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.
1. E.g., 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 and Critias.2
2. 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
3. This discussion owes much to K.J. Dover's edition of the play (Oxford 1968) and his book, Aristophanic Comedy, cited earlier.
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)?
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
6. Socrates 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.
7. Translators 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)?
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 Coryphaeus) 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)?
Back to Study Guide Menu