The setting of the Clouds
requires two doors in the skene,
one representing Strepsiades's house and the other, the Thinkery,
both in the city of Athens. The play begins with Strepsiades
and Pheidippides sleeping in their beds. Since the ancient Greek
theater had no curtain, these two men in their beds had to be
carried out in full view of the audience by stagehands (probably
slaves) and placed in front of one of the doors of the skene
representing Strepsiades's house. The audience was no doubt expected
to imagine that this was an indoor scene, because it was not
usual for Greeks to sleep outside. This assumption is strengthened
by the fact that, since Pheidippides is sleeping under five blankets,
the weather is cool, which would make it even less likely that
this was intended as an outdoor scene.
The method of presenting the
scholarly activities that go on inside the Thinkery is by no
means certain. K. J. Dover (Aristophanic Comedy, Berkeley
and Los Angeles, 1972, 107) suggests two possibilities. The students
could come out of the door of the skene carrying their
apparatus with them, which they could leave behind when they
go back inside. Another possibility is that a screen made of
canvas and wood with a door, held from behind by stagehands,
could conceal the students until Strepsiades asks that the door
be opened. The stagehands then could remove this screen revealing
the students and their equipment. When the students are ordered
to go back inside, they could go through a door of the skene
which then would become the door of the Thinkery for the rest
of the play.
One other aspect of production
needs to be mentioned. Socrates
first appears in the play suspended in air. The means of his
suspension is undoubtedly the mechane,
which in tragedy is mostly used for gods, but in comedy is used
for any character who needs to fly or just be in the air.
Aristophanes's Comic Portrait
Although there is something
of the real Socrates1 in the character of the same
name in the Clouds, it is clear that Aristophanes's
depiction of Socrates in the Clouds is in good part a
comic distortion. Socrates was a well-known figure in Athens
who was popularly perceived as an intellectual. Aristophanes,
taking advantage of this popular perception, arbitrarily places
him at the head of the Thinkery, in which subjects such as rhetoric
and astronomy are taught. As will become evident in the Apology
and the Republic, Socrates was not a teacher of rhetoric
or any of the other topics taught in the Thinkery. He was not
concerned with teaching students to achieve material success
through oratory; in fact, his main interest was to encourage
young men toward spiritual, not material progress. Despite Socrates's
atheism in the Clouds, he was not a scoffer at traditional religion,
but a pious believer in the gods.
the metaphor of midwifery (137 ff.); Socrates's shoelessness
and endurance (363); his reduction of Strepsiades to a state
of utter bewilderment (791 ff.).
It indeed seems shocking that
Aristophanes could so completely misrepresent Socrates, but in
423 B.C. when the Clouds was first presented, the distinction
between Socrates and the Sophists
might not have been as clear as it became later when Plato
in the fourth century began to write philosophical dialogues
with Socrates as the central character. To the average observer
at the time of the Clouds Socrates did not seem terribly
different from the Sophists. Like the Sophists, he was constantly
seen in the company of wealthy young men, who, if they did not
pay him regular fees, no doubt from time to time gave him financial
support. Even if Socrates emphasized spiritual over material
values, the actions of his young friends did not always reflect
this emphasis, as in the case of Alcibiades
was a brilliant but unprincipled aristocrat who, although an
Athenian general, left Athens and helped the Spartans after he
had been brought up on charges of impiety. Critias was one of
the oligarchical Thirty whose reign of terror at Athens after
the end of the Peloponnesian War brought about the death or exile
of numerous democrats and the confiscation of their property.
As Plato's depiction of him
reveals, Socrates was not a typical Athenian. His rejection of
the normal concerns of life such as money made him seem quite
abnormal. One reaction of society to the abnormal man is to laugh
at him. Aristophanes, whether he knew the real character of Socrates
or not, did not hesitate to take advantage of the comic potential
of this unusual man.3
discussion owes much to K.J. Dover's edition of the play (Oxford
1968) and his book, Aristophanic Comedy, cited earlier.
EXERCISES FOR READING, COMPREHENSION
Strepsiades's House (beginning
with prologue) - Strepsiades, Pheidippides, Xanthias (slave)
4 The numbers
in parentheses refer to lines in Clouds.
The play begins with Strepsiades's
monologue (prologue), which is interrupted by the sleep-talking
of Pheidippides and two brief comments of a servant (1-79). What
is the dramatic purpose of this monologue? What is Strepsiades's
problem with his son (12-27)? with his wife (41-74)? What does
his son's name mean and why was he so named (63-67)? What salvation
does Strepsiades see in the Thinkery (94-99)? Why does Pheidippides
refuse to study there (102-104;119-120)?
Thinkery (containing parodos)
- Strepsiades, Student, Socrates, Students of Thinkery and Chorus
When Strepsiades arrives
at the Thinkery, the Student speaks of the researches in the
Thinkery as mysteries (143). He is referring to the secret knowledge
and ritual which were known to only the initiates of mystery
cults, like some Dionysiac cults and the Eleusinian mysteries.5
Can you suggest a reason why Aristophanes uses the motif of mystery
religion in reference to the education offered by the Thinkery?
5 In Eleusis,
a town in Attica about 12 miles from Athens, mysteries in honor
of the agricultural goddesses Demeter
and Persephone were celebrated.
What impression is given by
the Student's description of the experiments in the Thinkery?
What view are we given of Socrates before he arrives in person
(144-174)? What is the physical condition of the students in
the Thinkery and what subjects do they study there (186-217)?
Socrates appears suspended in
the air in order to satirize the scientific theory (attributed
to Diogenes of Apollonia) which connected thinking with air,
both inside and outside the body. The air farther from the earth
was considered purer and better suited for thought than that
nearer the earth. What impression does Socrates give by his position
and his words (223-234)?
Clouds are chosen as the chorus
of this play and as patron divinities of the Thinkery because
of the connection between clouds and various meteorological phenomena
like rain, thunder and lightning in the scientific thought of
such Presocratics as Anaximander, Heraclitus and Anaxagoras.
What are the different reactions of the Clouds when they see
various men (348-355)? In reference to these reactions, in what
sense can the Clouds be said to be moral critics? How is this
view inconsistent with Socrates's first description of them (331-334)?
What is Socrates's view of Zeus
(367)? What has replaced him (379)?6
says that Dinos 'rotation' has replaced Zeus. Dinos has been
variously translated as "Convection Principle", "the
Whirl", "ethereal vortex", etc. This doctrine
of the rotation of the universe was basic to the view of the
universe espoused by Empedocles, Anaxagoras and the atomist Democritus.
Parabasis - Chorus (518-626)
What view of the Clouds,
Aristophanes's style of comedy and his competitors is presented
(537-562)? What complaint does the chorus of Clouds make to the
audience (575-594)? What offense have the Athenians given to
the gods with the new calendar (607-626)?
Thinkery - Socrates, Strepsiades,
Pheidippides and Chorus (627-888)
Before Strepsiades is
allowed to study the immoral logic he is so eager for, he must
study poetic meter and grammatical gender (636-693). Strepsiades
finds great difficulty in understanding these subjects and when
he offends Socrates with the stupidity of his suggestion that
he hang himself to get out of his debts, Socrates rejects him
as a student (780-790). After this rejection, who suggests that
Strepsiades send his son to the Thinkery in his place (794-796)?
What does Strepsiades insist that his son learn there (882-885)?
Debate (Thinkery) - Philosophy,
Sophistry, Socrates, Strepsiades, Pheidippides Chorus (889-1114)
Next takes place the
Debate between Just Argument and Unjust Argument7
which begins with unrestrained verbal abuse. What is the purpose
of the Debate? Is the Debate absolutely necessary from a logical
point of view? Explain your answer. What kind of education is
praised by Just Argument (961-999)? What are the values which
this education teaches to its students? Compare the effects produced
by the old education with those produced by a Sophistic education
(1002-1019). What criticisms does Just Argument make of the effects
of Unjust Argument's teaching (1020-1023)?
translate these names in various ways. However they are translated,
the first speaker in the Debate is given a name with a connotation
of superior morality and the second, inferior.
What is Unjust Argument's basic
approach to life (1036-1042)? What aspect of human nature does
Unjust Argument assume to be dominant in man when he, addressing
Pheidippides, refers to "the necessities of nature"
(1075-1078)? What advantage will derive from being taught by
Unjust Argument (1079-1082)? Who wins the Debate? How is the
winner of the Debate determined (1085-1102)?
Second Parabasis - Chorus
What promise and threat
does the Chorus make in the second parabasis?
Thinkery - Strepsiades, Socrates
and Pheidippides (1131-1213)
What ability has Pheidippides
acquired in the Thinkery? Give one example of the arguments that
Pheidippides demonstrates to his father. Evaluate the logic of
Strepsiades's House - Pasias,
Witness, Strepsiades and Amynias (1214-1302)
After Pheidippides masters
immoral logic in the Thinkery and Strepsiades rejoices because
of his son's and his own cleverness, Strepsiades's creditors,
Pasias and Amynias, arrive to get their money. Rather than Pheidippides
who was sent to the Thinkery for this very purpose, it is Strepsiades
who unexpectedly routs the creditors. Perhaps this is an example
of comic illogicality in a genre which does not require strict
logic, or can you suggest a reason why Aristophanes makes this
surprising substitution? What comic devices does Aristophanes
employ in this scene?
What comment does the
Chorus make on Strepsiades's success in getting rid of his creditors?
Is this comment consistent with Strepsiades's and Socrates's
perception of the role of the Chorus up to this point?
Strepsiades's House - Strepsiades,
Pheidippides and Chorus (1321-1492)
In the next scene Strepsiades
gets his comeuppance when he is beaten by his son. In this scene
Aristophanes is employing parody8 of tragedy. Strepsiades
is shown here experiencing a sudden peripety in the manner of
the tragic hero. At the height of his success (routing of the
creditors) he suffers misfortune as does Agamemnon
in Aeschylus's tragedy Agamemnon when upon his return
home after victory at Troy, he is murdered by his wife and as
does in Sophocles's Oedipus the King when Oedipus, a respected
and heroic king, finds out that he has killed his father and
married his mother. We are next presented with Strepsiades's
realization of how he has been deceived by Socrates. When Strepsiades
discovers9 his guilt after having been beaten by his
son (1476-1477), Aristophanes is parodying a traditional theme
of tragedy: learning by suffering.
8 A parody
is mimicry of the style of an author or genre in a literary work
for the purpose of ridicule.
9 Both discovery and peripety (reversal of fortune),
mentioned a few lines earlier, are terms of literary criticism
derived from Aristotle's
analysis of Tragedy in his Poetics.
What is the reason for Pheidippides's
violence against his father (1353-1376)? What is the implied
contrast from Strepsiades's point of view between, on the one
hand, the poetry of Simonides and Aeschylus
and, on the other, that of Euripides?
Given the patriarchal society of the Athenians, the beating of
a father by his son was perhaps even more shocking to the original
audience than it is to us. But Pheidippides then proposes to
do something even more outrageous. What does he propose (1405)
and what is specifically sophistic about his proposal?
What is Pheidippides's view
of law (1421-1424)? What view of human nature is implicit in
the example Pheidippides uses as a model for human behavior (1427-1429)?
What threat by Pheidippides finally makes Strepsiades realize
the wrong he has done in sending his son to the Thinkery (1444-1446)?
Strepsiades then blames the Chorus for encouraging him in his
immoral plans. What reply does the Chorus (in the person of the
make to this accusation (1454-1455)? What is the true role of
the Chorus (1458-1461)? What does Strepsiades's prayer to Hermes
dramatically illustrate (1478-1482)? What advice does Strepsiades
report that Hermes has given him (1483-1484)?
Exodos (Thinkery) - Students of Thinkery,
Strepsiades, Socrates, Chairephon, Chorus (Coryphaeus) (1493
What action by Strepsiades
ends the play? What does this action illustrate with regard to
Strepsiades? What effect did Aristophanes intend this action
to have on his audience?