Critical Evaluation

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 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 are 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 that 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’ original notion of sending his son to learn how to argue falsely. The episodes are often the funniest part of the comedy, as in this play. The...

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