(ca. 446–385 B.C.) was born in Athens, a member of the Deme Kydathenaion, and produced most of his plays during the great war between Athens and Sparta (432-404). His family seems to have owned property on the island of Aegina (colonized by Athens in 431). He participated in political life: an inscription (IG II/III2 1740) names him as a prytanis.

He is the only surviving representative of 'Old Comedy'—which was political and satirical and ribald in the (sometimes) extreme. The comedy performances were part of a competition in honor of the god Dionysos, three playwrights each contributing one play for an occasion (the City Dionysia or the Lenaia). His first play, The Banqueters (428/7), was produced when he was under-age, and won the Second Prize. The Acharnians belonged to the Lenaia of 425, where Aristophanes won First Prize over Kratinos and Eupolis. The Clouds was produced in 423 B.C. (Socrates would have been about 45 at the time). His last play, Ploutos, belongs to 388 B. C. Forty-four plays were attributed to Aristophanes by the scholars of Alexandria (a critical edition of Aristophanes was published by Aristophanes of Byzantium), but at least four were by others; eleven authentic play survive.



  • Strepsiades, an Athenian Father, is in bed, tossing and turning in worry about his debts and his son (who is a horseracing fanatic). He recalls the past happy life of the countryside, and the beginning of his difficulties after he married a sophisticated city woman. A quarrel about a new son's name ("Horse Sparer") seems to have led the son to become addicted to horse racing.
  • Strep has the idea of taking his son to Socrates' school, the Phrontisterion, which is next door to the family town house. He expects the son to learn enough cleverness to confuse and keep off the creditors. Pheidippides refuses, because he fears the School will cause him to lose his tan. So Strep decides to enroll himself, despite his age.
  • Strepsiades, the Father, appears at the Phrontisterion (Think Factory). He is rebuked for disturbing the students. He hears about Socrates' arguments and wants to sign up. He gets a look at the students, and then the Headmaster Socrates himself. Socrates is suspended in a basket hanging from the ceiling--because he has difficulty thinking unless he is in a rarified atmosphere. Soc is informed that Strep wants to learn how to argue well enough to get away from his creditors.


Socrates prays to Air, Ether and the Clouds--his own special divinities. Strep watches the Clouds enter and sing and dance. He discovers they are tricky goddesses, who inspire shifty rhetoric, windy talk and are patron saints of Quacks and Imposters. Socrates teaches Strep about the nature and powers of the Clouds, and points out that there is no such thing as `Zeus'. Clouds make it rain, thunder, and lightening. Strep accepts these divinities with an oath to believe only in Chaos, Clouds and Tongue. Socrates administers the School's Entrance Exam.


The Chorus addresses the audience, stating Aristophanes' own view that this is the best of his plays. His views on the comedic art are presented. The audience is asked to worship the Clouds, who recall their assistance to Athens. An attack is made on the character and policies of Cleon (d. in Thrace in 424).


  • Socrates is annoyed by Strepsiades' bad memory and foolishness. Strep is required to lie on a bed while being instructed. Strep is not interested in Truth-for-its-own-sake, but for practical knowledge (Sophistical knowledge) and false reasoning (`Making the weaker argument the stronger'). A lesson in the gender of nouns. Bedbugs begin to bite. Strep confesses he can only concentrate on ways to outwit his creditors. Socrates kicks him out of school for his bad memory.

  • Strepsiades, the Father, decides to kick his son out of the family home unless he enrolls in the Phrontisterion. He tries to teach his son some of the techniques of the school. The son thinks it is all foolish, but is persuaded to join the school anyway.


Young Phidippides is instructed by Just Cause (Right Logic) (truth, justice, honesty) and Unjust Cause (Wrong Logic) (Right Logic) (material success, modern thinking), two professors at the Phrontisterion. Just Cause (Right Logic) speaks about traditional education and the old virtues: modesty, discipline, health through physical training, morality, good manners, temperance, respect for elders. Unjust Cause (Wrong Logic) (Right Logic) praises the new Sophistic education, legal loopholes, winning arguments through cleverness, pleasures of hot tubs, sexual looseness and intemperance. Just Cause (Right Logic) is defeated--on a legal technicality. Pheidippides is signed up for a course under Unjust Cause (Wrong Logic) (Right Logic).


The Chorus addresses the Judges of the Comedic Contest, and requests the reward of the First Prize.


  • After some days, Strepsiades appears to check up on his son's progress, and is told about the boy's brilliance. He greets his son joyfully. The boy exhibits his genius. A creditor appears, intending to collect some bills; Strep refuses to pay when the creditor makes an error in gender. Another moneylender is driven off as well.
  • Later, in the midst of a meal, Strep rushes out of his house because his son has just attacked him.


Debate between father and son about the justice of a son beating a father. It turns out that the two have quarreled over the merits of Euripides. The son believes that turn about is fair play: he was beaten when he was young, now he can beat his father in his second childhood. Father is defeated, and the son then proceeds to demonstrate that it is also just to beat one's mother.


The father revolts at that point. Father admits he has ruined his son by indulgence. He rushes to the Phrontisterion (Think Factory) and begins to demolish and burn the place down, with the assistance of his slaves, driving out Socrates and his pupils.

  • Kenneth J. Dover (ed.) Aristophanes: Clouds (with intro. & commentary) (Oxford)
  • Bowie, A.M., Aristophanes. Myth, Ritual, and Comedy (Cambridge 1993).
  • Dover, Kenneth J., Aristophanic Comedy (1972).
  • MacDowell, D. M., Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays (Oxford OUP 1995).
  • Silk, M. S., Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (2000).

© 07/24/2003

January 24, 2010 3:29 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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