The character of Socrates in Aristophanes’s Cloud resembles the character he put across in Plato’s Apology. In both cases, Socrates is a master sophist, the ideal philosopher. He is well versed in sophistry, science, rhetoric, and atheism. He appears removed from reality, is ready to defend his stand however outrageous it sounds and refuses to give in to coercions by his critics, students and authorities. Socrates maintains the character of a model philosopher and intellect who combines simplicity with an air of importance to converse convincingly with his challengers regardless of the nature of the topic at hand.
Socrates retains his iconic character of being an excellent conversationalist in both Clouds and The Apology. In The Apology, he faces serious charges of failing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, corrupting the youth, and inventing new deities. The three charges do not cow Socrates and he puts forward his defense in a plain, simple, and conversational manner. He maintains his confidence and tries to intimidate the jury by stating, “when they told you to be upon your guard and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence” (Socrates, 3). Socrates approaches his dialogue with Strepsiades in a simple manner by for instance asking Strepsiades “mortal, what do you want with me?” As such, Socrates uses his conversationalist skills to get information out of people in a friendly yet intimidating manner that aids him to defend his controversial stands.
The distant and indifferent character of Socrates is evident and meaningful in both The Apology and Clouds. In Clouds, he appears from the skies in a basket hanging in mid-air! Socrates moves to “float” are meant to enhance his removal from reality and to make him appear as a mortal whose ways are complex and incomprehensible to other human beings. Socrates meant to instill reverence and adoration in the eyes of his challengers. In The Apology, Socrates used complex explanations in his defense. For instance, he warns the court official against interrupting him when he uses words and phrases they are unable to understand. He also asserts that he is 70 years old in an attempt to silence the jury that he deserved respect. These moves compound Socrates character and enable him to instill fear in his challengers.
Although in The Apology, the jury hands Socrates a death sentence, the sentence comes after a lengthy court battle. The jury had to hear Socrates lengthy monologue and Socrates being one who always spoke his mind, was pleased that the jury gave him ample time to defend himself. Socrates maintains the same outspoken character in Clouds. He asserts his dominance over Strepsiades and makes sure that his subject conforms to instructions. Although Strepsiades has a subtle, esoteric mind, Socrates manages to cow him and get him into a louse-ridden bed. The Stubborn and pragmatic Strepsiades falls prey to the coercions of the Chorus of Clouds, and Socrates trickery.
The play Clouds, has several instances it touches on the determination of the three charges Socrates was facing. The play undermines the arguments put forward by the prosecution that Socrates was corrupting the youth in Athens. When Socrates met with Strepsiades, he teaches him sophistry, and the Chorus of Clouds convinces Strepsiades to enroll his son, Pheidippides in school. Pheidippides becomes a student of Socrates. Going by the manner in which Socrates handled and taught Pheidippides (a representative of the youth in Athens), it is evident that Socrates never corrupted the youth as alleged by the jury. If anything, Socrates seems to have been teaching the youth ways and means of ensuring that justice prevailed in the society. Because of Socrates teachings, Pheidippides opposed and beat up his father who was trying dishonest means to beat a court case.
The prosecution could also benefit by arguing that Socrates radicalized Athenian youths to engage in dishonorable acts. Pheidippides beat up his father because of attending Socrates sophist classes. As such, Socrates was responsible for Pheidippides actions of beating up his father, an act that was dishonorable.
The play also strengthens Socrates defense that he ought not to recognize the gods recognized by the state. In his conversation with Strepsiades, Socrates maintains that there are no gods. He asserts that the Chorus of the Clouds produces weather patterns. As such, Socrates remains non-contradictory in his assertion that there are no gods, and that he ought not to recognize any gods the state recognizes. The Chorus of Clouds to which Socrates attributes all natural phenomena does several things such as singing in order to assert its presence. Therefore, Socrates can quote more evidence to defend himself in the trial by asserting the dominance of the Chorus of Clouds over the courts alleged state gods.
Socrates assertion that the Chorus of the Clouds was responsible for all natural phenomena adds weight to the prosecution’s argument that Socrates was inventing new deities. The prosecution could assert that the Chorus of Clouds was a new deity that Socrates wanted to propagate against the state gods.
Jowett, Benjamin Apology by Plato.
Aristophanes The Clouds