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 occupied.)

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.
STREPSIADES
This is what is destroying me. He raves about horses, even in his sleep.
PHIDIPPIDES (still sleeping)
How many times round the track is the race for the chariots of war?
STREPSIADES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
PHIDIPPIDES (awaking)
What is the matter with you, father, that you groan and turn about the whole night through?
STREPSIADES
I have a bum-bailiff in the bedclothes biting me.
PHIDIPPIDES
For pity's sake, let me have a little sleep. (He turns over.)
STREPSIADES
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.)
SLAVE
There is no more oil in the lamp.
STREPSIADES
Why then did you light such a thirsty lamp? Come here, I am going to beat you.
SLAVE
What for?
STREPSIADES
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 little Phidippides!
PHIDIPPIDES (awaking again)
What is it, father?
STREPSIADES
Kiss me and give me your hand.
PHIDIPPIDES (getting up and doing as his father requests)
There! What's it all about?
STREPSIADES
Tell me! do you love me?
PHIDIPPIDES
By Poseidon, the equestrian Poseidon! yes, I swear I do.
STREPSIADES
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.
PHIDIPPIDES
Believe you? about what?
STREPSIADES
Alter your habits forthwith and go and learn what I tell you.
PHIDIPPIDES
Say on, what are your orders?
STREPSIADES
Will you obey me ever so little?
PHIDIPPIDES
By Bacchus, I will obey you.
STREPSIADES
Very well then! Look this way. Do you see that little door and that little house?
PHIDIPPIDES
Yes, father. But what are you driving at?
STREPSIADES
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.
PHIDIPPIDES
What do they call themselves?
STREPSIADES
I do not know exactly, but they are deep thinkers and most admirable people.
PHIDIPPIDES
Bah! the wretches! I know them; you mean those quacks with pale faces, those barefoot fellows, such as that miserable Socrates and Chaerephon?
STREPSIADES
Silence! say nothing foolish! If you desire your father not to die of hunger, join their company and let your horses go.
PHIDIPPIDES
No, by Bacchus! even though you gave me the pheasants that Leogoras raises.
STREPSIADES
Oh! my beloved son, I beseech you, go and follow their teachings.
PHIDIPPIDES
And what is it I should learn?
STREPSIADES
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 account.
PHIDIPPIDES
No, I will not do it. I should no longer dare to look at our gallant horsemen, when I had so ruined my tan.
STREPSIADES
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.
PHIDIPPIDES
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.)
STREPSIADES
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
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 idea!
STREPSIADES
Pardon me, please; for I live far away from here in the country. But tell me, what was the idea that miscarried?
DISCIPLE
I may not tell it to any but a disciple.
STREPSIADES
Then tell me without fear, for I have come to study among you.
DISCIPLE
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?"
STREPSIADES
And how ever did he go about measuring it?
DISCIPLE
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 the distance.
STREPSIADES
Ah! great Zeus! what a brain! what subtlety!
DISCIPLE I wonder what then would you say, if you knew another of Socrates' contrivances?
STREPSIADES
What is it? Pray tell me.
DISCIPLE
Chaerephon of the deme of Sphettia asked him whether he thought a gnat buzzed through its proboscis or through its anus.
STREPSIADES
And what did he say about the gnat?
DISCIPLE
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.
STREPSIADES
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!
DISCIPLE
Not long ago a lizard caused him the loss of a sublime thought.
STREPSIADES
In what way, please?
DISCIPLE
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.
STREPSIADES
A lizard crapping on Socrates! That's rich!
DISCIPLE
Last night we had nothing to eat.
STREPSIADES
Well, what did he contrive, to secure you some supper?
DISCIPLE
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 palaestra.
STREPSIADES
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?
DISCIPLE
Why, what are you astonished at? What do you think they resemble?
STREPSIADES
The captives of Pylos. But why do they look so fixedly on the ground?
DISCIPLE
They are seeking for what is below the ground.
STREPSIADES
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?
DISCIPLE
They are sounding the abysses of Tartarus.
STREPSIADES
And what are their arses looking at in the heavens?
DISCIPLE
They are studying astronomy on their own account. But come in so that the master may not find us here.
STREPSIADES
Not yet; not yet; let them not change their position. I want to tell them my own little matter.
DISCIPLE
But they may not stay too long in the open air and away from school.
STREPSIADES (pointing to a celestial globe)
In the name of all the gods, what is that? Tell me.
DISCIPLE
That is astronomy.
STREPSIADES (pointing to a map)
And that?
DISCIPLE
Geometry.
STREPSIADES
What is that used for?
DISCIPLE
To measure the land.
STREPSIADES
But that is apportioned by lot.
DISCIPLE
No, no, I mean the entire earth.
STREPSIADES
Ah! what a funny thing! How generally useful indeed is this invention!
DISCIPLE
There is the whole surface of the earth. Look! Here is Athens.
STREPSIADES
Athens! you are mistaken; I see no courts in session.
DISCIPLE
Nevertheless it is really and truly the Attic territory.
STREPSIADES
And where are my neighbours of Cicynna?
DISCIPLE
They live here. This is Euboea; you see this island, that is so long and narrow.
STREPSIADES
I know. Because we and Pericles have stretched it by dint of squeezing it. And where is Lacedaemon?
DISCIPLE
Lacedaemon? Why, here it is, look.
STREPSIADES
How near it is to us! Think it well over, it must be removed to a greater distance.
DISCIPLE
But, by Zeus, that is not possible.
STREPSIADES
Then, woe to you! and who is this man suspended up in a basket?
DISCIPLE
That's himself.
STREPSIADES
Who's himself?
DISCIPLE
Socrates.
STREPSIADES
Socrates! Oh! I pray you, call him right loudly for me.
DISCIPLE
Call him yourself; I have no time to waste. (He departs. The machine swings in SOCRATES in a basket.)
STREPSIADES
Socrates! my little Socrates!
SOCRATES (loftily)
Mortal, what do you want with me?
STREPSIADES
First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.
SOCRATES (POMPOUSLY)
I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun.
STREPSIADES
Thus it's not on the solid ground, but from the height of this basket, that you slight the gods, if indeed....
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES (descending)
And for what lessons?
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
And how was it you did not see that you were getting so much into debt?
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
By which gods will you swear? To begin with, the gods are not a coin current with us.
STREPSIADES
But what do you swear by then? By the iron money of Byzantium?
SOCRATES
Do you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters?
STREPSIADES
Why, yes, if it's possible.
SOCRATES
....and to converse with the clouds, who are our genii?
STREPSIADES
Without a doubt.
SOCRATES
Then be seated on this sacred couch.
STREPSIADES (sitting down)
I am seated.
SOCRATES
Now take this chaplet.
STREPSIADES
Why a chaplet? Alas! Socrates, would you sacrifice me, like Athamas?
SOCRATES
No, these are the rites of initiation.
STREPSIADES
And what is it I am to gain?
SOCRATES
You will become a thorough rattle-pate, a hardened old stager, the fine flour of the talkers....But come, keep quiet.
STREPSIADES
By Zeus! That's no lie! Soon I shall be nothing but wheat-flour, if you powder me in that fashion.
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.)
CHORUS (singing)
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.
SOCRATES
Oh, venerated goddesses, yes, you are answering my call! (To STREPSIADES.) Did you hear their voices mingling with the awful growling of the thunder?
STREPSIADES
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!
SOCRATES
No scoffing; do not copy those damned comic poets. Come, silence! a numerous host of goddesses approaches with songs.
CHORUS (singing)
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 flute.
STREPSIADES
By Zeus! Tell me, Socrates, I pray you, who are these women, whose language is so solemn; can they be demi-goddesses?
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
Well, look this way in the direction of Parnes; I already see those who are slowly descending.
STREPSIADES
But where, where? Show them to me.
SOCRATES
They are advancing in a throng, following an oblique path across the dales and thickets.
STREPSIADES
Strange! I can see nothing.
SOCRATES
There, close to the entrance.
STREPSIADES
Hardly, if at all, can I distinguish them.
SOCRATES
You must see them clearly now, unless your eyes are filled with gum as thick as pumpkins.
STREPSIADES
Aye, undoubtedly! Oh! the venerable goddesses! Why, they fill up the entire stage.
SOCRATES
And you did not know, you never suspected, that they were goddesses?
STREPSIADES
No, indeed; I thought the Clouds were only fog, dew and vapour.
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
Yes, thanks to these. And is it not right and meet?
STREPSIADES
Tell me then why, if these really are the Clouds, they so very much resemble mortals. This is not their usual form.
SOCRATES
What are they like then?
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
Answer my questions.
STREPSIADES
Willingly! Go on, I am listening.
SOCRATES
Have you not sometimes seen clouds in the sky like a centaur, a leopard, a wolf or a bull?
STREPSIADES
Why, certainly I have, but what of that?
SOCRATES
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 shameful passion.
STREPSIADES
And when they see Simon, that thiever of public money, what do they do then?
SOCRATES
To picture him to the life, they turn at once into wolves.
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
And to-day they have seen Clisthenes; you see....they are women.
STREPSIADES
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 all-powerful queens.
CHORUS-LEADER
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.
STREPSIADES
Oh! Earth! What august utterances! how sacred! how wondrous!
SOCRATES
That is because these are the only goddesses; all the rest are pure myth.
STREPSIADES
But by the Earth! is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god?
SOCRATES
Zeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus.
STREPSIADES
What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that!
SOCRATES
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!
STREPSIADES
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?
SOCRATES
These, when they roll one over the other.
STREPSIADES
But how can that be? you most daring among men!
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
But is it not Zeus who forces them to move?
SOCRATES
Not at all; it's the aerial Whirlwind.
STREPSIADES
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?
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
How can you make me credit that?
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
SOCRATES
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?
STREPSIADES
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?
SOCRATES
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 perjurer.
STREPSIADES
I cannot tell, but it seems to me well argued. What is the lightning then?
SOCRATES
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.
STREPSIADES
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.
STREPSIADES
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. SOCRATES Henceforward, following our example, you will recognize no other gods but Chaos, the Clouds and the Tongue, these three alone.
STREPSIADES
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 them!

The Clouds - Part 2

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