Strepsiades, a wealthy cultivator of the soil in the district of Cicynna, has been reduced to poverty by the extravagance of his son. He has heard of the new and wonderful art of reasoning, by which the Sophists professed to make the worse appear the better cause; and hopes that, under the tuition of Socrates, he may attain to such skill and dexterity of arguing as will enable him to elude the actions for debt, with which he is threatened by his creditors. All attempts to make him acquainted with the subtleties of the new philosophy are found to be vain; and his son Phidippides is substituted in his stead, as a more hopeful pupil. The youth gives rapid proof of his proficiency, by beating his father, on their next interview, and then attempting to demonstrate to him that this proceeding is right and lawful. The eyes of the foolish old man are opened to the wickedness of the new doctrines, and the imposture of their professors. He sets fire to the school of Socrates; and the play ends, like most of our modern melodramas, with a grand conflagration. This comedy was first represented at the Great Festival of Bacchus, (March, B. C. 423,) when Aristophanes was beaten by Cratinus and Amipsias, through the intrigues of Alcibiades, who perceived himself aimed at in the character of Phidippides. Aristophanes was now in his twenty-first year. In consequence of this defeat, he prepared a second edition, which, we are told, was exhibited with an equal want of success the following year. But it is now well ascertained that the play we now have was the original first edition, with a new Address, and a few other unimportant alterations perhaps, and that it was never completed for the stage. At all events, it mentions Cleon (vs. 591—594) as still living, who died in the summer of B. C. 422, while the Address quotes (vs. 553) the "Maricas" of Eupolis, which was not exhibited till B. C. 421.
Schlegel (Dramatic Lit. p. 156) remarks, "The most honourable testimony in favour of Aristophanes is that of the sage Plato, who transmitted the Clouds (this very play, in which, with the meshes of the sophists, philosophy itself, and even his master Socrates, was attacked) to Dionysius the elder, with the remark, that from it he would be best able to understand the state of things at Athens."