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The Clouds | Exodos | Summary

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Summary

Strepsiades turns to the Clouds and blames them for his new troubles. The Chorus says Strepsiades made his choices himself. When Strepsiades asks why they didn't warn him, the Chorus says they let everyone who "falls in love with evil strategies" learn through misery. Strepsiades admits he's learned his lesson and he shouldn't have tried to get out of his debts. He asks Pheidippides to come with him; they'll make Socrates pay.

Pheidippides, however, doesn't want to turn on his teacher. Strepsiades says he has to obey his father out of reverence to Zeus. But Pheidippides doesn't worship Zeus anymore. Vortex, the god Socrates worships, overthrew Zeus. Strepsiades points to the goblet (called a Vortex) in front of the Thinkery, a goblet he now realizes is merely a piece of clay and not a god. Pheidippides says his father is babbling nonsense and exits offstage.

Strepsiades regrets ever going to the Thinkery and casting off the old gods. He asks the statue of Hermes outside his house for forgiveness and advice. After a moment's pause Strepsiades tells the statue it has given good advice—to burn the Thinkery to the ground. He asks his slave Xanthias for a ladder and mattock, or hand tool. Another slave brings Strepsiades a torch. Strepsiades and Xanthias climb to the roof of the Thinkery and set the building on fire.

The Thinkery students cry out from inside. Strepsiades says he's simply "picking a good argument with the roof beams." He wants them all to die. Socrates emerges and asks what Strepsiades is doing. Strepsiades says, "I walk on air and contemplate the sun," the same explanation Socrates gave for his behavior at their first meeting. He accuses Socrates and his students of insolence to the gods. Strepsiades and Xanthias chase Socrates and the Thinkery scholars offstage. The Chorus leaves too, saying they've had enough song and dance for the day.

Analysis

Strepsiades has come full circle. He now honors Zeus as his god again, confident in his old beliefs. He realizes what the audience has already figured out—Socrates and the men in the Thinkery "played their tricks," and Strepsiades's life would have been much easier had he simply paid his debt.

To punish Socrates, however, Strepsiades resorts not to civilized justice but to violence. The audience may feel a sense of comic relief after the tension in the previous scene. Strepsiades gets his vengeance on the underhanded Thinkery. He scolds the scholars for their "impiety," recalling the moral superiority expressed by the Better Argument. He even gets to mock the much brighter Socrates.

But in an unusual twist for a Greek comedy, the ending is just as tragic as it is comic. Losing the argument in Agon 2 is the crowning touch to Strepsiades's humiliations throughout the play. He has finally become angry enough to resort to violence.

The Clouds were sympathetic to Socrates earlier in the play. Now they reveal they saw the Thinkery's methods as "evil strategies" all along. As the patron goddesses of charlatans and tricksters, they don't have loyalty to any human in the play, and they can switch allegiances easily. The Chorus has a hands-off attitude toward Strepsiades's actions in the Exodos. But like other Greek Choruses they play an advisory role to the main characters. They coach him throughout the play, encouraging him to think of dishonest schemes and advising him to send his son to the Thinkery, planning for Strepsiades to learn his lesson the hard way. Though Strepsiades accuses them of "luring [him] on," the Clouds are glad they've successfully taught this mortal the importance of piety. And they deliberately neglect to provide a final, celebratory song and dance summing up the drama. They simply walk out.

The comedy doesn't have a peaceful resolution. Put-upon Strepsiades comes out on top in the end, fitting Aristophanes's paradigm of a tricky and finally triumphant hero. But he's won a hollow victory, since his life in some respects is worse than it was at the start of the play. He never solves his original problem: how to get out of debt. His creditors are still taking him to court, and more poignantly, his relationship with his son is damaged. Although Strepsiades finally stands up for his original beliefs in honor, religious reverence, and familial respect, the audience can see the misery a brief alliance with the Thinkery put him through. The Clouds shows the danger of abandoning morals and admiring the skills of persuasive argument too strongly, without thinking about what language means. Otherwise, the final act warns, the result may be anarchy.

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