UCLA Aristophanes The Clouds and Pericles Funeral Oration Essays

Part 1: M2. Assignment: Aristophanes: “The Clouds

Greek theaters seated thousands of people at a time. Source: Flickr

There were no videos or newspapers in the ancient world, and so the way they shared information was to listen to traveling storytellers, called Rhapsodes, and to go to the theater. Tragic and comic theatre were part of Athenian religious ritual, and so plays were written for the many festivals held each year. Prizes were awarded to the best plays. Among the comic plays, Aristophanes’ were voted among the best, if not the best.

Our reading this week provides many excerpts from his play “The Clouds”. It is a very funny play, and in it, Socrates is shown to be the nutty professor who hangs from the ceiling in a basket thinking great thoughts. However, as the chapter explains, it is a play with a message and that message is a strong criticism of the Sophists (Socrates included in that) and Aristophanes’ view of what they were doing to Athenian society.

Everyone both in Athens and surrounding city-states went to theaters to see this play and others. It was a way to help citizens come to grips with what was happening to their city and to their culture. In The Clouds, Aristophanes illustrates the damage relativism was doing and had done to the great civilization they had once been part of–now slipping away.

For this assignment, give a summary of the plot of the play. Then give a summary of all of the important points Aristophanes makes. Let the author of the text help you with this. (You can paraphrase the author of the text, but make sure you give a citation for any and all paraphrasing.)

Finally, listen to any late-night talk show–to the opening monologue. Give an example of what is said. Compare what you hear with the kind of remarks made by Aristophanes. Give examples. Do you think then that humor is an effective way to bring hypocrisy and foolishness to light and to ridicule those who do it such that we know not to take such people seriously? Can we win back our culture that way?


  • Must be a minimum of 2 pages with standard 1-inch margins in Times New Roman or Garamond font.
  • Must be double-spaced.
  • Must address the topic of the paper with critical thought.
  • Must include in-text citations and references in MLA style. No outside sources.
  • Name, course, and assignment top left.
  • Include a Title.

Please remember:

  • Have some fun with this.
  • No need to restate the questions. Just begin with a thesis statement and your own work.
  • Note your originality report.
  • Use information from the chapter and remember to use proper MLA citation.

Part 2 : M2. Discussion:Pericles Funeral Oration

It’s hard for us to imagine today that some peoples actually lived up to their ideals, but the world of Athens described by Pericles in his Funeral Oration was true to Athenian principles. Historians are agreed that the Athenians lived and spoke as they believed. They lived the Homeric Classical Ideal of life.

For this discussion, in one paragraph, summarize the important concepts in the Oration and what you think of those ideals. Then, contrast Pericles with Callicles.

Callicles is a symbol of what Athens became after the education of the Sophists.

  • What are the basic ideas that Callicles espouses?
  • Can you see how they might undermine the older Athenian culture?
  • Do you see any similarities between what happened in Athens and what is happening in the US today?
  • Does this help you understand the problems we face a little better?

M2. Lecture
The Sophists and Relativism
The stable world of Homer and the pre-Socratics began to erode in the fourth
century BCE partly because, as we saw in the previous chapter, of the dispute
about the gods’ existence, and partly because of increasing trade and wealth in the
Athenian empire, which led to a clamor for a democratic form of government. The
reading shows that democracy is not necessarily a good thing when it is
undermined by an uneducated and self-seeking populace who desire only their
own gain.
Pericles’s famous Funeral Oration, one of the greatest speeches on any topic ever
written, is illustrative of what was good about Athens in its great Classical
Age. The tradition from Homer stood for moderation in life, justice and fairness
in one’s dealing with others, an openness to other cultures, an appreciation for
beauty, and an ethic of compassion and pity for others.
Homer’s Classical Ideal
Priam the King of Troy, visits the tent of Achilles to beg for the return of the body of his son Hector, who Achilles
defeated in battle. In a soul-wrenching scene in the Illiad, they talk of parental love and Achilles grants Priam’s wish. It is
a scene of extraordinary empathy and compassion within the often brutal warrior class. Source: Flickr
The Loss of Athenian Greatness
Growing wealth, competition in business, and trade corrupted the older idea
of arete as self-improvement for the benefit of one’s family and the common good,
and replaced it with an ideal of education for “naked self-interest”. Protagoras’
conversation with Socrates is illustrative of the old view just as it was beginning to
change. The push for education began as education for everyone, not just the
elite. Once in the hands of the common people, the higher ideal was
upended. Callicles is an example of the corrupted view of education in which the
Sophist teachers taught rhetoric so young people could argue either side of an
argument and win. As Callicles says, by “making the weaker argument the
stronger.” Young people took this to mean that no argument was correct or true,
and what made a statement true was how well it was argued and received by the
audience. This attitude toward truth is called Relativism.
Aristophanes and Relativism
Aristophanes, the comic dramatist, addressed the Relativism of the Sophists in his
play, The Clouds. In the play, Socrates is shown to be the worst sort of Sophist
wasting his time discussing nonsense and helping foolish Athenians out of a jam.
The foolish Athenian, in this case, is Stepsiades, a bungling businessman with a
greedy wife and a hapless son. He’s in trouble with his creditors, and so he comes
to Socrates’ Thinkery school to learn how to convince others that he is blameless
even though he is very guilty indeed. The following video explains why
Aristophanes is so important.
Source: Robinson, Mark. Why is Aristophanes called the Father of Comedy. TedEd . https://youtu.be/arQ6U3ev5ic
The point of The Clouds was to make plain to the Athenians that the Relativistic
stance of the Sophists–that all knowledge was based on convention or culture-made a mockery of the world of truth and even commonsense. Aristophanes used
the rhetorical method of reducio ad absurdum to make the situation depicted in
the play so absurd that everyone could relate to it, and yet see how the relativist
positions are taken in the play were ridiculous and nonsense.
Aristophanes also takes pot shots at hypocrites who claim to take the high ground
and yet are guilty themselves of wrong-doing. At the end of the play, the main
character called Right Argument stands facing the audience and confronts
them. He finally claims that no Athenian is without fault in all of this, and he
takes his seat with everyone else. There are so many takeaways from this
play. Is everyone corrupted in culture and even if some hold to integrity and
truth, will they be listened to? Or can a culture be beyond saving? These are
difficult questions to face and clearly hit home in our own time.
Relativism and Truth
How can we be sure that the information handed down to us is true, or at least
likely to be true? Do we hold to the moral values our parents taught us and do we
know why we should or should not hold onto them? Do values change or do they
stay the same? What about the truth? How can a truth change or were we
mistaken about something in the first place? Once we start asking ourselves
questions like this, even though it can be disturbing to do so, we are on the way to
uncovering truth for ourselves. In subsequent chapters, we will learn how to do
so productively.
For now, it is enough to discover that our uncertain times are not unique, and
that past generations have found ways to deal with misinformation and have done
so successfully. The first one to address this problem was Socrates who realized
that truth matters and he was the first philosopher to create a truth-finding
method to keep us on solid ground. In a further chapter, we find that It’s a
method that Aristotle enhanced, and as it turns out the method was so successful,
it is used then and today as the basis of mathematics, science, and used by anyone
who decides to live in a world of facts, not fantasy.

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