Aristophanes's Clouds

January 2021

Aristophanes's comedy Clouds (cir. 420 BCE) will serve as a light-hearted introduction to the next Socratic Paths series on the theme, Jerusalem and Athens.

Rather than going straight to the big questions, we are breaking it up into bite-sized pieces.  Works by Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Plato (to be read in January, February, and March respectively) represent aspects of "Athens" and naturally provoke questions from Jerusalem or a Biblical perspective.  For example, Clouds raises questions of the role of philosophy or natural science in the city. Should the wisest persons always rule in households and cities? Who are the wisest? What about traditional (or rabbinic!) or ancestral authority?

Aristophanes considered Clouds his "wisest" comedy, and Socrates mentions the play at his trial before the Athenian jury, as the source of prejudices against him. As a criticism of the Socratic or philosophic way of life, the play may have persuaded some citizens to judge Socrates guilty of "corrupting the youth" and "inventing new gods." But the play also contains a critique of the kinds of citizens who are inclined to blame Socrates (or reason, or science, or others like him) for the city's problems; or those who want to punish Socrates rather than enlighten him, as he had invited his accusers to do.

Questions for January 3.

1.  The play opens with Strepsiades worrying about his debts (lines 1-90). What seems to be the underlying cause of his debts, as far as we can tell from the way he tells it?

2.  Who is Socrates? (lines 91-262) We are introduced to Socrates first by reputation. Strepsiades believes that the members of the Thinkery are "wise souls," who teach "how to win just and unjust causes by speaking." His son, Pheidippides, believes that they are "boasters, pale, shoeless men," among them "the miserably unhappy Socrates."  What does the student's report add to our first impression?  What does Strepsiades's first encounter with Socrates add? 

3.  Who are the Clouds? (lines 263- 477)

4.  Bonus question. With respect to our last reading, "What is the cause of thunder?" (Lear, Act 3) Did Edgar give Lear the same answer as Socrates gives to Strepsiades here?

Questions for January 10.

Questions for January 17.

Questions for January 24.