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Alcibiades – The Athenian Chameleon

Alcibiades fought and strategized for Athens, Sparta, Persia, Athens (again), and Thrace, proving that he fought the entire time only for himself. Was it vanity or pride? Enjoy the first truly negative portrayal Plutarch tries to give, though Plutarch in all his humanity can still defend Alcibiades from his most malicious detractors.

Parallel – Coriolanus

Important People


  • Agis II – Spartan King at the time Alcibiades defects to the Spartans. Alcibiades advises Agis to occupy Deceleia, preventing the Athenians from accessing their farms for the remainder of the war.
    • Timaea – Spartan Queen
    • Leotychides – son of Timaea and Alcibiades, disinherited from the throne.
  • Lysander – Wily Spartan naval commander who finally manages to defeat the Athenians decisively at sea. He then besieges Athens and sets up a government of thirty tyrannical oligarchs backed up by a Spartan bodyguard. Alcibiades wisely never engages directly with Lysander, though one of his lietuenant does in Alcibiades’s absence.


  • Pharnabazus – One of two powerful Persian satraps in Western Asia Minor with which Alcibiades fights once while trying to keep access to the Black Sea open for Athens. The second time they meet, Alcibiades has abandoned Athens for the last time and seeks to become what Themistocles was, a resident and advisor of the Persian Empire.
  • Tissaphernes – A scheming satrap with a great deal in common with Alcibiades. He does and says what he needs to to get his own way. We’ll see him again in the Life of Agesilaus.
  • Cyrus – Younger son of the Persian King Darius II, Cyrus comes out to Asia Minor to deal with squabbling satraps and to crush Athens for good. He allies himself with Lysander and funds the navy that ultimately destroys Athens.


  • Nicias – Alcibiades’s main political rival in Athens, famous for his superstition and his vacillation, Alcibiades’s confidence and charisma attract a much larger following.
  • Antiochus – A vice-commander left in charge while Alcibiades away. He ignore Alc’s direct command. notto engage with Lysander and in the ensuing battle loses and dies.

Important Places

Deceleia (23.2) – A mountain citadel of Attica, about 14 miles from Athens towards Boeotia, commanding the Athenian plain and the shortest routes to Euboea and Boeotia, occupied by the Spartans in 413 B.C. at Alcibiades’s advice!

Samos (25) – Island in the east-central Aegean originally conquered by Pericles but serving as a strategic base for the Athenian navy during the Peloponnesian Wars. When an oligarchic revolution occurs in Athens, Samos becomes the base-in-exile of the democratic faction, which Alcibiades leads triumphantly home.

C. 1 – Origins and Early Days

  1. Family origins go back to Ajax. He is an Alcmaeonidae (like Pericles, his uncle) on his mother’s side and his father fought well at Artemisium, but was killed in 447 BC fighting the Boeotians at Coroneia.
  2. Alcibiades so famous we know not just his mother’s name, but his nurse’s and tutor’s: Amycla, a Spartan woman, and Zopyrus respectively.
  3. He was handsome as a boy, young man, and grown man. This gave him advantages at every stage of life.
  4. He even talks funny (lisp?), but it added to his charms.

C. 2 – Boyhood Passions

  1. Love of rivalry and preeminence; great inconsistencies.
  2. When biting during wrestling and called a woman, he corrected the other boy, calling himself a lion.
  3. The wagon approaches and ignores Alc’s command to halt. Alcibiades throws himself directly in front of the oxen and the driver stops while panicked onlookers rush to help. Why? So that he could see his dice.
  4. Refused to play the flute because of the way it made his face look.
  5. Flutes also prevent speech or song. He calls Athena and Apollo to witness as patrons of Athens and haters of the flute.
  6. With him, the rest of the boys also refuse the flute and it was thus dropped from Athenian education altogether.

C. 3 – Questionable Accusations

  1. False accusations from one who hated Alcibiades
Detail from Marcello Bacciarelli – Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates – 1776 Public Domain

C. 4 – Socrates and Alcibiades

  1. Though many clustered around Alcibiades and wanted to help him, Socrates’s love for him should show us that Alcibiades had potential.
  2. No man immune to the help of philosophy. Socrates is the only friend when Alcibiades is otherwise surrounded by flatterers. (see Plutarch’s essay “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend“)
  3. Socrates isn’t seeking the wrong things (physical affection), rather Alcibiades comes to see Socrates’s friendship as a gift from the gods.
  4. Soon he is only going on campaign, exercising with, and eating with Socrates. He rejects all his past lovers, but particularly harsh to Anytus.
  5. Anytus invites Alcibiades to dinner, but Alcibiades declines the invitation. During the dinner, he shows up drunk and uses his slaves to steal half the gold and silver on the table and then walk home. Anytus feels kindly treated that Alcibiades only took half.

C. 5 – Alcibiades Pranks the Tax Farmers

  1. A resident alien sold all his property and tried to give it to Alcibiades, who laughed at the small quantity and invited the man to dinner.
  2. After dinner, he gave the man his money back and insisted that the man bid for the right to collect taxes for the state of Athens the next day. The man does as Alcibiades says, driving up the normal price by a talent (25.8kg of gold; $100K) and the normal tax-farmers ask what his surety is for payment. Alcibiades volunteers as surety.
  3. They pressure the man to withdraw his bid, but Alcibiades says he will do so for no less than one talent, which the men all have to pay him to win the contract.
Another attempt to render Socrates teaching Alcibiades by François-André Vincent, ca. 1800 Public Domain

C. 6 – The Influence of Socrates

  1. Love of Socrates masters Alcibiades; the words of his teacher brought tears to his eyes. But he would also sometimes surrender to his flatterers, but he feared and reverenced Socrates alone.
  2. Thucydides speaks of Alc’s lawless self-indulgence, so it’s fascinating that Socrates had hold on Alcibiades only through the ears and not through any lusts.
  3. But (Plutarch asserts), his flatterers got to him through his love of fame and distinction, persuading him to enter public life and eclipse all other leaders, surpassing even Pericles in reputation and power.
  4. Iron rendered malleable by fire, but returned to its shape by cold water. Socrates was the cold water, showing Alcibiades how great his deficiencies and how incomplete his excellence.

C. 7 – Battle of Potidaea and Sundry Anecdotes

  1. Alcibiades punches a school-teacher who doesn’t have any Homer on him. He corrects another for teaching the wrong age-group.
  2. Pericles can’t see Alcibiades because he’s studying the accounts to render a report to the Athenians. Alcibiades says he should spend more time studying how not to be accountable to them. At Potidaea, he had Socrates as a tent mate.
  3. Alcibiades falls wounded off his horse and Socrates stood over him and defended him. Generals wanted to give Alcibiades the prize even though Soc deserved it, so Socrates joins in requesting that Alcibiades receive the prize.
  4. Later Alcibiades defends Soc on a retreat from Delium, in spite of great physical danger to himself.

C. 8 – Marriage… and Divorce

  1. He punched a guy on a bet once, as a joke; the next morning, he went to Hipponicus’s house and offered that Hipponicus punch him back how he saw fit.
  2. Alcibiades marries Hipponicus’s daughter with a dowry of ten talents and ten more coming after the first child. Callias (Hipparete’s brother) afraid that Alcibiades is scheming for his money, so he leaves it to the Athenian people in his will.
  3. Hipparete annoyed that Alcibiades spends time with prostitutes, so she personally and publicly begins divorce proceedings against him.
  4. Alcibiades physically shows up, picks up his wife in the marketplace, and takes her home. She lived with him until her death, but she died soon after.
  5. Not violent or lawless behavior (Plutarch has to explain?), but the law allows for this so that husband and wife can meet publicly in person.

C. 9 – The dog’s tail…

  1. Why cut the tail off a beautiful and expensive dog? So that Athenians talk about it, and ignore the other things you’re doing.

C. 10 – Entry into Public Life

  1. Alcibiades passes the assembly and hears applause. Intrigued, he finds out that someone is giving money to Athens, so Alcibiades enters immediately and offers some of his own. He’s so excited, a quail he was holding escapes.
  2. Alcibiades wants the assembly to listen to him for his gift of speech, but he also has the gifts of his family, wealth, bravery in battle, and friends and followers. Demosthenes (384-322 BC) even considered him a great speaker.
  3. Theophrastus (called the most versatile and learned of philosophers), Alc’s talent was mostly in understanding what was required in the moment. He would obsess over choosing the right words, and sometimes stumble in his speeches, so he would pause and then proceed with more caution after selecting the right phrase.

C. 11 – Olympic Victory Ode

  1. No one had ever entered 7 chariots in the Olympics. His horses finished 1st, 2nd, and 4th.
  2. Euripides wrote him a victory ode calling a victory fairest when the winner comes back unwearied.

C. 12 – More Olympic Strife

  1. The poleis compete with each other to give Alcibiades cool things: Ephesians give a tent; Chians feed his horses; Lesbians provide wine; but he distracts everyone with his bold malpractice.
  2. Diomedes, a friend of Alc’s, wanted a chariot that belonged to the polis of Argos, so he asks Alcibiades to buy it.
  3. Alcibiades buys it for his friend, but first enters it in the races himself. Diomedes is enraged and a lawsuit later ensues.

C. 13 – Public Enemies

  1. Nicias and Phaeax resist Alcibiades at every political opportunity. Nicias mature, but Phaeax the same age as Alcibiades and not as good a speaker.
  2. Phaeax writes a speech against Alcibiades that survives in Plutarch’s time (but not in ours) wherein Ph claims that Alcibiades uses Athens’s gold and silver utensils at his own table as if he owned them.
  3. Hyperbolus, base but insensitive to the opinion of the crowd (which some call courage and valor but is actually shamelessness and folly) becomes a whipping boy when the masses need to chastise the upper classes.
  4. So, ostracism looms and targets the three main political leaders—Alc, Nic, and Ph—but Alcibiades and Nic get together and ensure that Hyperbolus is ostracized instead (or Ph in some stories).
  5. Even the comic poets consider the fate of ostracism to be reserved for truly great men; thus the people were annoyed that Hyperbolus got it (cf. Nicias 11).

C. 14 – Spartan Jealousy

  1. Nicias more admired by the Spartans than Alcibiades in spite of his past status with the Spartans.
  2. (421 BC)Nicias seen as the cause of the peace, so he receives the praise, even calling it “The Peace of Nicias” in his time. Alcibiades envious…
  3. Opportunity found in the Argives, who hate the Spartans. Alcibiades in communication with them. Spartans ally with Boeotians separately and return Panactum (?) in worse condition, Alcibiades takes advantage to fan the flames of Athenian ire against Nicias
  4. Nicias, according to Alc, had been too soft on the Spartans, first refusing to attack, then releasing those he’d captured too soon and finally not joining any alliance without Spartan approval.
  5. As this was happening, an embassy arrives from Sparta with reasonable proposals and full powers to ratify and negotiate. Alcibiades fears a peaceful outcome and meets privately with the embassy that night.
  6. Alcibiades convinces the embassy, who is going in front of the People’s Assembly, not to reveal that they have full powers so that they don’t mob the Spartan embassy into doing things they don’t want to do.
  7. He swore an oath to cooperate with them and they trusted him as a wise counselor. The next day in the Assembly, when Alcibiades asks, they confirm that they do not have full negotiating powers.
  8. At which point, Alcibiades rails against them as faithless, fickle, and wasting the time of the Athenians. Nicias was ashamed but did nothing as he was unaware of the trick. (cf. Nic. 10)

C. 15 – Alcibiades as General

  1. Alcibiades forges an alliance with other poleis in the Peloponnesus: Argos, Mantinea, and Elea. No one liked the means, everyone liked the outcome. It finally moves the offensive away from Athens, provoking the Battle of Mantinea (418 BC).
  2. Some former oligarchs of Argos see an opportunity to destroy Argive democracy, but they lose. Alcibiades advises them to build long walls to the sea and connect themselves to Athens.
  3. Alcibiades brought craftsmen from Athens to build the wall, and at the same time convinced Patra to do so in another corner of the Peloponnesus.
  4. Alc’s advises Athens to dominate on land, reminding them of the oath taken at the sanctuary of Agraulus: wheat, barley, wines, and olives are the “natural boundaries” of Attica: the habitable and fruitful earth.

C. 16 – Alcibiades as Hedonist

  1. Alcibiades could often be found drunk, trailing purple robes as he walked through the agora, spending profligately. On his trireme he cut out a section of the deck to he could string a hammock rather than sleep on the planks of the ship.
  2. He decorated his golden shield with no sign or symbol of his ancestry, but with a Cupid (Eros) armed with a thunderbolt (cf. Aristides and Aeschylus “be not seem”). Most men of reputation looked askance and mistrustfully at Alcibiades, considering this the behavior of a monster or tyrant. Aristophanes (Frogs 1425; 1431-32) mocked him, but gave good advice too.
  3. Athenians lenient because he spent his money to support public goods, he came from a glorious old Athenian family, he looked good, and he won battles. They were always giving euphemisms to his sins, calling them the product of youthful spirits and ambition.
  4. Alcibiades imprisons a painter, Agatharchus, until he finishes painting his house, and then sent the painter away with a handsome gift. When someone supported a rival in an exhibition (?), he punched the man because he was so eager for victory. He picked a woman from the captives of Melos and raised a son by her.
  5. The Melian disaster was primarily his fault (summer of 416 BC, cf. Thuc 5.116). Another painter, Aristophon, paints a portrait for Alcibiades after he won the Nemean games and crowds flock to see it. Others see this as the seeds of tyranny. Archestratus says Greece cannot handle more than one Alcibiades.
  6. Timon saw Alcibiades and didn’t ignore him, as he usually did. He greeted Alcibiades with the reminder “It’s great to see you growing up; you’ll soon be giving enough to ruin everyone.” The people disagreed vehemently about whether Timon was right, wrong, or indifferent.

C. 17 – SICILY (background)

  1. Even when Pericles was alive, the Athenians had been interested in Sicily. Earlier they had sent small aid to small allies, but these small steps were now seen as stepping stones to something greater.
  2. Alcibiades fans this flame into an inferno of desire for the whole island. He himself saw Sicily only as the beginning of greater power and glory.
  3. Nicias fights hard against the people’s vanity, while Alcibiades dreams of conquering Africa and Italy. Many already mapping out Sicily in the sand.
  4. Socrates and Meton knew it would come to no good. Socrates because of his daemon. Meton because of his astronomical wisdom or divination, feigned madness and burned down his own house.
  5. Some say he didn’t feign madness, but he did burn his house down and asked for his son to be excused from service because of this.

C. 18 – SICILY begins

  1. Nicias, unwilling, elected general alongside Alcibiades and Lamachus, who is fiery and ambitious like Alcibiades but older and of less noble birth than Alcibiades and Nic (mentioned in life of Nicias, not here).
  2. Alcibiades defeats all of Nicias’s arguments against the expedition and the three generals are given full powers, independent of each other. As they prepare to leave, the gods send unfavorable omens.
  3. The festival of Adonis was happening in which women carry around small images of dead young men and mourn for their early loss. The mutilation of the Hermes statues, originally blamed on the Corinthians who wanted to try to stop the Athenians from attacking one fo their colonies.
  4. The demos thought it the work of drunk youths, and looked closely at all the suspicious circumstances.

C. 19 – Alcibiades Blamed for Hermae

  1. Foreigners and slaves brought forth to accuse Alcibiades of this and parodying the mysteries of Eleusis.
  2. A freeman, the son of Cimon, verifies the charge for Eleusinian impiety and the people turn on Alcibiades.
  3. Then they notice the huge navy afloat, and the Argive and Mantinean allies threaten the Athenians if they take Alcibiades away. Alcibiades insists he defend himself against this charge immediately. His enemies afraid because his popularity and eloquence will sway almost any jury.
  4. Alc’s enemies pick speakers who aren’t known to hate Alcibiades publicly to declare that they should finish the war first and then Alcibiades should return to defend himself.
  5. The malicious postponement not lost on Alc, since he should proceed against the enemy without fear of what could change at home.

C. 20 – Setting out for Sicily

  1. They set sail with 140 triremes, 5100 hoplites, 1300 light-armed auxiliaries, and the baggage train to correspond.
  2. They reach Italy and take Rhegium and Alcibiades lays out his plan, rejected by Nicias approved by Lamachus. Alcibiades manages to gain an alliance with Catana, a polis on the East Coast of Sicily a day or so north of Syracuse, but he doesn’t accomplish much else before being summoned back to Athens.
  3. Both earlier charges combined under one heading of sedition and all those considered implicated were thrown into prison without trial.
  4. Names of informers: Thuc gives none.
  5. All testimony inconsistent. One man claims he recognized the defacers by the light of the moon, but there was a new moon that night.

C. 21 – Trials, Confessions, Executions, Escapes

  1. One of those imprisoned was Andocides, a descendant of Odysseus, an enemy of democracy, and the only one who lived near a Hermae that was not harmed.
  2. This statue is known to this day as the Hermes of Andocides, even though its inscription claims something else. Andocides and TImaeus, both in prison, conspire together.
  3. Andocides is convinced to ask for immunity if he gives a clear confession: save a multitude by abandoning a few to the mob.
  4. All those Andocides names in his “confession” are put to death, including a few slaves in Andocides’s own household to make it look more true.
  5. Strangely, this didn’t end things. The people were still angry with Alcibiades and sent the official state galley, Salaminian, to go get him, gently and stealthily.
  6. They did not want to cause a mutiny of their army far away in Sicily. Now it was Nicias and Lamachus, but Nicias had more prestige and thus more influence, so Lamachus was limited. Troops in Sicily disheartened.

C. 22 – Alcibiades Flees

  1. Alcibiades immediately starts working against the Athenians, helping the Messanians (foreshadowing later traitorous actions) break a siege. Finally escapes from Thuriī (Spartan colony in southern Italy).
  2. Someone recognizing him asks him if he can’t trust his own polis, but he says in matters of life and death, he wouldn’t even trust his own mother not to confuse the black and white marbles. He is condemned to death in absentia.
  3. The record of his indictment says nothing about the Hermae and only seems to be punishing him for mocking the Mysteries.
  4. His property confiscated, all priests and priestesses told to curse his name. Theano, daughter of Menon, refuses saying that she is a priestess who prays, not one who curses.

C. 23 – Alcibiades in Sparta

  1. He had gone to Argos when he hears of the judgment, but he’s afraid of all the Athenian allies in that polis, so he alerts Sparta that he could help them far more than he has yet hurt them.
  2. Alcibiades comes to Sparta and tells them to send Gylippus without delay, increase dissent among the Athenians, and fortify Deceleia with a garrison.
  3. Publicly and privately admired in Sparta, he fools everyone because he immediately start to live effortlessly as a Spartan: long hair, cold baths, coarse bread, black broth.
  4. Alcibiades more powerful than a chameleon, which is unable to turn white, but Alcibiades could seem good or bad at will. There was nothing he could not imitate or practice.
  5. In Sparta: simplicity and severity; in Ionia: ease and pleasure; in Thrace: deep drinking; in Thessaly: hard riding. He counterfeited whatever benefited him most.
  6. On the outside, it was impossible to say he wasn’t raised by Lycurgus himself. But judging by his overall feelings and later actions, the same woman still hid inside (quoting two Tragedians).
  7. Agis was away and Alcibiades seduces the queen Timaea. She did not deny that the child she would have was Alcibiades’s and Alcibiades himself brags about how his sons will be kings of Sparta.
  8. Agis is informed and believes it, since he’d not had relations with her for 10 months. Thus, Leotychides is barred from the kingship (Lys 22.4-6).

C. 24 – From Sparta to Persia

  1. Alcibiades helps, in person, the Spartans aid the Ionian islands in revolting against Athens.
  2. Agis annoyed (obviously!) and the other Spartans growing jealous of Alc’s success.
  3. He gets wind of the Spartans wanting to put him to death, and he flees to Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap.
  4. Tiss’s character is malicious and fond of evil company, but no one could resist Alc.
  5. Even though Tiss hated all the other Greeks, he likes Alcibiades so much that he later named one of his country retreats after him.

C. 25 – Persian Plots

  1. Alcibiades advises Tissaphernes to help both Athens and Sparta, but never with a decisive amount of money, thus making them easy prey when he did want them.
  2. The Athenians see how well Alcibiades has done and they regret driving him away, knowing he would still be working on their side if they had not done so. Alcibiades also afraid to completely destroy Athens because this would likely land him in Spartan hands and they hated him.
  3. Most of the Athenian navy at the island of Samos, winning back the allies who’d revolted, but wary of the rumors of 150 Phoenician ships in the employ of the Persian satrap.
  4. Alcibiades communicates with certain Athenians in Samos that he could make Tiss a friend of Athens if the Athenians would become more oligarchical and thus be more trustworthy to Tiss who couldn’t fathom or trust the mob.
  5. Phrynichus is the only Athenian to point out the Alcibiades is looking only for a self-serving way to return to Athens, and cares not about its political makeup, but his own safety. Since he was alone in this resistance, Phrynichus warns the Persian naval commander, Astyochus, about Alc’s double-dealing.
  6. Astyochus betrays Phryn’s trust and takes it straight to Alc, who then ensures that the Athenians at Samos denounce Phryn, driving him to greater risks.
  7. Phryn then offers Astyochus (why?) to surrender the entire Athenian fleet. Astyochus gives this message to Alcibiades too.
  8. Phryn expected a denunciation from Alcibiades for this as well, so he was using it to poke the Persian bear and have them descend on the Athenians unawares, but Phryn has the Athenians readying themselves.
  9. Alcibiades warns the Athenians in a letter that Phryn has betrayed them. They disbelieve it because of Alc’s reputation.
  10. Phryn stabbed to death in the agora, and later tried after his death. His murderer awarded because Phryn found guilty of treachery.

C. 26 – Oligarchical Revolution

  1. Allies of Alcibiades gain the upper hand in Samos and send Peisander to Athens to say that Alcibiades wants to work with an oligarchy, not a democracy.
  2. The “5000” (really 400) execute their plan and take over, but then wage the war languidly, having used Alcibiades as a pretext, and hoping the Spartans will favor their oligarchy.
  3. Many who opposed the 400 had been put to death, so those remaining stay quiet. When the navy in Samos hears, they’re incensed and demand Alcibiades lead them back to free Athens of the oligarchs/tyrants.
  4. Alcibiades refuses, proof that he was no ordinary man and was able to resist the mob in its blind fury.
  5. If they sailed away from Samos, they would’ve left the islands of the Aegean and the strategic Hellespont while making Athenians kill Athenians inside their own polis. Alcibiades prevented this war by speaking out publicly and privately to as many as he needed to (cf. Odysseus Book II of the Iliad).
  6. Thrasybulus helped him with his booming voice (cf. Stentor). He then promises that the Persian ships headed their way will either switch sides and help the Athenians, or not be involved at all.
  7. Tiss brings the ships close enough to look like they’ll help, but pulls back to prevent the Spartans from winning a decisive victory.

C. 27 – Restoration of Democracy and Alcibiades

  1. In Sept. 411, the 400 overthrown, and Alc’s allies now staunchly pro-democracy. The city ordered Alcibiades to return home. He preferred to return in a “blaze of glory,” so he leaves from Samos with a contingency of ships and goes to Cnidus and Cos.
  2. He hears of a Spartan fleet coming up to take the Hellespont, and he arrives in time to help.
  3. People confused at his first appearance: whose side is he on? He “shows Athenian colors” and sinks many Peloponnesian ships. The Persian infantry protect the fleeing Spartans.
  4. Athenians capture 30 ships and set up a trophy. Alcibiades wants to return to Tiss with gifts of hospitality and friendship.
  5. Tiss throws him in prison in Sardis to prove to the Persian King that he’s not what the Spartans say he is: a traitor to the Persians.

C. 28 – Escape and Victory over Sparta

  1. Alcibiades escapes his guards in prison, steals a horse, and get to Clazomenae on the coast, thence sailing to Cardia in the Thracian Peloponnese, but he learns the Spartans and Pharn are nearby at Cyzicus.
  2. He roused the soldiers now to fight on land, by sea, and by siege to prevent poverty and destruction from falling upon them. He sails to Proconnesus and seizes all crafts so the enemy can’t find out about his approach.
  3. A great storm hides their approach, but the Athenians spring upon the Spartans outside Cyzicus.
  4. He comes into sight of the Spartans with just 40 of his ships, hoping to convince them to fight rather than flee. As the Spartans closed on them, the remaining Athenians close in and rout the Spartan fleet.
  5. Alcibiades breaks through the line and lands 20 of his ships to fight an infantry battle, slaying Mindarus, the Spartan leader, but Pharn escapes.
  6. Athenians sack Cyzicus, killing all Peloponnesians within, and even intercept a Laconic message sent back to Sparta summarizing the loss.

C. 29 – Alcibiades attacks Persia/Pharnabazus

  1. Alc’s men still undefeated, so they disdain the rest of the Athenians.
  2. When Pharnabazus attacks again, Alcibiades comes to Thrasyllus’s aid and thus blends the two contingents back into one victorious unit.
  3. Alcibiades plunders the territory of Pharnabazus and get the Bithynians to hand over their treasures and make a treaty.

C. 30 – Alcibiades the Undefeated

  1. Alcibiades besieges Chalcedon, walling it in from the sea, and Alcibiades manages to win battle facing two fronts: the Spartans from Chalcedon, and the Persians from the mainland.
  2. Alcibiades had arranged a signal inside a city (Selymbria) for easy entrance. When the signal comes too soon, Alcibiades rushes off with 30 men to storm a city commanding his other soldiers to follow ASAP.
  3. Alcibiades can neither attack nor flee, so he orders a trumpeter to announce silence and declares the Selymbrians cannot bear arms against the Athenians.
  4. While he was making this proclamation, the rest of his army arrives and then Alcibiades fears that his Thracian soldiers will loot the city anyway.
  5. The Thracians were loyal to Alcibiades so he just demanded the Selymbrians give him money, and accept a garrison of soldiers.

C. 31 – Battle for Byzantium

  1. Athenians makes peace with Pharnabazus and win Chalcedon. Alcibiades returns and makes the oath with Pharnabazus, then attacks Byzantium which had just revolted against Athens and agree to surrender if they won’t be plundered.
  2. Alcibiades feigns like he is called away to sail elsewhere in broad daylight but returns under cover of darkness and is let into the city by Athenians.
  3. Nonetheless, the Athenians are forced to battle in the city with the Peloponnesian, Boeotian, and Megarian garrison.
  4. Hard fought battle, but Alcibiades and Theramenes victorious on the wings and take 300 prisoners.
  5. No Byzantines were put to death or exiled because of the pact they had made before the battle. One Byzantine later prosecuted at Sparta for treachery.
  6. Byz defends himself by saying he had set his city free from war and horrors of famine which they were already experiencing, thus imitating the Spartans in their love of country. He was acquitted.

C. 32 – Alcibiades Sails Home

  1. Alcibiades sails him with much of his plunder displayed: figure-heads of triremes and shields decorating the sides of his trireme.
  2. He returns like a rowdy party guest: purple sails, flutes keeping time, tragic actors in full dress encouraging the rowers… (only one source says these things)
  3. Plutarch thinks this story unlikely because no other source mentions it and after being exiled for this attitude it’s unlikely he’d return in the same attitude.
  4. No other general noticed and everyone flocks to Alcibiades, bittersweet in their memory of Sicily while still celebrating the victories in the Hellespont.
  5. All Athens thinks that, if they’d left Alcibiades in charge, they could have won Sicily too. He had brought Athens from her lows of internal revolution and external weakness back to dominion over her empire.

C. 33 – Alcibiades Back in Charge

  1. Critics reminds Alcibiades that he had publicly written and announced for Alc’s recall in 411.
  2. By the summer of 408 BC, Alcibiades addresses the people and only blames them indirectly, blaming mostly envious and fickle fortune. They crown him with gold and elect him general with full powers by land and sea.
  3. Alc’s property also restored to him, the curses revoked, but one high priest said “I call no evil upon him if he does not evil to the city”

C. 34 – Alcibiades and Athena

  1. Alcibiades returns on a festival which involves covering the statue of Athena in the Parthenon, so it seems Athena does not bless Alc’s return.
  2. He is about to sail off again with 100 ships, but he decides to restore the Eleusinian mysteries to their former glory first.
  3. Ever since Deceleia had been fortified, the Athenians had been too scared to make the annual pilgrimage to Eleusis for the festival of Demeter. Instead, they went by sea and had to curtail or delete the sacred ceremonies, dances, and sacrifices that would normally accompany the march to Eleusis.
  4. Alcibiades thought he couldn’t lose: he’d either fight for gods and polis in front of the entire Athenian people or the Spartans would leave them alone and he’d be the restorer of the Eleusinian mysteries (the very mysteries he was condemned for having desecrated 10 years ago).
  5. He succeeds with his plan, leading all the priests and mystagogues to Eleusis safely in appropriate pomp and piety.
  6. Everyone exalts Alcibiades and he tells the Athenians they’re invincible under his command. Some were already suggesting Alcibiades be their tyrant!

C. 35 – Alcibiades Loses?

  1. Alcibiades allowed to choose his own colleagues and sail away. He assaults Andros but doesn’t capture the city.
  2. His success works against him because when he does fail, people begin to suspect that he did it on purpose.
  3. Some grew angry that he had not accomplished everything as quickly as they had wished him to. He often had to leave his navy to raise money because the Spartans were now endlessly funded by the Persians.
  4. Lysander overpays his sailors (4 obols/day) which he’s receiving from Cyrus, the satrap of Phrygia who replaced Tissaphernes. While Alcibiades away, he leave Antiochus in charge, a brave but foolish captain.
  5. Alcibiades told him not to give battle, but he does insult the Spartans who sail out to fight with him.
  6. Lysander chases with a few ships, drawing more Athenians out from their harbor, then Lysander brings out his whole fleet and battle ensues. Lysander slays Antiochus and sets up a trophy. Alcibiades returns to Samos but can’t make Lysander fight another battle.

C. 36 – Alcibiades’s Final Warning

  1. Alc’s enemy, Thrasybulus, sails back from Samos to Athens and stirs up the people against Alc. blaming him for the lost battle against Lysander.
  2. He is also blamed for building a fortress in Thrace which many now say he built as a refuge for himself if things go badly again.
  3. The Athenians replace Alcibiades as general, so Alcibiades took mercenaries with him up into Thrace and tried to carve out a small kingdom for himself up there. This still helps the Greeks by creating a buffer zone from Thracian attacks.
  4. The generals who replace Alcibiades (or later generals, because Plutarch skips two years in the narrative here), end up at AegosPotami against Lysander’s fleet at Lampsachus. Lysander challenges but never commits to a sea battle.
  5. Alc, nearby in the citadel he’d built earlier, rode up to warn the generals of their incompetence: they’d chosen bad anchorage, no harbor, no nearby city, and permitted their crews to scatter in search of food and water rather than keeping a disciplined watch for Lysander or other Spartans.

C. 37 – Alcibiades flees to Persia (again!)

  1. The generals ignore Alc’s advice to relocate to Sestos and chase him out of the camp with insults.
  2. When Lysander does attack, he captures almost 200 ships. The Athenians barely escape to bring the news to Athens with Conon and 8 ships.
  3. 3000 Athenians taken alive by Lysander are immediately executed. 8 months later, he is at the gates of Athens. Alcibiades sees that the Spartans now control Greece and flees to Bithynia (Asia Minor – Persia), taking as much plunder as he can carry, but leaving copious amounts still in his fortress.
  4. His Thracians betray him and take most of his plunder so he turns to Artaxerxes for help. He offers to be as good as Themistocles. He goes to Phrygia to meet that satrap (Pharnabazus) and get an introduction to the king.

C. 38 – Athens loses Navy and Freedom

  1. Lysander sets 30 tyrants over the Athenians. They thought through all their mistakes and considered their greatest one to be the second rebuff of Alcibiades.
  2. They grew angry at him for the actions of a subordinate; yet, he may return.
  3. Even the 30 Tyrants watched Alcibiades skeptically. Lysander commanded by the Spartans at home to move Alcibiades out of the way.

C. 39 – The Death of Alcibiades

  1. Spartans tell the Persians to kill Alc, who is living in Phrygia with a certain Timandra.
  2. Alcibiades dreams that a courtesan was putting makeup on his face to make him look like a courtesan. Another version has it that he saw himself headless with his body burning. The party sent to kill him did not enter, but lit his hut on fire.
  3. He dashed out with sword in hand against the Persians, scattering them. They shot him with javelins and arrows.
  4. Timandra, when everyone had left, gave Alcibiades as honorable a burial as she could provide.
  5. Alternative story: Alcibiades stole a girl from a local well known family and her brothers got revenge by lighting the hut on fire and killing Alcibiades as he runs out of the flaming hut.

Helpful Links

Alcibiades in Paintings

A New English Translation of the Symposium (free online)

An essay comparing Alcibiades in the Symposium with Alcibiades in Plutarch (especially the early sections of this life)

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