The role of Obscenity and sexual humor in Clouds

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8 October 2015

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The role of Obscenity and sexual humor in Clouds


            The first performance of Clouds was done in 423 BC at the City Dionysian festival, the chief religious and civic event of the Athenian calendar. Though he slaved over the composition and considered it his best work, Aristophanes suffered a humiliating third place, ousted by two arch-rivals.

            Obscenity is viewed as a taboo in terms of sexual and excremental areas of the human body. It is considered offensive and even immodest. It can be stated directly or by other suitable methods. Aristophanes focuses far more on innuendo than the direct obscenity. In the scene where Jerkoffalot literally jerked off the stage, he features as both comical and obscene. Although the scene does not entirely feature as verbally obscene, the actor’s presentation of a fake penis features as immensely obscene among most audience. In the context of a fertility honoring Dionysus, shameless outrageous acts of sexual immorality are manifested by the comic actors (Skinner 151).

            The symbolic opening monologue apostrophizes a lamp which is the sole witness to all women’s secrets and deceptions. These secrets in women include their private parts and their multiple love affairs. This is, however, described in euphemistic language in which the straining bodies and erotic acrobats of fornication are discernable. In retrospect, it is likely that Clouds was only too innovative for a rowdy festival audience. It was accustomed to a strict diet of dick and fart jokes. The staple of what is now termed Old Comedy. The primeval comic genre was a panto-style episodic vaudeville. This originated, according to Aristotle, with the leaders of the comic processions (Herderson 101).

            There were fertility rites which involved scurrilous invective, obscene songs and 30-foot dodgers. The roots were still evident in Aristophanes’ day, when by convention every comic actor, regardless of his role, sported an oversized phallus. Aristophanes proudly claimed that this comedy was chaste and pure. It was the first to come on stage without stitching on a dangling red-headed bit of leather. Here, the poet protests too much, for the play is rife with obscenity and sexual humor. It is not only about a few dick jokes. “The palpable earthiness of human sexuality bursts through in the remainder of the prologue in which the obscenity, like that of the similar prologue of Lysistrata, is devoted mainly to satirizing the sexual foibles of women” (Henderson 101).

            The innovations of this play are also evident. Clouds is the first comedy which has what one might call a plot. It tells of Strepsiades, a rustic codger driven deeply in debt by his son Pheidippides’ mania for chariot-racing with the lads. The old man has hit upon a way out. He needs to acquire the wrong argument. A spin-doctoring perversion of truth and justice taught for a price at Socrates’ thinking. The unshod, bug-ridden pedants who haunt this institution have cast aside the traditional Olympian gods. They worship the Clouds and other meteoric phenomena as they pursue the latest developments in science, philosophy and rhetoric. The phallus was a religious symbol but in modern times its viewed as an obscenity (Verstraete 54). These nebulous deities remain aloof from Socrates and his disciples. This is until with growing hostility that they exact the vengeance of Zeus upon the thoughts of perversion of the natural order they represent.

            The friendly vignette discourages us from seeing the final of Clouds as mere moralizing by the playwright. It is only by comic license that Socrates is made to stand for the troubling intellectual developments of the late fifth century. One can easily imagine the great philosopher in the audience, joining in the laughter. For sure, Socrates was notorious for his disheveled appearance, absent-mindedness and satiric sexual appetites. The Athenians seem to have felt a grudging fondness and admiration for the eccentric thinker. Despite his pedagogic association with Alcibiades and other revolutionary figures, Socrates eventual execution on the charge of corrupting the youth and importing foreign gods was long due. It was attributable to his own stubbornness and integrity as lack of concern and offers of help from his fellow citizens. In Athens, it is said that almost all prominent men have wide anus for inserting foreign objects. Therefore, by engaging in homosexuality, they have nothing to lose (Hubbard 9).

            Like the best political cartoonists, Aristophanes excelled at presenting two sides of an issue in counterpoint. His influence on homosexual which he believed was more appropriate that the heterosexual (Hubbard 5). This is epitomized in this play by the debate between the Right and Wrong Arguments. It tries to reveal the valid and ludicrous aspects of both. With its remarkable blend of low humor and weighty social content, the play remains difficult both to watch and perform. However, the enduring relevance and strangely modern note of Clouds is still more remarkable. Abusive words are sentiments that invite audiences to relax their inhibitions instead of expressing their feelings of hostility. In contrary, pornography according to prominent scientists increases the probability of its audience to using force against their victims, most likely women and children (Skinner 282).

            The Clouds thus ends with a rough justice alien to the festive spirit of Old Comedy. This could have contributed to its failure. Indeed, the tone of the play and the choral passages in particular is often closer to tragedy. We know from Euripi dean melodrama that the two genres were beginning to converge at this time. Interestingly enough, Plato’s Symposium portrays Socrates and Aristophanes in drunken debate about whether the same playwright could compose both tragedy and comedy.

            Notwithstanding, the play, Clouds also portrays obscenity and sexuality to establish a parallel link between sexual oppression and colonial oppression. Further building on this, sexual humor based on the carnival and incongruity helps to deliver political messages such as as presented by Churchill. These messages centered on social acceptance and tolerance towards seemingly different people, precipitating condescending attitude towards them. In addition, obscenity and sexual humor in Clouds served to prevent cascading of minorities into doing certain social roles.

            In the Clouds, for instance, Just Logic speeches are essentially sexually humorous. The speeches serve to portray sexual hypocrisy as considered by Aristophanes in the upper echelons of social classes. Just Logic in the Clouds posits a champion representative and spokesman for the apyaia; that is the golden good old days. According to him, the young brutes were shy and modest in those days. They exercised perpetually to trim and maintain shapely bodies. Besides, they were wholesomely learned in contrast to the flabbily, brazen, wide-arsed and indolent youths of today. Just Logic fantasizes the dreadful ‘kararuywv’ or simply unjust logic that today’s youths consider as their model.

            Moreover, Just Logic harangues inn his speech on his audience modesty and sexual continence virtues.


Henderson, Jeffrey. The maculate muse: obscene language in attic comedy. New York: Oxford university press, 1975. Print.

Hubbard, Thomas K.. “Pederasty and democracy: the marginalization of a social practic.” Greek love reconsidered. New York: W. Hamilton Press, 2000. 1-11. Print.

Robson, James. Humour, obscenity and Aristophanes. Tübingen: Narr, 2006. Print.

Sommerstein, Alan H.. “The anatomy of euphemism in Aristophanic comedy.” Talking about laughter and other studies in Greek comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 70-103. Print.

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