Ancient Civ.


2. Essay on Clouds

Use three moments from Clouds to take a position on the culture, beliefs, and social expectations of classical Athens.

What you need to do:

1 Get ready.
Review the requirements

Review the Requirements for All Papers. This page has important guidance and videos on formatting your document, structuring your essay, and using evidence.

Watch the video

The overview video explains what I want you to cover in the essay and what I’m expecting in terms of arguments, evidence, and structure.

Another resource you may find helpful is the Elephant Pamplet, which gives step-by-step guidance on preparing for and writing a position paper.

2 Choose your topic from one of the three prompts below.

Option A

Right and wrong in Clouds

Clouds emphasizes traditional values throughout the play and then ends with violence. Does Clouds offer an internally inconsistent message on morality?

Discuss the consistency of the moral argument of Clouds by comparing it with the moral argument in the tragedy. Where do both plays stand with regard to the Athenian debate on relative morality (nomos vs. physis)?

Option B

Aristophanes’s agenda

The surviving plays of Aristophanes range over a long and turbulent period of Athenian history. Do Aristphanes’s opinions and technique change over time?

Discuss the consistency of Aristophanes’s approach to writing, and the evolution of his overall philosophy across this most troubled period. What themes and ideas are present in both plays? Is his approach, methodology, or agenda consistent? If not, how does it change?

Option C

Socrates vs. Socrates

The “Socrates” found in Aristophanes’s Clouds is a deliberate distortion driven by a desire to discredit the real Socrates. What does this version of Socrates have in common with the one depicted in works by Socrates’s student, Plato?

Discuss how Socrates was seen by Athenians in their time of strife. What about his behavior and beliefs that caused him to be venerated by some, and yet so feared by others that he was executed? What characteristics of Socrates and his philosophy were most exaggerated by the two authors (either in ridicule or praise), and why?

(What’s important to remember is that both versions of Socrates are distortions, twisted in the service of what their authors were trying to say about them.)

3 Choose a second work to compare with Clouds.

Option A

For the “right and wrong” option, choose a tragedy from the Greek classical period in which morality is a key issue to compare with Clouds.

Popular options include:

Option B

For the “Aristophanes’s agenda” option, choose another play by Aristophanes to compare with Clouds.

Popular options include:

  • Frogs, mounted in 405 BCE, 11 years after the revised version of Clouds;
  • Birds, mounted in 414; and
  • Wealth, mounted in 388.
  • Any of the 11 surviving plays is fair game. Full texts in English are also available here or here.

Option C

For the “Socrates vs. Socrates” option, choose a work by Plato in which Socrates is a major character to compare with Clouds.

Possibilities include:

  • Phaedo, which has Socrates discussing life and afterlife on the brink of his execution;
  • Apology, a version of Socrates’s self-defense against charges of irreligion; or
  • any of the other dialogs that focus on how Plato wanted to show Socrates’s methods and beliefs. Full texts in English are available here.

4 Find three moments from Clouds that are strong examples of your topic.

Option A

For the “right and wrong” option, find three incidents from Clouds that involve a moral decision or an argument between characters about what the morality of an action.

Compare each of these incidents with a similar (or contrasting) moment in the tragedy you’ve selected.

Option B

For the “Aristophanes’s agenda” option, find three incidents from Clouds that reflect either Aristophanes’s opinions or how he makes the play reflect them.

Compare each of these moments with a similar (or contrasting) moment in the other comedy.

Option C

For the “Socrates vs. Socrates” option, find three incidents from Clouds that reflect an opinion or behavior expressed by Aristophanes’s version of Socrates.

Compare each of these moments with a similar (or contrasting) moment in the work by Plato.

5 Write a 3- to 4-page essay in which you take a position on Athenian culture.

State what you believe Clouds shows us about the culture, beliefs, and social expectations of fifth-century Athens in a way that answers the question in the prompt you chose. (This is your thesis statement.)


Describe and discuss, one by one, each of the three moments you found from Clouds and compare with a similar moment from your second work. For each section, discuss what the evidence tells us about classical Athens.


Tie your examples and assertions together and show how they support your overall thesis.

6 Finalize your essay.

Make sure your evidence is cited and that you include a bibliography. For how to do citations and bibliographies, see the Research and Citation Center. You will be marked down drastically if your paper is not properly cited.

Optional draft

You may email me an optional draft two weeks before the final due date. It should include most of your paper (at least two thirds of the final content, with sections to be written described in square brackets). I’ll give feedback, but not a grade, to help you refine your final paper.

Double-check the requirements

Make sure your essay meets the Requirements for All Papers for formatting, structure, and evidence, as well as the specifications given above for what’s expected for this assignment.

Once you’re sure your essay meets the requirements, upload it as DOCX or PDF to BlackBoard.