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Clouds by Aristophanes - an excerpt

1Thinkery: The Greek word phrontisterion (meaning school or academy) is translated here as Thinkery, a term borrowed from William Arrowsmith's translation.



3Wearing one’s hair long and keeping race horses were characteristics of the sons of very rich families.






Dramatis Personae


STREPSIADES: a middle-aged Athenian

PHEIDIPPIDES: a young Athenian, son of Strepsiades

XANTHIAS: a slave serving Strepsiades

STUDENT: one of Socrates’ pupils in the Thinkery

SOCRATES: chief teacher in the Thinkery




PASIAS: one of Strepsiades’ creditors

WITNESS: a friend of Pasias

AMYNIAS: one of Strepsiades’ creditors



[In the centre of the stage area is a house with a door to Socrates’

educational establishment, the Thinkery. 1On one side of the stage is

Strepsiades' house, in front of which are two beds. Outside the

Thinkery there is a small clay statue of a round goblet, and outside

Strepsiades’ house there is a small clay statue of Hermes. It is just

before dawn. Strepsiades and Pheidippides are lying asleep in the

two beds. Strepsiades tosses and turns restlessly. Pheidippides lets a

very loud fart in his sleep. Strepsiades sits up wide awake]



Damn! Lord Zeus, how this night drags on and on!

It’s endless. Won’t daylight ever come?

2During the war it was easy for slaves to run away into enemy territory, so their owners had to treat them with much more care.

I heard a cock crowing a while ago,

but my slaves kept snoring. In the old days,

they wouldn’t have dared. Damn and blast this war—

so many problems. Now I’m not allowed

to punish my own slaves.2 And then there’s him—

this fine young man, who never once wakes up,

but farts the night away, all snug in bed,

wrapped up in five wool coverlets. Ah well,                                          10             [10]

I guess I should snuggle down and snore away.


[Strepsiades lies down again and tries to sleep. Pheidippides farts

again. Strepsiades finally gives up trying to sleep]



I can’t sleep. I’m just too miserable,

what with being eaten up by all this debt—

thanks to this son of mine, his expenses,

his racing stables. He keeps his hair long

and rides his horses—he’s obsessed with it—

his chariot and pair. He dreams of horses.3

And I’m dead when I see the month go by—

with the moon’s cycle now at twenty days,

as interest payments keep on piling up.4                                               20

[Calling to a slave]


Hey, boy! Light the lamp. Bring me my accounts.

[Enter the slave Xanthias with light and tablets]


Let me take these and check my creditors.

How many are there? And then the interest                                                            [20]

I’ll have to work that out. Let me see now . . .

What do I owe? “Twelve minai to Pasias?”

Twelve minai to Pasias! What’s that for?

Oh yes, I know—that’s when I bought that horse,

the pedigree nag. What a fool I am!

I’d sooner have a stone knock out my eye.5

PHEIDIPPIDES: [talking in his sleep]

            Philo, that’s unfair! Drive your chariot straight.                                                     30


            That there’s my problem—that’s what’s killing me.

            Even fast asleep he dreams of horses!

PHEIDIPPIDES: [in his sleep]

           In this war-chariot race how many times

           do we drive round the track?


           You’re driving me,

           your father, too far round the bend. Let’s see,

            after Pasias, what’s the next debt I owe?                                                                     [30]

           “Three minai to Amynias.” For what?

            A small chariot board and pair of wheels?

PHEIDIPPIDES: [in his sleep]

           Let the horse have a roll. Then take him home.


           You, my lad, have been rolling in my cash.                                                              40

           Now I’ve lost in court, and other creditors

           are going to take out liens on all my stuff

           to get their interest.

PHEIDIPPIDES [waking up]

          What’s the matter, dad?

          You’ve been grumbling and tossing around there

          all night long.


        I keep getting bitten—

        some bum biter in the bedding.


        Ease off, dad.

        Let me get some sleep.


        All right, keep sleeping.

        Just bear in mind that one fine day these debts                                                                     [40]

        will all be your concern.


[Pheidippides rolls over and goes back to sleep]


Damn it, anyway.

I wish that matchmaker had died in pain—                                                              50

the one who hooked me and your mother up.

I’d had a lovely time up to that point,

a crude, uncomplicated, country life,

lying around just as I pleased, with honey bees,

and sheep and olives, too. Then I married—

the niece of Megacles—who was the son

of Megacles. I was a country man,

and she came from the town—a real snob,

extravagant, just like Coesyra.6

When I married her and we both went to bed,                                                         60

I stunk of fresh wine, drying figs, sheep’s wool—                                             [50]

an abundance of good things. As for her,

she smelled of perfume, saffron, long kisses,

greed, extravagance, lots and lots of sex.7

Now, I’m not saying she was a lazy bones.

She used to weave, but used up too much wool.

To make a point I’d show this cloak to her

and say, “Woman, your weaving’s far too thick.” 8

[The lamp goes out]



            We’ve got no oil left in the lamp.


Damn it!

Why’d you light such a thirsty lamp? Come here.                                                 70

I need to thump you.

4The interest on Strepsiades’ loans would increase once the lunar month came to an end.

5Twelve minai is 100 drachmas, a considerable sum. The Greek reads “the horse branded with a koppa mark.” That brand was a guarantee of its breeding.

as a common name in a very prominent aristocratic family inAthens. Coesyra was the mother of a Megacles from this family, a woman well known for her wasteful expenditures and pride.

The Greek has “of Colias and Genetyllis” names associated with festivals celebrating women’s sexual and procreative powers.

8Packing the wool tight in weaving uses up more wool and therefore costs more. Strepsiades holds up his cloak, which is by now full of holes.