Dover says in the ‘Introduction’ to his edition of The Clouds that Aristophanes’ ‘Socrates teaches for payment (98, 245 f., 1146 ff.), and he teaches forensic rhetoric, by means of which a man in the wrong can persuade his hearers that he is right. That is why Strepsiades seeks out Socrates, and that is what Pheidippides learns.’ (Dover xxxiv.)
The two claims concerning Socrates in The Clouds, i.e. the claim that he teaches for money and the claim that he teaches forensic oratory a closely related, yet very differently treated by Aristophanes. In this post I shall discuss the first claim. In doing so I shall follow Dover’s references. The first reference is to the line 98, in which Strepsiades tells his son: ‘These men teach, if one gives them money (houtoi didaskous’, argurion ȇn tis didȏi, 98), to win by speaking (legonta nikan), both when one is in the right and when one is in the wrong (kai dikaia k’adika, 99).’ When his son asks ‘But who are they (eisi de tines)?’ Strepsiades answers: ‘I don’t precisely know their name’ (ouk oid’ akribȏs t’ounoma, 100).
This point is of fundamental importance for our understanding of The Clouds, where Socrates is viewed through the eyes of Strepsiades, the Twister. The most atrocious twisting – ‘these men teach, if one gives them money’ – occurs before Strepsiades meets Socrates. When he wants to send his son to the ‘Thinkery of the wise souls’ (l. 94) he does not even know the name of Socrates and his associates.
There can be little doubt that there were teachers of rhetoric in Athens in those days. On opening his school of rhetoric, Isocrates, a contemporary of Plato and Xenophon, distances himself from the teachers of rhetoric of the past generation: ‘There remain to be considered those who lived before our time and did not scruple to write the so-called arts of oratory. These must not be dismissed without rebuke, since they professed to teach how to conduct law-suits, picking out the most discredited of terms, which the enemies, not the champions, of this discipline might have expected to employ – and that too although this facility, in so far as it can be taught, is of no greater aid to forensic than to all other discourse.’ (Against the Sophist 19-20) – The question is, whether Aristophanes viewed Socrates as one of such teachers. To get some clarity into this question, we must consider the two remaining passages to which Dover refers.
At 244-9 Strepsiades asks Socrates ‘but teach me (alla me didaxon) the other of your two systems of argument (ton heteron toin soin logoin), how not to pay debts (ton mȇden apodidonta); whatever pay you ask (misthon d’ hontina prattȇi m’), I swear by the gods I shall pay you (omoumai soi katathȇsein tous theous).’ – Socrates: ‘By what gods do you swear (poious theous omei su)? For firstly (prȏton gar), we do not consider gods to be money (prȏton gar theoi hȇmin nomism’ ouk esti).’ – Strepdiades: ‘By whom do you swear then (tȏi gar omnut’)? By iron currency (ȇ sidareoisi) like in Byzantium (hȏsper en Buzantiȏi?)’
Strepsiades expects that Socrates will exact payment, and promises to pay him whatever he may ask, but far from entering into any pay agreement, Socrates makes it clear to him that he and his circle does not worship money. Strepsiades understands what he means, as his ‘By whom do you swear then, by iron currency?’ indicates. Iron currency was proverbial; it pointed to a community for which money had no intrinsic value. A scholiast quotes Plato, the comic writer: ‘We would find it difficult to live in Byzantium where iron currency is used.’
Dover’s third reference is to line 1146 onwards. Strepsiades comes to fetch his son from Socrates’ House of thinking (phrontistȇrion). He addresses Socrates: ‘Take this one first (alla toutoni prȏton labe): it’s proper to show some admiration (chrȇ gar epithaumazein ti) for the teacher (ton didaskalon, 1146-7).’ A scholiast interprets ‘this one’ as a sack of meal and refers to line 669 where Strepsiades says: ‘I will fill your trough with barley’. At that point the only response of Socrates was his indignation at Strepsiades’ unrefined use of grammar.
In his ’Commentary’ Dover adduces line 876 as additional evidence that Socrates was teaching for payment: ‘Socrates is a clever salesman. Having in effect refused Pheidippides as a hopelessly immature pupil – and having thus created an agonizing anxiety in Strepsiades – he adds musingly, “All the same, for a talent …” implying that he might be able to teach Pheidippides, but it cannot fail to be very difficult and very expensive.’ In fact, the only thing line 876 implies is that there are teachers who would teach Pheidippides ‘the artful art of persuasion’ (chaunȏsin anapeistȇrian, 875) for money: ‘All the same, Hyperbolos learnt this for a talent (kaitoi ge talantou tout’ emathen Huperbolos, 876).’
Knut Kleve in his ‘Anti-Dover or Socrates in the Clouds’ suggests that Socrates wants to hand Pheidippides to other tutors (Symbolae Osloenses, 1983, vo. LVIII, p. 28). Plato’s dialogues support Kleve’s suggestion. Thus in The Theaetetus Socrates says that he accepts as his companions (hoi emoi sungignomenoi) only those who feel the pains (ȏdinousi) of intellectual pregnancy: ‘But there are some people who somehow don’t seem to me to be pregnant. Once I know that they have no need of me, I’m kind enough to arrange matches (panu eumenȏs promnȏmai) for them, and, with God’s help, I guess quite adequately whose intercourse they’d benefit from. I’ve given away several of them to Prodicus, and several to other wise and gifted gentlemen.’ (151 a-b, tr. McDowell) In The Cratylus Hermogenes wants to know the meaning of his own name. Socrates: ‘Then investigate it (Skopei toinun)!’ – Hermogenes: ‘How should one investigate it (Pȏs oun chrȇ skopein)?’ – Socrates: ‘The most correct way of investigating (orthotatȇ men tȇs skepseȏs), my friend (ȏ hetaire), is with those who know (meta tȏn epistamenȏn), paying them money (chrȇmata ekeinois telounta) and giving them gratitude (kai charitas katatithemenon). These are the sophists (eisi de houtoi hoi sophistai), to whom your brother Callias (hoisper kai ho adelphos sou Kallias) gave a lot of money (polla telesas chrȇmata), appearing to be wise (sophos dokei einai) (391b6-c1). – Does Aristophanes make his Socrates any less ironical when he lets him refer to Hyperbolos than Plato when he makes him refer to Callias? Dover remarks on Hyperbolos: ‘The implication is that Hyperbolos’s prowess as a persuasive speaker owes nothing to his native wit but everything to an abnormal effort on the part of a teacher.’ (Dover, on line 876.)