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The Clouds | Study Guide


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Agon 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Agon 2 from Aristophanes's play The Clouds.

The Clouds | Agon 2 | Summary



Strepsiades runs out of his house calling for help. Pheidippides is following him and beating him over the head. Pheidippides shamelessly admits he's doing the unthinkable—hitting his own father. The father and son shout insults at one another.

Pheidippides says he'll prove his actions are just. He asks Strepsiades to choose the Better or the Worse Argument. Strepsiades thinks if Pheidippides can justify beating his own father, he really has learned to argue against what's right. He admits he's curious to hear the argument. The Chorus says Pheidippides's outrageous behavior means he must be confident in the argument he's prepared.

The Chorus Leader asks what the men were fighting about. Strepsiades says the two were eating, and he asked Pheidippides to play a song on the lyre. Pheidippides refused, saying lyre music with drinking was out of date. The two then began to argue about poetry. Pheidippides openly despised the old poets his father respected, Simonides and Aeschylus. Then Pheidippides recited a passage from Euripides in which a brother and sister have sex. Strepsiades, disgusted, began verbally attacking his son. The fight escalated into physical conflict, and Pheidippides began to choke his father. Pheidippides says he was entitled to do so after his father's terrible opinions of poetry.

Strepsiades protests he took care of Pheidippides since his son was a child. The Chorus says if Pheidippides's logic wins, they won't have to respect the elderly any longer. Pheidippides says he's grateful to Socrates for teaching him how to debate and appreciate what's "new and clever." Strepsiades pines for the days when his son was obsessed with horses.

Pheidippides asks if Strepsiades hit him as a child. Strepsiades says yes, but only out of love. Why, Pheidippides asks, can't he show his love for his father the same way? Why should only children be beaten? Older men are in their second childhood, he continues, just like children. Strepsiades says there's no law saying fathers should suffer. Pheidippides argues ordinary men create laws, and he has just as good a right to make new rules for future sons as anyone else does. Besides, other animals avenge themselves against their fathers.

Strepsiades insists he has the right to punish his son, and if Pheidippides has a son, he'll have the same right. Pheidippides says if he has no son, then, he's suffered for nothing. Strepsiades turns to address the men his age in the audience and says he's been bested—their sons do have the right to punish them.

But Pheidippides has another point to make. Strepsiades cries out in protest. Maybe, says Pheidippides, this new point will make his father feel better. Pheidippides believes he has the right to hit his mother too. Strepsiades is appalled. Pheidippides says he can use the Worse Argument to justify hitting his mother, but Strepsiades has had enough of arguments and Socrates.


Agon 2 mirrors Agon 1 in several ways. An older man defends the tradition and justice of the past, while a younger man defends the freedom and pleasure he sees in the future. The older man eventually concedes to the "unjust argument" of the younger man.

But this Agon has more emotional resonance. The audience has already seen the father and son interact—with plenty of surface conflict but with respect and caring. Now Pheidippides argues for abuse within the family. Strepsiades realizes the full extent of what he's done by sending his son to the Thinkery: "I really did have you taught to argue against what's just." When Strepsiades's scheme backfires on him, the audience isn't laughing at him anymore, and the satire becomes much darker.

After a stint at the Thinkery, Pheidippides loses respect for the Greek lyric and tragic poets his father still loves. Aeschylus's famous plays become "lots of noise, unevenness, and bombast." The subtext, beneath the fighting and lewd jokes, is the value of a common mythological past expressed in stories and art. When Greeks lose sight of the gods, Aristophanes implies, they lose sight of this rich history too.

Strepsiades, as the "better argument," gives the only sincere, heartfelt argument the audience has heard in the play. He only disciplined his son because he cared about him. But the audience knows the "better argument" is doomed to lose. In this case Strepsiades's conviction relies on the underlying assumptions parents know better than children and parents can punish their children physically if beating will teach the children right from wrong. Discipline shows care. Pheidippides takes the "caring" argument out of context and says the two men are equals now; why shouldn't he treat his father as an equal? Pheidippides no longer views the family relationship, where a father teaches a son, as sacred. His time with the Sophists, Aristophanes implies, made him lose sight of important values like respect for family.

The audience realizes Pheidippides is seizing power in the argument by ignoring established codes of conduct, as in the "Old Day and the New" courthouse argument. This time, the stakes are more personal. Unlike a Greek dramatist, Aristophanes isn't dramatizing stories of long ago. He's showing one exaggerated, unlikely, but still possible conclusion of events unfolding in Athens when the play was performed. Could this scenario actually happen as a result of the "New Education"?

Lack of communal respect for tradition may not result immediately in family anarchy. But Pheidippides and Socrates agree on one point: someone has to make the rules. Pheidippides implies anyone who doesn't like the laws can change them, as long as their argument is stronger than their opposition. He's not completely wrong. Laws change in every evolving society, including Greece, which was still developing into the Western world's first democracy when The Clouds was written. Often ordinary citizens spur these legal changes.

The discussion of "cocks and other animals," however, asks the audience to think of what separates humans from animals in power exchanges and community regulation. Humans, Strepsiades argues, are civilized enough not to "sleep on a perch." Humans understand who has rights and who has yet to earn those rights. Humans have impulse control and a moral code. Humans also have language. Aristophanes, and now Strepsiades, fears the consequences of humans manipulating language to serve themselves.

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