Study Guide

The Clouds Quotes

  • War and Violence

    I heard the cock crow quite a while ago, / but the slaves are snoring. They wouldn't in the old days. / Damn the war, it's messed up a lot of things. (4-6)

    This play was written and first performed while the Peloponnesian War was in full swing. As a result, war, patriotism, bravery, etc., is very much in the minds of the characters.

    Oh dammit, why'd you light the thirsty lamp? Come here and take your beating! (57-58)

    Strepsiades is a fairly violent dude, apparently. Here, the slave made the wrong call regarding which lamp to light, and Strepsiades is eager to suggest beating him. Sheesh, calm down, dude.

    They look like prisoners of war, the ones from Sparta. / But why are they peering at the ground like that? (186-187)

    See, didn't we tell you that the characters have war on the brain? Here, even though Strepsiades is staring at a line of pasty students frozen in a ridiculous pose (i.e., butts to the air), he thinks straightaway of Spartan POWs… which seems like a leap.

    How's that? You wanna make war on me? My god! (481)

    Socrates has just threatened to use "pedagogical artillery" on Strepsiades, so naturally Strepsiades is alarmed. Again, all the war metaphors manage to sneak their way into even benign circumstances like these.

    Isn't that precisely how my generation's education / bred the men of Marathon? / You, by contrast, teach our boys to swaddle up in cloaks from birth, / such a turn-off when they're dancing at Athena's festival, / one of them with his shield held low, afraid he'll get his hambone poked! (985-989)

    Better Argument is arguing (you're shocked, we know) with Worse Argument about their respective schools of thought and their impact on today's students. Better Argument's concern is that Worse Argument's form of education is likely to make men go soft (whereas his methods were the kind used to breed the men who fought at Marathon several years prior).

    Because they're utterly base and make a warrior a pussy. (1046)

    Worse Argument has been dogging Better Argument for thinking that students shouldn't bathe in hot water, and he's asked BA to explain his reasoning. Again, Better Argument seems to value things that would make a "warrior" less, er, warrior-like.

    Move out! You want a whipping? / You want me to jam this up your thoroughbred ass? / Just look at him run! I knew I'd get you moving, / for all your chariot wheels and teams of steeds. (1299-1302)

    Uh oh, Strepsiades is threatening to beat people again—this time, it's his son, Pheidippides. He's pretty violent, as you can probably tell.

    Help! Help! / Oh neighbors, kinsmen, fellow villagers! / I need your help right now, I'm being beaten! / Oh Lord! My unlucky head! My face! My jaw! / You scum! You'd beat your father? (1321-1324)

    Now Strepsiades is having the tables turned on him—his son, Pheidippides is beating him. Oh, karma . . .

    You're the one who ought to have been stomped and beaten then and there, / asking me to sing a song, as if you're entertaining crickets! (1359-1360)

    Apparently, when Pheidippides was ungrateful and surly at the banquet that Strepsiades threw in his honor after finishing the Thinkery, Strepsiades started to beat him… but Pheidippides thought it should be the other way around and started beating him instead.

    Let's return to my earlier point, the one you made me interrupt; / answer me this, to start things off: did you beat me when I was small? (1407-1408)

    Oh, who's that knocking? It's karma again. Pheidippides is using his newly learned rhetoric skills (courtesy of dad) to argue that he had the right to beat his father. As he gets warmed up, he gets his dad to admit that he used violence against him as a child.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    It's you, dear lad, who's been rolling—in my money. / And now I've been served papers, and other creditors are threatening to sue me. (33-34)

    Strepsiades's son, Pheidippides, is bad about money, and after footing the bill for his son's fun-time activities (such as a fondness for horse racing) for a while, Strepsiades has got creditors after him. You'll soon find that Strepsiades and Pheidippides are both pretty ridiculous people who make foolish choices basically all the time.

    Hey now, be quiet! Don't speak childishly. / And have a care about your father's daily bread. / Lay off the racing and join their company. (105-108)

    Strepsiades has cooked up the plan that Pheidippides should go to the local Thinkery and figure out how to talk his way out of their debts. The irony is that his plan is pretty ridiculous and childish (seriously, don't only children expect to avoid the consequences of their actions?), but he's calling out his son's "childish" speech and behavior. Like father, like son.

    And I won't take this setback lying down. / I'll say a little prayer and go myself / to the Thinkery to get an education. / But how's an old man like me, forgetful and dense, / to learn precise, hair-splitting arguments? (126-130)

    Poor Strepsiades decides to go to the Thinkery himself when he can't get Pheidippides involved in his cause… but he's afraid he's not quite sharp enough to grasp all the material. As we'll soon find, Strepsiades isn't portrayed as the brainiest dude.

    I'll tell you, then. But these are holy secrets. This morning Socrates asked Chaerephon / how many of its own feet a flea can jump / A flea had bitten Chaerephon on the eyebrow / and then jumped off and landed on Socrates' head. (143-146)

    When Strepsiades arrives at the Thinkery, he gets a pupil to kind of show him around and give him the lay of the land. As you can see, Aristophanes's portrayal of the Thinkery's intellectual pursuits isn't exactly flattering—he clearly is trying to play up the school's teachings and "research" as dumb.

    </em>Our Chaerephon was asking his opinion / on whether gnats produce their humming sound / by blowing through the mouth or through the rump. (156-158)

    Here's yet another example of the kind of silly questions that Socrates and his associate, Chaerephon, are portrayed as being interested in at the Thinkery. Hardly seems like great thoughts are happening. However, the pupil relays all this information with apparent reverence for his school/masters.

    He said the gnat has a very narrow gut, / and, since the gut's so tiny, the air comes through / quite violently on its way to the little rump; / then, being an orifice attached to a narrow tube, / the asshole makes a blast from the force of air. (160-164)

    The pupil continues to extol the "deep thoughts" that the Thinkery pursues, and here things get a bit more anatomy-oriented. There's quite a lot of butt and genital talk in the play, and this is just an early example—and one that highlights once again just how un-lofty the school's lessons can be.

    Their assholes are learning astronomy on their own. (194)

    And things just keep getting more ridiculous at the Thinkery. When Strepsiades sees a group of students and wants to know why they're staring at the ground with their rumps in the air, this is what the pupil replies. Because naturally, one's butt is capable of learning any subject. Maybe Shmoop should get in on the whole "learning guides for tushes" business?

    Honored Clouds, I do revere you; / let me answer with a fart / all their thunder: that's how scared they've made me, that's how terrified! / Now, if it's allowed, or even if it's not, I need to crap! (293-295)

    The play is great at juxtaposing (often faux) solemn/reverent language with utter nonsense and vulgarity, as is the case here. Strepsiades is trying to pay homage to these new "gods" he's met via Socrates (i.e., the Clouds), but apparently all the noise they made on their big entrance made him feel some serious longing for the potty. Unfortunately, he's unable to keep his thoughts to himself, much to Socrates's dismay.

    What a moron! You're a throwback, truly a Neanderthal. (398)

    Eventually, Socrates decides that Strepsiades really is beyond education/help and that he's a total "moron." Hmm, that doesn't sound like very good teacher behavior to us, but then, Aristophanes isn't really trying to make him look good.

    You've made the younger generation uninterested in education. / Just wait until the Athenians / find out what fools you've made of them! (916-918)

    This is Better Argument talking to Worse Argument. Better Argument believes that Worse Argument is playing all the kiddos for "fools" with his new magic logic that apparently turns right into wrong.

  • Education

    I'd like you, as soon as possible, to reverse your life, and go to learn the things I want you to. (87)

    Strepsiades wants his son to go get an education—pretty noble, right? Well, not really… since he only wants him to get that education so they can cheat their creditors out of the debt Strepsiades owes them (which Pheidippides himself racked up with his irresponsible behavior).

    Yuk! That scum! I know who you mean. The charlatans, / the pasty-faces, the ones who don't wear shoes, / like that miserable Socrates and Chaerephon. (102-104)

    Pheidippides has no interest in going to the Thinkery to learn, since he thinks Socrates and Chaerephon are "charlatans." We suspect, though, that he's just objecting because he wants to sleep in (and hey, we can relate).

    Hey now, be quiet! Don't speak childishly. / And have a care about your father's daily bread. / Lay off the racing and join their company. (105-108)

    Strepsiades makes the hard sell and demands that Pheidippides enroll in the school, but the son still refuses.

    And I won't take this setback lying down. / I'll say a little prayer and go myself / to the Thinkery to get an education. / But how's an old man like me, forgetful and dense, / to learn precise, hair-splitting arguments? (126-130)

    When his son refuses to help out, Strepsiades decides that he will go to the Thinkery to learn what he needs to know. However, he's not super optimistic that he'll be able to retain all the lessons he's about to learn.

    Go on, don't worry; the man you see before you / has come to the Thinkery to be a pupil too. (141-142)

    When Strepsiades gets to the Thinkery, he meets a pupil who starts to give him the lay of the land. The pupil is reluctant to go too far into detail about what goes on at the Thinkery (which suggests it's more like a cult than a school), but Strepsiades assures him he's there to join up, so the dude becomes more open.

    Open up the Thinkery, and make it quick; / I want to see Socrates as soon as possible. / I yearn to learn. Come on now, open up! / Good God, what kind of creatures have we here? (181-184)

    Strepsiades is super eager to get started with his lessons; it seems that greed is quite the motivator. As he's demanding that the student let him in, he comes across some students staring at the ground with their rumps in the air. Hmm, just what are they teaching at this Thinkery place? Is this a yoga class?

    STREPSIADES: Pray tell me what these are, these instruments?

    PUPIL: This here's astronomy (200-201)

    The pupil takes Strepsiades through the Thinkery and shows him the various tools they have for teaching.

    How's that? / It's thought that draws the moisture into lettuce? / Come down, Socratikins, come down here to me, / so you can teach me what I've come to learn. (235-238)

    When Strepsiades first meets Socrates, the great philosopher is suspended in the air, apparently mingling with all the intangible thoughts and ideas that, well, live in the sky? Socrates claims that he has to do his heavy thinking up in the air or else the ground would leech all the "moisture of thought" from the mind.

    It's an equine ailment that's eating me up alive. / No matter. Teach me one of your Arguments, / the one that pays no debts. Whatever your fee, / I'll pay it, I swear by all the gods, in cash. (243-246)

    Strepsiades is very clear in his learning goals. Normally we'd think that's great, but since his sole purpose is to achieve his own dishonest ends, we're going to hold off on the praise for now.

    Oh really? The sum and total of human wisdom! / Find out how thick and ignorant you really are! / Just wait right here a minute; don't go away. (841-843)

    After Strepsiades crashes and burns at the Thinkery (i.e., Socrates kicks him out), he once again wants his son to go in his place. Pheidippides is still resistant, but he eventually comes around… and then ends up using his newly acquired logic against Strepsiades, rather than for him.

  • Change and Aging

    I'd like you, as soon as possible, to reverse your life, and go to learn the things I want you to. (87)

    Strepsiades supposedly wants Pheidippides to shape up and stop being so irresponsible. Unfortunately for his messaging, he's suggesting that Pheidippides do this by trying to cheat their creditors out of the money owed to them… which seems pretty irresponsible to us, actually. As you'll see elsewhere, the play often suggests that "change" isn't really good. And, in this case, is it really even change at all if Strepsiades is just encouraging more bad behavior?

    And I won't take this setback lying down. / I'll say a little prayer and go myself / to the Thinkery to get an education. / But how's an old man like me, forgetful and dense, / to learn precise, hair-splitting arguments? (126-130)

    Strepsiades is asking himself that well-worn question about old dogs and new tricks. Apparently, he's not super optimistic that he can learn new tricks, er, things.

    Let the oldster speak with reverence, let him hear our pious prayer. (263)

    Socrates and others (including Strepsiades himself) play up how old Strepsiades is. It is used as an excuse for some of Strepsiades's more ridiculous behavior… but given that his son (and the other people at the Thinkery, for that matter) is also pretty foolish, we're not buying the age argument.

    Greetings, superannuated codger, seeking artful words; / you too, priest of subtlest hogwash, tell us what your heart desires. / You alone we listen to, of all the scientists today, / Prodicus excepted, for his cleverness and judgment fine. / You we like because you swagger all over town, and roll your eyes, / barefoot, suffering every kind of woe, and proud on our account. (358-363)

    Hmm, somehow we're not sure the Chorus Leader (i.e., the leader of the Clouds) is being super sincere here in his praise for Socrates's "swagger" or his "subtlest hogwash." Also, note that he uses the term "superannuated codger" to describe Strepsiades. Yowch.

    All that and more! But every lesson I learned / I right away forgot. I'm just too old. (854-855)

    Strepsiades is lamenting that his age is preventing him from learning the lessons Socrates is trying to instill.

    You've made the younger generation uninterested in education. / Just wait until the Athenians / find out what fools you've made of them! (916-918)

    This is Better Argument railing at Worse Argument. According to BA, Worse Argument is trying to change Athenians for the worse with his twisty rhetoric and is making them into fools (rather than improving their minds). As a result, the youths of Athens are apparently in jeopardy.

    Stop your fighting and abuse! / You expound just how you used / to educate the men of old; / you, the modern teacher's goal. / After judging the pros and cons, the boy will choose the school he wants. (933-938)

    The Chorus Leader gets involved in couples counseling for Better Argument and Worse Argument. His scolding puts a finger on a central difference between the two "men": one privileges what used to be, and one is all about what's new and sexy (idea-wise).

    Very well; I'll now describe what education used to be, / back when I spoke truth and flourished, back when decency was in vogue. (961-962)

    Better Argument launches into his case for his ideas, which were "in vogue" back in the good old days. Apparently, "truth" and "decency" were popular then, and they're not now.

    Antiquated rubbish, full of crickets and prehistoric rites, moldy tunes and sacred oxen! (984)

    This is Worse Argument's response to Better Argument's description of his philosophy. Apparently, he's not a fan and thinks Better Argument's ideas are, er, old-fashioned.

    Isn't that precisely how my generation's education / bred the men of Marathon? / You, by contrast, teach our boys to swaddle up in cloaks from birth, / such a turn-off when they're dancing at Athena's festival, / one of them with his shield held low, afraid he'll get his hambone poked! (985-989)

    This is more of Better Argument talking about how great the old times were, when his philosophy (which calls for lots of physical exercise) was popular and men were apparently a bit more robust.

  • Philosophy

    That house is a Thinkery for clever souls. / Some gentlemen live there who argue that the sky / is a casserole-cover—and make us all believe it— / and that it covers us all, and we're charcoal briquets. / These people train you, if you pay them money, to win any argument, whether it's right or wrong. (94-98)

    Philosophers—or at least, philosophers like Socrates—get a pretty bad rap in this play. As you can see here, Strepsiades (who's actually a fan of what the Thinkery can do) portrays their ideas as ridiculous. The sky as "casserole-cover"? Funny, but not exactly the best advertisement for their approach and philosophy.

    I'm told they have both kinds of argument: / the Better, whatever that is, and the Worse. / And one of these Arguments, the worse, I'm told, / can argue even an unjust case and win! / So if you could learn this Worse Argument for me, / then all these debts I owe on your account / I wouldn't have to pay, not even a penny! (112-118)

    Strepsiades only gets interested in philosophy when he thinks it can get him out of his debts. Here, he's explaining his newfound appreciation for the topic to his son (the one who racked up all those debts).

    And I won't take this setback lying down. / I'll say a little prayer and go myself / to the Thinkery to get an education. / But how's an old man like me, forgetful and dense, / to learn precise, hair-splitting arguments? (126-130)

    When Pheidippides isn't willing to go learn from the Thinkery (he supposedly thinks they are charlatans), Strepsiades has to enroll.

    I'll tell you, then. But these are holy secrets. This morning Socrates asked Chaerephon / how many of its own feet a flea can jump / A flea had bitten Chaerephon on the eyebrow / and then jumped off and landed on Socrates' head. (143-146)

    Aristophanes portrays Socrates's ideas and methods as pretty ridiculous—like, does anyone really care how far a flea can jump in flea feet? That's pretty useless knowledge, right? Well, that's Aristophanes's point, it seems—Socrates and his philosophy don't really have a lot of utility.

    PUPIL: But the other day he lost a great idea because of a lizard.

    STREPSIADES: Really? Please tell me how.

    PUPIL: He was studying the tracks of the lunar orbit / and its revolutions, and as he skyward gaped, / from the roof in darkness a lizard shat on him. (167-174)

    The portrayal of Socrates gets even less serious and reverent here. Socrates was trying to do some astronomy, but apparently a lizard went poo on his head (and likely face) as he was staring upward. The whole image doesn't exactly scream "great philosopher" to us.

    Open up the Thinkery, and make it quick; / I want to see Socrates as soon as possible. / I yearn to learn. Come on now, open up! / Good God, what kind of creatures have we here? (181-184)

    Strepsiades arrives at the Thinkery raring to learn from Socrates. As he's demanding that the pupil open things up, he comes across some men staring at the ground with their butts in the air. If you thought Socrates's school couldn't look any more ridiculous… well, you will probably change your mind when you learn that these folks (according to the pupil) have their butts in the air so that particular part of their anatomies can learn astronomy.

    Never / could I make correct celestial discoveries / except by thus suspending my mind, and mixing / my subtle head with the air it's kindred with. / If down below I contemplate what's up, / I'd never find aught; for the earth by natural force / draws unto itself the quickening moisture of thought. / The very same process is observable in lettuce. (228-234)

    When Strepsiades finally meets Socrates, he finds the maestro hanging in the air in a basket. Apparently, Socrates thinks better while suspended in the air; he says that the earth drains out his thoughts like moisture, whereas his head and thoughts become "kindred with" the air in the sky when he's elevated. Hmm, comparing your thoughts to water vapor doesn't exactly make the best case for your school of thought, Socky.

    Just to hear their voices makes my very soul take wing and fly, / makes me long to chop some logic, blow some elocutive smoke, / bust big maxims with little maxims, counterpoint an argument! / Time to see the ladies close up; I'm ready now, if now's the time! (319-322)

    When Strepsiades first hears the Clouds, he gets super excited about learning the Thinkery's lessons. We'd dig the enthusiasm for learning and philosophy, if only he were, you know, doing it for anything but dishonest reasons.

    What a moron! You're a throwback, truly a neanderthal. / Punish perjurers? Then how come Simon isn't lightning-struck? / Or Cleonymus, or Theorus? They're as perjured as can be! / No, instead he usually zaps his very own temple at Sunion, / his own great oak-trees too. What for? The oak-trees can't be perjurers! (398-402)

    During one of their many lessons, Socrates goes after Strepsiades for failing to grasp his lessons and philosophy. So, he calls him names. Not a very teacherly thing to do, if you ask us.

    Money's no object; teach him, he's a natural, / Why, when he was just a little tyke this high, / he could build sand-castles, carve a little boat, / he'd put together cars from balsawood / and frogs from lemonpeels, as pretty as you please! / Just see that he learns that pair of Arguments, / the Better, whatever that is, and the Worse, / the one that makes the weaker case the stronger. / Or, if not both, at the very least the Worse. (877-885)

    Just in case anyone was unclear on this point, Strepsiades makes totally clear here that he doesn't really give a hoot about his son learning philosophy for any other reason than to get his debts forgiven or forgotten. Whatever happened to learning for the sake of learning?

  • Religion and Science

    It's sacrilege to tell anyone but the pupils. (140)

    Here, the pupil is explaining to Strepsiades that he can't tell him much about what goes on in the Thinkery, since it's apparently sacred knowledge. You get the vibe early on that the school is really more of a religion or a cult than a school, right? Which is interesting, since Socrates talks a lot about science and logic… but apparently, he's just as reliant on blind faith as religion? Hmmm…

    I'll tell you, then. But these are holy secrets. This morning Socrates asked Chaerephon / how many of its own feet a flea can jump / A flea had bitten Chaerephon on the eyebrow / and then jumped off and landed on Socrates' head. (143-146)

    The pupil is once again indicating that what happens in the Thinkery is somehow more akin to religion than science, given that the school's lessons are "holy secrets."

    What do you mean, "the gods"? In the first place, gods aren't legal tender here (247)

    For all these (inadvertent) suggestions that Socrates is kind of a religious figure, he definitely seems anti-religion here, given that he is rejecting the existence of the gods.

    You want to know the truth about the gods, what they really are? (250)

    Socrates is about to let Strepsiades in on the secret of the gods. According to him, the only gods in existence are the Clouds… and all the rest are totally imaginary. This is news to Strepsiades.

    Let the oldster speak with reverence, let him hear our pious prayer. (263)

    When the Clouds come on the scene, they play into Socrates's portrayal of them as holy entities and invite Strepsiades to revere them. Of course, as we learn in this same passage, they're not super sincere when they praise Socrates or his philosophies.

    Clouds that we revere so greatly, show that you have heard my cry! / You: You heard their voice, their thunder, bellowing with force divine? (291-292).

    As you can see, Socrates treats the Clouds as gods, using words like "revere" and "divine" that smack of just plain old religious sentiment. As a result, his radical views about religion don't actually seem that radical, do they?

    They're clouds from heaven, goddesses for idle men. / They're the ones who give us judgment, dialectic, intelligence, fantasy and double-talking, eloquence and forceful talk. (316-317)

    Socrates explains the Clouds and the nature of their "divinity" to Strepsiades. Hmm, who knew the gods were into "double-talking" and "forceful talk"? Well, maybe the latter, if the Ten Commandments are any indicator of the stuff God/gods are into…

    Clouds, of course! I'll prove it so by arguments irrefutable. / Tell me, have you ever seen it raining when there were no clouds? / Why can't Zeus produce a rainstorm while the clouds are out of town? (369-371)

    In one of the few moments where Socrates looks on the ball, he explains that clouds are responsible for rain. Yay, score one for Socrates.

    Promise that you'll recognize no god but those we recognize, / Emptiness and Clouds and Tongue, the one and only Trinity? (423-424)

    Ah, after that brief foray into science with Socrates's meteorology lesson, now we're back to acting like the Thinkery is a cult. Apparently, Strepsiades can't enroll without swearing to have certain beliefs.

    Paternal Zeus! Just listen! How old-fashioned! Does Zeus exist? (1468)

    Much later in the play, after Strepsiades has gone back to believing in Zeus, Pheidippides has been converted to the Thinkery's philosophies and "religion." As a result, he makes fun of his father for invoking Zeus's name, reminding him that Zeus doesn't exist.

  • Language and Communication

    I want to learn oratory. / By debts and interest payments and rapacious creditors. / I'm assailed and assaulted and stand to lose my property. (239-241)

    Strepsiades claims he wants to learn how to use language and rhetoric (or oratory) properly. No, he's not trying to learn how to communicate better; really, he just wants to know enough to persuade his creditors to let him out of the debt he owes. So, he's not so much looking to communicate as he is to manipulate. It seems there's a fine line between the two, for him.

    Didn't know that they sustain and feed a host of specialists, / sayers of sooth, quack doctors, hairy idlers with onyx signet rings, / writers of chorus-bending screeches, phony meteorologists, / doing nothing useful, living only to sing about the Clouds? (331-334)

    According to Socrates, the Clouds are a focal point for all kinds of people, including writers who produce "chorus-bending screeches." Apparently, Socrates looks down on people who simply ramble on about the Clouds… but it's not clear that anything he does is much better, actually.

    He can have it; whatever his line, / I'll shoot him down with phrases fine, / concepts novel and thought sublime. / Result? If he so much as sighs, / I'll sting his face and both his eyes. (941-945)

    When Worse Argument and Better Argument are sparring, Worse Argument promises that he can use his fancy rhetoric to do basically everything. Ah, the power of language, right? Or is it the power of manipulation?

    Not for me, no motions, please! I don't desire political clout, / just the power of twisting lawsuits, and giving my creditors the slip. (432)

    When Strepsiades says "twisting lawsuits," what he really means is twisting words—he really just wants to use rhetoric to his advantage to persuade his creditors not to come after him.

    Thus, my boy, be bold and opt for me, the Better Argument. / You shall learn to loathe the market, to shun the public baths as well, / to feel ashamed of what is shameful, to burn with rage at any slight, / to offer your seat to any grownup you may see approaching you; / never to treat your parents rudely, never to act disgracefully / or any way that might dishonor the sacred shrine of Modesty; / never to invade a go-go dancer's house and lose your head, / making the whore get sweet on you, thus shattering your good repute; / never to contradict your father, calling him Methuselah, / laughing at how old he is, forgetting how he reared you! (990-999)

    Better Argument is trying to bring Strepsiades over to his side of thought and his own ideas about what is proper rhetoric. In Better Argument's view, you just shouldn't say mean things to your parents, whereas Worse Argument would say it's fine, as long as it gets you what you want.

    […] Listen to him, / you'll think what's bad is good, / what's good is bad […] (1020-1022)

    Better Argument goes after Worse Argument for his lack of a moral compass. As he tells Strepsiades, Worse Argument is notable for making bad seem like good and vice versa. According to Better Argument, there are solid objective standards for determining what is "good" and "bad," whereas Worse Argument is all about using language to twist thoughts/actions/whatever into appearing good or bad, depending on the speaker's needs.

    I got the name Worse Argument among the intellectuals / for just this very reason, that I pioneered a new technique, / a logical way to contradict established laws and morals. (1038-1040)

    Worse Argument freely admits that he has a technique for using logic (or rhetoric, really) to contradict any firm ideas about what's morally right or wrong. And he's darn proud of it, in fact.

    Why, teach him and discipline him, and don't forget / to put sharp edges on his tongue. One edge / for hacking little lawsuits; hone the other / for cutting into meatier affairs. (1107-1110)

    These are Strepsiades's instructions to Worse Argument when he entrusts Pheidippides to WA's teachings. As you can see, he's hoping that Pheidippides learns the right rhetorical skills to get the family out of their financial mess with his "tongue."

    I've made some fair and reasonable requests— / "Look here, my man, this payment isn't urgent; / please put this off, forgive that"—but they refuse / to deal on any such terms. They call me names, / like chiseler, and promise to drag me into court. / Well, let them drag me now! I couldn't care less, / if Pheidippides has learned his lessons well. / I'll soon find out, if I knock at the Thinkery. (1137-1144)

    Strepsiades describes how he tried to talk his way out of his debts in the past. We imagine his "arguments" wouldn't have been terribly persuasive or effective, so no wonder he thought he needed help from a skilled rhetorician.

    How dangerous to entertain / a lust for villainy, / like this old man, who'd now evade / the debts he ought to pay. / Before the day has run its course / the time will surely come / when our old sophist feels remorse / about the harm he's done. / I think that he will soon obtain / the answer to his prayer: / a son who's able to maintain / what's unjust and unfair. / And though the son wins every case / with wickedness and lies, / perhaps, perhaps his dad will pray / his tongue gets paralyzed. (1303-1320)

    The Clouds are making sure that we as the audience know that Strepsiades will soon regret his decision to send his son to rhetoric school. And it's totally true—once Pheidippides starts using his skillz against old Pops, Strepsiades definitely regrets his decision to sharpen his son's "tongue."

  • Morality

    Not for me, no motions, please! I don't desire political clout, / just the power of twisting lawsuits, and giving my creditors the slip. (432)

    From the get go, we get the sense that Strepsiades isn't exactly the most moral dude. Case in point: He freely admits that he only wants to learn rhetoric so he can get out of paying his debts. Hmm, yeah, that sounds a little bogus to us.

    Now I'm totally in their hands; / I'll do whatever they might command, / suffer beatings, hunger, thirst, / flagellation, freezing, dearth. / Only let me shirk my debts / and gain renown as the very best / pusher, spieler, bastard, wheel, / artful liar, total heel, / shyster, con-man, found of words, / loophole, fox, plea-copper, turd, / slippery liar, shifty skunk, / loathsome villain, pesty punk, / master-chef of total bunk. (439-450)

    Although Strepsiades's little poem here is clever, it definitely paints him in a negative light, morally—basically, he doesn't mind being a "bastard" if it means he can "shirk his debts."

    Well, I've got two kinds: / if someone owes me money, it's very good; / but if it's me that owes, it's awful bad. (483-485)

    When Socrates asks Strepsiades if he has a good memory, this is his answer. While funny, the response once again suggests that Strepsiades has a completely busted moral compass; his actions and morals are basically up for grabs to the highest bidder.

    A gifted speaker? No. A deadbeat? Yes. (487)

    Here, Strepsiades makes his moral frailty even more explicit by referring to himself as a deadbeat. That's pretty harsh… but apparently fairly accurate, we're afraid.

    You've heard what I want at least a thousand times! / My debts! I want to get out of paying them! (738-739)

    Hmm, this time it's Socrates who comes off as the slow learner, since Strepsiades feels the need to remind him yet again what his sole goal is in coming to the Thinkery. Socrates might imagine that he has loftier intellectual pursuits, but Strepsiades is crystal-clear about just how self-serving and non-lofty his own are.

    Very well; I'll now describe what education used to be, / back when I spoke truth and flourished, back when decency was in vogue. (961-962)

    Better Argument is trying to argue for his own school of thought, which is all about things like "truth" and "decency" (which seem to be absolute goods for him). He's pitting these values against those of Worse Argument, who basically teaches people how to argue for what they want, regardless of how inherently moral their desires are.

    Thus, my boy, be bold and opt for me, the Better Argument. / You shall learn to loathe the market, to shun the public baths as well, / to feel ashamed of what is shameful, to burn with rage at any slight, / to offer your seat to any grownup you may see approaching you; / never to treat your parents rudely, never to act disgracefully / or any way that might dishonor the sacred shrine of Modesty; / never to invade a go-go dancer's house and lose your head, / making the whore get sweet on you, thus shattering your good repute; / never to contradict your father, calling him Methuselah, / laughing at how old he is, forgetting how he reared you! (990-999)

    Better Argument gets into even more detail here about things that are (in his view) inherently good or evil. Good things include respecting your elders, pride, and acting in a dignified way.

    I got the name Worse Argument among the intellectuals / for just this very reason, that I pioneered a new technique, / a logical way to contradict established laws and morals. (1038-1040)

    Meanwhile, Worse Argument really doesn't give a hoot about right and wrong or "established morals," and he makes his living teaching people how to argue for what they want and get it, regardless of "established laws and morals."

    Hurrah, hurrah, my child! Wow, / how great it is to see your pale complexion! / You're obviously ready to take the fifth, / to rebut accusers. You've sprouted that true Athenian / expression, the Who-Me? Look of being wronged / when you're guilty, even of serious crimes. I know / that look, and I see it blooming on your face! / So save me, since it was you that ruined me. (1170-1177)

    Strepsiades is ecstatic because he believes (based on Pheidippides's paleness, which means he's been inside the Thinkery learning) that his son is ready to help him execute his nefarious plan.

    How dangerous to entertain / a lust for villainy, / like this old man, who'd now evade / the debts he ought to pay. / Before the day has run its course / the time will surely come / when our old sophist feels remorse / about the harm he's done. / I think that he will soon obtain / the answer to his prayer: / a son who's able to maintain / what's unjust and unfair. / And though the son wins every case / with wickedness and lies, / perhaps, perhaps his dad will pray / his tongue gets paralyzed. (1303-1320)

    The Clouds are weighing in here with their true opinion of Strepsiades's little scheme. Although they've egged him on up to this point, don't be fooled—they were only doing that to make sure the life-lesson hit home hard. As they predict, Strepsiades ends up really regretting what he's done when Pheidippides turns the rhetoric around on him and uses it to justify beating him.