Strepsiades, his son, and Socrates (from a 16th-century engraving)
|Setting||1. House of Strepsiades
2. The Thinkery (Socrates' school)
The Clouds (Ancient Greek: Νεφέλαι Nephelai) is a Greek comedy play written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes. A lampooning of intellectual fashions in classical Athens, it was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and was not as well received as the author had hoped, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised between 420 and 417 BC and was thereafter circulated in manuscript form.
No copy of the original production survives, and scholarly analysis indicates that the revised version is an incomplete form of Old Comedy. This incompleteness, however, is not obvious in translations and modern performances.
Retrospectively, The Clouds can be considered the world's first extant "comedy of ideas" and is considered by literary critics to be among the finest examples of the genre. The play also, however, remains notorious for its caricature of Socrates and is mentioned in Plato's Apology as a contributor to the philosopher's trial and execution.
The play begins with Strepsiades suddenly sitting up in bed while his son, Pheidippides, remains blissfully asleep in the bed next to him. Strepsiades complains to the audience that he is too worried about household debts to get any sleep – his wife (the pampered product of an aristocratic clan) has encouraged their son's expensive interest in horses. Strepsiades, having thought up a plan to get out of debt, wakes the youth gently and pleads with him to do something for him. Pheidippides at first agrees to do as he's asked then changes his mind when he learns that his father wants to enroll him in The Thinkery, a school for wastrels and bums that no self-respecting, athletic young man dares to be associated with. Strepsiades explains that students of The Thinkery learn how to turn inferior arguments into winning arguments and this is the only way he can beat their aggrieved creditors in court. Pheidippides however will not be persuaded and Strepsiades decides to enroll himself in The Thinkery in spite of his advanced age.
There he meets a student who tells him about some of the recent discoveries made by Socrates, the head of The Thinkery, including a new unit of measurement for ascertaining the distance jumped by a flea (a flea's foot, created from a minuscule imprint in wax), the exact cause of the buzzing noise made by a gnat (its rear end resembles a trumpet) and a new use for a large pair of compasses (as a kind of fishing-hook for stealing cloaks from pegs over the gymnasium wall). Impressed, Strepsiades begs to be introduced to the man behind these discoveries. The wish is soon granted: Socrates appears overhead, wafted in a basket at the end of a rope, the better to observe the Sun and other meteorological phenomena. The philosopher descends and quickly begins the induction ceremony for the new elderly student, the highlight of which is a parade of the Clouds, the patron goddesses of thinkers and other layabouts. The Clouds arrive singing majestically of the regions whence they arose and of the land they have now come to visit, loveliest in all being Greece. Introduced to them as a new devotee, Strepsiades begs them to make him the best orator in Greece by a hundred miles. They reply with the promise of a brilliant future. Socrates leads him into the dingy Thinkery for his first lesson and The Clouds step forward to address the audience.
Putting aside their cloud-like costumes, The Chorus declares that this is the author's cleverest play and that it cost him the greatest effort. It reproaches the audience for the play's failure at the festival, where it was beaten by the works of inferior authors, and it praises the author for originality and for his courage in lampooning influential politicians such as Cleon. The Chorus then resumes its appearance as clouds, promising divine favours if the audience punishes Cleon for corruption and rebuking Athenians for messing about with the calendar, since this has put Athens out of step with the moon.
Socrates returns to the stage in a huff, protesting against the ineptitude of his new elderly student. He summons Strepsiades outside and attempts further lessons, including a form of meditative incubation in which the old man lies under a blanket while thoughts are supposed to arise in his mind naturally. The incubation results in Strepsiades masturbating under the blanket and finally Socrates refuses to have anything more to do with him. The Clouds advise him to find someone younger to do the learning for him. His son, Pheidippides, subsequently yields to threats by Strepsiades and reluctantly returns with him to the Thinkery, where they encounter the personified arguments Superior (Right) and Inferior (Wrong), associates of Socrates. Superior Argument and Inferior Argument debate with each other over which of them can offer the best education. Superior Argument sides with Justice and the gods, offering to prepare Pheidippides for an earnest life of discipline, typical of men who respect the old ways; Inferior Argument, denying the existence of Justice, offers to prepare him for a life of ease and pleasure, typical of men who know how to talk their way out of trouble. At the end of the debate, a quick survey of the audience reveals that buggers – people schooled by Inferior Arguments – have got into the most powerful positions in Athens. Superior Argument accepts his inevitable defeat, Inferior Argument leads Pheidippides into the Thinkery for a life-changing education and Strepsiades goes home happy. The Clouds step forward to address the audience a second time, demanding to be awarded first place in the festival competition, in return for which they promise good rains – otherwise they'll destroy crops, smash roofs and spoil weddings.
The story resumes with Strepsiades returning to The Thinkery to fetch his son. A new Pheidippides emerges, startlingly transformed into the pale nerd and intellectual man that he had once feared to become. Rejoicing in the prospect of talking their way out of financial trouble, Strepsiades leads the youth home for celebrations, just moments before the first of their aggrieved creditors arrives with a witness to summon him to court. Strepsiades comes back on stage, confronts the creditor and dismisses him contemptuously. A second creditor arrives and receives the same treatment before Strepsiades returns indoors to continue the celebrations. The Clouds sing ominously of a looming debacle and Strepsiades again comes back on stage, now in distress, complaining of a beating that his new son has just given him in a dispute over the celebrations. Pheidippides emerges coolly and insolently debates with his father a father's right to beat his son and a son's right to beat his father. He ends by threatening to beat his mother also, whereupon Strepsiades flies into a rage against The Thinkery, blaming Socrates for his latest troubles. He leads his slaves, armed with torches and mattocks, in a frenzied attack on the disreputable school. The alarmed students are pursued offstage and the Chorus, with nothing to celebrate, quietly departs.
The Clouds represents a departure from the main themes of Aristophanes' early plays – Athenian politics, the Peloponnesian War and the need for peace with Sparta. The Spartans had recently stopped their annual invasions of Attica after the Athenians had taken Spartan hostages in the Battle of Sphacteria in 425 and this, coupled with a defeat suffered by the Athenians at the Battle of Delium in 424, had provided the right conditions for a truce. Thus the original production of The Clouds in 423 BC came at a time when Athens was looking forward to a period of peace. Cleon, the populist leader of the pro-war faction in Athens, was a target in all Aristophanes' early plays and his attempts to prosecute Aristophanes for slander in 426 had merely added fuel to the fire. Aristophanes however had singled Cleon out for special treatment in his previous play The Knights in 424 and there are relatively few references to him in The Clouds.
Freed from political and war-time issues, Aristophanes focuses in The Clouds on a broader issue that underlies many conflicts depicted in his plays – the issue of Old versus New, or the battle of ideas. The scientific speculations of Ionian thinkers such as Thales in the sixth century were becoming commonplace knowledge in Aristophanes' time and this had led, for instance, to a growing belief that civilized society was not a gift from the gods but rather had developed gradually from primitive man's animal-like existence. Around the time that The Clouds was produced, Democritus at Abdera was developing an atomistic theory of the cosmos and Hippocrates at Cos was establishing an empirical and science-like approach to medicine. Anaxagoras, whose works were studied by Socrates, was living in Athens when Aristophanes was a youth. Anaxagoras enjoyed the patronage of influential figures such as Pericles, but oligarchic elements also had political advocates and Anaxagoras was charged with impiety and expelled from Athens around 437 BC.
The battle of ideas had led to some unlikely friendships that cut across personal and class differences, such as between the socially alert Pericles and the unworldly Anaxagoras, and between the handsome aristocrat, Alcibiades, and the ugly plebeian, Socrates. Socrates moreover had distinguished himself from the crowd by his heroism in the retreat from the Battle of Delium and this might have further singled him out for ridicule among his comrades. He was forty-five years old and in good physical shape when The Clouds was produced yet he had a face that lent itself easily to caricature by mask-makers, possibly a contributing reason for the frequent characterization of him by comic poets. In fact one of the plays that defeated The Clouds in 423 was called Connus, written by Ameipsias, and it too lampooned Socrates. There is a famous story, as reported for example by Aelian, according to which Socrates cheerfully rose from his seat during the performance of The Clouds and stood in silent answer to the whispers among foreigners in the festival audience: "Who is Socrates?"
Places and people
At one point in The Clouds, the Chorus declares that the author chose Athens for the first performance of the play, implying that he could have produced it somewhere else (line 523). In fact, the Chorus is joking; tragic poets sometimes produced their plays in other cities (Euripides' play Andromache for example was possibly performed in Argos just before The Clouds appeared at the City Dionysia) yet comic poets in Aristophanes' time wrote specifically for local audiences and their plays were studded with topical jokes that only a local audience could understand. The following places and personalities are mentioned in The Clouds and they are explained and listed in various editions of the play.
- Cicynna (or Kikynna): A deme belonging to the tribe Acamantis. It is Strepsiades' deme (line 134) and he looks for it incredulously on a map in The Thinkery (210).
- Sphettus: Another deme belonging to the Acamantis tribe. It is said to be the deme of Chaerephon (line 156) and it is mentioned also in Wealth II
- Pylos: A locale associated with the Battle of Sphacteria, in which Athenians captured many Spartan hoplites. The students of The Thinkery resemble the Spartan captives (line 186). Pylos is frequently mentioned in other plays.
- Attica: The country around Athens. It appears on a map in The Thinkery (line 209) and it is home to the Attic look – the arch look of a trouble-maker who pretends to be the victim (1176). Attica is rarely mentioned by name in the surviving plays.
- Euboia: A long island adjacent to Attica. It had revolted from Athenian control in 446 BC and it had been 'laid out' (flattened as in a map) by an Athenian army that included Strepsiades (line 211). The island is mentioned also in The Wasps.
- Byzantium: A Greek colony that used iron coinage. It is mentioned only because of a pun on 'nomisma'/'nomos' – currency/custom (line 249). It is mentioned again in The Wasps.
- Nile, Maiotis, Mimas: A river, marsh and mountain respectively. They are mentioned by Socrates as the kind of places from which the Clouds might set out for Athens (lines 272–3). The Nile is mentioned again in Thesmophoriazusae.
- Parnes: A mountain north of Athens. Socrates instructs Strepsiades to look towards the mountain for the arriving clouds (line 323) but in fact the mountain cannot be seen from the Theatre of Dionysus.
- Thurioi: A colony founded by Athens between 446–443 BC. Its foundation had inspired numerous oracle-mongers and these are included among the clients of the Clouds (line 332).
- Sounion: A promontory associated with the cult of Poseidon. It is sometimes struck by thunderbolts and this is proof that the cosmos are governed by material causes (line 401). Sounion is mentioned in two other plays.
- The cave of Trophonius: The site of a terrifying Boeotian cult to the hero Trophonius. Strepsiades dreads entering The Thinkery just as if it were this cave (line 508)
- Cynthia or Mount Cynthus: A rocky height on Delos associated with the cult of Apollo. It is mentioned by the Clouds in an invocation to Apollo (line 596).
- Ephesus: The site of a cult of Artemis (Diana of the Ephesians) whose devotees included Lydians. Ephesus and the Lydians are mentioned by the Clouds in an invocation to Artemis (line 598).
- Parnassus: A mountain associated with the cult of Dionysus (as practised by the Maenads) overlooking Delphi, one of the most sacred sites in ancient Greece. It is mentioned by the Clouds in an invocation to Dionysus (line 603). The mountain is mentioned also in The Frogs and there are references to the town and people of Delphi in The Wasps and The Birds.
- Thessaly: A region whose women were popularly associated with witchcraft. Strepsiades thinks of buying a Thessalian slave who could postpone the monthly settlement of accounts by bewitching the moon for him (line 749). Thessaly is mentioned in three other plays.
- Marathon: The site of Athens' historic victory against the Persians. The generation of Athenians responsible for that victory were men educated in the Superior way (line 986). There are patriotic mentions of Marathon in several plays.
- Academy: The site of a public park and gymnasium just outside Athens (later famous as the site of Plato's school). A student trained in the Superior way would exercise there among the sacred olives (line 1005).
- Baths of Heracles: Natural springs of warm water were named after Heracles, who had received them as a gift from Hephaestus. They are mentioned by Inferior as proof that men who indulge in such luxuries are manly (line 1051).
- Egypt: A land notoriously subject to unseasonable annual flooding by the Nile. According to the Clouds, any judge who fails to award victory to this play might wish to have been born in Egypt after they've finished with him (line 1130). Egypt is a curiosity referred to in several plays.
Foreigners and foreign influences
- Persians: A dominant force in Asia, they were popularly associated with despotism and with luxurious indolence. Thus women's shoes in Athens were known as 'Persian', contrary to men's shoes, which were known as Laconian. Socrates makes some Persian shoes for a flea in an effort to measure the length of a flea's foot (line 151). There are references to Persians and their influence in other plays.
- Thales: A 6th-century Ionian philosopher from Miletus. He is a mere nobody compared to Socrates (line 180). His name appears also in The Birds.
- Prodicus: A contemporary sophist and natural philosopher from Ceos but resident in Athens. The Clouds respect him for his wisdom (line 361). He is mentioned also in The Birds.
- Herodotus: A contemporary historian from Halicarnassus famous for his exotic accounts of various nations and their customs, which many Athenians found hilarious. A word used to denote a very old-fashioned individual (bekkeselene!, line 398) might have been an allusion by Aristophanes to Herodotus' account of an experiment by the Egyptian Pharaoh to determine humanity's original language, which Pharaoh concluded to be Phrygian on the grounds that the Phrygian word for bread (bekkos) was the first word spoken by some infants who had never been taught to speak. There are also comic allusions to Herodotus in The Acharnians.
- Corinthians: Allies of the Spartans and ancient rivals of the Athenians in trade. A half pun identifies them with bugs (coreis) when Strepsiades complains that he has been bitten by Corinthians (line 710). There are many references in the other plays to Corinth and its citizens.
- Diagoras: A free-thinker from Melos and a resident of Athens, popularly believed to be an atheist. The Melian is used as an epithet for Socrates (line 830) apparently on the grounds that he is an atheist like Diagoras. Diagoras is mentioned in two other plays.
Religious, historic and mythical identities
- Coisura: A mostly legendary figure and a byword for luxury. Strepsiades regards her as a symbol of his own wife (lines 48, 800). Coisura is mentioned earlier in The Acharnians.
- Colias: An epithet of Aphrodite, who had a sanctuary of that name at Anaphlystus, on the coast near Sounion. Strepsiades compares his wife to Colias and to the Genetullidae, women's goddesses who shared the Anaphlystus sanctuary (line 52). Colias and the Genetullidae are mentioned also in Lysistrata and the latter once more in Thesmophoriazusae.
- Athamas: A legendary king of Boeotia and the subject of two plays by Sophocles, in one of which he is depicted as a sacrificial victim at the altar of Zeus. Strepsiades fears that his induction into The Thinkery will turn him into another Athamas (line 257).
- Cecrops: A legendary king of Athens. He is mentioned by the Clouds as they arrive in Athens (line 301) and there are references to him in the other plays.
- Typhoeus: A hundred-headed giant. Strepsiades mentions him when describing clouds in exaggerated terms loosely borrowed from dithyrambic poets (line 336). There is another mention in The Knights.
- Eleusinian Mysteries: An Athenian cult of Demeter with secret rites promising eternal life to initiates. The Clouds refer to the mysteries without naming them (lines 302-4).
- Panathenaia: A yearly festival celebrating Athena's birth. Strepsiades compares the noise of thunder to the sound made in his stomach by festival soup (line 386) and Superior objects to feeble performances of the Pyrrhic dance that he has witnessed at the festival lately (988). The Panathenaia is mentioned by name in two other plays.
- Kronia: A humble festival leading up to the Panathenaia. Socrates accuses Strepsiades of smelling of this festival i.e. being old-fashioned (line 398).
- Diasia: A winter festival. Strepsiades was barbecuing meat for relatives at this festival when a bladder exploded like lightning (line 408) and he once bought a toy cart for Pheidippides during the festivities (864).
- Electra: A mythical figure spurned by her own mother. This play resembles her i.e. it was spurned by the original audience (line 534).
- Memnon and Sarpedon: Mythical heroes. Their deaths are mourned by the gods on days that are marked for festivals by the revised Athenian calendar (line 622). Memnon is mentioned again in The Frogs.
- Telephus: A legendary Mysian king and the subject of a controversial play by Euripides in which he appeared as a beggar. Superior compares Inferior to a beggar-like Telephus (line 922). Aristophanes lampoons the Euripidean play in The Acharnians and Thesmophoriazusae. Telephus is mentioned also in The Frogs.
- Dipolieia: A sober festival in honour of Zeus Polieus featuring a sacrificial rite called Bouphonia. Inferior accuses Superior of resembling this festival and of being full of Bouphonia i.e. he is old fashioned (lines 984–5). The Dipolieia is mentioned also in Peace.
- Tritogeneia: An epithet for Athena. Superior considers a poor performance of the pyrrhic dance to be an insult to Tritogeneia (line 989). The epithet is used also in Knights and Lysistrata.
- Iapetus: A Titan and brother of Cronos. Young men sometimes use his name as an epithet for their fathers i.e. their fathers are old-fashioned (line 998).
- Peleus: A mythical hero who was banished to the wilderness after being falsely accused of adultery and who was given a knife by Hephaestus as protection from wild beasts. Superior cites the gift of the knife as an example of the rewards that come with virtue (lines 1063). Superior also mentions his subsequent marriage to Thetis as another reward for virtue (1067). Peleus is mentioned again in The Frogs.
- Solon: A lawgiver often credited with establishing Athenian democracy. The educated Pheidippides demonstrates how Solon's intentions can be interpreted so as to subvert his laws (line 1187). Solon is also named in The Birds.
- Protenthai: Officials responsible for preparing food for the Apaturia festivals. They are suspected of sampling the food (line 1198).
- Megacles: An illustrious name denoting various aristocrats in Athenian history. Strepsiades' aristocratic wife can number more than one Megacles in her family tree (lines 46, 70, 124, 815).
- Chaerephon: A loyal friend and disciple of Socrates, well known for his pallor. He is mentioned by name several times within the play (lines 144, 156, 503, 831, 1465) and some editors include him as a character at the end of the play – a speaking role otherwise denoted in the dramatis personae as 'student'. He is referred to also in The Wasps and The Birds.
- Leogoras: A wealthy aristocrat, father of the orator Andocides and related by marriage to Pericles. He bred pheasants (or horses) that Pheidippides wouldn't trade his self-respect for (line 109). He is named also in The Wasps.
- Pericles: The dominant politician in pre-war Athens who once famously bribed a Spartan general to avoid battle and subsequently accounted for the bribe as "lost according to need". Strepsiades recalls how Pericles flattened Boeotia (line 213) and he accounts for the theft of his shoes at The Thinkery in Periclean terms as "lost according to need" (859). Pericles is mentioned in three other plays.
- Hieronymus, son of Xenophantus: A notoriously hairy guy. The Clouds imitate him when they seem to resemble centaurs (line 349). His long hair made him appear invisible in an earlier play The Acharnians.
- Simon: He was well known to his contemporaries as a thief of public money and a perjuror (lines 351, 399), otherwise obscure.
- Cleonymus: A conspicuous figure in Athens, he had recently lost his shield in the retreat from Delium. The Clouds imitate him when they seem to resemble timid deer (line 353), he is a perjurer (400) and his name should be declined like a feminine noun (673–80). He is frequently the target of jokes.
- Cleisthenes: A notoriously effete man. The Clouds imitate him when they seem to resemble women (line 355). He appears as a character in The Acharnians and Thesmophoriazusae and he is also mentioned in other plays.
- Theorus: An associate of Cleon. He is another man who should be struck by thunderbolts for perjury (line 400). He is named in another three plays.
- Cleon: The populist leader of the pro-war faction. He was at the height of his power when Aristophanes attacked him in his plays (line 549), meteorological omens had warned Athens not to trust him and the gods will favour Athens once more after he is punished for corruption (581–91). He was the antagonist in The Knights, where he was represented as a Paphlagonian slave, and he is often mentioned in other early plays.
- Hyperbolus: A colleague of Cleon and eventually his successor as populist leader of Athens. He and his mother are an easy target for inferior dramatists (lines 551–58), the wind blew off his chaplet when he represented Athens at the Amphictyonic League, he paid a fortune to learn how to speak properly (876) and he made much more than that through wickedness (1065). He is ridiculed in other plays also.
- Sostrate: A common female name used here only to demonstrate the comic potential of a rational approach to grammar (line 678). The name occurs in other plays.
- Philoxenus, Amynias, Melesias: Athenians whose manhood was open to question. Traditional grammar does not always identify the gender of such names and this might be appropriate in their case (line 686). Philoxenus was notoriously effete and he is mentioned again in Wasps. Amynias became a general in the year that The Clouds was performed and comic poets at about this time lampooned him for his effeminacy, pretensions and financial problems. He too is mentioned again in The Wasps.
- Pandeletus: Unknown individual, possibly a politician and a sycophant. According to Superior, Inferior feeds on scraps belonging to Pandeletus.
- Hippocrates: Probably the general reported by Thucydides to have died in the Battle of Delium, his sons are mocked in comedy as simpletons. According to Inferior, any student of Superior ends up resembling the sons of Hippocrates (line 1001).
- Antimachus: A man of this name had been Aristophanes' choregus in 427–6 BC and he was mocked in The Acharnians for a lack of generosity. According to Superior, students of Inferior turn out to be buggers like Antimachus (line 1022).
- Eupolis: A major comic poet and a rival of Aristophanes. The Chorus accuses him of stealing material for his play Maricas from Aristophanes' The Knights and from Phrynichus' Andromeda (lines 553–6). Phrynichus, the comic poet, is mentioned again in The Frogs. Eupolis in fact produced Maricas in 421 BC, two years after The Clouds was produced (see The Clouds and Old Comedy).
- Hermippus: Another comic poet, victorious at the City Dionysia in 436. His play The Breadsellers is typical of the works of inferior poets who attack easy targets (line 557).
- Stesichorus: A renowned poet from Sicily. He is not mentioned in this play but he is possibly the author of a quoted description of Athena as a sacker of cities (line 967). He is later quoted in Peace.
- Phrynis: A Mytilenean citharode who won a prize at the Panathenaea in 456 BC. He is condemned by Superior as a corruptor of music (line 971).
- Ceceides: A dithyrambic poet. According to Inferior, he is typical of Superior's old-fashioned tastes (line 985).
- Homer: The great bard. He denoted the wise counsellor, Nestor, as agoretes (Iliad i.248 and iv.293). According to Inferior, this is proof that it is alright to loiter in the agora (line 1056) though in fact it merely demonstrates a change in the word's significance. Homer is named in three other plays.
- Euripides: A renowned tragic poet and a controversial figure in his own time. Laments from one of his plays  are parodied by Strepsiades (lines 718–9 and 1165–6). Pheidippides considers him the cleverest of poets (1377), he particularly enjoys his depiction of incest in Aiolus and he quotes from Alcestis in defense of his right to beat his father (1415). Euripides is frequently the butt of jokes in Aristophanes' plays and he appears as a ludicrous character in The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae and The Frogs.
- Carcinus: A naval commander in 431 BC and a tragic poet. One of his sons, Xenocles, was also a tragic poet, good enough to defeat Euripides at the City Dionysia in 415. Strepsiades imagines he can hear a lament from one of Carcinus' daemons (line 1261) though it is unclear if this refers to a character from one of Carcinus' plays or if it refers to Xenocles in tragic mode. Lines from one of their plays are subsequently parodied in the lament of the second creditor (lines 1264–5). Carcinus' sons appeared as dancers in The Wasps and their dancing skills were subsequently mocked in Peace.
- Simonides: A renowned poet. Strepsiades asked Pheidippides to recite verses from his poem The Ram (line 1356) but Pheidipiides dislikes his poetry (1362). Simonides is mentioned also in Peace and The Birds.
- Aeschylus: A renowned tragic poet. Strepsiades likes his poetry but Pheidippides thinks it is full of smoke (line 1366). Aeschylus is a character in The Frogs and he is mentioned in other plays.
Plato appears to have considered The Clouds a contributing factor in Socrates' trial and execution in 399 BC. There is some support for his opinion even in the modern age. Aristophanes' plays however were generally unsuccessful in shaping public attitudes on important questions, as evidenced by their ineffectual opposition to the Peloponnesian War, demonstrated in the play Lysistrata, and to populists such as Cleon. Moreover, the trial of Socrates followed Athens' traumatic defeat by Sparta, many years after the performance of the play, when suspicions about the philosopher were fuelled by public animosity towards his disgraced associates such as Alcibiades.
Socrates is presented in The Clouds as a petty thief, a fraud and a sophist with a specious interest in physical speculations. However, it is still possible to recognize in him the distinctive individual defined in Plato's dialogues. The practice of ascetism (as for example idealized by the Chorus in lines 412–19), disciplined, introverted thinking (as described by the Chorus in lines 700–6) and conversational dialectic (as described by Socrates in lines 489–90) appear to be caricatures of Socratic behaviours later described more sympathetically by Plato. The Aristophanic Socrates is much more interested in physical speculations than is Plato's Socrates, yet it is possible that the real Socrates did take a strong interest in such speculations during his development as a philosopher and there is some support for this in Plato's dialogue Phaedo 96A.
It has been argued that Aristophanes caricatured a 'pre-Socratic' Socrates and that the philosopher depicted by Plato was a more mature thinker who had been influenced by such criticism. Conversely, it is possible that Aristophanes' caricature of the philosopher merely reflects his own ignorance of philosophy. According to yet another view, The Clouds can best be understood in relation to Plato's works, as evidence of a historic rivalry between poetic and philosophical modes of thought.
The Clouds and Old Comedy
During the parabasis proper (518–62), the Chorus reveals that the original play was badly received when it was produced. References in the same parabasis to a play by Eupolis called Maricas produced in 421 BC and criticism of the populist politician Hyperbolus who was ostracized in 416 indicate that the second version of The Clouds was probably composed somewhere between 421–16 BC. The parabasis also includes an appeal to the audience to prosecute Cleon for corruption. Since Cleon died in 422 it can be assumed that this appeal was retained from the original production in 423 and thus the extant play must be a partial revision of the original play.
The revised play is an incomplete form of Old Comedy. Old Comedy conventionally limits the number of actors to three or four, yet there are already three actors on stage when Superior and Inferior enter the action and there is no song at that point that would allow for a change of costume. The play is unusually serious for an Old Comedy and possibly this was the reason why the original play failed at the City Dionysia. As a result of this seriousness, there is no celebratory song in the exodus, and this also is an uncharacteristic omission. A typical Aristophanic Chorus, even if it starts out as hostile to the protagonist, is the protagonist's cheer squad by the end of the play. In The Clouds however, the Chorus appears sympathetic at first but emerges as a virtual antagonist by the end of the play.
The play adapts the following elements Old Comedy in a variety of novel ways.
- Parodos: The arrival of the Chorus in this play is unusual in that the singing begins offstage some time before the Chorus appears. It is possible that the concealed Chorus was not fully audible to the audience and this might have been a factor in the original play's failure. Moreover, the majestic opening song is more typical of tragedy than comedy.
- Parabasis: The parabasis proper (lines 518–62) is composed in eupolidean tetrameter rather than the conventional anapestic tetrameter. Aristophanes does not use eupolideans in any other of his extant plays. The first parabasis (510–626) is otherwise conventional. However the second parabasis (1113–30) is in a shortened form, comprising an epirrhema in trochaic tetrameter but without the songs and the antepirrhema needed for a conventional, symmetrical scene.
- Agon: The play has two agons. The first is between Superior and Inferior (949–1104). Superior's arguments are in conventional anapestic tetrameter but Inferior presents his case in iambic tetrameters, a variation that Aristophanes reserves for arguments that are not to be taken seriously. A similar distinction between anapestic and iambic arguments is made in the agons in The Knights and The Frogs. The second agon in The Clouds is between Strepsiades and his son (1345–1451) and it is in iambic tetrameter for both speakers.
- Episodes: Informal dialogue between characters is conventionally in iambic trimeter. However the scene introducing Superior and Inferior is conducted in short lines of anapestic rhythm (889–948). Later, in the agon between Strepsiades and his son, a line of dialogue in iambic trimeter (1415) – adapted from Euripides' Alcestis – is inserted into a speech in iambic tetrameter, a transition that seems uncharacteristically clumsy.
- Benjamin Dann Walsh, The Comedies of Aristophanes, vol. 1, 1837. 3 vols. English metre.
- William James Hickie, 1853 – prose: full text
- Benjamin B. Rogers, 1924 – verse
- Arthur S. Way, 1934 – verse
- F. L. Lucas, 1954 – verse
- Robert Henning Webb, 1960 – verse
- William Arrowsmith, 1962 – prose and verse
- Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West, 1984 – prose
- Peter Meineck, 1998 – prose
- Charles Connaghan (prose), John Curtis Franklin (metrical translation of choral lyrics), 2000 
- Ian Johnston, 2003 – verse
- Edward Tomlinson, Simon R. B. Andrews and Alexandra Outhwaite, 2007 – prose and verse (for Kaloi k'Agathoi)
- George Theodoridis, 2007 – prose: full text
- Michael A. Tueller, 2011 – prose
- Andrew David Irvine, 2007 – prose, Socrates on Trial: A play based on Aristophanes' Clouds and Plato's Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, adapted for modern performance
- The Oxford University Dramatic Society staged it in the original Greek in 1905, with C.W.Mercer as Strepsiades and Compton Mackenzie as Pheidippides.
- Nottingham New Theatre staged an adaptation of the play from 17–20 March 2009. It was directed by Michael Moore; with Alexander MacGillivray as Strepsiades, Lucy Preston as Pheidippides and Topher Collins as Socrates.
- Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds Alan Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, page 37
- Clouds (1970), page XXIX
- Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Somerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, page 107
- Rhetoric, Comedy and the Violence of Language in Aristophanes' Clouds Daphne O'Regan, Oxford University Press US 1992, page 6
- Aristophanes:Old-and-new Comedy – Six essays in perspective Kenneth.J.Reckford, UNC Press 1987, page 393
- The Apology translated by Benjamin Jowett, section4
- Apology, Greek text, edited J Burnet, section 19c
- Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, pages 16–17
- Early Greek Philosophy Martin West, in 'Oxford History of the Classical World', J.Boardman, J.Griffin and O.Murray (eds), Oxford University Press 1986, page 121
- Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, pages 108
- Clouds (1970), page XVIII
- Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 31
- Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, Clouds A. Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1975, page 16
- Clouds (1970), page XIX
- Clouds (1970), pages 119–20 note 523
- Clouds (1970)
- Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973
- Aristophanis Comoediae Tomus II F.Hall and W.Geldart, Index Nominum
- Wealth II 720
- Knights 55, 76, 355, 702, 742, 846, 1005, 1058, 1167, 1172, 1201; Peace 219, 665; Lysistrata 104, 1163
- Knights 582; Wasps 1076; Birds 1704; Thesmophoriazusae 1192
- Wasps 715
- Wasps 236
- Thesmophoriazusae 855
- Knights 560; Birds 868
- Frogs 1057, 1212
- Wasps 159, 1446; Birds 618, 716
- Wasps 1247, 1274; Lysistrata 1152; Plutus 522
- Acharnians 181, 697, 698; Knights 781, 1334; Wasps 711; Birds 246; Thesmophoriazusae 806; Frogs 1296
- Peace 1253; Birds 504, 1133; Thesmophoriazusae 856, 878; Frogs 1206, 1406; Wealth II 178
- Birds 485, 707, 1030; Thesmophoriazusae 734, 1175; Lysistrata 229, 1261; Ecclesiazusae 319
- The Birds 1009
- The Birds 692
- Histories ii.2
- Knights 604,608; Birds 968, 969; Lysistrata 91; Thesmophoriazusae 404, 648; Frogs 443; Ecclesiazousae 199, 828; Wealth II 149, 173, 303
- Birds 1073; Frogs 320
- Acharnians 614
- Lysistrata 2
- Thesmophoriazusae 130
- Knights 1055; Wasps 438; Birds 1407; Wealth II 773
- The Knights 511
- Peace 418; Frogs 1090
- Frogs 963
- Frogs 855, 864
- Peace 420
- Knights 1189; Lysistrata 347
- Frogs 863
- Birds 1660
- Wasps 1408, 1412; Birds 1296, 1564
- Wasps 1269
- Knights 283; Peace 606; Lysistrata 530
- Acharnians 386
- Acharnians 88, 844; Knights 958, 1294, 1372; Wasps 19, 20, 822; Peace 446, 673, 675, 1295; Birds 289, 290, 1475; Thesmophoriazusae 605
- Knights 1374; Wasps 1187; Birds 831; Lysistrata 621, 1092; Frogs 48, 57, 426
- Acharnians 134, 155; Knights 608; Wasps 42, 47, 418, 599, 1220, 1236
- Acharnians 6, 300, 377, 502, 659; Wasps 62, 197, 242, 409, 596, 759, 1220, 1224, 1237, 1285; Peace 47, 270, 313, 648; Frogs 569, 577
- Acharnians 846; Knights 1304, 1363; Wasps 1007; Peace 681, 921, 1319; Thesmophoriazusae 840; Frogs 570
- Wasps 1397; Thesmophoriazusae 375; Ecclesiazusae 41
- Wasps line 84
- Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1971, page 139 note 74
- The Wasps 74, 466, 1267
- Thucydides iv 66.1, 101.2
- Acharnians 1150
- Frogs 13
- Peace 798, 800
- Peace 1089, 1096; Birds 575, 910, 914; Frogs 1034
- Hecuba line 159 and 171
- Alcestis 691
- Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell, Oxford University Press 1971, pages 326–7 note 1501
- Peace 697–8; Birds 919
- Acharnians 10; Birds 807; Lysistrata 188; Thesmophoriazusae 134
- Aristophanes:Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds A.Sommerstein, Penguin Classics 1973, page 109
- Clouds (1970), pages XIV–XV
- Postmodern Platos Catherine H.Zuckert, University of Chicago Press 1996, page 135
- The Socratic Movement Paul Vander Waerdt, Cornell University Press 1994, page 74
- Clouds (1970), pages XXII
- Postmodern Platos Catherine H.Zuckert, University of Chicago Press 1996, page 133, commenting on Socrates and Aristophanes by Leo Strauss, University of Chicago Press 1994
- Clouds (1970), pages XXVIII–XXIX
- Clouds (1970), page 99 note 275–90
- Clouds (1970), page XXVIII
- Clouds (1970), page 119 note 518–62
- Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell (ed.), Oxford University Press 1971, page 207 note 546–630
- Knights 756–940
- Frogs 895–1098
- Aristophanes:Wasps D.MacDowell (ed.), Oxford University Press 1971, page 187 note 1415
- Times review March 2nd 1905
- Dover, K.J. (1970). Aristophanes: Clouds. Oxford University Press.
- Pierre Brulé, "Les Nuées et le problème de l'incroyance au Ve siècle", in Pierre Brulé (ed.), La norme en matière religieuse en Grèce ancienne. Actes du XIIe colloque international du CIERGA (Rennes, septembre 2007) (Liège, 2009) (Kernos Supplément, 21), 49–67.
- Irvine, Andrew David (2008). Socrates on Trial: A play based on Aristophanes' Clouds and Plato's Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, adapted for modern performance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-9783-5 (cloth); ISBN 978-0-8020-9538-1 (paper)
- Works related to The Clouds at Wikisource
- The Clouds translated by William James Hickie' at Project Gutenberg
- The Clouds translated by Ian Johnston
- The Clouds: A Study Guide
- John Curtis Franklin – Aristophanes Clouds Essay
- On Satire in Aristophanes's The Clouds has a very good analysis of The Clouds and on satire in general.(Includes full version of the text with commentaries)
- The Clouds public domain audiobook at LibriVox