Holbein's Folly

 The Andreas Center

Home  |  About Us  |  Contact Us

The Clouds of Aristophanes

An Excerpt from the Play



The characters in this excerpt:
Father  Strepsiades, the bumpkin who wishes to escape his debts
Son  Pheidippides, who is largely responsible for the debts
Disciple  A student of Socrates at the Brain Factory
Socrates  Presented as a teacher and investigator into arcane knowledge



Father: Go and be taught!

Son: Why, what will I learn?

Father: They say that in their school they have two Logics—the Right Logic, whichever that is, and the Wrong Logic. They say that one of these, the Wrong Logic, always wins, even though it speaks on the unjust side. So if you learn the Wrong Logic, I won’t have to pay a single cent of the debts I owe because of you.

Son: I can’t do it. I couldn’t look the knights in the face again if I lost my tan.

Father: Then, by Ceres, you shall not eat any of my food! Neither you nor your horse! Get out of my house! The crows can have you for all I care!

Son: Uncle Megacles won’t make me go without a horse! I’m leaving!  Why should I care about you! [Exit]

Father: I’m down but not out, by god! I will go myself to the Brain Factory and get taught. Oh, how will an old man learn the subtleties of refined disquisitions! But I have to go. What am I waiting for? I’ll just knock at the door. [Knocks] Boy! Little boy!

Disciple: [From within] Go to the devil! Who is it knocking on the door?

Father: Strepsiades, the son of Phidon, of Cicynna.

Disciple: You buffoon! By Jove, it is inconsiderate of you to kick the door that way. I had conceived an idea and was just giving birth to it, and you have made it miscarry.

Father: Pardon me! I’m not from around here. I’m just a plain old country farmer. But tell me, what was the idea I made miscarry?

Disciple: It is not lawful to mention it, except to disciples.

Father: Oh you can tell it to me! I have come here to become a disciple in your Brain Factory.

Disciple: I will tell you then. But you must remember that these are deep mysteries. Ahem. Socrates lately asked Chaerephon about a flea, how many feet it could jump—expressing the distance, of course, in flea-feet. For a flea had bit Chaerephon in one of his bushy eyebrows, and then it jumped onto Socrates’ bald head.

Father: So how did he measure it?

Disciple: Very cleverly. He melted some wax. Then he took the flea and dipped its feet in the wax, let the wax cool, and voila!—Persian slippers! He took the slippers off and used them to measure the distance.

Father: O King Jupiter! What subtlety of thought!

Disciple: What then would you say if you heard another contrivance of Socrates?

Father: Do tell, I beg you!

Disciple: Well, Chaerephon asked Socrates whether he thought gnats buzzed through their mouths or their backsides.

Father: And what did the Master say about the gnat?

Disciple: He said the intestine of the gnat is narrow, and the wind rushes violently through it straight to the tail end. Then the rump, which is hollow where it is next to the narrow part, whistles to the blast.

Father: So the gnat has a rump trumpet! Oh, thrice happy is he for his sharp-sightedness into gnats’ entrails! Surely a defendant could easily get acquitted who understands the intestine of the gnat.

Disciple: But Socrates was lately deprived of a great idea by a lizard.

Father: How so? Tell me!

Disciple: He was investigating the courses of the moon and her revolutions, and as he was gaping upward a lizard in the darkness pooped upon him from the roof.

Father: I am amused at a lizard’s having pooped on Socrates . . . Quick, open the Brain Factory! I want to see Socrates as soon as I can. I want to be his disciple. Come on, open the door!

[The door of the thinking-shop opens and the pupils of Socrates are seen all with their heads fixed on the ground, while Socrates himself is seen suspended in the air in a basket.]

Father: O Hercules, what country do these wild beasts come from?

Disciple: What do think? What do they look like?

Father: They look like the Spartans who were taken at Pylos. But why in the world are they looking at the ground?

Disciple: They are in search of the things below the earth.

Father: Then they are searching for roots. Don’t worry about it, fellows! I know where you can get some big, nice ones. And what are these fellows doing, the ones who are bent over like that?

Disciple: They are diving into deep secrets.

Father: Why are their rumps aimed at the sky?

Disciple: Their rumps are getting private lessons in astronomy. [Turning to the pupils] Go inside before he catches us.

. . .

Father: [Seeing a lot of mathematical instruments] For heaven’s sake what is all this? Tell me.

Disciple: This one is Astronomy.

Father: And this one?

Disciple: Geometry.

Father: What is it used for?

Disciple: To measure out the land.

Father: You mean our enemies’ land that we are going to divide up?

Disciple: No, the whole earth.

Father: What a good idea! And democratic, too! We can all just take our pick!

Disciple: [Pointing to a map] Look, here’s a map of the whole earth. See? This is Athens.

Father: Huh? That’s not Athens! I don’t see any judges sitting in court.

Disciple: Be assured that this is truly the Attic territory.

Father: Then where are my kinfolks from Cicynna?

Disciple: Here they are. And Euboea here, as you can see, is stretched out a long way by the side of it

Father: I know that. We and Pericles stretched it like that. But where is Sparta?

Disciple: Let’s see. Here it is.

Father: It surely is close to us! You better be careful about that and get it as far away from us as you can.

Disciple: By Jupiter, that’s not possible.

Father: Then you’ll be sorry! [Looking up and seeing Socrates] Who is the man in the basket?

Disciple: Himself.

Father: Who is “Himself”?

Disciple: Socrates.

Father: Oh, Socrates! Come on, then, call him as loud as you can.

Disciple: Call him yourself. I don’t have the time. [Exit]

Father: Socrates! My little Socrates!

Socrates: Mortal! Why callest thou me?

Father: First tell me, I beg you, what are you doing up yonder?

Socrates: I am walking in the air, and contemplating the sun.

Father: And so you look down upon the gods from your basket and not up at them from the earth?

Socrates: I should not have rightly discovered things celestial if I had not suspended the intellect and mixed the thought in a subtle form with its kindred air. But if, being on the ground, I speculated from below on things above, I would never have discovered them. For the earth forcibly attracts to itself the meditative moisture. Water-cresses also suffer the very same thing.

Father: What! Does meditation attract moisture to water-cresses? Come down, my little Socrates, come down and teach me the things I came to learn.

[Socrates lowers himself and gets out of the basket]

Socrates: And what did you come to learn?

Father: To learn to speak. For I am pillaged and plundered by high interest rates and ill-natured creditors, and my goods get seized for debt.

Socrates: How did you get into debt without noticing it?

Father: A horse-disease ate up all my money. But teach me the Wrong Logic, the one that never has to pay off any debts, and I swear by the gods, I will pay you whatever you ask.

Socrates: What gods will you swear by? For, in the first place, gods are not a current coin with us.

Father: So what do you swear by? By iron money, like in Byzantium?

Socrates: Do you wish to know the truth about celestial matters?

Father: Yes, by Jupiter, if it’s possible to know the truth.

Socrates: And to converse with the Clouds, our divinities?

Father: By all means.

Socrates: [With great solemnity] Seat yourself, then, upon the sacred couch.

Father: Well, I am seated!

Socrates: Take, then, this chaplet.

Father: A chaplet! Oh no, Socrates! Please don’t sacrifice me!

Father: No, we do this to everyone who gets initiated.

Father: And what will I gain?

Socrates: You shall be the flower of oratory, a tricky knave, a thorough gossip, a subtle speaker.


Return to the Defense of Socrates



Home  |  About Us  |  Contact Us