Aristophanes: Clouds (Aris and Phillips Classical Texts) 1st Edition
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About the Author
- Publisher : Liverpool University Press; 1st edition (January 1, 1982)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0856682101
- ISBN-13 : 978-0856682100
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 8.2 x 0.6 x 6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,919,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top review from the United States
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In this comedy Socrates is consulted by an old rogue, Strepsiades (sometimes translated as "Twisterson"), who is upset with the mountain of debts his playboy son Phidippides, who loves fast horses and fast living. Phidippides agrees to go to Socrates' school of logic where he can learn to make a wrong argument sound right. After graduation is able to use the system of "unjust logic" to outwit his father and kick him out of the family home. The Chorus of Clouds comments on the proceedings and in the end the Phrontisterion is burned to the ground by Strepsiades.
The flaw of the play is Aristophanes is trying to satirize the Sophists, who were popularizing a new philosophy that denied the possibility of ever reaching objective truth, he picked the wrong target. The Sophists were mostly teachers who were not native to Athens, such as Isocartes and Gorgias. "Sophist" basically meant teacher, so while Socrates was a "sophist" he was not a "Sophist." Twenty-four years later, when Socrates was condemned to death for "corrupting the youth of Athens," the only accuser he said he could name was a certain "comic poet." For contemporary audiences who are untutored in the traditions of classical Greek philosophy it is easy to see Socrates as the prototype for the absent-minded professor, but historically that is, of course, far from the truth. Ironically, even today, Socrates is still one of the few "sophists" that a contemporary audience would recognize by name if not by reputation.
The version of "The Clouds" that has passed down to us is not the original version, which was defeated by Cratinus' "Wine Flask" at a comedy competition during the Great Dionysia celebrations. We know this is a revised version because the Chorus complains about Aristophanes finishing third in that competition. However, critics assume it is essentially the same play, albeit a more polished version. Once you forgive Aristophanes for his unfair characterization of Socrates, "The Clouds" is a great comedy employing all of his standard tricks of the trade from fantasy and ribaldry to funny songs and obscene words.
Top reviews from other countries
Clouds is not as drop-dead laugh-out-loud funny as some of Aristophanes' other plays, most notably (in this reviewer's opinion) Lysistrata and Frogs; but the issues it raises are fascinating, and it contains some wonderful passages of, as is usual with Aristophanes, glittering poetry and utter b***s**t. By the latter term I don't mean that Aristophanes sometimes forgot how to write, just that he had a fantastic knack for making his own characters go so far up their own behinds that they start talking almost pure gibberish. What lies behind Aristophanes' fantastic ebullience is not really, as has been speculated, a rather uninteresting political conservatism - most conservatives are relatively humourless, anxious, angry people - but rather, as Nietzsche recognised, a profound sense of his own strength, that seemed to be threatened by nothing. Yeah, Aristophanes wasn't exactly a radical in his private beliefs; but he was a radical artist in the tradition of someone like Frank Zappa, who turned his satirical searchlight on everyone including himself.
This edition of the play is meant for students insofar as it has the Greek and a very good and extremely close translation on facing pages. If it lacks a star, it's because the font used in the Greek text is a nasty, cheap-looking and not very legible digital font that has not reproduced well. (The left-hand pages all look like they're photocopies of computer printouts.) Apart from that, Prof. Sommerstein has done a great job, with a long and helpful introduction, good textual notes and comprehensive endnotes that are lucid and full about all the play's textual and contextual difficulties.
If it were only reproduced in a nicer-looking edition, this would be a model of how to present a classical text to students of the language. I am a student of the language, and I greatly value this book, although I still deplore the crappy Greek font and generally cheap presentation by Aris & Phillips, especially since this book is far from cheap to buy.
This book is one of a series of detailed studies and has a typical layout of Greek text on one page and a translation in English on the other. The translation itself is modern and highly readable. It has copious notes at the back of the book and a good select bibliography and introduction.
There are only two very small inconveniences. The latest addition has quite a number of addenda and I spent a bit of time marking those alterations in the text. It would have been better to include them in the notes at the back-but it is no great inconvenience. The second is the Greek font used, the print quality isn't the best and a new uppdated font and printed in black would reduce the strain on the eye for some older readers- but again, a minor quibble.
Without doubt this book is an invaluable addition to the canon of studies of this play, and as Sommerstein has such a reputation it would be foolish not to purchase this edition despite the above quibbles and the price- certainly if you were to buy just one book of this play, make it this one-along with the rest in the series published by Aris & Phillips