Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades
Text by Thomas North
Study Guide by Anne White
Alcibiades (c. 450-404 B.C.)
Why study Alcibiades?
Even scholars who have studied Alcibiades for years are still trying to decide if his accomplishments outweigh his mistakes and faults.For Plutarch, there are two "telling details" about Alcibiades: the sight of him flouncing along the street in a purple robe; and the extra-soft bed that he had fitted out on his warship. Neither of these examples, in Plutarch's opinion, showed the right kind of dignity, resolve or courage for a virtuous leader. In the case of Alcibiades, his double-dealing and lack of personal restraint (including his involvement with the wife of a Spartan king) eventually led to a horrible death.
So why study Alcibiades, particularly in our context of character and citizenship studies? Do we read it only as a negative example of what not to do? Do we admire his intelligence, if not his ethics?
I would like to suggest at least two reasons. First, when we look at Alcibiades himself, we learn something about the qualities necessary for leadership, and see how those qualities were or weren't apparent in his life. What mistakes did he make? How did he become powerful, and how did he abuse that power?
Second, we can consider the role that citizens play in civil affairs. How can we choose our leaders carefully? What basis do we have for following someone or turning against him? How do we react if we think our leaders have done wrong? There is much to consider here about crowd behaviour and the effects of propaganda.
A Dividing Line.--Both Shakespeare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will. . . To make even a suggestive list would be to range over all history and literature. Let me say again, however, that here is a line of study which should make our reading profitable, as making us intimate with persons, and the more able for life. (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves)
The city-state of Athens had a system of democratic government (government "by the people") which was unusual at that time. Its people believed that everyone could and should contribute to the life of the city: because the city wasn't where they lived, they were the city. Athens was ruled by an assembly of male citizens, with the intention that all their voices should be heard equally.
The goddess Athena (also called Pallas Athena) for whom Athens was named, wore armour and was called the goddess of victory, but she was also in charge of wisdom and the arts. There is a legend that when Athena's temple was destroyed in the Persian Wars, a tiny olive shoot (the olive was her special tree) sprouted on the temple site as a sign of hope and rebirth. The Athenians put their faith in that sign, and their efforts into building something both beautiful and strong in her honour.
But Athens was, in fact, nearing the end of its power as a city/state. After the Peloponnesian War (fought mainly between Athens and Sparta, but also involving the Persians), Athenian power and culture were never the same again. (Alcibiades died during the last year of that war.)
The Geography: Map Work
Greece is divided almost in two by the Isthmus of Corinth. The southern section, containing Sparta or Lacedaemonia, is called the Peloponnesus. Athens did not get along very well with the cities in the Peloponnesus, particularly Sparta and Corinth.
Attica was the name for the region of Greece which included the city-state of Athens. The word Attic or Attican is sometimes used to describe aspects of Athenian life and culture, such as the "Attic dialect." Attica was bordered by the Aegean Sea to the east, Boeotia to the north, and Megara to the west. You will find it useful to have maps not only of Greece in the fifth century B.C., but also of the Persian Empire, as much of the action in this story takes place in regions such as Asia Minor.
The Timeline: Wars and More Wars
(Those who have already done the Life of Pericles will have already done the following exercise, and if they still have that timeline, it can be extended for Alcibiades.)
Make a timeline or chart showing the years 500-400 B.C. Mark (circle or shade) the fifty years between 480-430 B.C. This is the period considered the "Golden Age" of Athens. Mark the birth of Alcibiades in approximately 450, and his death in 404. You might also note two major events of his life: his exile from Athens beginning in 415, and his return sometime between 410 and 407.
With one colour, shade in or circle the years 499-449, the span of the Greco-Persian Wars. With a second colour, mark the years 460-445, the First Peloponnesian War. The proposed "Thirty Years' Peace" between Athens and Sparta began in 446/445, when Alcibiades was a small child. With a third colour, mark 431-404, the Second Peloponnesian War (also called just the Peloponnesian War), which began as Alcibiades was entering adulthood. Note how few years of that century there were in which Athens was not involved in conflict.
Top Vocabulary Terms in the Life of Alcibiades
1. barbarians, barbarous: foreign, and particularly Persian. This term did not carry the weight we give to it now (it was a bit negative, but not insulting).
2. commonwealth: a city or state and its colonies or dependencies; in this case, Athens and its satellite cities
3. credit: believe
4. divers: sometimes means "different," but often means "several"
5. eloquence: the art of fluent or persuasive speaking or writing
6. faction: small group within a larger one, often relating to a dispute or position on an issue
7. galley: a ship with sails and banks of oars, used for trade and war (also for piracy)
8. satrap: in the Persian empire, the governor of a province
9. stay: stop or delay
10. voices: votes, except in reference to Thrasybulus #1 (Lesson Eight), the man with the biggest and loudest voice in Athens
Alcibiades was born in the Greek city-state of Athens, at a time when a long war with the still-mighty Persian empire was ending, and when the mood of the city was triumphant and optimistic. He grew up under the guardianship of Pericles, a famous general who was then busy with great building projects on the Acropolis.
And Alcibiades himself, from the very beginning, stood out from the crowd.
Of all fair things. . . : Alcibiades was as attractive in maturity as he had been in his youth
happy constitution: good health
the many and wonderful vicissitudes. . . : the amazing amount of ups and downs he survived
flute: or pipe; probably the ancient wind instrument called the aulos
sordid: sleazy, low-class
articulation: formation of sounds
stripped the flute-player of his skin: this refers to the story of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, who, some believe, invented the aulos (or picked it up after Athena discarded it, see below).
incontinently: quickly, without restraint
honest and liberal exercises: respectable things to do
vile: ugly, disgusting
Pericles: Athenian statesman and general
Socrates: The philosopher Socrates was about twenty years older than Alcibiades, but outlived him by five years.
Euripides: Athenian writer of tragedies
Pallas: or Athena; the patron goddess of Athens. She seems to have agreed with Alcibiades about playing the flute: legend says that she threw the aulos away because it made her cheeks puff out.
Apollo: a major Greek god
Please read the introductory note on timelines for this study.
495 B.C.: Birth of Pericles
c. 470 B.C.: Births of Socrates and Nicias
451-449/448 B.C.: Official end of the Greco-Persian Wars
c. 450 B.C.: Birth of Alcibiades
447 B.C.: Death of Alcibiades' father Cleinias at the Battle of Coronea
447 B.C.: Construction begun on the Parthenon
446/445 B.C.: Thirty Years' Peace declared between Athens and Sparta
438 B.C.: Work completed on the Parthenon
On the Map
See the introductory notes for help with the first lesson.
Artemisium: or Artemision; a cape (point of land) in northern Euboea; the site of a major battle during the Persian Wars
Coronea: a town in Boeotia
Boeotia: a region of Central Greece, which sided with Sparta during the Peloponnesian War
Thebes (children of the Thebans): The city of Thebes in Boeotia was known as a center of aulos-playing. Alcibiades' objection to playing the flute may have been cultural rather than just personal.
Alcibiades, as it is supposed, was anciently descended of Eurysaces, the son of Ajax, by his father's side; and by his mother's side, from Alcmaeon. Dinomache, his mother, was the daughter of Megacles. His father, Cleinias, having armed and set forth a galley at his own costs and charges, did win great honour in the battle by sea that was fought at Artemisium; and he was slain afterwards in another battle fought at Coronea, against the Boeotians.
Pericles and Ariphron, the sons of Xanthippus and closely related to him, became the guardians of Alcibiades.
[Plutarch points out that because of Alcibiades' fame via his friendship with Socrates, we know not only the name of his mother but even that of his Lacedaemonian nursemaid, Amycla, and his teacher-attendant, Zopyrus.]
Now for Alcibiades' beauty, it makes no matter if we speak not of it; only that it bloomed with him in all the ages of his life, in his infancy, in his youth, and in his manhood; and, in the peculiar character becoming to each of these periods, gave him, in every one of them, a grace and a charm. What Euripides says, that--
Of all fair things the autumn, too, is fair,
is by no means universally true. But it happened so with Alcibiades, amongst few others, by reason of his happy constitution and natural vigour of body. It is said that his lisping, when he spoke, became him well, and gave a grace and persuasiveness to his rapid speech.
[omission for length]
His conduct displayed many great inconsistencies and variations, not unnaturally, in accordance with the many and wonderful vicissitudes of his fortunes; but among the many strong passions of his real character, the one most prevailing of all was his ambition and desire of superiority: as appeareth by certain of his deeds, and notable sayings in his youth. One day wrestling with a companion of his, that handled him hardly, and thereby was likely to have given him the fall: he got his fellow's arm in his mouth, and bit so hard as he would have bitten it off. The other, feeling him bite so hard, let go his hold straight, and said unto him: "Alcibiades, thou bitest like a woman!" "No, that I do not," quoth he, "but like a lion."
Another time being but a little boy, he played at dice in the midst of the street with his companions; and when his turn came about to throw, there came a cart laden, by chance, that way. Alcibiades prayed the carter to stay a while, until he had played out his game, because the dice were set right in the highway where the cart should pass over. The carter was a stubborn knave, and would not stay for any request the boy could make, but drove his horse on still, insomuch as other boys gave back to let him go on: but Alcibiades fell flat to the ground before the cart, and bade the carter drive over if he dared. This so startled the man that he put back his horses; while all that saw it were terrified, and, crying out, they ran to assist Alcibiades.
Afterwards when he was put to school to learn, he was very obedient to all his masters that taught him anything, but refused to learn upon the flute, as a sordid thing, and not becoming a free citizen; saying that to play on the lute or the harp does not in any way disfigure a man's body or face, but one is hardly to be known by the most intimate friends when playing on the flute. Besides, one who plays on the harp may speak or sing at the same time; but the use of the flute stops the mouth, intercepts the voice, and prevents all articulation.
"Therefore," said he, "let the children of the Thebans play on the flute, that cannot tell how to speak: as for us Athenians, we have (as our forefathers tell us) for protectors and patrons of our country, the goddess Pallas, and the god Apollo: of the which the one in old time (as it is said) broke the flute, and the other stripped the flute-player of his skin." Thus Alcibiades alleging these reasons, partly in sport, and partly in good earnest, did not only himself refuse to learn to play on the flute, but he turned his companions' minds also quite from it. For these words of Alcibiades ran from boy to boy incontinently: that Alcibiades had reason to despise playing of the flute, and that he mocked all those that learned to play of it. So afterwards, it fell out at Athens, that teaching to play of the flute was put out of the number of honest and liberal exercises; and the flute itself was thought a vile instrument, and of no reputation.
[omission for content]
Narration and Discussion
Consider the various anecdotes about Alcibiades' childhood: the biting story, the dice story, the story about refusing to play the flute because it made him look silly. What do all of these show you so far about his character? What opinion did Alcibiades have of himself?
Creative narration: Write or act out a scene using one of the following imaginary characters: an Athenian dealer in musical instruments; the delivery driver when he returned to his shop; a "school nurse" who deals with frequent Alcibiades-related incidents.
As a young man, Alcibiades was in danger of being completely ruined by those who flattered his good looks and who wanted to make use of his political ambition. However, he did have one true friend who seemed to push him towards better things.
station: status, position
interpose: intervene; put oneself between two things
Fortune: Plutarch refers to Fortune as a female deity
unnerve: To "unnerve" someone usually means to scare them or make them lose confidence; here it means to make someone unsteady, to deprive them of strength (particularly moral strength).
happiness of his genius: positive (or fortunate) aspect of his character. "Genius" in the ancient world also referred to a person's attendant spirit, something that protected or assisted them. In this case we could say "It was his good Fortune. . . "
discerned: picked out
dropped like the craven cock. . . : lost his arrogance, became humble
He esteemed these endeavours of Socrates. . . : He valued Socrates' wisdom as a godsend to young men in general, and to himself particularly
made their addresses, courted him: flattered him, sought his company
stater: a Greek coin
where the farms and lands. . . : an event where farmland was leased (rented) for the year to the highest bidders
talent: a unit of money. In Ancient Greece, a talent was about 57 pounds (26 kg) of silver.
surety: one who promises to be responsible for another's debt
relinquish: give up
relieved his necessity: took care of his need. (The phrase is used in Philippians 4:16.)
betimes: when he was not yet ready
blemish and deface: Dryden says "obscure"; wipe from memory
Anteros: In Greek mythology, Anteros was the god of returned love, and the punisher of those who scorned it
Now straight there were many great and rich men that made much of Alcibiades, and were glad to get his goodwill. But the affection which Socrates entertained for him is a great evidence of the natural noble qualities and good disposition of the boy; which Socrates, indeed, detected both in and under his personal beauty; and, hearing that his wealth and station, and the great number both of strangers and Athenians who flattered and caressed him, might at last corrupt him, resolved, if possible, to interpose, and preserve so hopeful a plant from perishing in the flower, before its fruit came to perfection.
For never did Fortune surround and enclose a man with so many of those things which we vulgarly call "goods," or so protect him from every weapon of philosophy, and fence him from every access of free and searching words, as she did Alcibiades; who, from the beginning, was shut up as it were in the company of those who feasted him with all pleasures, such as might well unnerve him, and indispose him to listen to any real advisor or instructor. Yet such was the happiness of his genius that he discerned Socrates from the rest, and went to him, refusing the company of all his rich friends and their flatteries, and fell in a kind of familiar friendship with Socrates. And Alcibiades, finding himself with one who sought to lay open to him the deficiencies of his mind, and repress his vain and foolish arrogance--
Dropped like the craven cock his conquered wing.
He esteemed these endeavours of Socrates most truly a means which the gods made use of for the care and preservation of youth; and began to think meanly of himself and to admire him; to be pleased with his kindness, and to stand in awe of his virtue; and unawares to himself, there became formed in his mind that reflex image and reciprocation of Love, or Anteros, that Plato talks of. It was a matter of general wonder, when people saw him joining Socrates in his meals and his exercises, living with him in the same tent, whilst he was reserved and rough to all others who made their addresses to him.
[omission for length and content]
He behaved with insolence to all those who courted him, except only one stranger, who, as the story is told, having but a small estate, sold it all for about a hundred staters, which he presented to Alcibiades, and besought him to accept. Alcibiades, smiling and well pleased at the thing, invited him to supper. When supper was done, he gave him his money again, and commanded him not to fail the next morning to meet him where the farms and lands of the city are wont to be let out to those that bid most, and charged him he should outbid all. The poor man would fain have excused himself, saying that the farms were too great for him to hire: but Alcibiades threatened to whip him if he would not do it. For besides the desire he had to pleasure him, he bore a private grudge against the ordinary farmers of the city.
The next morning the stranger was ready in the marketplace, where they did cry out the letting of their farms; and he raised one to a talent more than all others did offer. The other farmers were as mad with him as they could be, so that they all did call upon him to name his sureties, supposing he could have found none. The stranger was marvellous blank thereat, and began to shrink back.
Then Alcibiades cried out aloud to the officers that sat there to take the best offers: "I will be his surety. Put me in the book, for he is a friend of mine." The farmers, hearing him say so, were at their wits' end and knew not what to do. For their way was, with the profits of the second year, to pay the rent for the year preceding; so that, not seeing any other way to extricate themselves out of the difficulty, they began to entreat the stranger, and offered him a sum of money to leave the bargain. Alcibiades would not allow him to accept of less than a talent; but when that was paid down, he commanded him to relinquish the bargain, having by this device relieved his necessity.
Though Socrates had many and powerful rivals, yet the natural good qualities of Alcibiades gave his affection the mastery. His words overcame him so much, as to draw tears from his eyes, and to disturb his very soul. Yet sometimes he would abandon himself to flatterers, when they proposed to him varieties of pleasure, and would desert Socrates; who, then, would pursue him as if he had been a fugitive slave [omission for content].
Those who endeavoured to corrupt Alcibiades took advantage chiefly of his vanity and ambition, and did put him in the head to thrust himself into great matters betimes; making him believe that if he did but once begin to show himself to deal in matters of state, he would not only blemish and deface all other governors, but far excel Pericles in authority and power among the Greeks. For like as iron by fire is made soft, to be wrought into any form, and by cold also doth shut and harden in again: so, as often as Socrates observed Alcibiades to be puffed up with vanity and opinion of himself, he reduced and corrected him by his addresses, and made him humble and modest, by showing him in how many things he was deficient, and how very far from perfection in virtue.
Narration and Discussion
Someone may be "corrupt," meaning that they are dishonest or immoral; but someone may also be "corrupted" by others; that is, causing them to lose their potential good character. How did those who sought to corrupt Alcibiades make use of his vanity and ambition?
For older students: North's translation of Part Three begins in this way: "Now Socrates' love which he bore him, though it had many mighty and great adversaries, yet it did stay much Alcibiades, sometime by his gentle nature, sometime by his grave counsel and advice: so as the reason thereof took deep root in him, and did so pierce his heart, that many times the tears ran down his cheeks." Write an imagined scene to illustrate this description.
This lesson continues the series of anecdotes and incidents which introduce us to Alcibiades. We begin to see how, in spite of (or possibly because of) his eccentricities, he achieved the high level of public respect that led to his being made commander of the Athenian navy.
Homer's books: The Iliad and the Odyssey
box: swat, punch
how he might avoid giving up his accounts at all: This translation misses the humour intended by Alcibiades' remark. Pericles was trying to figure out how to show his accounts; Alcibiades said that he should spend the time working out how not to show his accounts.
skirmish: a battle, usually unplanned
mina: a unit of money equaling originally 70 and later 100 drachmae
largess: gift, donation
transported: excited and happy
quail: It seems strange that anyone would be carrying a quail under their robe (or cloak), but apparently the Greeks played a gambling game with them called ortygokopia (don't look it up, it involves hitting birds); and Alcibiades was such a fan that he carried one around with him in case he had the opportunity for a game.
contending which should gratify him best: each trying to please him the most
censure: criticism, scolding
Antiochus: a naval commander (we will hear more about him later)
Demosthenes: Athenian statesman who lived in the century before Alcibiades, famed for his skill in oration
Theophrastus: a scholar who lived after Alcibiades; known as the "Father of Botany"
Phaeax: a rival orator
Nicias: Athenian politician and general; the main political rival of Alcibiades; subject of Plutarch's Nicias
434/432 B.C.: Battle of Potidaea (precursor to the Peloponnesian War)
431 B.C.: Archidamus of Sparta invaded Attica; beginning of the Second Peloponnesian War
430 B.C.: Plague of Athens, described in Plutarch's Life of Pericles
429 B.C.: Death of Pericles
424 B.C.: Battle of Delium, between the Athenians and the Boeotians
c. 422 B.C.: Alcibiades entered politics (in his late twenties)
On the Map
Ephesus (Ephesians): a city on the coast of Ionia (in present-day Turkey)
Chios: an island in the northern Aegean Sea
Lesbos: an island in the northeastern Aegean Sea
Argos (Argives): a city in Argolis, in the Peloponnese; known for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world
When he was past his childhood, he went once into a grammar school, and asked the schoolmaster for one of Homer's books. The schoolmaster answered him that he had none of them: Alcibiades swung up with his fist, and gave him a good box on the ear, and went his way. Another grammarian told him on a time he had Homer which he had "corrected." Alcibiades replied, "Why, what meanest thou to stand teaching little children the alphabet, when thou art able to correct Homer, and to teach young men, not boys?"
Another time he came and knocked at Pericles' gate, desirous to speak with him: answer was made him that Pericles was not at leisure now, for that he was busily occupied by himself, thinking on his reckonings he had to make with the Athenians. Alcibiades, as he went away, said, "It were better for him to consider how he might avoid giving up his accounts at all."
When he was very young, he was a soldier in the expedition against Potidaea, where Socrates lodged in the same tent with him, and stood next to him in battle. Once there happened a sharp skirmish, in which they both behaved with signal bravery; but Alcibiades receiving a wound, Socrates threw himself before him to defend him, and beyond any question saved him and his arms from the enemy; and so in all justice might have challenged the prize of valour.
So the honour of this fight out of doubt, in equity and reason, was due unto Socrates: but yet the captains would fain have judged it on Alcibiades' side, because he was of a noble house. But Socrates, because he would increase his (Alcibiades') desire of honour, and would prick him forward to honest and commendable things, was the very first that witnessed Alcibiades had deserved it: and therefore prayed the captains to judge him the crown and complete armour.
Afterwards, in the Battle of Delium, the Athenians having received the overthrow, Socrates retreated with a few others afoot. Alcibiades, being a-horseback, and overtaking him, would not go from him, but kept him company, and brought him safe off, though the enemy pressed hard upon them, and cut off many. But this happened sometime after.
[omission for content: the troubled relationship between Alcibiades and his wife Hipparete]
Alcibiades had a dog which cost him seventy minas, and it was a very large one, and very handsome. His tail, which was his principal ornament, he caused to be cut off; and his acquaintances exclaiming at him for it, and telling him that all Athens was sorry for the dog, and crying out upon him for this action, he laughed, and said, "Just what I wanted has happened then. I wished the Athenians to talk about this, that they might not say something worse of me."
The first time that Alcibiades spoke openly in the commonwealth, and began to deal in matters, was upon occasion of a largess of money which he made to the people. This (gift) was not done by design, but as he passed along he heard a shout, and inquiring the cause, they told him it was about money certain men had given to the people. Then Alcibiades went to them, and gave them money out of his own purse. The multitude thereupon applauding him, and shouting, he was so transported at it, that he forgot a quail which he had under his robe. The bird, being frighted with the noise, flew off, upon which the people made louder acclamations than before, and many of them started up to pursue the bird; but one Antiochus, a pilot, caught it and restored it to him, for which he was ever after a favourite with Alcibiades.
He had great advantages for entering public life: his noble birth, his riches, the personal courage he had shown in divers battles, and the multitude of his friends and dependents, threw open, so to say, folding-doors for his admittance. Yet the only way he desired to win the favour of the common people was by the grace of his eloquence. That he was a master in the art of speaking, the comic poets bear him witness; and Demosthenes, the most eloquent of public speakers, in his oration against Midias, allows that Alcibiades, among other perfections, was a most accomplished orator. If, however, we give credit to Theophrastus, who of all philosophers was the most curious inquirer, and the greatest lover of history, we are to understand that Alcibiades had the highest capacity for inventing, for discerning what was the right thing to be said for any purpose, and on any occasion; but aiming not only at saying what was required, but also at saying it well; in respect, that is, of words and phrases; when these did not readily occur, he would often pause in the middle of his discourse for want of the apt word, and would be silent and stop till he could recollect himself, and had considered what to say.
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Howbeit the good affection divers cities did bear him, contending which should gratify him best, did much increase his fame and honour. For the Ephesians did set up a tent for him, very sumptuously and richly furnished. The city of Chios furnished him with provender for his horses, and with great numbers of beasts for sacrifice; and those of Lesbos sent him wine and other provisions for the many great entertainments which he made.
Yet in the midst of all this he escaped not without censure, occasioned either by the ill-nature of his enemies or by his own misconduct. For it is said that one Diomedes, an Athenian, a worthy man and a friend to Alcibiades, passionately desiring to obtain the victory at the Olympic games, and having heard much of a chariot which belonged to the state at Argos, where he knew that Alcibiades had great power and many friends, prevailed with him to undertake to buy the chariot. Alcibiades did indeed buy it, but then claimed it for his own, leaving Diomedes to rage at him, and to call upon the gods and men to bear witness to the injustice.
[omission for length]
As soon as Alcibiades began to intermeddle in the government, which was when he was very young, he quickly lessened the credit of all who aspired to the confidence of the people, except Phaeax the son of Erasistratus, and Nicias the son of Niceratus, who alone could contest it with him. Of these two, Nicias was a man grown, and was esteemed their first general. Phaeax was but a rising statesman like Alcibiades; he was descended from noble ancestors, but was his inferior, as in many other things, so, principally, in eloquence. He could more properly talk and discourse among his friends privately than he had any good grace to open a matter openly before the people. For he had, as Eupolis sayeth:
Words enough, but no eloquence.
There is a certain oration extant in writing, against Alcibiades, by Phaeax: in which, amongst other things, it is said that Alcibiades made daily use at his table of many gold and silver vessels, which belonged to the commonwealth, as if they had been his own.
Narration and Discussion
Why did Socrates insist that Alcibiades receive the medal at Potidaea? Do you think Alcibiades learned anything from his example?
Alcibiades wanted to be known for his eloquence. Why was this so important to him? Was he successful?
Describe Alcibiades' attitude towards money and material things.
For older students: Charlotte Mason described the difference between those who live according to Will (those who recognize the need to act, and who live with a purpose or object outside of themselves), and those who live Willfully (trapped by their own desires). Those acting with Will may be immoral, but they are still distinguished from those who simply want whatever catches their attention today.
"[A wilful person] is steady to only one thing, he must always have his own way; but his way is a will-o'-the-wisp which leads him in many directions. . . He is a wilful man, without power or desire to control the lead of his nature. . . " (Ourselves Book II, p. 130)
Does Alcibiades, as you have seen him so far, fit into one or the other of those groups? Give examples. If you need comparisons, there is a list on page 134 of Ourselves Book II, which puts Faust and Lady Macbeth under "Willful," and Sir Thomas More, and Mary Queen of Scots under "Will."
You may want to revisit this later in the study.
Plutarch begins this section with a rare example of Alcibiades and Nicias working together: in this case, to make sure that a third (and very troublesome) person was ostracized, instead of either of them. This incident actually happened sometime later, just before the Sicilian Expedition; but it does introduce us to the growing rivalry between the two leaders.
magistrate: local ruler, especially one who judges court cases
when peace was concluded: This was not the end of the war, but only the first half of it, agreed upon by the "Peace of Nicias." The terms of the treaty were broken almost from the start, and it was abandoned in 414 B.C. when the fighting began again.
stomaching: enduring, putting up with something
not acquainting them otherwise with your full power to agree in all things: Alcibiades advised them to downplay the authority they held, saying that if the Athenians were aware of it, they would ask them for more assistance.
treat of peace: discuss peace terms
before the city of Mantinea: the Battle of Mantinea (see note)
Hyperbolos: or Hyperbolus; the last Athenian to be ostracized.
Thucydides: Athenian historian, author of The Peloponnesian War
421 B.C.: "Peace of Nicias"
420 B.C.: Athens allied with Argos, Mantinea, and Elis
418 B.C.: Battle of Mantinea
416/415 B.C.: Struggle with Hyperbolos
On the Map
Perithoedae: a deme (suburb) west of Athens
Pylos: a town in Messenia, in the Peloponnese peninsula
Panactum: or Panakton; a fortress in Attica
Sphacteria: a small island at the entrance to the Bay of Pylos in the Peloponnese; site of the Battle of Sphacteria
Elis (Elians): a region of southern Greece, on the Ionian Sea
Mantinea: or Mantineia; a city in the Peloponnese
There was a certain Hyperbolos, of the township of Perithoedae, whom Thucydides also speaks of as a man of bad character; a general butt for the mockery of all the comic writers of the time, but quite unconcerned at the worst things they could say; and, being careless of glory, also insensible of shame; a temper which some call boldness and courage, whereas it is indeed impudence and recklessness. He was liked by nobody; yet if the common people had any grudge to any nobleman or magistrate, whom they would any way accuse, Hyperbolos' wicked tongue was their instrument to utter their spite.
At this time, the people, by his persuasions, were ready to proceed to pronounce the sentence of ten years' banishment called ostracism. The manner and custom of this kind of banishment was for a time to banish out of their city such a one as seemed to have to great authority and credit in the city; and that was rather to satisfy their envy than to remedy their fear. And because it was obvious it would fall out to one of the three orators to be banished (to wit, Alcibiades, Nicias, or Phaeax): Alcibiades found means to join all their three factions in one, becoming friends one to another; and having conferred with Nicias about it, he made Hyperbolos himself to be banished, who was the chief instrument to prepare the way of their banishment. Howbeit others say, he spoke not with Nicias about it, but with Phaeax, and joining his part with Phaeax, he caused Hyperbolos to be banished, who feared nothing less: for it was never seen before, that a man of mean countenance, and of small authority, was given this banishment.
[omission for length]
Alcibiades was not less disturbed at the distinctions which Nicias gained amongst the enemies of Athens, than at the honours which the Athenians themselves paid to him.For his house was the common inn for all Lacedaemonians when they came to Athens; moreover he had very well entertained the Lacedaemonian prisoners that were taken at Pylos. And afterwards when peace was concluded between Lacedaemon and Athens, and their prisoners redelivered home again by Nicias' means only: they loved him more than ever they did before. This was blown abroad through Greece, that the war was begun by Pericles, and that Nicias made an end of it, and the peace was generally called the "Peace of Nicias."
But Alcibiades stomaching this, and envying Nicias' glory, determined to break the peace whatsoever came of it. Wherefore to compass this matter, knowing first of all that the Argives had no liking of the Lacedaemonians, but were their mortal enemies, and that they did but seek matter to fall out with them: he secretly put them in hope of peace and league with the Athenians. Moreover he did persuade them to it, both by letters and word of mouth, speaking with their magistrates, and such as had greatest authority and credit amongst the people: declaring unto them that they should not fear the Lacedaemonians, nor yield to them at all, but to stick to the Athenians, who would soon repent them of the peace they had made, and break it with them.
Afterwards when the Lacedaemonians had made league with the Boeotians, and had redelivered Panactum to the Athenians, all defaced and spoiled, contrary to the league: Alcibiades, perceiving how the people were much offended thereat, laid hold of that opportunity to exasperate them more highly. He exclaimed fiercely against Nicias, and accused him of many things, which seemed probable enough: as that, when he was general, he made no attempt himself to capture his enemies that were shut up in the isle of Sphacteria, but, when they were afterwards made prisoners by others, he procured their release and sent them back to the Lacedaemonians, only to get favour with them. Also, that he would not make use of his credit with them to prevent their entering into this confederacy with the Boeotians and Corinthians, and yet, on the other side, that he sought to stand in the way of those Greeks who were inclined to make an alliance and friendship with Athens, if the Lacedaemonians did not like it.
Now as Nicias was thus in disgrace with the people, for the causes above-said: in the midst of this stir, ambassadors came by chance from Lacedaemon to Athens, declaring that they had full powers to arrange all matters in dispute upon fair and equal terms. The council heard them and received them very courteously, and the people were to assemble the next day to give them audience: which, Alcibiades fearing much, he went secretly to confer with the ambassadors, and spoke with them apart in this sort:
"What mean you, my lords of Sparta: do ye not know that the Senate hath always accustomed to be gracious and favourable unto those that sue unto them for any matter, and that the people contrarily are of a proud nature, and desirous to embrace all great matters? If therefore at the first sight, ye do give them to understand that you are come hither with full power, to treat freely with them in all manner of causes: do you not think that they will make you stretch your authority far, to grant them all that they will demand. Therefore, my lords ambassadors, if you look for indifference at the Athenians' hands, and that they shall not press you too far against your wills, to grant them anything of advantage: I would wish you a little to cover your full commission, and in open manner to propound certain articles and reasonable capitulations of peace, not acquainting them otherwise with your full power to agree in all things: and for my part, I will assure you of my goodwill in favour of the Lacedaemonians."
When he had told them this tale, he gave them his faithful promise, and vowed as it were to perform his word. Hereupon Alcibiades turned the ambassadors from the trust they reposed in Nicias, and won them on his side: insomuch as they gave credit to no man but to him, wondering much at his great wisdom and ready wit, and they thought him a rare and notable man.
The next morning the people were assembled to give the ambassadors audience. They were sent for, and brought into the marketplace. There Alcibiades gently asked them the cause of their coming. They answered that they were come to treat of peace, but they had no power to determine anything. Then began Alcibiades to be angry with them, as if they had done him wrong, and not he any to them: calling them unfaithful, inconstant, and fickle men, that were come neither to do, nor say anything worth the hearing. The Senate also were offended with them, and the people rated them very roughly: whereat Nicias was so ashamed and amazed withal, that he could not tell what to say, to see so sudden a change, knowing nothing of Alcibiades' malice and subtle practice with the ambassadors.
So thus the Lacedaemonian ambassadors were utterly rejected, and Alcibiades was declared general, who presently united the Argives, the Eleans, and the people of Mantinea into a confederacy with the Athenians. Though no man did commend this practice of his, in working it after this sort: yet was it a marvellous thing of him to devise to put all Peloponnesus in arms, and to procure such a number of soldiers against the Lacedaemonians as he did before the city of Mantinea, and to shift of the miseries of war and hazard of battle so far from Athens. Which, if the Lacedaemonians did win, could not profit them much: and if they lost it, they could hardly save their city of Sparta.
[omission for length]
Narration and Discussion
Explain how Alcibiades deceived the Spartan ambassadors. What was the result?
Creative narration: Write or act out a scene in which Alcibiades raises his accusations against Nicias. How might Nicias respond?
Creative narration for older students: Create a scene where Alcibiades visits his old friend Socrates. You might imagine particularly that Socrates brings up the rather sore subject of Nicias. What advice might he give?
The first part of this lesson gives further examples of the eccentricities of Alcibiades, including his fancy purple robes and his refusal to sleep on a hard ship's bed. According to Plutarch, the Athenians seemed to regard him as inconvenient and expensive, but useful.
The second part describes the Athenian plan to take over the island of Sicily, which Alcibiades enthusiastically promoted. Nicias protested that such an expedition would take a huge budget and a great number of ships. To his annoyance, the Athenian council became excited about the idea, and Nicias himself was chosen as general for the expedition.
exorbitant luxury and wantonness: extravagance; lack of restraint in spending money and also in behaviour.
abide: Dryden uses the word "support." We might say "afford."
contemn: hold in contempt, disdain
being manifest tokens. . . : showing that he was extremely ambitious
abhors: hates, finds disgusting
rule the roost: The expression "rule the roost" has been used since the 15th century to describe someone who bosses others around.
reviled: jeered at, insulted
furnish them with victuals: supply them with food
his companion and associate: that is, Alcibiades
Aglauros: or Agraulos or Aglaurus; the mythical daughter of Cecrops (the first Athenian king), who had a temple dedicated to her on the Acropolis. Young soldiers, on receiving their first suit of armour, swore an oath to her to defend their city to the last.
Aristophanes: famous Athenian playwright
Archestratus: a poet known for his writings on food
Timon the Misanthrope: a citizen of Athens known for his dislike or of people; the inspiration for Shakespeare's play Timon of Athens
Lamachus: the third general in the Sicilian Expedition; honoured in Aristophanes' play The Frogs.
415-413 B.C.: Sicilian Expedition
On the Map
Sicily: large island at the tip of mainland Italy. It was strategically important because it was close to wealthy North African cities such as Carthage.
Syracuse (Syracusans): a colony and city on the island of Sicily, founded by the Corinthians
Now although Alcibiades did make the city of Athens strong by sea, yet he did not neglect to persuade the Athenians also to make themselves strong by land. For he did put the young men oftentimes in mind of the oath they were made to swear to Aglauros, to the effect that they would account wheat and barley, and vines and olives, to be the limits of Attica; by which they were taught to claim a title to all land that was cultivated and productive.
Yet with all these goodly deeds and fair words of Alcibiades, and with this great courage and quickness of understanding, he had many great faults and imperfections. He intermingled exorbitant luxury and wantonness, in his eating and drinking [North: "riotous banquets"] and dissolute living; wore long purple robes which dragged after him as he went through the marketplace; caused the planks of his galley to be cut away, so that he might lie the softer, his bed not being placed on the boards, but hanging upon girths. His shield, again, which was richly gilded, had not the usual ensigns of the Athenians; but a Cupid, holding a thunderbolt in his hand, was painted upon it.
The noblemen and best citizens of Athens perceiving this, they were much offended at him, but were afraid withal of his rashness and insolence: he did so contemn the laws and customs of their country, being manifest tokens of a man that aspired to be king, and would subvert and turn all overhand. And as for the goodwill of the common people towards him, the poet Aristophanes doth plainly express it in these words:
The people most desire what most they hate to have:
and what their mind abhors, even that they seem to crave.
And in another place he said also, aggravating the suspicion they had of him:
For state or commonwealth, much better should it be,
to keep within the country none such lion's looks as he.
But if they needs will keep, a lion to their cost,
then must they needs obey his will, for he will rule the roost.
For to say truly: his courtesies, his liberalities, and noble expenses to show the people so great pleasure and pastime as nothing could be more; the glorious memory of his ancestors, the grace of his eloquence, the beauty of his person, the strength and valiantness of his body, joined together with his wisdom and experience in martial affairs, were the very causes that made them to bear with him in all things, and that the Athenians did patiently endure all his excesses, and did cover his faults with the best words and terms they could, calling them "youthful," and "gentlemen's sports." As when he kept Agartharchus the painter prisoner in his house by force, until he had painted all his walls within: and when he had done, did let him go, and rewarded him very honestly for his pains. He publicly struck Taureas, who exhibited certain shows in opposition to him and contended with him for the prize. [omission for content] Wherefore it seemed Archestratus' words were spoken to good purpose, when he said that Greece could not abide two Alcibiades at once.
Once, when Alcibiades succeeded well in an oration which he made, and the whole assembly attended upon him to do him honour, Timon the Misanthrope did not pass slightly by him, nor avoid him, as did others, but purposely met him, and taking him by the hand, said, "Go on boldly, my son, and increase in credit with the people; for thou wilt one day bring them calamities enough." When they had heard these words, those that stood by fell a-laughing. Others reviled Timon; others again marked well his words, and thought of them many a time after; such sundry opinions they had of Alcibiades for the inconstancy of his life, and waywardness of his nature and conditions.
The Athenians, even in the lifetime of Pericles, had already cast a longing eye upon Sicily; but did not attempt anything till after his death. Then, under pretense of aiding their confederates, they sent succour upon all occasions to those who were oppressed by the Syracusans, preparing the way for sending over a greater force. But Alcibiades was the person who inflamed this desire of theirs to the height, so that, upon his persuasions, they built castles in the air, and thought to do great wonders only by their winning of Sicily. But that was to Alcibiades but a beginning of further enterprises.
Nicias endeavoured to divert the people from the expedition by representing to them that the taking of Syracuse would be a work of great difficulty; but Alcibiades dreamed of nothing less than the conquest of Carthage and Libya, and by the accession of these conceiving himself at once made master of Italy and Peloponnesus, seemed to look upon Sicily as only to furnish them with victuals, and to pay the soldiers for their conquests which he had imagined. The young men were soon elevated with these hopes, and listened gladly to those of riper years, who talked wonders of the countries they were going to, so that you might see great numbers sitting in the wrestling grounds and public places, drawing on the ground the figure of the island and the situation of Libya and Carthage.
[omission for length]
But Nicias, against his will, was chosen captain, to take charge of men in these wars. He misliked this journey as well for his companion and associate in the charge of these wars, as for other misfortunes he foresaw therein. Howbeit the Athenians thought the war would fall out well if they did not commit it wholly to Alcibiades' rashness and hardiness, but did join with him the wisdom of Nicias; and they appointed Lamachus also for their third captain, whom they sent thither, though he were waxen now somewhat old, as one that had showed himself no less venturous and hardy in some battles than Alcibiades himself.
Narration and Discussion
Why were the Athenians so willing to put up with Alcibiades' excesses?
"Wherefore it seemed Archestratus' words were spoken to good purpose, when he said that Greece could not abide two Alcibiades at once." Dryden translates it "that Greece could not support a second Alcibiades." Why not?
Creative narration #1: Write or act out a conversation about the choice of a general for the Sicilian Expedition.
Creative narration #2: Those familiar with The Sound of Music will remember the song "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" in which a group of nuns sing about her good and bad points. Those with a musical bent might want to write a similar song about Alcibiades.
At this point things took an unexpected turn, as Alcibiades was called back from the campaign in Sicily almost before it had begun, to answer certain criminal charges which he thought had been put aside for the sake of the expedition. It seemed that, in his absence, the whole matter had been stirred up again, and he would now have to stand trial for his alleged blasphemies.
However, Alcibiades had no intention of complying, and he escaped into mainland Italy.
the furniture and order of these wars: what they would need and how they would organize things
levy: collect, register
at their discretion: as they thought best
in the neck one of another: right after one another
hacked and hewed: cut, as if by axes or swords
toys: small things
first founders of them: Corinth founded the colony of Syracuse
demagogues: political leaders who play on the desires of the people
profanely acted: Alcibiades and his friends were accused of mocking religious rites during a party.
could not persuade them: that is, to give him a fair trial then and there
Androcles: an orator who accused Alcibiades of ruining sacred images
On the Map
Rhegium: a city on the toe of Italy's "boot," across from Sicily
Catana: a city in Sicily
Now when they came to resolve of the number of soldiers, the furniture and order of these wars, Nicias sought crookedly to thwart this journey, and to break it off altogether: but Alcibiades withstood him, and got the better hand of him. There was an orator called Demostratus, who moved the people also that the captains whom they had chosen for these wars might have full power and authority to levy men at their discretion, and to make such preparation as they thought good: whereunto the people agreed, and did authorize them. But when they were even ready to go their way, many signs of ill success lighted in the neck one of another; and, amongst the rest, this was one. That they were commanded to take ship on the day of the celebration of the Feast of Adonia, on which the custom is that women do set up in divers places of the city, in the midst of the streets, images like to dead corpses, which they carry to burial, and they represent the mourning and lamentations made at the funerals of the dead, with blubbering and beating themselves, in token of the sorrow the goddess Venus made for the death of her friend Adonis. Moreover, the Hermes (which are the images of Mercury, and were wont to be set up in every lane and street) were found in a night all hacked and hewed, and mangled specially in their faces: but this put divers in great fear and trouble, yea even those that made no account of such toys. Whereupon it was alleged that it might be the Corinthians that did it, or procured that lewd act to be done, favouring the Syracusans, who were their near kinsmen, and had been the first founders of them; imagining upon this ill token, it might be a cause to break off the enterprise, and to make the people repent them that they had taken this war in hand.
Nevertheless, the people would not allow this excuse; neither would they hearken to those that said they should not reckon of any such signs or tokens, and that they were but some light-brained youths, that, being drunk, had played this shameful part in their bravery, or for sport. But they took these signs very grievously, and were indeed not a little afraid, looking upon it to proceed from a conspiracy of persons who designed some commotions in the state. The council, as well as the assembly of the people, which were held frequently in a few days' space, examined diligently everything that might administer grounds for suspicion.
Now whilst they were busily searching out the matter, Androcles, one of the demagogues, brought before the council certain slaves and strangers that dwelt in Athens, who insisted that Alcibiades, and others of his friends and companions, had hacked and mangled other images after that sort; and had profanely acted also, at a banquet, the Ceremonies of the Holy Mysteries.
[omission for length]
Whereat the people being marvellously moved and offended, and the orator Androcles, his mortal enemy, aggravating and stirring them up the more against him: Alcibiades, a little at the first, began to be amazed at it. But afterwards, hearing that the mariners which were prepared for the voyage to Sicily, and the soldiers also that were gathered, did bear him great goodwill, and specially how the aid, and that band that came from Argos and Mantinea (being a thousand footmen, well-armed and appointed) did say openly how it was for Alcibiades' sake they did take upon them so long a voyage beyond sea, and that if they went about to do him any hurt or wrong, they would presently return home again from whence they came: he began to be of a good courage again, and determined, with this good favourable opportunity of time, to come before the council, to answer to all such articles and accusations as should be laid against him.
[Omission for length: certain people were persuaded to speak in favour of letting Alcibiades go off and fight, and have his trial later. Alcibiades protested, saying that he could not fight well with such accusations hanging over his head.]
But all this could not persuade them. Thus he was compelled to take the seas with his other companions, having in their navy about a hundred and forty galleys, all having three oars to a bank; and five thousand one hundred footmen very well armed and appointed, and throwers with slings, archers, and other light armed men to the number of thirteen hundred, sufficiently furnished of all warlike and necessary munition.
Now after they were arrived on the coast of Italy, they landed at Rhegium: where, holding counsel in what sort they should direct these wars, Alcibiades was opposed by Nicias; but Lamachus being of his opinion, they sailed for Sicily forthwith, and took Catana. But he never did any exploit after that, for he was called home immediately, by the Athenians, to come and answer certain accusations.
For as we told you before, there was at the beginning certain light suspicions and accusations put up against him, by some slaves and strangers. And that afterwards his enemies in Athens enforced those accusations, and burdened him more cruelly, adding to his former fault that he had "broken the images of Mercury, and had committed sacrilege in counterfeiting in jest and mockery the holy Ceremonies of the Mysteries"; and blew into the ears of the people that both the one and the other were intended to change and alter the government of the state of the city.
Upon this information, the people took it in so ill part, that they committed all those to prison that were in any sort accused or suspected thereof, and would never let them come to their answer: and moreover did much repent them that they had not condemned Alcibiades, upon so great accusations as were exhibited against him, while his offense was in question before them.
[An orator named Andocides unexpectedly confessed to the crime of damaging the statues, and this was expected to end the matter.]
Now though the people had no more occasion to occupy their busy heads about the breakers of these images, yet was not their malice thus appeased against Alcibiades, until they sent the galley called the Salaminian, commanding those they sent by a special commission to seek him out; in no case to attempt to take him by force, nor to lay hold on him by violence; but to use him with all the good words and courteous manner that they possibly could, and to will him only to appear in person before the people, to answer to certain accusations put up against him.
[omission for length: a written complaint, giving details of the blasphemous acts supposedly committed by Alcibiades]
If otherwise they should have used force, they feared much lest the army would have mutinied on his behalf within the country of their enemies, and that there would have grown some sedition amongst their soldiers. This might Alcibiades have easily done, if he had been disposed. For the soldiers were very sorry to see him depart, perceiving that the wars should be drawn out now in length, and be much prolonged under Nicias, seeing Alcibiades was taken from them, who was the only spur that pricked Nicias forward to do any service; and that Lamachus also, though he were a valiant man, yet he lacked honour and authority in the army, because he was but a mean man born, and poor besides.
Narration and Discussion
In a previous lesson, we read that the Athenians were generally willing to put up with Alcibiades' excesses, because they recognized that he could be a good leader, particularly when it came to military strategy. What changed their minds?
Creative narration: If you are working with a group, this lesson lends itself to drama and/or debate. (Do you think Alcibiades was guilty?)
Alcibiades knew it would be dangerous for him to return to Athens. He escaped to Sparta and started acting like a Spartan. An excellent Spartan, a fantastic Spartan. Was it all outward appearance?
contumacious: willfully disobedient
black broth: a Spartan dish believed to have been made of pigs' blood, salt, and vinegar
satrap: governor who was subject to a king or overlord
pomp and sumptuousness: rich lifestyle
he went unto Tissaphernes: Alcibiades crossed into Persia
salubrious: health-giving, pleasant
diminish and consume: waste away
Tissaphernes: Persian statesman, satrap of Lydia
Lycurgus: legendary founder of the Spartan way of life
Pharnabazus: Pharnabazus II;, satrap of Lesser Phrygia
King Agis: Agis II of Sparta
Gylippus: Spartan (Lacedaemonian) captain
415 B.C.: Alcibiades escaped to Sparta
414/413 B.C.: The second half of the Peloponnesian War began
413 B.C.: Nicias was captured and executed by Spartan allies
412 B.C.: The Persians captured most of Ionia
412 B.C.: Alcibiades tried his luck with the Persians
On the Map
Messena: or Messina; a city in Sicily
Thurii: a city on the Tarentine Gulf in southern Italy
Decelea: a deme and village in northern Attica, located along a trade route which connected Athens to Euboea
Cyzicus: a town of the region of Mysia
Now Alcibiades, just upon his departure, prevented Messena from falling into the hands of the Athenians. There were some in that city who were upon the point of delivering it up; but he, knowing the persons, gave information to some friends of the Syracusans, and so defeated the whole contrivance.
When he arrived at Thurii, he went on shore, and, concealing himself there, escaped those who searched after him. Yet there was one that knew him where he was, and said: "Why, how now Alcibiades, dost not thou trust the justice of thy country?" "Yes, very well," quoth he, "if it were in another matter: but my life standing upon it, I would not trust mine own mother, fearing lest negligently she should put in the black bean, where she should cast in the white." For by the first, condemnation of death was signified: and by the other, pardon of life. But afterwards, hearing that the Athenians for malice had condemned him to death: "Well," quoth he, "they shall know I am yet alive."
He was condemned as contumacious upon his not appearing; his property was confiscated; and it was decreed that all the priests and priestesses should solemnly curse him.
[omission for length]
After this most grievous sentence and condemnation passed against him, Alcibiades departed out of Thurii, and went into the Peloponnesus, where he remained some time at Argos. But in the end, fearing his enemies, and having no hope to return again to his own country with any safety, he sent to Sparta, desiring safe conduct, and assuring them that he would make them amends by his future services for all the mischief he had done them while he was their enemy.
The Spartans giving him the security he desired, he went eagerly, was well received, at his very first coming, succeeded in inducing them, without any further caution or delay, to send aid to the Syracusans. He so roused and excited them, that they forthwith dispatched Gylippus into Sicily, to crush the forces which the Athenians had there. A second point was to renew the war upon the Athenians at home. But the third thing, and the most important of all, was to make them fortify Decelea, which above everything reduced and wasted the resources of the Athenians.
The renown which he earned by these "public services" was equaled by the admiration he attracted to his private life. He captivated and won over everybody by his conformity to Spartan habits. People who saw him wearing his hair close cut, bathing in cold water, eating coarse meal, and dining on black broth, doubted, or rather could not believe, that he ever had a cook in his house, or had ever seen a perfumer, or had worn a mantle of Milesian purple.
For he had, as it was observed, this peculiar talent and artifice for gaining men's affections, that he could at once comply with, embrace, and enter into their habits and ways of life, and change faster than the chameleon. One colour, indeed, they say the chameleon cannot assume: it cannot itself appear white; but Alcibiades, whether with good men or with bad, could adapt himself to his company, as well the good as the bad.
At Sparta, he was devoted to athletic exercises, was frugal and reserved. In Ionia, to the contrary: there he lived daintily and superfluously, and gave himself to all mirth and pleasure. In Thrace, he drank ever, or was always a-horseback. If he came to Tissaphernes, satrap of the mighty king of Persia, he far exceeded the magnificence of Persia in pomp and sumptuousness. And these things, notwithstanding, never altered his natural condition from one fashion to another, neither did his manners (to say truly) receive all sorts of changes. But because peradventure, if he had showed his natural disposition, he might in divers places where he came, have offended those whose company he kept, he transformed himself into any shape, and adopted any fashion, that he observed to be most agreeable to him.
Alcibiades fathered a child by the wife of King Agis of Sparta, while Agis was away fighting. He excused himself by saying that he "had not done this thing out of mere wantonness of insult, nor to gratify a passion, but that his race might one day be kings over the Lacedaemonians."
After the defeat which the Athenians received in Sicily, ambassadors were dispatched to Sparta at once from Chios and Lesbos and Cyzicus, to signify their purpose of revolting from the Athenians. The Boeotians favoured those of Lesbos; Pharnabazus favoured the Cyzicenes; but the Lacedaemonians, at the persuasion of Alcibiades, chose to assist Chios before all others. He himself, also, went instantly to sea, procured the immediate revolt of almost all Ionia, and, co-operating with the Lacedaemonian generals, did great mischief to the Athenians.
But Agis was his enemy, hating him for having dishonoured his wife, and also impatient of his glory, as almost every enterprise and every success was ascribed to Alcibiades. Others also of the greatest authority among the Spartans, that were most ambitious among them, began in their minds to be angry with Alcibiades, for the envy they bore him: who were of so great power, that they procured their governors to write their letters to their captains in the field, to kill him. Alcibiades, hearing of this, did no whit desist to do all he could for the benefit of the Lacedaemonians: yet he had an eye behind him, fleeing all occasions to fall into their hands.
So in the end, for more surety of his person, he went unto Tissaphernes, the king of Persia's satrap; and immediately became the first and most influential person about him. For this barbarous man, not being himself sincere, but a lover of guile and wickedness, admired his cleverness. And, indeed, the charm of daily interaction with him was more than any character could resist or any disposition escape. Even those who feared and envied him could not but take delight, and have a sort of kindness for him, when they saw him and were in his company. So that Tissaphernes, otherwise a cruel character, and above all other Persians, a hater of the Greeks, was yet so won by the flatteries of Alcibiades that he set himself even to exceed him in responding to them. The most beautiful of his parks, containing salubrious streams and meadows, where he had built pavilions, and places of retirement royally and exquisitely adorned, received by his direction the name of "Alcibiades," and was always so called and so spoken of.
Alcibiades despairing utterly to find any safety or friendship among the Spartans, and fearing on the other side King Agis also: he began to speak ill of them, and to disgrace all that they did, to Tissaphernes. By this practice he stayed Tissaphernes from aiding them so friendly as he might: moreover, he did not utterly destroy the Athenians. For he persuaded him that he should furnish the Lacedaemonians but with little money, to let them diminish and consume by little and little: to the end that after one had troubled and weakened the other, they both at the length should be the easier for the king to overcome.
This barbarous man did easily consent to this device. All the world then saw he loved Alcibiades, and esteemed him very much, in the same way as he was well regarded by the Greeks on both sides. Then were the Athenians sorry, and repented, when they had received so great loss and hurt, for that they had decreed so severely against Alcibiades, who in like manner was very sorrowful to see them brought to so hard terms, fearing if the city of Athens came to destruction, that he himself should fall in the end into the hands of the Lacedaemonians, who maliced him to the death.
Narration and Discussion
How did Alcibiades change during his exile in Sparta? How did he stay the same?
Why did Alcibiades decide suddenly that it would be a better idea to live among the Persians?
Why did Tissaphernes find Alcibiades an intriguing character?
Creative narration #1: Alcibiades has delegated you to be his "Spartan lifestyle coach." Write or act out your advice for him; perhaps have him sample some (simulated) black broth.
Creative narration #2: You are a reporter who has been granted an exclusive interview with Tissaphernes, perhaps in "Alcibiades Park." What questions will you ask?
Although Alcibiades was not pleased about the way his city had treated him, he worried that if Athens lost the war, he would then be at the mercy of Sparta, and particularly King Agis, who carried a personal grudge against him. He decided to do whatever he could to avoid that happening.
At this point, the scheming and double-dealing got very complicated. But in the end, strangely enough, Alcibiades was invited not only to lead the navy, but to return home.
inveighed: spoke in opposition, with hostility
prevailed: were successful, got what they wanted
slighted: snubbed, ignored
Phrynichus, Pisander: leaders of the Four Hundred
Astyochus: Spartan (Lacedaemonian) admiral
Thrasybulus of Steiria (#1): Athenian general and civic leader
411 B.C.: The Athenian government was replaced by the Four Hundred
411 B.C.: Alcibiades was made general of the Athenian military forces
On the Map
Samos: an island in the eastern Aegean Sea
Piraeus: the harbour very close to Athens
Hellespont: also called the Dardanelles; part of the strait that divides Europe from Asia (along with the Bosphorus). The word is sometimes used to refer to the region around it.
Aspendos: or Aspendus; a city in Pamphylia, Asia Minor
At that time, the whole strength of the Athenians was in Samos. Their fleet maintained itself here, and issued from these headquarters to reduce such as had revolted, and protect the rest of their territories; in one way or other still contriving to be a match for their enemies at sea. What they stood in fear of was Tissaphernes, and the Phoenician fleet of one hundred and fifty galleys, which was said to be already under sail; if those came, there remained then no hopes for the commonwealth of Athens.
Understanding this, Alcibiades sent secretly unto the chiefest men that were in the army of the Athenians at Samos, to give them hope he would make Tissaphernes their friend: howbeit not of any desire he had to gratify the people, nor that he trusted to the commonalty of Athens, but only to the "honourable and honest citizens," and that conditionally so as they had the heart and courage to bridle a little the insolence of the people; and, by taking upon them the government, would endeavour to save the city from ruin. All the heads and chief men did give very good ear unto it: saving only Phrynichus, of the township of Dirades, one of the generals; who suspected, as the truth was, that Alcibiades concerned not himself whether the government were in the common people or the "better" citizens, but that he only sought by any means to make way for his return into his native country; and to that end inveighed against the people, thereby to gain the others, and to insinuate himself into their good opinion.
But when Phrynichus found his counsel to be rejected and that he was himself become a declared enemy of Alcibiades, he gave secret information to Astyochus, then admiral to the Lacedaemonians, of Alcibiades' practice; and warned him to take heed of him, and to lay him up safe as a double-dealer, and one that had intelligence with both sides; but he understood not how it was but one traitor to speak to another. For this Astyochus was eager to gain the favour of Tissaphernes, observing the credit Alcibiades had with him; and he revealed to Alcibiades all that Phrynichus had said against him.
Alcibiades straight sent men to Samos, unto the captains there, to accuse Phrynichus of the treason he had revealed against them. Those of the council there, receiving this intelligence, were highly offended with Phrynichus.
So Phrynichus, seeing no better way to save himself for making of this fault, went about to make amends with committing a worse fault. He sent again to Astyochus to reproach him for betraying him; and to make an offer to him at the same time to deliver into his hands both the army and the navy of the Athenians. Howbeit this treason of Phrynichus did the Athenians no hurt at all, by reason of Astyochus' counter-treason: for he did let Alcibiades again understand what offer Phrynichus had made him. But this again was foreseen by Phrynichus, who, expecting a second accusation from Alcibiades, to anticipate him, advertised the Athenians beforehand that the enemy was ready to sail in order to surprise them; and therefore advised them to fortify their camp, and be in a readiness to go aboard their ships.
While the Athenians were intent upon doing these things, they received other letters from Alcibiades, admonishing them to beware of Phrynichus, as one who designed to betray their fleet to the enemy; to which they gave no credit at all, conceiving that Alcibiades, who knew perfectly the counsels and preparations of the enemy, was merely making use of that knowledge in order to impose upon them in this false accusation of Phrynichus. (Yet, afterwards, when Phrynichus was stabbed by a dagger in the marketplace by Hermon, one of the guards, the Athenians, entering into an examination of the cause, solemnly condemned Phrynichus of treason, and decreed crowns to Hermon and his associates.)
Those that were Alcibiades' friends, being at that time the greatest men of the council in the army at Samos, sent one Pisander to Athens, to attempt to alter the government, and to encourage the noblemen to take upon them the authority, and to pluck it from the people. They assured them that Tissaphernes would give them aid to do it, by means of Alcibiades, who would make him their friend. This was the colour and cloak wherewith they served their turns, that did change the government of Athens, and that brought it into the hands of a small number of nobility.
But as soon as they prevailed, and had got the administration of affairs into their hands, under the name of the Five Thousand (whereas, indeed, they were but Four Hundred), they slighted Alcibiades altogether, and prosecuted the war with less vigour; partly because they dared not yet trust the citizens, who secretly detested this change; and partly also because they were of opinion that the Lacedaemonians (who at all times did most favour the government of nobility) would be better inclined to make peace with them.
Now the common people that remained still in the city stirred not, but were quiet against their wills, for fear of danger, because there were many of them slain that boldly took upon them in open presence to resist these four hundred. But those who were at Samos, indignant when they heard this news, were eager to set sail instantly for the Piraeus; sending for Alcibiades, they declared him general, requiring him to lead them on to put down the tyrants.
He, however, in that juncture, did not, as it might have been thought a man would, on being suddenly exalted by the favour of a multitude, think himself under an obligation to gratify and submit to all the wishes of those who, from a fugitive and an exile, had created him general of so great an army, and given him the command of such a fleet. But to the contrary, as it became a general worthy of such a charge, he considered with himself that it was his part wisely to stay those who would in a rage and fury carelessly cast themselves away, and not suffer them to do it. And by restraining them from the great error they were about to commit, he unequivocally saved the commonwealth. For if they then sailed to Athens, all Ionia, and the islands, and the Hellespont would have fallen into the enemies' hands without opposition; while the Athenians, involved in civil war, would have been fighting with one another within the circuit of their own walls.
It was Alcibiades alone, or, at least, principally, who prevented all this mischief; not only by persuading the whole army, and declaring the inconvenience thereof, which would fall out upon their sudden departure: but also by entreating some, and constraining others. He was much assisted, however, by Thrasybulus of Steiria (#1), who went along with him, and cried out to those who were ready to be gone. For he had the biggest and loudest voice as they say, of any man that was in all the city of Athens.
A second great service which Alcibiades did for them was his undertaking that the Phoenician fleet, which the Lacedaemonians expected to be sent to them by the king of Persia, should either come in aid of the Athenians or otherwise should not come at all. For he departed immediately, and went with great speed to Tissaphernes: whom he handled in such sort, that he brought not the ships that lay at rode before the city of Aspendos, and so he broke promise with the Lacedaemonians. Therefore Alcibiades was marvellously blamed and accused, both by the one and the other side, to have altered Tissaphernes' mind; but chiefly by the Lacedaemonians, who said that he had persuaded this barbarous captain that he should neither aid the one nor the other, but rather to suffer them one to devour and destroy each other. For it was evident that the accession of so great a force to either party would enable them to take away the entire dominion of the sea from the other side.
Shortly after, the four hundred usurpers were driven out, the friends of Alcibiades vigorously assisting those who were for the popular government. And now the people in the city not only desired, but commanded Alcibiades to return home from exile. But he judged with himself it would be of no honour nor grace unto him to return as only upon the people's favour and goodwill; whereas if he had done some greater exploit, his return might be both glorious and triumphant.
[Omission for length: the "exploit" Alcibiades took on was a successful sea battle against the Lacedaemonians.]
Narration and Discussion
Explain how Alcibiades moved so quickly from being a fugitive to being general of the Athenian forces.
Creative narration: Explain the events with Phrynichus in any way that makes sense: a series of news headlines, or messages sent between two people.
Alcibiades had a short setback when his "friend" Tissaphernes put Alcibiades under house arrest (to please the king, with whom he needed to score points). However, Alcibiades managed to escape, and got revenge by telling everyone that Tissaphernes had helped him to do so.
With that out of the way, he sailed to the Athenian camp, and used his eloquence so well with the soldiers there that they immediately sailed off with him to attack the harbour of Cyzicus, in an attempt to control the Hellespont (an important water gateway).
And then it was time for Alcibiades to return to Athens. Would he be welcomed as a hero, or arrested as a criminal?
entertainment: friendly treatment, welcome
defamed: slandered; talked about badly
in very happy hour: at exactly the right time
discharge and purge him to the king: put him in the king's good books again
professing he was a party to his escape: telling everyone that Tissaphernes had helped him escape
must be all one for them: they must do all those things
ephors: Spartan city leaders
their short laconic manner: The Spartans were famous for saying everything in the fewest possible words.
seignory: power; position of command
suburbs: outlying districts of the city
so turmoiled with civil dissension: in such a mess from riots and fighting within the city
Thrasyllus: Athenian general known for his part in the Peloponnesian War
410 B.C.: The Battle of Cyzicus
409-408 B.C.: Siege of Byzantium
409 B.C.: Defeat of Thrasyllus near Ephesus
408 B.C.: The Athenians retook Chalcedon, Byzantium, and other cities in the Hellespont
Somewhere between 410 B.C. and 407 B.C.: Alcibiades' return to Athens
On the Map
Sardis: the capital city of the kingdom of Lydia
Clazomenae: city on the coast of Ionia
Isle of Proconnesus: or Marmara Island, in the Sea of Marmara
Abydos: a city of Mysia
Chalcedon: a town of Bithynia, in Asia Minor
Alcibiades, having now happily gotten this glorious victory, would needs go show himself in triumph unto Tissaphernes. So having prepared to present him with goodly rich presents, and appointed also a convenient train and number of sail meet for a general, he took his course directly to him. But he found not that entertainment he hoped for. For Tissaphernes, standing in great hazard of displeasure, and fear of punishment at the king's hands; and having long time before been defamed by the Lacedaemonians, who had complained of him that he did not fulfill the king's commandment; thought that Alcibiades was arrived in very happy hour; whereupon he kept him prisoner in the city of Sardis, supposing the wrong he had done would by this means easily discharge and purge him to the king.
But about thirty days after, Alcibiades escaped from his keeping; and, having got a horse, fled to Clazomenae, where he procured Tissaphernes additional disgrace by professing he was a party to his escape.
From there he sailed to the Athenian camp, and, being informed there that Mindarus and Pharnabazus were together at Cyzicus, he made a speech to the soldiers, telling them that sea-fighting, land-fighting, and, by the gods, fighting against fortified cities too, must be all one for them; as unless they conquered everywhere, there was no money for them.
His oration ended, he made them immediately hoist sail, and so to go lie at anchor in the Isle of Proconnesus: where he took order that they should seize all the small vessels they met, and guard them safely in the interior of the fleet, so that the enemy might have no notice of his coming. A great storm of rain, accompanied with thunder and darkness, which happened at the same time, contributed much to the concealment of his enterprise. Indeed, it was not only undiscovered by the enemy, but the Athenians themselves were ignorant of it; for he commanded them suddenly on board, and set sail when they had abandoned all intention of it.
As the darkness presently passed away, the Peloponnesian fleet was seen riding out at sea, in front of the harbour of Cyzicus. Fearing that if they discovered the number of his ships, they might endeavour to save themselves by land, he commanded the rest of the captains to slacken, and follow him slowly; whilst he, advancing with forty ships, showed himself to the enemy, and provoked them to fight.
The enemy, supposing there had been no more ships than those that were in sight, did set out presently to fight with them. They were no sooner joined together, but Alcibiades' ships that came behind were also seen approaching: the enemies were so terrified that they fled immediately.
Upon that, Alcibiades, breaking through the midst of them with twenty of his best ships, hastened to the shore, disembarked, and pursued those who abandoned their ships and fled to land, and made a great slaughter of them. Moreover, Mindarus, and Pharnabazus, being come out of the city to rescue their people, were overthrown both. He slew Mindarus in the field, fighting valiantly: as for Pharnabazus, he cowardly fled away. So the Athenians spoiled the dead bodies (which were a great number) of a great deal of armour and riches, and took besides all their enemies' ships.
They also made themselves masters of Cyzicus, which was deserted by Pharnabazus, and destroyed its Peloponnesian garrison; and thereby not only secured to themselves the Hellespont, but by force drove the Lacedaemonians from out of all the rest of the sea. They intercepted some letters written to the ephors, which gave an account of this fatal overthrow, after their short laconic manner. "Our hopes are at an end. Mindarus is slain. The men starve. We know not what to do."
The soldiers who followed Alcibiades in this last fight were so exalted with their success, and felt that degree of pride, that, looking on themselves as invincible, they disdained to mix with the older soldiers, who had been often overcome. A little before this happened, forces led by Thrasyllus had been overthrown by the city of Ephesus. And for this overthrow, the Ephesians had set up a brass trophy to the disgrace of the Athenians. For the which Alcibiades' soldiers did very much rebuke Thrasyllus' men, and did exceedingly extol their captain and themselves, and would neither encamp with them, neither have to do with them, nor yet keep them company. But soon after, Pharnabazus, with a great force of cavalry and foot soldiers, fell upon the soldiers of Thrasyllus, as they were laying waste the territory of Abydos. Alcibiades came to their aid, routed Pharnabazus, and together with Thrasyllus pursued him till it was night; and in this action the troops united, and returned together to the camp, rejoicing and congratulating one another.
The next morning Alcibiades set up a triumph for the victory he had the day before; and then went to spoil and destroy Pharnabazus' country; and no man dared once come out to meet him.
[omission for length]
Alcibiades laid siege to the city of Chalcedon, which he environed all about from the one side of the sea to the other. Pharnabazus came thither, thinking to have raised the siege. And Hippocrates, a captain of the Lacedaemonians, that was governor of the city, assembled all the force he was able to make within the same, and made a sally out also upon the Athenians at the very same time. Whereupon Alcibiades putting his men in order of battle, so as they might give a charge upon them both at one instant: he fought so valiantly, that he forced Pharnabazus to run his way with shame enough, and slew Hippocrates in the field, with a great number of his men.
[Omission for length: Alcibiades also attacked Selymbria and Byzantium.]
Now Alcibiades desirous in the end to see his native country again (or to speak more truly, that his countrymen should see him) after he had so many times overthrown their enemies in battle: he hoisted sail, and directed his course towards Athens, bringing with him all the galleys of the Athenians richly furnished, and decked all about with armour and weapons gotten amongst the spoils of his enemies.
[Omission for length: Plutarch points out that, although Alcibiades arrived in great splendour, he must have had certain doubts about his welcome.]
He was no sooner landed, but all the people ran out of every corner to see him, with so great love and affection, that they took no heed of the other captains that came with him, but clustered all to him only, and cried out for joy to see him. Those that could come near him, did welcome and embrace him: but all the people wholly followed him. And some that came to him, put garlands of flowers upon his head: and those that could not come near him, saw him afar off, and the old folks did point him out to the younger sort.
But this common joy was mingled, notwithstanding, with tears and sorrow, when they came to think upon their former misfortunes and calamities, and to compare them with their present prosperity: weighing with themselves also how they would not have lost Sicily, nor would their hope in all things else have failed them, if they had delivered themselves and the charge of their army into Alcibiades' hands, when they sent for him to appear in person before them.
Considering also how he found the city of Athens in manner put from their seigniory and commandment on the sea, and on the other side how their force by land was brought unto such extremity that Athens scantly could defend her suburbs, the city itself being so turmoiled with civil dissension: yet he gathered together that small force that remained, and had now not only restored Athens to her former power and sovereignty on the sea, but had made her also a conqueror by land.
Narration and Discussion
Pretend you are with someone who is visiting and does not know what the excitement is about. How will you explain it to them?
Since Alcibiades' homecoming was so successful, what might his ambition now lead him to expect from the Athenians? Do you think he will get what he wants?
Creative narration for older students: You are an Athenian playwright, and you want to work the return of Alcibiades into your new comedy. Write a few lines of verse to mark the occasion.
Now that Alcibiades was finally home (if only for a short time), he looked around for projects that could boost his popularity with the Athenians. He was quite successful at this: too successful, in fact, and his enemies had him shipped back out to the war as quickly as possible.
Eumolpidae: the priests of Eleusis
flourished in his prosperity: enjoyed his successful return
Initiates, and Initiators: those involved in the religious rites
august: impressive, producing respect
venerable: producing respect, particularly because of age or wisdom
usurp: take over
Critias the son of Callaeschrus: Athenian political figure and author; leader of the Thirty Tyrants
On the Map
Eleusis: a town about 11 miles (18 km) from the center of Athens, which was a place of worship, particularly of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone (the Eleusinia).
There had been a decree for recalling Alcibiades from his banishment already passed by the people, at the instance of Critias the son of Callaeschrus, as appears in his elegies [omission for length]. But notwithstanding, the people being assembled, Alcibiades came before them, and made an oration: wherein he first lamented all his mishaps, and found himself grieved a little with the wrongs they had offered him; yet he blamed all on his cursed fortune, and some spiteful god that envied his glory and prosperity. Then he exhorted them to courage and good hope. And to conclude, the people crowned him with crowns of gold, and chose him general again of Athens, both at land and sea, with absolute power.
They also made a decree that his estate should be restored to him, and that the Eumolpidae and the holy herald should absolve him from the curses which they had solemnly pronounced against him by sentence of the people. Which, when all the rest obeyed, Theodorus, the high priest, excused himself. "For," said he, "if he is innocent, I never cursed him."
Now Alcibiades flourished in his prosperity; yet were there some, notwithstanding, that misliked very much the time of his landing: saying it was very unlucky and unfortunate. For the day that he came into the port was the day for keeping the feast of the goddess Minerva, when all the ornaments are taken from off her image, and the part of the temple where it stands is kept close covered. Hence the Athenians esteem this day most inauspicious, and never undertake anything of importance upon it. Moreover, it was rumoured that the goddess was not content nor glad of Alcibiades' return: and that she did hide herself, because she would not see him, nor have him come near her.
Yet, notwithstanding, everything succeeded according to his wish. When the one hundred galleys that were to return (to battle) with him were fitted out and ready to sail, an honourable zeal detained him in Athens till the Celebration of the Mysteries was over. For ever since Decelea had been occupied (see Lesson Seven), as the enemy commanded the roads leading from Athens to Eleusis, the procession, being conducted by sea, had not been performed with any proper solemnity; they were forced to omit the sacrifices and dances and other holy ceremonies, which had usually been performed in the way, when they led forth Iacchus.
Alcibiades judged it would be a glorious action, which would do honour to the gods and gain him esteem with men, if he restored the ancient splendour to these rites, escorting the procession again by land, and protecting it with his army in the face of the enemy. For either, if Agis stood still and did not oppose, it would very much diminish and obscure his reputation; or, in the other alternative, Alcibiades would engage in a holy war, in the cause of the gods, and in defense of the most sacred and solemn ceremonies; and this in the sight of his country, where he should have all his fellow-citizens as witnesses of his valour.
Alcibiades being fully resolved upon this design, went and communicated it to the Eumolpidae and heralds. He placed sentinels on the tops of the hills, and at the break of day sent forth his scouts. And then taking with him the priests, Initiates, and Initiators, and encompassing them with his soldiers, he conducted them with great order and profound silence; an august and venerable procession; wherein all who did not envy him said he performed at once the office of a high priest and of a general. The enemy did not dare to attempt anything against them, and thus he brought them back to safety to the city.
Now this did more increase the greatness of his mind, and therewith the people's good opinion of his sufficiency, and wise conduction of an army: insomuch as they thought him invincible, having the sovereign power and authority of a general. He so won, indeed, upon the lower and meaner sort of people, that they passionately desired to have him as "tyrant" over them; and some of them did not scruple to tell him so, and to advise him to put himself out of the reach of envy by abolishing the laws and ordinances of the people, and suppressing the idle talkers that were ruining the state, that so he might act and take upon him the management of affairs, and not stand in fear of slanderous and wicked tongues.
Now, whether Alcibiades ever had any mind to usurp the kingdom, the matter is somewhat doubtful. But this is certain, the greatest men of the city, fearing lest indeed he meant some such thing, hastened him on shipboard as speedily as they could, appointing the colleagues whom he chose, and allowing him all other things as he desired.
Narration and Discussion
Why do you think Alcibiades chose to restore a religious procession as a way to gain favour with the Athenians? Why was it an almost foolproof plan?
Creative narration: Write or act a conversation between two Athenian souvenir sellers, or with one of their customers, on the day of the celebration.
Amid rumblings of discontent about the Athenian failure to magically defeat the Spartans (made even more difficult by a shortage of money and supplies), the helmsman Antiochus took them on himself at what was called the Battle of Notium (Plutarch does not give the name). The ensuing disaster was no surprise: the Spartans trounced the Athenian navy, and Antiochus was killed. This was only a small victory for the Spartans, but it was disastrous for Alcibiades.
obols: Greek coins worth one-sixth of a drachma
provocation: means of provoking the enemy to fight
scurrilous: humorously insulting; impolite
mercenary soldiers: soldiers merely hired to fight, rather than those fighting with a personal interest in the outcome
insupportable contempt: great rudeness
ostentation: showing off
long walls: walls built from a city to its port, such as from Athens to Piraeus (Lesson Eight).
Lysander: Spartan leader and admiral who brought the Peloponnesian war to an end
Cyrus: Cyrus the Younger. His father, Darius II, who was king of Persia from 423 B.C.-405/404 B.C., the year of Alcibiades' death, and was succeeded by Cyrus' brother Artaxerxes II (see Lesson Twelve). Cyrus was not only a prince but a general, and satrap of Lydia and Iona. He died in a battle against his brother in 401 B.C.
Antiochus: naval commander under Alcibiades; the same Antiochus who captured Alcibiades' escaped quail (Lesson Three)
Thrasybulus son of Thrason (#2): Alcibiades' enemy
Conon: Athenian naval commander. Thrasyllus, who had lost his position as commander, was reinstated after the defeat at Notium; however, Conon was sent to Samos in his place. The Athenians were badly defeated by the Spartans, and Conon (with the eight remaining ships) fled to Cyprus.
406 B.C.: Alcibiades exiled again after the defeat at Notium
405 B.C.: Battle of Aegospotami (the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War, in which the Athenian navy was destroyed)
On the Map
Andros: a Greek island, and also a town on that island
Caria (Carians): a region of western Anatolia (Asia Minor)
Thrace (Thracians): a region of southeastern Europe which includes parts of present-day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey
Bisanthe, Sestos: cities in Thrace (now called Tekirdag, in present-day Turkey)
Aegospotami: a small river northeast of Sestos
Lampsacus: a city on the eastern side of the Hellespont
Thereupon he set sail with a fleet of one hundred ships, and, arriving at Andros, he there fought with and defeated the inhabitants, as well as the Lacedaemonians who assisted them. He did not, however, take the city; which gave the first occasion to his enemies for all their accusations against him. Certainly, if ever a man was ruined by his own glory, it was Alcibiades. For his continual success had produced such an idea of his courage and conduct, that if he failed in anything he undertook, it was imputed to his neglect, and no one would believe it was through want of power. For they thought nothing was too hard for him, if he went about it in good earnest.
They fancied, every day, that they should hear that the Isle of Chios was taken, with all the country of Ionia; they were angry they could have no news so suddenly as they wished. They never considered how extremely money was wanting, and that, having to carry on war with an enemy who had supplies of all things from a great king, he was often forced to leave his camp to seek money where he could get it, to pay his soldiers and to maintain his army.
This it was which gave occasion for the last accusation which was made against him. For Lysander, being sent from Lacedaemon with a commission to be admiral of their fleet, and being furnished by Cyrus with a great sum of money, gave every sailor four obols a day, whereas before they had but three. Alcibiades could hardly allow his men three obols, and therefore was constrained to go into Caria to furnish himself with money. He left the care of the fleet, in his absence, to Antiochus, an experienced seaman, but rash and inconsiderate, who had express orders from Alcibiades not to engage, though the enemy provoked him.
But he slighted and disregarded these direction to that degree, that, having made ready his own galley and another, he made way for Ephesus, where the enemy lay; and, as he sailed before the heads of their galleys, used every provocation possible, both in words and deeds. Lysander at first manned out a few ships, and pursued him. But when all the Athenian ships came in to his assistance, Lysander also brought up his whole fleet, which gained an entire victory. He slew Antiochus himself, took many men and ships, and erected a trophy.
Alcibiades, hearing this ill-favoured news, returned presently with all possible speed to Samos: and when he came thither, he went with all the rest of his fleet to offer Lysander battle. But Lysander, quietly contenting himself with his first victory, would not stir.
Amongst others in the army who hated Alcibiades, Thrasybulus the son of Thrason (#2), Alcibiades' enemy, went purposely to Athens to accuse him, and to exasperate his enemies in the city against him. Addressing the people, he represented that Alcibiades had ruined their affairs and lost their ships by mere self-conceited neglect of his duties, committing the government of the army, in his absence, to men who gained his favour by drinking and scurrilous talking, whilst he wandered up and down at pleasure [omission for length and content]. Moreover, they laid to his charge that he did fortify a castle in the country of Thrace, near unto the city of Bisanthe, for a place to retire himself unto, either because he could not, or rather that he would not, live any longer in his own country. The Athenians gave credit to this information, and showed the resentment and displeasure which they had conceived against him by choosing other generals.
As soon as Alcibiades heard of this, he immediately forsook the army, afraid of what might follow; and, collecting a body of mercenary soldiers, made war upon his own account against those Thracians who called themselves free, and acknowledged no king. By this means he amassed to himself a considerable treasure; and, at the same time, secured the bordering Greeks from the incursions of foreign enemies.
Now Tydeus, Menander, and Adimanthus, the new-made generals, were at that time posted at Aegospotami, or "Goats' River," with all the galleys the city of Athens had left. From there they used to go out to sea every morning, and offer battle to Lysander, who lay near Lampsacus; and when they had done so, they would return back again, and lay all the rest of the day, carelessly and without order, in contempt of the enemy.
Alcibiades, who was not far off, did not think so slightly of their danger, nor neglect to let them know it; but, mounting his horse, came to the generals, and represented to them that they had chosen a very inconvenient station, where there was no safe harbour, and where they were distant from any town; so that they were constrained to send for their necessary provisions as far as Sestos; and that they suffered their mariners to leave their ships, and go a-land when they lay at anchor, straggling up and down the country without regard that there lay a great army of their enemies before them, ready to be set out at their generals' commandment: and therefore he advised them to remove thence, and to go cast anchor before the city of Sestos. But the admirals not only disregarded what he said, but Tydeus, with insulting expressions, commanded him to be gone, saying that now not he, but others, had the command of the forces.
Alcibiades, suspecting something of treachery in these words, departed, and told his friends who accompanied him out of the camp that if the generals had not used him with such insupportable contempt, he would within a few days have forced the Lacedaemonians, however unwilling, either to have fought the Athenians at sea or to have deserted their ships. Some looked upon this as a piece of ostentation only; others said that the thing was probable, for that he might have brought down by land great numbers of the Thracian cavalry and archers, to assault and disorder them in their camp.
The event, however, soon made it evident how rightly he had judged of the errors which the Athenians committed. For Lysander came so fiercely upon them on a sudden, that of all the ships they had in their whole fleet, only eight galleys were saved, with whom Conon fled; and the others, being not much less than two hundred in number, were every one of them taken and carried away, with three thousand prisoners whom Lysander put to death. And within a short time after, he took Athens itself, burnt all the ships which he found there, and demolished their long walls.
Narration and Discussion
Should Alcibiades have been blamed for the defeat at Notium, since it was due to Antiochus' disobedience?
Why did Alcibiades warn the new generals about their dangerous position? Was this magnanimous of him, or did he have other reasons?
For older students: "Certainly, if ever a man was ruined by his own glory, it was Alcibiades." Explain.
Creative narration for older students: Shakespeare often drew inspiration from Plutarch's Lives. Choose an event from this passage, and write or dramatize it in the style of a Shakespearean play.
Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions
Alcibiades, fearing the Spartans, escaped to Bithynia. After being robbed, however, he decided to ask for help from the Persian satrap Pharnabazus. Meanwhile, the Spartans had taken command in Athens. The Athenians were sorry they rejected Alcibiades, and hoped he would find some way to save them again; the Spartans feared the same.
despotic rulers: or despots; those who rule with absolute power
his subordinate: one below him in rank
cast away: ruined
enterprising what was hazardous: taking a risk
mistress: female friend
Artaxerxes: Artaxerxes II Mnemon, elder brother of Cyrus the Younger; King of Persia from about 404 BC to 358 BC
Themistocles: Athenian politician and general, hero of the Battle of Salamis during the Persian Wars, and the subject of Plutarch's Life of Themistocles. He died in 459 B.C., about ten years before Alcibiades was born. Like Alcibiades, he sought refuge at the court of an earlier Artaxerxes, Artaxerxes I.
404 B.C.: Official end of the Peloponnesian War
404 B.C.: Death of Alcibiades
401 B.C.: Death of Agis II
399 B.C.: Death of Socrates
395 B.C.: Assassination of Tissaphernes
On the Map
Bithynia: a region/kingdom in northwestern Asia Minor
After this, Alcibiades, standing in dread of the Lacedaemonians, who were now masters of both sea and land, retired into Bithynia. He sent thither great treasure before him, took much with him, but left much more in the castle where he had before resided. But he lost great part of his wealth in Bithynia, being robbed by some Thracians who lived in those parts; and thereupon he determined to go to the court of Artaxerxes, not doubting but that the king, if he would make trial of his abilities, would find him not inferior to Themistocles, besides that he was recommended by a more honourable cause. For he went not, as Themistocles did, to offer his service against his fellow-citizens, but against their enemies, and to implore the king's aid for the defense of his country. He concluded that Pharnabazus would most readily procure him a safe conduct, and therefore went into Phrygia to him, and continued to dwell there some time, paying him great respect, and being honourably treated by him.
All this while the Athenians found themselves desolate, and in miserable state to see their empire lost: but then much more, when Lysander had taken all their liberties, and did set thirty despotic rulers over their city. Now too late, after all was lost (where they might have recovered again, if they had been wise) they began together to bewail and lament their miseries and wretched state, looking back upon all their willful faults and follies committed: among which, they did reckon their second time of falling out with Alcibiades was their greatest fault. For he was rejected without any fault committed by himself, and only because they were incensed against his subordinate for having shamefully lost a few ships, they much more shamefully deprived the commonwealth of its most valiant and accomplished general.
And yet they had some little poor hope left, that they were not altogether cast away, so long as Alcibiades lived, and had his health. For before, when he was a forsaken man, and led a banished life: yet he could not live idly, and do nothing. "Wherefore now much more," said they to themselves, "if there be any help at all, he will not suffer out of doubt the insolence and pride of the Lacedaemonians, nor yet abide the cruelties and outrages of these thirty tyrants."
And surely the common people had some reason to have these thoughts in their heads, considering that the thirty governors themselves did what they could possibly to spy out Alcibiades' doings, and what he went about. Insomuch as Critias represented to Lysander that the Lacedaemonians could never securely enjoy the dominion of Greece till the Athenians' democracy was absolutely destroyed; and, though now the people of Athens seemed quietly and patiently to submit to so small a number of governors, yet so long as Alcibiades lived, the knowledge of this fact would never suffer them so to be reigned over, but would attempt by all device he could to bring a change and innovation among them.
Yet Lysander would not credit these persuasions, till at last he received secret orders from the magistrates of Lacedaemon, expressly requiring him to get Alcibiades killed: whether it was that they feared his energy and boldness in enterprising what was hazardous, or else that they sought to gratify King Agis by it. Upon receipt of this order, Lysander sent away a messenger to Pharnabazus, desiring him to put it in execution. Pharnabazus committed the affair to Magaeus, his brother, and his uncle, Susamithres.
Alcibiades resided at that time in a small village in Phrygia, together with Timandra, a mistress of his.
[omission for content: Alcibiades reportedly had strange dreams, including one in which Magaeus killed him]
Those that were sent to kill him dared not enter the house where he was, but set it afire round about. Alcibiades spying the fire, got such apparel and hangings as he had, and threw it on the fire, thinking to have put it out: and so casting his cloak about his left arm, took his naked sword in his other hand, and ran out of the house, himself not once touched with fire, saving his clothes were a little singed. These murderers so soon as they spied him, drew back, and stood asunder, and dared not one of them come near him, to stand and fight with him: but standing at a distance, they slew him with their darts and arrows.
When he was dead, the barbarians departed; and Timandra took up his dead body, and covering and wrapping it up in her own robes, she buried it as decently and as honourably as her circumstances would allow.
[omission for content]
Narration and Discussion
Plutarch says that the Athenians were correct to think of Alcibiades as a valuable ally, and the Spartans just as much so to consider him a dangerous enemy. Were they both right?
Creative narration: Write or act out a final interview with Alcibiades, in his house in Phrygia. What might his plans for the future have been?
1. Alcibiades "with all his great courage and quickness of understanding had many great faults and imperfections." Tell a story to illustrate a) his courage, b) his envy of Nicias.
1. "He esteemed these endeavours of Socrates most truly a means which the gods made use of for the care and preservation of youth. . . " Tell two stories to show that Alcibiades valued his relationship with Socrates.
2. (High school) "Even so, Alcibiades being puffed up with vanity. . . as often as Socrates took him in hand was made fast and firm by his good persuasions." Explain and illustrate.
Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Englished by Sir Thomas North. With an introduction by George Wyndham. Volume II. London: Dent, 1894.
Plutarch's Lives: The Dryden Plutarch. Revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, Volume I. London: J.M. Dent, 1910.
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus