Socrates’s decision of investigating piety was prudent and necessary. He was a wise philosopher who enlightened the citizenry against unjust laws and traditions which tend to be oppressive. He was charged, convicted, and condemned on the charge of impiety. Impiety charge had three specifications depicting Socrates’s thoughts: Socrates did believe in the gods the city believed in; he invented his divinities, and he corrupted the youth. These accusations are regarded as masking the real motivations behind Socrates’s prosecution, political motivations, and not religion. Therefore, this paper discusses the depiction of Socrates in Aristophanes Clouds, Plato’s dialogues, how Aristophanes Cloud depiction differs from Plato’s dialogues, their similarities, and how Plato’s dialogues are closer to historical Socrates.
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Depiction of Socrates in Aristophanes’ clouds
As a Teacher of Rhetoric who undermined Respect for Truth
In the Clouds, that is, a comedy presented in the spring of 423 B.C when Socrates was 46 years old, Aristophanes depicts Socrates as a teacher of rhetoric who undermined respect for the truth, that is, a sophist; and a cosmologist who championed impious opinions about things beneath the earth and in heaven (Aristophanes 106). In the play, Socrates is referred to as a Melian, associating him with Diagoras of Melos. Diagoras was an infamous atheist who was condemned to death and escaped from Athens after mocking the Eleusinian mysteries, integral to a religious festival in honor of the goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone, performed yearly in Eleusis, near Athens (Aristophanes 106).
As Popularity Seeker
Socrates’s demonstration of courage and service to the city by participating in the Athenian retreat in Delium did not prevent Aristophanes, who wanted a popular figure to be a victim of his comic theatrics. In eccentric Socrates, Aristophanes found an ideal subject. As a fact, Socrates’s visage looked like a comic mask. However, Aristophanes did not merely exploit Socrates’s appearance; but also created a character whose views and teachings were antithetical to the basic values of Athens (Irvin 127). Socrates himself alluded that he never recovered from the damage inflicted upon his image in Aristophanes clouds. He believed that his indictment, charging him of impiety and corrupting the young, was influenced directly by the accusations contained in the cloud play (Aristophanes 107).
As A Real Sophist
Aristophanes in the Clouds depicts Socrates as a real sophist. Socrates’s manner of challenging conventional definitions of virtues, disregarding the opinions of others while professing his ignorance, was viewed by many as sophistic skepticism. In addition, Socrates’s questioning of Athenian traditions without contributing a positive doctrine as a replacement seemed destructive (West 29). Had Socrates taught doctrine, he would have stressed conclusions rather than the critical thinking process. Socrates’s caricature found in the clouds portrays him as a threat to the average Athenian. The character of Socrates they saw in the clouds showed everything that many, dreading the overthrow of traditional values, opposed: atheism, moral relativism, deceptive rhetoric, and dangerous scientific inquiries (Aristophanes 127).
Depiction of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues
As An Investigator of Piety
In Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, Socrates is depicted as investigating piety. In Plato’s dialogue in Crito, Socrates investigates whether it is just to disobey the laws of democratic Athens by running away from his unjust conviction. In Socrates’s defense speech, he gives an account of his mission in life and his relations with fellow Athenian citizens. Plato’s dialogues portray Socrates as a wise person. He’s claimed to know nothing of any importance. This set him off in search of a person wiser than himself. He interrogated many people who turned out to know nothing of any account but believed themselves as the wisest persons; could move men with their powerful words but were unable to interpret their meanings; and showed specialization in their fields but erred in claiming a pearl of general wisdom. These dialogues conclude by depicting Socrates as wise because he knew nothing, whereas others were unaware of their ignorance (West 29).
As A Defender of Knowledge and Wisdom
The dialogue of Plato in apology depicts Socrates defending himself against the accusations and also defining a new kind of wisdom. He cannot be guilty of impiety, as throughout his life in service to Apollo; and he cannot also be accused of corrupting the youth, as he doesn’t own wisdom to teach. Socrates’ version of ignorance goes beyond the knowledge of the wise men of Athens. In this dialogue, despite Socrates emphasizing his respect for Athens, its gods, and its laws, he appeals to something higher when he insists he would not accept any command to stop questioning (Perkins 194).
Still, in the apology conversations, Socrates gives his explanations of he got into trouble. The young people who were listening to his interrogations of the elders concluded that the leaders of their city were ignorant. Further, they imitated Socrates’ method by challenging their teachers, parents, and priests to justify and defend their claims to wisdom. Such displays and attitudes of intellectual independence irritated some, who concluded that Socrates’ attitude lacked respect that extended even to gods. Socrates’s piety posed a considerable challenge to the political and ethical beliefs of the city of Athens, were teaching the young how to probe authority amounted to corrupting them. On Socrates’s admission, he had no teaching on which to replace the “conventional wisdom” (West 29).
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Depicted as lacking interest in the Philosophy of Nature
The other dialogues of Plato provide a more complex depiction of Socrates. He is portrayed as having little interest in the philosophy of nature that initiated scientific speculation. Socrates’s concerns were closer to those sophists, traveling wise men that came to Athens periodically to teach practical skills of active citizenship and oral advocacy for a fee. Despite examining similar questions, Socrates denied having the answers, taught no rhetorical skills, and did not make any payments. Nevertheless, Socrates challenged the accusations of these outsiders to teach civic virtue and practical wisdom. As an Athenian citizen, he engages his fellows in critical conversations. For instance: in Laches dialogue, Socrates discusses the meaning of courage with retired generals needing instruction for their kinsmen; in Lysis, together with a group of young friends, he tries to define friendship; in Chamides dialogue, he engages another group in examining the temperance that combines self-control and self-knowledge (Straus 46).
In Gorgias dialogue, Plato depicts the differences between Socrates and sophists; and also poses tough questions about the relations between finding the truth and exercising power. Socrates challenged the sophist to explain what he teaches and defend the basis of his expertise. Socrates seeks to indicate that rhetoric is not a form of knowledge but rather a mere knack to please one’s audience. Gorgias and his colleagues believed that being able to influence the views of one’s fellow citizens was a source of power in the Athenian assembly and law courts. According to them, the ability to manipulate the views of others is a weapon in the struggle to achieve o what one needs in life. The ethical assumptions informed in this appeal to power are viciously contested by Socrates. For instance, Polus in this dialogue alludes that command of rhetoric enables one to win in court, even against just charges. Socrates on the other hand suggests that people who commit unjust acts seek punishment to rectify wrongs and restore justice to the psyche (Straus 46).
How Socrates in Aristophanes’ Clouds depiction differs from that in Plato’s dialogues
Socrates always depicted the voice of reason even in light of risks spawned by the modern rejection of reason in Plato’s dialogue. He was a philosophic rationalist. Socrates insisted on reason as a guide to life. He consistently and vigorously disputed answers in dialogues and debates that were not tested. For instance, Socrates informs us that when scrutinizing Athenian’s opinions, he found out they were ignorant of what they presumed to know. He pointed out their weaknesses and they were angered. In the Aristophanes Clouds, on the other hand, Socrates is depicted as a person who seems to be challenging the authority of the city gods and their legislations. Indeed, he challenged this authority; by stressing that he was as ignorant as fellow Athenians with ‘greatest things’ (Irvin 194).
Depicted by Aristophanes Clouds as a bad influence on the youth whereas Plato’s dialogues portray Socrates as a source of knowledge to the youth
In the argument of the Unjust Speech in Aristophanes’ Clouds, Socrates seemed to be justifying the self-indulgent pursuit of pleasure; by undermining Athenian laws and traditions (Aristophanes 128). From this viewpoint, the arguments Socrates had with the Athenian city and its traditions, informed in daily conversations and listened attentively by younger men, were bound to look irresponsible. Accordingly, knowledge of ignorance is not considered to be ignorance. Socrates understands that he does not know, and, I may add, he understands what he does not know, namely,” the greatest things” (West 30).
Plato viewed Socrates’s trial and death as a turning point in his life. In the fate that fell on Socrates, Plato found the heart of the problem of man and politics. He succinctly depicted that problem in the defense speech of Socrates. In both public and private life, men are led or guided by what they respect or look up to. A political community’s life is founded on shared convictions about what truly matters. The Athenians viewed the gods of the city as the highest beings; and believed that one should live by complying with the laws sanctioned by the gods (Irvin, 127). However, Socrates does not agree with the city’s believes, for he examined conventional opinion and discovered it incoherent or otherwise not adequate. And he was aware that had not possessed adequate knowledge about the most important things (Irvin 128).
Similarities of Socrates Depiction in Aristophanes Clouds from Plato’s dialogues
Socrates’s depiction in Aristophanes Cloud and Plato’s dialogues are similar in many ways. Both Aristophanes Clouds and to a lesser extent Plato’s dialogues depict Socrates as a sophist. In Aristophanes clouds, Socrates’s manner of challenging conventional definitions of virtues, disregarding the opinions of others while professing his ignorance, was viewed by many as sophistic skepticism. In Plato’s dialogue, on the other hand, Socrates’s concerns were closer to those sophists, traveling wise men that came to Athens periodically to teach practical skills of active
Plato’s Dialogue is closer to the Historical Socrates
Socrates is depicted as a figure whose significance can be understood only in conceptual terms that the historical Socrates could have shared fully
Plato’s dialogues portray Socrates as a figure whose significance can be understood only in conceptual terms that the historical Socrates could have shared fully. These dialogues are in resonance to historical Socrates. There are connections between the views of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues and those of historical Socrates; similar to those between other characters in Plato’s dialogues and their actual, historical colleagues.
Plato in his dialogues commented on problems Socrates faced in his own life, for instance: involving politics in Athens, enemies of Socrates supporters, academy, Isocrates, and others. These do not, for this case, reduce their connection to historical reality. Therefore, Plato’s dialogue on Socrates reflects important features of the historical Socrates words and deeds.
Plato’s dialogue on Socrates reflects important features of the historical Socrates words and deeds
In the apology, and to a lesser extent, the Crito serve as a historical benchmark of Plato’s Socratic tribulations in his dialogues. These dialogues occupy a unique position among them, for they stand as Plato’s most direct transposition of the trial and tragedy of the historical Socrates into a discursive problem. Despite the fact that they do not directly use the term political art, they form both a historical effort to articulate a coherent conception of the political art. Plato in the Apology coincides with political reality to a far greater degree than do any of his dialogues, and Plato’s account of the trial in the Apology is more accurate.
In sum, Aristophanes Clouds indicts, and charges Socrates of impiety and corrupting the young. Aristophanes did not merely exploit Socrates appearance; but also created a character whose views and teachings were antithetical to the basic values of Athens. In Plato’s dialogue on the other hand, in Gorgias dialogue, Plato depicts the differences between Socrates and sophists; and also poses tough questions about the relations between finding the truth and exercising power. Socrates challenged the sophist to explain what he teaches and defend the basis of his expertise. Socrates seeks to indicate that rhetoric is not a form of knowledge but rather a mere knack to please one’s audience.
Aristophanes. Clouds. New York: RicherResourcesPublications, 2008.
Irvin, and Aristophanes. Clouds. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2008.
Perkins, Robert. The Concept of Irony. London: Mercer University Press, 2001.
Straus, Leo. Socrates and Aristophanes. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996.
West,Thomas, Plato, West Grace, and Aristophanes. Four Texts on Socrates. Cornell University Press, 1998.
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