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Analysis of “The Clouds” by Aristophanes Essay

During an annual festival in Greece circa 534 B.C.E., Greek Drama was developed as a form of art. The annual festival became a competition of revelry and ritual amongst playwrights and producers. The Clouds written by Aristophanes redefined the competition bringing his own beliefs of society and ideologies to the forefront of his message with in the play. From the brilliant comical mind of Aristophanes themes, motifs and symbols play a crucial role as serving for the foundation of his message with in the play. The Clouds speaks to issues of Generational Gaps, New School and Old School thought, Just versus Unjust arguments, Think Tanks, and takes a strong stance for his conservative views so much in that he faced prosecution. The beauty with in this play is that all of these elements have universal implications and rooted deeply in intelligence expressed by humor.

Aristophanes writes to the struggles of generational gaps and the issues that it would have not only for the characters with in the play, but also the problems that would develop in Greek society. Throughout the span of history, in all cultures, generations have existed; in some more than others these generations are more obviously defined. Each of these generations has their own social norms that provide a basis for perception, pattern and theme with in the specific cultural system. Inevitably, differences in thought will occur between generation causing generational gaps, these gaps bring reason and understanding when conflict arises between generations.

To add to the complexity of the generational gap, Aristophanes focuses on the relationship between father and son. With in the play continual struggle between generational gaps and the tension and destruction it brings upon a father to son relationship.

Clouds become particularly fascinating because of its relational elements, which correspond with my own life, more specifically, the relationship between my father and I. Strepsiades represents a very similar role in the play as my father does with in my own life. In contrast, I felt a deep connection toward Pheidippides the son, in which his inability to recognize generational gaps bring emotional and psychological breakdown which directly effects the stability of his own father.

The play opens with Strepsiades concerned with his debt from gambling and his sons’ interest in living a “luxurious” life. Strepsaides instilled these morals within his son and now that he cannot support this lifestyle he pleads with his son to stop this path in life and redirect it so is to not fall further into debt. At some level, by Strepsiades imploring his son to a different avenue of schooling, he is acknowledging his awareness of the consequences that lay ahead if his debt is not forgiven. This maturity is seen only through those actions and are not carried out through any means of responsibility and self-blame. Instead of Strepsiades taking responsibility for the debt, he pushes upon his son a new schooling philosophy causing an immediate conflict and in turn, Pheidippides rebels against his fathers’ wishes.

There have been many times throughout my own life and with in my relationship with my father that I have felt he has not been able to express his own wrong doings and in turn channels his lack of responsibility for a situation upon others rather than himself. What this has ultimately lead to is him asking and demanding me to participate and help with things that I do not agree with or I feel as if they go against my own lines of reasoning. Naturally my immediate response would be to rebel and go against my fathers’ wishes. When analyzing the many situations it is clear that often times, his lack of admittance to being wrong and my need for rebellion stems from a generational gap theme that is portrayed in both my life and in Clouds.

After Strepsiades takes matters into his own hands by enrolling in this new philosophy of learning and gains his education from Socrates, he quizzes his son about the knowledge that he just obtained, in hopes to prove that his way is better than the old traditional form of education. This will once again lead to arguments between what is just and unjust. Their opposing views stem directly from their cultural experiences and morals that have been shaped with in their generation and education. What is fascinating is the paradox in which Strepsiades is representative of a new form of education and Pheidippides is representative of the old form of education. As father, Strepsiades is able to use his patriarchal powers upon Pheidippides and force him into this new ideal of learning against his will.

It has always been a common expression to state, “I only want what is best for my children.” Many times it is not what is best for them but what they perceive to be best based upon their own line of reasoning and biases. As my father and I would argue what is best and what is not, it was evident that he was arguing on the platform of what he felt was best for me rather than what may have been what was truly best for me. Once again, we find that this leads to argument, hostility and anger. These differences although circumstantial are more relational to a generational gap which can give insight to repeating patterns of issues between father and son relationships.

The Clouds ultimately ends with destruction that is both figurative as well as literal. Now that Socrates has trained Pheidippides, he can now logically and philosophically argue his points in favor of “Old Education” versus “New Education.” This ability once again creates a paradox with in the relationship and adds to the continual build up of tension. As Strepsiades’ creditors come to collect his debt he is able to out wit them with grammar and just reasoning. Although he is able to do this, his issues with in the home are not settled which was his ultimate goal to begin with.

As a child a father always dreams of being the figure in which their son will look up too. They want to teach them and show them and be the example. Whether it is using technology, or plays baseball, the role of father figure means having control. As I grew up and became better at baseball and better with technology than my father, this sense of control with in my father’s eye was lost causing upset and anger. What he felt as if would be his moment to teach and be best, ultimately turned into him realizing that him pushing me to become best caused me to become more capable then himself.

Strepsiades comes to the realization that he has not only hurt the relationship between himself and his son, but he has simply transferred his sons obsession, which was once physical education and horses, to Socrates and new education teachings. As a quarrel in understanding traditional poetry soon lead to a physical altercation, no sooner does Strepsiades understand and realize what he has done. To continue with in the generation values, instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he is filled with anger and orders his slaves to burn down Socrates’ school.

It is too often that realizations do not come until it is too late; fortunately this is where my father and I differ from Strepsiades and Pheidippides. After my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, our relationship was given a second chance. It was in these hard years of acceptance and change that we were able to deal with the issues in which had kept an unhealthy tension amongst us for so many years. However, we would not have been to overcome these obstacles unless we both accepted and understood the concept of generational gaps and its effects on ideals. For Strepsiades and Pheidippides, their downfall came due to their blindness of generational gaps and ideals, for this reason the pattern of hurt and anger continued.

This generational gap was significant to a greater change that was occurring beyond Strepsiades and Pheidippides but a movement from Old School thought and New school thought more specifically on the movement of “Think Tanks” with in society. This new school of thought founded by philosophers such as Socrates, poses a new ideology with in the culture, taking a stance against certain religious educational values. As Old School thought referred to traditions based upon religion, New School focuses on sophistic thought; these polar opposite values clash. In “The Clouds,” for the first time the concept and ideas of “Think Tanks,” which is defined as, a body of people providing advice and expertise with in a certain field of study, in this case becomes the study of thought. Aristophanes creates “Think Tanks” with in the context of his own play, however, he poses the question to the analytical reader, “Whom do we trust in order to fill our minds and create the basis of our own thought processes?”

Aristophanes, who belongs to the Old School of thought, writes this play upon the basis and idea that New School thought is corrupting the morals of Greek society and making the young despise tradition. The paradox that Aristophanes presents is with in how he portrays the “Think Tanks” with in the play. With in the school in which Socrates instructs students, the play portrays Socrates to teach students how to create thievery and swindle the law to avoid paying debt. These “Think Tanks” meditate on irrational arguments and present ways to make weak arguments appear strong.

Aristophanes conservative views and values influence his writings on Socrates and his “Think Tanks.” Throughout the play, these “Think Tanks” are characterized as people who sit around and contemplate almost, meaningless and unjust thought. Aristophanes takes it as far as to write a scene if which Socrates is thinking so much that a lizard comes and goes to bathroom upon him. These scenes are representative of how the author felt toward this concept of new school understanding.

The satire and dark comedic nature of the play can be seen in relation to religion. At this period, the spiritual ideology with in the culture was centered upon the ideas that the sun, moon, earth were the gods and goddesses ruled the earth. As many involved in the “Think Tank,” contemplated the concepts of religion and gods, there seemed to be an apparent shift toward “scientific theory.” This belief in understanding “why” beyond religion would cause an even greater gap between Old Though and New Thought. As many began to question religion in this point in history, Aristophanes uses his play to acknowledge that fact that both science and religion must become open to thought and change.

As seen today in modern education, there are many different views and understandings that are criticized and accepted as schools of thoughts. In all levels of education from Elementary School to College, there are philosophers and psychologist creating a basis for what is believed to be the best means of education. These modern days “Think Tanks” take time to meditate and analyze certain means of thought and thought processing. These are the people today who we trust in order to provide knowledge of the best way to be educated. In a technology driven society, one can parallel New School Thought in education as using technology with in the classroom, as Old School Thought would stay clear for it only would interfere with the education process. School in different Socio-Economic Status’s as well as private and public schools have different mission statements.

These statements are reflective of the school of thought in which they subscribe too. Some may be driven by religion, some may be driven by the arts and some may be driven by statistical and scientific data. All of these schools that create their mission statements have gained their knowledge and understanding through society and many from the “Think Tanks” that take the time to analyze education process. Aristophanes recognizes the paradigm shift between Old and New School thought with in Greece and shows his stance through comedy in “The Clouds.”

Old School and New School Thought, again, presents another fundamental issue in which Aristophanes wants to address, which is the shift between Just versus Unjust reasoning. At the foundation of the argument between Just versus Unjust, it is apparent that ideologies serve as the center of the debate. Within Ancient Greece, the Just argument is directly correlated with the religious and traditional beliefs of generations past. The unjust argument, newly founded upon the expansion of individual education, sciences and philosophy. These very oppositional beliefs create tremendous tension with in the Ancient Greek culture. More specifically, families in Ancient Greece were torn between the Just and Unjust argument in such a way that it destroyed homes as seen in the play, The Clouds.

The Just argument places emphasis on religion, traditional and communal loyalty. Their education system would be considered successful if everyone in the community knew the religious norms of the culture and abided by these facts as to not disrupt the harmonious understanding of morality. Just arguments also continually followed tradition of what cultures and generations prior to theirs would show emphasis on. This religious aspect of culture put strong emphasis on tradition; with in this was their means of education founded upon the good for the community and culture. The Just argument lacked a sense of personal growth, which is challenged by the Unjust Argument.

With in Ancient Greece, the Unjust Argument was an emerging ideology that was growing rapidly in the culture. This mindset put strong value on science and philosophy. More importantly, the Unjust argued for the individual rather than the community, personal gain was important and for this pushed questioning beyond tradition to gain knowledge rather than acceptance to gain knowledge. The Unjust were trained in literacy and logical arguments. These skill sets allowed for them to argue against the just in ways that would out wit the traditional and religious means of arguments. Aristophanes, being from the just argument era saw great issues with the Unjust Argument and in his plays shows devastation that can occur if one subscribes to the new ideologies of the unjust argument.

This theme of differentiated ideologies is one that spans throughout History; whether it is Ancient Greece or America, these generational gaps and lack of acceptance for each, cause conflicting lifestyles and tensions. In America, the Just and Unjust argument is best exemplified by the experience of immigrants coming to America. Mass immigrations during the early 1900’s caused the creation of ghettos in many cities. These small communities that shared ideologies were created in order to feel comfortable but also to keep a sense of tradition and culture in a new growing ideology that was being creating by the melting pot of America.

There was a consciousness and awareness of the shift between the traditions they felt with in their old country and now in America and for this reason tensions began to rise. As immigrants began to reproduce and have children in a new culture, there was a competing ideology between keeping tradition and at the same time compete in a new competitive market created by the industrialization at the time period.

Similar to the father and son relationship in “The Clouds,” Children growing up in a new system of American education were taught very differently than their parents. With varying education systems and difference in thought processes, the Immigrant parents faced the dynamic between keeping the tradition and at the same time making sure their children would be successful in a new culture with it’s own ideologies.

As the children continually grow in the new ideologies and education system, tension will inevitably come about. For this reason, it is seen throughout cultures, across the world the inability to relate, understand and accept ideologies and thought processes of those in different generation from our own, especially those closest to us. This theme in Ancient Greece is exemplified in The Clouds.

Lastly, one can analyze the themes that have been presented by Aristophanes specifically focusing on the character of “Chorus of Clouds.” The character of the Clouds with in the play The Clouds, play an interesting role in the understanding of the Just versus Unjust argument. Aristophanes’ traditional views are brought out by the Chorus of Clouds in true satire nature in the form of engulfing a dual characterization directly addressing the audience. The traditional morals of the time as well as the their role to juxtapose the Unjust argument are seen through not only how Aristophanes’ develops the Chorus of Clouds but also how Socrates views the clouds themselves.

The Chorus of Clouds play as a paradox and are meant to somewhat confuse the audience on their double standards. This double standard symbolically represent the confusion of the cultural change and done purposely so that the audience will meditate on new and old traditions with in the cultural setting of the play. What also adds to the dynamic of the “Chorus of Clouds” is their direct interaction with the audience. This direct contact becomes an extension of not only the traditional mind speaking to the culture but also Aristophanes’ himself speaking to the audience giving his traditionalist views.

The “Chorus of Clouds” act as the antagonist with in the play. As the antagonist, the clouds continually bring “evil” upon the tragic hero, as the hero takes on the unjust argument. Since the clouds are aware of what the characters are doing and are warning them of the destruction they bring upon themselves if they continue in their unjust argument mentalities, it can be argued that they not only are foreshadowing the destruction of the characters, but they are also “all-knowing.” If they are seen as all-knowing then if can be assumed that they take on a divine quality and are representative of the gods being all knowing which is correct in the Just argument. In the end, because Aristophanes is in fact a traditionalist it would in deed make sense for the chorus of clouds to ultimately be correct and foreshadow the destruction in the acceptance and practice of the unjust argument.

Aristophanes’ furthers his symbolic anger toward the unjust argument by using Socrates’s views to uphold his views of the importance of the just argument. In contrast of how Aristophanes views of the clouds, Socrates views the clouds as simply scientific bodies of water and gas. Socrates believes they are simply water molecules that “Think Tanks” gaze upon. As the just argument receives the Chorus of Clouds as representative of gods, Socrates receives the chorus of clouds as simple gas and water. Once again adding to the satire of the play in that Aristophanes uses Socrates’ beliefs in the clouds as a direct representation of how he views what Socrates is teaching his students. Aristophanes’ views Socrates’ and the unjust argument as arguments that look large, big and powerful, however, they have little to no substance. Ultimately the play will reveal that the Chorus of Clouds are not simply large water molecules but indeed are correct in their revelations and warnings.

As characters, the “Chorus of Clouds” are layered with satire and symbolism. Their role in the play is crucial in understanding the binary oppositions with the play. The conflict of Just versus Unjust can really be understand by the audience if they use the clouds as a representative of the traditional views as well as the views of Aristophanes. Ultimately the warning in which the clouds send upon the characters serves to be correct, as the main characters will ultimately end in self-destruction. If they had listening to the traditional views of the clouds and their divine knowledge upon their lives, they would have survived; this idea encompasses Aristophanes’ argument against the Unjust.

Throughout the play, Aristophanes expresses his clear defined ideologies with a sense so that the intelligent minds could understand how he personally felt during this period of change in Greece. His themes were meticulously thought out as well as the roles of the characters in order to best exemplify his own thought processes. What captures the power of The Clouds is it’s timeless message and understanding beyond just the context of ancient Greece but beyond. The Clouds, when read in today’s western society, still can be paralleled and relational to the work that was written thousands of years ago. The message of The Clouds will live forever, the great intelligence and humor of Aristophanes brings enlightenment and appreciation to the tremendous art that is Greek Drama.


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