Clouds: A summary

Below is a summary of Clouds, by Aristophanes. This is in note form, with many abbrievations. Please contact me if you wish to decipher anything. Cheers.

Opens with Strep and Phei sleeping, with Strep tossing and turning. Immediately funny due to his name meaning twister. Strep introduces the political situation in time of war and how slaves can’t be disciplined because they will defect to Sparta. Complains about being bitten: a metaphor for the debt biting at him too: all 1200 drachmas due to sons racing/horse habits.

First reference/only reference to women in play with niece of Megacles, son of Megacles: Cleisthenes’ father who founded Athens democracy. Strep complains about his extravagant wife in terms of spending and sexual desire: first ref to phallus in the play.

Strep announces plan of going to Thinkery, after suspense/delay.  Phei breaks oath to Dionysus: showing he is not model son: re going to the Thinkery. Strep can’t persuade Phei to go, so announces he will go himself.

Strep knocks at Thinkery. Ridiculous experiments: Measuring flea jump. These are treated like holy secrets and connotes to feeling of Eleusinian mystery/cult religion. Student dresses up experiments to make them sound scientific. Strep debases gnat’s biology to a “arsehole like a trumpet”/gecko shitting in Socrates’ face. Student describes start of Socrates experiment: seems serious: becomes nonsense when he just nicks a cloak.

Students revealed via ekkelema, Strep jokes about them looking like Spartan prisoners from Pylos, akin to calling them holocaust victims etc. 425BC: fresh in memory, released 421BC.

Strep confused by a map: thinks it actually represents reality: says Sparta is too near to Athens. Strep claims that he and Pericles crushed revolt on Euboea 446BC.

Socrates swings onto stage like a god in tragedy, on the mechane or crane. Sacrilegious moment. Bathos where intellectual scientific thought is reduced to cress. Socrates asks after Strep’s debt: Strep swears to gods (empty oath) that he will pay the fees (Socrates did not charge, SOPHISTS did).

Socrates gives Strep wreath and sprinkles flour: leads Strep to believe he is being sacrificed, like Athamas: who escaped sacrifice but was then cursed. Socrates gives chorus like speech: referring to Diogenes “air”, “ether” and “Cloud”: a holy trinity of new religion to anticipate entry of chorus. Strep worries that he hasn’t got coat and will get wet. Socrates gives final invocation: then Chorus heard off stage.

PARADOS: High dialect. Bathos created by Strep’s scatological. Metatheatre: Socrates says “you’re not acting in a comedy now”. Chorus/Strep/Soc discuss hero cults.

Chorus appear on stage: faces of young women: men dressed as women dressed as clouds. Slapstick moment of Socrates directing Strep to look at Clouds. Strep ACTUALLY IS CORRECT: thinks clouds are made of water, but Socrates lambastes him and says how they are goddesses. Socratic Method: questioning. Ref to Cleonymus who dropped shield 424 retreat from Delium: running joke on hoplite warfare. Ref to Cleisthenes: clouds have seen him, so turn into woman. Real Socrates quoted by audience re: Retreat from Delium.

Discussion of what makes rain: Strep claims Zeus compels clouds to move: Socrates claims celestial vortex: Empedoclean view. Reference to delly belly Panathenaea: All Athenian festival in the summer: Socrates starts intellectual discussion: Strep ruins in with weird “Prr prr” noises: scatological humour. Pun on Greek thunder and fart: similarity between the words. Political satire on Zeus needing to strike down Simon, Cleonymus and Theorus.

Different trinity introduced by Socrates: Chaos, clouds, Tongue: Socrates asks that Strep only recognises these. Strep dumbs this analogy down: undercutting science analogy to say he would not speak to the gods if he met them in the street.

Strep uses language of Sophists: bowled over by Sophist arguments.

Socrates tests Strep: memory, speaker, cosmology…joke on Jury men in Athens: Strep claims if beaten he would quickly go to the law. Strep worried that Socrates will steal his cloak/beat him.

Entry into the Thinkery: Strep refs to honey cake sacrifice to enter Trophonious Hero Cult: to pacify the serpent.

PARABASIS: Rewritten 5/6 years later in 418BC. Leader/Aris says how plays are like babies that grow, but since judges chose to put Clouds third, baby was killed. Reference to Electra: Agamemnon’s daughter killed by Clytaemnestra. Aristophanes claims that it will not be a typical raunchy play for cheap laughs. It won’t play the fool or be hackneyed (cf Plautus).

Clearly Clouds has been rewritten: who pretends a play is new when it is really a repeat? Aristophanes lies about sparing Cleon, keeping attacking him. Claims that his Knights was rehashed in Maricas.

Chorus resume character: to break up parabasis: appeals to more traditional gods such as Zeus, but also Ether.

Leader: recent reference to Lunar eclipse of 425BC. Yet Cleon was elected in 424 as general: despite Knights painting him as sausage seller He dies in 422. Claims that festivals are celebrated in one way-too much feasting. Reference to Hyperbolus- Athenian rep at Delphi: wreath blew away.

Socrates: talks about Measures/Rhythms. Strep gets it confused with weights. Sophistic use and playing around of words. Pun on digital versus Strep’s middle finger. Strep comic stooge like in being mocked for not distinguishing between fowl’s and fowlesses (latin words fem and masc ending). There is a satirical attack on sophist ridiculousness. Joke on Cleisthenes: Socrates says how a masculine name describes a feminine object. Trough vs troughena. List of three masculine dubious names.

Socrates leaves stage, taking Strep shoes with him. Somewhat cyclical structure with Strep complaining about bed buggers: but also play on Latin word that sounds like Corinthians: joke at their expense. Transgressive humour:  Strep “balls” and “probe my hole”: i.e. Corinthians like gay anal.

Strep’s ideas for dodging tax: if moon rises, pay no interest: reckoned by the month. Melt wax tablet. Hang self.

Socrates and Leader advise that Phei is sent to Thinkery. Strep says that Phei comes from line of stinking rich women:  too strong to bully. Thus ends Strep’s educ.

Strep orders Phei to Thinkery. Strep continues error in saying that Vortex has taken Zeus’ crown: misunderstanding. Strep gets Socrates of Melos with Diagoras of Melos: confused. Strep tries to teach son: Fowless etc. Phei points out missing cloak and shoes. Strep: “for essential purposes” as Pericles once said: Pericles bribed Spartans 60,000 drachma when Euboea revolted 446BC. Strep makes emotional appeal to son that he’s been a good father etc. Ref to rising in Jury pay in 423BC to 3 obols a day: current political event. Socrates mocks Phei hateful speech. Ref to Hyperbolous: killed 411BC: Ostracised by getting voted out of Polis. Socrates line makes evident actor limit on stage.

Right Enters: costume of typical Athens aristocrat: Persian war period 60 years before play. Wrong Enters: younger, large phallus. Agon begins: Stichomythia: fourth wall broken: calling audience stupid.Right claims justice=gods. Wrong says that Zeus was not destroyed for putting Kronos in chains: Phei uses this later: respect for parents doesn’t matter. Wrong laps out exquisite compliments of right. Right very much traditional/conservative cf Wrong: new thinking, smartass, challenger of norms.

Right attacked as “Telephus” a beggar disguise to get healed: how Sophists charge “living on scraps of ideas” “stole”. Formal debate established: Right to start.: chorus brings order.

Right traditionalist taken to the extreme: i.e pederasty: keeps ref to little boys and their sexual organs. Wrong list of three: cicada brooches, oxslaughter trials, Cedeides: all old. Another reference to shield dropping by Right. Crit of Sophist way of talking in agora etc. Verse build up- expected that Right will finish with erection: instead changes it to e-lection. Chorus aims to lean towards right in the debate.

Wrong uses myth to show that hot baths aren’t bad: Baths of Heracles at Thermopylae. Right claims how Wrong’s victory here is just an example of the sophists who sit in the market talking, leaving military schools empty. Instead Wrong, says how Nestor (a great warrior) was known as a great talker, marketeer. Right claims that Peleus chastity was reward well by gods. Left says that life of crime pays better. Wrong claims that Zeus is immoral, sleeps around, so why shouldn’t we? Right says this will lead to ritual humiliation: but Wrong claims what’s wrong with being a homosexual. Wrong then demonstrates that tragic actors, politicians are all homosexuals: and some of the audience: breaks fourth wall.

Right ‘defects’ revealing his cross dressing.

Second Parabasis: Leader addresses competition judges: but do not completely step out of character.

Strep: counts 26,27…creates illusion of time: brought to end of month: debt is due. Strep goes to Thinkery: Phei has been taught to defend against 1000 witnesses. Strep adopts tragic tones @ Phei.

Convo bt phei and Strep: ref to Solon: 590’s Law Giver: who benefited ordinary people: gives 2 days for settlement of debt. Strep complains about still having to pay on the first day. Strep bad joke, but funny because he’s an absolute idiot: claims he is intellectual: audience laugh AT him: anti-hero, unsual.

Play should end at pg 119, l1206: evidence of komos revelry here. But no: 1st and 2nd creditors enter. Strep defends instead of Phei: due to no of actors problem/enhance Strep hero status. “Avoids” first creditor by mispronunciation of troughena: Creditor takes him to court. Second Creditor hobbles on frm tragedy: parody. Quotes Xenocles tragedy: Pallas, thou has destroy me utterly. Bathos: Strep says Cred fell off proverbial donkey: i.e. you’re an ass. Strep “defeats” him by claiming that sea does not increase, so interest should not interest. Fails. So he results to violence.

Clouds: Strep in love with “evil” + “this sophist” ambiguity. Evil=argments or not paying debt? Sophist: foreshadow burning down of Thinkery or joke at Strep expense?

Strep attacked by Phei. Strep abuse: Phei like Wrong, takes it as compliment.

Agon, Phei vs Strep. Phei attacks father’s antiquated ways. Generational divide. Fighting over tragedians. Strep highlights his fathering of Phei. Scatological humour: says how Phei choked him till he shit himself. Discussion of beating=caring. Old age=second childhood according to Phei. Phei compares cockerels father v son fights. Phei threatens to beat him mum up too. Clouds turn on Strep: who claims Strep brought doom on himself. Strep realises his mistake to cheat his creditors. Strep goes back on knowledge of Zeus/Vortex, claimed that he took cup for a god.

Strep burns down Thinkery to make up for betrayal of traditional gods. Strep quotes Socrates own words: “waling upon air and attacking the mystery of the sun”. Socrates, Chaerephron and Students flee, but Strep and servants pursue stoning them for wronging the gods.


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