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Strepsiades, a rich gentleman of Athens, was plunged into poverty and debt by his profligate son,
Pheidippides. Hounded by his son’s creditors, Strepsiades pondered ways to prevent complete ruin. Hearing
reports that the Sophists taught a new logic which could be used to confuse one’s creditors and so get one out
of debt, Strepsiades saw in the Sophist teachings a possible solution to his problem. He pleaded with
Pheidippides to enter the school of the Sophists and learn the new doctrines. When Pheidippides, more
interested in horse racing than in learning, refused to become a pupil, Strepsiades denounced his son as a
wastrel and decided to enroll himself.
He went to the Thoughtery or Thinking-School, which was the term used for the classroom of the Sophists,
and asked to see Socrates, the philosopher. After Strepsiades had explained his purpose, Socrates proceeded to
demonstrate several logical conclusions of the new school. More certain than ever that the new logic would
save him from ruin and disgrace, Strepsiades pleaded until Socrates admitted him to the Thoughtery.
Unfortunately, Strepsiades proved too old to master the Sophist technique in the classroom. Socrates then
decided that Strepsiades could learn to do his thinking outdoors. When Socrates put questions concerning
poetry to Strepsiades, his answers showed such complete ignorance that Socrates finally admitted defeat and
returned to the Thoughtery. Strepsiades, disgusted with his own efforts, decided that he would either make
Pheidippides go to the Sophist school or turn him out of the house. Approached a second time by his father,
Pheidippides again protested against enrolling in the school but finally yielded to his father’s demands.
Strepsiades felt that all now would be well.
Some time afterward Strepsiades went to learn what progress his son had made. Socrates assured him that
Pheidippides had done well. At this news, Strepsiades felt sure that his plan had been a good one and that the
new logic, as learned by his son, would soon deliver him from his creditors. He asked Socrates to call
Pheidippides from the classroom. When Pheidippides emerged, Strepsiades greeted him between tears and
laughter and said it was fitting that he should be saved by the son who had plunged him into debt.
He asked Pheidippides to demonstrate his new learning, and Strepsiades was amazed by the cunning of the
new logic. At that moment one of Strepsiades’ creditors appeared to demand money that was owed him for a
horse. Strepsiades, confident that the Sophist-taught Pheidippides could turn the tables on any creditor in the
law court, refused to pay, ignoring threats of court action. He treated a second creditor in the same way and
went home convinced that the new logic, as argued by Pheidippides, would save him in the pending law suits.
It became a different matter, however, when Pheidippides proceeded to demonstrate the Sophist teaching at
home. Arguing that Strepsiades had beaten him often for his own good, Pheidippides buffeted his father
during a family argument and declared that he was beating Strepsiades for his own good. The old man
protested, but with the new logic Pheidippides silenced his protests and threatened to beat his mother on the
The Clouds 1 Strepsiades realized that the Sophists could justify all manner of evil with their tricky logic. Thinking the
teachings dangerous to the youth of Athens, he took a torch and set fire to the Thoughtery. As Socrates and
the Sophist disciples screamed their objection, the Thoughtery went up in flames. Strepsiades watched it burn,
certain that he had eliminated an evil.
The Clouds is one of the best known of Aristophanes’ many comedies. In it, he attacks the use of logic to
justify ridiculous or self-serving ends. Aristophanes rejects the school of Sophists, whom he considers
irreverent and artificial, and he satirizes their teachings in The Clouds.
Largely because of its caricature of the philosopher Socrates, The Clouds is one of Aristophanes’ best-known
plays. The play’s buffoonery and raillery is sometimes savage and biting. Through Socrates, Aristophanes
satirizes the entire Sophist movement in education. Although the play won only third prize when it was
presented in 423 b.c.e., a fact which vexed its author considerably, The Clouds must have given the Athenian
audience moments of high entertainment.
Greek comedy is a mixture of song and dance, resembling satirical comic opera at least as much as it does a
comedic play. Aristophanes’ humor is bawdy and cutting. Stylistically, The Clouds follows a conventional
structure known as Old Comedy. In Old Comedy, the prologue sets forth a problem and the comic idea by
which it might be resolved. The play turns on one central satiric situation or conceit. In The Clouds, the
problem is that Strepsiades has a mountain of debts incurred by his son, and the idea for the resolution is to
send his son to learn the Sophist methods of argument. Failing that, he goes to learn from Socrates. The
parode, or entrance song of the chorus, follows, in which Socrates’ new divinities, the clouds, appear singing.
Later, the playwright, Aristophanes, steps out and sings a parabasis on a theme of public interest, which tells
the audience what a fine dramatist he is and how foolish the Athenians were to let Cleon have power. Next
comes the agon, or debate, in which Right Logic and Wrong Logic, two characters, attack and defend
sophistic teaching. Then a series of episodes follows in which the audience views the results of Strepsiades’