is probably engaging in something of a vain endeavour: to get people to recognize their own ridiculousness and to avoid it in the future. Still, there may be some other, more useful point. For satire is not just a matter of attacking the target; it's also a matter of attacking or at least challenging those who believe in the target, who do not see, that is, the moral imperfections at the basis of a particular social or political stance.
So it may be the case that satire works most effectively at educating an audience to see through the pretensions and folly of people whom it takes much more seriously than they ought to be taken. If it does that, then it has used laughter in a very constructive way, as mentioned above: it has helped to show us that too often our sense of what we are, as individuals and as groups, is too limited by delusions of grandeur. Too often we become enamored of false idols. Satire is one means of educating us against the practice.
J. The Clouds
If we acknowledge, then, that The Clouds is a satire, what does Aristophanes wish us to learn from witnessing the play? I take it that many of his satiric techniques are obvious enough from the text, although one needs to affirm that we are most unlikely to realize the full satiric potential of this wonderful play without witnessing a first-class production of it. There are few dramas that proffer such an invitation to use the full resources of the stage to keep the audience constantly involved in the action: all sorts of amazing stage devices, pyrotechnics, amusing costumes (including phalluses), repeated physical conflict, and so on. We gather only a small and insufficient sense of the dramatic potential of the work by reading it.
Still, we do get some sense of how this play might appear, so we are in a position to explore what Aristophanes wants us to think about. I would maintain that the satire here goes through at least three distinct stages and that, in going through these stages, the tone of the satire changes from something very amusing and distant from us to something much closer to us, more potentially disturbing, and perhaps apocalyptic. By the end of the play we may well have moved beyond satire; we are, in any case, a long way from the opening scenes of the play.
In the opening scenes of the play, the butt of the satire is clearly Socrates. This may be (indeed, is) an unfair portrait of the Socrates we know from the Gorgias and the Apology (for one thing in those works Socrates is not concerned with physical science and expressly repudiates the notion that he wants to make the weaker argument the stronger). But the satire is very vigorous and funny. As an audience we can laugh good humouredly at a familiar face and place a considerable distance between us and what seems to be the major target of the satire.
One point to stress here is that in the opening of the play, the satire is (for an audience) quite comfortable. The laughter is (if we discuss it in terms of a distinction I introduced earlier) exclusionary. The variously silly things about the Thinkery and Socrates invite that audience to laugh at him as a charlatan and humbug. This is comfortable for an audience, because the satire is apparently directed at a single person, not at them, and since they are not Socrates, they are clearly not implicated in Aristophanes's ridicule.
However, Socrates does not remain the sole (or even the most important target of Aristophanes's satire), for the main aim of the satire changes somewhat when Strepsiades decides to enroll in the Thinkery himself. Strepsiades, after all, is a representative Athenian, and it is made clear to us that for him the attraction of Socrates's school (which he has told us is humbug) is naked self-interest. He wants to defraud his fellow citizens out of the money he owes them. He wants, as he makes clear to us, to learn the art of breaking his promises at the expense of his fellow citizens.
At this point, Aristophanes is casting his satiric net more widely: this is no longer an attempt merely to expose Socrates to ridicule but to include the self-serving greed of Athenians, including, of course, some of those in the audience. In some respects, at this point Strepsiades becomes a more serious and uncomfortable target than Socrates--and the moral tone becomes potentially somewhat more serious. After all, Socrates is in some sense better than Strepsiades. He may be silly, but at least he believes in what he is doing and devotes all his energies to doing that. Strepsiades, by contrast, is not at all interested in learning anything about what Socrates is up to; he simply wants to be equipped to escape his obligations. The satire here is just as funny, especially Strepsiades's stupidity. But his willingness to corrupt language to serve his own interests is something more serious than Socrates's wild speculations.
And this is reinforced by the sense that Strepsiades is not just a single particular Athenian known to the audience (like Socrates). Strepsiades is also a social type: a man who married above his station and has a son whose spending he cannot control. He is, in a sense, representative of a certain kind of citizen, many of whom may well be sitting in the audience. Thus, holding his self-interested greed up to ridicule is clearly implicating, not just one local weirdo, but a certain social type or social attitude. In other words, increasingly numbers of the audience who were laughing so comfortably at Socrates only a few minutes before are now being forced to laugh at themselves or their neighbours.
A similar shift occurs soon afterwards. Once we come to the debate between the Old and the New Philosophy, the satire changes its emphasis (or, rather, enlarges its concerns). This debate makes it clear that what is at stake here is not just a silly thinker or a greedy social type. What Aristophanes is after is an indictment of an entire way of life, especially of the modern trends which are eroding traditional values. The debate (especially if we see it on stage with the magnificent costumes and the ritualized combat) is very funny, but the moral concerns are coming much closer to home. The willingness to dispense with proven values in education and conduct brings with it the loss of something which the playwright clearly sees as something valuable.
It may be the case that Aristophanes is a staunch defender of the old values. But that need not be so. After all, the old philosophy comes in for some satiric jibes, especially for his prurience and rather simple indignation, which might well be presented as a sort of naive stuffiness. But there can be no doubt, I think, of the seriousness of the issues at stake here, the erosion of old values enshrined in a shared tradition and a communal respect for that tradition.
In this connection, the decision of the narrator to label the disputants Philosophy and Sophistry may be somewhat misleading. Traditionally, these debaters have been called the Just (or Major or Better) Logic and the Unjust (or Minor or Weaker) Logic (as Arrowsmith's long endnote on p. 153 indicates). Arrowsmith is right, I think, when he claims (in the same note) that "Aristophanes is talking, not about systems of formal logic, but about whole system of Reason, discursive and nondiscursive alike)," which he characterizes later (on p. 154) as an argument between "the rational guidance of Custom . . . , the corrective rightness of traditional experience as against the restless innovations and risky isolation from experience and history of the pure intellect."
To frame the dispute that way may be fair enough, but the labels Philosophy (for traditional values) and Sophistry (for innovation) may mislead, especially if we come to this play (as many readers to) fresh from dealing with Socrates's definition of his endeavour as philosophy (rather than as oratory), for it would appear to load the scales somewhat on behalf of what Arrowsmith calls Philosophy, when, in fact, the point of the satire may well be that both disputants are, for different reasons, equally foolish. The comic dispute, in other words, may be a funny dramatic symbol for a serious social problem which lies at the heart of this satire: the traditional ways of valuing have broken down, not because they have been "defeated" by some newer and more sophisticated form of valuing, but rather because the old traditions have become stuffy, pretentious, ungrounded, and silly. Aristophanes, in other words, may not be celebrating traditional values, so much as satirizing the vain glory of those values, now without power in a transformed world, forced to defend itself with indignant comparative spluttering about the penis length.
It's clear, too, just what is eroding that tradition: the ability to manipulate language. The New Philosophy (Sophistry) wins the day because the form of linguistic analysis it uses can, the face of the weakness of traditional beliefs, undermine the value of anything. We are seeing here (in satiric comic form) something of the same thing that Herodotus is doing to traditional stories, subjecting them to rational analysis. Here, of course, the exercise is a parody of such analysis, but the effect is the same: calling the old story (and the values which it expresses) into question. The mistake of the Old Philosophy (or the fatal weakness) is a simple uncritical trust in a shared system of meaning in words and of the importance of certain old stores as enshrining permanent values. Having nothing intelligent to counter the New Philosophy's demolition of that shared meaning, the Old Philosophy can only acknowledge the loss.
What has contributed to developments of this method which lead to the loss of traditional value? The end of the debate between the two Philosophies makes that very clear. The responsibility lies with the audience of Athenian citizens, the "buggers," who are indicted by the Old Philosophy as he concedes defeat. By this point the easy satire of the opening of the play, where the audience member could feel a comfortable distance between himself and the ridiculous figure of Socrates, has altered significantly. Now, Socrates and his Thinkery are no longer the issue. The central concern is the neglect by the Athenians themselves of their old traditions and their love of novelty in the service of self-interest. The theatrical action is still very funny (the style has not changed), but the target is now all-encompassing.
The dramatic point is worth stressing. The play begins by inviting the audience to laugh at the ridiculousness of one particular person for his outright humbuggery. As mentioned above, such satire poses no threat to members of the audience and draws them into the story with reassuring ease and much fun. But in the course of the play, the members of the audience are pressured to extend their understanding of humbuggery so that it now includes themselves. It's as if Aristophanes is asking very pointedly: All right, you found certain conduct in Socrates hilarious. How about that same conduct in yourselves? What's the difference?
The consequences of this attitude emerge in the quarrel between Strepsiades and his son. Again, there's a lot of humour in the exchange and the physicality of the staging, but the seriousness of the issue is made explicit. If we abandon traditions to serve only our individual self-interest, then we are left with a situation in which the only basis for human relationships is power. In such a world, why should a son not beat up his father and his mother? There is no particular reason not to. Since laws are only human conventions invented by the stronger party, they can be changed once power shifts, and people can now do more or less as they want. Pheidippides makes the case that human beings are just like animals, and in the animal world, the barnyard, power is the basis of all relationships.
It may be all very well for Strepsiades to yell at his son that if we wants to live as a barnyard animal he can go and shit on a perch. But Pheidippides's case has, in fact, been endorsed by Strepsiades earlier in the play when he puts his own self-interest ahead of anything else. After all, if, in the interests of one's personal advancement, one wants to cheat one's neighbours of what one owes (and has promised), then what defense does one have against the son who wants to beat his parents? The principles that one might want to invoke to prevent the latter are the same as those which should prevent the former. As Pheidippides demonstrates, once an old tradition grows too feeble and one sets about undermining tradition with the new linguistic analysis, anything is possible.
Here, of course, Aristophanes is touching a really sore point in Athenian social life (and in ours). How do we keep the good will of our children on whom we are going to depend? What is it that keeps children from exerting their superior physical power to abuse their parents when they don't get their way? In Athenian times, and even today, this is a significant concern, especially since the continuing health and peaceful life of the elderly requires the benevolent co-operation of the children (much more so then than now). Once that goes, then something very basic to the fabric of our immediate family life breaks down. The members of Aristophanes's audience would have no trouble seeing in that issue something of direct importance in their lives (no more than members of a modern audience).
At this point in the play, I am suggesting, the satire, while still very robust and funny, is a lot more uncomfortable. The action is pushing us to the recognition that the real issue here is not Socrates (silly as he may be), but rather a self-interested greed which will rebound on us. Strepsiades's initial motivation is to serve his self-interest in any way possible; without realizing it, he initiates a course of action which leads inevitably to his physical abuse. The responsibility for this lies, not with Socrates, nor even with Strepsiades, but with the members of the audience, the "buggers." And this issue is now something with which all members of the audience will be fully involved, since they have parents and children and they certainly have a fear of family abuse. Aristophanes is pointing out that the very behaviour which makes Socrates so funny earlier in the play and which they, like Strepsiades, engage in out of self-interest, may well unleash behaviour of which they are all afraid (or ought to be).
That such a concern about the Athenian population generally is the major satiric thrust of the play is made more explicit by the single most important dramatic presence in the play: the Chorus of Clouds, in many ways the most ambiguous element in the play.
The Chorus is made up of seductive female singers and dancers (just how seductive the staging will determine), divine presences bringing with them the promise of rain and fertility. But it's quickly made clear that they are primarily the divine personalities who answer to the desires of those who wish to create something in words, "goddesses of men of leisure and philosophers. To them we owe our repertoire of verbal talents; our eloquence, intellect, fustian, casuistry, force, wit, prodigious vocabulary, circumlocutory skill. . . ." Hence, they are defined as the patrons of all those who manipulate others with words. And this function is mirrored in their characteristic of having no definite shape, but taking on the form in accordance with what the perceiver wishes to see.
That may be the reason they come through in this play as having no consistent point of view, no easily assignable meaning. Socrates can hail them as his patron, and so can the figure of Aristophanes. They can celebrate Strepsiades's decision to enroll in the Thinkery and berate the Athenian audience for its silliness about the lunar calendar--all the time dominating the stage with their singing and dancing. The "meaning" of the Chorus of Clouds (if that is the right word) is as protean as their shape: like the language the Athenians use for various purposes they have no firmness, no determinate form. To the extent this play has a cosmic divine presence, that's brought to us by the Clouds themselves.
That comic business about the Clouds controlling everything for which the traditional gods are given credit, all that stuff about the cosmic convection principle, thunder as farting, and so on, may be funny, but the issue lies at the heart of the play's moral indignation at what is happening in Athens, where the possibilities for a significant life are being systematically corrupted by the seductive power of words, of language itself, which is now being shaped to human beings' desires, rather than directing those desires. The fact that the Clouds spend so much time singing and dancing (and this, one would hope, would be done beautifully on stage) enacts the very point the play is making about the issues they represent.
This point about the corruption of language applies to everyone in the play. For it's not the case, I think, that Aristophanes is privileging the older ways. That figure of Philosophy (or the Just Argument) is as self-serving and silly in his language as is Sophistry (or the Unjust Argument). Indeed, the similarity between the two in this respect makes them both servants of the Clouds and conveys a potentially disturbing irony to all the comic business.
The Ending of The Clouds
That irony I refer to helps to make the ending of this play potentially so ominous. Of course, a great deal is going to depend upon how the play is staged. But it's no accident that Aristophanes ends this comedy with a wanton act of destruction, the burning down of the Thinkery. Why does Strepsiades do this? Well, one immediate cause appears to be the frustration he now finds himself in, when he realizes that he has been trapped by his own silliness and corruption. Instead of resolving the comedy in a peaceful way, with, for example, an acknowledgment of his errors and some form of reconciliation with his son, Aristophanes has him lash out with an action that indicates his loss of restraint, his decision to abandon thought, and to channel his confused feelings into violence.
There's an interesting difference here between this work and the Odyssey. You will recall that the final act of Odysseus in that work is restraint. The destructiveness of the civil war is averted when the gods persuade Odysseus to hold back, to restrain his desire for revenge on the suitors. And the re-establishment of civic harmony in Ithaka requires that. This is a common end of a comic plot, where the sources of social disruption have been punished, killed, expelled, or forgiven, and there is a general sense of a restored social harmony. Similarly, the end of Oedipus is marked by restraint. Oedipus inflicts a horrific punishment on himself and is about to set out into self-imposed exile. But the community is still intact, still trying to absorb the significance of what has happened. And Thebes has been saved and will endure.
The ending of Clouds is not like this. The final vision we have in this play is of destruction. The script does not move us beyond that act. And if we see, as we might, that this destruction has involved some real human suffering and perhaps even death, then we have clearly moved into a world beyond the easy, distant comedy of the opening of the play. In a sense, we might say that we have moved well beyond satire in the closing moments, because we are no longer laughing. What we are seeing might be interpreted as an ominous warning: "What I have shown you is something silly and ridiculous, but the consequences of that are far from amusing." This ending will be all the more powerful if we see in Socrates, as we might, an attractive energy and tolerable weirdness, so that his defeat registers as something of a loss.
I stress that this interpretation of the ending is one of many possibilities. It would be easy enough through the staging to take much of the sting out of it and to make the destruction of the Thinkery something relatively trivial and funny, perhaps even therapeutic. Much would depend upon the presentation of the destruction and the response of the people involved. But the fact that there is no prolonged choral closure after the burning, no final comic celebration of a reinstatement of a communal solidarity does raise the possibility that this ending is something more ironically serious than much of the rest of the comedy might suggest. It is a vision of mob violence.
And the role of the Chorus at this point in the play is significant. The Leader of the Chorus incites Strepsiades and Pheidippides on, urging them to give Socrates and his followers a good thrashing. This, of course, is the man whose labours they encouraged at the start of the play, a man who regarded them as his patron saint. There's a strong sense here that the Clouds themselves are applauding and enjoying the destruction we are witnessing, and they justify their encouragement with appeals to the "gods of heaven," an appeal which has revealed itself as empty during the course of the play, because no one manifests any sense of what a belief in such gods might mean.
In this matter of the tone at the ending of the play, there's an important ambiguity over Phedippides' last exit. Does he go back into his house or return to the Thinkery? He has not achieved any reconciliation with his father, so the latter is a distinct possibility that he goes into the school (a suggestion made by Martha Nussbaum and passed on, with strong reservations, in Alan Sommerstein's notes to the play). If a particular production chooses the latter possiblity and includes Pheidippides among the victims of Strepsiades' homicidal rage, then obviously the comedy at the end has become much more ironically bitter. More than that, too, because Pheidippides' return to the school is a direct insult to his father, and thus one might well see it as the key event which triggers Strepsiades' final outburst. I'm not insisting on this view of the ending, but the possibility is certainly there.
If you see that this powerfully ominous ending as a persuasive possibility, then you can recognize how Aristophanes has significantly shifted his tone throughout the play and perhaps get a sense of why he does this. In a sense, he traps the audience. First, we gets us engaged in the work by inviting us to laugh at a ridiculous stranger with whom we share nothing in common: the satire is funny but safe, because we are not like Socrates. But then, by bringing the satire closer and closer to us, Aristophanes, through our own laughter, brings us face to face with the recognition that what we are really laughing at is not Socrates but our own conduct, our own foolishness arising out of self-interest. And then the work takes us into the consequences of that foolishness, both in the present and, more ominously, into the future. By the end of the play, we are no longer dealing with Sophists and greedy debt-ridden farmers; we are dealing with ourselves and a vision of what we may well become if we don't recognize what's at stake in the promises we make and the words we use.
This all comes about with great theatrical panache and lots of humour; but those features should not obscure the fact that Aristophanes is in deadly earnest in getting across his moral concerns about Athens. There may well be a sense here of tragic inevitability. The satire has gone beyond any sense of ridiculing behaviour which we can correct into an exploration of the inevitable destructiveness of the Athenian character: we were laughing at the particular foolishness of human beings; now we are invited to see that as an inherently self-destructive impulse which threatens the survival of the community. The Chorus of Clouds may promise life-giving rain, but what they represent is the process of destroying the city (and we are not permitted to forget here that Athens is at war).
We don't have to know much history to see that, if the ending here is an ominous warning, then it turned out to be prophetic. The Athenians did turn against Socrates and they did lose their traditional virtues in the course of the war. Along with those, of course, they also forfeited what they were most proud of: their political independence. In burning down the Thinkery, Strepsiades is pointing forward to much of the self-destructiveness which brought the Athenians, and countless other cultures proud of their values but increasingly consumed with self-interest, to grief.
Translated by William James Hickie
Translated by William James Hickie
Servant of Strepsiades
Disciples of Socrates
Chorus of Clouds
Scene: The interior of a sleeping-apartment:
Strepsiades, Phidippides, and two servants are in their
beds; a small house is seen at a distance. Time:
Strepsiades (sitting up in his bed). Ah me! Ah me! O
King Jupiter, of what a terrible length the nights are!
Will it never be day? And yet long since I heard the
cock. My domestics are snoring; but they would not have
done so heretofore! May you perish then, O war! For many
reasons; because I may not even punish my domestics.
Neither does this excellent youth awake through the
night; but takes his ease, wrapped up in five blankets.
Well, if it is the fashion, let us snore wrapped up.
[Lies down, and then almost immediately starts up
But I am not able, miserable man, to sleep, being
tormented by my expenses, and my stud of horses, and my
debts, through this son of mine. He with his long hair,
is riding horses and driving curricles, and dreaming of
horses; while I am driven to distraction, as I see the
moon bringing on the twentieths; for the interest is
running on. Boy! Light a lamp, and bring forth my
tablets, that I may take them and read to how many I am
indebted, and calculate the interest.
[Enter boy with a light and tablets.]
Come, let me see; what do I owe? Twelve minae to
Pasias. Why twelve minae to Pasias? Why did I borrow
them? When I bought the blood-horse. Ah me, unhappy!
Would that it had had its eye knocked out with a stone
Phidippides (talking in his sleep). You are acting
unfairly, Philo! Drive on your own course.
Strep. This is the bane that has destroyed me; for even
in his sleep he dreams about horsemanship.
Phid. How many courses will the war-chariots run?
Strep. Many courses do you drive me, your father. But
what debt came upon me after Pasias? Three minae to
Amynias for a little chariot and pair of wheels.
Phid. Lead the horse home, after having given him a good
Strep. O foolish youth, you have rolled me out of my
possessions; since I have been cast in suits, and others
say that they will have surety given them for the
Phid. (awakening) Pray, father, why are you peevish, and
toss about the whole night?
Strep. A bailiff out of the bedclothes is biting
Phid. Suffer me, good sir, to sleep a little.
Strep. Then, do you sleep on; but know that all these
debts will turn on your head.
[Phidippides falls asleep again.]
Alas! Would that the match-maker had perished miserably,
who induced me to marry your mother. For a country life
used to be most agreeable to me, dirty, untrimmed,
reclining at random, abounding in bees, and sheep, and
oil-cake. Then I, a rustic, married a niece of Megacles,
the son of Megacles, from the city, haughty, luxurious,
and Coesyrafied. When I married her, I lay with her
redolent of new wine, of the cheese-crate, and abundance
of wool; but she, on the contrary, of ointment, saffron,
wanton-kisses, extravagance, gluttony, and of Colias and
Genetyllis. I will not indeed say that she was idle;
but she wove. And I used to show her this cloak by way
of a pretext and say "Wife, you weave at a great
Servant. We have no oil in the lamp.
Strep. Ah me! Why did you light the thirsty lamp? Come
hither that you may weep!
Ser. For what, pray, shall I weep?
Strep. Because you put in one of the thick wicks.
[Servant runs out]
After this, when this son was born to us, to me,
forsooth, and to my excellent wife, we squabbled then
about the name: for she was for adding hippos to the
name, Xanthippus, or Charippus, or Callipides; but I was
for giving him the name of his grandfather, Phidonides.
For a time therefore we disputed; and then at length we
agreed, and called him Phidippides. She used to take
this son and fondle him, saying, "When you, being grown
up, shall drive your chariot to the city, like Megacles,
with a xystis." But I used to say, "Nay, rather, when
dressed in a leathern jerkin, you shall drive goats from
Phelleus, like your father." He paid no attention to my
words, but poured a horse-fever over my property. Now,
therefore, by meditating the whole night, I have
discovered one path for my course extraordinarily
excellent; to which if I persuade this youth I shall be
saved. But first I wish to awake him. How then can I
awake him in the most agreeable manner? How?
Phidippides, my little Phidippides?
Phid. What, father?
Strep. Kiss me, and give me your right hand!
Phid. There. What's the matter?
Strep. Tell me, do you love me?
Phid. Yes, by this Equestrian Neptune.
Strep. Nay, do not by any means mention this Equestrian
to me, for this god is the author of my misfortunes.
But, if you really love me from your heart, my son, obey
Phid. In what then, pray, shall I obey you?
Strep. Reform your habits as quickly as possible, and go
and learn what I advise.
Phid. Tell me now, what do you prescribe?
Strep. And will you obey me at all?
Phid. By Bacchus, I will obey you.
Strep. Look this way then! Do you see this little door
and little house?
Phid. I see it. What then, pray, is this, father?
Strep. This is a thinking-shop of wise spirits. There
dwell men who in speaking of the heavens persuade people
that it is an oven, and that it encompasses us, and that
we are the embers. These men teach, if one give them
money, to conquer in speaking, right or wrong.
Phid. Who are they?
Strep. I do not know the name accurately. They are
minute philosophers, noble and excellent.
Phid. Bah! They are rogues; I know them. You mean the
quacks, the pale-faced wretches, the bare-footed
fellows, of whose numbers are the miserable Socrates and
Strep. Hold! Hold! Be silent! Do not say anything
foolish. But, if you have any concern for your father's
patrimony, become one of them, having given up your
Phid. I would not, by Bacchus, even if you were to give
me the pheasants which Leogoras rears!
Strep. Go, I entreat you, dearest of men, go and be
Phid. Why, what shall I learn?
Strep. They say that among them are both the two
causes—the better cause, whichever that is, and the
worse: they say that the one of these two causes, the
worse, prevails, though it speaks on the unjust side.
If, therefore you learn for me this unjust cause, I
would not pay any one, not even an obolus of these
debts, which I owe at present on your account.
Phid. I can not comply; for I should not dare to look
upon the knights, having lost all my colour.
Strep. Then, by Ceres, you shall not eat any of my
good! Neither you, nor your blood-horse; but I will
drive you out of my house to the crows.
Phid. My uncle Megacles will not permit me to be without
a horse. But I'll go in, and pay no heed to you.
Strep. Though fallen, still I will not lie prostrate:
but having prayed to the gods, I will go myself to the
thinking-shop and get taught. How, then, being an old
man, shall I learn the subtleties of refined
disquisitions? I must go. Why thus do I loiter and not
knock at the door?
[Knocks at the door.]
Boy! Little boy!
Disciple (from within). Go to the devil! Who it is that
knocked at the door?
Strep. Strepsiades, the son of Phidon, of Cicynna.
Dis. You are a stupid fellow, by Jove! who have kicked
against the door so very carelessly, and have caused the
miscarriage of an idea which I had conceived.
Strep. Pardon me; for I dwell afar in the country. But
tell me the thing which has been made to miscarry.
Dis. It is not lawful to mention it, except to
Strep. Tell it, then, to me without fear; for I here am
come as a disciple to the thinking-shop.
Dis. I will tell you; but you must regard these as
mysteries. Socrates lately asked Chaerephon about a
flea, how many of its own feet it jumped; for after
having bit the eyebrow of Chaerephon, it leaped away
onto the head of Socrates.
Strep. How then did he measure this?
Dis. Most cleverly. He melted some wax; and then took
the flea and dipped its feet in the wax; and then a pair
of Persian slippers stuck to it when cooled. Having
gently loosened these, he measured back the distance.
Strep. O King Jupiter! What subtlety of thought!
Dis. What then would you say if you heard another
contrivance of Socrates?
Strep. Of what kind? Tell me, I beseech you!
Dis. Chaerephon the Sphettian asked him whether he
thought gnats buzzed through the mouth or the breech.
Strep. What, then, did he say about the gnat?
Dis. He said the intestine of the gnat was narrow and
that the wind went forcibly through it, being slender,
straight to the breech; and then that the rump, being
hollow where it is adjacent to the narrow part,
resounded through the violence of the wind.
Strep. The rump of the gnats then is a trumpet! Oh,
thrice happy he for his sharp-sightedness! Surely a
defendant might easily get acquitted who understands the
intestine of the gnat.
Dis. But he was lately deprived of a great idea by a
Strep. In what way? Tell me.
Dis. As he was investigating the courses of the moon and
her revolutions, then as he was gaping upward a lizard
in the darkness dropped upon him from the roof.
Strep. I am amused at a lizard's having dropped on
Dis. Yesterday evening there was no supper for us.
Strep. Well. What then did he contrive for provisions?
Dis. He sprinkled fine ashes on the table, and bent a
little spit, and then took it as a pair of compasses and
filched a cloak from the Palaestra.
Strep. Why then do we admire Thales? Open open quickly
the thinking-shop, and show to me Socrates as quickly as
possible. For I desire to be a disciple. Come, open the
[The door of the thinking-shop opens and the pupils of
Socrates are seen all with their heads fixed on the
ground, while Socrates himself is seen suspended in the
air in a basket.]
O Hercules, from what country are these wild beasts?
Dis. What do you wonder at? To what do they seem to you
to be like?
Strep. To the Spartans who were taken at Pylos. But why
in the world do these look upon the ground?
Dis. They are in search of the things below the earth.
Strep. Then they are searching for roots. Do not, then,
trouble yourselves about this; for I know where there
are large and fine ones. Why, what are these doing, who
are bent down so much?
Dis. These are groping about in darkness under Tartarus.
Strep. Why then does their rump look toward heaven?
Dis. It is getting taught astronomy alone by itself.
[Turning to the pupils.]
But go in, lest he meet with us.
Strep. Not yet, not yet; but let them remain, that I may
communicate to them a little matter of my own.
Dis. It is not permitted to them to remain without in
the open air for a very long time.
[The pupils retire.]
Strep. (discovering a variety of mathematical
instruments) Why, what is this, in the name of heaven?
Dis. This is Astronomy.
Strep. But what is this?
Strep. What then is the use of this?
Dis. To measure out the land.
Strep. What belongs to an allotment?
Dis. No, but the whole earth.
Strep. You tell me a clever notion; for the contrivance
is democratic and useful.
Dis. (pointing to a map) See, here's a map of the whole
earth. Do you see? This is Athens.
Strep. What say you? I don't believe you; for I do not
see the Dicasts sitting.
Dis. Be assured that this is truly the Attic territory.
Strep. Why, where are my fellow-tribesmen of Cicynna?
Dis. Here they are. And Euboea here, as you see, is
stretched out a long way by the side of it to a great
Strep. I know that; for it was stretched by us and
Pericles. But where is Lacedaemon?
Dis. Where is it? Here it is.
Strep. How near it is to us! Pay great attention to
this, to remove it very far from us.
Dis. By Jupiter, it is not possible.
Strep. Then you will weep for it.
[Looking up and discovering Socrates.]
Come, who is this man who is in the basket?
Strep. Who's "Himself"?
Strep. O Socrates! Come, you sir, call upon him loudly
Dis. Nay, rather, call him yourself; for I have no
Strep. Socrates! My little Socrates!
Socrates. Why callest thou me, thou creature of a day?
Strep. First tell me, I beseech you, what are you doing.
Soc. I am walking in the air, and speculating about the
Strep. And so you look down upon the gods from your
basket, and not from the earth?
Soc. For I should not have rightly discovered things
celestial if I had not suspended the intellect, and
mixed the thought in a subtle form with its kindred air.
But if, being on the ground, I speculated from below on
things above, I should never have discovered them. For
the earth forcibly attracts to itself the meditative
moisture. Water-cresses also suffer the very same thing.
Strep. What do you say? Does meditation attract the
moisture to the water-cresses? Come then, my little
Socrates, descend to me, that you may teach me those
things, for the sake of which I have come.
[Socrates lowers himself and gets out of the basket.]
Soc. And for what did you come?
Strep. Wishing to learn to speak; for by reason of
usury, and most ill-natured creditors, I am pillaged and
plundered, and have my goods seized for debt.
Soc. How did you get in debt without observing it?
Strep. A horse-disease consumed me—terrible at eating.
But teach me the other one of your two causes, that
which pays nothing; and I will swear by the gods, I will
pay down to you whatever reward you exact of me.
Soc. By what gods will you swear? For, in the first
place, gods are not a current coin with us.
Strep. By what do you swear? By iron money, as in
Soc. Do you wish to know clearly celestial matters, what
they rightly are?
Strep. Yes, by Jupiter, if it be possible!
Soc. And to hold converse with the Clouds, our
Strep. By all means.
Soc. (with great solemnity). Seat yourself, then, upon
the sacred couch.
Strep. Well, I am seated!
Soc. Take, then, this chaplet.
Strep. For what purpose a chaplet? Ah me! Socrates, see
that you do not sacrifice me like Athamas!
Strep. No; we do all these to those who get initiated.
Strep. Then what shall I gain, pray?
Soc. You shall become in oratory a tricky knave, a
thorough rattle, a subtle speaker. But keep quiet.
Strep. By Jupiter! You will not deceive me; for if I am
besprinkled, I shall become fine flour.
Soc. It becomes the old man to speak words of good omen,
and to hearken to my prayer. O sovereign King,
immeasurable Air, who keepest the earth suspended, and
through bright Aether, and ye august goddesses, the
Clouds, sending thunder and lightning, arise, appear in
the air, O mistresses, to your deep thinker!
Strep. Not yet, not yet, till I wrap this around me lest
I be wet through. To think of my having come from home
without even a cap, unlucky man!
Soc. Come then, ye highly honoured Clouds, for a display
to this man. Whether ye are sitting upon the sacred
snow-covered summits of Olympus, or in the gardens of
Father Ocean form a sacred dance with the Nymphs, or
draw in golden pitchers the streams of the waters of the
Nile, or inhabit the Maeotic lake, or the snowy rock of
Mimas, hearken to our prayer, and receive the sacrifice,
and be propitious to the sacred rites.
[The following song is heard at a distance, accompanied
by loud claps of thunder.]
Chorus. Eternal Clouds! Let us arise to view with our
dewy, clear-bright nature, from loud-sounding Father
Ocean to the wood-crowned summits of the lofty
mountains, in order that we may behold clearly the
far-seen watch-towers, and the fruits, and the
fostering, sacred earth, and the rushing sounds of the
divine rivers, and the roaring, loud-sounding sea; for
the unwearied eye of Aether sparkles with glittering
rays. Come, let us shake off the watery cloud from our
immortal forms and survey the earth with far-seeing eye.
Soc. O ye greatly venerable Clouds, ye have clearly
heard me when I called.
[Turning to Strepsiades.]
Did you hear the voice, and the thunder which bellowed
at the same time, feared as a god?
Strep. I too worship you, O ye highly honoured, and am
inclined to reply to the thundering, so much do I
tremble at them and am alarmed. And whether it be
lawful, or be not lawful, I have a desire just now to
Soc. Don't scoff, nor do what these poor-devil-poets do,
but use words of good omen, for a great swarm of
goddesses is in motion with their songs.
Cho. Ye rain-bringing virgins, let us come to the
fruitful land of Pallas, to view the much-loved country
of Cecrops, abounding in brave men; where is reverence
for sacred rites not to be divulged; where the house
that receives the initiated is thrown open in holy
mystic rites; and gifts to the celestial gods; and
high-roofed temples, and statues; and most sacred
processions in honour of the blessed gods; and
well-crowned sacrifices to the gods, and feasts, at all
seasons; and with the approach of spring the Bacchic
festivity, and the rousings of melodious choruses, and
the loud-sounding music of flutes.
Strep. Tell me, O Socrates, I beseech you, by Jupiter,
who are these that have uttered this grand song? Are
they some heroines?
Soc. By no means; but heavenly Clouds, great divinities
to idle men; who supply us with thought and argument,
and intelligence and humbug, and circumlocution, and
ability to hoax, and comprehension.
Strep. On this account therefore my soul, having heard
their voice, flutters, and already seeks to discourse
subtilely, and to quibble about smoke, and having
pricked a maxim with a little notion, to refute the
opposite argument. So that now I eagerly desire, if by
any means it be possible, to see them palpably.
Soc. Look, then, hither, toward Mount Parnes; for now I
behold them descending gently.
Strep. Pray where? Show me.
Soc. See! There they come in great numbers through the
hollows and thickets; there, obliquely.
Strep. What's the matter? For I can't see them.
Soc. By the entrance.
Strep. Now at length with difficulty I just see them.
Soc. Now at length you assuredly see them, unless you
have your eyes running pumpkins.
Strep. Yes, by Jupiter! O highly honoured Clouds, for
now they cover all things.
Soc. Did you not, however, know, nor yet consider, these
to be goddesses?
Strep. No, by Jupiter! But I thought them to be mist,
and dew, and smoke.
Soc. For you do not know, by Jupiter! that these feed
very many sophists, Thurian soothsayers, practisers of
song-twisters for the cyclic dances, and meteorological
quacks. They feed idle people who do nothing, because
such men celebrate them in verse.
Strep. For this reason, then, they introduced into their
verses "the dreadful impetuosity of the moist,
whirling-bright clouds"; and the "curls of
hundred-headed Typho"; and the "hard-blowing tempests";
and then "aerial, moist"; "crooked-clawed birds,
floating in air"; and "the showers of rain from dewy
Clouds". And then, in return for these, they swallow
"slices of great, fine mullets, and bird's-flesh of
Soc. Is it not just, however, that they should have
their reward, on account of these?
Strep. Tell me, pray, if they are really clouds, what
ails them, that they resemble mortal women? For they are
Soc. Pray, of what nature are they?
Strep. I do not clearly know: at any rate they resemble
spread-out fleeces, and not women, by Jupiter! Not a
bit; for these have noses.
Soc. Answer, then, whatever I ask you.
Strep. Then say quickly what you wish.
Soc. Have you ever, when you; looked up, seen a cloud
like to a centaur, or a panther, or a wolf, or a bull?
Strep. By Jupiter, have I! But what of that?
Soc. They become all things, whatever they please. And
then if they see a person with long hair, a wild one of
these hairy fellows, like the son of Xenophantes, in
derision of his folly, they liken themselves to
Strep. Why, what, if they should see Simon, a plunderer
of the public property, what do they do?
Soc. They suddenly become wolves, showing up his
Strep. For this reason, then, for this reason, when they
yesterday saw Cleonymus the recreant, on this account
they became stags, because they saw this most cowardly
Soc. And now too, because they saw Clisthenes, you
observe, on this account they became women.
Strep. Hail therefore, O mistresses! And now, if ever ye
did to any other, to me also utter a voice reaching to
heaven, O all-powerful queens.
Cho. Hail, O ancient veteran, hunter after learned
speeches! And thou, O priest of most subtle trifles!
Tell us what you require? For we would not hearken to
any other of the recent meteorological sophists, except
to Prodicus; to him, on account of his wisdom and
intelligence; and to you, because you walk proudly in
the streets, and cast your eyes askance, and endure many
hardships with bare feet, and in reliance upon us
Strep. O Earth, what a voice! How holy and dignified and
Soc. For, in fact, these alone are goddesses; and all
the rest is nonsense.
Strep. But come, by the Earth, is not Jupiter, the
Olympian, a god?
Soc. What Jupiter? Do not trifle. There is no Jupiter.
Strep. What do you say? Who rains then? For first of all
explain this to me.
Soc. These to be sure. I will teach you it by powerful
evidence. Come, where have you ever seen him raining at
any time without Clouds? And yet he ought to rain in
fine weather, and these be absent.
Strep. By Apollo, of a truth you have rightly confirmed
this by your present argument. And yet, before this, I
really thought that Jupiter caused the rain. But tell me
who is it that thunders. This makes me tremble.
Soc. These, as they roll, thunder.
Strep. In what way? you all-daring man!
Soc. When they are full of much water, and are compelled
to be borne along, being necessarily precipitated when
full of rain, then they fall heavily upon each other and
burst and clap.
Strep. Who is it that compels them to borne along? Is it
Soc. By no means, but aethereal Vortex.
Strep. Vortex? It had escaped my notice that Jupiter did
not exist, and that Vortex now reigned in his stead. But
you have taught me nothing as yet concerning the clap
and the thunder.
Soc. Have you not heard me, that I said that the Clouds,
when full of moisture, dash against each other and clap
by reason of their density?
Strep. Come, how am I to believe this?
Soc. I'll teach you from your own case. Were you ever,
after being stuffed with broth at the Panathenaic
festival, then disturbed in your belly, and did a
tumult suddenly rumble through it?
Strep. Yes, by Apollo! And immediately the little broth
plays the mischief with me, and is disturbed and rumbles
like thunder, and grumbles dreadfully: at first gently
pappax, pappax; and then it adds papa-pappax; and
finally, it thunders downright papapappax, as they do.
Soc. Consider, therefore, how you have trumpeted from a
little belly so small; and how is it not probable that
this air, being boundless, should thunder so loudly?
Strep. For this reason, therefore, the two names also
Trump and Thunder, are similar to each other. But teach
me this, whence comes the thunderbolt blazing with fire,
and burns us to ashes when it smites us, and singes
those who survive. For indeed Jupiter evidently hurls
this at the perjured.
Soc. Why, how then, you foolish person, and savouring of
the dark ages and antediluvian, if his manner is to
smite the perjured, does he not blast Simon, and
Cleonymus, and Theorus? And yet they are very perjured.
But he smites his own temple, and Sunium the promontory
of Athens, and the tall oaks. Wherefore, for indeed an
oak does not commit perjury.
Strep. I do not know; but you seem to speak well. For
what, pray, is the thunderbolt?
Soc. When a dry wind, having been raised aloft, is
inclosed in these Clouds, it inflates them within, like
a bladder; and then, of necessity, having burst them, it
rushes out with vehemence by reason of its density,
setting fire to itself through its rushing and
Strep. By Jupiter, of a truth I once experienced this
exactly at the Diasian festival! I was roasting a
haggis for my kinsfolk, and through neglect I did not
cut it open; but it became inflated and then suddenly
bursting, befouled my eyes and burned my face.
Cho. O mortal, who hast desired great wisdom from us!
How happy will you become among the Athenians and among
the Greeks, if you be possessed of a good memory, and be
a deep thinker, and endurance of labour be implanted in
your soul, and you be not wearied either by standing or
walking, nor be exceedingly vexed at shivering with
cold, nor long to break your fast, and you refrain from
wine, and gymnastics, and the other follies, and
consider this the highest excellence, as is proper a
clever man should, to conquer by action and counsel, and
by battling with your tongue.
Strep. As far as regards a sturdy spirit, and care that
makes one's bed uneasy, and a frugal spirit and
hard-living and savory-eating belly, be of good courage
and don't trouble yourself; I would offer myself to
hammer on, for that matter.
Soc. Will you not, pray, now believe in no god, except
what we believe in—this Chaos, and the Clouds, and the
Strep. Absolutely I would not even converse with the
others, not even if I met them; nor would I sacrifice to
them, nor make libations, nor offer frankincense.
Cho. Tell us then boldly, what we must do for you? For
you shall not fail in getting it, if you honour and
admire us, and seek to become clever.
Strep. O mistresses, I request of you then this very
small favour, that I be the best of the Greeks in
speaking by a hundred stadia.
Cho. Well, you shall have this from us, so that
hence-forward from this time no one shall get more
opinions passed in the public assemblies than you.
Strep. Grant me not to deliver important opinions; for I
do not desire these, but only to pervert the right for
my own advantage, and to evade my creditors.
Cho. Then you shall obtain what you desire; for you do
not covet great things. But commit yourself without fear
to our ministers.
Strep. I will do so in reliance upon you, for necessity
oppresses me, on account of the blood-horses, and the
marriage that ruined me. Now, therefore, let them use me
as they please. I give up this body to them to be
beaten, to be hungered, to be troubled with thirst, to
be squalid, to shiver with cold, to flay into a leathern
bottle, if I shall escape clear from my debts, and
appear to men to be bold, glib of tongue, audacious,
impudent, shameless, a fabricator of falsehoods,
inventive of words, a practiced knave in lawsuits, a
law-tablet, a thorough rattle, a fox, a sharper, a
slippery knave, a dissembler, a slippery fellow, an
impostor, a gallows-bird, a blackguard, a twister, a
troublesome fellow, a licker-up of hashes. If they call
me this, when they meet me, let them do to me absolutely
what they please. And if they like, by Ceres, let them
serve up a sausage out of me to the deep thinkers.
Cho. This man has a spirit not void of courage, but
prompt. Know, that if you learn these matters from me,
you will possess among mortals a glory as high as
Strep. What shall I experience?
Cho. You shall pass with me the most enviable of mortal
lives the whole time.
Strep. Shall I then ever see this?
Cho. Yea, so that many be always seated at your gates,
wishing to communicate with you and come to a conference
with you, to consult with you as to actions and
affidavits of many talents, as is worthy of your
But attempt to teach the old man by degrees whatever you
purpose, and scrutinize his intellect, and make trial of
Soc. Come now, tell me your own turn of mind; in order
that, when I know of what sort it is, I may now, after
this, apply to you new engines.
Strep. What? By the gods, do you purpose to besiege me?
Soc. No; I wish to briefly learn from you if you are
possessed of a good memory.
Strep. In two ways, by Jove! If anything be owing to me,
I have a very good memory; but if I owe unhappy man, I
am very forgetful.
Soc. Is the power of speaking, pray, implanted in your
Strep. Speaking is not in me, but cheating is.
Soc. How, then, will you be able to learn?
Strep. Excellently, of course.
Soc. Come, then, take care that, whenever I propound any
clever dogma about abstruse matters, you catch it up
Strep. What then? Am I to feed upon wisdom like a dog?
Soc. This man is ignorant and brutish—I fear, old man,
lest you will need blows. Come, let me see; what do you
do if any one beat you?
Strep. I take the beating; and then, when I have waited
a little while, I call witnesses to prove it; then
again, after a short interval, I go to law.
Soc. Come, then, lay down your cloak.
Strep. Have I done any wrong?
Soc. No; but it is the rule to enter naked.
Strep. But I do not enter to search for stolen goods.
Soc. Lay it down. Why do you talk nonsense?
Strep. Now tell me this, pray. If I be diligent and
learn zealously, to which of your disciples shall I
Soc. You will no way differ from Chaerephon in
Strep. Ah me, unhappy! I shall become half-dead.
Soc. Don't chatter; but quickly follow me hither with
Strep. Then give me first into my hands a honeyed cake;
for I am afraid of descending within, as if into the
cave of Trophonius.
Soc. Proceed; why do you keep poking about the door?
[Exeunt Socrates and Strepsiades]
Cho. Well, go in peace, for the sake of this your
valour. May prosperity attend the man, because, being
advanced into the vale of years, he imbues his intellect
with modern subjects, and cultivates wisdom!
[Turning to the audience.]
Spectators, I will freely declare to you the truth, by
Bacchus, who nurtured me! So may I conquer, and be
accounted skillful, as that, deeming you to be clever
spectators, and this to be the cleverest of my comedies,
I thought proper to let you first taste that comedy,
which gave me the greatest labour. And then I retired
from the contest defeated by vulgar fellows, though I
did not deserve it. These things, therefore, I object to
you, a learned audience, for whose sake I was expending
this labour. But not even thus will I ever willingly
desert the discerning portion of you. For since what
time my Modest Man and my Rake were very highly praised
here by an audience, with whom it is a pleasure even to
hold converse, and I (for I was still a virgin, and it
was not lawful for me as yet to have children) exposed
my offspring, and another girl took it up, and owned it,
and you generously reared and educated it, from this
time I have had sure pledges of your good will toward
me. Now, therefore, like that well-known Electra, has
this comedy come seeking, if haply it meet with an
audience so clever, for it will recognize, if it should
see, the lock of its brother. But see how modest she is
by nature, who, in the first place, has come, having
stitched to her no leathern phallus hanging down, red at
the top, and thick, to set the boys a laughing; nor yet
jeered the bald-headed, nor danced the cordax; nor does
the old man who speaks the verses beat the person near
him with his staff, keeping out of sight wretched
ribaldry; nor has she rushed in with torches, nor does
she shout iou, iou; but has come relying on herself and
her verses. And I, although so excellent a poet, do not
give myself airs, nor do I seek to deceive you by twice
and thrice bringing forward the same pieces; but I am
always clever at introducing new fashions, not at all
resembling each other, and all of them clever; who
struck Cleon in the belly when at the height of his
power, and could not bear to attack him afterward when
he was down. But these scribblers, when once Hyperbolus
has given them a handle, keep ever trampling on this
wretched man and his mother. Eupolis, indeed, first of
all craftily introduced his Maricas, having basely, base
fellow, spoiled by altering my play of the Knights,
having added to it, for the sake of the cordax, a
drunken old woman, whom Phrynichus long ago poetized,
whom the whale was for devouring. Then again Hermippus
made verses on Hyperbolus; and now all others press hard
upon Hyperbolus, imitating my simile of the eels.
Whoever, therefore, laughs at these, let him not take
pleasure in my attempts; but if you are delighted with
me and my inventions, in times to come you will seem to
I first invoke, to join our choral band, the mighty
Jupiter, ruling on high, the monarch of gods; and the
potent master of the trident, the fierce upheaver of
earth and briny sea; and our father of great renown,
most august Aether, life-supporter of all; and the
horse-guider, who fills the plain of the earth with
exceeding bright beams, a mighty deity among gods and
Most clever spectators, come, give us your attention;
for having been injured, we blame you to your faces. For
though we benefit the state most of all the gods, to us
alone of the deities you do not offer sacrifice nor yet
pour libations, who watch over you. For if there should
be any expedition without prudence, then we either
thunder or drizzle small rain. And then, when you were
for choosing as your general the Paphlagonian tanner,
hateful to the gods, we contracted our brows and were
enraged; and thunder burst through the lightning; and
the Moon forsook her usual paths; and the Sun
immediately drew in his wick to himself, and declared he
would not give you light, if Cleon should be your
general. Nevertheless you chose him. For they say that
ill counsel is in this city; that the gods, however,
turn all these your mismanagements to a prosperous
issue. And how this also shall be advantageous, we will
easily teach you. If you should convict the cormorant
Cleon of bribery and embezzlement, and then make fast
his neck in the stocks, the affair will turn out for the
state to the ancient form again, if you have mismanaged
in any way, and to a prosperous issue.
Hear me again, King Phoebus, Delian Apollo, who
inhabitest the high-peaked Cynthian rock! And thou,
blessed goddess, who inhabitest the all-golden house of
Ephesus, in which Lydian damsels greatly reverence
thee; and thou, our national goddess, swayer of the
aegis, Minerva, guardian of the city! And thou, reveler
Bacchus, who, inhabiting the Parnassian rock, sparklest
with torches, conspicuous among the Delphic Bacchanals!
When we had got ready to set out hither, the Moon met
us, and commanded us first to greet the Athenians and
their allies; and then declared that she was angry, for
that she had suffered dreadful things, though she
benefits you all, not in words, but openly. In the first
place, not less than a drachma every month for torches;
so that also all, when they went out of an evening, were
wont to say, "Boy, don't buy a torch, for the moonlight
is beautiful." And she says she confers other benefits
on you, but that you do not observe the days at all
correctly, but confuse them up and down; so that she
says the gods are constantly threatening her, when they
are defrauded of their dinner, and depart home, not
having met with the regular feast according to the
number of the days. And then, when you ought to be
sacrificing, you are inflicting tortures and litigating.
And often, while we gods are observing a fast, when we
mourn for Memnon or Sarpedon, you are pouring libations
and laughing. For which reason Hyperbolus, having
obtained the lot this year to be Hieromnemon, was
afterward deprived by us gods of his crown; for thus he
will know better that he ought to spend the days of his
life according to the Moon.
Soc. By Respiration, and Chaos, and Air, I have not seen
any man so boorish, nor so impracticable, nor so stupid,
nor so forgetful; who, while learning some little petty
quibbles, forgets them before he has learned them.
Nevertheless I will certainly call him out here to the
light. Where is Strepsiades? Come forth with your couch.
Strep. (from within). The bugs do not permit me to bring
Soc. Make haste and lay it down; and give me your
Strep. Very well.
Soc. Come now; what do you now wish to learn first of
those things in none of which you have ever been
instructed? Tell me. About measures, or rhythms, or
Strep. I should prefer to learn about measures; for it
is but lately I was cheated out of two choenices by a
Soc. I do not ask you this, but which you account the
most beautiful measure; the trimetre or the tetrameter?
Strep. Make a wager then with me, if the semisextarius
be not a tetrameter.
Soc. Go to the devil! How boorish you are and dull of
learning. Perhaps you may be able to learn about
Strep. But what good will rhythms do me for a living?
Soc. In the first place, to be clever at an
entertainment, understanding what rhythm is for the
war-dance, and what, again, according to the dactyle.
Strep. According to the dactyle? By Jove, but I know it!
Soc. Tell me, pray.
Strep. What else but this finger? Formerly, indeed, when
I was yet a boy, this here!
Soc. You are boorish and stupid.
Strep. For I do not desire, you wretch, to learn any of
Soc. What then?
Strep. That, that, the most unjust cause.
Soc. But you must learn other things before these;
namely, what quadrupeds are properly masculine.
Strep. I know the males, if I am not mad-krios, tragos,
tauros, kuon, alektryon.
Soc. Do you see what you are doing? You are calling both
the female and the male alektryon in the same way.
Strep. How, pray? Come, tell me.
Soc. How? The one with you is alektryon, and the other
is alektryon also.
Strep. Yea, by Neptune! How now ought I to call them?
Soc. The one alektryaina and the other alektor.
Strep. Alektryaina? Capital, by the Air! So that, in
return for this lesson alone, I will fill your kardopos
full of barley-meal on all sides.
Soc. See! See! There again is another blunder! You make
kardopos, which is feminine, to be masculine.
Strep. In what way do I make kardopos masculine?
Soc. Most assuredly; just as if you were to say
Strep. Good sir, Cleonymus had no kneading-trough, but
kneaded his bread in a round mortar. How ought I to call
Soc. How? Call it kardope, as you call Sostrate.
Strep. Kardope in the feminine?
Soc. For so you speak it rightly.
Strep. But that would make it kardope, Kleonyme.
Soc. You must learn one thing more about names, what are
masculine and what of them are feminine.
Strep. I know what are female.
Soc. Tell me, pray.
Strep. Lysilla, Philinna, Clitagora, Demetria.
Soc. What names are masculine?
Strep. Thousands; Philoxenus, Melesias, Amynias.
Soc. But, you wretch! These are not masculine.
Strep. Are they not males with you?
Soc. By no means; for how would you call Amynias, if you
Strep. How would I call? Thus: "Come hither, come hither
Soc. Do you see? You call Amynias a woman.
Strep. Is it not then with justice, who does not serve
in the army? But why should I learn these things, that
we all know?
Soc. It is no use, by Jupiter! Having reclined yourself
Strep. What must I do?
Soc. Think out some of your own affairs.
Strep. Not here, pray, I beseech you; but, if I must,
suffer me to excogitate these very things on the ground.
Soc. There is no other way.
Strep. Unfortunate man that I am! What a penalty shall I
this day pay to the bugs!
Cho. Now meditate and examine closely; and roll yourself
about in every way, having wrapped yourself up; and
quickly, when you fall into a difficulty, spring to
another mental contrivance. But let delightful sleep be
absent from your eyes.
Strep. Attatai! Attatai!
Cho. What ails you? Why are you distressed?
Strep. Wretched man, I am perishing! The Corinthians,
coming out from the bed, are biting me, and devouring my
sides, and drinking up my life-blood, and tearing away
my flesh, and digging through my vitals, and will
Cho. Do not now be very grievously distressed.
Strep. Why, how, when my money is gone, my complexion
gone, my life gone, and my slipper gone? And furthermore
in addition to these evils, with singing the
night-watches, I am almost gone myself.
Soc. Ho you! What are you about? Are you not meditating?
Strep. I? Yea, by Neptune!
Soc. And what, pray, have you thought?
Strep. Whether any bit of me will be left by the bugs.
Soc. You will perish most wretchedly.
Strep. But, my good friend, I have already perished.
Soc. You must not give in, but must wrap yourself up;
for you have to discover a device for abstracting, and a
means of cheating.
[Walks up and down while Strepsiades wraps himself up in
Strep. Ah me! Would, pray, some one would throw over me
a swindling contrivance from the sheep-skins.
Soc. Come now; I will first see this fellow, what he is
about. Ho you! Are you asleep?
Strep. No, by Apollo, I am not!
Soc. Have you got anything?
Strep. No; by Jupiter, certainly not!
Soc. Nothing at all?
Strep. Nothing, except what I have in my right hand.
Soc. Will you not quickly cover yourself up and think of
Strep. About what? For do you tell me this, O Socrates!
Soc. Do you, yourself, first find out and state what you
Strep. You have heard a thousand times what I wish.
About the interest; so that I may pay no one.
Soc. Come then, wrap yourself up, and having given your
mind play with subtilty, revolve your affairs by little
and little, rightly distinguishing and examining.
Strep. Ah me, unhappy man!
Soc. Keep quiet; and if you be puzzled in any one of
your conceptions, leave it and go; and then set your
mind in motion again, and lock it up.
Strep. (in great glee). O dearest little Socrates!
Soc. What, old man?
Strep. I have got a device for cheating them of the
Soc. Exhibit it.
Strep. Now tell me this, pray; if I were to purchase a
Thessalian witch, and draw down the moon by night, and
then shut it up, as if it were a mirror, in a round
crest-case, and then carefully keep it—
Soc. What good, pray, would this do you?
Strep. What? If the moon were to rise no longer
anywhere, I should not pay the interest.
Soc. Why so, pray?
Strep. Because the money is lent out by the month.
Soc. Capital! But I will again propose to you another
clever question. If a suit of five talents should be
entered against you, tell me how you would obliterate
Strep. How? How? I do not know but I must seek.
Soc. Do not then always revolve your thoughts about
yourself; but slack away your mind into the air, like a
cock-chafer tied with a thread by the foot.
Strep. I have found a very clever method of getting rid
of my suit, so that you yourself would acknowledge it.
Soc. Of what description?
Strep. Have you ever seen this stone in the chemist's
shops, the beautiful and transparent one, from which
they kindle fire?
Soc. Do you mean the burning-glass?
Strep. I do. Come what would you say, pray, if I were to
take this, when the clerk was entering the suit, and
were to stand at a distance, in the direction of the
sun, thus, and melt out the letters of my suit?
Soc. Cleverly done, by the Graces!
Strep. Oh! How I am delighted, that a suit of five
talents has been cancelled!
Soc. Come now, quickly seize upon this.
Soc. How, when engaged in a lawsuit, you could overturn
the suit, when you were about to be cast, because you
had no witnesses.
Strep. Most readily and easily.
Soc. Tell me, pray.
Strep. Well now, I'll tell you. If, while one suit was
still pending, before mine was called on, I were to run
away and hang myself.
Soc. You talk nonsense.
Strep. By the gods, would I! For no one will bring
action against me when I am dead.
Soc. You talk nonsense. Begone; I can't teach you any
Strep. Why so? Yea, by the gods, O Socrates!
Soc. You straightaway forget whatever you learn. For
what now was the first thing you were taught? Tell me.
Strep. Come, let me see: nay, what was the first? What
was the fist? Nay, what was the thing in which we knead
our flour? Ah me! What was it?
Soc. Will you not pack off to the devil, you most
forgetful and most stupid old man?
Strep. Ah me, what then, pray will become of me,
wretched man? For I shall be utterly undone, if I do not
learn to ply the tongue. Come, O ye Clouds, give me some
Cho. We, old man, advise you, if you have a son grown
up, to send him to learn in your stead.
Strep. Well, I have a fine, handsome son, but he is not
willing to learn. What must I do?
Cho. But do you permit him?
Strep. Yes, for he is robust in body, and in good
health, and is come of the high-plumed dames of Coesyra.
I will go for him, and if he be not willing, I will
certainly drive him from my house.
Go in and wait for me a short time.
Cho. Do you perceive that you are soon to obtain the
greatest benefits through us alone of the gods? For this
man is ready to do everything that you bid him. But you,
while the man is astounded and evidently elated, having
perceived it, will quickly fleece him to the best of
For matters of this sort are somehow accustomed to turn
the other way.
[Enter Strepsiades and Phidippides]
Strep. By Mist, you certainly shall not stay here any
longer! But go and gnaw the columns of Megacles.
Phid. My good sir, what is the matter with you, O
father? You are not in your senses, by Olympian Jupiter!
Strep. See, see, "Olympian Jupiter!" What folly! To
think of your believing in Jupiter, as old as you are!
Phid. Why, pray, did you laugh at this?
Strep. Reflecting that you are a child, and have
antiquated notions. Yet, however, approach, that you may
know more; and I will tell you a thing, by learning
which you will be a man. But see that you do not teach
this to any one.
Phid. Well, what is it?
Strep. You swore now by Jupiter.
Phid. I did.
Strep. Seest thou, then, how good a thing is learning?
There is no Jupiter, O Phidippides!
Phid. Who then?
Strep. Vortex reigns, having expelled Jupiter.
Phid. Bah! Why do you talk foolishly?
Strep. Be assured that it is so.
Phid. Who says this?
Strep. Socrates the Melian, and Chaerephon, who knows
the footmarks of fleas.
Phid. Have you arrived at such a pitch of frenzy that
you believe madmen?
Strep. Speak words of good omen, and say nothing bad of
clever men and wise; of whom, through frugality, none
ever shaved or anointed himself, or went to a bath to
wash himself; while you squander my property in bathing,
as if I were already dead. But go as quickly as possible
and learn instead of me.
Phid. What good could any one learn from them?
Strep. What, really? Whatever wisdom there is among men.
And you will know yourself, how ignorant and stupid you
are. But wait for me here a short time.
Phid. Ah me! What shall I do, my father being crazed?
Shall I bring him into court and convict him of lunacy,
or shall I give information of his madness to the
[Re-enter Strepsiades with a cock under one arm and a
hen under the other]
Strep. Come, let me see; what do you consider this to
be? Tell me.
Strep. Right. And what this?
Strep. Both the same? You are very ridiculous. Do not do
so, then, for the future; but call this alektryaina, and
this one alektor.
Phid. Alektryaina! Did you learn these clever things by
going in just now to the Titans?
Strep. And many others too; but whatever I learned on
each occasion I used to forget immediately, through
length of years.
Phid. Is it for this reason, pray, that you have also
lost your cloak?
Strep. I have not lost it; but have studied it away.
Phid. What have you made of your slippers, you foolish
Strep. I have expended them, like Pericles, for needful
purposes. Come, move, let us go. And then if you obey
your father, go wrong if you like. I also know that I
formerly obeyed you, a lisping child of six years old,
and bought you a go-cart at the Diasia, with the first
obolus I received from the Heliaea.
Phid. You will assuredly some time at length be grieved
Strep. It is well done of you that you obeyed. Come
hither, come hither O Socrates! Come forth, for I bring
to you this son of mine, having persuaded him against
Soc. For he is still childish, and not used to the
Phid. You would yourself be used to them if you were
Strep. A mischief take you! Do you abuse your teacher?
Soc. "Were hanged" quoth 'a! How sillily he pronounced
it, and with lips wide apart! How can this youth ever
learn an acquittal from a trial or a legal summons, or
persuasive refutation? And yet Hyperbolus learned this
at the cost of a talent.
Strep. Never mind; teach him. He is clever by nature.
Indeed, from his earliest years, when he was a little
fellow only so big, he was wont to form houses and carve
ships within-doors, and make little wagons of leather,
and make frogs out of pomegranate-rinds, you can't think
how cleverly. But see that he learns those two causes;
the better, whatever it may be; and the worse, which, by
maintaining what is unjust, overturns the better. If not
both, at any rate the unjust one by all means.
Soc. He shall learn it himself from the two causes in
Strep. I will take my departure. Remember this now, that
he is to be able to reply to all just arguments.
[Exit Strepsiades and enter Just Cause and Unjust Cause]
Just Cause. Come hither! Show yourself to the
spectators, although being audacious.
Unjust Cause. Go whither you please; for I shall far
rather do for you, if I speak before a crowd.
Just. You destroy me? Who are you?
Unj. A cause.
Just. Ay, the worse.
Unj. But I conquer you, who say that you are better than
Just. By doing what clever trick?
Unj. By discovering new contrivances.
Just. For these innovations flourish by the favour of
these silly persons.
Unj. No; but wise persons.
Just I will destroy you miserably.
Unj. Tell me, by doing what?
Just By speaking what is just.
Unj. But I will overturn them by contradicting them; for
I deny that justice even exists at all.
Just Do you deny that it exists?
Unj. For come, where is it?
Just With the gods.
Unj. How, then, if justice exists, has Jupiter not
perished, who bound his own father?
Just Bah! This profanity now is spreading! Give me a
Unj. You are a dotard and absurd.
Just You are debauched and shameless.
Unj. You have spoken roses of me.
Just And a dirty lickspittle.
Unj. You crown me with lilies.
Just And a parricide.
Unj. You don't know that you are sprinkling me with
Just Certainly not so formerly, but with lead.
Unj. But now this is an ornament to me.
Just You are very impudent.
Unj. And you are antiquated.
Just And through you, no one of our youths is willing to
go to school; and you will be found out some time or
other by the Athenians, what sort of doctrines you teach
Unj. You are shamefully squalid.
Just And you are prosperous. And yet formerly you were a
beggar saying that you were the Mysian Telephus, and
gnawing the maxims of Pandeletus out of your little
Unj. Oh, the wisdom—
Just Oh, the madness—
Unj. Which you have mentioned.
Just And of your city, which supports you who ruin her
Unj. You shan't teach this youth, you old dotard.
Just Yes, if he is to be saved, and not merely to
Unj. (to Phidippides) Come hither, and leave him to
Just You shall howl, if you lay your hand on him.
Cho. Cease from contention and railing. But show to us,
you, what you used to teach the men of former times, and
you, the new system of education; in order that, having
heard you disputing, he may decide and go to the school
of one or the other.
Just. I am willing to do so.
Unj. I also am willing.
Cho. Come now, which of the two shall speak first?
Unj. I will give him the precedence; and then, from
these things which he adduces, I will shoot him dead
with new words and thoughts. And at last, if he mutter,
he shall be destroyed, being stung in his whole face and
his two eyes by my maxims, as if by bees.
Cho. Now the two, relying on very dexterous arguments
and thoughts, and sententious maxims, will show which of
them shall appear superior in argument. For now the
whole crisis of wisdom is here laid before them; about
which my friends have a very great contest. But do you,
who adorned our elders with many virtuous manners, utter
the voice in which you rejoice, and declare your nature.
Just. I will, therefore, describe the ancient system of
education, how it was ordered, when I flourished in the
advocacy of justice, and temperance was the fashion. In
the first place it was incumbent that no one should hear
the voice of a boy uttering a syllable; and next, that
those from the same quarter of the town should march in
good order through the streets to the school of the
harp-master, naked, and in a body, even if it were to
snow as thick as meal. Then again, their master would
teach them, not sitting cross-legged, to learn by rote a
song, either "pallada persepolin deinan" or "teleporon
ti boama" raising to a higher pitch the harmony which
our fathers transmitted to us. But if any of them were
to play the buffoon, or to turn any quavers, like these
difficult turns the present artists make after the
manner of Phrynis, he used to be thrashed, being beaten
with many blows, as banishing the Muses. And it behooved
the boys, while sitting in the school of the
Gymnastic-master, to cover the thigh, so that they might
exhibit nothing indecent to those outside; then again,
after rising from the ground, to sweep the sand
together, and to take care not to leave an impression of
the person for their lovers. And no boy used in those
days to anoint himself below the navel; so that their
bodies wore the appearance of blooming health. Nor used
he to go to his lover, having made up his voice in an
effeminate tone, prostituting himself with his eyes. Nor
used it to be allowed when one was dining to take the
head of the radish, or to snatch from their seniors dill
or parsley, or to eat fish, or to giggle, or to keep the
Unj. Aye, antiquated and dipolia-like and full of
grasshoppers, and of Cecydes, and of the Buphonian
Just Yet certainly these are those principles by which
my system of education nurtured the men who fought at
Marathon. But you teach the men of the present day, so
that I am choked, when at the Panathenaia a fellow,
holding his shield before his person, neglects
Tritogenia, when they ought to dance. Wherefore, O
youth, choose with confidence, me, the better cause, and
you will learn to hate the Agora, and to refrain from
baths, and to be ashamed of what is disgraceful, and to
be enraged if any one jeer you, and to rise up from
seats before your seniors when they approach, and not to
behave ill toward your parents, and to do nothing else
that is base, because you are to form in your mind an
image of Modesty: and not to dart into the house of a
dancing-woman, lest, while gaping after these things,
being struck with an apple by a wanton, you should be
damaged in your reputation: and not to contradict your
father in anything; nor by calling him Iapetus, to
reproach him with the ills of age, by which you were
reared in your infancy.
Unj. If you shall believe him in this, O youth, by
Bacchus, you will be like the sons of Hippocrates, and
they will call you a booby.
Just. Yet certainly shall you spend your time in the
gymnastic schools, sleek and blooming; not chattering in
the market-place rude jests, like the youths of the
present day; nor dragged into court for a petty suit,
greedy, pettifogging, knavish; but you shall descend to
the Academy and run races beneath the sacred olives
along with some modest compeer, crowned with white
reeds, redolent of yew, and careless ease, of
leaf-shedding white poplar, rejoicing in the season of
spring, when the plane-tree whispers to the elm. If you
do these things which I say, and apply your mind to
these, you will ever have a stout chest, a clear
complexion, broad shoulders, a little tongue, large
hips, little lewdness. But if you practise what the
youths of the present day do, you will have in the first
place, a pallid complexion, small shoulders, a narrow
chest, a large tongue, little hips, great lewdness, a
long psephism; and this deceiver will persuade you to
consider everything that is base to be honourable, and
what is honourable to be base; and in addition to this,
he will fill you with the lewdness of Antimachus.
Cho. O thou that practisest most renowned high-towering
wisdom! How sweetly does a modest grace attend your
words! Happy, therefore, were they who lived in those
days, in the times of former men! In reply, then, to
these, O thou that hast a dainty-seeming Muse, it
behooveth thee to say something new; since the man has
gained renown. And it appears you have need of powerful
arguments against him, if you are to conquer the man and
not incur laughter.
Unj. And yet I was choking in my heart, and was longing
to confound all these with contrary maxims. For I have
been called among the deep thinkers the "worse cause" on
this very account, that I first contrived how to speak
against both law and justice; and this art is worth more
than ten thousand staters, that one should choose the
worse cause, and nevertheless be victorious. But mark
how I will confute the system of education on which he
relies, who says, in the first place, that he will not
permit you to be washed with warm water. And yet, on
what principle do you blame the warm baths?
Just. Because it is most vile, and makes a man cowardly.
Unj. Stop! For immediately I seize and hold you by the
waist without escape. Come, tell me, which of the sons
of Jupiter do you deem to have been the bravest in soul,
and to have undergone most labours?
Just. I consider no man superior to Hercules.
Unj. Where, pray, did you ever see cold Herculean baths?
And yet, who was more valiant than he?
Just. These are the very things which make the bath full
of youths always chattering all day long, but the
Unj. You next find fault with their living in the
market-place; but I commend it. For if it had been bad,
Homer would never have been for representing Nestor as
an orator; nor all the other wise men. I will return,
then, from thence to the tongue, which this fellow says
our youths ought not to exercise, while I maintain they
should. And again, he says they ought to be modest: two
very great evils. For tell me to whom you have ever seen
any good accrue through modesty and confute me by your
Just. To many. Peleus, at any rate, received his sword
on account of it.
Unj. A sword? Marry, he got a pretty piece of luck, the
poor wretch! While Hyperbolus, he of the lamps, got more
than many talents by his villainy, but by Jupiter, no
Just. And Peleus married Thetis, too, through his
Unj. And then she went off and left him; for he was not
lustful, nor an agreeable bedfellow to spend the night
with. Now a woman delights in being wantonly treated.
But you are an old dotard. For (to Phidippides)
consider, O youth, all that attaches to modesty, and of
how many pleasures you are about to be deprived—of
women, of games at cottabus, of dainties, of
drinking-bouts, of giggling. And yet, what is life worth
to you if you be deprived of these enjoyments? Well, I
will pass from thence to the necessities of our nature.
You have gone astray, you have fallen in love, you have
been guilty of some adultery, and then have been caught.
You are undone, for you are unable to speak. But if you
associate with me, indulge your inclination, dance,
laugh, and think nothing disgraceful. For if you should
happen to be detected as an adulterer, you will make
this reply to him, "that you have done him no injury":
and then refer him to Jupiter, how even he is overcome
by love and women. And yet, how could you, who are a
mortal, have greater power than a god?
Just. But what if he should suffer the radish through
obeying you, and be depillated with hot ashes? What
argument will he be able to state, to prove that he is
not a blackguard?
Unj. And if he be a blackguard, what harm will he
Just. Nay, what could he ever suffer still greater than
Unj. What then will you say if you be conquered by me in
Just. I will be silent: what else can I do?
Unj. Come, now, tell me; from what class do the
Just. From the blackguards.
Unj. I believe you. What then? From what class do
Just. From the blackguards.
Unj. You say well. But from what class do the public
Just. From the blackguards.
Unj. Then have you perceived that you say nothing to the
purpose? And look which class among the audience is the
Just. Well now, I'm looking.
Unj. What, then, do you see?
Just. By the gods, the blackguards to be far more
numerous. This fellow, at any rate, I know; and him
yonder; and this fellow with the long hair.
Unj. What, then, will you say?
Just. We are conquered. Ye blackguards, by the gods,
receive my cloak, for I desert to you.
[Exeunt the Two Causes, and re-enter Socrates and
Soc. What then? whether do you wish to take and lead
away this your son, or shall I teach him to speak?
Strep. Teach him, and chastise him: and remember that
you train him properly; on the one side able for petty
suits; but train his other jaw able for the more
Soc. Make yourself easy; you shall receive him back a
Strep. Nay, rather, pale and wretched.
[Exeunt Socrates, Strepsiades, and Phidippides.]
Cho. Go ye, then: but I think that you will repent of
these proceedings. We wish to speak about the judges,
what they will gain, if at all they justly assist this
Chorus. For in the first place, if you wish to plough up
your fields in spring, we will rain for you first; but
for the others afterward. And then we will protect the
fruits, and the vines, so that neither drought afflict
them, nor excessive wet weather. But if any mortal
dishonour us who are goddesses, let him consider what
evils he will suffer at our hands, obtaining neither
wine nor anything else from his farm. For when his
olives and vines sprout, they shall be cut down; with
such slings will we smite them. And if we see him making
brick, we will rain; and we will smash the tiles of his
roof with round hailstones. And if he himself, or any
one of his kindred or friends, at any time marry, we
will rain the whole night; so he will probably wish
rather to have been even in Egypt than to have judged
[Enter Strepsiades with a meal-sack on his shoulder.]
Strep. The fifth, the fourth, the third, after this the
second; and then, of all the days I most fear, and
dread, and abominate, immediately after this there is
the Old and New. For every one to whom I happen to be
indebted, swears, and says he will ruin and destroy me,
having made his deposits against me; though I only ask
what is moderate and just-"My good sir, one part don't
take just now; the other part put off I pray; and the
other part remit"; they say that thus they will never
get back their money, but abuse me, as I am unjust, and
say they will go to law with me. Now therefore let them
go to law, for it little concerns me, if Phidippides has
learned to speak well. I shall soon know by knocking at
[Knocks at the door.]
Boy, I say! Boy, boy!
Soc. Good morning, Strepsiades.
Strep. The same to you. But first accept this present;
for one ought to compliment the teacher with a fee. And
tell me about my son, if he has learned that cause,
which you just now brought forward.
Soc. He has learned it.
Strep. Well done, O Fraud, all-powerful queen!
Soc. So that you can get clear off from whatever suit
Strep. Even if witnesses were present when I borrowed
Soc. Yea, much more! Even if a thousand be present.
Strep. Then I will shout with a very loud shout: Ho!
Weep, you petty-usurers, both you and your principals,
and your compound interests! For you can no longer do me
any harm, because such a son is being reared for me in
this house, shining with a double-edged tongue, for my
guardian, the preserver of my house, a mischief to my
enemies, ending the sadness of the great woes of his
father. Him do thou run and summon from within to me.
[Socrates goes into the house.]
O child! O son! Come forth from the house! Hear your
[Re-enter Socrates leading in Phidippides]
Soc. Lo, here is the man!
Strep. O my dear, my dear!
Soc. Take your son and depart.
Strep. Oh, oh, my child! Huzza! Huzza! How I am
delighted at the first sight of your complexion! Now,
indeed, you are, in the first place, negative and
disputatious to look at, and this fashion native to the
place plainly appears, the "what do you say?" and the
seeming to be injured when, I well know, you are
injuring and inflicting a wrong; and in your countenance
there is the Attic look. Now, therefore, see that you
save me, since you have also ruined me.
Phid. What, pray, do you fear?
Strep. The Old and New.
Phid. Why, is any day old and new?
Strep. Yes; on which they say that they will make their
deposits against me.
Phid. Then those that have made them will lose them; for
it is not possible that two days can be one day.
Strep. Can not it?
Phid. Certainly not; unless the same woman can be both
old and young at the same time.
Strep. And yet it is the law.
Phid. For they do not, I think, rightly understand what
the law means.
Strep. And what does it mean?
Phid. The ancient Solon was by nature the commons'
Strep. This surely is nothing whatever to the Old and
Phid. He therefore made the summons for two days, for
the Old and New, that the deposits might be made on the
first of the month.
Strep. Why, pray, did he add the old day?
Phid. In order, my good sir, that the defendants, being
present a day before, might compromise the matter of
their own accord; but if not, that they might be worried
on the morning of the new moon.
Strep. Why, then, do the magistrates not receive the
deposits on the new moon, but on the Old and New?
Phid. They seem to me to do what the forestallers do: in
order that they may appreciate the deposits as soon as
possible, on this account they have the first pick by
Strep. (turning to the audience) Bravo! Ye wretches, why
do you sit senseless, the gain of us wise men, being
blocks, ciphers, mere sheep, jars heaped together,
wherefore I must sing an encomium upon myself and this
my son, on account of our good fortune. "O happy
Strepsiades! How wise you are yourself, and how
excellent is the son whom you are rearing!" My friends
and fellow-tribesmen will say of me, envying me, when
you prove victorious in arguing causes. But first I wish
to lead you in and entertain you.
[Exeunt Strepsiades and Phidippides.]
Pasias (entering with his summons-witness) Then, ought a
man to throw away any part of his own property? Never!
But it were better then at once to put away blushes,
rather than now to have trouble; since I am now dragging
you to be a witness, for the sake of my own money; and
further, in addition to this, I shall become an enemy to
my fellow-tribesman. But never, while I live, will I
disgrace my country, but will summon Strepsiades.
Strep. (from within) Who's there?
Pas. For the Old and New.
Strep. I call you to witness, that he has named it for
two days. For what matter do you summon me?
Pas. For the twelve minae, which you received when you
were buying the dapple-gray horse.
Strep. A horse? Do you not hear? I, whom you all know to
Pas. And, by Jupiter! You swore by the gods too, that
you would repay it.
Strep. Ay, by Jove! For then my Phidippides did not yet
know the irrefragable argument.
Pas. And do you now intend, on this account, to deny the
Strep. Why, what good should I get else from his
Pas. And will you be willing to deny these upon oath of
Strep. What gods?
Pas. Jupiter, Mercury, and Neptune.
Strep. Yes, by Jupiter! And would pay down, too, a
three-obol piece besides to swear.
Pas. Then may you perish some day for your impudence!
Strep. This man would be the better for it if he were
cleansed by rubbing with salt.
Pas. Ah me, how you deride me!
Strep. He will contain six choae.
Pas. By great Jupiter and the gods, you certainly shall
not do this to me with impunity!
Strep. I like your gods amazingly; and Jupiter, sworn
by, is ridiculous to the knowing ones.
Pas. You will assuredly suffer punishment, some time or
other, for this. But answer and dismiss me, whether you
are going to repay me my money or not.
Strep. Keep quiet now, for I will presently answer you
[Runs into the house.]
Pas. (to his summons-witness). What do you think he will
Witness. I think he will pay you.
[Re-enter Strepsiades with a kneading-trough]
Strep. Where is this man who asks me for his money? Tell
me what is this?
Pas. What is this? A kardopos.
Strep. And do you then ask me for your money, being such
an ignorant person? I would not pay, not even an obolus,
to any one who called the kardope kardopos.
Pas. Then won't you pay me?
Strep. Not, as far as I know. Will you not then pack off
as fast as possible from my door?
Pas. I will depart; and be assured of this, that I will
make deposit against you, or may I live no longer!
Strep. Then you will lose it besides, in addition to
your twelve minae. And yet I do not wish you to suffer
this, because you named the kardopos foolishly.
[Exeunt Pasias and Witness, and enter Amynias]
Amynias. Ah me! Ah me!
Strep. Ha! Whoever is this, who is lamenting? Surely it
was not one of Carcinus' deities that spoke.
Amyn. But why do you wish to know this, who I am?-A
Strep. Then follow your own path.
Amyn. O harsh fortune! O Fates, breaking the wheels of
my horses! O Pallas, how you have destroyed me!
Strep. What evil, pray, has Tlepolemus ever done you?
Amyn. Do not jeer me, my friend; but order your son to
pay me the money which he received; especially as I have
Strep. What money is this?
Amyn. That which he borrowed.
Strep. Then you were really unlucky, as I think.
Amyn. By the gods, I fell while driving my horses.
Strep. Why, pray, do you talk nonsense, as if you had
fallen from an ass?
Amyn. Do I talk nonsense if I wish to recover my money?
Strep. You can't be in your senses yourself.
Amyn. Why, pray?
Strep. You appear to me to have had your brains shaken
as it were.
Amyn. And you appear to me, by Hermes, to be going to be
summoned, if you will not pay me the money?
Strep. Tell me now, whether you think that Jupiter
always rains fresh rain on each occasion, or that the
sun draws from below the same water back again?
Amyn. I know not which; nor do I care.
Strep. How then is it just that you should recover your
money, if you know nothing of meteorological matters?
Amyn. Well, if you are in want, pay me the interest of
Strep. What sort of animal is this interest?
Amyn. Most assuredly the money is always becoming more
and more every month and every day as the time slips
Strep. You say well. What then? Is it possible that you
consider the sea to be greater now than formerly?
Amyn. No, by Jupiter, but equal; for it is not fitting
that it should be greater.
Strep. And how then, you wretch does this become no way
greater, though the rivers flow into it, while you seek
to increase your money? Will you not take yourself off
from my house? Bring me the goad.
[Enter Servant with a goad.]
Amyn. I call you to witness these things.
Strep. (beating him). Go! Why do you delay? Won't you
march, Mr. Blood-horse?
Amyn. Is not this an insult, pray?
Strep. Will you move quickly?
[Pricks him behind with the goad.]
I'll lay on you, goading you behind, you outrigger? Do
[Amynias runs off.]
I thought I should stir you, together with your wheels
and your two-horse chariots.
Cho. What a thing it is to love evil courses! For this
old man, having loved them, wishes to withhold the money
that he borrowed. And he will certainly meet with
something today, which will perhaps cause this sophist
to suddenly receive some misfortune, in return for the
knaveries he has begun. For I think that he will
presently find what has been long boiling up, that his
son is skilful to speak opinions opposed to justice, so
as to overcome all with whomsoever he holds converse,
even if he advance most villainous doctrines; and
perhaps, perhaps his father will wish that he were even
Strep. (running out of the house pursued by his son)
Hollo! Hollo! O neighbours, and kinsfolk, and
fellow-tribesmen, defend me, by all means, who am being
beaten! Ah me, unhappy man, for my head and jaw! Wretch!
Do you beat your father?
Phid. Yes, father.
Strep. You see him owning that he beats me.
Strep. O wretch, and parricide, and house-breaker!
Phid. Say the same things of me again, and more. Do you
know that I take pleasure in being much abused?
Strep. You blackguard!
Phid. Sprinkle me with roses in abundance.
Strep. Do you beat your father?
Phid. And will prove too, by Jupiter! that I beat you
Strep. O thou most rascally! Why, how can it be just to
beat a father?
Phid. I will demonstrate it, and will overcome you in
Strep. Will you overcome me in this?
Phid. Yea, by much and easily. But choose which of the
two Causes you wish to speak.
Strep. Of what two Causes?
Phid. The better, or the worse?
Strep. Marry, I did get you taught to speak against
justice, by Jupiter, my friend, if you are going to
persuade me of this, that it is just and honourable for
a father to be beaten by his sons!
Phid. I think I shall certainly persuade you; so that,
when you have heard, not even you yourself will say
anything against it.
Strep. Well, now, I am willing to hear what you have to
Cho. It is your business, old man, to consider in what
way you shall conquer the man; for if he were not
relying upon something, he would not be so licentious.
But he is emboldened by something; the boldness of the
man is evident. Now you ought to tell to the Chorus from
what the contention first arose. And this you must do by
Strep. Well, now, I will tell you from what we first
began to rail at one another. After we had feasted, as
you know, I first bade him take a lyre, and sing a song
of Simonides, "The Shearing of the Ram." But he
immediately said it was old-fashioned to play on the
lyre and sing while drinking, like a woman grinding
Phid. For ought you not then immediately to be beaten
and trampled on, bidding me sing, just as if you were
Strep. He expressed, however, such opinions then too
within, as he does now; and he asserted that Simonides
was a bad poet. I bore it at first, with difficulty
indeed, yet nevertheless I bore it. And then I bade him
at least take a myrtle-wreath and recite to me some
portion of Aeschylus; and then he immediately said,
"Shall I consider Aeschylus the first among the poets,
full of empty sound, unpolished, bombastic, using rugged
words?" And hereupon you can't think how my heart
panted. But, nevertheless, I restrained my passion, and
said, "At least recite some passage of the more modern
poets, of whatever kind these clever things be." And he
immediately sang a passage of Euripides, how a brother,
O averter of ill! Debauched his uterine sister. And I
bore it no longer, but immediately assailed him with
many abusive reproaches. And then, after that, as was
natural, we hurled word upon word. Then he springs upon
me; and then he was wounding me, and beating me, and
Phid. Were you not therefore justly beaten, who do not
praise Euripides, the wisest of poets?
Strep. He the wisest! Oh, what shall I call you? But I
shall be beaten again.
Phid. Yes, by Jupiter, with justice?
Strep. Why, how with justice? Who, O shameless fellow,
reared you, understanding all your wishes, when you
lisped what you meant? If you said bryn, I,
understanding it, used to give you to drink. And when
you asked for mamman, I used to come to you with bread.
And you used no sooner to say caccan, than I used to
take and carry you out of doors, and hold you before me.
But you now, throttling me who was bawling and crying
out because I wanted to ease myself, had not the heart
to carry me forth out of doors, you wretch; but I did it
there while I was being throttled.
Cho. I fancy the hearts of the youths are panting to
hear what he will say. For if, after having done such
things, he shall persuade him by speaking, I would not
take the hide of the old folks, even at the price of a
chick-pea. It is thy business, thou author and upheaver
of new words, to seek some means of persuasion, so that
you shall seem to speak justly.
Phid. How pleasant it is to be acquainted with new and
clever things, and to be able to despise the established
laws! For I, when I applied my mind to horsemanship
alone, used not to be able to utter three words before I
made a mistake; but now, since he himself has made me
cease from these pursuits, and I am acquainted with
subtle thoughts, and arguments, and speculations, I
think I shall demonstrate that it is just to chastise
Strep. Ride, then, by Jupiter! Since it is better for me
to keep a team of four horses than to be killed with a
Phid. I will pass over to that part of my discourse
where you interrupted me; and first I will ask you this:
Did you beat me when I was a boy?
Strep. I did, through good-will and concern for you.
Phid. Pray tell me, is it not just that I also should be
well inclined toward you in the same way, and beat you,
since this is to be well inclined-to give a beating? For
why ought your body to be exempt from blows and mine
not? And yet I too was born free. The boys weep, and do
you not think it is right that a father should weep? You
will say that it is ordained by law that this should be
the lot of boys. But I would reply, that old men are
boys twice over, and that it is the more reasonable that
the old should weep than the young, inasmuch as it is
less just that they should err.
Strep. It is nowhere ordained by law that a father
should suffer this.
Phid. Was it not then a man like you and me, who first
proposed this law, and by speaking persuaded the
ancients? Why then is it less lawful for me also in turn
to propose henceforth a new law for the sons, that they
should beat their fathers in turn? But as many blows as
we received before the law was made, we remit: and we
concede to them our having been thrashed without return.
Observe the cocks and these other animals, how they
punish their fathers; and yet, in what do they differ
from us, except that they do not write decrees?
Strep. Why then, since you imitate the cocks in all
things, do you not both eat dung and sleep on a perch?
Phid. It is not the same thing, my friend; nor would it
appear so to Socrates.
Strep. Therefore do not beat me; otherwise you will one
day blame yourself.
Phid. Why, how?
Strep. Since I am justly entitled to chastise you; and
you to chastise your son, if you should have one.
Phid. But if I should not have one, I shall have wept
for nothing, and you will die laughing at me.
Strep. To me, indeed, O comrades, he seems to speak
justly; and I think we ought to concede to them what is
fitting. For it is proper that we should weep, if we do
not act justly.
Phid. Consider still another maxim.
Strep. No; for I shall perish if I do.
Phid. And yet perhaps you will not be vexed at suffering
what you now suffer.
Strep. How, pray? For inform me what good you will do me
Phid. I will beat my mother, just as I have you.
Strep. What do you say? What do you say? This other,
again, is a greater wickedness.
Phid. But what if, having the worst Cause, I shall
conquer you in arguing, proving that it is right to beat
Strep. Most assuredly, if you do this, nothing will
hinder you from casting yourself and your Worse Cause
into the pit along with Socrates. These evils have I
suffered through you, O Clouds! Having intrusted all my
affairs to you.
Cho. Nay, rather, you are yourself the cause of these
things, having turned yourself to wicked courses.
Strep. Why, pray, did you not tell me this, then, but
excited with hopes a rustic and aged man?
Cho. We always do this to him whom we perceive to be a
lover of wicked courses, until we precipitate him into
misfortune, so that he may learn to fear the gods.
Strep. Ah me! it is severe, O Clouds! But it is just;
for I ought not to have withheld the money which I
borrowed. Now, therefore, come with me, my dearest son,
that you may destroy the blackguard Chaerephon and
Socrates, who deceived you and me.
Phid. I will not injure my teachers.
Strep. Yes, yes, reverence Paternal Jove.
Phid. "Paternal Jove" quoth'a! How antiquated you are!
Why, is there any Jove?
Strep. There is.
Phid. There is not, no; for Vortex reigns having
Strep. He has not expelled him; but I fancied this, on
account of this Vortex here. Ah me, unhappy man! When I
even took you who are of earthenware for a god.
Phid. Here rave and babble to yourself.
Strep. Ah me, what madness! How mad, then, I was when I
ejected the gods on account of Socrates! But O dear
Hermes, by no means be wroth with me, nor destroy me;
but pardon me, since I have gone crazy through prating.
And become my adviser, whether I shall bring an action
and prosecute them, or whatever you think. You advise me
rightly, not permitting me to get up a lawsuit, but as
soon as possible to set fire to the house of the prating
fellows. Come hither, come hither, Xanthias! Come forth
with a ladder and with a mattock and then mount upon the
thinking-shop and dig down the roof, if you love your
master, until you tumble the house upon them.
[Xanthias mounts upon the roof]
But let some one bring me a lighted torch and I'll make
some of them this day suffer punishment, even if they be
ever so much impostors.
1st Dis. (from within) Hollo! Hollo!
Strep. It is your business, O torch, to send forth
[Mounts upon the roof]
1st Dis. What are you doing, fellow?
Strep. What am I doing? Why, what else, than chopping
logic with the beams of your house?
[Sets the house on fire]
2nd Dis. (from within) You will destroy us! You will
Strep. For I also wish this very thing; unless my
mattock deceive my hopes, or I should somehow fall first
and break my neck.
Soc. (from within). Hollo you! What are you doing, pray,
you fellow on the roof?
Strep. I am walking on air, and speculating about the
Soc. Ah me, unhappy! I shall be suffocated, wretched
Chaer. And I, miserable man, shall be burnt to death!
Strep. For what has come into your heads that you acted
insolently toward the gods, and pried into the seat of
the moon? Chase, pelt, smite them, for many reasons, but
especially because you know that they offended against
[The thinking shop is burned down]
Cho. Lead the way out; for we have sufficiently acted as
chorus for today.
Thales [The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Anaxagoras [The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Anaximander [The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Pre-Socratic Philosophy [Wikipedia]
Presocratic Philosophy [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]