(after 423 BC)
An Anonymous Translation (1911)
Edited by Larry A. Brown
Phidippides, his son
Disciples of Socrates
Chorus of Clouds
STREPSIADES: Great gods! Will these nights never end? Will daylight never come? I heard the cock crow long ago, and my slaves are snoring still! Ah, it was not so formerly. Curses on this civil war! Hasn’t it done me ills enough? Now I may not even punish my own slaves for fear they’ll run to the other side! Then there’s my lazy son, who never wakes the whole long night but wrapped in his five covers, farts away to his heart’s content!
Oh misery! How can I sleep, being bitten by all these expenses, these debts, which are devouring me – thanks to this boy who only knows how to look after his long hair, to show himself off in his chariot, and to dream of horses!
By the moon I see it’s nearly the end of the month when all my debts fall due.
Slave! Light the lamp and bring me my tablets. Who are all my creditors? Let me add up the interest. What do I owe? Twelve minae to Pasias – what! Twelve minae? Why did I borrow these? Ah, I know. It was to buy that thoroughbred which cost me dearly.
PHIDIPPIDES: [in his sleep] That’s not fair, Philo! Drive your chariot straight, I say!
STREPSIADES: This is what’s destroying me. He raves about horses, even in his sleep.
PHIDIPPIDES: How many times round the track is the race for war chariots?
STREPSIADES: It’s your own father you are driving round the track to death and ruin! Come, what debt comes next after that of Pasias? Three minae to Amynias for a chariot and two wheels.
PHIDIPPIDES: Give the horse a good roll in the dust and lead him home.
STREPSIADES: Ah, wretched boy! It is my money you are making roll away!
PHIDIPPIDES: [waking] What is the matter, father? Why do you groan and toss all night?
STREPSIADES: There is a bedbug called debt biting me.
PHIDIPPIDES: For pity’s sake, let me have a little sleep.
STREPSIADES: Very well, sleep on! But remember that all these debts will fall back on your shoulders. Oh, curses on the go-between who made me marry your mother! I lived so happily in the country, without a care. Then I had to marry a city girl, a haughty, extravagant woman. On our wedding day she was filled with love . . . of spending! Oh, during all these years, she has worked hard, I must admit . . . worked hard to ruin me! Later, when we had this boy, what did we call him? Phidippides, “thrifty with horses.” Hah! His “thriftiness” has bankrupted his father! But, during this long night, I believe I have discovered a road to salvation. If he will follow it, I shall be out of trouble. Oh, Phidippides, wake up, my dear son!
PHIDIPPIDES: What is it, father?
STREPSIADES: Tell me, do you love me?
PHIDIPPIDES: By the equestrian Poseidon! Of course I do.
STREPSIADES: Please, don’t invoke the god of horses! He’s the cause of all my troubles. But if you really love me, my boy, go and learn what I tell you. Do you see that little house over there?
PHIDIPPIDES: Yes, father, what are you driving at?
STREPSIADES: That is the school of wisdom. There they teach, if paid well, how to win lawsuits, whether they are just or not. They are deep thinkers and most admirable people.
PHIDIPPIDES: Bah! I know them; you mean those quacks with pale faces, those barefoot fellows, such as that miserable Socrates and Chaerephon?
STREPSIADES: Silence! Say nothing foolish! If you don’t want your poor father to die of hunger, join their company and let your horses go.
PHIDIPPIDES: And what is it I should learn there?
STREPSIADES: It seems they have two courses of reasoning, the true and the false, and that, thanks to the false, the worse lawsuits can be won. If you learn this science, I shall not pay a cent of all the debts I have contracted on your account.
PHIDIPPIDES: No, I won’t do it. I could no longer face the other horsemen, after I had so embarrassed myself.
STREPSIADES: Well then, by Demeter! I will no longer support you or your horses. Go hang yourself! I turn you out of house and home.
PHIDIPPIDES: Uncle Megacles will not leave me without horses. I’ll go to him and laugh at your anger.
STREPSIADES: One rebuff shall not dishearten me. With the help of the gods I will enter this school and learn myself. [moving to the door] Slave, slave!
DISCIPLE: A plague on your knocking! Who are you?
STREPSIADES: Strepsiades, son of Pheidon, of the deme of Cicynna.
DISCIPLE: For sure, only an ignorant and illiterate fellow would kick so at the door. You have caused the miscarriage of an idea!
STREPSIADES: Pardon me, for I live far away from here in the country. But tell me, what was the idea that miscarried?
DISCIPLE: I may not tell it to any but a disciple.
STREPSIADES: Then tell me without fear, for I have come to study among you.
DISCIPLE: Very well then, but reflect that these are mysteries. Lately, a flea bit Chaerephon and then sprang onto the head of Socrates. The teacher asked his pupil, “How many times the length of its legs does a flea jump?”
STREPSIADES: And however did he set about measuring it?
DISCIPLE: Most ingeniously! He melted some wax, seized the flea and dipped its feet in the wax, which when cooled, left little flea slippers. With these he measured the distance.
STREPSIADES: Ah, great Zeus! What a brain! What subtlety!
DISCIPLE: That’s not all. Chaerephon asked Socrates whether he thought a gnat buzzed through its nose or through its rear.
STREPSIADES: And what did he say?
DISCIPLE: He said that the gut of the gnat was narrow, and that, in passing through this tiny passage, the air is driven with force out the rump like a trumpet, resounding loudly.
STREPSIADES: What a splendid discovery! Brilliant Socrates! It should not be difficult to succeed in a lawsuit, knowing so much about the anatomy of a gnat! Open this house of knowledge to me quickly. Let me meet Socrates; I long to become his disciple.
The doors open to reveal the students of the school
STREPSIADES: By Heracles! What country are these animals from?
DISCIPLE: Why, what astonishes you?
STREPSIADES: They resemble the prisoners of Pylos; they are so thin and sickly looking. Why do they look so fixedly on the ground?
DISCIPLE: They are seeking for what is below.
STREPSIADES: Ah! It’s onions they are seeking. Don’t go to so much trouble; I know where there are some. But what are those fellows doing who are bent all double?
DISCIPLE: They are searching the mysteries of the underworld.
STREPSIADES: And why are their rumps looking into the heavens?
DISCIPLE: They are studying ass-tronomy on their own. But come in, so that the master may not find you here.
STREPSIADES: Not yet, not yet. In the name of the gods, what is that? [pointing to a map of the known world]
DISCIPLE: It is used to measure out land.
STREPSIADES: But land is apportioned by lot.
DISCIPLE: No, no, I mean the entire earth.
STREPSIADES: Ah! What a democratic idea! How useful indeed is this invention! [he thinks the map is a new science for dividing property rights among the citizens]
DISCIPLE: Here is the whole surface of the earth. Look, there is Athens.
STREPSIADES: Athens! You must be mistaken; I see no lawyers going to court. Tell me, where are my neighbors in Cicynna?
STREPSIADES: And Sparta, the land of the enemy?
DISCIPLE: Here it is; look.
STREPSIADES: So near to us? You must remove them to a greater distance.
DISCIPLE: That is not possible.
STREPSIADES: Then woe to you! But who is this man suspended up in a basket?
DISCIPLE: Tis he himself.
STREPSIADES: Who himself?
STREPSIADES: Socrates! I pray you, call him right loudly for me.
DISCIPLE: Call him yourself; I have no more time to waste with you.
STREPSIADES: Socrates! My little Socrates!
Socrates descends from above by means of the crane
SOCRATES: Mortal, what do you want with me?
STREPSIADES: First, what are you doing up there? Please tell me.
SOCRATES: I traverse the air and contemplate the sun. I have to suspend my brain in the heavens and mingle the subtle essence of my mind with this air, which is of like nature, in order to clearly penetrate the things of heaven.
STREPSIADES: Come down to me. I have come to ask for lessons.
SOCRATES: For what lessons?
STREPSIADES: I want to learn how to speak in court. I have borrowed money, and my merciless creditors do not leave me a moment’s peace. All my goods are at stake. Teach me one of your two methods of reasoning, the one whose object is not to repay anything, and by the gods, I will pay you any price.
SOCRATES: By which gods will you swear? The gods are not valid currency here.
STREPSIADES: But what do you swear by then? By the iron money of Byzantium?
SOCRATES: Do you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters, and to converse with the clouds, who are our deities?
STREPSIADES: Truly, without a doubt.
SOCRATES: Then sit on this sacred couch and wear this wreath.
STREPSIADES: Alas! Socrates, would you sacrifice me, like Athamas? [allusion to a lost tragedy by Sophocles]
SOCRATES: No, these are the rites of initiation. Be quiet! Give heed to the prayers – O mighty king, boundless Air that keeps the earth suspended in space, bright Ether, and you venerable goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and lightning. Arise, you sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the celestial spheres to the eyes of the sage.
STREPSIADES: Not yet! Wait until I cover myself with my cloak so I won’t get wet!
SOCRATES: Come, O Clouds, whom I adore, show yourselves to this simple-minded man.
CHORUS: [singing offstage] Eternal Clouds, let us appear, let us arise from the roaring depths of Ocean, our father. Let us fly towards the lofty mountains, spreading our damp wings over their forested summits. Let us shake off the rainy fogs which hide our immortal beauty and sweep the earth from afar with our gaze.
SOCRATES: O venerable goddesses, you are answering my call! Did you hear their voices mingling with the awful growling of the thunder?
STREPSIADES: O adorable Clouds, I revere you, and I too am going to let off my own thunder, so greatly have you frightened me! Where’s the nearest toilet?
SOCRATES: No scoffing; do not copy those accursed comic poets. Silence! A numerous host of goddesses approaches with songs.
STREPSIADES: Tell me, Socrates, who speaks in language so divine?
SOCRATES: They are the Clouds of heaven, great goddesses for men of idleness. To them we owe all – thoughts, speeches, trickery, boasting, lies.
STREPSIADES: Are they going to show themselves? I should like to see them for myself.
SOCRATES: Well, look in the direction of Mount Parnes. I already see those who are slowly descending.
STREPSIADES: Where? I still can’t see anything.
SOCRATES: There, over by the stage entrance!
STREPSIADES: Ah! I see them! Why, they fill up the entire area.
SOCRATES: And you did not know that they were goddesses?
STREPSIADES: No, indeed. I thought the Clouds were only fog, dew and vapor. But tell me why, if they are deities, do they so resemble mortals? They even have noses.
SOCRATES: Have you not sometimes seen clouds in the sky like a centaur, a leopard, a wolf or a bull? They take what metamorphosis they choose. If they see a reprobate with long hair like Hieronymus the poet, they take the form of a centaur in mockery of his shameful passion.
STREPSIADES: And when they see Simon, that thief of public money, what do they do then?
SOCRATES: They turn at once into wolves.
STREPSIADES: So that was why yesterday, when they saw general Cleonymus, the shield-dropper, they changed into frightened deer.
SOCRATES: And today they have seen that effeminate Cleisthenes, and so, as you see, they are women.
STREPSIADES: Hail, sovereign goddesses, if ever you have let your celestial voices be heard by mortal ears, speak to me!
The chorus of Clouds now fills the stage
CHORUS: Hail, old timer, eager to learn fine language, and you, great high priest of subtle nonsense, tell us your desire.
STREPSIADES: Holy earth! What a sound they make! How wondrous!
SOCRATES: This is because these are the only goddesses; all the rest are pure myth.
STREPSIADES: But is our Father Zeus not a god?
SOCRATES: Zeus! What Zeus? Are you mad? There is no Zeus.
STREPSIADES: What’s that? Who causes the rain to fall?
SOCRATES: Why, these Clouds, of course. I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus cause it to rain with a clear sky and without their presence.
STREPSIADES: By Apollo, that is powerfully argued! I always thought it was Zeus relieving himself through a sieve! But tell me, Socrates, who makes the thunder which makes me tremble?
SOCRATES: The Clouds, when they roll against each other. Being full of water, fully distended with moisture, they bump into each other and burst with great noise.
STREPSIADES: But is it not Zeus who forces them to move?
SOCRATES: Not at all. It’s the celestial Whirlwind.
STREPSIADES: The Whirlwind! I didn’t know that. So Zeus, it seems, has no existence, but it is the Whirlwind that reigns in his stead? But explain again how the Clouds make thunder.
SOCRATES: Weren’t you listening? Take yourself for example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea festival and then get an upset stomach, suddenly your swollen belly resounds with prolonged growling.
STREPSIADES: Yes, by Apollo! I suffer with gas until it finally bursts forth with a terrific noise, “papapapax!” like thunder. But tell me this. Where does the lightning come from, striking one man and missing another? Surely this is Zeus hurling it at perjurers.
SOCRATES: You babbling, old-fashioned fool! If Zeus really does strike down perjurers, why hasn’t he blasted Simon or Cleonymus? They’re the biggest liars around! The lightning strikes even the temple of Zeus; would he do that? Lightning strikes oak trees; are oaks perjurers then? This is all nonsense.
STREPSIADES: I’m not sure I follow, but you seem to have a good point.
CHORUS: O mortal, you who desire instruction in our great wisdom, the Greeks will envy your good fortune. Only you must have the memory and aptitude for study, you must know how to stand the tests, hold your own, go forward without tiring, abstaining from much food and physical exercise and other similar follies. In fact, you must believe as every man of intellect should that the greatest of all blessings is to live and think more clearly than the common herd, to shine in the contest of words.
STREPSIADES: If it’s a question of sleepless nights and little to eat, I’m used to that.
SOCRATES: Henceforth, you will recognize no other gods but Chaos, Clouds and Tongue, these three alone.
STREPSIADES: I will not speak to the others, even if I meet them in the street.
CHORUS: Then tell us boldly what you want of us. You cannot fail to succeed if you honor us and if you are resolved to become a clever man.
STREPSIADES: O sovereign goddesses, I ask but a little favor. Grant that I may distance all the Greeks by a hundred miles in the art of speaking.
CHORUS: We grant you this; henceforward no eloquence shall more succeed with the people than your own.
STREPSIADES: May the gods shield me from possessing great eloquence! That’s not what I want. I want to be able to turn bad lawsuits to my own advantage and to slip through the fingers of my creditors.
CHORUS: It shall be as you wish, for your ambitions are modest. Commit yourself fearlessly to our ministers, the sophists.
STREPSIADES: This I will do, for I trust in you. Let them do with me as they will; I yield my body to them. Come blows, come hunger, thirst, heat or cold, it matters little to me, as long as I escape my debts.
CHORUS: Here we have a bold and well-disposed pupil indeed. When we have taught you, your fame among mortals will reach even to the skies. You will pass your whole life among us and will be the most envied of men.
STREPSIADES: Shall I really see such happiness?
CHORUS: Clients will be besieging your door, burning to explain their business to you and willing to pay dearly for your advice. Socrates, begin the old man’s lessons; rouse his mind, try the strength of his intelligence.
SOCRATES: Come, tell me the kind of mind you have, so that I may launch my newest weapons of logic at you.
STREPSIADES: [cowering] What, are you going to assault me then?
SOCRATES: No, fool! I only wish you ask you some questions. Have you any memory?
STREPSIADES: That depends: if anything is owed me, my memory is excellent, but if I owe something, I have none whatever.
SOCRATES: Have you a natural gift for speaking?
STREPSIADES: For speaking, no; for cheating, yes.
SOCRATES: How will you be able to learn then, when I throw out some philosophical thought for you to seize in flight?
STREPSIADES: Am I to snap up wisdom like a dog snaps up a morsel?
SOCRATES: Oh, the ignoramus! I greatly fear, old man, that your lessons will come to many blows. How will you respond if you are beaten?
STREPSIADES: I’ll find some witnesses, then take my assailant to court.
SOCRATES: Come, take off your cloak.
STREPSIADES: Have I done something wrong?
SOCRATES: No, it’s usual to enter the school without your cloak.
STREPSIADES: Tell me, if I prove attentive and learn with zeal, which of your disciples will I resemble, do you think?
SOCRATES: You will be the image of Chaerephon.
STREPSIADES: God help me, I shall look like a corpse!
SOCRATES: Stop this babbling, you fool! Get inside. Hurry up!
They exit into the school
CHORUS: Good luck, old man. May you succeed in your studies of wisdom. [in the following parabasis the chorus speaks for the author] Spectators! I shall be frank and tell you the truth, I swear it by Dionysus whose servant I am. So may I be victorious, so may I be thought a true artist, I took you to be an intelligent audience and for this, the most intellectual of my comedies. Therefore I saw fit to give you the first taste of it, a play that cost me a great deal of labor, only to leave defeated, unjustly beaten by my unskilled rivals. For that I hold you to blame. Even so, I will never willingly desert the bright ones among you. I have not forgotten the day when discerning audiences received my earliest play with so much favor in this very place. Ever since you have given me your faithful alliance.
Thus, my comedy in a second version has come to seek you today, hoping again to encounter such enlightened spectators. Note her modest demeanor. She has not sewn on a piece of hanging leather, thick and red at the end, to cause laughter among the children. She does not make jokes about bald men, or dance licentiously. No character, to conceal bad jokes, beats another with a stick, nor does anyone rush on stage with torches, crying “Help, help!” No, my comedy relies upon herself and her poetry. I do not cheat you by presenting old material but always invent fresh themes to amuse you. I attacked Cleon to his face when he was powerful, but now that he has fallen, I have no desire to kick him when he is down. This is not the case with my rivals. May those who find amusement in their pieces not be pleased with mine, but as for you who love and applaud my inventions, posterity will praise your good taste.
Zeus, ruler of Olympus, protect this chorus, and you also, Poseidon, whose trident stirs the waters of the ocean. We invoke our noble father Ether and Phoebus the sun, whose mighty chariot sets the world aflame with his dazzling rays. [the chorus now speaks again as Clouds]
Most wise spectators, lend us all your attention. Give heed to our just reproaches. There exist no gods to whom this city owes more than it does to us, whom alone you forget. Not a sacrifice, not a libation is there for those who protect you! If there is a military expedition which is senseless, then we warn you with thunder and rain. When you were about to elect that incompetent Cleon as your general, we caused a great disturbance, sending lightning and thunder and darkening the sun and moon, but you elected him anyway. Will you Athenians never learn? Convict this rapacious seagull Cleon for bribery and extortion, and throw him into the stocks. Then even though you have made this mistake, you will find things back as they were before, with all turning out for the best for the city.
Enter Socrates and Strepsiades
SOCRATES: By Respiration, the Breath of Life! I have never seen a man so inept, so stupid, so forgetful. All the lessons I teach him, he forgets before he has learned them. Yet I will not give up. I will see if he learns better out here in the open air. Where are you, Strepsiades? Bring your couch out here.
STREPSIADES: The bedbugs won’t let go of it!
SOCRATES: Stop this nonsense and pay attention. Which science do you wish to learn first? The measures, the rhythms or the verses?
STREPSIADES: How will learning rhythms help me?
SOCRATES: Well, for a start, it will make you seem refined in company, knowing the difference in enoplian and digital poetry.
STREPSIADES: Digital? I know that already.
SOCRATES: Then show me.
STREPSIADES: Well, when I was a boy, it was this. [sticks out his middle finger at Socrates]
SOCRATES: You are a stupid peasant.
STREPSIADES: But I don’t want to learn all this.
SOCRATES: Then what do you want to know?
STREPSIADES: Teach me the art of false reasoning.
SOCRATES: You must first learn other things. [Socrates next attempts to explain the difference in masculine and feminine nouns, which cannot easily be translated into English]
SOCRATES: You’re a miserable failure. Come, lie down on your mat and think over something that interests you.
STREPSIADES: Oh, not there, please! If I must think, let me lie on the ground.
SOCRATES: Quit complaining and lie down.
STREPSIADES: Oh, what a penalty I will pay to the bedbugs!
CHORUS: Now think and reflect, twist and twirl your thoughts every way and concentrate your mind. When you come to a dead end, jump to another idea. Never rest your eyes in sleep.
STREPSIADES: Ahh! Ahh! [he twists and turns in bed]
CHORUS: What ails you so?
STREPSIADES: I’m in agony, I’m perishing! These bedbugs like Corinthians are advancing upon me from all corners of the couch. They are biting my sides, drinking my blood, attacking my private parts, devouring my rear! They are killing me!
SOCRATES: What’s the matter? Aren’t you thinking?
STREPSIADES: Yes! I’m contemplating whether there’ll be anything left of me when the bugs are finished!
SOCRATES: Oh, to hell with you!
STREPSIADES: I’m in hell already.
SOCRATES: What ideas have you come up with? Have you managed to get hold of anything?
STREPSIADES: Nothing, except what’s here in my hand.
SOCRATES: Can’t you think of anything on your own? Why are you here?
STREPSIADES: I’ve told you a thousand times. I want to get out of paying my debts. Listen to this scheme. If I purchase a Thessalian witch, I could bring down the moon and keep it in a box under lock and key.
SOCRATES: How would that help you?
STREPSIADES: If the moon never rises again, I won’t have to pay my interest, which comes due at the end of the month!
SOCRATES: Very good. Tell me this: if you had to pay five gold pieces in a lawsuit, how would you manage to squash the verdict?
STREPSIADES: I don’t know. Let me think. I’ve got it! Have you ever seen the beautiful, transparent stone with which you can start fires?
SOCRATES: You mean a crystal lens. How would that help?
STREPSIADES: If I placed myself with this lens in the sun standing far back from the clerk, while he was writing out the conviction, I could make the wax on the tablet melt away.
SOCRATES: That is clever, by the Graces! Try another. If, when summoned to court, you were in danger of losing your case for lack of witnesses, how would you make the conviction fall upon your opponents?
STREPSIADES: Easy! I should run and hang myself.
SOCRATES: Don’t be ridiculous.
STREPSIADES: No, if I were dead, no action could be taken against me.
SOCRATES: This is nonsense. I will give you no more lessons.
STREPSIADES: Why not? Oh, Socrates! In the name of the gods!
SOCRATES: But you forget as fast as you learn. Come, what was the first thing I taught you? Tell me.
STREPSIADES: Ah, let me see. What was the first thing? Something about . . . what? I don’t know. Wait!
SOCRATES: Oh, go away. To blazes with you, silly old fool!
STREPSIADES: God help me! I’m lost! What will become of me? O Clouds! Give me advice. What should I do?
CHORUS: Old man, we counsel you, if you have a son, to send him to learn in your place.
STREPSIADES: But he is unwilling to learn. What can I do?
CHORUS: Don’t you make him obey you?
STREPSIADES: You see, he is big and strong, and takes after his mother. But I will go and find him. If he refuses, I’ll turn him out of the house. Socrates, wait for me here.
CHORUS: Do you understand that, thanks to us, you will be loaded with benefits? Here is a man, ready to obey you in all things. You see how he is carried away with admiration and enthusiasm.
Socrates goes into the school as Strepsiades drags his son out of the house
STREPSIADES: No, by the Clouds! You will stay here no longer. Go and devour your uncle’s fortune.
PHIDIPPIDES: Father! What has happened to you? By Zeus, you have lost your senses!
STREPSIADES: Listen to that! By Zeus! To believe in Zeus at your age!
PHIDIPPIDES: What is so funny in that?
STREPSIADES: Let me tell you, little child. But keep this a secret. There is no Zeus.
PHIDIPPIDES: What is there then?
STREPSIADES: The Whirlwind! He has driven out Zeus and is king now.
PHIDIPPIDES: What? That’s crazy.
STREPSIADES: I swear it’s the truth.
PHIDIPPIDES: Who told you?
STREPSIADES: Socrates, who knows how to measure the feet of fleas!
PHIDIPPIDES: Are you so mad as to believe such liars?
STREPSIADES: Don’t insult men who are clever and full of wisdom, who never shave or take baths. Come, you will learn from them too.
PHIDIPPIDES: What will I learn?
STREPSIADES: Why, all human knowledge. First, you will know how stupid you are! But come on.
PHIDIPPIDES: Where is your cloak?
STREPSIADES: I have dedicated it to philosophy.
PHIDIPPIDES: And what of your sandals?
STREPSIADES: I lost them “for essential purposes” as Pericles would have said. Now move, let us go in. Learn to do wrong, at my request.
PHIDIPPIDES: You will soon regret what you ask me to do.
STREPSIADES: Just do as I say. Socrates, come out! I have brought you my son, who refused at first but I persuaded him.
Enter Socrates from above in the machine
SOCRATES: Why, he is but a child, and will not understand the ropes and lashings of our sky-basket.
PHIDIPPIDES: It would make better use of them if you were hung.
STREPSIADES: How dare you insult your teacher! Never fear, Socrates. He’s very bright. Teach him the methods of reasoning by which false arguments win over truth.
SOCRATES: Let him learn from Just and Unjust Argument themselves. I am leaving.
Exit Socrates and enter Just and Unjust Argument
STREPSIADES: Pay attention, son. You must always be able to argue against every kind of just claim.
JUST ARGUMENT: Come here! Shameless as you are, you dare to show your face to the spectators?
UNJUST ARGUMENT: I seek a throng, so that I may annihilate you in public.
JUST ARGUMENT: Annihilate me! Do you forget who you are?
UNJUST ARGUMENT: I am Reasoning.
JUST ARGUMENT: Yes, but the weaker Reasoning.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: But I will triumph over you, who claim to be the stronger.
JUST ARGUMENT: I am going to destroy you mercilessly.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: How? Let’s see you do it.
JUST ARGUMENT: By speaking what is true.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: I shall retort and have the better of you. First, I will maintain that justice has no existence.
JUST ARGUMENT: Has no existence?
UNJUST ARGUMENT: None! Why, where is it?
JUST ARGUMENT: With the gods.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: How then, if justice exists, was Zeus not punished for overthrowing his father Kronus and putting him in chains?
JUST ARGUMENT: Bah! This is enough to turn my stomach! A basin, quick!
UNJUST ARGUMENT: You’re not going to teach this young man here. You are as old and out of date as Kronus.
JUST ARGUMENT: It’s because of you that the youth no longer attend the schools. The Athenians will soon recognize what lessons you teach to those who are fools enough to believe you.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: You’re senile and out of touch!
JUST ARGUMENT: And you’re a shameless pervert!
CHORUS: Enough of this quarreling and abuse! Rather give an exposition, both of you, of the former methods of education and of the new principles, so that the boy may hear both your opposing arguments and make his decision which school to join.
JUST ARGUMENT: I am willing to do that.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: And I too.
CHORUS: Who will speak first?
UNJUST ARGUMENT: Let it be my opponent. He has my full consent. Then I will follow and shatter his arguments with a hailstorm of new ideas and subtle fancies.
JUST ARGUMENT: Very well, I will defend the old ways of educating our youth, when justice was taught with much success and when modesty was held in veneration. First, it was the rule that children should not utter a word. They marched to school quietly in good order. In music class they learned the traditional melodies praising the heroes of old. If anyone was caught clowning or talking dirty, he was whipped. In the wrestling school they behaved themselves decently, not showing off or trying to seduce the older men with their young bodies.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: What antiquated rubbish!
JUST ARGUMENT: This was the education which produced the men who fought at Marathon. Follow their example, boy, and learn from me. Seek justice and truth; shun the gossip of the Agora and the wanton luxuries of the public baths. Blush at what is shameful, honor your elders, don’t chase after the dancing girls, in short, avoid doing anything disgraceful that would defile the statue of Honor.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: If you follow his advice, you’ll turn into “mama’s boy!”
JUST ARGUMENT: No, you will spend your days in strength and health, not in useless chatter as is the custom nowadays, nor in being dragged into court over some ridiculous little dispute. Take my side in this debate, and grow into the envy of all men. Take his, and he will persuade you to see whatever is shameful to be good and whatever good, shameful.
CHORUS: These are words of wisdom, greatly to be praised. Happy were those men of other days when your teachings were honored. Now you, seductive talker, come, present some new arguments, for your rival has done wonders for his case.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: At last! I was choking with impatience, burning to upset all his arguments. If I am called the weaker reasoning, it’s because I was the first who conceived the notion of arguing in contradiction to established values and justified pleas. And that, my boy, is worth more than ten thousand gold pieces, to be able to choose the inferior case and yet win! But see how I will knock down the pillars of his school. He says that young men should not practice the art of speaking; I hold the contrary. Furthermore he preaches chastity. Both precepts are equally harmful. Have you ever seen chastity to be any use to anyone?
JUST ARGUMENT: Peleus, the father of Achilles, was permitted to marry Thetis because of his chastity.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: Yes, and because he stayed that way after marriage, Thetis left him high and dry, wanting a little more action under the sheets! Listen to me, boy. Just consider what all this virtue entails and the delights you’ll be deprived of: friends, women, play, good food, drink, laughter. What is life worth without these? His way, if you get caught with another man’s wife, you’re lost; you don’t know what to say to get you off. But follow my teaching, and you’ll be able to satisfy your passions and go free. If her husband comes in at the wrong time, you can tell him, by the example of the gods you are not guilty. Zeus allowed himself to be conquered by love and women. Being but a mortal, can you be stronger than a god?
JUST ARGUMENT: But if he follows your advice, what’s to stop him from becoming a sick little degenerate?
UNJUST ARGUMENT: And what’s wrong with that? What are all our lawyers?
JUST ARGUMENT: Degenerates.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: And our tragic poets?
JUST ARGUMENT: Degenerates.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: And our politicians?
JUST ARGUMENT: Degenerates.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: And our spectators? What are most of them? Just look out there in the seats. Who do you see?
JUST ARGUMENT: By the gods, the vast majority are degenerates! At any rate, I know he is, and that one there, and the one with the long hair.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: What have you to say, then?
JUST ARGUMENT: I am defeated. Degenerates of the world, I join your ranks! [he runs into the school]
UNJUST ARGUMENT: Well, Strepsiades, will you leave your son in my care?
STREPSIADES: Teach him, chastise him, and do not fail to sharpen his tongue well concerning petty lawsuits.
UNJUST ARGUMENT: Don’t worry. I shall return him to you an accomplished sophist.
PHIDIPPIDES: More like a god-forsaken paleface, I should think.
They all exit
CHORUS: Now go your way – but I think that you will come to regret this. Judges of the contest, we wish to tell you what benefits you will reap by awarding us the crown, as by rights you should. In spring we will bring rain for your crops. We will watch over your corn and your vineyards, insuring that they have just the right amount of moisture. But if a mortal dares to insult the Clouds, let him beware. For him there will be no harvest at all. If he is drying bricks in the sun, we will rain on them. Our hailstones will break the tiles of his roof. If he marries, we will storm through the entire wedding night. Truly, he will rather live in Egypt than to have voted against us.
Enter Strepsiades from his house
STREPSIADES: Another four days and then the fatal day of payment! All my loans come due at the end of the month. As usual I’ll beg them to be reasonable, to give me a little more time. Then as usual, they’ll accuse me of cheating them and threaten me with a lawsuit. Well, let them sue me – that is, if Phidippides has learned all his lessons. Oh, I am ruined if he has not! Let me inquire at the school. Ho, there, you inside!
SOCRATES: Welcome, Strepsiades.
STREPSIADES: Socrates, tell me, has my son been obedient and learned your brand of argument?
SOCRATES: Indeed he has.
STREPSIADES: Almighty Fraud, how splendid!
SOCRATES: You will win as many cases as you choose.
STREPSIADES: Even if I have borrowed money before witnesses?
SOCRATES: So much the better, even if there are a thousand of them.
STREPSIADES: Then let me shout with all my might. Woe to the bankers, woe to their capital, their interest, and the compound interest! I fear you no longer. My son is being taught here, his tongue is being sharpened into a double-edged sword. He is my defender, the savior of my house, the ruin of my foes! Go and call him to me quickly.
SOCRATES: Here he is. Take your son and be gone.
STREPSIADES: Oh my son! My dearest friend! What a pleasure to see the sickly color of your skin. I see you are ready now to deny and contradict, it’s clear. Ready to give that wronged look even when you’re in the wrong. Now it’s up to you to save me, since it was you who ruined me.
PHIDIPPIDES: What are you so fearful of?
STREPSIADES: The end of the month, “the day of the old and the new moon.”
PHIDIPPIDES: Is there such a day of the old and the new?
STREPSIADES: The day my creditors will demand their payments.
PHIDIPPIDES: Then so much the worse for them! It is not possible for one day to be both old and new at once.
STREPSIADES: What? Then the law is nonsense? Splendid! [speaks to the audience] You poor fools! Why are you sitting there like dumb sheep, ripe for fleecing by us intellectuals? Oh happy Strepsiades, how clever you are! And what a genius for a son! Go inside the house where a feast is prepared in your honor.
Enter Pasias with his witness
PASIAS: A man should never lend a single cent! It’s better to refuse from the outset than to get entangled in such matters. I’m sorry I had to bring you along, but I want to get my money. Ho, Strepsiades!
STREPSIADES: What is it?
PASIAS: The day of the old and the new has come.
STREPSIADES: [to the audience] I call you as witnesses, he named two days! What do you want from me?
PASIAS: The twelve minae which you borrowed from me to buy a horse.
STREPSIADES: Who, me? Buy a horse? It is well known that I detest horses.
PASIAS: I call Zeus as witness that you swore to return the loan.
STREPSIADES: That was before my son learned to speak the invincible argument.
PASIAS: What has that to do with anything? Do you swear by the gods you owe me nothing?
STREPSIADES: What gods are those?
PASIAS: By Zeus, Hermes, and Poseidon.
STREPSIADES: How you simpletons amuse me with your talk of gods. Those who are wise know better.
PASIAS: You’ll pay one day for these blasphemies!
STREPSIADES: Perhaps. But I won’t be paying back the loan. Now do go away. I’m busy.
PASIAS: You’ll hear from me in court!
Exit Pasias, enter Amynias
STREPSIADES: If you want to waste your money, go ahead. But now, who can this be, wailing like someone in a tragedy?
AMYNIAS: Woe! I am a man of misfortune!
STREPSIADES: Then take your misery elsewhere.
AMYNIAS: Instead of jeering at me, make your son return the money I lent him.
STREPSIADES: If you let him have your money, then you really are in bad shape!
AMYNIAS: Yes, by the gods! I have been thrown from my chariot.
STREPSIADES: Then why are you acting as if you were thrown off a donkey? [a pun in Greek: “ap’ onou” = “off a donkey” and “apo nou” = “out of his mind”]
AMYNIAS: Am I crazy because I want my money back?
STREPSIADES: Clearly your wits have been shaken. Tell me, when it rains, does fresh water fall or stale?
AMYNIAS: I neither know nor care.
STREPSIADES: And you claim the right to demand money when you know nothing of celestial phenomena?
AMYNIAS: What? Nonsense! If you are short this month, at least pay me the interest.
STREPSIADES: First tell me this: is there more water in the sea now than there was formerly?
AMYNIAS: It’s always the same size, of course.
STREPSIADES: In that case, you fool, if the sea that receives the rivers never grows, how can you expect your money to grow with interest? Get out of here! Where’s my horsewhip?
AMYNIAS: This is an outrage!
STREPSIADES: Get moving, you old nag! Before I sting your behind!
Amynias exits and Strepsiades goes into his house
CHORUS: Where does the passion for evil lead! Here is a perverse old man who wants to cheat his creditors, but some mishap will soon punish this rogue for his shameful scheming. For a long time he has wished to have a son skilled in arguing for opinions opposed to justice. This he has, but perhaps he soon will wish that his son were not so smart!
Enter Strepsiades and Phidippides
STREPSIADES: Help! Help! Neighbors, kinsmen, fellow citizens! To the rescue! I am being beaten! Oh my jaw, my head! You’re no son, you’re a scoundrel to beat your own father!
PHIDIPPIDES: Yes, that’s true.
STREPSIADES: You hear? He admits it.
PHIDIPPIDES: Of course, why not?
STREPSIADES: You villain, you parricide, you felon!
PHIDIPPIDES: Go on, call me a thousand names if you like. The more you curse, the more it amuses me.
STREPSIADES: What gives you the right to treat me thus?
PHIDIPPIDES: I’ll show you that I am justified in beating you. When I’m through, even you will admit that I’m right.
STREPSIADES: Miserable fellow! Why, I was the one who sent you to school to learn how to refute what is right, and now you tell me that it is right for a son to beat his father!
CHORUS: First tell us how all this started.
STREPSIADES: At the end of supper, I asked him to sing the song of Simonides, the one about the golden fleece. But he said that it was stupid and refused.
PHIDIPPIDES: By rights I ought to have kicked you the very moment you told me to sing.
STREPSIADES: You see? That’s just how he spoke to me inside. Furthermore, he added that Simonides was a detestable poet. At first I kept my cool, but then I said, “At least you could recite a bit of Aeschylus for me.” He replied, “I regard Aeschylus as first among the poets . . . for incoherence, bombast, and longwindedness!” Still I smothered my anger and said, “Then recite one of the famous pieces from the modern poets.” He commenced a piece in which Euripides shows, oh horror! a brother who slept with his own sister! I could no longer restrain myself. I showered him with many choice words of abuse which he returned in kind. Finally, he sprang at me, knocked me to the ground and started strangling me!
PHIDIPPIDES: I was within my rights, defending Euripides, the greatest of our poets.
STREPSIADES: Euripides! The greatest . . . ? No, I won’t say it. I’ll just be beaten again.
PHIDIPPIDES: And rightly so.
STREPSIADES: What impudence!
CHORUS: Young men everywhere are impatient, waiting to hear what he will say. If he truly makes a convincing defense for beating his father, then I wouldn’t give a cent for the hide of old men.
PHIDIPPIDES: How pleasant it is to know these clever new arguments and to be able to defy the established laws! When I thought only about horses, I wasn’t able to string three words together without a mistake, but now that the master has altered and improved me and that I live in this world of subtle thought and meditation, I think I can demonstrate to everyone’s satisfaction that I was right to beat my father.
STREPSIADES: I wish you had stuck to your horses. I’d rather pay your bills than be beaten.
PHIDIPPIDES: As I was saying, before being interrupted – let me ask you, did you beat me as a child?
STREPSIADES: Of course, I did. It was for your own good.
PHIDIPPIDES: Tell me then, is it not right that in turn I should beat you for your good? Since as you say, it’s in a man’s best interest to be beaten. Must your body be free of blows and not mine? Are children the only ones to be beaten? You say the law allows for children to be punished. But I reply that old men are in their second childhood, and so deserved to be whipped even more, for they have less excuse for their faults.
STREPSIADES: But the law nowhere admits that fathers should be treated thus.
PHIDIPPIDES: Was not the legislator who passed this law a man like you and me, and didn’t he persuade other men to accept it by his arguments? Then why shouldn’t I have the same right to argue for a new law, allowing children to beat their fathers?
STREPSIADES: No, I have the right to beat you, and you then have the right to beat your son, not me.
PHIDIPPIDES: But what if I don’t have a son? I will have been beaten in vain, and you would die laughing in my face.
STREPSIADES: [aside] I must admit, he makes a good case. It sounds reasonable to me. We must pay for our mistakes, and I am paying for mine!
PHIDIPPIDES: Furthermore, by the same reasoning, I ought to beat my mother.
STREPSIADES: Enough of this! Clouds! All our troubles come from you to whom I entrusted myself body and soul.
CHORUS: No, you alone are to blame because you have pursued the path of evil.
STREPSIADES: Why didn’t you say so then, instead of leading a poor, ignorant old man astray?
CHORUS: We always act in this manner when we see a man who is a lover of what is evil. We strike him with some terrible disgrace, so that he may learn to fear the gods.
STREPSIADES: Alas! O Clouds, these are hard words, but just. I shouldn’t have cheated my creditors. But come, my son, come with me to take vengeance on this wretched Socrates who has deceived us both.
PHIDIPPIDES: I can’t do wrong against my teachers!
STREPSIADES: Show some reverence for Zeus.
PHIDIPPIDES: Listen to that! How old-fashioned you are! Does Zeus actually exist?
STREPSIADES: Of course he does.
PHIDIPPIDES: No! The ruler of the world is Whirlwind who has unseated Zeus. Believe nonsense if you want, but I won’t!
STREPSIADES: Oh, what madness! I lost my reason when I threw over the gods through Socrates’ seductive phrases. Good Hermes, do not destroy me in your wrath. Forgive me, their babbling drove me crazy. Be my counselor. Tell me and I will obey. Should I take them to court? No, you are right, lawsuits are risky in the hands of these imposters. Let us go now and burn down the school! May the roof fall in on them! Ho, bring me a blazing torch! I’ll make them pay for what they have done to me!
DISCIPLE: Help! Help! What are you doing?
STREPSIADES: Why, I am starting a fiery argument with the roof of this house.
CHAEREPHON: Who’s setting our school on fire?
STREPSIADES: The man whose cloak you appropriated.
CHAEREPHON: You’ll destroy us all!
STREPSIADES: That’s exactly what I intend to do, unless I fall off this ladder and break my neck.
SOCRATES: Hey, what are you doing up there?
STREPSIADES: I traverse the air and contemplate the sun.
SOCRATES: Help! I am suffocating! [he runs from the school]
CHAEREPHON: Hey! Wait for me!
STREPSIADES: You insulted the gods! Chase them, strike them down! They have richly deserved their fate – most of all because of their blasphemies!
CHORUS: Let us depart the stage. We have sung and danced enough for one day.