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 2 in Act 1. 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 1, 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.