“The Clouds” by Aristophanes

A passage in Plato’s “Apology” is a very good summary of this comedy:

“What do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit: ‘Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.’ Such is the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes, who has introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he walks in air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little”

According to Plato, Aristophanes libeled Socrates in this play, and was implicated in the unjust charge against Socrates, which led to the latter’s death sentence. After reading it, I could understand even more why Plato wanted to censor the poets in his “Republic”. Why should people be allowed to malign, libel and misguide others with impunity? Those who malign others only reveal their own crooked nature, but they often cause irreparable damage due to the ignorance and credulity of their audience. This reminds me of a quote attributed to Kierkegaard, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

Curiously enough, Plato also featured Aristophanes in “Symposium”, in which the latter gave a comic account of the origin of Love, i.e., people were searching for their missing halves which had been separated by Zeus. Perhaps Aristophanes was still looking for the missing half of his wits.

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