(Ancient Greece: 469-399 B.C.E.)
Socrates ( 469-399 B.C.E.) was a historical figure, a philosopher who lived in Athens during its "golden age," but we know of him chiefly through dramatic and philosophical works with a decidedly literary character. Therefore, we must discuss how the literary figure "Socrates," not the historical person, plays the role of the fool. Our primary sources for this inquiry are the comic poet Aristophanes and the philosopher Plato.
For Aristophanes, Socrates was the person through whom philosophy could be satirized. The poet wrote an entire comedy, Clouds ( 423 B.C.E., revised c. 418 B.C.E.), that revolves around the philosophical school headed by Socrates. Plato, born in 427 B.C.E., became familiar with Socrates toward the end of the latter's life and immortalized him after his death in a series of sophisticated philosophical dialogues. There, also, although to a lesser extent, we find Socrates presented in a humorous aspect. The two literary portraits of Socrates concur in presenting something foolish about him, but they differ in their presentation of the source and significance of that foolishness. Aristophanes, writing while Socrates was still alive and when Plato was only a young child, pokes fun at the Socratic life for its divergence from convention, common sense, and practicality, while Plato, several years later, finds in that divergence evidence for the superiority of the Socratic life and the presence of a higher, metaphysically based comedy.
The Aristophanic view of Socratic foolishness is expounded thoroughly in Clouds, a comedy in which Socrates appears as the leader of a philosophical