Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 October 2015
This article argues that Aristophanes' Clouds treats Socrates as distinctly interested in promoting self-knowledge of the sort related to self-improvement. Section I shows that Aristophanes links the precept γνῶθι σαυτόν (‘know yourself’) with Socrates. Section II outlines the meaning of that precept for Socrates. Section III describes Socrates' conversational method in the Clouds as aimed at therapeutic self-revelation. Section IV identifies the patron Cloud deities of Socrates' school as also concerned to bring people to a therapeutic self-understanding, albeit in a different register from that of Socrates. Section V discusses a sequence of jokes connected to ‘stripping’ that give a concrete image to the search for self-knowledge. Both the action of the Clouds and the tales of cloak-stripping provide models for understanding self-knowledge in a Socratic key. Section VI argues that Socrates' other interest in the phrontistērion, myth-rationalization, is consistent with the promotion of self-knowledge. Section VII supports the claim that Plato's Phaedrus alludes constantly to the Clouds, and because the Phaedrus pays careful attention to self-knowledge, Plato must think that the Clouds does too. It notes in particular that we can explain the Platonic Socrates' famous self-knowledge-related curiosity about his similarity to Typhon (230a) as Plato's allusion to Aristophanes, an allusion made apt by Aristophanes' coordination of Socrates with self-knowledge. Section VIII concludes the paper.
1 Oaths to meteorology: 814, 828, echoing 264–6, 269, 291, 380, 424, 627; scorning Zeus: 818–27, echoing 247–8, 252, 365–7, 380, 423; ridiculing archaic thought: 821, echoing 238 with 137; new secret thoughts: 824, echoing 258 with 140, 143; value of education: 822, 826, echoing 369. Text throughout is from K.J. Dover (ed.), Aristophanes Clouds (Oxford, 1968); translations by the author unless otherwise noted.
2 Perhaps Strepsiades does echo Socratic speech as viewers of the Clouds hear it, since forms of αὐτός and reflexive pronouns are associated with Socrates. Socrates is introduced as αὐτός, and Strepsiades asks, τίς αὐτός; (219). Just earlier, Socrates' student refers to the πρωκτοί of Socrates' other students studying astronomy αὐτὸς καθ᾽ αὑτόν (194). On reflexives in this play, see Havelock, E.A., ‘The Socratic self as it is parodied in Aristophanes' Clouds ’, YClS 22 (1972), 1–18 Google Scholar, at 10–14.
3 The earliest attested association with both is in Pl. Prt. 343ab, Alc. I 124b1, 129a2–3, 132c10, Phdr. 229e. The precept is cited at most three times earlier than Ar. Nub. 571, Heraclitus 116 DK, [Aesch.] PV 309 and Ion of Chios, fr. 55 TrGF.
4 Sharing the view that this passage alludes to the γνῶθι σαυτόν, but without making the argument I have made: A.E. Taylor, ‘The phrontisterion’, in Varia Socratica. First Series (Oxford, 1911), 129–77, at 172; E.G. Wilkins, ‘“Know thyself” in Greek and Latin literature’ (Diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1917), 102; Havelock (n. 2), 14 n. 38; N. Denyer, Plato Alcibiades (Cambridge, 2001), 191; E.T. Jeremiah, The Emergence of Reflexivity in Greek Language and Thought: From Homer to Plato and Beyond (Leiden, 2012), 188. The discussion of the precept in C.G. Tortzen, ‘Know thyself—a note on the success of a Delphic saying’, in B. Amden et al. (edd.), Noctes Atticae: 34 Articles on Graeco-Roman Antiquity and its Nachleben. Studies Presented to Jørgen Mejer on his Sixtieth Birthday March 18, 2002 (Copenhagen, 2002), 302–14 does not mention this one.
5 On these views of the meaning of the γνῶθι σαυτόν, see e.g. Wilkins (n. 4), 12–22, and her book The Delphic Maxims in Literature (Chicago, 1929), 1–10, 49–68; M.P. Nilsson, Greek Piety, trans. H.J. Rose (Oxford, 1948), 47, 55; J. Defradas, Les Thèmes de La Propagande Delphique (Paris, 1954), 269; P.P. Courcelle, Connais-Toi Toi-Même de Socrate à Saint Bernard (Paris, 1974), 1.12; Tränkle, H., ‘Gnothi Seauton. Zu Ursprung und Deutungsgeschichte des delphischen Spruchs’, WJA 11 (1985), 19–31 Google Scholar, at 23; W. Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. J. Raffan (Cambridge, MA, 1981), 148. J.E. Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle: Its Responses and Operations, with a Catalog of Responses (Berkeley, 1978), 294 is one of the few authors to recognize the inadequacy of such attempts to locate the precept's meaning.
6 Cf. Nussbaum, M., ‘Aristophanes and Socrates on learning practical wisdom’, YClS 26 (1980), 43–97 Google Scholar, at 69–70, 72–76; Taylor (n. 4), 131, 170–2, 175.
7 Dover (n. 1), xxxiv calls it his ‘tutorial’ method—involving assessment of character, setting of problems, reduction of problems to constituent parts and assessing responses—in contrast to the ‘expository’ method.
8 Thus Dover (n. 1), xxxv is wrong to say that ὁ κρείττων λόγος ‘embodies the spirit of Socrates’ teaching’. See Nussbaum (n. 6), 66.
10 A.M. Bowie, Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual, and Comedy (Cambridge, 1993), 124; Blyth, D., ‘Cloud morality and the meteorology of some choral odes’, Scholia 3 (1994), 24–45 Google Scholar; D. Konstan, ‘Socrates in Aristophanes' Clouds’, in D.R. Morrison (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Socrates (Cambridge, 2011), 75–90, at 78. P.A. Vander Waerdt, ‘Socrates in the Clouds’, in P.A. Vander Waerdt (ed.), The Socratic Movement (Ithaca, NY, 1994), 48–86, at 73, explains the Chorus' being clouds as parody of Diogenes’ deification of the air.
11 In the second instance, Better Argument tells Pheidippides to flare up at those who mock him (992), but does not specify the kind of mocking he has in mind. In the third instance, a creditor charges Strepsiades with mocking him when Strepsiades, noting his tragic diction, implies that the creditor is Xenocles' Alcmena (1267).
12 Aristophanes also mentions Pauson at Plut. 602 and Thesm. 948. On the difficult Aristotelian passages, see Zanker, G., ‘Aristotle's Poetics and the painters’, AJPh 121 (2000), 225–35Google Scholar and P. Schultz, ‘Style and agency in an age of transition’, in R. Osborne (ed.), Debating the Athenian Cultural Revolution: Art, Literature, Philosophy, and Politics 430–380 BC (Cambridge, 2007), 180–3.
13 Vesp. 542: if Bdelycleon loses the debate to his son, people will call him and his friends θαλλοφόροι, ‘olive-bearers’, and will thereby be pointing out (σκωπτόμενοι) their agedness; Vesp. 1320: at his debut party, Philocleon asks Thuphrastus, ‘Why do you act like a bigwig and pretend to be stylish, when you're only a clown sucking up to anyone who's doing well at the moment’ (trans. Henderson), and Xanthias comments that his master περιύβριζεν and σκώπτων ἀγροίκως, rustically calls out someone for their embarrassing qualities; for further key evidence for this claim see also Eccl. 1005, 1074, Nub. 58, 417, Pax 740, 745, Av. 96, Plut. 557; more diffuse but still consistent evidence is at Vesp. 567, Ran. 392, Pax 173, Plut. 886, 973.
14 In the one use of this verb in Plato's Phaedrus, Phaedrus uses the term to describe Socrates' mocking of Lysias' speech for lacking rational order (264e3). Socrates does so by likening it to a four-line epitaph that could be, so he says, read in any order. Phaedrus calls Lysias' speech ‘our’ speech. Thus Phaedrus takes himself to be mocked: his preferences—for superficially provocative rather than structurally sound speeches—are being made manifest, brutally so. Socrates is bringing self-awareness to Phaedrus.
15 Other commentators have read the uses of phusis mainly in contrast to nomos, e.g. Berg, S., ‘Rhetoric, nature, and philosophy in Aristophanes' Clouds ’, AncPhil 18 (1998), 1–19 Google Scholar, and Nussbaum (n. 6), 52–4 (but see 52 n. 17).
16 C. Segal, ‘Aristophanes' Cloud-Chorus’, Arethusa 2 (1969), 143–61, at 143, 148–50.
17 Segal (n. 16), 149.
18 For other views that the Clouds deceive and mock, seduce and disavow, see K. Reckford, ‘Aristophanes' ever-flowing Clouds’, Emory University Quarterly 22 (1967), 222–35, at 222–3, 225; A. Köhnken, ‘Der Wolken-Chor des Aristophanes', Hermes 108 (1980), 272–8; Nussbaum (n. 6), 76. Blyth (n. 10), 29 criticizes the idea that the Clouds mock for not ‘acknowledging any serious moral realization in Strepsiades', overlooking the ethical benefits in coming to self-knowledge.
19 Cf. Chrm. 155d4: ‘and I saw the things inside his cloak and I flared up and was not in myself’ (εἶδόν τε τὰ ἐντὸς τοῦ ἱματίου καὶ ἐφλεγόμην καὶ οὐκέτ᾽ ἐν ἐμαυτοῦ ἦν); cf. M.M. McCabe, ‘Looking inside Charmides’ cloak: seeing others and oneself in Plato's Charmides’, in D. Scott (ed.), Maieusis: Essays on Ancient Philosophy in Honour of Myles Burnyeat (Oxford, 2007), 1–19, at 12–14.
20 This allusion is noted by E.S. Belfiore, Socrates’ Daimonic Art: Love for Wisdom in Four Platonic Dialogues (Cambridge, 2012), 242.
21 Stone, L.M., ‘A note on Clouds 1104–5’, CPh 75 (1980), 321–2Google Scholar; Tomin, J., ‘Socratic Gymnasium in the Clouds ’, SO 62 (1987), 25–32 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 25, 28–9, 31; Kleve, K., ‘The stolen mantle in the Clouds ’, SO 64 (1989), 74–90 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Meynersen, O., ‘Der Manteldiebstahl des Sokrates (Ar. Nub. 175–9)’, Mnemosyne 46 (1993), 18–32 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. While cloak-stealing is a comic trope, it seems to have a deeper resonance in this play.
22 Burnyeat, M.F., ‘Socratic midwifery, Platonic inspiration’, BICS 24 (1977), 7–16 Google Scholar, at 12 describes self-knowledge in the context of the Theaetetus: it is not merely discerning one's private belief or articulating a theoretical framework (either of which he would call ‘to have formulated a proposition in words’) but to have ‘thought through its implications in a systematic way, confronting it with other relevant beliefs and considering whether these require it to be withdrawn or revised’. This evaluative effort, which Burnyeat says is also ‘a vital force in the process itself, … sustained by the pupil's growing awareness of his own cognitive resources, their strengths and their limitations’, is—as is clear from the structure of the argument in the Theaetetus, not a ‘psychotherapeutic’ or ‘biographical’ matter, but something that takes simultaneously awareness of one's current commitments and of one's norms governing and limiting those commitments.
23 Newell (n. 9) favours (iii) on the basis of the other cloak-stealing jokes through the play; he says that Socrates and the Clouds will together dissemble (be ‘ironic’) to bring Strepsiades into self-knowledge. If not directly, then at least indirectly does (i) support the theme.
24 A similar view may be found at Konstan (n. 10), 81.
25 Aristophanes might, of course, disapprove of this pedagogical manner, as Nussbaum (n. 6) argues.
26 Contra, for example, Berg (n. 15), 2–6; A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Clouds (Warminster, 1982), 2. Dover (n. 1), xxxv thinks that Socrates’ calling the Clouds divine is an accident, not the result of intending to correct Athenian theology: ‘The Greek tendency to personification of natural phenomena and abstractions ensures that a man who is regarded as rejecting the traditional gods is assumed to worship gods of his own choice, not to reject worship as such.’
27 Contra, Vander Waerdt (n. 10), 68. P. Woodruff, ‘Socrates and the new learning’, in D.R. Morrison (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Socrates (Cambridge, 2011), 91–110, at 95–6, 102–3 claims that advocates of the ‘new learning’ sought ‘necessary causes … in place of [the] teleological ones’ that Socrates sought; in either case, these thinkers were concerned not to disenchant the world but to account for events and ideals in more effective ways.
28 See also L. Woodbury, ‘Strepsiades’ understanding: fives notes on the Clouds’, Phoenix 34 (1980), 108–27, at 111 arguing that Strepsiades’ experience as a farmer causes him to ask about and be interested in the weather.
29 Blyth (n. 10), 37–42 shows the way Aristophanes links the Cloud chorus with Pantheonic justice served via weather.
30 Thus it is hard to accept the claim of Vander Waerdt (n. 10), 65 that Aristophanes’ Socrates has ‘little or no interest in the ethical questions (e.g. whether law is founded in nature or convention …) favored by contemporary sophists’.
31 Sommerstein (n. 26), 2: ‘All these pursuits are depicted as useless and absurd.’ Dover (n. 1), xxxiv and xxxvii says that, unlike the case of metre and grammar, ‘there is no direct indication that natural science is propaedeutic to oratory’ and ‘astronomy and physics have no relevance’; but we see that the relation is made clear by the talk of lightning; see also Gorg. Hel. 13, about the persuasive task of astronomers, and Arist. fr. 15 Ross on Empedocles as the inventor of rhetoric.
32 Vander Waerdt (n. 10) and Janko, R., ‘The physicist as hierophant: Aristophanes, Socrates and the authorship of the Derveni papyrus’, ZPE 118 (1997), 61–94 Google Scholar.
33 See R. Thomas, Herodotus in Context: Ethnography, Science and the Art of Persuasion (Cambridge, 2000), 37–9.
34 See D. Coppola, Anemoi: morfologia dei venti nell'immaginario della Grecia arcaica (Napoli, 2010) for a full account of the early Greek appeal to winds. The literary, metaphysical and ethical connotations of clouds are discussed at Dover (n. 1), lxvii–lxix and Bowie (n. 10), 125–30.
35 See H. Yunis, Plato Phaedrus (Cambridge, 2011), 1–17 for the principal goals of the Phaedrus, and Werner, D.S., ‘Plato's Phaedrus and the problem of unity’, OSAPh 32 (2007), 91–137 Google Scholar, for the history of interpretation; neither mentions the Clouds.
36 Dover (n. 1), xliii rejects a possible allusion by Plato's διαίρεσις (266b) to Aristophanes’ ὀρθῶς διαιρῶν καὶ σκοπῶν (742); Dover also rejects the hypothesis that Tht. 150e echoes Strepsiades’ having caused a miscarriage of an idea (Nub. 137). Konstan (n. 10), 80–1 notes only that the Phaedrus includes ‘an account of the heavens’ and thus supports Aristophanes’ view that Socrates discoursed on the cosmos. Kleve, K., ‘Anti-Dover or Socrates in the Clouds ’, SO 58 (1983), 23–37 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 25 and 28 notices three similarities between the two works. Tarrant, H., ‘Midwifery and the Clouds ’, CQ 38 (1988), 116–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 122 n. 24 asserts without argument in a note that Phdr. 270a—about the importance of ἀδολεσχία, μετεωρολογία and friendship with Anaxagoras to Pericles’ excellence in public speaking—shows knowledge of the Clouds. Evidence below supports Tarrant's assertion.
37 Ap. 19c3–4 and Clit. 407a8-b1 (cf. S.R. Slings, Plato Clitophon [Cambridge, 1999], ad loc.); perhaps the dialogues that depict the phrontistērion's co-director, Chaerephon (Chrm. 153b2–154d8, Grg. 447a8–449a1; cf. Taylor [n. 4], 146–7); maybe Euthyd. 277d and Prt. 315b–c (cf. A.W. Adkins, ‘Clouds, mysteries, Socrates and Plato’, Antichthon 4 , 13–24, at 18–19, but G.J. De Vries resists, in ‘Mystery terminology in Aristophanes and Plato’, Mnemosyne 26 , 1–8); and perhaps others (Phd. 70bc, 99b; Resp. 488e-489c; Cra. 401b7–8; Prm. 135d5; Plt. 229b6–8, according to Tarrant [n. 36], 122 n. 24; see also Kleve [n. 36] generally). Nussbaum (n. 6), 82–5 relates Clouds with Protagoras thematically but does not claim there are allusions. Taylor (n. 4), 148–51 and Tomin (n. 21), 99 claim that the reference to intellectual midwifery in Tht. 149e-151d is historical to Socrates, partially on the grounds that Aristophanes’ Socratic phrontistērion also uses the language of miscarriage of discovery, though neither claims that these ‘textual affiliations’ are allusions; Tarrant (n. 36) doubts that the language of miscarriage in the Clouds is at all connected to Socrates, and certainly not to Theaetetus’ Socrates. R. Hunter, Plato and the Traditions of Ancient Literature: The Silent Stream (Cambridge, 2012), 73–6 suggests that the Republic might show influence from Knights.
38 Yunis (n. 35), 24 puts Phaedrus’ composition anywhere between 370–350, more than five decades after the two versions of the Clouds, 423/419–416.
39 Vander Waerdt (n. 10), 53 n. 18 argues that even Xenophon responded to the Clouds, in his Oeconomicus, Symposium and Memorabilia. Most recently, Konstan (n. 10), 76–7, 82–5, 88 and Woodruff (n. 27) observe the ways in which Aristophanes seems to have drawn an important but incomplete picture of Socrates; see also Nussbaum (n. 6), 71–6.
40 Cf. Whitehorne, J., ‘Aristophanes' representations of “intellectuals”’, Hermes 130 (2002), 28–35 Google Scholar, especially at 33–4.
41 Cf. J.A. Bromberg, ‘Academic disciplines in Aristophanes’ Clouds (200–3)’, CQ 62 (2012), 81–91.
42 On Socrates’ use of myth in the Phaedrus, see D.S. Werner, Myth and Philosophy in Plato's Phaedrus (Cambridge, 2012) with Moore, C., ‘Socrates among the mythographers: review of D.S. Werner, Myth and Philosophy in Plato's Phaedrus’, Polis 30 (2013), 106–17Google Scholar and C. Collobert, P. Destrée and F. González (edd.), Plato and Myth: Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic Myths (Leiden, 2012), chs. 14–15.
43 On the way in which Socrates seems but is not actually similar, on a range of dimensions, to contemporary sophists, see Woodruff (n. 27).
44 Sommerstein (n. 26), 3 believes that Socrates was ‘singled out as a typical sophist’; that this classification of Socrates was untrue, ‘Aristophanes either did not know or did not care’. Dover (n. 1), xxxvi–lvi is also extremely sceptical that Aristophanes knew or cared much about the details of Socrates’ life and motivations. Konstan (n. 10), 85 and throughout takes a balanced position between ‘hodge-podge’ and derivation from Socrates’ actual practice.
45 Yunis (n. 35), on 229c5 claims that Socrates’ rectification ‘is an obvious one’, because it would take no great originality to invent it. All the same, Socrates is highly competent at making difficult things look easy; consider his two speeches in this dialogue. See Moore (n. 42) for the connection between Socrates and myth-rectification.
46 In this, Plato is similar to Xen. Mem. 4.7.3, in which he argued that Socrates could do advanced geometry but chose not to, on the grounds that doing so would take up one's whole lifetime. See Moore, C., ‘How to “know thyself” in Plato's Phaedrus ’, Apeiron 47 (2014), 390–418 CrossRefGoogle Scholar for an account of myth-rationalization and self-knowledge in the Phaedrus.
47 On self-knowledge in the Phaedrus, Moore (n. 46); Belfiore (n. 20), 211–71; C. Griswold, Self-Knowledge in Plato's Phaedrus (New Haven, 1986); Werner (n. 42), 35–8, 85–7. Moore, C., ‘Deception and knowledge in Plato's Phaedrus ’, AncPhil 33 (2013), 97–100 Google Scholar, id., ‘Arguing for the immortality of the soul in the palinode of Plato's Phaedrus ’, Ph&Rh 47 (2014), 179–208 Google Scholar and Scott, D., ‘Philosophy and madness in the Phaedrus ’, OSAPh 41 (2011), 169–200 Google Scholar show that the speeches in the dialogue—especially about the powers of love and speaking—demand of the listener careful assessment of his own susceptibility to the lovely, persuasive arguments, and that the conversation of the dialogue points out that demand.
48 Contrast this with the view of Vander Waerdt (n. 10), that Aristophanes had already implicitly unified Socrates’ interests, both via a complete uptake of Diogenes of Apollonia's interests (on Socrates’ Diogenism, see also Janko [n. 32]), and (reconstructing via Xenophon's account of Socrates) through an acknowledgement that some investigation of nature is appropriate to ethical inquiry.
49 Strepsiades’ desire to become an effective speaker: 98–9, 111–18, 130, 239, 422, 792; seeking a teacher: 182–3, 244; cynicism about truth: 245, 434, 883–5.
50 Phaedrus’ desire to become an effective speaker: 228a3–4, 228e3–4; seeking a teacher: 227a2, 227c7, 228a6-b6, 257b2-4, 278b8; cynicism about truth: 260a1–4.
51 14–32, 64, 83, 122, 1401, 1407; cf. 1264–5, 1298–302.
52 See Blyth (n. 10), 41.
54 See also Woodbury (n. 28), 125–7 on another significant allusion to horses at 1105–10.
55 140–3, 252–74; cf. Konstan (n. 10), 86; Janko (n. 32), 69; M.C. Marianetti, Religion and Politics in Aristophanes’ Clouds (Hildesheim, 1992); Nussbaum (n. 6), 73; Byl, S., ‘Parodie d'une initiation dans les Nuées d'Aristophane’, RBPh 58 (1980), 5–21 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dover (n. 1), xli and on 143, 254; Adkins (n. 37), 13–14; de Vries (n. 37), 1–3; Taylor (n. 4), 166–9.
56 248b1, 249c6-d1, 250b4-c5; cf. Yunis (n. 35), ad loc.; C. Schefer, ‘Rhetoric as part of an initiation into the mysteries: a new interpretation of the Platonic Phaedrus’, in A.N. Michelini (ed.), Plato as Author: The Rhetoric of Philosophy (Leiden, 2003); Rinella, M.A., ‘Supplementing the ecstatic: Plato, the Eleusinian mysteries and the Phaedrus ’, Polis 17 (2000), 61–78 Google Scholar.
57 Phrontistērion's walls: 92, 103, 132, 198–9, etc.; Athens’ walls: 227a2–7, 230c6-e1. Cf. Segal (n. 16), 145–7 on the importance of the outside-inside contrast in the Clouds. Note also that Better Argument describes its ideal of education as going outside the town walls into a veritable locus amoenus, with olives, reeds, woodbine, catkins, poplars, elms and plane trees (1005–8); the Phaedrus famously describes Socrates narrating to Phaedrus their walk outside the town walls as they see a verdant peaceful shaded spot beneath a plane tree (229b1–2, 229b7–8, 230b2-c5).
58 On the rich possible meanings of Socrates’ basket-thinking, see Nussbaum (n. 6), 70, 72.
59 Cf. Nussbaum (n. 6), 71.
61 Cicadas and other insects in Clouds: 1360; 145–68, 831; 634–5, 695–9, 706–30. In the Phaedrus: 230c2, 258e6–259d7. Just as the cicadas report intellectual conversation to the Muses through their songs (259b4-d6), the Clouds nourish intellectuals who μουσοποιοῦσιν (‘make Muse-related song’, 334).
62 On the Clouds, see Nussbaum (n. 6), 55–6.
63 No commentary on the Phaedrus or the Clouds, to my knowledge, has identified this parallel, and yet I think it resolves much of the trouble in making sense of Socrates’ association of himself with Typhon. See Brouwer, R., ‘Hellenistic philosophers on Phaedrus 229b-30a’, Cambridge Classical Journal 54 (2008), 30–48 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for the post-classical struggles to make sense of this passage. See LSJ s.v. Τῡφῶν for the conflation with Τυφωεύς/Τῡφώς by the time of Pindar.
64 I do suggest it in C. Moore, Socrates and Self-Knowledge (Cambridge, 2015). I thank several very helpful anonymous referees and Elizabeth Belfiore for comments on earlier drafts of this paper; none is to be assumed to agree with the conclusions drawn here.
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