Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520
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Strepsiades (strehp-SI-eh-dees), an old, plodding, and stolid citizen of Athens who is hounded by creditors and burdened with debts incurred partly through the excesses of his horse-loving son, Phidippides. Resolving to cure his financial troubles, he sends his son to study the new science, taught by Socrates in the Thoughtery, a plan Strepsiades believes will guarantee the confutation of his creditors and the preservation of his fortune. His son, however, refuses to be tutored. Strepsiades resolves to attend the Thoughtery himself, but he proves himself a bumbling pupil, exhausting the patience of Socrates. Strepsiades then convinces his son to sit under Socrates. Socrates calls up the Just and Unjust Discourses to instruct Phidippides. In a violent dialogue, the Unjust Discourse wins and converts Phidippides to a modern position. After returning home, Phidippides demonstrates that he has been an apt pupil of the Sophists. He beats his father unmercifully, justifying himself by his new learning. Outraged at Socrates and his disciples, Strepsiades, with the help of a servant, burns down the Thoughtery.
Phidippides (fihd-DIHP-eh-dees), the son of Strepsiades, converted from his lethargic, spendthrift ways by the Sophists into a man who discovers the joys of defying established laws. By subtle reasoning, he justifies beating his father and declares that he intends to beat his mother as well.
Socrates (SOK-ruh-tees), a philosopher and teacher of the new science, and owner of the house called the Thoughtery. Approached by Strepsiades to teach Strepsiades the new ways, he is found suspended in a basket “contemplating the sun.” Socrates, attempting to teach Strepsiades that the clouds are the genii of the universe, invokes them with prayers and praises. The clouds, he says, control human thought, speech, trickery, roguery, boasting, lies, and sagacity. This play lampoons the new science, but in portraying Socrates as a caricature of the new scientist it perverts Socrates’ true convictions. Socrates rejected the natural sciences, had refused to organize a school of philosophy, rejected the Sophists, never took pay for his teaching, and affected not omniscience but ignorance.
Disciples of Socrates
Disciples of Socrates, who relate to the newly arrived Strepsiades examples of the new science, which is ridiculed through the examples and through the disciples.
Just Discourse, a defender of the old ways, including silence as a rule for children, respect for elders, physical fitness, and modesty. He is defeated by Unjust Discourse in the debate.
Unjust Discourse, a critic of the old ways. He celebrates deception, disrespect, slovenliness, immorality, and sexual promiscuity. His students become accomplished Sophists.
Pasias (pas-I-uhs) and
Amynias (a-mihn-I-uhs), moneylenders who visit Strepsiades to collect their due. The little that Strepsiades learned in the Thoughtery enables him to confute them and drive them away empty-handed.
A Chorus of Clouds
A Chorus of Clouds, which sing praises to the Sophists for their acumen. They advise Socrates to take advantage of the ignorant and the stupid and extol the power of the clouds over the lives of men. In the parabasis, the Chorus berates the Athenians for having treated the play scornfully and recommends highest awards for the play.