From The Clouds
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Tell us boldly then what you want of us; you cannot fail to
succeed. If you honour and revere us and if you are resolved to become
a clever man.
Oh, sovereign goddesses, it is only a very small favour that I ask
of you; grant that I may outdistance all the Greeks by a hundred
stadia in the art of speaking.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
We grant you this, and henceforward no eloquence shall more
often succeed with the people than your own.
May the gods shield me from possessing great eloquence! That's not
what I want. I want to be able to turn bad law-suits to my own
advantage and to slip through the fingers of my creditors.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
It shall be as you wish, for your ambitions are modest. Commit
yourself fearlessly to our ministers, the sophists.
This I will do, for I trust in you. Moreover there is no drawing
back, what with these cursed horses and this marriage, which has eaten
up my vitals. (More and more volubly from here to the end of speeck)
So let them do with me as they will; I yield my body to them. Come
blows, come hunger, thirst, heat or cold, little matters it to me;
they may flay me, if I only escape my debts, if only I win the
reputation of being a bold rascal, a fine speaker, impudent,
shameless, a braggart, and adept at stringing lies, an old stager at
quibbles, a complete table of laws, a thorough rattle, a fox to slip
through any hole; supple as a leathern strap, slippery as an eel, an
artful fellow, a blusterer, a villain; a knave with a hundred faces,
cunning, intolerable, a gluttonous dog. With such epithets do I seek
to be greeted; on these terms they can treat me as they choose, and,
if they wish, by Demeter! they can turn me into sausages and serve
me up to the philosophers.
Here have we a bold and well-disposed pupil indeed. When we have
taught you, your glory among the mortals will reach even to the skies.
Wherein will that profit me?
You will pass your whole life among us and will be the most envied
Shall I really ever see such happiness?
Clients will be everlastingly besieging your door in crowds,
burning to get at you, to explain their business to you and to consult
you about their suits, which, in return for your ability, will bring
you in great sums.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But, Socrates, begin the lessons you want to teach this old man;
rouse his mind, try the strength of his intelligence.
Come, tell me the kind of mind you have; it's important that I
know this, that I may order my batteries against you in the right
Eh, what! in the name of the gods, are you purposing to assault me
No. I only wish to ask you some questions. Have you any memory?
That depends: if anything is owed me, my memory is excellent,
but if I owe, alas! I have none whatever.
Have you a natural gift for speaking?
For speaking, no; for cheating, yes.
How will you be able to learn then?
Very easily, have no fear.
Thus, when I throw forth some philosophical thought anent things
celestial., you will seize it in its very flight?
Then I am to snap up wisdom much as a dog snaps up a morsel?
Oh! the ignoramus! the barbarian! (to STREPSIADES) I greatly fear,
old man, it will be necessary for me to have recourse to blows. Now,
let me hear what you do when you are beaten.
I receive the blow, then wait a moment, take my witnesses and
finally summon my assailant at law.
Come, take off your cloak.
Have I robbed you of anything?
No. but the usual thing is to enter the school without your cloak.
But I have not come here to look for stolen goods.
Off with it, fool!
STREPSIADES (He obeys.)
Tell me, if I prove thoroughly attentive and learn with zeal,
which O; your disciples shall I resemble, do you think?
You will be the image of Chaerephon.
Ah! unhappy me! Shall I then be only half alive?
A truce to this chatter! follow me and no more of it.
First give me a honey-cake, for to descend down there sets me
all a-tremble; it looks like the cave of Trophonius.
But get in with you! What reason have you for thus dallying at the
(They go into the Thoughtery.)
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Good luck! you have courage; may you succeed, you, who, though
already so advanced in years, wish to instruct your mind with new
studies and practise it in wisdom! (The CHORUS turns and faces the
Audience.) Spectators! By Bacchus, whose servant I am, I will
frankly tell you the truth. May I secure both victory and renown as
certainly as I hold you for adept critics and as I regard this
comedy as my best. I wished to give you the first view of a work,
which had cost me much trouble, but which I withdrew, unjustly
beaten by unskilful rivals. It is you, oh, enlightened public, for
whom I have prepared my piece, that I reproach with this. Nevertheless
I shall never willingly cease to seek the approval of the
discerning. I have not forgotten the day, when men, whom one is
happy to have for an audience, received my Virtuous Young Man and my
Paederast with so much favour in this very place. Then as yet
virgin, my Muse had not attained the age for maternity; she had to
expose her first-born for another to adopt, and it has since grown
up under your generous patronage. Ever since you have as good as sworn
me your faithful alliance. Thus, like the Electra of the poets, my
comedy has come to seek you to-day, hoping again to encounter such
enlightened spectators. As far away as she can discern her Orestes,
she will be able to recognize him by his curly head. And note her
modest demeanour! She has not sewn on a piece of hanging leather,
thick and reddened at the end, to cause laughter among the children;
she does not rail at the bald, neither does she dance the cordax; no
old man is seen, who, while uttering his lines, batters his questioner
with a stick to make his poor jests pass muster. She does not rush
upon the scene carrying a torch and screaming, 'Iou! Iou!' No, she
relies upon herself and her verses....My value is so well known,
that I take no further pride in it. I do not seek to deceive you, by
reproducing the same subjects two or three times; I always invent
fresh themes to present before you, themes that have no relation to
each other and that are all clever. I attacked Cleon to his face and
when he was all-powerful; but he has fallen, and now I have no
desire to kick him when he is down. My rivals, on the contrary, now
that this wretched Hyperbolus has given them the cue, have never
ceased setting upon both him and his mother. First Eupolis presented
his 'Maricas'; this was simply my 'Knights,' whom this plagiarist
had clumsily furbished up again by adding to the piece an old
drunken woman, so that she might dance the cordax. It was an old idea,
taken from Phrynichus, who caused his old hag to be devoured by a
monster of the deep. Then Hermippus fell foul of Hyperbolus and now
all the others fall upon him and repeat my comparison of the eels. May
those who find amusement in their pieces not be pleased with mine, but
as for you, who love and applaud my inventions, why, posterity will
praise your good taste.
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
Oh, ruler of Olympus, all-powerful king of the gods, great Zeus,
it is thou whom I first invoke; protect this chorus; and thou too,
Posidon, whose dread trident upheaves at the will of thy anger both
the bowels of the earth and the salty waves of the ocean. I invoke
my illustrious father, the divine Aether, the universal sustainer of
life, and Phoebus, who, from the summit of his chariot, sets the world
aflame with his dazzling rays, Phoebus, a mighty deity amongst the
gods and adored amongst mortals.
LEADER OF FIRST SEMI-CHORUS
Most wise spectators, lend us all your attention. Give heed to our
just reproaches. There exist no gods to whom this city owes more
than it does to us, whom alone you forget. Not a sacrifice, not a
libation is there for those who protect you! Have you decreed some mad
expedition? Well! we thunder or we fall down in rain. When you chose
that enemy of heaven, the Paphlagonian tanner, for a general, we
knitted our brow, we caused our wrath to break out; the lightning shot
forth, the thunder pealed, the moon deserted her course and the sun at
once veiled his beam threatening, no longer to give you light, if
Cleon became general. Nevertheless you elected him; it is said, Athens
never resolves upon some fatal step but the gods turn these errors
into her greatest gain. Do you wish that his election should even
now be a success for you? It is a very simple thing to do; condemn
this rapacious gull named Cleon for bribery and extortion, fit a
wooden collar tight round his neck, and your error will be rectified
and the commonweal will at once regain its old prosperity.
SECOND SEMI-CHORUS (singing)
Aid me also, Phoebus, god of Delos, who reignest on the cragged
peaks of Cynthia; and thou, happy virgin, to whom the Lydian damsels
offer pompous sacrifice in a temple; of gold; and thou, goddess of our
country, Athene, armed with the aegis, the protectress of Athens;
and thou, who, surrounded by the bacchants of Delphi; roamest over the
rocks of Parnassus shaking the flame of thy resinous torch, thou,
Bacchus, the god of revel and joy.
LEADER OF SECOND SEMI-CHORUS
As we were preparing to come here, we were hailed by the Moon
and were charged to wish joy and happiness both to the Athenians and
to their allies; further, she said that she was enraged and that you
treated her very shamefully, her, who does not pay you in words alone,
but who renders you all real benefits. Firstly, thanks to her, you
save at least a drachma each month for lights, for each, as he is
leaving home at night, says, "Slave, buy no torches, for the moonlight
is beautiful,"-not to name a thousand other benefits. Nevertheless you
do not reckon the days correctly and your calendar is naught but
confusion. Consequently the gods load her with threats each time
they get home and are disappointed of their meal, because the festival
has not been kept in the regular order of time. When you should be
sacrificing, you are putting to the torture or administering
justice. And often, we others, the gods, are fasting in token of
mourning for the death of Memnon or Sarpedon, while you are devoting
yourselves to joyous libations. It is for this, that last year, when
the lot would have invested Hyperbolus with the duty of Amphictyon, we
took his crown from him, to teach him that time must be divided
according to the phases of the moon.
SOCRATES (coming out)
By Respiration, the Breath of Life! By Chaos! By the Air! I have
never seen a man so gross, so inept, so stupid, so forgetful. All
the little quibbles, which I teach him, he forgets even before he
has learnt them. Yet I will not give it up, I will make him come out
here into the open air. Where are you, Strepsiades? Come, bring your
couch out here.
STREPSIADES (from within)
But the bugs will not allow me to bring it.
Have done with such nonsense! place it there and pay attention.
STREPSIADES (coming out, with the bed)
Well, here I am.
Good! Which science of all those you have never been taught, do
you wish to learn first? The measures, the rhythms or the verses?
Why, the measures; the flour dealer cheated me out of two
choenixes the other day.
It's not about that I ask you, but which, according to you, is the
best measure, the trimeter or the tetrameter?
The one I prefer is the semisextarius.
You talk nonsense, my good fellow.
I will wager your tetrameter is the semisextarius.
Plague seize the dunce and the fool! Come, perchance you will
learn the rhythms quicker.
Will the rhythms supply me with food?
First they will help you to be pleasant in company, then to know
what is meant by enhoplian rhythm and what by the dactylic.
Of the dactyl? I know that quite well.
What is it then, other than this finger here?
Formerly, when a child, I used this one.
You are as low-minded as you are stupid.
But, wretched man, I do not want to learn all this.
Then what do you want to know?
Not that, not that, but the art of false reasoning.
But you must first learn other things. Come, what are the male
Oh! I know the males thoroughly. Do you take me for a fool then?
The ram, the buck, the bull, the dog, the pigeon.
Do you see what you are doing; is not the female pigeon called the
same as the male?
How else? Come now!
How else? With you then it's pigeon and pigeon!
That's right, by Poseidon! but what names do you want me to give
Term the female pigeonnette and the male pigeon.
Pigeonnette! hah! by the Air! That's splendid! for that lesson
bring out your kneading-trough and I will fill him with flour to the
There you are wrong again; you make trough masculine and it should
What? if I say, him, do I make the trough masculine?
Assuredly! would you not say him for Cleonymus?
Then trough is of the same gender as Cleonymus?
My good man! Cleonymus never had a kneading-trough; he used a
round mortar for the purpose. But come, tell me what I should say!
For trough you should say her as you would for Soctrate.
In this manner you make it truly female.
That's it! Her for trough and her for Cleonymus.
Now I must teach you to distinguish the masculine proper names
from those that are feminine.
Ah! I know the female names well.
Name some then.
Lysilla, Philinna, Clitagora, Demetria.
And what are masculine names?
They are are countless-Philoxenus, Melesias, Amynias.
But, wretched man, the last two are not masculine.
You do not count them as masculine?
Not at all. If you met Amynias, how would you hail him?
How? Why, I should shout, "Hi, there, Amynia!"
Do you see? it's a female name that you give him.
And is it not rightly done, since he refuses military service? But
what use is there in learning what we all know?
You know nothing about it. Come, lie down there.
Ponder awhile over matters that interest you.
Oh! I pray you, not there but, if I must lie down and ponder,
let me lie on the ground.
That's out of the question. Come! on the couch!
STREPSIADES (as he lies down)
What cruel fate! What a torture the bugs will this day put me to!
(Socrates turns aside.)
Ponder and examine closely, gather your thoughts together, let
your mind turn to every side of things; if you meet with a difficulty,
spring quickly to some other idea; above all, keep your eyes away from
all gentle sleep.
Ow, Wow, Wow, Wow is me!
What ails you? why do you cry so?
Oh! I am a dead man! Here are these cursed Corinthians advancing
upon me from all corners of the couch; they are biting me, they are
gnawing at my sides, they are drinking all my blood, they are
yanking of my balls, they are digging into my arse, they are killing
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Not so much wailing and clamour, if you please.
How can I obey? I have lost my money and my complexion, my blood
and my slippers, and to cap my misery, I must keep awake on this
couch, when scarce a breath of life is left in me.
(A brief interval of silence ensues.)
Well now! what are you doing? are you reflecting?
Yes, by Poseidon!
Whether the bugs will entirely devour me.
May death seize you, accursed man!
(He turns aside again.)
Ah, it has already.
Come, no giving way! Cover up your head; the thing to do is to
find an ingenious alternative.
An alternative! ah! I only wish one would come to me from within
(Another interval of silence ensues.)
Wait! let us see what our fellow is doing! Ho! are you asleep?
No, by Apollo!
Have you got hold of anything?
No, nothing whatever.
Nothing at all?
No, nothing except my tool, which I've got in my hand.
Aren't you going to cover your head immediately and ponder?
On what? Come, Socrates, tell me.
Think first what you want, and then tell me.
But I have told you a thousand times what I want. Not to pay any
of my creditors.
Come, wrap yourself up; concentrate your mind, which wanders to
lightly; study every detail, scheme and examine thoroughly.
Keep still, and if any notion troubles you, put it quickly
aside, then resume it and think over it again.
My dear little Socrates!
What is it, old greybeard?
I have a scheme for not paying my debts.
Let us hear it.
Tell me, if I purchased a Thessalian witch, I could make the
moon descend during the night and shut it, like a mirror, into a round
box and there keep it carefully....
How would you gain by that?
How? why, if the moon did not rise, I would have no interest to
Because money is lent by the month.
Good! but I am going to propose another trick to you. If you
were condemned to pay five talents, how would you manage to quash that
verdict? Tell me.
How? how? I don't know, I must think.
Do you always shut your thoughts within yourself? Let your ideas
fly in the air, like a may-bug, tied by the foot with a thread.
I have found a very clever way to annul that conviction; you
will admit that much yourself.
What is it?
Have you ever seen a beautiful, transparent stone at the
druggists', with which you may kindle fire?
You mean a crystal lens.
That's right. Well, now if I placed myself with this stone in
the sun and a long way off from the clerk, while he was writing out
the conviction, I could make all the wax, upon which the words were
Well thought out, by the Graces!
Ah! I am delighted to have annulled the decree that was to cost me
Come, take up this next question quickly.
If, when summoned to court, you were in danger of losing your case
for want of witnesses, how would you make the conviction fall upon
That's very simple and easy.
Let me hear.
This way. If another case had to be pleaded before mine was
called, I should run and hang myself.
You talk rubbish!
Not so, by the gods! if I were dead, no action could lie against
You are merely beating the air. Get out! I will give you no more
Why not? Oh! Socrates! in the name of the gods!
But you forget as fast as you learn. Come, what was the thing I
taught you first? Tell me.
Ah let me see. What was the first thing? What was it then? Ah!
that thing in which we knead the bread, oh! my god! what do you call
Plague take the most forgetful and silliest of old addlepates!
Alas! what a calamity! what will become of me? I am undone if I do
not learn how to ply my tongue. Oh! Clouds! give me good advice.
Old man, we counsel you, if you have brought up a son, to send him
to learn in your stead.
Undoubtedly I have a son, as well endowed as the best, but he is
unwilling to learn. What will become of me?
And you don't make him obey you?
You see, he is big and strong; moreover, through his mother he
is a descendant of those fine birds, the race of Coesyra.
Nevertheless, I will go and find him, and if he refuses, I will turn
him out of the house. Go in, Socrates, and wait for me awhile.
(SOCRATES goes into the Thoughtery, STREPSIADES into his own house.)
Do you understand, Socrates, that thanks to us you will be
loaded with benefits? Here is a man, ready to obey you in all
things. You see how he is carried away with admiration and enthusiasm.
Profit by it to clip him as short as possible; fine chances are all
too quickly gone.
STREPSIADES (coming out of his house and pushing his son in front of
him) No, by the Clouds! you stay here no longer; go and devour the
ruins of your uncle Megacles' fortune.
Oh! my poor father! what has happened to you? By the Olympian
Zeus! You are no longer in your senses!
Look! "the Olympian Zeus." Oh! you fool! to believe in Zeus at
What is there in that to make you laugh?
You are then a tiny little child, if you credit such antiquated
rubbish! But come here, that I may teach you; I will tell you
something very necessary to know to be a man; but do not repeat it
Tell me, what is it?
Just now you swore by Zeus.
Sure I did.
Do you see how good it is to learn? Phidippides, there is no Zeus.
What is there then?
The Whirlwind has driven out Zeus and is King now.
You must realize that it is true.
And who says so?
Socrates, the Melian, and Chaerephon, who knows how to measure the
jump of a flea.
Have you reached such a pitch of madness that you believe those
Use better language, and do not insult men who are clever and full
of wisdom, who, to economize, never shave, shun the gymnasia and never
go to the baths, while you, you only await my death to eat up my
wealth. But come, come as quickly as you can to learn in my stead.
And what good can be learnt of them?
What good indeed? Why, all human knowledge. Firstly, you will know
yourself grossly ignorant. But await me here awhile.
(He goes back into his house.)
Alas! what is to be done? Father has lost his wits. Must I have
him certificated for lunacy, or must I order his coffin?
STREPSIADES (returning with a bird in each hand)
Come! what kind of bird is this? Tell me.
Good! And this female?
The same for both? You make me laugh! In the future you must
call this one a pigeonnette and the other a pigeon.
A pigeonnette! These then are the fine things you have just learnt
at the school of these sons of Earth!
And many others; but what I learnt I forgot at once, because I
am to old.
So this is why you have lost your cloak?
I have not lost it, I have consecrated it to Philosophy.
And what have you done with your sandals, you poor fool?
If I have lost them, it is for what was necessary, just as
Pericles did. But come, move yourself, let us go in; if necessary,
do wrong to obey your father. When you were six years old and still
lisped, I was the one who obeyed you. I remember at the feasts of Zeus
you had a consuming wish for a little chariot and I bought it for
you with the first obolus which I received as a juryman in the courts.
You will soon repent of what you ask me to do.
Oh! now I am happy! He obeys. (loudly) Come, Socrates, come!
Come out quick! Here I am bringing you my son; he refused, but I
have persuaded him.
Why, he is but a child yet. He is not used to these baskets, in
which we suspend our minds.
To make you better used to them, I would you were hung.
A curse upon you! you insult your master!
"I would you were hung!" What a stupid speech! and so emphatically
spoken! How can one ever get out of an accusation with such a tone,
summon witnesses or touch or convince? And yet when we think,
Hyperbolus learnt all this for one talent!
Rest undisturbed and teach him. He has a most intelligent
nature. Even when quite little he amused himself at home with making
houses, carving boats, constructing little chariots of leather, and
understood wonderfully how to make frogs out of pomegranate rinds.
Teach him both methods of reasoning, the strong and also the weak,
which by false arguments triumphs over the strong; if not the two,
at least the false, and that in every possible way.
The Just and Unjust Discourse themselves shall instruct him. I
shall leave you.
But forget it not, he must always, always be able to confound
(Socrates enters the Thoughtery; a moment later the JUST and the
UNJUST DISCOURSE come out; they are quarrelling violently.)
Come here! Shameless as you may be, will you dare to show your
face to the spectators?
Take me where you will. I seek a throng, so that I may the
better annihilate you.
Annihilate me! Do you forget who you are?
I am Reasoning.
Yes, the weaker Reasoning.
But I triumph over you, who claim to be the stronger.
By what cunning shifts, pray?
By the invention of new maxims.
.... which are received with favour by these fools.
(He points to the audience.)
Say rather, by these wise men.
I am going to destroy you mercilessly.
How pray? Let us see you do it.
By saying what is true.
The Clouds - Part 3