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before the death of Socrates: It was in the first year of Olymp. LXXXIX. when Ifarchus was archon, that Ariftophanes acted his first comedy of The Clouds, which was driven off the ftage by Alcibiades and his party: In the year immediately following, when Aminias. was archon, he brought out the second of that name, which is the comedy in queftion, now in our hands: Thefe are authentic records; take the earliest date for the death of Socrates, and it will not fall till the first year of Olymp. XCV. when Laches was archon; the interval is as I ftate its a pretty reasonable time for fuch a plot to be ripening And who now will give credit to Ælian and his Various Hiftory?
Having taken fome pains to prove what Ariftophanes's motives were not, it now remains to fhew what they were; but this will pe the fubject of another Paper. ·
THE Clouds is a fatirical and personal comedy, the moral of which is to fhew how the fophiftry of the schools may be employed as an inftrument of fraud and evafion in matters of right and property; this is its principal object: But it touches alfo upon other points by the way, and humorously expofes certain new and chimerical notions about the relation of children to their parents, and of the influence of The Clouds, as fuperior to the fuperintending power of Jupiter.
Of its moral therefore, feparately confidered (comprehending the chief duties and relations of men, whether to the gods, to their parents or to fociety at large) there can be no doubt; its excellence and importance fpeak for themfelves.
The comedy being written before the practice was reftrained of bringing living characters on the stage, a school is here introduced, and the greatest philofopher of the time is represented in perfon on the ftage: This philofopher is Socrates himself, and the fchool is the fchool of Socrates.
Socrates is made to advance the hypothesis of
The Clouds before mentioned; but it fhould be constantly kept in remembrance, that he lays down no doctrines, as principles of fraud or injuftice: It is not the teacher who recommends, but his difciples who pervert his inftructions to the evil purpose of defrauding and eluding their creditors: The like remark holds good in the cafe of the natural duty of children to their parents: The fon in the play it is true ftrikes and beats his father on the stage, and he quotes the maxims of Socrates in justification; but he does not quote them as positive rules and injunctions for an act fo atrocious; he only fhews that fophiftry may be turned to defend that, or any other thing equally violent and outrageous.
There are two lights in which Socrates is to be viewed; first, in his public character as a teacher; fecondly, in his private one as a man. It is chiefly in the former of these that Ariftophanes has attacked him; and (as I before obferved) it is to expofe the evil ufes rather than the evil nature of his doctrines, that he brings his fchool upon the ftage; for when the difciple is queftioned about the ftudies which his mafter is employed in, he makes report of fome frivolous and minute refearches, which are introduced only for the purpose of raising a
harmless laugh, and fo far there can be no offence in this scene.
After all it must be allowed, that these seminaries of fophiftry, which the ftate of Athens thought it neceffary to put down by public edict, could not haye been improper fubjects for dramatic ridicule; for if the fchools were found fo detrimental to the morals of youth, that the archons and their council, after due deliberation, refolved upon a general expulfion of all masters and teachers thereunto belonging, and effectually did expel them, furely the poet may be acquitted, when he fatirizes those obnoxious parties, whom the laws of his country in a fhort time after cut off from the community.
There can be little doubt but this was a public measure founded in wisdom, if it were for no other reason, than that the Lacedæmo→ nians never fuffered a mafter of philofophy to open school within their realm and jurisdiction, holding them in abhorrence, and profcribing their academies as feminaries of evil manners, and tending to the corruption of youth: It is well known what peculiar care and attention were bestowed upon the education of the Spartan youth, and how much more moral this people was, who admitted no philofophers to fettle amongst them, than their Athenian neigh
bours, in whofe diffolute capital they fwarmed. In fact, the enormity became too great to be redreffed; the whole community was infected with the enthufiafm of thefe fectaries; and the liberties of Athens, which depended on the public virtue of her citizens, fell a facrifice to the corruptions of falfe philofophy: The wifer Lacedæmonians faw the fatal error of their rivals, and availed themselves of its confequences; they rofe upon the ruins of Athens, and it was the triumph of wifdom over wit: Thefe philofophers were ingenious men, but execrable citizens; and when the raillery of the ftage was turned against them, the weapons of ridicule could not be more laudably employed.
As for the school of Socrates in particular, though it may be a fafhion to extol it, there is no reason to believe it was in better credit than any other; on the contrary, it was in fuch public difrepute on account of the infamous characters of many of his difciples, and of the difgraceful attachments he was known to have, that it was at one time deferted by every body except Æfchines, the parafite of the tyrant Dionyfius, and the moft worthlefs man living: This Æfchines, his fole and favourite difciple, was arraigned by the pleader Lyfias, and convicted of the vileft frauds, and branded as a public cheat: