Important Quotations Explained
I was happy with my bees and my sheep and my olives. Then I married this city girl, the niece of Megacles, no less, very classy—a right Coesyra!
This quotation is spoken by the anti-hero Strepsiades at the opening of the play as he lies awake in bed worrying over his enormous debts. This quotation is part of the "prologue," or expository opening section of the play which provided the background necessary for the comedy to progress. Strepsiades has been bemoaning his current debts, all of which he explains are the result of having a young son, Pheidippides, who has a passion for horses, an expensive hobby akin to a modern-day zeal for antique cars. In this quotation, Strepsiades is explaining the origin of Pheidippides's expensive tastes: his mother, Strepsiades's wife, was a high-born "city girl" (I.i.41) who cultivated aristocratic pretensions for herself and her son. Strepsiades calls his wife "a right Coesyra" (I.i.41), a name he uses in The Clouds and his earlier play The Acharnians to suggest a notoriously wealthy woman. "Megacles" (I.i.41) likewise suggests wealth and prestige since a "Megacles" was the great- grandfather of the Athenian hero Pericles who presided over Athens in the fifth century BCE and brought Athens much prosperity and success.
Strepsiades explains how he himself, in contrast to his rich, urban wife, came from humble means, raised on a country farm among the "bees sheep and olives" (I.i.41) of rural Greece. He recounts how, when Pheidippides was born, he and his wife clashed over everything regarding their infant son, from his name to his hobbies. His wife, for instance, wished to give him a "horsey" name, such as "Xanthippus" (I.i.41), "Charippus or Callipides" (I.i.41) and to fill his head with visions of "procession[s] [and]..chariot[s]" (I.i.41). Strepsiades himself preferred to name his son after his grandfather "Pheidonides" (I.i.41) and to raise his son to live a happy, simple life among the plants and animals of the farm. While Strepsiades and his wife managed a happy compromise for their son's name, Pheidippides's personal preferences were undiluted replicas of his ritzy mother's preferences.
This quotation introduces the collision of city and country values that provide for the necessary tension and humor in The Clouds and many other of Aristophanes's plays such as The Acharnians and The Banqueters. In many of these plays, Aristophanes's sympathies are with the country people: they represent honesty and humility in opposition to the pretensions and excesses of the townsfolk. The city, being the seat of business and politics, could be easily lampooned as corrupt and dishonest. Nevertheless, it is clear that Aristophanes exploits both "types" and systems of values as "types": his city folk and country folk are caricatures of typified attitudes and are exploited as such for laughs.
How can I? How can I study all this logic-chopping and hair-splitting? I'm an old man
This quotation is spoken by Strepsiades, the old farmer and father to the spend-thrift Pheidippides at the opening of the Scene Two in Act One. Strepsiades is desperately searching for a way out of paying the exorbitant debts acquired through his son's expensive taste for racehorses. In the first scene of Act One, he approached his son with the plan to enroll the young man in the neighboring "Thinkery" (I.i.91), the school for sophistry run by the philosophers Socrates and Chaerephon. He had hoped that his son would learn the new rhetorical trick called "Unjust [Argument]" (I.i.93), a technique that enables its practitioner, through the art of persuasion, to defeat any argument, however airtight and morally sound that argument might be. Strepsiades hopes that, armed with these argumentative skills, Pheidippides will defeat Strepsiades's creditors in court. However, when Pheidippides disdainfully refuses to comply, Strepsiades decides to enroll himself instead.
The theme of new-fangled or fanciful education is not new to Aristophanes's plays. In the fragments of Aristophanes's first play The Banqueters that survive, another farmer-father sends his sons to study at a special, city school. In The Banqueters, the father has two sons, one "moral and [one] immoral" (I.ii.547) son. The "moral" son shuns the dishonest, new-fangled, urban education and flees home to the familiar comforts of the farm. The "immoral" son, however, thrives in this "new education." In The Banqueters, the split between "old" or "traditional" education and "new" education rests comfortably along generational lines: the father and his farm represent the "old" or "traditional" way of life and the "immoral" son and his city school represent the treacherous "new" way of life.
In The Clouds, however, the lines dividing "old" and "new" are not quite as clear. For instance, although in this quote Strepsiades worries that his age makes him a poor candidate for the "new" sophistic education, he is nonetheless the one who eggs Pheidippides to attend: the "old" man is, ironically, very much in favor of the "new" education. As the play progresses, however, it becomes evident that Strepsiades is not capable of adapting to the school's teachings whereas his son proves too good a pupil. The dichotomy of "old" versus "new" is important to this play as it provides for dramatic and comic tension. Aristophanes's sympathies are certainly with the "old" or "traditional" model of education and the older generation that espouses this model. Nevertheless, no one is spared Aristophanes's satiric eye and he lampoons the "old" model just as easily as the "new." For instance, lusty Just Argument proves almost as laughable as Socrates himself and both seem poorly suited to instruct the Athenian youth.
"Damn your quarts, you stupid peasant. Let's try rhythms, perhaps you'll understand better." "I will if they'll help me sell my corn."
This quotation is an exchange that takes place between sophist-teacher Socrates and his stubborn pupil Strepsiades after the choral "parabasis" in Act One, Scene Two. Socrates is attempting to teach Strepsiades the proper metrics of oratory because it was believed that the proper "rhythms" (I.ii.657) were more compelling and persuasive and would enhance the underlying argument. Socrates's school teaches its pupils rhetoric and a new kind of persuasion known as "Unjust [Argument]" (I.i.93) whereby its practitioners can unravel any educated debate with their slippery, well-hewn persuasion. This kind of education also includes in-depth study of many esoteric pursuits, from the measuring of fleas' jumps to the finer points of geology, and is thought of as "new education" because it differs from the older models that stressed physical fitness and recitation of canonical, ancient works.
This quotation illustrates two essential dichotomies that structure the comedy: the difference between city and country values and the difference between practical (or old, traditional) and esoteric (or new, sophistic) education. Socrates and his academy represent the heights of esoteric, urban knowledge: he and his students are "white-faced" (I.i.93) from being cooped up all day with their books and their sophistries are practiced in the law-courts in the center of town. Strepsiades, by contrast, possesses a rural or "peasant" (I.ii.647) mentality that is partial to hard work, farm life, and a practical, hands-on existence. Strepsiades only wants to acquire knowledge if it can tangibly, physically, and practically help him, whereas Socrates pursues knowledge for its own cerebral, ethereal ends.
I wish you'd go back to your horses
This quotation is spoken by Strepsiades near the end of play as he is being physically and verbally abused by his son Pheidippides. He sent his son to Socrates's school of sophistry hoping that he might learn the rhetorical tricks necessary of dodging their creditors in court. Strepsiades had run into debt because of Pheidippides's expensive tastes in racehorses. Strepsiades believed that Socrates's fancy, esoteric education was the answer to his problems with his fussy son. Instead, the arguments that Pheidippides has learned at Socrates's school have enabled him to cause his father further pain and torment. The situation has a kind of irony that can best be described as "tragic-comic," containing elements of both tragic irony and comic irony.
While The Clouds is undoubtedly a comedy—full of sight-gags and broad physical humor—much of its narrative arc is tragic: the play chronicles the down-fall of Strepsiades, the anti-hero, whose tragic flaw was his desire to cheat his creditors out of the money he owed them. Much of what befalls Strepsiades appears tragic because of its "fittedness" or sense of karmic response—that he deserves what he gets. Throughout much of the play, for instance, the audience watches Strepsiades pummel hapless minor characters—first his Slave, next a Student, and finally the pathetic Second Creditor. Therefore, when Strepsiades himself is beaten by his son Pheidippides, his suffering feels just and fitting.
Be ashamed when you ought to be ashamed
This quotation is spoken by Just Argument near the end of Act One, Scene Two as he debates with Unjust Argument over the proper model of education for young boys in general, and Pheidippides in particular. Just Argument, when asked to expound upon boys' education, speaks at length about the edifying value of ancient poetry and physical fitness. Often, however, he disrupts the flow of his own argument with some lustful elaboration on the beauty of young boys and his over-zealous libido undercuts the seriousness and morality of his message. Unjust Argument does not, in exchange, suggest an alternate system of education, but rather picks apart the minutiae of Just's model until he has flustered him completely and Just cedes him the victory.
The concept of a proper education is crucial to The Clouds and is featured prominently in other Aristophanes plays such as the no-longer-extant The Banqueters. This quotation is taken from the "agon," or formalized debate, a central element of Greek comic form wherein the thesis of the piece was given a proper debate by two or more of its characters. In this play, it is obvious that Aristophanes sympathizes with the traditional system of education that Just here represents: the finale of the play only proves the extensive damage (arson, abuse, etc.) that results from the "new," sophistic education. However, in casting Just Argument as a flighty pedophile, Aristophanes is demonstrating that both sides have their flaws. This quotation in particular demonstrates how even the good, old education—the education that "rear[ed] the men who fought at Marathon" (I.ii.961)—can fail. This quote is a ridiculously circular maxim that teaches nothing and proves nothing. It is a vacuous statement and it suggests the damage that can be done by not questioning or challenging tradition hard enough.
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