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before the death of Socrates : It was in the first year of Olymp. LXXXIX. when Isarchus was archon, that Aristophanes acted his first comedy of The Clouds, which was driven off the stage 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 question, now in our hands : These 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 state it; a pretty reasonable time for such a plot to be ripening : And who now will give credit to Ælian and his Various History?
Having taken some pains to prove what Aristophanes's motives were not, it now remains to shew what they were ; but this will face the subject of another Paper. ·
THE Clouds is a satirical and personal co
medy, the moral of which is to shew how the ophistry of the schools may be employed as an inftruni :nt of traud and evasion in matters of right and property; this is its principal object: But it touches also upon other points by the way, and humorously exposes certain new and chimerical notions about the relation of children to their parents, and of the influence of The Clouds, as superior to the superintending power of Jupiter.
Of its moral therefore, separately considered (comprehending the chief duties and relations of men, whether to the gods, to their parents or to society at large) there can be no doubt; its excellence and importance speak for them, selves.
The comedy being written before the practice was restrained of bringing living characters on the stage, a school is here introduced, and the greatest philosopher of the time is represented in person on the stage: This philosopher is Socrates himself, and the school is the school of Socrates. Socrates is made to advance the hypothesis of
The Clouds before mentioned; but it should be constantly kept in remembrance, that he lays down no doctrines, as principles of fraud or injustice : It is not the teacher who recommends, but his disciples who pervert his instructions to the evil purpose of defrauding and eluding their creditors: The like remark holds good in the case of the natural duty of children to their parents : The son in the play it is true strikes 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 thews that sophistry may be turned to defend that, or any other thing equally violent and out. rageous.
There are two lights in which Socrates is to be viewed ; first, in his public character as a teacher; secondly, in his private one as a man. It is chiefly in the former of these that Ariftophanes has attacked him; and (as I before observed) it is to expose the evil uses rather than the evil nature of his doctrines, that he brings his school upon the stage ; for when the disciple is questioned about the studies which his master is employed in, he makes report of fome frivolous and minute researches, which are introduced only for the purpose of raising a harmless laugh, and so far there can be no offence in this fcene.
After all it must be allowed, that these seminaries of fophiftry, which the state of Athens thought it neceffary to put down by public edict, could not haye been improper subjects for dramatic ridicule ; for if the schools were found ko detrimental to the morals of youth, that the archons and their council, after due deliberation, resolved upon a general expulsion of all masters and teachers thereunto belonging, and effectually did expel them, surely the poet may be acquitted, when he satirizes those obnoxious parties, whom the laws of his country in a short 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 Lacedæmonians never suffered a master of philofophy to open school within their realm and jurisdiction, holding them in abhorrence, and proscribing their academies as seminaries of evil manners, and tending to the corruption of youth: It is well known what peculiar care and attention were bestowed
the education of the Spartan youth, and how much more moral this people was, who admitted no philosophers to settle amongst them, than their Athenian neigh
bours, in whose dissolute capital 'they swarmed. In fact, the enormity became too great to be redressed; the whole community was infected with the enthusiasm of these sectaries; and the liberties of Athens, which depended on the public virtue of her citizens, fell a sacrifice to the corruptions of false philosophy: The wiser Lacedæmonians saw the fatal error of their rivals, and availed themselves of its consequences; they rose upon the ruins of Athens, and it was the triumph of wisdom over wit: These philofophers were ingenious men, but execrable citizens; and when the raillery of the stage 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 fashion to extol it, there is no reason to believe it was in better credit than any other; on the contrary, it was in such public disrepute on account of the infamous characters of many of his disciples, and of the disgraceful attachments he was known to have, that it was at one time deserted by every body except Æschines, the parasite of the tyrant Dionyfius, and the most worthless man living: This Æschines, his fole and favourite disciple, was arraigned by the pleader Lysias, and convicted of the vileft frauds, and branded as a public cheat: