Socrates
At the elderly age of seventy, Socrates found himself fighting against an
indictment of impiety. He was unsuccessful at trial in the year 399 B.C. The
charges were corrupting the youth of Athens, not believing in the traditional
gods in whom the city believed, and finally, that he believed in other new
divinities. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates defends himself against these
charges. He claims that the jurors’ opinions are biased because they had
probably all seen Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds. The Socrates portrayed in

Aristophanes’ Clouds is an altogether different character than that of the

Apology. The two different impressions of Socrates lead to quite opposite
opinions with regard to his guilt. In The Clouds, Socrates’ actions provide
evidence of his guilt on all three charges. However, in the Apology, Socrates is
fairly convincing in defending his innocence on the first two charges, but falls
short on the third charge. Socrates, in The Clouds, is portrayed as an idiot who
thinks he’s walking on air and is interested primarily in gnats’ rumps. He
is delineated as a natural philosopher/sophist. He is hired to teach

Pheidippides to make the "worse argument", the argument that is really
incorrect and unjust the "better"—to his father’s creditors— so that

Strepsiades, Pheidippides’ father, will not have to pay his debts. While this
in itself is corrupt, it was that he changed Pheidippides from the time he
entered Socrates’ "Thinkery" into a corrupt scoundrel, completely devoid
of morality that was even more deplorable. At the beginning, Pheidippides is a
respectful son who loves his father, but after "graduating" from the

Thinkery he is beating his father with a stick (lines 1321-1333). Socrates was
so successful in corrupting Pheidippides that he even attempts to justify his
behavior using rhetorical techniques learned from Socrates. In response to his
father questioning his actions he claims "Yes by God; what’s more, I’ll
prove it’s right to do so...with unbeatable arguments." He has obviously
been extremely corrupted if he could talk in this manner to his father. Not
believing in the traditional gods, which is the second charge fits the

Aristophanic Socrates perfectly. Socrates explicitly frowns upon the gods when
he exclaims, "what do you mean, ‘the gods’? In the first place, gods
aren’t legal tender here" (lines 247-248). Later, when explaining the
elements to Strepsiades, Socrates exclaims "Zeus you say? Don’t kid me!

There’s no Zeus at all" (lines 368-369). He is undoubtedly saying that he
does not believe in the traditional gods. The claim that Socrates believed in
new divinities, the third charge, is clearly seen when he "enter (s) into
communion with the clouds, who are our deities" (lines 253-254). Socrates
proves methodically how it could not be Zeus who causes phenomena such as rain,
thunder, and lightening, but rather is merely the work of the Clouds. For, if it
were indeed the work of Zeus, then he would bring rain in absence of any clouds.

The fact that the clouds are always present during precipitation attests to
their power as opposed to that of Zeus. As the Clouds were not traditional gods,

Socrates’ guilt on this charge is rather evident. Even as Socrates is
presented as a blabbering fool, full of hubris, in the Clouds, an entirely
different perspective on this alleged sophist is given to us in the Apology.

Throughout Plato’s works including the Clouds, Socrates himself claims not to
have any wisdom (he did not have any knowledge of ‘arete’) so he could not
possibly have been a sophist. In terms of the charges he seems to absolve
himself of the first two charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, and not
believing in the traditional gods; though he is less convincing in his claim
that he has no allegiance to other gods. Socrates claims he could not possibly
be guilty of the first charge for several reasons. He feels the charge arises
out of anger towards him for when he applies his "Socratic method" while
questioning others’ beliefs, it often has the effect of leaving them feeling
embarrassed and ridiculed. However, Socrates maintains that his objective is
merely to ascertain the ultimate truths, a noble act for sure. In fact, Socrates
believes that the pursuit of truth is the most important work of man. Besides,
the youth following is not as a result of recruitment but rather "of their own
free will" (23cl-2). And on the actual charge of corrupting the youth, when
prodded by him to give an example of these acts, none is forthcoming. They
present it in a general sense lacking any specific incidence. Furthermore, it is
illogical for one to willingly corrupt one’s companions,