The clouds

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The clouds ( αἱ νεφέλαι hai nephélai ) is a classic Greek comedy by the comedy poet Aristophanes , written in 423 BC. Was premiered in Athens . The resulting version of the clouds is not the premiere, but a revised version of Aristophanes, with whom he pays it home to the Athenians that his piece Komödienagon the Dionysia of the year 423 v. BC only took third place. The planned rerun of the edited version was never carried out.


At dawn, the farmer Strepsiades lies with his son Pheidippides and a few slaves in the night camp, in the Dionysus Theater presumably shown on the so-called Ekkyklema , an extendable stage element. After Strepsiades wakes up, he tells of his worries and needs in a monologue: He is deeply in debt because he married beyond his means and his son wastes a lot of money on horses and chariot races. Now the creditors are demanding their money back. Then the saving thought comes to him: His son should go to Socrates ' school , in the Phrontisterion , so that he learns there how to “make the bad thing better” in court in order to get rid of the believers. But Pheidippides does not want it. So Strepsiades has no choice but to go there himself, although, as he himself says, he is already getting old and forgetful. Arrived at the Phrontisterion, Strepsiades sees the master floating in the air in a hammock (which is held by a so-called stage crane). Socrates explains that the mind can only reach higher things when the body is also high above. The clouds are the gods of the new age, because the clouds embody "the thoughts, ideas, terms that give us dialectics and logic and the magic of the word and the blue haze, duping, empty phrases and delusion". Socrates accepts Strepsiades as a pupil. According to Nicodemus Frischlin , a late humanist philologist who translated the play into Latin and divided it into five acts, the first act ends here.

In the second act (if one follows Frischlin's classification), Socrates notices all too soon that Strepsiades is unable to learn and finally sends him away. So now his son has to step in. Socrates lets Pheidippides choose between two teachers: between the advocate of the “good (right) cause” and the advocate of the “bad (wrong) cause” ( logos dikaitis and logos adikos ). The focus of the third act is the big, violent, sometimes wild duel between the two teachers. Everyone tries to convince Pheidippides of his abilities and his point of view. The advocate of the “good cause” stands for traditional ideals of an education for self-discipline; the advocate of the “bad thing”, on the other hand, represents the “modern” sophistic way of teaching and thinking and promotes this and the temptations of an enjoyable lifestyle. In the end, “the good cause” has to admit defeat; thanks to their rabulistic skill, "the bad thing" wins. Consequently, Pheidippides is taught to her. But already at the moment of this triumph, the chorus of clouds with the prediction that Strepsiades will regret this decision, foreshadowing the approaching disaster.

It is true that in the fourth act the newly acquired rhetorical and dialectical skills of his son initially benefit the father: Socrates' promise, Pheidippides will win in every trial, even if the opponent provides "a thousand witnesses", he is able to reject the two believers Pasias and Amynias , u. a. thanks to an appeal to the changes in the law since Solon . Strepsiades does not repay the borrowed money or the accrued interest.

But in the last act, the teachings that Pheidippides received take revenge on Strepsiades himself. When father and son quarrel over their son's enthusiasm for Euripides over dinner , the unwary son, who claims to be a true advocate of the "bad cause", beats up proves the father and explains to him on top of that that he is doing nothing else than to reciprocate very tangibly the "loving treatment" that the father himself once gave the child "out of love and care". Strepsiades now recognizes where the new education has led his son. He curses the clouds, accuses them of having driven him into this disaster, and finally, with his servant Xanthias, sets the Phrontisterion of Socrates on fire - "the only dark ending in an Aristophanes piece".

Persons ( Dramatis Personae )

Strepsiades : The name says it all, because Strepsiades means “wrongdoer”. At the beginning of the play he still looks like a suffering, hapless and completely innocent farmer in debt, whose wedding was his biggest mistake. But the decision to marry a woman from the city and from a famous family shows his greed to be more than a simple farmer, although he would be happier with the latter. And his plan has it all: to cheat the creditors out of their money by making use of the new art of talking, specifically for the benefit of the bad cause, it takes a hardened character. On the other hand, one could argue that his drastic situation requires drastic solutions. At the same time, Strepsiades shines with his remarkable simplicity, and so Aristophanes constructs a character that entertains the audience on the one hand through his obscenities, ignorance and other absurd ideas. On the other hand, he does quite well as a tragic hero in the course of the story, especially in the scene in which he is beaten by his son and in the end somehow appears as a “winner”, but without being able to realize his plan.

Pheidippides : The son of Strepsiades also has a descriptive name: The "Sparrow", a wonderfully comical construction between the thrifty side of the father's family and the extravagance of the mother's family, who came from the knighthood. Pheidippides is also drawn to the latter, and so the family once had the many debts, since the son naturally needed horses as a status symbol - a costly investment, especially for a simple farmer. In terms of character, Pheidippides probably undergoes the greatest change in the piece. His words “As long as I had nothing but horse and wagon in mind, then I couldn't get three words out; (...) cured of it, I only associate with ideas, sublime words and brooding ”are probably the best way to describe this change. He immediately finds himself in an argument with his father and in the end is a prototype for the way in which sophistic teachings can be interpreted and used in a wrong or bad way.

The two Logoi : The opponents, often referred to as lawyers in German, who appear in the third part of the comedy and only there, are the so-called Logoi in Greek . The word logos covers a wide range of possible meanings in German: from word to speech to idea and understanding or even action. In this scene Aristophanes has a personified representative of the two opposing attitudes that existed in Athens at the time. One side, described as fair, represents the opinion of the old-fashioned and traditionally minded Athenians who rely on a classical education, but with concessions to the "modernity" of the time, such as the tolerance towards the love of older men for boys. The other side, called unjust, reflects the opinion of the citizens who rely on modern ideas such as sophistry and who strongly doubt and reject the old norms and precisely mythical principles. Not only are the poet's fantasies fighting against each other, but this fight symbolizes the situation in Athens at the time of the Peloponnesian War . However, one must not forget that this is what happens in a comedy: There is no grandiose philosophical dialogue here, but a dispute shaped by prejudices and rumors and carried out with swear words, which is also intended to amuse the viewer.

Socrates : For the first time there is no speaking name; the better known he is. The reason: the historical person on which this character is based, the real Socrates, counts alongside Plato and Aristotle to the most important philosophers of antiquity, if not the most important. Before characterizing this person, it should be noted that the statements only refer to the person in the play, not to the historical Socrates. During his first appearance, Socrates is, as already mentioned, attached to the stage crane and hovers above all others: of course, a certain arrogance can be derived from this. In addition, he seems to be preoccupied with many questions, because his subject areas include pure exploration of nature, relatively plausible sciences and mathematics; they address natural philosophy and finally end with the sophistic doctrine. However, as with the previously treated part of the antilogy , it is not about the serious side of these sciences, but only about trivialities or theories that are brought up by the hair. So this Socrates is not a serious philosopher, but a crazy and clichéd mockery of a scientist, a character that is often to be found in later plays.

Effect and meaning

One can understand the “clouds” as a criticism of the Athenian society, personified by Strepsiades. But the other events, especially the fight in which the bad side wins, also contribute to this picture. Another important theme of this drama is the generation conflict that Strepsiades and Pheidippides have to fight. This goes hand in hand with the criticism of sophistry, which especially young people adhere to, or the wrong interpretation of the sophistic methodology.

The historical Socrates

Socrates in Plato's Apology saw the play as part of the earlier indictment against him, i.e. the part that consisted of prejudices against him and which he tried to refute in his defense speech, and later the current indictment, which ultimately led to the death sentence should lead him to confront. Since the play, mentioned by name, is listed as the only example of this, there are quite a few voices who claim that Aristophanes 'play made a decisive contribution to Socrates' being condemned. This statement is contradicted by others who completely rule out Aristophanes' direct complicity, since it is obviously only a joke and mockery. Another point is the nature of the teaching: the teaching of Socrates is clearly of a sophistic nature; the twisting of words Strepsiades wants to learn was clearly not part of Socratic doctrine. Furthermore, the piece cites scientific research on the part of the philosopher, which also does not fit the current picture. The classic representation is thus in almost all points different from the representation in the piece. But which Socrates is actually the real one? Because the play is the only written source about Socrates that was written while he was still alive, and so cannot simply be ignored. The play was written when Socrates was only 46 years old. What the famous philosopher actually did at that time can no longer be precisely determined. It is not possible to say exactly how much of the “real” Socrates is still in the character of the piece.

Expenses (selection)



  • Hartmut Erbse : Socrates in the shadow of the aristophanic "clouds" . In: Hermes. Journal of Classical Philology . Vol. 82 (1954), pp. 385-420.
  • Raymond K. Fisher: Aristophanes' "Clouds". Purpose and technique . Hakkert, Amsterdam 1984.
  • Paul Handel : Forms and modes of representation of the aristophanic comedy . C. Winter, Heidelberg 1963. Therein pp. 256-276.
  • Julia Kurig: Old and new education in the struggle for hegemony: Aristophanes' comedy 'The Clouds' as an educational historical document of the 5th century BC Chr. In: Jahrbuch für Historische Bildungsforschung 21, 2015, pp. 17–56.
  • Daphne Elizabeth O'Regan: Rhetoric, comedy, and the violence of language in Aristophanes' "Clouds" . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1992. ISBN 0-19-507017-8 .
  • Wolfgang Schmid : The Socrates image of the "clouds" . In: Philologus. Journal of ancient literature and its reception . Vol. 97 (1948), pp. 209-228.


  1. ^ A b Egidius Schmalzriedt : Nephelai . In: Kindlers Literature Lexicon . dtv, Munich 1974, Vol. 16, pp. 6681-6682.
  2. Aristophanes: Complete Comedies , Vol. 1. Translated by Ludwig Seeger. Artemis-Verlag, Zurich 1952, verses 317 and 318.

Web links

Wikisource: The Clouds (Aristophanes)  - Sources and full texts

Translation by JJC Donner (1861)