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Reflections On "The Clouds" By Aristophanes

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"The Clouds" by Aristophanes, is a play centrally concerned

with education. Aristophanes employs satire to illustrate his

conservative beliefs. It is intended to show readers that in the

tendency to philosophical subtleties lies the neglection of the

real needs of the Athenians. According to Aristophanes,

philosophical speculation only acts to shake the established

foundations of accepted religion, gods, and ideals of morality.

Specifically, as it was even discused in "The Apology,"

Aristophanes believed that philosophical attitudes held by the

Sophists enabled those who held them to convince others of wrong

or weaker beliefs simply by sounding as if they knew what they

were talking about -- when in reality they didn't. It seems as

if Aristophanes would approve of an education based souly around

the reading of clasiscal literature and some physical excersize.

I believe the fact that Athenian youth were starting to ask

questions of the elders in the city really bothered

Aristophanes. I think he really thought it to be dangerous and

detrimental to society; as can be seen through the line

Strepsiades yells towards the end, "revenge for the injured gods

(II.i.1506)." I believe Aristophanes to be part of the group

that accused Socrates of not accepting the recognized gods of

state, which many believed to be a part of the corruption of

Athenian youth. While I don't agree with that accusation --

primarily because of Socrates recognition of Apollo through the

Oracle at Delphi -- I can see some Aristophanes' points of

contention with what he thought the Sophists and other

philsophers stood for.

The Clouds, who form the chorus in Aristophanes' play, are a

physical representation of the "philosophical speculation" that

Aristophanes speaks of. According to Aristophanes, these

speculations do not come from a grounded sense of experience,

but rather float about without definite framework and

actualization, simply in the realm of possibility. I found it

interesting that Aristophanes chose to illustrate this metaphor

between the clouds and the Sophists' beliefs into a literal

representation. He furthered this illustration by choosing to

bring Socrates on his first appearance floating in on a basket

down to the stage.

Another 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 (as can be seen in the

aforementioned Strepsiades quote). 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

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.

I agree with Johnson in that I believe the play has a very

obvious shift in tone. Towards the end of Johnson's essay, he

addresses 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



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