The Clouds of Aristophanes
An Excerpt from the Play
The characters in this excerpt:
Father Strepsiades, the bumpkin who wishes to
escape his debts
Son Pheidippides, who is largely responsible for
Disciple A student of Socrates at the Brain
Socrates Presented as a teacher and investigator
into arcane knowledge
Father: Go and
Son: Why, what
will I learn?
say that in their school they have two Logics—the Right Logic, whichever
that is, and the Wrong Logic. They say that one of these, the Wrong
Logic, always wins, even though it speaks on the unjust side. So if you
learn the Wrong Logic, I won’t have to pay a single cent of the debts I
owe because of you.
Son: I can’t do
it. I couldn’t look the knights in the face again if I lost my tan.
by Ceres, you shall not eat any of my food! Neither you nor your horse!
Get out of my house! The crows can have you for all I care!
Megacles won’t make me go without a horse! I’m leaving!
Why should I care about you! [Exit]
down but not out, by god! I will go myself to the Brain Factory and get
taught. Oh, how will an old man learn the subtleties of refined
disquisitions! But I have to go. What am I waiting for? I’ll just knock
at the door. [Knocks]
Boy! Little boy!
within] Go to
the devil! Who is it knocking on the door?
Strepsiades, the son of Phidon, of Cicynna.
buffoon! By Jove, it is inconsiderate of you to kick the door that way.
I had conceived an idea and was just giving birth to it, and you have
made it miscarry.
me! I’m not from around here. I’m just a plain old country farmer. But
tell me, what was the idea I made miscarry?
Disciple: It is
not lawful to mention it, except to disciples.
Father: Oh you
can tell it to
me! I have come
here to become a disciple in your Brain Factory.
will tell you then. But you must remember that these are deep mysteries.
Ahem. Socrates lately asked Chaerephon about a flea, how many feet it
could jump—expressing the distance, of course, in flea-feet. For a flea
had bit Chaerephon in one of his bushy eyebrows, and then it jumped onto
Socrates’ bald head.
Father: So how
did he measure it?
cleverly. He melted some wax. Then he took the flea and dipped its feet
in the wax, let the wax cool, and voila!—Persian slippers! He took the
slippers off and used them to measure the distance.
Father: O King
Jupiter! What subtlety of thought!
then would you say if you heard another contrivance of Socrates?
tell, I beg you!
Chaerephon asked Socrates whether he thought gnats buzzed through their
mouths or their backsides.
what did the Master say about the gnat?
said the intestine of the gnat is narrow, and the wind rushes violently
through it straight to the tail end. Then the rump, which is hollow
where it is next to the narrow part, whistles to the blast.
Father: So the
gnat has a rump trumpet! Oh, thrice happy is he for his
sharp-sightedness into gnats’ entrails! Surely a defendant could easily
get acquitted who understands the intestine of the gnat.
Socrates was lately deprived of a great idea by a lizard.
Father: How so?
was investigating the courses of the moon and her revolutions, and as he
was gaping upward a lizard in the darkness pooped upon him from the
Father: I am
amused at a lizard’s having pooped on Socrates . . . Quick, open the
Brain Factory! I want to see Socrates as soon as I can. I want to be his
disciple. Come on, open the door!
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.]
Hercules, what country do these wild beasts come from?
do think? What do they look like?
look like the Spartans who were taken at Pylos. But why in the world are
they looking at the ground?
are in search of the things below the earth.
they are searching for roots. Don’t worry about it, fellows! I know
where you can get some big, nice ones. And what are these fellows doing,
the ones who are bent over like that?
are diving into deep secrets.
Father: Why are
their rumps aimed at the sky?
rumps are getting private lessons in astronomy. [Turning
to the pupils]
Go inside before he catches us.
a lot of mathematical instruments]
For heaven’s sake what is all this? Tell me.
one is Astronomy.
Father: What is
it used for?
measure out the land.
mean our enemies’ land that we are going to divide up?
the whole earth.
Father: What a
good idea! And democratic, too! We can all just take our pick!
to a map] Look,
here’s a map of the whole earth. See? This is Athens.
That’s not Athens! I don’t see any judges sitting in court.
assured that this is truly the Attic territory.
where are my kinfolks from Cicynna?
they are. And Euboea here, as you can see, is stretched out a long way
by the side of it
Father: I know
that. We and Pericles stretched it like that. But where is Sparta?
see. Here it is.
surely is close to us! You better be careful about that and get it as
far away from us as you can.
Jupiter, that’s not possible.
you’ll be sorry! [Looking
up and seeing Socrates]
Who is the man in the basket?
Father: Who is
Socrates! Come on, then, call him as loud as you can.
him yourself. I don’t have the time. [Exit]
Socrates! My little Socrates!
Mortal! Why callest thou me?
tell me, I beg you, what are you doing up yonder?
Socrates: I am
walking in the air, and contemplating the sun.
Father: And so
you look down upon the gods from your basket and not up at them from the
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 would never have discovered them. For the earth forcibly
attracts to itself the meditative moisture. Water-cresses also suffer
the very same thing.
Does meditation attract moisture to water-cresses? Come down, my little
Socrates, come down and teach me the things I came to learn.
lowers himself and gets out of the basket]
what did you come to learn?
learn to speak. For I am pillaged and plundered by high interest rates
and ill-natured creditors, and my goods get seized for debt.
did you get into debt without noticing it?
horse-disease ate up all my money. But teach me the Wrong Logic, the one
that never has to pay off any debts, and I swear by the gods, I will pay
you whatever you ask.
gods will you swear by? For, in the first place, gods are not a current
coin with us.
Father: So what
do you swear
by? By iron money, like in Byzantium?
you wish to know the truth about celestial matters?
Father: Yes, by
Jupiter, if it’s possible to know the truth.
to converse with the Clouds, our divinities?
Father: By all
Seat yourself, then, upon the sacred couch.
Father: Well, I
then, this chaplet.
chaplet! Oh no, Socrates! Please don’t sacrifice me!
Father: No, we
do this to everyone who gets initiated.
what will I gain?
shall be the flower of oratory, a tricky knave, a thorough gossip, a
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