Friday, October 26, 2007

Selection 13 - The Clouds by Aristophanes


References: The Clouds Wikipedia Entry

Source: The Clouds at Project Gutenberg

Background: Aristophanes was born sometime in the 5th Century BC, probably to a wealthy family and was probably well educated. Given the time period in which he was born I would guess that he was educated in the Sophist school, which he later became a critic of.

Aristophanes apparently first came to widespread attention as a judge in a poetry contest. After that he began writing his own plays and competing in the Dionysian festivals. I have seen differing accounts on whether or not he was a critic of Socrates but it is definite that he was critical of the Sophists and his play The Clouds is a satirical view of them. He was also critical of the political situation at the time and his play the Lysistrata was a dig at the conduct of the Peloponnesian War.

Discussion: I have just started this play and am about 1/4 of the way into it. So far Strepsiades upon determining that his family is going broke supporting his son's expensive habits is looking for a solution. His son refuses to change his ways and Strepsiades appears reluctant to force him and unwilling to pursue other paths. Looking around he notices that the philosophers led by Socrates somehow seem to make a living without really working or contributing anything useful to society. He determines to become one. His impression seems to be borne out when he enters the thinkery and finds the residents discussing how far a flea can jump and how a fly farts. He convinces Socrates to take him as a student and begins his education.

Thats as far as I have gotten so far.

Updated 11/14/2007About 3/4 done now. So far Aristophanes has not been kind to the Sophists.

What this play is really breaking down into is a classic generational clash. The Sophists have introduced new ways of thinking and the more traditionally minded are trying to defend the position and privilege. Aristophanes carries this to absurd lengths but surprisingly the coemdy holds up well (lots of fart jokes). Amazingly there are still echoes of this debate in modern society, witness the debate over intelligent design and stem cell research.

Updated 11/16/2007Finished. Yay!!! Even though it took awhile this is the most enjoyable of the works I have read so far. As I said previously it seems to break down into a generational clash but it also goes a little further with a suggestion that it is OK to use violence to quash wrong ideas (the burning of "The Thinkery").

From what I have read previously the Greeks weren't adverse to using violence on anyone they disagreed with but it was a little startling to see. Maybe because we have this image in our minds of these guys in white robes sitting around discussing philosophy and being all civilized about it and now we have a contrasting image of someone not liking a guys ideas so he burns his house down. Despite that I laughed quite a bit while I was reading this.

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1 comment:

Dr. T said...

Keep in mind that Socrates as in fact in the audience when this play was first performed. YOu should also see in the Apology that one of the accusations against Socrates came from this play. However, this play may have been intended as a friendly warning to Socrates, though it seems to have backfired on that account.