Aristophanes’ play “The Clouds” is a play that is very intricate and in many ways speaks to the nature of mankind. It is a play that makes comments on the thoughts of the time period, predominantly comments towards philosophy.
The plot of this story involves a father and his son. The father, Strepsiades, is a wealthy man, but is soon to no longer be a wealthy man if he does not do something about his situation. His situation is primarily that which involves his son. The father is in great debt at the beginning of the story because of the reckless and frivolous nature of the son Phidippides. The father is at a loss at the beginning of the play, not knowing what to do about all his debts.
The father then hears about the “Thinking” shop where people get together and learn the art of argument in relationship to the field of philosophy. The father sees this as a form of hope for his problems. He think that if he can learn the art of persuasive argument he can pull one over on his creditors and come out ahead in the long run. Unfortunately, the father soon finds that he has no gift for learning the art of argument. He is a lost cause at the school and he is deemed too stupid to really be taught this fine art.
He then sends his son to the school hoping his son could learn and then argue against the creditors. However, this plan backfires on the father. The son learns to argue incredibly well, he is a natural at it, and he turns his argument towards his father, beating him up and then offering such a logical argument that his father could not complain. However, in the end, when the son claims that he could well argue a reason to beat up his mother, the father becomes enraged and burns down the Thinkery.
Aspect I find interesting in Aristophanes’ “The Clouds,” is the fact that even though it’s obvious Aristophanes is preaching to readers a more non-religious message of the importance of truthfulness, civic responsibility, and virtue, the play takes on a religious tone. In doing some background research into why this would be, I discovered that Aristophanes’ religious undertones could stem from the fact that Athenians were trying to harmonize science and religion. When new scientific theories were starting to surface and be questioned, many people couldn’t even consider them without sounding as if they were committing treason against the state. Aristophanes turns to religion in order to remind his audience that both religion and science have to be equally open to questions, critique, and even in Aristophanes’ case, satire. This suggestion, that certain things need to be equally suceptable to critique and questions can also be seen through the way that Aristophanes suggests there is both a problem with the accepted model of a “well-rounded” education, and the newer model brought about by such philopophers as the Sophists. Aristophanes saw the danger in not questioning an accepted theory or belief. Despite the fact I agree with Johnson in that Aristophanes may be a “staunch defender of old values,” Aristophanes saw that if something widely accepted was left unquestioned for too long, it would become idle. Basically, an idea that I believe should be applied more in the world we live in today. A traditionally accepted theory or belief could lose the exact fundamentals and values it was based on.
This play has a very obvious shift in tone as Johnston mention in his essay. in the end of his essay, he mentions the ending Aristophanes chooses for “The Clouds.” I fall into the group that Johnson says, “see that this powerful ominous ending as a persuasive possibility.” As Johnson says, Aristophanes traps his audience; they’re engaged because of the humor and satircal nature of the beginning of the play. We can laugh at someone, like Socrates, that we have nothing in common with. But as the satire gets closer and closer to us with Strepsiades burning down “the Thinkery,” it becomes obvious that the audience is no longer laughing at Socrates, with whom we have nothing in common, but rather at the vision of the people we could become if we engage behavior motivated by self-interest.
Ironically, as Johnson points out, Aristophanes was correct in his warnings. Athens did fall due to its own self-destruction. I find it interesting and a little bit scary because I believe we could apply this ominous warning to our own nation. We are guilty, just as the Athenians were, of sometimes being too proud of our political independence. I believe wars, like that in Iraq, could lead to our demise. Even more obvious to me is the fact that I definitely believe we are losing sight of our traditional moral virtues. Americans find it so easy to point the finger, and refuse to examine our own beliefs, trying to impose them on others that may not be able to survive our view of what democracy or freedom should be. I find it morally questionable that we centralize our efforts thousands of miles away when we have so many problems that have the potential to be our end looming within the borders of our own country.
“Strepsiades is pointing forward to much of the self-destructiveness which brought the Athenians, and countless other cultures proud of their values, to grief,” Johnson says. I believe many of our leaders and citizens could never forsee a fate like this in America — but it is that belief that has the potential to bring us off our self inflicted pedestal.
Another interesting point Johnson brings to our attention is his warning in the problem of “how do we keep the good will of our children on whom we are going to depend? What is it that keeps children from exerting their superior power to abuse their parents when they don’t get their way?” I believe that this breakdown of the immediate family is prevalent in our modern-day
society. While it’s a bit different than what Johnson is suggesting, never before in history, has our lack of respect and concern for those who came before us been so obvious.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of a family who has a sick grandparent or other elder member of their family living in their home. Nursing homes and hospitals have become a place where we can tuck them away so as not to have to forfeit any aspect of our lives in order to help preseve theirs. If we forget and turn a blind eye to traditions formerly viewed as important in our society, we run the risk of as Johnson puts it, being “left with a situation in which the only basis for human relationship is power.” Power is the basis for all of our accepted laws and behaviors, if that for some reason shifts, so would the laws. Then, as Johnson suggets, a son would be free to
harm his parents.
Aristophanes does have somewhat of a different view of justice than Socrates. Whereas I believe Aristophanes is concerned more with governmental consequences of actions and adoption of certain beliefs that could be considered treason, Socrates believes that consequences will come not in his lifetime, but rather after his death. In “The Apology,” Socrates speaks of death as more of an unknown — something he can’t be afraid of, because he doesn’t understand what it means. In Socrates’ eyes, death has the potential to be something great, as long as a person lives a good and virtuous life. Aristophanes, on the other hand, seems to be more concerned with what his peers and leaders will think of him and do to him and others, if they commit some sort of a crime. Aristophanes paints a potrait of death as more of an end, rather than having the potential to be
Comedic satire and philosophical dialectic are similar in that they are both practices of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical (and in the case of satire, funny) arguments. In the
dialectic, it’s by presenting a thesis, developing a contradictory antithesis, and combining and resolving them into a coeherent synthesis, and in satire it’s by attacking human vice through irony and wit. In the case of Aristophanes, he urges the people of Athens to make changes through his satirical play.
This play is essentially can be piece of work which we can applicable to our own world. When we do not take time to check practices and beliefs, we have the potential to lose our value and what we thought important at the beginning. Even though people at that time would have just watched the play and laughed about it, Aristophanes actually aimed for very serious warning.
A nation too proud and too sure in its own beliefs and politics has proven through history, never to work. We sometimes don’t try or refuse our time to examine our belief and value. If we do not set our moral goals and hopes, one day we can have the same problem as Athenian has suffered.