“Clouds” by Aristophanes (Notes)

“Clouds” by Aristophanes

What is the air speed velocity of a Gnat's fart or burp?
What is the air speed velocity of a Gnat’s fart or burp?


Strepsiades wakes up complaining that neither his servants nor his son have woken up to start the day off. He complains that the only thing his son does is ride horses which is starting rack up some debts because of this. The son, Phidippides is talking in sleep about riding horses. Strepsiades then starts to complain – regretting the day he met his wife because before he was poor and wasn’t surrounded by luxuries that would one day spoil his son. The mother has done all she can to encourage spoiling Phidippides. Strepsiades has the bright idea to send Phidippides to the “Thoughtery” to learn how to bend the truth and make all of the debt collectors give up on asking for all of his money. Phidippides refuses to go, so Strepsiades has to go there himself.

He shows up to the Thoughtery, banging on the door to be let in. The disciple complains that all the noise has ruined one of his good ideas. They were trying to measure how far a flea could jump by putting wax slippers on it. Then they asked each other if gnats buzzed through their mouths or their asses. The disciple said the wind comes in through the mouth went through the body and used the ass as a trumpet. Socrates was also robbed of a thought by a lizard. He was studying the moons by staring at the sky with his mouth open when a lizard on top of the house shit down his throat. The disciple lets him in to learn from Socrates.

When he comes in, he asks why all the people are staring at the ground but their assholes are pointed at the sky. The disciple explains that they are looking through the ground but learning astronomy by staring up at the sky with their assholes so they can do twice the work. Then he starts quizzing the disciple about the tools around and has him explain their uses. Strepsiades doesn’t really get all of it. He suddenly sees someone up in the sky and it’s Socrates. Socrates explains he is in the sky because he needs to acclimate his brain to the thin air.

Strepsiades explains that he wants to learn how to convince his creditors that he doesn’t owe them any money. Socrates sits him down to initiate him in to the Thoughtery by doing some sort of incantation on him to the clouds. The clouds sing to them as a part of the ceremony. Strepsiades asks who they are and what they’re talking about. Socrates explains that they are goddesses for the lazy and teach the men of the Thoughtery. They teach all the sophists, quacks and diviners through their verses. They look like women in the same way that other clouds look like lions and bulls, etc. They sing about the virtues of all the men of the Thoughtery who talk nothing but shit.

Socrates claims the Clouds are the only gods in the world. The clouds cause the rain. They cause the thunder when they collide with each other and cause a lot of noise. He explains that it is also when the whirlwind in the sky is rumbling around. The lightning is when dry wind gets caught in a cloud and it rumbles around so much that the cloud bursts. Strepsiades is convinced that Socrates is right about everything and is ready to learn. He promises not to acknowledge any other gods. He asks to be the best orator in Greece. Socrates starts to work on him.

The leader of the cloud chorus gives a speech declaring that they wrote the play and merely gave it to Aristophanes as a present. They also rip into the play festival’s judges who voted obviously inferior plays over this one as the best. She claims that there might be a bit of corruption involved.

Socrates runs out of the Thoughtery complaining that Strepsiades is the dumbest, most forgetful man he’s ever met. Socrates tries to explain poetic meter with no luck. Socrates explains male and female animals and objects. Socrates lies him down on his bed to let his mind wander over anything that comes to it. Strepsiades claims that the bed bugs are eating him alive. He’s finally able to think of an idea. He wants to stop the moon from rising. The interest is due on a monthly basis and if the moon never rises, then the month never ends and therefore he’ll never have to pay. He can stop the lawsuits against him by holding a lens to the sun and melt wax on the court papers. He can avoid people perjuring against him by running away and hanging himself. Socrates is upset by this last idea and quits on him.

The clouds suggest that his son be sent to learn instead. He goes home to get Phidippides. At first Phidippides is reluctant. Strepsiades is unable to use Socrates’s tactics to teach his son and bumbles it up. They go to Socrates and they convince him to teach him how to make the wrong side of the argument seem like the right side.  They go into the Thoughtery.

Two men come out, named Just Discourse and Unjust Discourse and have an argument. Unjust calls himself reasoning based on maxims. Just claims they’re only fashionable because the idiotic audience falls for them. Unjust claims there is no justice because Zeus put his father in chains and wasn’t put in chains. They start bickering and Just claims all of Athens’s problems are due to Unjust convincing the young not to go to school. They agree that they will let Phidippides decide which one he wants to listen to.

Just claims that in the good old days, children were meant to be seen, not heard. They obeyed their masters without question even when walking through the snow barefoot. They learn traditional songs. They never tempted the old men sexually. Unjust calls this old bullshit. Just continues that this sort of upbringing made Athens the great city it is. The kids these days don’t respect the gods and don’t have any sense of shame or decency. They shouldn’t be in the markets gossiping about this and that or lying around doing fuck all and enjoying life.

Unjust claims he can prove anything to be wrong and unjust. He asks what’s wrong with hot baths. Just claims they cause cowardice. Unjust says, I’ve never heard of Heracles having a cold bath. About hanging around the market place – Homer praised the marketplace and called Nestor a marketeer. About being “decent” or “modest” – what good has that ever done? Just says that’s what Peleus got his sword in his myth. That’s why Thetis married him. Unjust explains that she also left him in the end. If he has been less “virtuous”, Thetis would have been more satisfied as a wife. Modesty causes us to be unhappy and unsatisfied. Unjust says that following him will allow you to follow your whims. Just says that that will lead to buggery. Unjust says well, aren’t poets and lawyers buggers? Demagogues? Audiences…? Just concedes the argument to Unjust and runs away. Strepsiades leaves Phidippides to Unjust.

The clouds threaten the judges if they don’t vote the play the best.

Strepsiades is coming to collect his son from the Thoughtery. He’s worried about all of his bills. On the way home, the two talk about what he learned from Socrates. Phidippides tells him to challenge the idea of the money being due on the day of “Old and New”. How could it be due on both days? It doesn’t make sense.

Pasias comes with a witness to collect his money from Strepsiades. Strepsiades points out the fact there are two days being mentioned and uses Socrates’s explanation about animals to discredit the creditor. Another creditor, Amynias, comes around to collect his money. He says he’ll just take the interest for now. Strepsiades asks if the sea has more water in now than before. Amynias says it can’t grow. Strepsiades says that if the sea that has rivers feed it never grows, why should the debt grow? Amynias is run off of Strepsiades’s land.

Strepsiades comes running out of his place with Phidippides chasing him. Phidippides claims that he is justified in beating him…

Strepsiades and Phidippides explain to the clouds what’s been going on. Strepsiades wanted Phidippides to play the lyre and sing after dinner. Phidippides said that it was stupid. Then he asked him to recite some Aeschylus and he refused. He suggests that he choose his own. He recited a poem from Euripides about a man sleeping with his sister. He was disgusted and they began to fight. He explained that he has always been kind to his son and now he treats him like shit.

Phidippides asks whether or not he was beaten as a child. He was because it was for his own good. Then if it was for Phidippides good to be beaten, then it is right for him to beat his father for his good. It’s only right because old age is second childhood. Even if it is against the law, why can’t a new law be written to allow for this? Animals fight with their fathers. He’s convinced by the argument but still isn’t happy. He blames the clouds but the clouds blame him back for trying to manipulate everyone. He decides that only productive thing he can do is set the Thoughtery on fire.

Video Summary of Text:

Video of My Thoughts on the Text:

Leave a Reply