Ancient Philosophy


What is Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds and how does it relate to Socrates?

Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds (423 B.C.E.) is considered a satire of Socrates and other intellectuals of the day. In the story, Strepsiades is an Athenian who has been plunged into debt by his spoiled, extravagant son, Pheidippides. Socrates appears, suspended in air, and asks Strepsiades to remove his clothes before entering his “Thinkery.”

Socrates proceeds to relate his discoveries, which include the distance a flea can jump and determining if a gnat is whistling or farting. He insists that a vortex, and not Zeus, is the cause of rain. The play continues with absurdities such as Socrates stealing from a nearby wrestling school to feed his students, and insults to the audience in the course of a debate about new and old logic. At the end, Stepsiades’ son, who has been schooled in the Thinkery, tells Stepsiades that it would be morally right for him to beat both his father and his mother. The outraged Stepsiades sets the Thinkery on fire and viciously beats up Socrates and his students.

Some believed that The Clouds contributed to the slander against Socrates that led to his trial and death sentence. But Socrates is said to have appeared on stage after the first performance and waved to the audience. And in Plato’s Symposium, Socrates and Aristophanes are depicted drinking together and conversing in friendship.


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