Socrates in the Clouds

Part of the Modern Studies in Philosophy book series


Socrates was seventy at the time of his trial in 399 b.c.,1 and therefore forty-five when Aristophanes conceived and composed the original version2 of the Clouds. He was physically hard,3 and we should certainly not imagine that he had more fat and less muscle than other Athenians;4 in the autumn of 424 he fought as a hoplite at Delion and took part in the gruelling retreat.5 It is probable that his hair was greying noticeably;6 the allegation that he was bald (which can be traced back to a story told by Hegesandros of Delphi [second century B.C.], ap. Ath. 507A ff.) may be only an inference from Clouds 147 about Socrates in old age (cf. scholion), and even if it were better founded than that it would not mean that he was already bald in his forties. His eyes were prominent, his nose upturned, and lips thick—features customarily attributed by the Athenians to satyrs and silenoi.7


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  1. 11.
    On Socrates in the Birds see R. Stark, Rhein. Mus. xcvi (1953), 77 ff.—who, however, sees allusions in some passages where the humour in no way requires allusion.Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    Cf. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, 1962), i. 410 ff.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    Cf. Clouds 830 n. on Diagoras of Melos (in K. J. Dover, Aristophanes’ Clouds [Oxford, 1968]).Google Scholar
  4. 25.
    Cf. W. Schmid, Philologus, xcvii (1948), 219 f., andGoogle Scholar
  5. Taylor, Varia Socratica (Oxford, 1911), 148 ff.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    Cf. Clouds 703. R. Philippson, Rhein. Mus. lxxxi (1932), 30 ff., presses the resemblance very hard.Google Scholar
  7. 36.
    A. W. Gomme, More Essays in Greek History and Literature (Oxford, 1962), 82 ff., compares Aristophanes to Bernard Shaw, and although from some points of view they are less alike than Gomme suggests, from another they are more so. Shaw, who clothed many frivolous prejudices in the language of rationality, understood few of the subjects on which he wrote most fluently and vigorously, but what he did understand better than most other men was what can be effectively said and done on the stage.Google Scholar
  8. 37.
    Furthermore, if Socrates conversed and argued as he did, anyone who stayed to hear only part of a conversation might have gone away with an extraordinarily misleading impression; cf. L. G. Versenyi, Socratic Humanism (New Haven, 1963), p. 155.Google Scholar
  9. 39.
    Cf. Gelzer, Mus. Helv. xiii. 76 ff. and A. E. Roggwiller, Dichter und Dichtung in der attischen Komödie (Diss. Zurich, 1926), 19 ff.Google Scholar

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© Gregory Vlastos 1971

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