Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2007—2008 Forum on Origins
“I’ll burn down the school”: Aristophanic Comedy and the Trial of Socrates
In 399 BCE, an Athenian jury responded to Socrates’ incendiary philosophy by sentencing him to death on trumped up charges of impiety and atheism. The philosopher’s demise was prefigured roughly 20 years earlier in Aristophanes’ comedy, “Clouds”. The play ends when Strepsiades, a clownish rustic, proclaims Socrates evil and burns down his school. Was Aristophanes encouraging Athens to eliminate the self-professed gadfly, or was he warning Socrates to beware of public scorn? What were the origins of Aristophanes’ “Clouds”?