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The Clouds | Symbols

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Clouds

The Clouds, portrayed as both goddesses and weather phenomena, are meant to mimic the physical experience of watching clouds in the sky. Clouds shift and change in appearance, and their description can change from viewer to viewer—"a centaur, or a leopard, wolf, or bull." As Socrates explains to Strepsiades, they morph based on what the viewer chooses to see.

They represent lofty-sounding philosophical ideas with no real principles behind them. Aristophanes uses the Clouds as patron goddesses of the Sophist philosophers, who he saw as needlessly contrarian and not committed to any ideals except for winning the argument. Unlike other Greek choruses, which often take a moral stance, the Clouds don't express a strong point of view in the play because they represent the point of quandary.

Socrates says the Clouds can reveal the true nature of people they reflect. Through dialogue, the Clouds analyze the play's main characters, who are all oblivious to their own true natures. For example, they notice when Strepsiades "falls in love with evil strategies" but don't warn him.

Money

Money symbolizes both need and greed. Strepsiades's only interest in education is the money it can save him. His desperate financial troubles quickly turn into a desire to commit fraud. He concocts ways to get out of paying interest on his debt and calls his creditors "petty money men." Even Socrates is presented as corrupted by the desire for cash. Money, Aristophanes implies, is a potent force causing men to take advantage of others—especially when combined with Sophist self-interest.

Money is used as a determiner of worth and a tool for manipulation. Socrates demands a lot of money to educate Strepsiades, Pheidippides, and other students at the Thinkery. The Chorus promises Strepsiades his fellow Athenians will "leave you lots of cash behind" for his wise advice after his studies.

Insects

Insects represent the Sophists' focus on small details—winning arguments on tiny technicalities and treating the study of seemingly trivial concepts as groundbreaking discoveries. Strepsiades is astounded by the Thinkery's experiments with fleas and gnats, experiments his student guide calls "our holy mysteries." Later Socrates makes Strepsiades lie in a bug-filled bed to practice his critical-thinking skills. The Worse Argument, representing Sophist debating techniques, describes his own ideas as "so many hornets."

Insects, like points in debate, may seem small individually but have a huge impact in a group. The bugs in bed slowly drive Strepsiades crazy, and the influx of student philosophers is slowly transforming attitudes toward education in Athens.

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