Nothing could be more amusing than this passage as a burlesque of the physical theories of the time; and nothing could better illustrate the quarrel between science and religion, as it presents itself on the surface to the plain man. But there is more in the quarrel than appears at first sight. The real sting of the comedy from which we have quoted lies in the assumption, adopted throughout the play, that the atheist is also necessarily anti-social and immoral. The physicist, in the person of Socrates, is identified with the sophist; on the one hand he is represented as teaching the theory of material causation, on the other the art of lying and deceit. The object of Strepsiades in attending the school is to learn how not to pay his debts; the achievement of his son is to learn how to dishonour his father. The cult of reason is identified by the poet with the cult of self-interest; the man who does not believe in the gods cannot, he implies, believe in the family or the state. G. Lowes Dickinson , The Greek View of Life
Aristophanes ironical explanation of the causes of natural phenomena. Socrates about thunder and lightning.
420 BC THE CLOUDS by Aristophanes
STREPSIADES But by the Earth! is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god?
SOCRATES Zeus! what Zeus! Are you mad? There is no Zeus.
STREPSIADES What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that!
SOCRATES Why, these, and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence!
STREPSIADES By Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes the thunder, which I so much dread?
SOCRATES These, when they roll one over the other.
STREPSIADES But how can that be? you most daring among men!
SOCRATES Being full of water, and forced to move along, they are of necessity precipitated in rain, being fully distended with moisture from the regions where they have been floating; hence they bump each other heavily and burst with great noise.
STREPSIADES But is it not Zeus who forces them to move?
SOCRATES Not at all; it's the aerial Whirlwind.
STREPSIADES The Whirlwind! ah! I did not know that. So Zeus, it seems, has no existence, and its the Whirlwind that reigns in his stead? But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?
SOCRATES Have you not understood me then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately swollen out, they burst with a great noise.
STREPSIADES How can you make me credit that?
SOCRATES Take yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling.
STREPSIADES Yes, yes, by Apollo I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. At first, it's but a little gurgling pappax, pappax! then it increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.
SOCRATES Well then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these mighty claps of thunder?
STREPSIADES And this is why the names are so much alike: crap and clap. But tell me this. Whence comes the lightning, the dazzling flame, which at times consumes the man it strikes, at others hardly singes him. Is it not plain, that Zeus is hurling it at the perjurers?
SOCRATES Out upon the fool! the driveller! he still savours of the golden age! If Zeus strikes at the perjurers, why has he not blasted Simon, Cleonymus and Theorus? Of a surety, greater perjurers cannot exist. No, he strikes his own temple, and Sunium, the promontory of Athens, and the towering oaks. Now, why should he do that? An oak is no perjurer.
STREPSIADES I cannot tell, but it seems to me well argued. What is the lightning then?
SOCRATES When a dry wind ascends to the Clouds and gets shut into them, it blows them out like a bladder; finally, being too confined, it bursts them, escapes with fierce violence and a roar to flash into flame by reason of its own impetuosity.
STREPSIADES Ah, that's just what happened to me one day. It was at the feast of Zeus! I was cooking a sow's belly for my family and I had forgotten to slit it open. It swelled out and, suddenly bursting, discharged itself right into my eyes and burnt my face.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire