In the background are two houses, that of Strepsiades and that of Socrates, the Thoughtery. The latter is small and dingy; the interior of the former is shown and two beds are seen, each occupied.
STREPSIADES sitting upGreat gods! will these nights never end? will daylight never come? I heard the cock crow long ago and my slaves are snoring still! Ah! Ah! It wasn't like this formerly. Curses on the war! has it not done me ills enough? Now I may not even chastise my own slaves. Again there's this brave lad, who never wakes the whole long night, but, wrapped in his five coverlets, farts away to his heart's content.He lies downCome! let me nestle in well and snore too, if it be possible....oh! misery, it's vain to think of sleep with all these expenses, this stable, these debts, which are devouring me, thanks to this fine cavalier, who only knows how to look after his long locks, to show himself off in his chariot and to dream of horses! And I, I am nearly dead, when I see the moon bringing the third decade in her train and my liability falling due....Slave! light the lamp and bring me my tablets.The slave obeys.Who are all my creditors? Let me see and reckon up the interest. What is it I owe?....Twelve minae to Pasias....What! twelve minae to Pasias?....Why did I borrow these? Ah! I know! It was to buy that thoroughbred, which cost me so much. How I should have prized the stone that had blinded him!
PHIDIPPIDES in his sleepThat's not fair, Philo! Drive your chariot straight, I say.
STREPSIADESThis is what is destroying me. He raves about horses, even in his sleep.
PHIDIPPIDES still sleepingHow many times round the track is the race for the chariots of war?
STREPSIADESIt's your own father you are driving to death....to ruin. Come! what debt comes next, after that of Pasias?....Three minae to Amynias for a chariot and its two wheels.
PHIDIPPIDES still asleepGive the horse a good roll in the dust and lead him home.
STREPSIADESAh! wretched boy! it's my money that you are making roll. My creditors have distrained on my goods, and here are others again, who demand security for their interest.
PHIDIPPIDES awakingWhat is the matter with you, father, that you groan and turn about the whole night through?
STREPSIADESI have a bum-bailiff in the bedclothes biting me.
PHIDIPPIDESFor pity's sake, let me have a little sleep.He turns over.
STREPSIADESVery well, sleep on! but remember that all these debts will fall back on your shoulders. Oh! curses on the go-between who made me marry your mother! I lived so happily in the country, a commonplace, everyday life, but a good and easy one-had not a trouble, not a care, was rich in bees, in sheep and in olives. Then indeed I had to marry the niece of Megacles, the son of Megacles; I belonged to the country, she was from the town; she was a haughty, extravagant woman, a true Coesyra. On the nuptial day, when I lay beside her, I was reeking of the dregs of the wine-cup, of cheese and of wool; she was redolent with essences, saffron, voluptuous kisses, the love of spending, of good cheer and of wanton delights. I will not say she did nothing; no, she worked hard...to ruin me, and pretending all the while merely to be showing her the cloak she had woven for me, I said, "Wife you go too fast about your work, your threads are too closely woven and you use far too much wool."A slave enters with a lamp.
SLAVEThere is no more oil in the lamp.
STREPSIADESWhy then did you light such a thirsty lamp? Come here, I am going to beat you.
STREPSIADESBecause you have put in too thick a wick....Later, when we had this boy, what was to be his name? It was the cause of much quarrelling with my loving wife. She insisted on having some reference to a horse in his name, that he should be called Xanthippus, Charippus or Callippides. I wanted to name him Phidonides after his grandfather. We disputed long, and finally agreed to style him Phidippides....She used to fondle and coax him, saying, "Oh! what a joy it will be to me when you have grown up, to see you, like my father, Megacles, clothed in purple and standing up straight in your chariot driving your steeds toward the town." And I would say to him, "When, like your father, you will go, dressed in a skin, to fetch back your goats from Phelleus." Alas! he never listened to me and his madness for horses has shattered my fortune.He gets out of bed.But by dint of thinking the livelong night, I have discovered a road to salvation, both miraculous and divine. If he will but follow it, I shall be out of my trouble! First, however, he must be awakened, but it must be done as gently as possible. How shall I manage it? Phidippides! my little Phidippides!
PHIDIPPIDES awaking againWhat is it, father?
STREPSIADESKiss me and give me your hand.
PHIDIPPIDES getting up and doing as his father requestsThere! What's it all about?
STREPSIADESTell me! do you love me?
PHIDIPPIDESBy Posidon, the equestrian Posidon! yes, I swear I do.
STREPSIADESOh, do not, I pray you, invoke this god of horses; he is the one who is the cause of all my cares. But if you really love me, and with your whole heart, my boy, believe me.
PHIDIPPIDESBelieve you? about what?
STREPSIADESAlter your habits forthwith and go and learn what I tell you.
PHIDIPPIDESSay on, what are your orders?
STREPSIADESWill you obey me ever so little?
PHIDIPPIDESBy Bacchus, I will obey you.
STREPSIADESVery well then! Look this way. Do you see that little door and that little house?
PHIDIPPIDESYes, father. But what are you driving at?
STREPSIADESThat is the Thoughtery of wise souls. There they prove that we are coals enclosed on all sides under a vast snuffer, which is the sky. If well paid, these men also teach one how to gain law-suits, whether they be just or not.
PHIDIPPIDESWhat do they call themselves?
STREPSIADESI do not know exactly, but they are deep thinkers and most admirable people.
PHIDIPPIDESBah! the wretches! I know them; you mean those quacks with pale faces, those barefoot fellows, such as that miserable Socrates and Chaerephon?
STREPSIADESSilence! say nothing foolish! If you desire your father not to die of hunger, join their company and let your horses go.
PHIDIPPIDESNo, by Bacchus! even though you gave me the pheasants that Leogoras raises.
STREPSIADESOh! my beloved son, I beseech you, go and follow their teachings.
PHIDIPPIDESAnd what is it I should learn?
STREPSIADESIt seems they have two courses of reasoning, the true and the false, and that, thanks to the false, the worst law-suits can be gained. If then you learn this science, which is false, I shall not have to pay an obolus of all the debts I have contracted on your account.
PHIDIPPIDESNo, I will not do it. I should no longer dare to look at our gallant horsemen, when I had so ruined my tan.
STREPSIADESWell then, by Demeter! I will no longer support you, neither you, nor your team, nor your saddle-horse. Go and hang yourself, I turn you out of house and home.
PHIDIPPIDESMy uncle Megacles will not leave me without horses; I shall go to him and laugh at your anger.He departs. STREPSIADES goes over to SOCRATES' house.
STREPSIADESOne rebuff shall not dishearten me. With the help of the gods I will enter the Thoughtery and learn myself.He hesitates.But at my age, memory has gone and the mind is slow to grasp things. How can all these fine distinctions, these subtleties be learned?Making up his mindBah! why should I dally thus instead of rapping at the door? Slave, slave!He knocks and calls.
A DISCIPLE from withinA plague on you! Who are you?
STREPSIADESStrepsiades, the son of Phido, of the deme of Cicynna.
DISCIPLE coming out of the doorYou are nothing but an ignorant and illiterate fellow to let fly at the door with such kicks. You have brought on a miscarriage-of an idea!
STREPSIADESPardon me, please; for I live far away from here in the country. But tell me, what was the idea that miscarried?
DISCIPLEI may not tell it to any but a disciple.
STREPSIADESThen tell me without fear, for I have come to study among you.
DISCIPLEVery well then, but reflect, that these are mysteries. Lately, a flea bit Chaerephon on the brow and then from there sprang on to the head of Socrates. Socrates asked Chaerephon, "How many times the length of its legs does a flea jump?"
STREPSIADESAnd how ever did he go about measuring it?
DISCIPLEOh! it was most ingenious! He melted some wax, seized the flea and dipped its two feet in the wax, which, when cooled, left them shod with true Persian slippers. These he took off and with them measured the distance.
STREPSIADESAh! great Zeus! what a brain! what subtlety!
DISCIPLEI wonder what then would you say, if you knew another of Socrates' contrivances?
STREPSIADESWhat is it? Pray tell me.
DISCIPLEChaerephon of the deme of Sphettia asked him whether he thought a gnat buzzed through its proboscis or through its anus.
STREPSIADESAnd what did he say about the gnat?
DISCIPLEHe said that the gut of the gnat was narrow, and that, in passing through this tiny passage, the air is driven with force towards the breech; then after this slender channel, it encountered the rump, which was distended like a trumpet, and there it resounded sonorously.
STREPSIADESSo the arse of a gnat is a trumpet. Oh! what a splendid arsevation! Thrice happy Socrates! It would not be difficult to succeed in a law-suit, knowing so much about a gnat's guts!
DISCIPLENot long ago a lizard caused him the loss of a sublime thought.
STREPSIADESIn what way, please?
DISCIPLEOne night, when he was studying the course of the moon and its revolutions and was gazing open-mouthed at the heavens, a lizard crapped upon him from the top of the roof.
STREPSIADESA lizard crapping on Socrates! That's rich!
DISCIPLELast night we had nothing to eat.
STREPSIADESWell, what did he contrive, to secure you some supper?
DISCIPLEHe spread over the table a light layer of cinders, bending an iron rod the while; then he took up a pair of compasses and at the same moment unhooked a piece of the victim which was hanging in the palaestra.
STREPSIADESAnd we still dare to admire Thales! Open, open this home of knowledge to me quickly! Haste, haste to show me Socrates; I long to become his disciple. But do please open the door.The door opens, revealing the interior of the Thoughtery, in which the DISCIPLES OF SOCRATES are seen in various postures of meditation and study; they are pale and emaciated creatures.Ah! by Heracles! what country are those animals from?
DISCIPLEWhy, what are you astonished at? What do you think they resemble?
STREPSIADESThe captives of Pylos. But why do they look so fixedly on the ground?
DISCIPLEThey are seeking for what is below the ground.
STREPSIADESAh! they're looking for onions. Do not give yourselves so much trouble; I know where there are some, fine big ones. But what are those fellows doing, bent all double?
DISCIPLEThey are sounding the abysses of Tartarus.
STREPSIADESAnd what are their arses looking at in the heavens?
DISCIPLEThey are studying astronomy on their own account. But come in so that the master may not find us here.
STREPSIADESNot yet; not yet; let them not change their position. I want to tell them my own little matter.
DISCIPLEBut they may not stay too long in the open air and away from school.
STREPSIADES pointing to a celestial globeIn the name of all the gods, what is that? Tell me.
DISCIPLEThat is astronomy.
STREPSIADES pointing to a mapAnd that?
STREPSIADESWhat is that used for?
DISCIPLETo measure the land.
STREPSIADESBut that is apportioned by lot.
DISCIPLENo, no, I mean the entire earth.
STREPSIADESAh! what a funny thing! How generally useful indeed is this invention!
DISCIPLEThere is the whole surface of the earth. Look! Here is Athens.
STREPSIADESAthens! you are mistaken; I see no courts in session.
DISCIPLENevertheless it is really and truly the Attic territory.
STREPSIADESAnd where are my neighbours of Cicynna?
DISCIPLEThey live here. This is Euboea; you see this island, that is so long and narrow.
STREPSIADESI know. Because we and Pericles have stretched it by dint of squeezing it. And where is Lacedaemon?
DISCIPLELacedaemon? Why, here it is, look.
STREPSIADESHow near it is to us! Think it well over, it must be removed to a greater distance.
DISCIPLEBut, by Zeus, that is not possible.
STREPSIADESThen, woe to you! and who is this man suspended up in a basket?
STREPSIADESSocrates! Oh! I pray you, call him right loudly for me.
DISCIPLECall him yourself; I have no time to waste.He departs. The machine swings in SOCRATES in a basket.
STREPSIADESSocrates! my little Socrates!
SOCRATES loftilyMortal, what do you want with me?
STREPSIADESFirst, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.
SOCRATES POMPOUSLYI am traversing the air and contemplating the sun.
STREPSIADESThus it's not on the solid ground, but from the height of this basket, that you slight the gods, if indeed....
SOCRATESI have to suspend my brain and mingle the subtle essence of my mind with this air, which is of the like nature, in order clearly to penetrate the things of heaven. I should have discovered nothing, had I remained on the ground to consider from below the things that are above; for the earth by its force attracts the sap of the mind to itself. It's just the same with the watercress.
STREPSIADESWhat? Does the mind attract the sap of the watercress? Ah! my dear little Socrates, come down to me! I have come to ask you for lessons.
SOCRATES descendingAnd for what lessons?
STREPSIADESI want to learn how to speak. I have borrowed money, and my merciles creditors do not leave me a moment's peace; all my goods are at stake.
SOCRATESAnd how was it you did not see that you were getting so much into debt?
STREPSIADESMy ruin has been the madness for horses, a most rapacious evil; but teach me one of your two methods of reasoning, the one whose object is not to repay anything, and, may the gods bear witness, that I am ready to pay any fee you may name.
SOCRATESBy which gods will you swear? To begin with, the gods are not a coin current with us.
STREPSIADESBut what do you swear by then? By the iron money of Byzantium?
SOCRATESDo you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters?
STREPSIADESWhy, yes, if it's possible.
SOCRATES....and to converse with the clouds, who are our genii?
STREPSIADESWithout a doubt.
SOCRATESThen be seated on this sacred couch.
STREPSIADES sitting downI am seated.
SOCRATESNow take this chaplet.
STREPSIADESWhy a chaplet? Alas! Socrates, would you sacrifice me, like Athamas?
SOCRATESNo, these are the rites of initiation.
STREPSIADESAnd what is it I am to gain?
SOCRATESYou will become a thorough rattle-pate, a hardened old stager, the fine flour of the talkers....But come, keep quiet.
STREPSIADESBy Zeus! That's no lie! Soon I shall be nothing but wheat-flour, if you powder me in that fashion.
SOCRATESSilence, old man, give heed to the prayers.In an hierophantic toneOh! most mighty king, the boundless air, that keepest the earth suspended in space, thou bright Aether and ye venerable goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and the lightning, arise, ye sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the celestial spheres to the eyes of your sage.
STREPSIADESNot yet! Wait a bit, till I fold my mantle double, so as not to get wet. And to think that I did not even bring my travelling cap! What a misfortune!
SOCRATES ignoring thisCome, oh! Clouds, whom I adore, come and show yourselves to this man, whether you be resting on the sacred summits of Olympus, crowned with hoar-frost, or tarrying in the gardens of Ocean, your father, forming sacred choruses with the Nymphs; whether you be gathering the waves of the Nile in golden vases or dwelling in the Maeotic marsh or on the snowy rocks of Mimas, hearken to my prayer and accept my offering. May these sacrifices be pleasing to you.Amidst rumblings of thunder the CHORUS OF CLOUDS appears.
CHORUS singingEternal Clouds, let us appear; let us arise from the roaring depths of Ocean, our father; let us fly towards the lofty mountains, spread our damp wings over their forest-laden summits, whence we will dominate the distant valleys, the harvest fed by the sacred earth, the murmur of the divine streams and the resounding waves of the sea, which the unwearying orb lights up with its glittering beams. But let us shake off the rainy fogs, which hide our immortal beauty and sweep the earth from afar with our gaze.
SOCRATESOh, venerated goddesses, yes, you are answering my call!To STREPSIADES.Did you hear their voices mingling with the awful growling of the thunder?
STREPSIADESOh! adorable Clouds, I revere you and I too am going to let off my thunder, so greatly has your own affrighted me.He farts.Faith! whether permitted or not, I must, I must crap!
SOCRATESNo scoffing; do not copy those damned comic poets. Come, silence! a numerous host of goddesses approaches with songs.
CHORUS singingVirgins, who pour forth the rains, let us move toward Attica, the rich country of Pallas, the home of the brave; let us visit the dear land of Cecrops, where the secret rites are celebrated, where the mysterious sanctuary flies open to the initiate.... What victims are offered there to the deities of heaven! What glorious temples! What statues! What holy prayers to the rulers of Olympus! At every season nothing but sacred festivals, garlanded victims, is to be seen. Then Spring brings round again the joyous feasts of Dionysus, the harmonious contests of the choruses and the serious melodies of the flute.
STREPSIADESBy Zeus! Tell me, Socrates, I pray you, who are these women, whose language is so solemn; can they be demi-goddesses?
SOCRATESNot at all. They are the Clouds of heaven, great goddesses for the lazy; to them we owe all, thoughts, speeches, trickery, roguery, boasting, lies, sagacity.
STREPSIADESAh! that was why, as I listened to them, my mind spread out its wings; it burns to babble about trifles, to maintain worthless arguments, to voice its petty reasons, to contradict, to tease some opponent. But are they not going to show themselves? I should like to see them, were it possible.
SOCRATESWell, look this way in the direction of Parnes; I already see those who are slowly descending.
STREPSIADESBut where, where? Show them to me.
SOCRATESThey are advancing in a throng, following an oblique path across the dales and thickets.
STREPSIADESStrange! I can see nothing.
SOCRATESThere, close to the entrance.
STREPSIADESHardly, if at all, can I distinguish them.
SOCRATESYou must see them clearly now, unless your eyes are filled with gum as thick as pumpkins.
STREPSIADESAye, undoubtedly! Oh! the venerable goddesses! Why, they fillup the entire stage.
SOCRATESAnd you did not know, you never suspected, that they were goddesses?
STREPSIADESNo, indeed; I thought the Clouds were only fog, dew and vapour.
SOCRATESBut what you certainly do not know is that they are the support of a crowd of quacks, the diviners, who were sent to Thurium, the notorious physicians, the well-combed fops, who load their fingers with rings down to the nails, and the braggarts, who write dithyrambic verses, all these are idlers whom the Clouds provide a living for, because they sing them in their verses.
STREPSIADESIt is then for this that they praise "the rapid flight of the moist clouds, which veil the brightness of day" and "the waving locks of the hundred-headed Typho" and "the impetuous tempests, which float through the heavens, like birds of prey with aerial wings loaded with mists" and "the rains, the dew, which the clouds outpour." As a reward for these fine phrases they bolt well-grown, tasty mullet and delicate thrushes.
SOCRATESYes, thanks to these. And is it not right and meet?
STREPSIADESTell me then why, if these really are the Clouds, they so very much resemble mortals. This is not their usual form.
SOCRATESWhat are they like then?
STREPSIADESI don't know exactly; well, they are like great packs of wool, but not like women-no, not in the least....And these have noses.
SOCRATESAnswer my questions.
STREPSIADESWillingly! Go on, I am listening.
SOCRATESHave you not sometimes seen clouds in the sky like a centaur, a leopard, a wolf or a bull?
STREPSIADESWhy, certainly I have, but what of that?
SOCRATESThey take what metamorphosis they like. If they see a debauchee with long flowing locks and hairy as a beast, like the son of Xenophantes, they take the form of a Centaur in derision of his shameful passion.
STREPSIADESAnd when they see Simon, that thiever of public money, what do they do then?
SOCRATESTo picture him to the life, they turn at once into wolves.
STREPSIADESSo that was why yesterday, when they saw Cleonymus, who cast away his buckler because he is the veriest poltroon amongst men, they changed into deer.
SOCRATESAnd to-day they have seen Clisthenes; you see....they are women
STREPSIADESHail, sovereign goddesses, and if ever you have let your celestial voice be heard by mortal ears, speak to me, oh! speak to me, ye all-powerful queens.
CHORUS-LEADERHail! veteran of the ancient times, you who burn to instruct yourself in fine language. And you, great high-priest of subtle nonsense, tell us; your desire. To you and Prodicus alone of all the hollow orationers of to-day have we lent an ear-to Prodicus, because of his knowledge and his great wisdom, and to you, because you walk with head erect, a confident look, barefooted, resigned to everything and proud of our protection.
STREPSIADESOh! Earth! What august utterances! how sacred! how wondrous!
SOCRATESThat is because these are the only goddesses; all the rest are pure myth.
STREPSIADESBut by the Earth! is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god?
SOCRATESZeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus.
STREPSIADESWhat are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that!
SOCRATESWhy, these, and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence!
STREPSIADESBy Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes the thunder, which I so much dread?
SOCRATESThese, when they roll one over the other.
STREPSIADESBut how can that be? you most daring among men!
SOCRATESBeing full of water, and forced to move along, they are of necessity precipitated in rain, being fully distended with moisture from the regions where they have been floating; hence they bump each other heavily and burst with great noise.
STREPSIADESBut is it not Zeus who forces them to move?
SOCRATESNot at all; it's the aerial Whirlwind.
STREPSIADESThe Whirlwind! ah! I did not know that. So Zeus, it seems, has no existence, and its the Whirlwind that reigns in his stead? But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?
SOCRATESHave you not understood me then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately swollen out, they burst with a great noise.
STREPSIADESHow can you make me credit that?
SOCRATESTake yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling.
STREPSIADESYes, yes, by Apollo I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. At first, it's but a little gurgling pappax, pappax! then it increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.
SOCRATESWell then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these mighty claps of thunder?
STREPSIADESAnd this is why the names are so much alike: crap and clap. But tell me this. Whence comes the lightning, the dazzling flame, which at times consumes the man it strikes, at others hardly singes him. Is it not plain, that Zeus is hurling it at the perjurers?
SOCRATESOut upon the fool! the driveller! he still savours of the golden age! If Zeus strikes at the perjurers, why has he not blasted Simon, Cleonymus and Theorus? Of a surety, greater perjurers cannot exist. No, he strikes his own temple, and Sunium, the promontory of Athens, and the towering oaks. Now, why should he do that? An oak is no perjurer.
STREPSIADESI cannot tell, but it seems to me well argued. What is the lightning then?
SOCRATESWhen a dry wind ascends to the Clouds and gets shut into them, it blows them out like a bladder; finally, being too confined, it bursts them, escapes with fierce violence and a roar to flash into flame by reason of its own impetuosity.
STREPSIADESAh, that's just what happened to me one day. It was at the feast of Zeus! I was cooking a sow's belly for my family and I had forgotten to slit it open. It swelled out and, suddenly bursting, discharged itself right into my eyes and burnt my face.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSOh, mortal, you who desire to instruct yourself in our great wisdom, the Athenians, the Greeks will envy you your good fortune. Only you must have the memory and ardour for study, you must know how to stand the tests, hold your own, go forward without feeling fatigue, caring but little for food, abstaining from wine, gymnastic exercises and other similar follies, in fact, you must believe as every man of intellect should, that the greatest of all blessings is to live and think more clearly than the vulgar herd, to shine in the contests of words.
STREPSIADESIf it be a question of hardiness for labour, of spending whole nights at work, of living sparingly, of fighting my stomach and only eating chickpease, rest assured, I am as hard as an anvil.
SOCRATESHenceforward, following our example, you will recognize no other gods but Chaos, the Clouds and the Tongue, these three alone.
STREPSIADESI would not speak to the others, even if I met them in the street; not a single sacrifice, not a libation, not a grain of incense for them!
LEADER OF THE CHORUSTell us boldly then what you want of us; you cannot fail to succeed. If you honour and revere us and if you are resolved to become a clever man.
STREPSIADESOh, sovereign goddesses, it is only a very small favour that I ask of you; grant that I may outdistance all the Greeks by a hundred stadia in the art of speaking.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSWe grant you this, and henceforward no eloquence shall more often succeed with the people than your own.
STREPSIADESMay the gods shield me from possessing great eloquence! That's not what I want. I want to be able to turn bad law-suits to my own advantage and to slip through the fingers of my creditors.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSIt shall be as you wish, for your ambitions are modest. Commit yourself fearlessly to our ministers, the sophists.
STREPSIADESThis I will do, for I trust in you. Moreover there is no drawing back, what with these cursed horses and this marriage, which has eaten up my vitals.More and more volubly from here to the end of speechSo let them do with me as they will; I yield my body to them. Come blows, come hunger, thirst, heat or cold, little matters it to me; they may flay me, if I only escape my debts, if only I win the reputation of being a bold rascal, a fine speaker, impudent, shameless, a braggart, and adept at stringing lies, an old stager at quibbles, a complete table of laws, a thorough rattle, a fox to slip through any hole; supple as a leathern strap, slippery as an eel, an artful fellow, a blusterer, a villain; a knave with a hundred faces, cunning, intolerable, a gluttonous dog. With such epithets do I seek to be greeted; on these terms they can treat me as they choose, and, if they wish, by Demeter! they can turn me into sausages and serve me up to the philosophers.
CHORUS singingHere have we a bold and well-disposed pupil indeed. When we have taught you, your glory among the mortals will reach even to the skies.
STREPSIADES singingWherein will that profit me?
CHORUS singingYou will pass your whole life among us and will be the most envied of men.
STREPSIADES singingShall I really ever see such happiness?
CHORUS singingClients will be everlastingly besieging your door in crowds, burning to get at you, to explain their business to you and to consult you about their suits, which, in return for your ability, will bring you in great sums.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSBut, Socrates, begin the lessons you want to teach this old man; rouse his mind, try the strength of his intelligence.
SOCRATESCome, tell me the kind of mind you have; it's important that I know this, that I may order my batteries against you in the right fashion.
STREPSIADESEh, what! in the name of the gods, are you purposing to assault me then?
SOCRATESNo. I only wish to ask you some questions. Have you any memory?
STREPSIADESThat depends: if anything is owed me, my memory is excellent, but if I owe, alas! I have none whatever.
SOCRATESHave you a natural gift for speaking?
STREPSIADESFor speaking, no; for cheating, yes.
SOCRATESHow will you be able to learn then?
STREPSIADESVery easily, have no fear.
SOCRATESThus, when I throw forth some philosophical thought anent things celestial., you will seize it in its very flight?
STREPSIADESThen I am to snap up wisdom much as a dog snaps up a morsel?
SOCRATES asideOh! the ignoramus! the barbarian!to STREPSIADESI greatly fear, old man, it will be necessary for me to have recourse to blows. Now, let me hear what you do when you are beaten.
STREPSIADESI receive the blow, then wait a moment, take my witnesses and finally summon my assailant at law.
SOCRATESCome, take off your cloak.
STREPSIADESHave I robbed you of anything?
SOCRATESNo. but the usual thing is to enter the school without your cloak.
STREPSIADESBut I have not come here to look for stolen goods.
SOCRATESOff with it, fool!
STREPSIADES He obeys.Tell me, if I prove thoroughly attentive and learn with zeal, which O; your disciples shall I resemble, do you think?
SOCRATESYou will be the image of Chaerephon.
STREPSIADESAh! unhappy me! Shall I then be only half alive?
SOCRATESA truce to this chatter! follow me and no more of it.
STREPSIADESFirst give me a honey-cake, for to descend down there sets me all a-tremble; it looks like the cave of Trophonius.
SOCRATESBut get in with you! What reason have you for thus dallying at the door?They go into the Thoughtery.
LEADER OF THE CHORUSGood luck! you have courage; may you succeed, you, who, though already so advanced in years, wish to instruct your mind with new studies and practise it in wisdom!The CHORUS turns and faces the Audience.Spectators! By Bacchus, whose servant I am, I will frankly tell you the truth. May I secure both victory and renown as certainly as I hold you for adept critics and as I regard this comedy as my best. I wished to give you the first view of a work, which had cost me much trouble, but which I withdrew, unjustly beaten by unskilful rivals. It is you, oh, enlightened public, for whom I have prepared my piece, that I reproach with this. Nevertheless I shall never willingly cease to seek the approval of the discerning. I have not forgotten the day, when men, whom one is happy to have for an audience, received my Virtuous Young Man and my Paederast with so much favour in this very place. Then as yet virgin, my Muse had not attained the age for maternity; she had to expose her first-born for another to adopt, and it has since grown up under your generous patronage. Ever since you have as good as sworn me your faithful alliance. Thus, like the Electra of the poets, my comedy has come to seek you to-day, hoping again to encounter such enlightened spectators. As far away as she can discern her Orestes, she will be able to recognize him by his curly head. And note her modest demeanour! She has not sewn on a piece of hanging leather, thick and reddened at the end, to cause laughter among the children; she does not rail at the bald, neither does she dance the cordax; no old man is seen, who, while uttering his lines, batters his questioner with a stick to make his poor jests pass muster. She does not rush upon the scene carrying a torch and screaming, 'Iou! Iou!' No, she relies upon herself and her verses....My value is so well known, that I take no further pride in it. I do not seek to deceive you, by reproducing the same subjects two or three times; I always invent fresh themes to present before you, themes that have no relation to each other and that are all clever. I attacked Cleon to his face and when he was all-powerful; but he has fallen, and now I have no desire to kick him when he is down. My rivals, on the contrary, now that this wretched Hyperbolus has given them the cue, have never ceased setting upon both him and his mother. First Eupolis presented his 'Maricas'; this was simply my 'Knights,' whom this plagiarist had clumsily furbished up again by adding to the piece an old drunken woman, so that she might dance the cordax. It was an old idea, taken from Phrynichus, who caused his old hag to be devoured by a monster of the deep. Then Hermippus fell foul of Hyperbolus and now all the others fall upon him and repeat my comparison of the eels. May those who find amusement in their pieces not be pleased with mine, but as for you, who love and applaud my inventions, why, posterity will praise your good taste.
FIRST SEMI-CHORUS singingOh, ruler of Olympus, all-powerful king of the gods, great Zeus, it is thou whom I first invoke; protect this chorus; and thou too, Posidon, whose dread trident upheaves at the will of thy anger both the bowels of the earth and the salty waves of the ocean. I invoke my illustrious father, the divine Aether, the universal sustainer of life, and Phoebus, who, from the summit of his chariot, sets the world aflame with his dazzling rays, Phoebus, a mighty deity amongst the gods and adored amongst mortals.
LEADER OF FIRST SEMI-CHORUSMost wise spectators, lend us all your attention. Give heed to our just reproaches. There exist no gods to whom this city owes more than it does to us, whom alone you forget. Not a sacrifice, not a libation is there for those who protect you! Have you decreed some mad expedition? Well! we thunder or we fall down in rain. When you chose that enemy of heaven, the Paphlagonian tanner, for a general, we knitted our brow, we caused our wrath to break out; the lightning shot forth, the thunder pealed, the moon deserted her course and the sun at once veiled his beam threatening, no longer to give you light, if Cleon became general. Nevertheless you elected him; it is said, Athens never resolves upon some fatal step but the gods turn these errors into her greatest gain. Do you wish that his election should even now be a success for you? It is a very simple thing to do; condemn this rapacious gull named Cleon for bribery and extortion, fit a wooden collar tight round his neck, and your error will be rectified and the commonweal will at once regain its old prosperity.
SECOND SEMI-CHORUS singingAid me also, Phoebus, god of Delos, who reignest on the cragged peaks of Cynthia; and thou, happy virgin, to whom the Lydian damsels offer pompous sacrifice in a temple; of gold; and thou, goddess of our country, Athene, armed with the aegis, the protectress of Athens; and thou, who, surrounded by the bacchants of Delphi; roamest over the rocks of Parnassus shaking the flame of thy resinous torch, thou, Bacchus, the god of revel and joy.
LEADER OF SECOND SEMI-CHORUSAs we were preparing to come here, we were hailed by the Moon and were charged to wish joy and happiness both to the Athenians and to their allies; further, she said that she was enraged and that you treated her very shamefully, her, who does not pay you in words alone, but who renders you all real benefits. Firstly, thanks to her, you save at least a drachma each month for lights, for each, as he is leaving home at night, says, "Slave, buy no torches, for the moonlight is beautiful,"-not to name a thousand other benefits. Nevertheless you do not reckon the days correctly and your calendar is naught but confusion. Consequently the gods load her with threats each time they get home and are disappointed of their meal, because the festival has not been kept in the regular order of time. When you should be sacrificing, you are putting to the torture or administering justice. And often, we others, the gods, are fasting in token of mourning for the death of Memnon or Sarpedon, while you are devoting yourselves to joyous libations. It is for this, that last year, when the lot would have invested Hyperbolus with the duty of Amphictyon, we took his crown from him, to teach him that time must be divided according to the phases of the moon.
SOCRATES coming outBy Respiration, the Breath of Life! By Chaos! By the Air! I have never seen a man so gross, so inept, so stupid, so forgetful. All the little quibbles, which I teach him, he forgets even before he has learnt them. Yet I will not give it up, I will make him come out here into the open air. Where are you, Strepsiades? Come, bring your couch out here.
STREPSIADES from withinBut the bugs will not allow me to bring it.
SOCRATESHave done with such nonsense! place it there and pay attention.
STREPSIADES coming out, with the bedWell, here I am.
SOCRATESGood! Which science of all those you have never been taught, do you wish to learn first? The measures, the rhythms or the verses?
STREPSIADESWhy, the measures; the flour dealer cheated me out of two choenixes the other day.
SOCRATESIt's not about that I ask you, but which, according to you, is the best measure, the trimeter or the tetrameter?
STREPSIADESThe one I prefer is the semisextarius.
SOCRATESYou talk nonsense, my good fellow.
STREPSIADESI will wager your tetrameter is the semisextarius.
SOCRATESPlague seize the dunce and the fool! Come, perchance you will learn the rhythms quicker.
STREPSIADESWill the rhythms supply me with food?
SOCRATESFirst they will help you to be pleasant in company, then to know what is meant by enhoplian rhythm and what by the dactylic.
STREPSIADESOf the dactyl? I know that quite well.
SOCRATESWhat is it then, other than this finger here?
STREPSIADESFormerly, when a child, I used this one.
SOCRATESYou are as low-minded as you are stupid.
STREPSIADESBut, wretched man, I do not want to learn all this.
SOCRATESThen what do you want to know?
STREPSIADESNot that, not that, but the art of false reasoning.
SOCRATESBut you must first learn other things. Come, what are the male quadrupeds?
STREPSIADESOh! I know the males thoroughly. Do you take me for a fool then? The ram, the buck, the bull, the dog, the pigeon.
SOCRATESDo you see what you are doing; is not the female pigeon called the same as the male?
STREPSIADESHow else? Come now!
SOCRATESHow else? With you then it's pigeon and pigeon!
STREPSIADESThat's right, by Posidon! but what names do you want me to give them?
SOCRATESTerm the female pigeonnette and the male pigeon.
STREPSIADESPigeonnette! hah! by the Air! That's splendid! for that lesson bring out your kneading-trough and I will fill him with flour to the brim.
SOCRATESThere you are wrong again; you make trough masculine and it should be feminine.
STREPSIADESWhat? if I say, him, do I make the trough masculine?
SOCRATESAssuredly! would you not say him for Cleonymus?
SOCRATESThen trough is of the same gender as Cleonymus?
STREPSIADESMy good man! Cleonymus never had a kneading-trough; he used a round mortar for the purpose. But come, tell me what I should say!
SOCRATESFor trough you should say her as you would for Soctrate.
SOCRATESIn this manner you make it truly female.
STREPSIADESThat's it! Her for trough and her for Cleonymus.
Now I must teach you to distinguish the masculine proper names from those that are feminine.
STREPSIADESAh! I know the female names well.
SOCRATESName some then.
STREPSIADESLysilla, Philinna, Clitagora, Demetria.
SOCRATESAnd what are masculine names?
STREPSIADESThey are are countless-Philoxenus, Melesias, Amynias.
SOCRATESBut, wretched man, the last two are not masculine.
STREPSIADESYou do not count them as masculine?
SOCRATESNot at all. If you met Amynias, how would you hail him?
STREPSIADESHow? Why, I should shout, "Hi, there, Amynia!
SOCRATESDo you see? it's a female name that you give him.
STREPSIADESAnd is it not rightly done, since he refuses military service? But what use is there in learning what we all know?
SOCRATESYou know nothing about it. Come, lie down there.
SOCRATESPonder awhile over matters that interest you.
STREPSIADESOh! I pray you, not there but, if I must lie down and ponder, let me lie on the ground.
SOCRATESThat's out of the question. Come! on the couch!
STREPSIADES as he lies downWhat cruel fate! What a torture the bugs will this day put me to!Socrates turns aside.
CHORUS singingPonder and examine closely, gather your thoughts together, let your mind turn to every side of things; if you meet with a difficulty, spring quickly to some other idea; above all, keep your eyes away from all gentle sleep.
STREPSIADES singingOw, Wow, Wow, Wow is me!
CHORUS singingWhat ails you? why do you cry so?
STREPSIADESOh! I am a dead man! Here are these cursed Corinthians advancing upon me from all corners of the couch; they are biting me, they are gnawing at my sides, they are drinking all my blood, they are yanking of my balls, they are digging into my arse, they are killing me!
LEADER OF THE CHORUSNot so much wailing and clamour, if you please.
STREPSIADESHow can I obey? I have lost my money and my complexion, my blood and my slippers, and to cap my misery, I must keep awake on this couch, when scarce a breath of life is left in me.A brief interval of silence ensues.
SOCRATESWell now! what are you doing? are you reflecting?
STREPSIADESYes, by Posidon!
STREPSIADESWhether the bugs will entirely devour me.
SOCRATESMay death seize you, accursed man!He turns aside again.
STREPSIADESAh it has already.
SOCRATESCome, no giving way! Cover up your head; the thing to do is to find an ingenious alternative.
STREPSIADESAn alternative! ah! I only wish one would come to me from within these coverlets!Another interval of silence ensues.
SOCRATESWait! let us see what our fellow is doing! Ho! are you asleep?
STREPSIADESNo, by Apollo!
SOCRATESHave you got hold of anything?
STREPSIADESNo, nothing whatever.
SOCRATESNothing at all?
STREPSIADESNo, nothing except my tool, which I've got in my hand.
SOCRATESAren't you going to cover your head immediately and ponder?
STREPSIADESOn what? Come, Socrates, tell me.
SOCRATESThink first what you want, and then tell me.
STREPSIADESBut I have told you a thousand times what I want. Not to pay any of my creditors.
SOCRATESCome, wrap yourself up; concentrate your mind, which wanders to lightly; study every detail, scheme and examine thoroughly.
SOCRATESKeep still, and if any notion troubles you, put it quickly aside, then resume it and think over it again.
STREPSIADESMy dear little Socrates!
SOCRATESWhat is it, old greybeard?
STREPSIADESI have a scheme for not paying my debts.
SOCRATESLet us hear it.
STREPSIADESTell me, if I purchased a Thessalian witch, I could make the moon descend during the night and shut it, like a mirror, into a round box and there keep it carefully....
SOCRATESHow would you gain by that?
STREPSIADESHow? why, if the moon did not rise, I would have no interest to pay.
STREPSIADESBecause money is lent by the month.
SOCRATESGood! but I am going to propose another trick to you. If you were condemned to pay five talents, how would you manage to quash that verdict? Tell me.
STREPSIADESHow? how? I don't know, I must think.
SOCRATESDo you always shut your thoughts within yourself? Let your ideas fly in the air, like a may-bug, tied by the foot with a thread.
STREPSIADESI have found a very clever way to annul that conviction; you will admit that much yourself.
SOCRATESWhat is it?
STREPSIADESHave you ever seen a beautiful, transparent stone at the druggists', with which you may kindle fire?
SOCRATESYou mean a crystal lens.
STREPSIADESThat's right. Well, now if I placed myself with this stone in the sun and a long way off from the clerk, while he was writing out the conviction, I could make all the wax, upon which the words were written, melt.
SOCRATESWell thought out, by the Graces!
STREPSIADESAh! I am delighted to have annulled the decree that was to cost me five talents.
SOCRATESCome, take up this next question quickly.
SOCRATESIf, when summoned to court, you were in danger of losing your case for want of witnesses, how would you make the conviction fall upon your opponent?
STREPSIADESThat's very simple and easy.
SOCRATESLet me hear.
STREPSIADESThis way. If another case had to be pleaded before mine was called, I should run and hang myself.
SOCRATESYou talk rubbish!
STREPSIADESNot so, by the gods! if I were dead, no action could lie against me.
SOCRATESYou are merely beating the air. Get out! I will give you no more lessons.
STREPSIADES imploringlyWhy not? Oh! Socrates! in the name of the gods!
SOCRATESBut you forget as fast as you learn. Come, what was the thing I taught you first? Tell me.
STREPSIADESAh let me see. What was the first thing? What was it then? Ah! that thing in which we knead the bread, oh! my god! what do you call it?
SOCRATESPlague take the most forgetful and silliest of old addlepates!
STREPSIADESAlas! what a calamity! what will become of me? I am undone if I do not learn how to ply my tongue. Oh! Clouds! give me good advice.
CHORUS-LEADEROld man, we counsel you, if you have brought up a son, to send him to learn in your stead.
STREPSIADESUndoubtedly I have a son, as well endowed as the best, but he is unwilling to learn. What will become of me?
CHORUS-LEADERAnd you don't make him obey you?
STREPSIADESYou see, he is big and strong; moreover, through his mother he is a descendant of those fine birds, the race of Coesyra. Nevertheless, I will go and find him, and if he refuses, I will turn him out of the house. Go in, Socrates, and wait for me awhile.SOCRATES goes into the Thoughtery, STREPSIADES into his own house.
CHORUS singingDo you understand, Socrates, that thanks to us you will be loaded with benefits? Here is a man, ready to obey you in all things. You see how he is carried away with admiration and enthusiasm. Profit by it to clip him as short as possible; fine chances are all too quickly gone.
STREPSIADES coming out of his house and pushing his son in front of himNo, by the Clouds! you stay here no longer; go and devour the ruins of your uncle Megacles' fortune.
PHIDIPPIDESOh! my poor father! what has happened to you? By the Olympian
Zeus! You are no longer in your senses!
STREPSIADESLook! "the Olympian Zeus." Oh! you fool! to believe in Zeus at your age!
PHIDIPPIDESWhat is there in that to make you laugh?
STREPSIADESYou are then a tiny little child, if you credit such antiquated rubbish! But come here, that I may teach you; I will tell you something very necessary to know to be a man; but do not repeat it to anybody.
PHIDIPPIDESTell me, what is it?
STREPSIADESJust now you swore by Zeus.
PHIDIPPIDESSure I did.
STREPSIADESDo you see how good it is to learn? Phidippides, there is no Zeus.
PHIDIPPIDESWhat is there then?
STREPSIADESThe Whirlwind has driven out Zeus and is King now.
STREPSIADESYou must realize that it is true.
PHIDIPPIDESAnd who says so?
STREPSIADESSocrates, the Melian, and Chaerephon, who knows how to measure the jump of a flea.
PHIDIPPIDESHave you reached such a pitch of madness that you believe those bilious fellows?
STREPSIADESUse better language, and do not insult men who are clever and full of wisdom, who, to economize, never shave, shun the gymnasia and never go to the baths, while you, you only await my death to eat up my wealth. But come, come as quickly as you can to learn in my stead.
PHIDIPPIDESAnd what good can be learnt of them?
STREPSIADESWhat good indeed? Why, all human knowledge. Firstly, you will know yourself grossly ignorant. But await me here awhile.He goes back into his house.
PHIDIPPIDESAlas! what is to be done? Father has lost his wits. Must I have him certificated for lunacy, or must I order his coffin?
STREPSIADES returning with a bird in each handCome! what kind of bird is this? Tell me.
STREPSIADESGood! And this female?
STREPSIADESThe same for both? You make me laugh! In the future you must call this one a pigeonnette and the other a pigeon.
PHIDIPPIDESA pigeonnette! These then are the fine things you have just learnt at the school of these sons of Earth!
STREPSIADESAnd many others; but what I learnt I forgot at once, because I am to old.
PHIDIPPIDESSo this is why you have lost your cloak?
STREPSIADESI have not lost it, I have consecrated it to Philosophy.
PHIDIPPIDESAnd what have you done with your sandals, you poor fool?
STREPSIADESIf I have lost them, it is for what was necessary, just as Pericles did. But come, move yourself, let us go in; if necessary, do wrong to obey your father. When you were six years old and still lisped, I was the one who obeyed you. I remember at the feasts of Zeus you had a consuming wish for a little chariot and I bought it for you with the first obolus which I received as a juryman in the courts.
PHIDIPPIDESYou will soon repent of what you ask me to do.
STREPSIADESOh! now I am happy! He obeys.loudlyCome, Socrates, come! Come out quick! Here I am bringing you my son; he refused, but I have persuaded him.
SOCRATESWhy, he is but a child yet. He is not used to these baskets, in which we suspend our minds.
PHIDIPPIDESTo make you better used to them, I would you were hung.
STREPSIADESA curse upon you! you insult your master!
SOCRATES"I would you were hung!" What a stupid speech! and so emphatically spoken! How can one ever get out of an accusation with such a tone, summon witnesses or touch or convince? And yet when we think, Hyperbolus learnt all this for one talent!
STREPSIADESRest undisturbed and teach him. He has a most intelligent nature. Even when quite little he amused himself at home with making houses, carving boats, constructing little chariots of leather, and understood wonderfully how to make frogs out of pomegranate rinds. Teach him both methods of reasoning, the strong and also the weak, which by false arguments triumphs over the strong; if not the two, at least the false, and that in every possible way.
SOCRATESThe Just and Unjust Discourse themselves shall instruct him. I shall leave you.
STREPSIADESBut forget it not, he must always, always be able to confound the true.Socrates enters the Thoughtery; a moment later the JUST and the UNJUST DISCOURSE come out; they are quarrelling violently.
JUST DISCOURSECome here! Shameless as you may be, will you dare to show your face to the spectators?
UNJUST DISCOURSETake me where you will. I seek a throng, so that I may the better annihilate you.
JUST DISCOURSEAnnihilate me! Do you forget who you are?
UNJUST DISCOURSEI am Reasoning.
JUST DISCOURSEYes, the weaker Reasoning."
UNJUST DISCOURSEBut I triumph over you, who claim to be the stronger.
JUST DISCOURSEBy what cunning shifts, pray?
UNJUST DISCOURSEBy the invention of new maxims.
JUST DISCOURSE.... which are received with favour by these fools.He points to the audience.
UNJUST DISCOURSESay rather, by these wise men.
JUST DISCOURSEI am going to destroy you mercilessly.
UNJUST DISCOURSEHow pray? Let us see you do it.
JUST DISCOURSEBy saying what is true.
UNJUST DISCOURSEI shall retort and shall very soon have the better of you. First, maintain that justice has no existence.
JUST DISCOURSEHas no existence?
UNJUST DISCOURSENo existence! Why, where is it?
JUST DISCOURSEWith the gods.
UNJUST DISCOURSEHow then, if justice exists, was Zeus not put to death for having put his father in chains?
JUST DISCOURSEBah! this is enough to turn my stomach! A basin, quick!
UNJUST DISCOURSEYou are an old driveller and stupid withal.
JUST DISCOURSEAnd you a degenerate and shameless fellow.
UNJUST DISCOURSEHah! What sweet expressions!
JUST DISCOURSEAn impious buffoon.
UNJUST DISCOURSEYou crown me with roses and with lilies.
JUST DISCOURSEA parricide.
UNJUST DISCOURSEWhy, you shower gold upon me.
JUST DISCOURSEFormerly it was a hailstorm of blows.
UNJUST DISCOURSEI deck myself with your abuse.
JUST DISCOURSEWhat impudence!
UNJUST DISCOURSEWhat tomfoolery!
JUST DISCOURSEIt is because of you that the youth no longer attends the schools. The Athenians will soon recognize what lessons you teach those who are fools enough to believe you.
UNJUST DISCOURSEYou are overwhelmed with wretchedness.
JUST DISCOURSEAnd you, you prosper. Yet you were poor when you said, "I am the Mysian Telephus," and used to stuff your wallet with maxims of Pandeletus to nibble at.
UNJUST DISCOURSEOh! the beautiful wisdom, of which you are now boasting!
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