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Clouds (Clarendon Paperbacks)

Clouds - Aristophanes, Kenneth James Dover What do you think of somebody who enters his play into a contest, writes himself into the script as a character (playing himself), and in the middle of the dialogue, gives himself a longwinded nonsequitur of a soliloquey, in which he berates all the other playwrites in the contest, and pleads for the judges to award him first prize? (and it ain't subtle): "And now, Gentlemen of the Jury, a few brief words about the Prize,and the solid benefits you stand to gain by voting for The Clouds-as you certainly should, in any case..."Aristophanes: smartassI know. Awesome, huh? That's just the beginning. Aristophanes doesn't care much for Socrates, so he makes the entire play a series of shots and parodies of him. It's the story of an average Joe (Strepsaides) who enrolls in Socrates' private academy ("The Thinkery" !), and all the absurd and mostly useless lessons he learns there:1) How to measure small distances by dipping a mite's feet in wax, and then counting his footsteps between points.2) A philosophical debate about whether gnats fart through their asses, or maybe through their mouths.3) The revealed secret that the cosmos is actually an oven, and we who think we are people are actually little bits of charcoal, blazing away. 4) The secret oath of the Thinkery:To abstain from alcohol and the company of women; To devote oneself to the Thinkery code...to wrangle,to niggle,to haggle, to battle, -a loyal soldier of the Tongue, conducting punk'dSo, there's a lot of fun at Socrates' expense, and it spills over into the surreal in places. In one funny/bizarre section, the embodied forms of PHILOSOPHY and SOPHISTRY get into a fight:Sophistry: "I may be called mere Sophistry, but I'll chop you down to size. I'll refute you!Philosophy: "You? Refute me?!? How?"Sophistry: "With unconventionality. With ultramodernity. With unothodox ideas.Philosophy: "For whose present vogue we are indebted to this audience of imbeciles and asses."...Sophistry: "Why you Decrepitude! You Doddering Dotard!"Philosophy: "Why you Precocious Pederast! You Palpable Pervert!"Sophistry: "Pelt me with roses!"Philosophy: "You Toadstool! O Cesspool!"Sophistry: "Wreath my hair with lilies!"Philosophy: "Why, you Parriside!"Sophistry: "Shower me with gold! Look, don't you see I welcome your abuse?"Philosophy: "Welcome it, Monster? In my day we would have cringed with shame."Sophistry: "Whereas now we're flattered. Times change. The vices of your age are stylish today."Philosophy: "Repulsive whippersnapper!"Sophistry: "Disgusting Fogey!"Philosophy: "Becuase of YOU the schools of Athensstand deserted; one whole generationchaffers in the streets, gaping and idle.Mark my words: someday this cityshall learn what you have made her men:effeminates and fools."Sophistry: "Ugh. You're squalid."Philosophy: "Whereas you've become a Dandy and a Fop!..."(etc)You see why this play is a lot of fun, don't you?Maybe the best shot Aristophanes gets in is when Strepsiades enrolls his son at the Thinkery, and instructs Socrates: "But remember, Socrates: I want him able to make an utter mockery of the Truth." BURRRRRRNNNNNNNNN! What's wrong? Don't you like making fun of Socrates? That's okay; this play has masturbation jokes too. (page 71; "I used to make rhythm with this one.") You gotta have some of them. And dick jokes too. Aristophanes throws a few in, for good measure.Then a few callouts to the locale and audience:Socrates (points to a map): See here? This here is Athens.Strepsiades: That's Athens? Don't be absurd. Why, I don't see a single lawcourt in session.**Athenians being apparently renouned for their love of litigation.The crowd loves it when you tailor it to them. (every band ever to play in Seattle: "Hello Seattle!!!" Crowd: Wooooohooooooo!!!)Later on, Aristophanes takes it all back, and berates the audience (p116):Strepsaides: "Well, numskulls, what are you gawking at?Yes! You down there! You dumb sheep with pigeon faces!Cats' paws of cleverer men!Any sophist's suckers!Oh, shysterbait! Generation of dupes!Poor twerps!O Audience of asses, you were born to be taken!-And now, Gentlemen, a song:A little ditty of my own, dedicated to me and my son,offering us warmest congratulations on our successes.Hahahahah! Something about Aristophanes reminds me of Morrisey. Am I way off base with that? Something about the smart-assedness of it all strikes me as very Morriseyesque.Q: So where does the "Clouds" title come from? A: Socrates doesn't worship Zeus; in fact he denies Zeus exists at all. Instead, The Thinkery is devoted to worshipping the Clouds... goddesses who live in the sky and appear to mortal men as the puffy white shape-shifting forms we call clouds.Strepsaides: But what I want to know is this: why if these ladies are really Clouds, they look like women? For honest Clouds aren't women.Socrates: Then what do they (i.e. clouds) look like?Strepsaides: I don't know for sure. Well, they look like mashed-up fluff, not at all like women. No, by Zeus. Women have... er... noses.If you're in the right mood, this play is a barrel of laughs... or if not quite bust-a-gut, laugh-out-loud humor, at least it will put a smile on your face a dozen times or so. While there are some plays I'd rather see performed than read myself (e.g. Shakespeare's [b:Coriolanus), I think this was better to read, because- honestly- there are bits which needed explaining, and it was more gratifying to go to the notes in the back of the book and be let in on the jokes than to have them wizzz over my head in a performance. Eventually this thing develops a plot. Strepsiades enrolls his son Pheidippides in the Thinkery, for the purpose of learning clever arguments to get out of paying debts. And Pheidippides does indeed learn this skill, but an unintended consequence of his education is that he learns disrespect of his father and his old ways. Pheidippides whips Strepsaides, and talks nonsense circles around him about all sorts of ridiculous things. My favorite exchange in this part goes like this: Stepsaides: Show a little respect for Zeus.Pheidippides: Zeus? You old fogy, are you so stupid you still believe there's such a thing as Zeus?Stepsaides: Of course there's a Zeus.Pheidippides: Not any more there isn't. Convection-Principle's in power now. Zeus has been deported.Stepsaides: That's a lie! A lot of cheap Convection-Principle propaganda circulated by those windbags at the Thinkery! I was brainwashed! Why they told me the whole universe was a pot-bellied stove...In a heartwarming denouement, father and son join forces and burn Socrates' school to the ground. Now how's that for a feel-good family-friendly ending?