From The Clouds
I shall retort and shall very soon have the better of you.
First, maintain that justice has no existence.
Has no existence?
No existence! Why, where is it?
With the gods.
How then, if justice exists, was Zeus not put to death for
having put his father in chains?
Bah! this is enough to turn my stomach! A basin, quick!
You are an old driveller and stupid withal.
And you a degenerate and shameless fellow.
Hah! What sweet expressions!
An impious buffoon.
You crown me with roses and with lilies.
Why, you shower gold upon me.
Formerly it was a hailstorm of blows.
I deck myself with your abuse.
It is because of you that the youth no longer attends the schools.
The Athenians will soon recognize what lessons you teach those who are
fools enough to believe you.
You are overwhelmed with wretchedness.
And you, you prosper. Yet you were poor when you said, "I am the
Mysian Telephus," and used to stuff your wallet with maxims of
Pandeletus to nibble at.
Oh! the beautiful wisdom, of which you are now boasting!
Madman! But yet madder the city that keeps you, you, the corrupter
of its youth!
It is not you who will teach this young man; you are as old and
out of date at Cronus.
Nay, it will certainly be I, if he does not wish to be lost and to
practise verbosity only.
UNJUST DISCOURSE (to PHIDIPPIDES)
Come here and leave him to beat the air.
You'll regret it, if you touch him.
CHORUS-LEADER (stepping between them as they are about to come to blows)
A truce to your quarrellings and abuse! But you expound what you
taught us formerly, and you, your new doctrine. Thus, after hearing
each of you argue, he will be able to choose betwixt the two schools.
I am quite agreeable.
And I too.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Who is to speak first?
Let it be my opponent, he has my full consent; then I shall follow
upon the very ground he shall have chosen and shall shatter him with a
hail of new ideas and subtle fancies; if after that he dares to
breathe another word, I shall sting him in the face and in the eyes
with our maxims, which are as keen as the sting of a wasp, and he will
Here are two rivals confident in their powers of oratory and in
the thoughts over which they have pondered so long. Let us see which
will come triumphant out of the contest. This wisdom, for which my
friends maintain such a persistent fight, is in great danger.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Come then, you, who crowned men of other days with so many
virtues, plead the cause dear to you, make yourself known to us.
Very well, I will tell you what was the old education, when I used
to teach justice with so much success and when modesty was held in
veneration. Firstly, it was required of a child, that it should not
utter a word. In the street, when they went to the music-school, all
the youths of the same district marched lightly clad and ranged in
good order, even when the snow was falling in great flakes. At the
master's house they had to stand with their legs apart and they were
taught to sing either, "Pallas, the Terrible, who overturneth cities,"
or "A noise resounded from afar" in the solemn tones of the ancient
harmony. If anyone indulged in buffoonery or lent his voice any of the
soft inflexions, like those which to-day the disciples of Phrynis take
so much pains to form, he was treated as an enemy of the Muses and
belaboured with blows. In the wrestling school they would sit with
outstretched legs and without display of any indecency to the curious.
When they rose, they would smooth over the sand, so as to leave no
trace to excite obscene thoughts. Never was a child rubbed with oil
below the belt; the rest of their bodies thus retained its fresh bloom
and down, like a velvety peach. They were not to be seen approaching a
lover and themselves rousing his passion by soft modulation of the
voice and lustful gaze. At table, they would not have dared, before
those older than themselves, to have taken a radish, an aniseed or a
leaf of parsley, and much less eat fish or thrushes or cross their
What antiquated rubbish! Have we got back to the days of the
festivals of Zeus Polieus, to the Buphonia, to the time of the poet
Cecides and the golden cicadas?
Nevertheless by suchlike teaching I built up the men of
Marathon-But you, you teach the children of to-day to bundle
themselves quickly into their clothes, and I am enraged when I see
them at the Panathenaea forgetting Athene while they dance, and
covering their tools with their bucklers. Hence, young man, dare to
range yourself beside me, who follow justice and truth; you will
then be able to shun the public place, to refrain from the baths, to
blush at all that is shameful, to fire up if your virtue is mocked at,
to give place to your elders, to honour your parents, in short, to
avoid all that is evil. Be modesty itself, and do not run to applaud
the dancing girls; if you delight in such scenes, some courtesan
will cast you her apple and your reputation will be done for. Do not
bandy words with your father, nor treat him as a dotard, nor
reproach the old man, who has cherished you, with his age.
If you listen to him, by Bacchus! you will be the image of the
sons of Hippocrates and will be called mother's big ninny.
No, but you will pass your days at the gymnasia, glowing with
strength and health; you will not go to the public place to cackle and
wrangle as is done nowadays; you will not live in fear that you may be
dragged before the courts for some trifle exaggerated by quibbling.
But you will go down to the Academy to run beneath the sacred olives
with some virtuous friend of your own age, your head encircled with
the white reed, enjoying your ease and breathing the perfume of the
yew and of the fresh sprouts of the poplar, rejoicing in the return of
springtide and gladly listening to the gentle rustle of the plane tree
and the elm. (With greater warmth from here on) If you devote yourself
to practising my precepts, your chest will be stout, your colour
glowing, your shoulders broad, your tongue short, your hips
muscular, but your tool small. But if you follow the fashions of the
day, you will be pallid in hue, have narrow shoulders, a narrow chest,
a long tongue, small hips and a big thing; you will know how to spin
forth long-winded arguments on law. You will be persuaded also to
regard as splendid everything that is shameful and as shameful
everything that is honourable; in a word, you will wallow in
degeneracy like Antimachus.
How beautiful, high-souled, brilliant is this wisdom that you
practise! What a sweet odour of honesty is emitted by your
discourse! Happy were those men of other days who lived when you
were honoured! And you, seductive talker, come, find some fresh
arguments, for your rival has done wonders.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
You will have to bring out against him all the battery of your
wit, it you desire to beat him and not to be laughed out of court.
At last! I was choking with impatience, I was burning to upset his
arguments! If I am called the Weaker Reasoning in the schools, it is
just because I was the first to discover the means to confute the laws
and the decrees of justice. To invoke solely the weaker arguments
and yet triumph is an art worth more than a hundred thousand drachmae.
But see how I shall batter down the sort of education of which he is
so proud. Firstly, he forbids you to bathe in hot water. What
grounds have you for condemning hot baths?
Because they are baneful and enervate men.
Enough said! Oh! you poor wrestler! From the very outset I have
seized you and hold you round the middle; you cannot escape me. Tell
me, of all the sons of Zeus, who had the stoutest heart, who performed
the most doughty deeds?
None, in my opinion, surpassed Heracles.
Where have you ever seen cold baths called 'Bath of Heracles'? And
yet who was braver than he?
It is because of such quibbles, that the baths are seen crowded
with young folk, who chatter there the livelong day while the gymnasia
Next you condemn the habit of frequenting the market-place,
while I approve this. If it were wrong Homer would never have made
Nestor speak in public as well as all his wise heroes. As for the
art of speaking, he tells you, young men should not practise it; I
hold the contrary. Furthermore he preaches chastity to them. Both
precepts are equally harmful. Have you ever seen chastity of any use
to anyone? Answer and try to confute me.
To many; for instance, Peleus won a sword thereby.
A sword! Ah! what a fine present to make him! Poor wretch!
Hyperbolus, the lamp-seller, thanks to his villainy, has gained more
than....do not know how many talents, but certainly no sword.
Peleus owed it to his chastity that he became the husband of
.... who left him in the lurch, for he was not the most ardent; in
those nocturnal sports between the sheets, which so please women, he
possessed but little merit. Get you gone, you are but an old fool. But
you, young man, just consider a little what this temperance means
and the delights of which it deprives you-young fellows, women,
play, dainty dishes, wine, boisterous laughter. And what is life worth
without these? Then, if you happen to commit one of these faults
inherent in human weakness, some seduction or adultery, and you are
caught in the act, you are lost, if you cannot speak. But follow my
teaching and you will be able to satisfy your passions, to dance, to
laugh, to blush at nothing. Suppose you are caught in the act of
adultery. Then up and tell the husband you are not guilty, and
recall to him the example of Zeus, who allowed himself to be conquered
by love and by women. Being but a mortal, can you be stronger than a
Suppose your pupil, following your advice, gets the radish
rammed up his arse and then is depilated with a hot coal; how are
you going to prove to him that he is not a broad-arse?
What's the matter with being a broad-arse?
Is there anything worse than that?
Now what will you say, if I beat you even on this point?
I should certainly have to be silent then.
Well then, reply! Our advocates, what are they?
Sons of broad-arses.
Nothing is more true. And our tragic poets?
Sons of broad-arses.
Well said again. And our demagogues?
Sons of broad-arses.
You admit that you have spoken nonsense. And the spectators,
what are they for the most part? Look at them.
I am looking at them.
Well! What do you see?
By the gods, they are nearly all broad-arses. (pointing) See, this
one I know to be such and that one and that other with the long hair.
What have you to say, then?
I am beaten. Debauchees! in the name of the gods, receive my
cloak; I pass over to your ranks.
(He goes back into the Thoughtery.)
Well then! Are you going to take away your son or do you wish me
to teach him how to speak?
Teach him, chastise him and do not fail to sharpen his tongue
well, on one side for petty law-suits and on the other for important
Don't worry, I shall return him to you an accomplished sophist.
Very pale then and thoroughly hang-dog-looking.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Take him with you. (The UNJUST DISCOURSE and PHIDIPPIDES go into
the THOUGHTERY. To STREPSIADES, who is just going into his own house.)
I think you will regret this. (The CHORUS turns and faces the
audience.) judges, we are all about to tell you what you will gain
by awarding us the crown as equity requires of you. In spring, when
you wish to give your fields the first dressing, we will rain upon you
first; the others shall wait. Then we will watch over your corn and
over your vinestocks; they will have no excess to fear, neither of
heat nor of wet. But if a mortal dares to insult the goddesses of
the Clouds, let him think of the ills we shall pour upon him. For
him neither wine nor any harvest at all! Our terrible slings will
mow down his young olive plants and his vines. If he is making bricks,
it will rain, and our round hailstones will break the tiles of his
roof. If he himself marries or any of his relations or friends, we
shall cause rain to fall the whole night long. Verily, he would prefer
to live in Egypt than to have given this iniquitous verdict.
STREPSIADES (coming out again)
Another four, three, two days, then the eve, then the day, the
fatal day of payment! I tremble, I quake, I shudder, for it's the
day of the old moon and the new. Then all my creditors take the
oath, pay their deposits, I swear my downfall and my ruin. As for
me, I beseech them to be reasonable, to be just, "My friend, do not
demand this sum, wait a little for this other and give me time for
this third one." Then they will pretend that at this rate they will
never be repaid, will accuse me of bad faith and will threaten me with
the law. Well then, let them sue me! I care nothing for that, if
only Phidippides has learnt to speak fluently. I am going to find out;
I'll knock at the door of the school. (He knocks.).... Ho! slave,
SOCRATES (coming out)
Welcome! Socrates! But first take this sack (offers him a sack
of flour); it is right to reward the master with some present. And
my son, whom you took off lately, has he learnt this famous reasoning?
He has learnt it.
Wonderful! Oh! divine Knavery!
You will win just as many causes as you choose.
Even if I have borrowed before witnesses?
So much the better, even if there are a thousand of them!
STREPSIADES (bursting into song)
Then I am going to shout with all my might. "Woe to the usurers,
woe to their capital and their interest and their compound interest!
You shall play me no more bad turns. My son is being taught there, his
tongue is being sharpened into a double-edged weapon; he is my
defender, the saviour of my house, the ruin of my foes! His poor
father was crushed down with misfortune and he delivers him." Go and
call him to me quickly. Oh! my child! my dear little one! run
forward to your father's voice!
Lo, the man himself!
Oh, my friend, my dearest friend!
Take your son, and get you gone.
STREPSIADES (as PHIDIPPIDES appears)
Oh, my son! oh! oh! what a pleasure to see your pallor! You are
ready first to deny and then to contradict; it's as clear as noon.
What a child of your country you are! How your lips quiver with the
famous, "What have you to say now?" How well you know, I am certain,
to put on the look of a victim, when it is you who are making both
victims and dupes! And what a truly Attic glance! Come, it's for you
to save me, seeing it is you who have ruined me.
What is it you fear then?
The day of the old and the new.
Is there then a day of the old and the new?
The day on which they threaten to pay deposit against me.
Then so much the worse for those who have deposited! for it's
not possible for one day to be two.
Why, undoubtedly, unless a woman can be both old and young at
the same time.
But so runs the law.
I think the meaning of the law is quite misunderstood.
What does it mean?
Old Solon loved the people.
What has that to do with the old day and the new?
He has fixed two days for the summons, the last day of the old
moon and the first day of the new; but the deposits must only be
paid on the first day of the new moon.
And why did he also name the last day of the old?
So, my dear sir, that the debtors, being there the day before,
might free themselves by mutual agreement, or that else, if not, the
creditor might begin his action on the morning of the new moon.
Why then do the magistrates have the deposits paid on the last
of the month and not the next day?
I think they do as the gluttons do, who are the first to pounce
upon the dishes. Being eager to carry off these deposits, they have
them paid in a day too soon.
Splendid! (to the audience) Ah! you poor brutes, who serve for
food to us clever folk! You are only down here to swell the number,
true blockheads, sheep for shearing, heap of empty pots! Hence I
will sing a song of victory for my son and myself. "Oh! happy,
Strepsiades! what cleverness is thine! and what a son thou hast here!"
Thus my friends and my neighbours will say, jealous at seeing me
gain all my suits. But come in, I wish to regale you first.
(They both go in. A moment later a creditor arrives, with his
PASIAS (to the WITNESS)
A man should never lend a single obolus. It would be better to put
on a brazen face at the outset than to get entangled in such
matters. I want to see my money again and I bring you here to-day to
attest the loan. I am going to make a foe of a neighbour; but, as long
as I live, I do not wish my country to have to blush for me. Come, I
am going to summon Strepsiades....
STREPSIADES (coming out of his house)
Who is this?
....for the old day and the new.
STREPSIADES (to the WITNESS)
I call you to witness, that he has named two days. What do you
want of me?
I claim of you the twelve minae, which you borrowed from me to buy
the dapple-grey horse.
A horse! do you hear him? I, who detest horses, as is well known.
I call Zeus to witness, that you swore by the gods to return
them to me.
Because at that time, by Zeus! Phidippides did not yet know the
Would you deny the debt on that account?
If not, what use is his science to me?
Will you dare to swear by the gods that you owe me nothing?
By which gods?
By Zeus, Hermes and Poseidon!
Why, I would give three obols for the pleasure of swearing by
Woe upon you, impudent knave!
Oh! what a fine wine-skin you would make if flayed!
Heaven! he jeers at me!
It would hold six gallons easily.
By great Zeus! by all the gods! you shall not scoff at me with
Ah! how you amuse me with your gods! how ridiculous it seems to
a sage to hear Zeus invoked.
Your blasphemies will one day meet their reward. But, come, will
you repay me my money, yes or no? Answer me, that I may go.
Wait a moment, I am going to give you a distinct answer. (He
goes indoors and returns immediately with a kneading-trough.)
PASIAS (to the WITNESS)
What do you think he will do? Do you think he will pay?
Where is the man who demands money? Tell me, what is this?
Him? Why, he is your kneading-trough.
And you dare to demand money of me, when you are so ignorant? I
will not return an obolus to anyone who says him instead of her for
You will not repay?
Not if I know it. Come, an end to this, pack off as quick as you
I go, but, may I die, if it be not to pay my deposit for a
Very well! It will be so much more loss to add to the twelve
minae. But truly it makes me sad, for I do pity a poor simpleton who
says him for a kneading-trough.
(Another creditor arrives.)
Woe! ah woe is me!
Wait! who is this whining fellow? Can it be one of the gods of
Do you want to know who I am? I am a man of misfortune!
Get on your way then.
AMYNIAS (in tragic style)
Oh! cruel god! Oh Fate, who hast broken the wheels of my
chariot! Oh, Pallas, thou hast undone me!
What ill has Tlepolemus done you?
Instead of jeering me, friend, make your son return me the money
he has had of me; I am already unfortunate enough.
The money he borrowed of me.
You have indeed had misfortune, it seems to me.
Yes, by the gods! I have been thrown from a chariot.
Why then drivel as if you had fallen off an ass?
Am I drivelling because I demand my money?
No, no, you cannot be in your right senses.
No doubt your poor wits have had a shake.
But by Hermes! I will sue you at law, if you do not pay me.
Just tell me; do you think it is always fresh water that Zeus lets
fall every time it rains, or is ill always the same water that the sun
pumps over the earth?
I neither know, nor care.
And actually you would claim the right to demand your money,
when you know not an iota of these celestial phenomena?
If you are short, pay me the interest anyway.
What kind of animal is interest?
What? Does not the sum borrowed go on growing, growing every
month, each day as the time slips by?
Well put. But do you believe there is more water in the sea now
than there was formerly?
No, it's just the same quantity. It cannot increase.
Thus, poor fool, the sea, that receives the rivers, never grows,
and yet you would have your money grow? Get you gone, away with you,
quick! Slave! bring me the ox-goad!
I have witnesses to this.
Come, what are you waiting for? Will you not budge, old nag!
What an insult!
Unless you start trotting, I shall catch you and stick this in
your arse, you sorry packhorse! (AMYNIAS runs off.) Ah! you start,
do you? I was about to drive you pretty fast, I tell you-you and
your wheels and your chariot!
(He enters his house.)
Whither does the passion of evil lead! here is a perverse old man,
who wants to cheat his creditors; but some mishap, which will speedily
punish this rogue for his shameful schemings, cannot fail to
overtake him from to-day. For a long time he has been burning to
have his son know how to fight against all justice and right and to
gain even the most iniquitous causes against his adversaries every
one. I think this wish is going to be fulfilled. But mayhap, mayhap,
will he soon wish his son were dumb rather!
STREPSIADES (rushing out With PHIDIPPIDES after him)
Oh! oh! neighbours, kinsmen, fellow-citizens, help! help! to the
rescue, I am being beaten! Oh! my head! oh! my jaw! Scoundrel! Do
you beat your own father?
Yes, father, I do.
See! he admits he is beating me.
Of course I do.
You villain, you parricide, you gallows-bird!
Go on, repeat your epithets, call me a thousand other names, if it
please you. The more you curse, the greater my amusement!
Oh! you ditch-arsed cynic!
How fragrant the perfume breathed forth in your words.
Do you beat your own father?
Yes, by Zeus! and I am going to show you that I do right in
Oh, wretch! can it be right to beat a father?
I will prove it to you, and you shall own yourself vanquished.
Own myself vanquished on a point like this?
It's the easiest thing in the world. Choose whichever of the two
reasonings you like.
Of which reasonings?
The Stronger and the Weaker.
Miserable fellow! Why, I am the one who had you taught how to
refute what is right. and now you would persuade me it is right a
son should beat his father.
I think I shall convince you so thoroughly that, when you have
heard me, you will not have a word to say.
Well, I am curious to hear what you have to say.
Consider well, old man, how you can best triumph over him. His
brazenness shows me that he thinks himself sure of his case; he has
some argument which gives him nerve. Note the confidence in his look!
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
But how did the fight begin? tell the Chorus; you cannot help
doing that much.
I will tell you what was the start of the quarrel. At the end of
the meal, as you know, I bade him take his lyre and sing me the air of
Simonides, which tells of the fleece of the ram. He replied bluntly,
that it was stupid, while drinking, to play the lyre and sing, like
a woman when she is grinding barley.
Why, by rights I ought to have beaten and kicked you the very
moment you told me to sing.
That is just how he spoke to me in the house, furthermore he
added, that Simonides was a detestable poet. However, I mastered
myself and for a while said nothing. Then I said to him, 'At least,
take a myrtle branch and recite a passage from Aeschylus to
me.'-'For my own part,' he at once replied, 'I look upon Aeschylus
as the first of poets, for his verses roll superbly; they're nothing
but incoherence, bombast and turgidity.' Yet still I smothered my
wrath and said, 'Then recite one of the famous pieces from the
modern poets.' Then he commenced a piece in which Euripides shows, oh!
horror! a brother, who violates his own
uterine sister. Then I could
not longer restrain myself, and attacked him with the most injurious
abuse; naturally he retorted; hard words were hurled on both sides,
and finally he sprang at me, broke my bones, bore me to earth,
strangled and started killing me!
I was right. What! not praise Euripides, the greatest of our
He the greatest of our poets? Ah! if I but dared to speak! but the
blows would rain upon me harder than ever.
Undoubtedly and rightly too.
The Clouds - Part 4