Academic Disciplines in Aristophanes' Clouds (200-203)

Classical Quarterly 62.1: 81-91

Cambridge Journals, 2012

"This paper will consider what Aristophanes’ Clouds can teach us about the state of academic disciplines in late fifth-century Athens. In particular, I will call attention to a moment in Clouds which suggests that Aristophanes not only possessed a concept of certain discrete academic disciplines, but that he expected his Athenian audience to have entertained one as well. I do not expect that this assertion will, at first glance, shock many readers of Clouds. It is not surprising, after all, to find the notion of distinct bodies of knowledge, investigation and teaching in a play satirizing contemporary education; as others have observed, a caricature has no point unless there are some facts upon which exaggerations may be based. For this reason, it is curious that scholars investigating the origins of academic disciplines in antiquity have rarely invoked Aristophanes’ testimony. If my reading of Clouds is convincing, then it will mark one of the earliest explicit appearances of a concept that has only occasionally (and, I should add, controversially) been credited by historians of science to writers in the fifth century..."