From The Clouds
(SCENE:-In the background are two houses, that of Strepsiades and
that of Socrates, the Thoughtery. The latter is small and dingy;
the in, terior of the former is shown and two beds are seen, each
STREPSIADES (sitting up)
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! Ah!
It wasn't like this formerly. Curses on the war! has it not done
me ills enough? Now I may not even chastise my own slaves. Again
there's this brave lad, who never wakes the whole long night, but,
wrapped in his five coverlets, farts away to his heart's content.
(He lies down) Come! let me nestle in well and snore too, if it be
possible....oh! misery, it's vain to think of sleep with all these
expenses, this stable, these debts, which are devouring me, thanks
to this fine cavalier, who only knows how to look after his long
locks, to show himself off in his chariot and to dream of horses!
And I, I am nearly dead, when I see the moon bringing the third decade
in her train and my liability falling due....Slave! light the lamp and
bring me my tablets. (The slave obeys.) Who are all my creditors?
Let me see and reckon up the interest. What is it I owe?....Twelve
minae to Pasias....What! twelve minae to Pasias?....Why did I borrow
these? Ah! I know! It was to buy that thoroughbred, which cost me so
much. How I should have prized the stone that had blinded him!
PHIDIPPIDES (in his sleep)
That's not fair, Philo! Drive your chariot straight, I say.
This is what is destroying me. He raves about horses, even in
PHIDIPPIDES (still sleeping)
How many times round the track is the race for the chariots of
It's your own father you are driving to death....to ruin. Come!
what debt comes next, after that of Pasias?....Three minae to
Amynias for a chariot and its two wheels.
PHIDIPPIDES (still asleep)
Give the horse a good roll in the dust and lead him home.
Ah! wretched boy! it's my money that you are making roll. My
creditors have distrained on my goods, and here are others again,
who demand security for their interest.
What is the matter with you, father, that you groan and turn about
the whole night through?
I have a bum-bailiff in the bedclothes biting me.
For pity's sake, let me have a little sleep. (He turns over.)
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, a commonplace,
everyday life, but a good and easy one-had not a trouble, not a
care, was rich in bees, in sheep and in olives. Then indeed I had to
marry the niece of Megacles, the son of Megacles; I belonged to the
country, she was from the town; she was a haughty, extravagant
woman, a true Coesyra. On the nuptial day, when I lay beside her, I
was reeking of the dregs of the wine-cup, of cheese and of wool; she
was redolent with essences, saffron, voluptuous kisses, the love of
spending, of good cheer and of wanton delights. I will not say she did
nothing; no, she worked hard...to ruin me, and pretending all the
while merely to be showing her the cloak she had woven for me, I said,
"Wife you go too fast about your work, your threads are too closely
woven and you use far too much wool."
(A slave enters with a lamp.)
There is no more oil in the lamp.
Why then did you light such a thirsty lamp? Come here, I am
going to beat you.
Because you have put in too thick a wick....Later, when we had
this boy, what was to be his name? It was the cause of much
quarrelling with my loving wife. She insisted on having some reference
to a horse in his name, that he should be called Xanthippus, Charippus
or Callippides. I wanted to name him Phidonides after his grandfather.
We disputed long, and finally agreed to style him Phidippides....She
used to fondle and coax him, saying, "Oh! what a joy it will be to
me when you have grown up, to see you, like my father, Megacles,
clothed in purple and standing up straight in your chariot driving
your steeds toward the town." And I would say to him, "When, like your
father, you will go, dressed in a skin, to fetch back your goats
from Phelleus." Alas! he never listened to me and his madness for
horses has shattered my fortune. (He gets out of bed.) But by dint
of thinking the livelong night, I have discovered a road to salvation,
both miraculous and divine. If he will but follow it, I shall be out
of my trouble! First, however, he must be awakened, but it must be
done as gently as possible. How shall I manage it? Phidippides! my
PHIDIPPIDES (awaking again)
What is it, father?
Kiss me and give me your hand.
PHIDIPPIDES (getting up and doing as his father requests)
There! What's it all about?
Tell me! do you love me?
By Poseidon, the equestrian Poseidon! yes, I swear I do.
Oh, do not, I pray you, invoke this god of horses; he is the one
who is the cause of all my cares. But if you really love me, and
with your whole heart, my boy, believe me.
Believe you? about what?
Alter your habits forthwith and go and learn what I tell you.
Say on, what are your orders?
Will you obey me ever so little?
By Bacchus, I will obey you.
Very well then! Look this way. Do you see that little door and
that little house?
Yes, father. But what are you driving at?
That is the Thoughtery of wise souls. There they prove that we are
coals enclosed on all sides under a vast snuffer, which is the sky. If
well paid, these men also teach one how to gain law-suits, whether
they be just or not.
What do they call themselves?
I do not know exactly, but they are deep thinkers and most
Bah! the wretches! I know them; you mean those quacks with pale
faces, those barefoot fellows, such as that miserable Socrates and
Silence! say nothing foolish! If you desire your father not to die
of hunger, join their company and let your horses go.
No, by Bacchus! even though you gave me the pheasants that
Oh! my beloved son, I beseech you, go and follow their teachings.
And what is it I should learn?
It seems they have two courses of reasoning, the true and the
false, and that, thanks to the false, the worst law-suits can be
gained. If then you learn this science, which is false, I shall not
have to pay an obolus of all the debts I have contracted on your
No, I will not do it. I should no longer dare to look at our gallant
horsemen, when I had so ruined my tan.
Well then, by Demeter! I will no longer support you, neither
you, nor your team, nor your saddle-horse. Go and hang yourself, I
turn you out of house and home.
My uncle Megacles will not leave me without horses; I shall go
to him and laugh at your anger.
(He departs. STREPSIADES goes over to SOCRATES' house.)
One rebuff shall not dishearten me. With the help of the gods I
will enter the Thoughtery and learn myself. (He hesitates.) But at
my age, memory has gone and the mind is slow to grasp things. How
can all these fine distinctions, these subtleties be learned?
(Making up his mind) Bah! why should I dally thus instead of rapping
at the door? Slave, slave!
(He knocks and calls.)
A DISCIPLE (from within)
A plague on you! Who are you?
Strepsiades, the son of Phido, of the deme of Cicynna.
DISCIPLE (coming out of the door)
You are nothing but an ignorant and illiterate fellow to let fly
at the door with such kicks. You have brought on a miscarriage-of an
Pardon me, please; for I live far away from here in the country.
But tell me, what was the idea that miscarried?
I may not tell it to any but a disciple.
Then tell me without fear, for I have come to study among you.
Very well then, but reflect, that these are mysteries. Lately, a
flea bit Chaerephon on the brow and then from there sprang on to the
head of Socrates. Socrates asked Chaerephon, "How many times the
length of its legs does a flea jump?"
And how ever did he go about measuring it?
Oh! it was most ingenious! He melted some wax, seized the flea and
dipped its two feet in the wax, which, when cooled, left them shod
with true Persian slippers. These he took off and with them measured
Ah! great Zeus! what a brain! what subtlety!
I wonder what then would you say, if you knew another of Socrates'
What is it? Pray tell me.
Chaerephon of the deme of Sphettia asked him whether he thought
a gnat buzzed through its proboscis or through its anus.
And what did he say about the gnat?
He said that the gut of the gnat was narrow, and that, in
passing through this tiny passage, the air is driven with force
towards the breech; then after this slender channel, it encountered
the rump, which was distended like a trumpet, and there it resounded sonorously.
So the arse of a gnat is a trumpet. Oh! what a splendid
arsevation! Thrice happy Socrates! It would not be difficult to
succeed in a law-suit, knowing so much about a gnat's guts!
Not long ago a lizard caused him the loss of a sublime thought.
In what way, please?
One night, when he was studying the course of the moon and its
revolutions and was gazing open-mouthed at the heavens, a lizard
crapped upon him from the top of the roof.
A lizard crapping on Socrates! That's rich!
Last night we had nothing to eat.
Well, what did he contrive, to secure you some supper?
He spread over the table a light layer of cinders, bending an iron
rod the while; then he took up a pair of compasses and at the same
moment unhooked a piece of the victim which was hanging in the
And we still dare to admire Thales! Open, open this home of
knowledge to me quickly! Haste, haste to show me Socrates; I long to
become his disciple. But do please open the door. (The door opens,
revealing the interior of the Thoughtery, in which the DISCIPLES OF
SOCRATES are seen in various postures of meditation and study; they
are pale and emaciated creatures.) Ah! by Heracles! what country are
those animals from?
Why, what are you astonished at? What do you think they resemble?
The captives of Pylos. But why do they look so fixedly on the
They are seeking for what is below the ground.
Ah! they're looking for onions. Do not give yourselves so much
trouble; I know where there are some, fine big ones. But what are
those fellows doing, bent all double?
They are sounding the abysses of Tartarus.
And what are their arses looking at in the heavens?
They are studying astronomy on their own account. But come in so
that the master may not find us here.
Not yet; not yet; let them not change their position. I want to
tell them my own little matter.
But they may not stay too long in the open air and away from
STREPSIADES (pointing to a celestial globe)
In the name of all the gods, what is that? Tell me.
That is astronomy.
STREPSIADES (pointing to a map)
What is that used for?
To measure the land.
But that is apportioned by lot.
No, no, I mean the entire earth.
Ah! what a funny thing! How generally useful indeed is this
There is the whole surface of the earth. Look! Here is Athens.
Athens! you are mistaken; I see no courts in session.
Nevertheless it is really and truly the Attic territory.
And where are my neighbours of Cicynna?
They live here. This is Euboea; you see this island, that is so
long and narrow.
I know. Because we and Pericles have stretched it by dint of
squeezing it. And where is Lacedaemon?
Lacedaemon? Why, here it is, look.
How near it is to us! Think it well over, it must be removed to
a greater distance.
But, by Zeus, that is not possible.
Then, woe to you! and who is this man suspended up in a basket?
Socrates! Oh! I pray you, call him right loudly for me.
Call him yourself; I have no time to waste. (He departs. The
machine swings in SOCRATES in a basket.)
Socrates! my little Socrates!
Mortal, what do you want with me?
First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.
I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun.
Thus it's not on the solid ground, but from the height of this
basket, that you slight the gods, if indeed....
I have to suspend my brain and mingle the subtle essence of my
mind with this air, which is of the like nature, in order clearly to
penetrate the things of heaven. I should have discovered nothing,
had I remained on the ground to consider from below the things that
are above; for the earth by its force attracts the sap of the mind
to itself. It's just the same with the watercress.
What? Does the mind attract the sap of the watercress? Ah! my dear
little Socrates, come down to me! I have come to ask you for lessons.
And for what lessons?
I want to learn how to speak. I have borrowed money, and my
merciles creditors do not leave me a moment's peace; all my goods
are at stake.
And how was it you did not see that you were getting so much
My ruin has been the madness for horses, a most rapacious evil;
but teach me one of your two methods of reasoning, the one whose
object is not to repay anything, and, may the gods bear witness,
that I am ready to pay any fee you may name.
By which gods will you swear? To begin with, the gods are not a
coin current with us.
But what do you swear by then? By the iron money of Byzantium?
Do you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters?
Why, yes, if it's possible.
....and to converse with the clouds, who are our genii?
Without a doubt.
Then be seated on this sacred couch.
STREPSIADES (sitting down)
I am seated.
Now take this chaplet.
Why a chaplet? Alas! Socrates, would you sacrifice me, like
No, these are the rites of initiation.
And what is it I am to gain?
You will become a thorough rattle-pate, a hardened old stager, the
fine flour of the talkers....But come, keep quiet.
By Zeus! That's no lie! Soon I shall be nothing but wheat-flour,
if you powder me in that fashion.
Silence, old man, give heed to the prayers. (In an hierophantic
tone) Oh! most mighty king, the boundless air, that keepest the
earth suspended in space, thou bright Aether and ye venerable
goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and the
lightning, arise, ye sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the
celestial spheres to the eyes of your sage.
Not yet! Wait a bit, till I fold my mantle double, so as not to
get wet. And to think that I did not even bring my travelling cap!
What a misfortune!
SOCRATES (ignoring this)
Come, oh! Clouds, whom I adore, come and show yourselves to this
man, whether you be resting on the sacred summits of Olympus,
crowned with hoar-frost, or tarrying in the gardens of Ocean, your
father, forming sacred choruses with the Nymphs; whether you be
gathering the waves of the Nile in golden vases or dwelling in the
Maeotic marsh or on the snowy rocks of Mimas, hearken to my prayer and
accept my offering. May these sacrifices be pleasing to you.
(Amidst rumblings of thunder the CHORUS OF CLOUDS appears.)
Eternal Clouds, let us appear; let us arise from the roaring
depths of Ocean, our father; let us fly towards the lofty mountains,
spread our damp wings over their forest-laden summits, whence we
will dominate the distant valleys, the harvest fed by the sacred
earth, the murmur of the divine streams and the resounding waves of
the sea, which the unwearying orb lights up with its glittering beams.
But let us shake off the rainy fogs, which hide our immortal beauty
and sweep the earth from afar with our gaze.
Oh, venerated goddesses, yes, you are answering my call! (To
STREPSIADES.) Did you hear their voices mingling with the awful
growling of the thunder?
Oh! adorable Clouds, I revere you and I too am going to let off my
thunder, so greatly has your own affrighted me. (He farts.) Faith!
whether permitted or not, I must, I must crap!
No scoffing; do not copy those damned comic poets. Come,
silence! a numerous host of goddesses approaches with songs.
Virgins, who pour forth the rains, let us move toward Attica,
the rich country of Pallas, the home of the brave; let us visit the
dear land of Cecrops, where the secret rites are celebrated, where the
mysterious sanctuary flies open to the initiate.... What victims are
offered there to the deities of heaven! What glorious temples! What
statues! What holy prayers to the rulers of Olympus! At every season
nothing but sacred festivals, garlanded victims, is to be seen. Then
Spring brings round again the joyous feasts of Dionysus, the
harmonious contests of the choruses and the serious melodies of the
By Zeus! Tell me, Socrates, I pray you, who are these women, whose
language is so solemn; can they be demi-goddesses?
Not at all. They are the Clouds of heaven, great goddesses for the
lazy; to them we owe all, thoughts, speeches, trickery, roguery,
boasting, lies, sagacity.
Ah! that was why, as I listened to them, my mind spread out its
wings; it burns to babble about trifles, to maintain worthless
arguments, to voice its petty reasons, to contradict, to tease some
opponent. But are they not going to show themselves? I should like
to see them, were it possible.
Well, look this way in the direction of Parnes; I already see
those who are slowly descending.
But where, where? Show them to me.
They are advancing in a throng, following an oblique path across
the dales and thickets.
Strange! I can see nothing.
There, close to the entrance.
Hardly, if at all, can I distinguish them.
You must see them clearly now, unless your eyes are filled with
gum as thick as pumpkins.
Aye, undoubtedly! Oh! the venerable goddesses! Why, they fill up
the entire stage.
And you did not know, you never suspected, that they were
No, indeed; I thought the Clouds were only fog, dew and vapour.
But what you certainly do not know is that they are the support of
a crowd of quacks, the diviners, who were sent to Thurium, the
notorious physicians, the well-combed fops, who load their fingers
with rings down to the nails, and the braggarts, who write dithyrambic
verses, all these are idlers whom the Clouds provide a living for,
because they sing them in their verses.
It is then for this that they praise "the rapid flight of the
moist clouds, which veil the brightness of day" and "the waving
locks of the hundred-headed Typho" and "the impetuous tempests,
which float through the heavens, like birds of prey with aerial
wings loaded with mists" and "the rains, the dew, which the clouds
outpour." As a reward for these fine phrases they bolt well-grown,
tasty mullet and delicate thrushes.
Yes, thanks to these. And is it not right and meet?
Tell me then why, if these really are the Clouds, they so very
much resemble mortals. This is not their usual form.
What are they like then?
I don't know exactly; well, they are like great packs of wool, but
not like women-no, not in the least....And these have noses.
Answer my questions.
Willingly! Go on, I am listening.
Have you not sometimes seen clouds in the sky like a centaur, a
leopard, a wolf or a bull?
Why, certainly I have, but what of that?
They take what metamorphosis they like. If they see a debauchee
with long flowing locks and hairy as a beast, like the son of
Xenophantes, they take the form of a Centaur in derision of his
And when they see Simon, that thiever of public money, what do
they do then?
To picture him to the life, they turn at once into wolves.
So that was why yesterday, when they saw Cleonymus, who cast
away his buckler because he is the veriest poltroon amongst men,
they changed into deer.
And to-day they have seen Clisthenes; you see....they are women.
Hail, sovereign goddesses, and if ever you have let your celestial
voice be heard by mortal ears, speak to me, oh! speak to me, ye
Hail! veteran of the ancient times, you who burn to instruct
yourself in fine language. And you, great high-priest of subtle
nonsense, tell us; your desire. To you and Prodicus alone of all the
hollow orationers of to-day have we lent an ear-to Prodicus, because
of his knowledge and his great wisdom, and to you, because you walk
with head erect, a confident look, barefooted, resigned to
everything and proud of our protection.
Oh! Earth! What august utterances! how sacred! how wondrous!
That is because these are the only goddesses; all the rest are
But by the Earth! is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god?
Zeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus.
What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me
Why, these, and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining
without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and
without their presence!
By Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always
thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes
the thunder, which I so much dread?
These, when they roll one over the other.
But how can that be? you most daring among men!
Being full of water, and forced to move along, they are of
necessity precipitated in rain, being fully distended with moisture
from the regions where they have been floating; hence they bump each
other heavily and burst with great noise.
But is it not Zeus who forces them to move?
Not at all; it's the aerial Whirlwind.
The Whirlwind! ah! I did not know that. So Zeus, it seems, has
no existence, and its the Whirlwind that reigns in his stead? But
you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?
Have you not understood me then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when
full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately
swollen out, they burst with a great noise.
How can you make me credit that?
Take yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew
at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly
your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling.
Yes, yes, by Apollo I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to
rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific
noise. At first, it's but a little gurgling pappax, pappax! then it
increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder
indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.
Well then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which
is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these
mighty claps of thunder?
And this is why the names are so much alike: crap and clap. But
tell me this. Whence comes the lightning, the dazzling flame, which at
times consumes the man it strikes, at others hardly singes him. Is
it not plain, that Zeus is hurling it at the perjurers?
Out upon the fool! the driveller! he still savours of the golden
age! If Zeus strikes at the perjurers, why has he not blasted Simon,
Cleonymus and Theorus? Of a surety, greater perjurers cannot exist.
No, he strikes his own temple, and Sunium, the promontory of Athens,
and the towering oaks. Now, why should he do that? An oak is no
I cannot tell, but it seems to me well argued. What is the
When a dry wind ascends to the Clouds and gets shut into them,
it blows them out like a bladder; finally, being too confined, it
bursts them, escapes with fierce violence and a roar to flash into
flame by reason of its own impetuosity.
Ah, that's just what happened to me one day. It was at the feast
of Zeus! I was cooking a sow's belly for my family and I had forgotten
to slit it open. It swelled out and, suddenly bursting, discharged
itself right into my eyes and burnt my face.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Oh, mortal, you who desire to instruct yourself in our great
wisdom, the Athenians, the Greeks will envy you your good fortune.
Only you must have the memory and ardour for study, you must know
how to stand the tests, hold your own, go forward without feeling
fatigue, caring but little for food, abstaining from wine, gymnastic
exercises 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 vulgar herd, to shine in the
contests of words.
If it be a question of hardiness for labour, of spending whole
nights at work, of living sparingly, of fighting my stomach and only
eating chickpease, rest assured, I am as hard as an anvil.
Henceforward, following our example, you will recognize no other
gods but Chaos, the Clouds and the Tongue, these three alone.
I would not speak to the others, even if I met them in the street;
not a single sacrifice, not a libation, not a grain of incense for
The Clouds - Part 2