Translated by John Dryden
Alcibiades, as it is supposed, was anciently descended from
Eurysaces, the son of
It is not, perhaps, material to say anything of the beauty of Alcibiades, 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. Aristophanes takes notice of it in the verses in which he jests at Theorus; "How like a colax he is," says Alcibiades, meaning a corax; on which it is remarked,-
"How very happily he lisped the truth." Archippus also alludes to it in a passage where he ridicules the son of Alcibiades:-
"That people may believe him like his father,
He walks like one dissolved in luxury,
Lets his robe trail behind him on the ground,
Carelessly leans his head, and in his talk Affects to lisp."
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, which appears in several anecdotes told of his sayings whilst he was a child. Once being hard pressed in wrestling, and fearing to be thrown, he got the hand of his antagonist to his mouth, and bit it with all his force; and when the other loosed his hold presently, and said, "You bite, Alcibiades, like a woman." "No," replied he, "like a lion." Another time as he played at dice in the street, being then but a child, a loaded cart came that way, when it was his turn to throw; at first he called to the driver to stop, because he was to throw in the way over which the cart was to pass; but the man giving him no attention and driving on, when the rest of the boys divided and gave way, Alcibiades threw himself on his face before the cart and, stretching himself out, bade the carter pass on now if he would; which so startled the man, that he put back his horses, while all that saw it were terrified, and, crying out, ran to assist Alcibiades. When he began to study, he obeyed all his other masters fairly well, 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 Theban youths pipe, who do not know how to speak, but we Athenians, as our ancestors have told us, have Minerva for our patroness, and Apollo for our protector, one of whom threw away the flute, and the other stripped the Flute-player of his skin." Thus, between raillery and good earnest, Alcibiades kept not only himself but others from learning, as it presently became the talk of the young boys, how Alcibiades despised playing on the flute, and ridiculed those who studied it. In consequence of which, it ceased to be reckoned amongst the liberal accomplishments, and became generally neglected.
It is stated in the invective which Antiphon wrote against Alcibiades, that once, when he was a boy, he ran away to the house of Democrates, one of those who made a favourite of him, and that Ariphon had determined to cause proclamation to be made for him, had not Pericles diverted him from it, by saying, that if he were dead, the proclaiming of him could only cause it to be discovered one day sooner, and if he were safe, it would be a reproach to him as long as he lived. Antiphon also says, that he killed one of his own servants with the blow of a staff in Sibyrtius's wrestling ground. But it is unreasonable to give credit to all that is objected by an enemy, who makes open profession of his design to defame him.
It was manifest that the many well-born persons who were continually seeking his company, and making their court to him, were attracted and captivated by his brilliant and extraordinary beauty only. 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 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 exposed to the flatteries of those who sought merely his gratification, such as might well unnerve him, and indispose him to listen to any real adviser or instructor. Yet such was the happiness of his genius, that he discerned Socrates from the rest, and admitted him, whilst he drove away the wealthy and the noble who made court to him. And, in a little time, they grew intimate, and Alcibiades, listening now to language entirely free from every thought of unmanly fondness and silly displays of affection, 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 as 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, and acted, indeed, with great insolence to some of them. As in particular to Anytus, the son of Anthemion, one who was very fond of him, and invited him to an entertainment which he had prepared for some strangers. Alcibiades refused the invitation; but, having drunk to excess at his own house with some of his companions, went thither with them to play some frolic; and, standing at the door of the room where the guests were enjoying themselves, and seeing the tables covered with gold and silver cups, he commanded his servants to take away the one-half of them, and carry them to his own house; and then, disdaining so much as to enter into the room himself, as soon as he had done this, went away. The company was indignant, and exclaimed at his rude and insulting conduct; Anytus, however, said, on the contrary, he had shown great consideration and tenderness in taking only a part when he might have taken all.
He behaved in the same manner to all others 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, and, after a very kind entertainment, gave him his gold again, requiring him, moreover, not to fail to be present the next day, when the public revenue was offered to farm, and to outbid all others. The man would have excused himself, because the contract was so large, and would cost many talents; but Alcibiades, who had at that time a private pique against the existing farmers of the revenue, threatened to have him beaten if he refused. The next morning, the stranger, coming to the market-place, offered a talent more than the existing rate; upon which the farmers, enraged and consulting together, called upon him to name his sureties, concluding that he could find none. The poor man, being startled at the proposal, began to retire; but Alcibiades, standing at a distance, cried out to the magistrates, "Set my name down, he is a friend of mine; I will be security for him." When the other bidders heard this, they perceived that all their contrivance was defeated; 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. Alcibiades would not suffer 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. He despised every one else, and had no reverence or awe for any one but him. Cleanthes the philosopher, speaking of one to whom he was attached, says his only hold on him was by his ears, while his rivals had all the others offered them; and there is no question that Alcibiades was very easily caught by pleasure; and the expression used by Thucydides about the excesses of his habitual course of living gives occasion to believe so. But those who endeavoured to corrupt Alcibiades took advantage chiefly of his vanity and ambition, and thrust him on unseasonably to undertake great enterprises, persuading him, that as soon as he began to concern himself in public affairs, he would not only obscure the rest of the generals and statesmen, but outdo the authority and the reputation which Pericles himself had gained in Greece. But in the same manner as iron which is softened by the fire grows hard with the cold and all its parts are closed again, so, as often as Socrates observed Alcibiades to be misled by luxury or pride, 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.
When he was past his childhood, he went once to a grammar-school, and asked the master for one of Homer's books; and he making answer that he had nothing of Homer's, Alcibiades gave him a blow with his fist and went away. Another schoolmaster telling him that he had Homer corrected by himself; "How?" said Alcibiades, "and do you employ your time in teaching children to read? You, who are able to amend Homer, may well undertake to instruct men." Being once desirous to speak with Pericles, he went to his house and was told there that he was not at leisure, but busied in considering how to give up his accounts to 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."
Whilst he was very young, he was a soldier in the expedition
He gave a box on the ear to Hipponicus, the father of
Callias, whose birth and wealth made him a person of great influence and
repute. And this he did unprovoked by any passion or quarrel between them, but
only because, in a frolic, he had agreed with his companions to do it. People
were justly offended at this insolence when it became known through the city;
but early the next morning, Alcibiades went to his house and knocked at the
door and being admitted to him, took off his outer garment, and presenting his
naked body, desired him to scourge and chastise him as he pleased. Upon this
Hipponicus forgot all his resentment, and not only pardoned him, but soon after
gave him his daughter Hipparete in marriage. Some say that it was not
Hipponicus, but his son Callias, who gave Hipparete to Alcibiades, together
with a portion of ten talents, and that after, when she had a child, Alcibiades forced him to give ten talents more, upon
pretence that such was the agreement if she brought him any children.
Afterwards, Callias, for fear of coming to his death by his means, declared, in
a full assembly of the people, that, if he should happen to die without
children, the state should inherit his house and all his goods. Hipparete was a
virtuous and dutiful wife, but, at last, growing impatient of the outrages done
to her by her husband's continual entertaining of courtesans, as well strangers
as Athenians, she departed from him and retired to her brother's house.
Alcibiades seemed not at all concerned at this, and lived on still in the same
luxury; but the law requiring that she should deliver to the archon in person,
and not by proxy, the instrument by which she claimed a divorce, when, in
obedience to the law, she presented herself before him to perform this,
Alcibiades came in, caught her up, and carried her home through the market-place,
no one daring to oppose him nor to take her from him. She continued with him
till her death, which happened not long after, when Alcibiades had gone to
Alcibiades had a dog which cost him seventy minas, and 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 cried 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."
It is said that the first time he came into the assembly was upon occasion of a largess of money which he made to the people. This was not done by design, but as he passed along he heard a shout, and inquiring the cause, and having learned that there was a donative making to the people, he went in amongst them and gave money also. The multitude thereupon applauding him, and shouting, he was so transported at it, that he forgot a quail which he had under his robe, and the bird, being frightened with the noise, flew off; upon which the people made louder acclamations than before, and many of them started up to pursue the bird; and 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. But he did not consent to let his power with the people rest on anything, rather than on his own gift of eloquence. That he was a master in the art of speaking, the comic poets bear him witness; and 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.
His expenses in horses kept for the public games, and in the number of his chariots, were matter of great observation; never did any one but he, either private person or king, send seven chariots to the Olympic games. And to have carried away at once the first, the second, and the fourth prize, as Thucydides says, or the third, as Euripides relates it, outdoes far away every distinction that ever was known or thought of in that kind. Euripides celebrates his success in this manner:-
"-But my song to you,
Son of Clinias, is due.
Victory is noble; how much more
To do as never Greek before;
To obtain in the great chariot race
The first, the second, and third place;
With easy step advanced to fame
To bid the herald three times claim
The olive for one victor's name."
The emulation displayed by the deputations of various states
in the presents which they made to him, rendered this success yet more
illustrious. The Ephesians erected a tent for him, adorned magnificently; the city
As soon as he 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. Nicias was arrived at a mature age, 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 possessed rather the art of persuading in private conversation than of debate before the people, and was, as Eupolis said of him-
"The best of talkers, and of speakers worst." There is extant an oration written by Phaeax against Alcibiades, 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.
There was a certain Hyperbolus, 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 people call boldness and courage, whereas it is indeed impudence and recklessness. He was liked by nobody, yet the people made frequent use of him, when they had a mind to disgrace or calumniate any persons in authority. At this time, the people, by his persuasions, were ready to proceed to pronounce the sentence of ten years' banishment, called ostracism. This they made use of to humiliate and drive out of the city such citizens as outdid the rest in credit and power, indulging not so much perhaps their apprehensions as their jealousies in this way. And when, at this time, there was no doubt but that the ostracism would fall upon one of those three, Alcibiades contrived to form a coalition of parties, and, communicating his project to Nicias, turned the sentence upon Hyperbolus himself. Others say, that it was not with Nicias, but Phaeax, that he consulted, and by help of his party procured the banishment of Hyperbolus, when he suspected nothing less. For, before that time, no mean or obscure person had ever fallen under the punishment, so that Plato, the comic poet, speaking of Hyperbolus, might well say-
"The man deserved the fate; deny't who can?
Yes, but the fate did not deserve the man;
Not for the like of him and his slave-brands
But we have given elsewhere a fuller statement of what is known to us of the matter.
Alcibiades was not less disturbed at the distinctions which
Nicias gained amongst the enemies of
It happened, at the very time when Nicias was by these arts
brought into disgrace with the people, that ambassadors arrived from
Lacedaemon, who, at their first coming, said what seemed very satisfactory,
declaring that they had full powers to arrange all matters in dispute upon fair
and equal terms. The council received their propositions, and the people were
to assemble on the morrow to give them audience. Alcibiades grew very
apprehensive of this, and contrived to gain a secret conference with the
ambassadors. When they were met, he said: "What is it you intend, you men
Instantly upon that, Alcibiades, with a loud voice, as
though he had received and not done the wrong, began to call them dishonest
prevaricators, and to urge that such men could not possibly come with a purpose
to say or do anything that was sincere. The council was incensed, the people
were in a rage, and Nicias, who knew nothing of the deceit and the imposture,
was in the greatest confusion, equally surprised and ashamed at such a change
in the men. So thus the Lacedaemonian ambassadors were utterly rejected, and
Alcibiades was declared general, who presently united the Argives, the Eleans,
and the people of
No man commended the method by which Alcibiades effected all this, yet it was a great political feat thus to divide and shake almost all Peloponnesus, and to combine so many men in arms against the Lacedaemonians in one day before Mantinea; and, moreover, to remove the war and the danger so far from the frontier of the Athenians, that even success would profit the enemy but little, should they be conquerors, whereas, if they were defeated, Sparta itself was hardly safe.
After this battle at
But with all these words and deeds, and with all this sagacity and eloquence, he intermingled exorbitant luxury and wantonness, in his eating and drinking and dissolute living; wore long purple robes like a woman, which dragged after him as he went through the market-place; caused the planks of his galley to be cut away, that so 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 sight of all this made the people of good repute in the city feel disgust and abhorrence, and apprehension also, at his free living, and his contempt of law, as things monstrous in themselves, and indicating designs of usurpation. Aristophanes has well expressed the people's feelings toward him-
"They love, and hate, and cannot do without him."
And still more strongly, under a figurative expression,-
"Best rear no lion in your state, 'tis true;
But treat him like a lion if you do."
The truth is, his liberalities, his public shows, and other
munificence to the people, which were such as nothing could exceed, the glory
of his ancestors, the force of his eloquence, the grace of his person, his
strength of body, joined with his great courage and knowledge in military
affairs, prevailed upon the Athenians to endure patiently his excesses, to
indulge many things to him, and, according to their habit, to give the softest
names to his faults, attributing them to youth and good nature. As, for
example, he kept Agatharcus, the painter, a prisoner till he had painted his
whole house, but then dismissed him with a reward. He publicly struck Taureas,
who exhibited certain shows in opposition to him and contended with him for the
prize. He selected for himself one of the captive Melian women, and had a son
by her, whom he took care to educate. This the Athenians styled great humanity, and yet he was the
principal cause of the slaughter of all the inhabitants of the isle of
The Athenians, even in the lifetime of Pericles, had already
cast a longing eye upon
Together with Alcibiades, Nicias, much against his will, was appointed general; and he endeavoured to avoid the command, not the less on account of his colleague. But the Athenians thought the war would proceed more prosperously, if they did not send Alcibiades free from all restraint, but tempered his heat with the caution of Nicias. This they chose the rather to do, because Lamachus, the third general, though he was of mature years, yet in several battles had appeared no less hot and rash than Alcibiades himself. When they began to deliberate of the number of forces, and of the manner of making the necessary provisions, Nicias made another attempt to oppose the design, and to prevent the war; but Alcibiades contradicted him, and carried his point with the people. And one Demostratus, an orator, proposing to give the generals absolute power over the preparations and the whole management of the war, it was presently decreed so. When all things were fitted for the voyage, many unlucky omens appeared. At that very time the feast of Adonis happened in which the women were used to expose, in all parts of the city, images resembling dead men carried out to their burial, and to represent funeral solemnities by lamentations and mournful songs. The mutilation, however, of the images of Mercury, most of which, in one night, had their faces all disfigured, terrified many persons who were wont to despise most things of that nature. It was given out that it was done by the Corinthians, for the sake of the Syracusans, who were their colony, in hopes that the Athenians, by such prodigies, might be induced to delay or abandon the war. But the report gained no credit with the people, nor yet the opinion of those who would not believe that there was anything ominous in the matter, but that it was only an extravagant action, committed, in that sort of sport which runs into licence, by wild young men coming from a debauch. Alike enraged and terrified at the thing, 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 ground for suspicion. During this examination, Androcles, one of the demagogues, produced certain slaves and strangers before them, who accused Alcibiades and some of his friends of defacing other images in the same manner, and of having profanely acted the sacred mysteries at a drunken meeting, where one Theodorus represented the herald, Polytion the torch-bearer, and Alcibiades the chief priest, while the rest of the party appeared as candidates for initiation, and received the title of Initiates. These were the matters contained in the articles of information which Thessalus, the son of Cimon, exhibited against Alcibiades, for his impious mockery of the goddesses Ceres and Proserpine. The people were highly exasperated and incensed against Alcibiades upon this accusation, which being aggravated by Androcles, the most malicious of all his enemies, at first disturbed his friends exceedingly. But when they perceived that all the seamen designed for Sicily were for him, and the soldiers also, and when the Argive and Mantinean auxiliaries, a thousand men at arms, openly declared that they had undertaken this distant maritime expedition for the sake of Alcibiades, and that, if he was ill-used, they would all go home, they recovered their courage, and became eager to make use of the present opportunity for justifying him. At this his enemies were again discouraged, fearing lest the people should be more gentle to him in their sentence, because of the occasion they had for his service. Therefore, to obviate this, they contrived that some other orators, who did not appear to be enemies to Alcibiades, but really hated him no less than those who avowed it, should stand up in the assembly and say that it was a very absurd thing that one who was created general of such an army with absolute power, after his troops were assembled, and the confederates were come, should lose the opportunity, whilst the people were choosing his judges by lot, and appointing times for the hearing of the cause. And, therefore, let him set sail at once, good fortune attend him; and when the war should be at an end, he might then in person make his defence according to the laws.
Alcibiades perceived the malice of this postponement, and, appearing in the assembly, represented that it was monstrous for him to be sent with the command of so large an army, when he lay under such accusations and calumnies; that he deserved to die, if he could not clear himself of the crimes objected to him; but when he had so done, and had proved his innocence, he should then cheerfully apply himself to the war, as standing no longer in fear of false accusers. But he could not prevail with the people, who commanded him to sail immediately. So he departed, together with the other generals, having with them near 140 galleys, 5,100 men at arms, and about 1,300 archers, slingers, and light-armed men, and all the other provisions corresponding.
Arriving on the coast of
"O dearest Hermes! only do take care,
And mind you do not miss your footing there;
Should you get hurt, occasion may arise
For a new Dioclides to tell lies."
To which he makes Mercury return this answer:-
"will so, for I feel no inclination
To reward Teucer for more information."
The truth is, his accusers alleged nothing that was certain
or solid against him. One of them, being asked how he knew the men who defaced
the images, replying, that he saw them by the light of the moon, made a
palpable misstatement, for it was just new moon when the fact was committed.
This made all men of understanding cry out upon the thing; but the people were as eager as ever to receive further accusations, nor
was their first heat at all abated, but they instantly seized and
imprisoned every one that was accused. Amongst those who were detained in
prison for their trials was Andocides the orator, whose descent the historian
Hellanicus deduces from Ulysses. He was always supposed to hate popular
government, and to support oligarchy. The chief ground of his being suspected
of defacing the images was because the great Mercury, which stood near his
house, and was an ancient monument of the tribe Aegeis, was almost the only
statute of all the remarkable ones which remained entire. For this cause, it is
now called the Mercury of Andocides, all men giving it that name, though the
inscription is evidence to the contrary. It happened that Andocides, amongst
the rest who were prisoners upon the same account, contracted particular
acquaintance and intimacy with one Timaeus, a person inferior to him in repute,
but of remarkable dexterity and boldness. He persuaded Andocides to accuse him
and some few others of this crime, urging to him that, upon his confession, he
would be, by the decree of the people, secure of his pardon, whereas the event
of judgment is uncertain to all men, but to great persons, such as he was, most
formidable. So that it was better for him, if he regarded himself, to save his
life by falsity, than to suffer an infamous death, as really guilty of the
crime. And if he had regard to the public good, it was commendable to sacrifice
a few suspected men, by that means to rescue many excellent persons from the
fury of the people. Andocides was prevailed upon, and accused himself and some others, and, by the terms of the decree,
obtained his pardon, while all the persons named by him, except some few who
had saved themselves by flight, suffered death. To gain the greater credit to
his information, he accused his own servants amongst others. But
notwithstanding this, the people's anger was not wholly appeased; and being now
no longer diverted by the mutilators, they were at leisure to pour out their
whole rage upon Alcibiades. And, in conclusion, they sent the galley named
Salaminian to recall him. But they expressly commanded those that were sent to
use no violence, nor seize upon his person, but address themselves to him in
the mildest terms, requiring him to follow them to
The information against him was conceived in this form:-
"Thessalus, the son of Cimon, of the
He was condemned as contumacious upon his not appearing, his
property confiscated, and it was decreed that all the priests and priestesses
should solemnly curse him. But one of them, Theano, the daughter of Menon, of
Alcibiades, lying under these heavy decrees and sentences,
when first he fled from Thurii, passed over into Peloponnesus and remained some
The renown which he earned by these public services was
equalled 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 and really 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, and equally wear
the appearance of virtue or vice. At Sparta, he was devoted to athletic exercises,
was frugal and reserved; in Ionia, luxurious, gay, and indolent; in Thrace,
always drinking; in Thessaly, ever on horseback; and when he lived with
Tisaphernes the Persian satrap, he exceeded the Persians themselves in
magnificence and pomp. Not that his natural disposition changed so easily, nor
that his real character was so variable, but, whether he was sensible that by
pursuing his own inclinations he might give offence to those with whom he had
occasion to converse, he transformed himself into any shape, and adopted any
fashion, that he observed to be most agreeable to them. So that to have seen
There were many who told Agis that this was so, but time itself gave the greatest confirmation to the story. For Agis, alarmed by an earthquake, had quitted his wife, and for ten months after was never with her; Leotychides, therefore, being born after these ten months, he would not acknowledge him for his son which was the reason that afterwards he was not admitted to the succession.
After the defeat which the Athenians received in
Thus Alcibiades, quitting the interests of the Spartans, whom he could no longer trust, because he stood in fear of Agis, endeavoured to do them ill offices, and render them odious to Tisaphernes, who by his means was hindered from assisting them vigorously, and from finally ruining the Athenians. For his advice was to furnish them but sparingly with money, and so wear them out, and consume them insensibly; when they had wasted their strength upon one another, they would both become ready to submit to the king. Tisaphernes readily pursued his counsel, and so openly expressed the liking and admiration which he had for him, that Alcibiades was looked up to by the Greeks of both parties, and the Athenians, now in their misfortunes, repented them of their severe sentence against him. And he, on the other side, began to be troubled for them, and to fear lest, if that commonwealth were utterly destroyed, he should fall into the hands of the Lacedaemonians, his enemies.
At that time the whole strength of the Athenians was in
This was the colour and pretence made use of by those who
desired to change the government of
The people in the city were terrified into submission, many
of those who had dared openly to oppose the four hundred having been put to
death. 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, as became a great captain, he opposed
himself to the precipitate resolutions which their rage led them to, and, by
restraining them from the great error they were about to commit, unequivocally
saved the commonwealth. For if they then sailed to
Soon after this, 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 his exile. He, however, desired not to owe his
return to the mere grace and commiseration of the people, and resolved to come
back, not with empty hands, but with glory, and after some service done. To
this end, he sailed from Samos with a few ships, and cruised on the sea of
Cnidos, and about the isle of Cos; but receiving intelligence there that
Mindarus, the Spartan admiral, had sailed with his whole army into the
Hellespont, and that the Athenians had followed him, he hurried back to succour
the Athenian commanders, and, by good fortune, arrived with eighteen galleys at
a critical time. For both the fleets having engaged near
But about thirty days after, Alcibiades escaped from his
keeping, and having got a horse, fled to Clazomenae, where he procured
Tisaphernes 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. As soon as ever he got them
on shipboard, he hastened to Proconnesus, and gave command to seize all the
small vessels they met, and guard them safely in the interior of the fleet,
that the enemy might have no notice of his coming; and 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
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 other soldiers, who
had been often overcome. For it happened not long before,
Thrasyllus had received a defeat near
Afterwards he proceeded to the siege of
During this action, the Athenian captains who besieged
Chalcedon concluded a treaty with Pharnabazus upon these articles: That he
should give them a sum of money; that the Chalcedonians should return to the
subjection of Athens, and that the Athenians should make no inroad into the
province whereof Pharnabazus was governor; and Pharnabazus was also to provide
safe conducts for the Athenian ambassadors to the King of Persia. Afterwards,
when Alcibiades returned thither, Pharnabazus required that he also should be
sworn to the treaty; but he refused it, unless Pharnabazus would swear at the
same time. When the treaty was sworn to on both sides, Alcibiades went against
the Byzantines, who had revolted from the Athenians, and drew a line of
circumvallation about the city. But Anaxilaus and Lycurgus, together with some
others, having undertaken to betray the city to him upon his engagement to
preserve the lives and property of the inhabitants, he caused a report to be
spread abroad, as if by reason of some unexpected movement in
And now Alcibiades began to desire to see his native country again, or rather to show his fellow-citizens a person who had gained so many victories for them. He set sail for Athens, the ships that accompanied him being adorned with great numbers of shields and other spoils, and towing after them many galleys taken from the enemy, and the ensigns and ornaments of many others which he had sunk and destroyed; all of them together amounting to two hundred. Little credit, perhaps, can be given to what Duris the Samian, who professed to be descended from Alcibiades, adds, that Chrysogonus, who had gained a victory at the Pythian games, played upon his flute for the galleys, whilst the oars kept time with the music; and that Callippides, the tragedian, attired in his buskins, his purple robes, and other ornaments used in the theatre, gave the word to the rowers, and that the admiral galley entered into the port with a purple sail. Neither Theopompus, nor Ephorus, nor Xenophon, mention them. Nor, indeed, is it credible, that one who returned from so long an exile, and such variety of misfortunes, should come home to his countrymen in the style of revellers breaking up from a drinking-party. On the contrary, he ventured the harbour full of fear, nor would he venture to go on shore, till, standing on the deck, he saw Euryptolemus, his cousin, and others of his friends and acquaintance, who were ready to receive him, and invited him to land. As soon as he was landed, the multitude who came out to meet him scarcely seemed so much as to see any of the other captains, but came in throngs about Alcibiades, and saluted him with loud acclamations, and still followed him; those who could press near him crowned him with garlands, and they who could not come up so close yet stayed to behold him afar off, and the old men pointed him out, and showed him to the young ones. Nevertheless, this public joy was mixed with some tears, and the present happiness was alloyed by the remembrance of the miseries they had endured. They made reflections, that they could not have so unfortunately miscarried in Sicily, or been defeated in any of their other expectations, if they had left the management of their affairs formerly, and the command of their forces, to Alcibiades, since, upon his undertaking the administration, when they were in a manner driven from the sea, and could scarce defend the suburbs of their city by land, and, at the same time, were miserably distracted with intestine factions, he had raised them up from this low and deplorable condition, and had not only restored them to their ancient dominion of the sea, but had also made them everywhere victorious over their enemies on land.
There had been a decree for recalling him from his banishment already passed by the people, at the instance of Critias, the son of Calloeschrus, as appears by his elegies, in which he puts Alcibiades in mind of this service:-
"From my proposal did that edict come,
Which from your tedious exile brought you home.
The public vote at first was moved by me,
And my voice put the seal to the decree."
The people being summoned to an assembly, Alcibiades came in amongst them, and first bewailed and lamented his own sufferings, and, in gentle terms complaining of the usage he had received, imputed all to his hard fortune, and some ill-genius that attended him: then he spoke at large of their prospects, and exhorted them to courage and good hope. The people crowned him with crowns of gold, and created him general, 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."
But notwithstanding the affairs of Alcibiades went so prosperously, and so much to his glory, yet many were still somewhat disturbed, and looked upon the time of his arrival to be ominous. For on the day that he came into the port, the feast of the goddess Minerva, which they call the Plynteria, was kept. It is the twenty-first day of Thargelion, when the Praxiergidae solemnize their secret rites, taking all the ornaments from off her image, and keeping the part of the temple where it stands close covered. Hence the Athenians esteem this day most inauspicious, and never undertake anything of importance upon it; and, therefore, they imagined that the goddess did not receive Alcibiades graciously and propitiously, thus hiding her face and rejecting him. Yet, notwithstanding, everything succeeded according to his wish. When the one hundred galleys, that were to return with him, were fitted out and ready to sail, an honourable zeal detained him till the celebration of the mysteries was over. For ever since Decelea had been occupied, 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, therefore, 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 defence of the most sacred and solemn ceremonies; and this in the sight of his country, where he should have all his fellow-citizens witness of his valour. As soon as he had resolved upon this design, and had 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 and Initiates and the 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 in safety to the city. Upon which, as he was exalted in his own thought, so the opinion which the people had of his conduct was raised that degree, that they looked upon their armies as irresistible and invincible while he commanded them; and he so won, indeed, upon the lower and meaner sort of people, that they passionately desired to have him "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, without standing in fear of being called to an account.
How far his own inclinations led him to usurp sovereign
power is uncertain, but the most considerable persons in the city were so much
afraid of it, that they hastened him on shipboard as speedily as they could,
appointing the colleagues whom he chose, and allowing him all other things as
he desired. Thereupon he set sail with a fleet of one hundred ships, and,
As soon as Alcibiades heard this news, he returned to
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 the barbarians.
Tydeus, Menander, and Adimantus, the new-made generals, were
at that time posted at
After this, Alcibiades, standing in dread of the
Lacedaemonians, who were now masters both at sea and land, retired into
Yet Lysander would not be prevailed upon by these
representations, till at last he received secret orders from the magistrates of