Stories from the Greek Comedians - Alfred J. Church

The Clouds

It is difficult to write anything about this play without going into matters more serious than would be becoming in such a volume as this. Something, however, may he said, by way of explanation, of the object which the poet had in view. He was a strong conservative, as in politics, so in education. And a new school of teachers, to whom the name of sophists had been given, had in his time come into vogue at Athens. These men, of whom Protagoras of Abdera and Gorgias of Leontium were perhaps the most famous, were not at all to the liking of Aristophanes. He clung to the old faith (though this adherence did not prevent him from being on occasion exceedingly profane), while the sophists explained it away. He held with the old notions of right and wrong, and they, as Mr. Merry expresses it, "did not profess to believe in an absolute standard of morality, or in any positive truth." Their aim in teaching was to be practically useful, to make their pupils fit for life, especially public life. But success in public life largely depended on power in speaking. "Rhetoricians" was the name for Athenian politicians. Hence the sophists gave especial attention to the art of speaking. So far as they believed that there was no absolute right or wrong, so far they would teach their pupils to use the rhetorical art which they learnt without regard to these considerations. To judge from the account given of his teaching by Plato, Socrates did not approve of the sophists. Again and again he is represented as confuting them. Yet it was not unnatural that Aristophanes should confound him with them, or even pick him out for attack as their representative. In truth, however, he was nothing of the kind. These sophists were mainly foreigners; Socrates was an Athenian. They lectured in private, receiving only those who were willing and able to pay the high fees which they demanded; Socrates taught in the public streets and squares any one who chose to listen to him.

The attack could have had only a remote influence in bringing about the condemnation of the great philosopher by his countrymen. This took place in 399 B.C., whereas the play was acted in 423. Still it helped in producing the great prejudice which undoubtedly existed and which resulted in his being put to death. To this fact Socrates is represented as referring in the defense or apology which Plato puts into his mouth. He says:—

"I have had many to accuse me to you. This they have done for many years, saying things about me, not one of which was true. And of these enemies I am more afraid than I am of Anytus and his fellow-accusers, though these, too, are formidable. But, gentlemen, these old enemies are more formidable. These have represented to you in your childhood a false story, how that there is a certain Socrates, or wise man, who speculates on things above the earth, and searches into things under the earth, and makes the worse appear the better reason. It is they, men of Athens, who by spreading about this report of me, have been my really dangerous accusers; for those who listen to them hold that they who busy themselves with such speculations do not even believe in the gods."

And a little later he says: "You yourselves have seen this in Aristophanes's comedy, in which a certain Socrates is introduced, saying that he 'walks in air,' and talking much other nonsense on subjects on which I do not profess to know much or little."

However much Aristophanes was mistaken in his estimate of Socrates's character and teaching, it was the estimate commonly held. Indeed, there is no reason to suppose that the story sometimes told of the Athenians having repented of their condemnation of their great countryman, is true.

[Illustration] from Stories from Greek Comedians by Alfred J. Church


Strepsiades, once a wealthy Athenian land-owner, but now reduced by losses that followed the war and by his son's extravagance to great distress, was meditating sadly on his troubles as he lay awake in the early morning. "Will it never be light?" he said to himself; "and yet I'm sure I heard the cock crow a long time ago. All the slaves are snoring, and one can't thrash them now, thanks to that detestable war. And there's my son there; nothing disturbs him. I can't sleep a wink for thinking of my debts. What with his foppery, and his horse-racing the rest of it, he ruins me." After another vain effort to get a little-more sleep, the old gentleman gave it up, and, calling for a light, began a doleful calculation of his debts. "Fifty pounds to Prasias," he read over to himself. "When did I borrow fifty pounds of Prasias? Oh! I remember. I was to buy that Corinthian hack. 'Hack,' I wish that I had had my eye hacked out before I saw him." At this point the son, Pheidippides, cried out in his sleep, "It's not fair, Philo; keep to your own course."—"Ah!" said the old man, "that is my ruin, always racing, even in his dreams."

Pheidippides (still asleep).   "How many rounds do the chariots run?"

Strepsiades.   "You are running your father a pretty round. But let me see. What was next to Prasias's account? Ten pounds to Ameinias for a pair of wheels and a body."

Phei. (still asleep).   "Give the colt a roll on the sand, and then take him home."

Strep.   "Ah! you dog, you have rolled me out of house and home."

Phei. (waking).   "Ah! my dear father, what makes you so uncomfortable that you toss about all night?"

Strep.   "I am being bitten, my dear boy, badly bitten, by bailiffs."

Phei.   "Well, do let me go to sleep."

Strep.   "Sleep away; but all this will fall on your own head some day. Now a plague on the match-maker, I say, who made it up between your mother and me. I was living the jolliest life possible in the country, with my bee-hives, and my flocks, and my wine-vats. Then I married a niece of Megacles, son of Megacles, I a farmer, and she a fine city lady. Then our son was born, and my lady and I had some words about his name. She must have something horsey, of course,—Xanthippus, Charippus, or Callippides. I was for Pheidonides, my own grand-father's name. At last we compromised it, and he was called Pheidippides. Then when he grew a big boy she would say, 'When you are a man, my dear, you shall drive a chariot to the citadel, as Megacles did, and wear a fine cloak'; and I used to say, 'When you're a man you shall drive the goats home with a leather jerkin on, as your father did.' But he did not heed me in the least, and he has brought on my estate a gallopping consumption, as I may call it. However, I have thought of an excellent way out of my difficulties, if I can persuade him to take it. Now, how shall I wake him? Pheidy, my boy!"

Phei.   "What is it, father?"

Strep.   "Kiss me, and give me your hand."

Phei.   "Yes, yes; certainly."

Strep.   "Now, do you love me?"

Phei.   "By the god of horses, yes."

Strep.   "None of that, none of that; the god of horses is the cause of all my trouble. But if you love me, my son, do what I shall ask you."

Phei.   "But what is it?"

Strep.   "You'll do it, then?"

Phei.   "By Bacchus, yes."

Strep.   "Do you see that door over there?"

Phei.   "Yes; what of it?"

Strep.   "That is the Reflectory of wise souls. There live the men who can prove that the heaven is a fire-cover, and we are the sparks. Give them money, and they'll teach you to prove anything you want, be it right or wrong."

Phei.   "Well, who are they?"

Strep.   "I don't rightly know what they call them. But they are very clever fellows."

Phei.   "Oh! I know—the rascals! You mean those pale, slipshod fellows, that wretched Socrates, and Chærephon, and their lot."

Strep.   "Hush! don't say anything foolish. If you love your father, cut your horse-racing and take up with them."

Phei.   "I take up with them! No, not for Leagoras's thoroughbreds."

Strep.   "My dear son, I do entreat you to go and learn of them."

Phei.   "What am I to learn?"

Strep.   "They say that these people keep two arguments, whatever they may be,—the Better and the Worse; and that anybody who uses the Worse gets the upper hand, even when he has a bad case. You go and learn this, and then I sha'n't have to pay a shilling to any one of the debts which I have run up on your account."

Phei.   "I could not think of it. You don't suppose I could meet the gentlemen who are on the Turf without a scrap of colour on my face!"

Strep.   "Well, if you won't, not another mouthful shall you have from me, you or your shaft-horse, or your leader. Out you go, bag and baggage."

Phei.   "As you please. My great-uncle Megacles, I am sure, won't let me want for a horse."

The old man, however, was not going to be beaten by this refusal. If his son wouldn't learn, he would learn himself, though he doubted whether he was clever enough to acquire these subtleties. However, he took his courage in his hands, and knocked at the door of the Reflectory. The knock was answered by a disciple, who rebuked the visitor for the unmannerly loudness of his kick. "You made," he said, "such a fine thing of mine to miscarry."

Strep.   "Pardon me; I live a long way off in the country. Tell me, pray, what it was that I injured."

Disciple.   "But these things are told only to disciples."

Strep.   "Never mind; I am come to be a disciple."

Dis.   "Very well; but remember these things are secret. The other day Socrates asked Chærephon how many of its own feet a flea could jump. One had been biting Chærephon's eyebrow, you must understand, and jumped on to Socrates's head."

Strep.   "How did he measure it?"

Dis.   "In the cleverest way possible. He melted some wax; then he took the flea and dipped its feet into the wax. When this was cold, the flea had slippers on; these he undid, and measured the distance."

Strep.   "What a clever thing!"

Dis.   "I can tell you something else. Yesterday evening we had nothing for dinner. So Socrates sprinkled a thin coat of ashes on the carving-board, bent a spit, and making it into a compass, stole a piece of meat from the sacrifice."

Strep.   "Wonderful! and we talk about Thales! Let me into the Reflectory. Show me Socrates, for I am bent on becoming a disciple."

Accordingly the door was thrown open.

"Good heavens!" cried the visitor, as soon as he was admitted, seeing the disciples scattered about in various attitudes, "what kind of creatures are these? What are they looking on the ground for?"

Dis.   "They are investigating things that are under the earth."

Strep.   "Looking for truffles, eh? No use here; but I can tell them where they can find some very fine ones. And these who are bent double there—what are they doing?"

Dis.   "In sub-Tartarean realms of night they grope."

Strep.   "And why is their other end turned up in that fashion?"

Dis.   "It is learning astronomy on its own account."

Strep.   "Stay a moment; what is this?"

Dis.   "That is Geometry."

Strep.   "What do you use it for?"

Dis.   "Measuring the countries."

Strep.   "I see, the countries where we have allotments."

Dis.   "No, no; the countries generally, the whole earth."

Strep.   "Splendid! What a patriotic notion! Dividing the whole earth among us Athenians."

Dis.   "Look here; this is a map of the earth. Here is Athens."

Strep.   "That Athens? I don't believe it. I don't see the courts sitting anywhere."

Dis.   "Ah, but it is! And that's Eubœa stretching along there."

Strep.   "Yes; we stretched it, we did, Pericles and the rest of us.But where's Sparta?"

Dis.   "There."

Strep.   "Oh! but how near! See if you can't contrive to put it further off."

Dis.   "Quite impossible."

Strep.   "So much the worse for you. But who is the man in the basket there?"

Dis.   "That is He."

Strep.   "What he?"


After two or three fruitless attempts, Strepsiades succeeded in attracting the great man's attention. "What want you, creature of a day?" he asked.

"I walk in air, and fix a lofty thought

Down on the sun."

Strep.   "Oh, you look down on the gods from a basket, do you?"

Socrates.   "I never could have found out aerial things had I not detached my thoughts, bringing them into the kindred air. Had I stayed on earth it would have been impossible, for the earth forcibly draws to itself the moisture of the intellect. Just the same thing happens to cress."

Strep.   "What is it? Intellect attracts moisture to cress; is that it? But descend a while, and teach me that which I came here to learn."

Soc.   "What is that?"

Strep.   "I want to learn to speak. I am being cheated and plundered by the cruelest set of creditors."

Soc.   "But how did you get into debt without knowing it?"

Strep.   "A plague of horses has eaten me up. Now I want you to teach me one of the two arguments you keep; the not-paying-your-creditors argument, I mean. Teach me, and I will swear by the gods to pay you your fee."

Soc.   "What gods? Gods don't pass current here."

Strep.   "What does pass, then? Pieces of iron, such as they have at Byzantium?"

Soc.   "Do you want to know the truth about gods and such things?"

Strep.   "Yes, by Zeus!—if there is a Zeus."

Soc.   "And make acquaintance with the clouds? They are what we worship, you understand."

Strep.   "By all means."

Socrates then descended from his basket, seated the old man on a pallet-bed, put a chaplet on his head, and sprinkled him with flour,—proceedings which somewhat dismayed him, as they suggested the idea that he was going to be sacrificed. But he was assured that all who desired to become disciples had to do it, and that, once initiated, he would learn the art of clever speech, would become, in fact, the flower (flour) of advocates. "Well, that's true in a way," said Strepsiades; "there's a good deal of flour about me now." Socrates then proceeded to invoke the clouds, while the new disciple folded his cloak over him, lest, as he said, he should be drenched.

"O ye Clouds, honoured much of the wise,

your forms to this mortal disclose!

Come, come from the height of Olympus,

god-haunted and covered with snows,

Or where in the garden of ocean

the dance of the nymphs ye behold,

Or where from the fountains of Nilus

ye draw in your pitchers of gold;

Or come from the lake of Mmotis,

or snow-covered mountains of Thrace,

Come, hark to our prayers, and our worship accept,

of your bountiful grace."

Presently an answering voice was heard, accompanied by the noise of rolling thunder that seemed to come nearer and nearer:—

"Bringers of rain, a maiden band,

We seek Athens's gracious land,

The fair heaven-favoured dwelling-place

Of ancient Cecrops' noble race,

Where in their awful mansion dwell

The mysteries inscrutable;

Nor miss the gods on high their right

Of honour due, the pillared height

Of stately fane, and shapely grace

Of sculptured form, the solemn pace

Of pomps that move through gazing streets,

The festive flower-crowned throng that meets

At feast or ritual, while the years

Pass through the seasons' ordered way,

And when the gladsome Spring appears,

Our joyous Bacchic holiday,

The while the dancers' twinkling feet

Time to the flute's clear music beat."

Strep.   "Tell me, Socrates, who are these that sing this very solemn strain? Are they heroines?"

Soc.   "Not at all; they are the Clouds of heaven. It is they who give us wise maxims, and logic, and circumlocution, and cheating."

Strep.   "Yes; and when I hear them my soul is all agog for all kinds of subtleties and chatterings. But I should like to see them plainly, if it is possible."

Soc.   "Look towards Mount Parnes, then; I see them plainly coming down from it."

Strep.   "Where? where?"

Soc.   "There, down through the glens and thickets."

Strep.   "I can't see them."

Soc.   "Surely you must see them now, unless you are as blind as a bat."

Strep.   "Now I do; indeed, they are everywhere."

Soc.   "And didn't you know that they were goddesses?"

Strep.   "Not I; I thought that they were dew and mist. But tell me, if they are clouds, why they are like women. For the real clouds are not."

Soc.   "What are they, then?"

Strep.   "Why, they are like fleeces floating about, but not in the least like women. Those clouds there have noses."

Soc.   "Now answer me a few questions. Have you ever looked up into the sky and seen a cloud that was like a centaur, or a panther, or a wolf, or a bull?"

Strep.   "Often; what then?"

Soc.   "They become whatever they like. When they see a minor poet with his hair all long about his shoulders, they mock at his folly, and make themselves into centaurs."

Strep.   "What do they do when they see Simon, who stole the public money?"

Soc.   "They become wolves, to be sure."

Strep.   "And so, when they see Cleonymus the coward, they turn into deer, I suppose."

The Clouds now greeted the sage who had invoked their presence:—

"High priest of all trumpery nonsense, we greet thee,

old hunter of words that are clever and fine!

Now tell us the thing about which you have called us;

to no voice do we listen so soon as to thine;

Ho solemn your gait, and so fierce are your glances,

as we look at you strutting along in the ways

Barefooted and wretched, while up to the heavens

a look of majestical greatness you raise."

Soc.   "You see, my friend, that these are the only divinities. All the others are mere moonshine."

Strep.   "Stop! isn't Olympian Zeus a divinity, then?"

Soc.   "What Zeus? Don't talk nonsense. There is no Zeus."

Strep.   "What? Who is it that rains, then?"

Soc.   "Why, these, of course. Did you ever see it rain without clouds? Zeus ought to rain from a clear sky, if he did it."

Strep.   "Well, but who is it that thunders?"

Soc.   "These; they thunder as they roll along. They are laden with water, and come crashing together, and so make a great noise."

Strep.   "But who makes them move? It must be Zeus."

Soc.   "No; it isn't Zeus: it is Whirl."

Strep.   "So Whirl is king instead of Zeus. Well, I didn't know it. But tell me about the lightning. Doesn't Zeus strike perjurers with it?"

Soc.   "Well, you are an antiquated old fool. If Zeus strikes the perjurers, why doesn't he strike Simon, and Cleonymus, and Theorus? Why does he strike his own temples, and the cliffs of Sunium,and the oaks? The oaks don't perjure themselves."

Strep.   "There is something in what you say."

The Clouds now addressed Strepsiades:—

"As you come our most excellent wisdom to seek,

There is not an Athenian, no, nor a Greek,

Shall be happy as you, if you only remember,

And think, and endure in your soul, and disdain

To feel heat in the summer, or cold in December,

Or weariness walking or standing, or pain

Of hunger, when others are wishing to dine,

And care nothing at all for amusement or wine,

But claim to be first all our speakers among

In business and counsel and fence of the tongue."

Strep.   "Well, you'll find me as hard as an anvil."

Soc.   "And you won't believe in any gods besides ours—Clouds, Chaos, and Tongue—these three?"

Strep.   "I won't even speak to the rest, if I should meet them."

The Clouds.   "Tell us plainly what you want."

Strep.   "I want to be miles away the cleverest speaker in Greece."

Clouds.   "So you shall; no man shall carry more resolutions in the Assembly than you."

Strep.   "I don't care about resolutions in the Assembly; I want to slip through my creditors' hands."

Clouds.   "Oh, that's a very little matter. Hand your accounts to our attendants, and fear nothing."

Strep.   "I will trust you to the uttermost. What with my debts and my extravagant wife, I have no other choice. Hunger, thirst, cold, torture, anything that you please, so long as you make me a real clever speaker."

Clouds.   "The man has a bold temper. Well, if you learn all this from me, you will be the most fortunate of men. You will have clients always sitting at your door to get your advice in heavy cases. And now, Socrates, take him and teach him."

Soc.   "Well, my friend, have you got a good memory?"

Strep.   "A very long memory when money is owing to me; a very short one, when I owe it myself."

Soc.   "How will you be able to learn?"

Strep.   "Well enough; don't be afraid."

Soc.   "Can you speak?"

Strep.   "I can't speak, but I can cheat."

Soc.   "If I let drop a bit of the higher wisdom, you must snatch it up at once."

Strep.   "What? Grab wisdom like a dog?"

Soc.   "This is a very ignorant, barbarous creature. Old man, I am afraid you'll want a good beating. Come, take off your coat."

Strep.   "Why, what have I done wrong?"

Soc.   "Nothing; but it is our custom to come in without our coats."

Strep.   "Well, give me a honey-cake. I feel as if I was going down into the cave of Trophonius."

After a while Socrates came out again, loudly complaining of the ignorance, stupidity, and forgetfulness of his new pupil. He had no sooner learnt a little subtlety than he forgot it. However, he was willing to try once more. Accordingly he proceeded to instruct him in various questions of prosody and grammar. All, however, was to no purpose. The old man remained hopelessly dense. As a last resource the teacher ordered him to lie down on a couch with which he had been provided, wrap himself closely up, and proceed to think. "If you get anywhere," he said, "whence you can't get out, then lightly leap to some other notion of the soul."

Strep.   "Oh! oh!"

Clouds.   "What is the matter?"

Strep.   "Oh, the fleas are coming out of the mattress and biting me."

Clouds.   "Don't trouble."

Strep.   "How can I help it? My money is gone, and my skin is gone, and my life is gone, yes, and my shoes, too."

Soc.   "Are you not thinking?"

Strep.   "Yes; indeed I am."

Soc.   "What about?"

Strep.   "Whether the fleas will leave anything of me."

Soc.   "Don't be a coward; wrap yourself up and think."

Strep. (after a pause).   "My dear Socrates, I have a device for escaping interest."

Soc.   "Explain it."

Strep.   "I should buy a witch from Thessaly; she would bring down the moon out of the sky for me. I should shut it up in a round crest case, and keep it."

Soc.   "How would that help you?"

Strep.   "How? Why, if the moon was never to rise, of course I should not pay interest."

Soc.   "Why not?"

Strep.   "Because it is due at the new moon."

Soc.   "Very good; but answer me this: An action is brought against you for five talents; how would it get rid of it?"

Strep.   "How? how? I don't know, but I will consider."

Soc.   "Don't keep your mind always going round and round yourself. Let it fly about like a cock-chafer tied by a string."

Strep.   "I have found the very cleverest way of getting rid of a suit. You have seen at the druggist's that pretty transparent stone with which they light fires?"

Soc.   "A burning glass, I suppose you mean."

Strep.   "Just so. Well, might not I take this, and while the registrar was writing down the case, turn the sun on to it, and melt the wax?"

Soc.   "By the Graces! a clever thought."

Strep.   "I should really like having a suit for five talents brought against me."

Soc.   "Now, turn your mind to this: You are defendant in a case, you are going to be cast, you have no witnesses,—how would you get out of it?"

Strep.   "In the easiest way in the world."

Soc.   "Tell me."

Strep.   "Why, when the last case was on, before mine was called, I should go and hang myself."

Soc.   "You are a fool. I will have nothing more to do with you. There never was an old man so stupid and so forgetful. Away with you!"

Strep.   "Dear me! What shall I do? Dear, worshipful Clouds, advise me!"

Clouds.   "If you have a grown-up son, we recommend you to send him to learn in your place."

Strep.   "Well, I have a son, but he won't learn."

Clouds.   "And you allow him?"

Strep.   "You see, he is a sturdy fellow, and his mother is a fine lady. However, I'll go after him, and if he still refuses I'll turn him out of my house."

Pheidippides was not easy to persuade. "Father, what is it?" he said. "By Zeus! you are out of your senses."

Strep.   "There you are with your Zeus—how silly!"

Phei.   "What is there to laugh at?"

Strep.   "Your talking about Zeus; there is no Zeus."

Phei.   "Who told you this nonsense?"

Strep.   "Socrates."

Phei.   "And you believe these lunatics?"

Strep.   "Hush! say nothing against these clever, sensible men. They are so economical that they never shave themselves or go to the bath. As for you, you wash away my property, just as if I were dead. But do go and learn what they have to teach you."

Phei.   "Very clever, indeed; and that is the reason, perhaps, why you have lost your cloak."

Strep.   "I haven't lost it; I thought it away."

Phei.   "And your shoes—what of them?"

Strep.   "Lost them, like Pericles, for a necessary purpose. But go, I beseech you."

Phei.   "Yes, I'll go; but you'll be sorry for it some day."

The two Arguments, the Just and the Unjust, now appeared, and immediately engaged in a battle royal over the new pupil. "I'll be too much for you," cried the Just Argument. "How?" replied the Unjust.

Just.   "By saying what is right."

Unjust.   "There is no such thing as right."

Just.   "You say that there is no such thing?"

Unjust.   "Where is it?"

Just.   "With the gods."

Unjust.   "Why, then, did Zeus put his father in prison?"

Just.   "This gets worse and worse; it makes me sick."

Unjust.   "What an ignorant fellow!"

Just.   "You're a shameless beast."

Unjust.   "Your lips drop roses."

Just.   "You are a ribald jester."

Unjust.   "This is praise!"

Clouds.   "Well, make an end of this quarrelling. Plead each of you his cause. You, Just Argument, tell us what you used to teach the last generation. You, Unjust, explain to us the new education. This young man shall choose between you. Now, you shall speak first."

Unjust.   "He may, if he chooses. I'll make short work with him when he has done."

Just.   "Listen to me, when I tell you what the old-fashioned education was. Then a boy was never allowed to say so much as a word. He walked in an orderly fashion to his music-master's, without a cloak, mark you, though the snow might be as thick as meal. And the music was of the good old sort, none of your modern twists and twirls. Let a lad try one of those, and he would be well thrashed for his pains. And woe betide him if at table he took A littlish or a sprig of parsley before his elders, or 'bowed a taste for dainty dishes."

Unjust.   "What old-fashioned nonsense!"

Just.   "Ah, but that is the way I bred the men who conquered at Marathon! Choose me, my young friend, and you will learn to be ashamed of what is base, and to blush if they banter you, and to rise up from your seat when your elders come in, and to mould yourself after the model of honour, keeping yourself from bad companions, and never contradicting your father, or making game of the nest in which you were hatched."

Unjust.   "Yes; and they'll say that you're tied to your mother's apron-strings."

Just. "In the ring of the wrestlers all blooming and strong

    You will stand, nor chatter away to the throng

    That meets in the market your far-fetched conceits;

    To the Academeia you'll often repair,

    And you'll run in the shade of the olive-trees there,

    With a chaplet of reed on your head, while a friend

    As honest as you on your steps shall attend;

    In the joy of a leisure unblamed, in the time

    Of the spring, when the plane whispers soft to the lime."

Yes, young man, if you want a chest well filled out, broad shoulders, a clear complexion, and a short tongue, come to me. Go to my adversary, and follow in the ways that are fashionable now, and your complexion will be pale, your shoulders narrow, your chest thin, and your tongue long. Good will be evil to you, and evil good."

The Unjust Argument now opened his case, proceeding by cross-examination. "You say," he said to his adversary, "that the hot bath is not a good thing. What is your reason for finding fault with it?"

Just.   "Because it is a very bad thing, and turns a man into a coward."

Unjust.   "Hold! now I have you. Tell me, which of the sons of Zeus was the bravest and performed most valiant deeds?"

Just.   "No one was superior to Hercules."

Unjust.   "Well, did you ever see a cold bath called after Hercules? And yet who was braver than he?"

Just.   "Ah! this is the sort of argument which our young men chatter all day, and which make the bath-houses full and the gymnasia empty."

Unjust.   "Then again you speak against the Assembly, but I speak well of it. If it had been a bad thing, Homer would never have made Nestor a great speaker in the Assembly. Then about the tongue. You say that young men ought not to cultivate it; I say that they ought. You say that they ought to be temperate; I say that they ought not. Tell me now, when did you ever hear of a man getting good by temperance?"

Just.   "Many. Peleus got a sword by it."

Unjust.   "A sword indeed! and a nice thing it was to him! And how many talents did Hyperbolus the lamp-maker make by his villany? Plenty, to be sure, but certainly not a sword."

Just.   "Then Peleus married the goddess Thetis."

Unjust.   "Who left him. No, no; this is the way to lose all the pleasures of life; and without them is life worth living?"

Just.   "But how about the disgrace that will fall upon you, if you follow these profligate ways?"

Unjust.   "Nothing at all. Tell me, who are the great advocates?"

Just.   "The profligate."

Unjust.   "And the successful tragedians?"

Just.   "The profligate."

Unjust.   "And the political leaders?"

Just.   "The profligate."

Unjust.   "Well, what have you got to say?"

Just.   "Nothing, but that I am beaten, and that I come over to your side."

After this, of course, Strepsiades could do nothing but hand over his son to Socrates to be instructed by him, receiving the assurance that he would be returned to him an accomplished rhetorician, always able to make the worse appear the better reason.

Meanwhile the time grew near when these powers would be wanted. "Four days," he said to himself, "and then comes that day which I hate to think of. All my creditors swear that they will give me no mercy. I make the most reasonable propositions to them. I say, 'Would you mind postponing part of the debt, and cancelling part, and not receiving the rest?' and they won't listen to me. However, it will be all right if Pheidippides has learnt his lesson properly. I must go over to the Reflectory and see how he has got on." This he did, and had the pleasure of having his son handed over to him, changed into a pale-faced, cunning-looking fellow, who gave promise of being exactly what he wanted. He at once appealed to him for his help, explaining that he was terribly afraid of the last day of the month, when his creditors had declared that they would sue him for the money which he owed to them. Pheidippides explained to him that his fears were groundless. He had a device which would upset the creditors' calculations. These gentlemen did not understand that this last day had been purposely called the "old and the new" by Solon, and so made into two days, in order to give debtors a loophole of escape. Relying on this new interpretation the old man received the threatenings of tradesmen, who called with requests for payment, with the greatest coolness. One claimed fifty pounds for a dappled horse. He was met first with the objection about the day, then with the argument that it was very unlikely that he, Strepsiades, notoriously hating all that had to do with horses, should have incurred such a debt, and then, when reminded that he had sworn to pay at the proper time, with ridicule of the gods whom he had named in his oath, and finally by questions of grammar. It was quite preposterous, he said, that a man who did not know the gender of nouns should presume to ask for payment of a debt.

Another was asked a problem in physics. "Is the rain always new water, or does the sun draw up the same over and over again?"—"I don't know and I don't care," said the man.—"Then," replied Strepsiades, "you are not fit to have your money."—"Well," the man went on, "if you are short of money and cannot let me have the capital, pay me the interest."—"Interest!" replied Strepsiades, "what kind of monster is that? Tell me, does the sea grow bigger, or always remain the same!"—"Remains the same, I suppose," said the man.—"Well," Strepsiades went on, "if the sea does not grow bigger though all the rivers flow into it, how can you expect your capital to grow bigger? Out of the house with you!" This was all very well; but Strepsiades found before long that there was another side to the affair. He asked his son to sing a song of Simonides. The young man refused; Æschylus did not please him any better: he was an empty, bombastic old creature. Pheidippides would repeat nothing but Euripides. The father strongly objected, and the affair ended by the young man giving the old one a sound thrashing. In vain did Strepsiades remonstrate. "Shameless creature," he cried, "don't you know that I attended to all your wants in your infancy, and see how you treat me now!"

Phei.   "Once upon a time I gave all my thoughts to horses, and then I could not say three words without making some blunder. My father made me give up these ways, and turn my thoughts to clever, sophistical speeches. Thanks to him, I can prove quite convincingly that it is quite right for a son to beat his father."

Strep.   "For heaven's sake, go on with your horse-racing! That isn't as bad as beating me."

Phei.   "I shall return to the point at which you interrupted me. Answer me this question: Did you beat me when I was a child?"

Strep.   "Certainly, for your good."

Phei.   "And shouldn't I beat you for your good, as it seems that beating does a person good? Why, too, should you go scot-free and I not? I am free born just as you. You say that it is right that a child should be beaten. But an old man is a child twice over. And an old man deserves to be beaten far more than a child, as he has less excuse for doing wrong."

Strep.   "But it is usual everywhere for children to be beaten."

Phei.   "It was a man that made the law; and why should not I make a new one? The old scores we will wipe out; but hereafter the law is, that the sons beat their fathers. Consider, too, the cock and other animals. They punish their fathers, and there is no difference between them and us, except that they don't propose bills in the Assembly."

Strep.   "Well, if you are going to imitate the cock in all things, why don't you eat dung and sleep on a perch?"

Phei.   "The argument does not apply. Socrates would not say that it did."

Strep.   "But some day you will repent of it, for your son will beat you."

Phei.   "But if I have no son, what then?"

Strep.   "I am afraid you have me there."

Phei.   "Well, listen again. I shall beat my mother just as I beat you."

Strep.   "Why, that's worse than ever. You and your Unjust Argument and Socrates with you ought to be thrown into the pit. Clouds, do you hear what he says?"

Clouds.   "It serves you right. You led the lad into wicked ways."

Strep.   "Yes, but you encouraged me, a poor, ignorant old man."

Clouds.   "Because you were dishonest. That is our way. We always do this to those whom we know to be disposed to evil, that they may learn to fear the gods."

Strep.   "Well, it is very bad, but it is just. But come, my son, let us destroy these scoundrels who have deceived both you and me."

Strepsiades accordingly, with the help of his slaves, for his son refused to lend a hand, proceeded to attack the Reflectory. The slaves set a ladder against the wall, mounted it, and plied a pick-axe on the roof. The old man himself caught up a lighted torch and set fire to the lower story. "What are you doing?" cried one disciple.—"Chopping logic with the beams," said the assailant.—"Who are you?" shouted another.—"The man whose cloak you stole."—"What are you after?" asked Socrates himself.—"I walk in air, and contemplate the sun," was the answer.—"I shall be suffocated," cried Socrates.—"I shall be burnt alive," said Chærephon. But the Clouds appeared. "Strike, and spare not," they said; "you have many good reasons, and the best is this,—that they blasphemed the gods."