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Alcibiades

Alcibiades Was an Athenian General in the Peloponnesian War

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Alcibiades was an Athenian politician and general in the Peloponnesian War. After the death of his father in 447, he was brought up by Pericles and Pericles's brother Ariphron.

Vicissitudes of Alcibiades' Life

Alcibiades had it all: looks, charm, money, brains, good family. Amongst his many admirers was Socrates, and they each saved the other's life in battle. After the death of Cleon in 422, Alcibiades became the leading figure amongst those who wished to continue with the war, and was one of the prime instigators of the Sicilian Expedition (415). Shortly before the fleet set sail, Alcibiades was accused of having been involved in the Mutilation of the Hermae [note from N.S. Gill: you may know this as the Mutilation of the Herms], and of having parodied and mocked the Mysteries of Eleusis at a private party. He wanted to stand trial before the expedition set sail, when his supporters would be in the majority, but was obliged to set sail with the expedition immediately. He was then recalled from Sicily to stand trial, but he fled to Argos instead.

Alcibiades Traitorously Helps the Spartans

Alcibiades then went over to the Spartan side, and it was on his advice that the Spartans fortified the town of Decelea in Attica, which gave them an important strategic advantage against Athens. He made an enemy, however, of King Agis II by seducing his wife, whose son was reputed to be Alcibiades'. Alcibiades persuaded the Spartans to help Chios to revolt against Athens, and from Chios, learning of a conspiracy among the Spartans to have him killed, he fled to the court of the Persian satrap Tissaphernes (412). Alcibiades managed to reverse Tissaphernes's previous policy in favour of the Spartans, and won his support for the Athenian cause.

Athens Recalls and Forgives Alcibiades

Alcibiades was then forgiven by the Athenians and recalled, but he remained with the fleet at Samos, acting as general and bringing over another satrap, Pharnabazus, to support the Athenians. In 407 he returned to Athens, where he was appointed commander-in-chief, but he fell from favour a year later thanks to the defeat of one of his subordinates, Antiochus. Alcibiades then retired to a fortress he owned in Thrace to sit out the rest of the war. He pointed out the imprudence of the Athenian generals at Aegospotami, but his advice was not taken. After the fall of Athens (404), Alcibiades decided to go to the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes, but was murdered on the way, either at the instigation of the Spartans, who were afraid of an Alcibiades-led uprising at Athens, or by the brothers of a Persian woman he had seduced.

Alcibiades' Place in Greek Literature

Alcibiades is a character in Plato's Symposium, and also appears in two more Socratic dialogues (Alcibiades I and Alcibiades II), which may or may not be by Plato. Plutarch wrote a biography of Alcibiades, pairing him with Coriolanus, and he appears in the appropriate places in Thucydides's account of the Peloponnesian War. Two speeches against Alcibiades by Lysias still exist (together with Lysias's speech against Agoratus), as well as another one which may or may not be by Andocides (together with Andocides's speech on the peace with Sparta).

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