Alcibiades and Socrates: History of the Great Alcibiades of Athens

Alcibiades was a skilled military commander from Athens who fought several battles on different sides, depending on where his loyalty laid. He is known as the army commander who convinced the people of Athens that they would become powerful and influential in the region by invading Sicily. However, he fled his country and took exile in Sparta, after being falsely accused to mock the Greek goddesses beforeAthens went to war with Sicily (Verdegem et al, pg 279).

A skilled and vigorous military commander, Alcibiades advised Spartans to aid Sicilians in the war. However, he left the Spartans and joined the king of Persia. The Athenians fleet recalled Alcibiades, who led the Athens in many successful battles against the Spartans in several battles that he was mostly successful. However, Alcibiades lost his favor with the Athenians when they lost through a crushing defeat in 405, forcing his to flee to the Persian governor. The Spartans induced the governor to murder Alcibiades

Background and Personal Life of Alcibiades

Ancient records indicate that Alcibiades was a descendant of Eurysaces, the son ofAjax. His father was the known as Clinias, who descendent from the lineage of Eurysaces. Alcibiades mother, Dinomache, descended from the family of Alcmaeon. Alcibiades father was a famous artist and fighter, perhaps one of the factors that significantly influenced his son to become a military strongman. Unfortunately, Alcibiade’s father died during the battle of coronae, leaving a young Alcibiades under the guardian care of a relative known as Xanthippus.  

The favor of Socrates contributed significantly towards Alcibiades’ fame and reputation. Alcibiades was a strong, handsome man who the many admired. He was also a persuasive man who would convince many to follow his way. In addition to being convincing, Alcibiades was character demonstrated his passion, which drove to his successes since his boyhood. He was an active wrestler who rarely lost to his opponents in wrestling matches, being described as a man who would go to any extent to clinch the victory, including using his teeth to bite his opponents when they got hold of him. Those seeking his company were attracted by his brilliance and the skills, which he demonstrated since his boyhood.

Alcibiades and Socrates

Socrates was attracted by his noble qualities and good body disposition and extraordinary beauty. Socrates,  after learning how everyone grew fond of him as well his personal wealth and status, began to protect him from misuse and corruption. Socrates argued that Alcibiades was too safe a plant to allow its perishing through its flowers, without having developed fruits.

Alcibiades demonstrated his courage and strength from his boyhood days. He gathered the attention of many men from loyal families influenced by the Socrates love for him and his excellent skills of gaining the attention of others. Alcibiades had a strong passion and desire for superiority. His was obedient to his masters and teachers but refuse to learn to play the flute, arguing that people playing harps can sing at the same time, but the player of the flute could only play the instrument because it shut the mouth from any other ruse. Therefore, he ridiculed those who played the flute, causing many of the boys in his boyhood to join him in refusing to play the flute.

Verifying the accuracy of many accounts that detail Alcibiades’s life remains quite a challenge. This is because his enemies who openly declared their hatred for him documented some of the accounts on Alcibiades. Therefore, the accuracy of some of these accounts is disputable.

Alcibiades married the daughter of a wealthy and influential man Hipponicus, whom he had presented a box on the ear and offended the public for this insolence act. As the story goes, Alcibiades received ten talents from the wealthy Hipponicus as a gift for marrying his daughter. However, the account gives on this differs with different claims suggesting that the son of Callias presented his sister to Alcibiades for marriage rather than his father. However,   the wife gave Alcibiades further demanded ten more talents from his in law Hipponicus by pretending that it was an agreement if his daughter bore him children. In fear of his life, Callias, the brother in law made a public declaration requesting the state to inherit him should he die, Childress, perhaps to discourage his inheritance going to Alcibiades.

 The account given by his wife is that Alcibiades entertained courtes an and outrageous and when she once deserted him to leave to his brother’s house, but rather, Alcibiades went after her and carried her back to his house when she requested for a divorce at the amusement of the public in the marketplace. The wife lived with him for the rests of her life until she died not long after the incidence. Alcibiades was a lover of pets. He kept a pet dog that cost him seventy minas. However, he cut off the tail of his pet dog and when confronted about, he laughed off the issue claiming that is acts was to get the people of Athens to talk about the issues, so as they will have nothing worse they can speak of him. He demonstrated his pride n numerous times when he appeared in public places, usually engaging in gestures of giving money to influence people on speaking about him.

The Role of Socrates in Shaping Alcibiades

Due to the great attention and care that Socrates gave Alcibiades, he separated him from others and likened the endeavors to protect him to those used by gods to preserve his youthfulness and kindness. Socrates taught him the image of love and made him realize that those who sought after him did so for their own gratification. Plato discusses this account on Alcibiades (Huck, pg 37). He began joining Socrates in their meals, his exercises as well as sharing the same tent. As the story goes, Alcibiades decline an invitation to an entertainment party where some strangers performed by an Anytus, the son of Anthemion, but rather showed up later while drunk and commanded his slaves to take up half of the cups inAnytus party. The guests at the party were surprised of his disorderly conducts, but Anytus described his greater considerations since he only took halfand left the other when he had the potentials to take everything (Dryden, web)

Alcibiades behavior was the same to the people who courted him. However, he once behaved in a different manner to a stranger, who sold his small estate and presented his earnings to Alcibiades. One of the rare times he acted differently from his character is by welcoming a stranger who had sold his possessions of a smalle state to give him as an offering. He compelled the stranger to place the talent in the public farm revenues threatening him to accept because Alcibiades had a private pique against the farmers during that time. He stood as the surety for the stranger against the expectations of the other farmers (Dryden, web).

Asa friend of the Socrates,   Alcibiades gave them assistant over their several powerful rivals. The Socrates helped him avoid deception from many of his disguised friends who wished to see his downfall by persuading him to concern himself with the public affairs. Alcibiades held Socrates with high regard and listened to his advice carefully and the story suggesting that his words would move him to tears (Urstad, pg 33&34). Socrates further helps to avoid a range of pleasures that were offered by his friend who intended to harm him. However, at times, Alcibiades would be carried away by the pleasure and disserting Socrates, forcing him to pursue him as him he was a fugitive slave.

In several instances, his love for luxury and pleasures acted as a trap for those wishing his downfall. N they ill advised him to engage in public affairs in order to gain fame even more than that of the current rulers. However, aware of their intent, Socrates, advised Alcibiades against pride and luxury, giving him useful teachings on modesty and humbleness to perfect his life.

Military and Public Life under Socrates

 Since his days of youth, Alcibiades enlisted as a soldier the expedition against Potidaea. Socrates shared a tent with him during this period. Both Alcibiades and Socrates demonstrated extreme bravery with Socrates saving the wounded Alcibiades from the enemy. Socrates presented an account of Alcibiades to when the generals needed to b award him for his signal bravely by decreeing him the complete suite of armor using his rank. Later in the battle of Delium where Athens was substantially defeated, Socratesprotected from the pursuing soldiers and any other danger.

Alcibiades enjoyed success in military and life owing to the advantage of his rich background. He also had many multitudes of friends and followers, who strengthened his perception in public. His excellent speaking skills draw him a host of supporters who followed him. An account given of Alcibiades indicates that he was an eloquent public speaker, some of the factors, which gave him an advantage in convincing the crowds to follow his decisions (Ager, pg 2). Further accounts given on him indicate that he was a good inventor as well as a powerful communicator who cared on what to speaking depending on the type of occasion and the situation. He was a talented speaker, who not only knew how to speak out his intention but also to it in a way that the public enjoyed.  

Alcibiades was an active participator of the Olympic games, owning a fleet of horses and chariots that he sent to participant in the games. Maintaining this fleet cost him significant resources in order to satisfy his passion. However, much were royal gifts from states and friends, which made him proud by winning several prices in each Olympics. Alcibiades was successful and at one time won the first to the forth prices in the Olympics through which his chariots and horses participated (Papakonstantinou , pg 173). His horses were mostly gifts, which many of the states gave to him because of his success. In addition, other people also brought gifts for Alcibiades for any entertainment parties that he hosted.

 Despite his great admiration, his misconduct and several ill-fated enemies led to his censorship several times from hosting such show parties, Alcibiades also began to intermeddle in the government. This gave him the credit of the people around him by position and influence. This implied that Alcibiades were a rising statesman assuming more prominent roles in the public and the government.  His main competitor known as Phaeax could not compete with him because he was eloquent and tactful of public persuasion for debates and conversations involving the public. Phaeax accused Alcibiades of using the Commonwealth gold and silvers like his personal property.

Alcibiades was an also a very tactical man. He formed a coalition of parties with his top opponents Phaeax, Nicas and himself to overturn the banishment plan that was designed by a certain Hyperbolus of the township of Perithoedae against the Hyperbolus. He also demonstrated his tactics to cause the crowd to rise againstNicas to his support and united them when he was declared general. Although his means were not always upright, Alcibiades knew when to employ his skills and tactics to his advantage especially during the times of confusion (Ager, pg 3).

Asa general, Alcibiades relied heavily on his inventing skills, which gave him much success in many of the battles that he commanded. This is demonstrated by his ability to reunite many people against the powerful Lacedaemonians. Therefore, he shifted the immediate danger from war from the borders of Athens and giving the little enemy reasons to fight. Alcibiades fought several battles, which included rescuing the people of Argos from the Lacedaemonians who had aided in overthrowing o the government of the individuals for the Argives. However, his interest was to lead to the Athenian influence over the people. This is demonstrated in his advice that to build long wars and procure builders from Athens, which Alcibiades organized (Gribble, pg 29).

Various accounts on Alcibiades not that he was a man of luxury, living in dissolute living and wearing lobes similar to those worn by women of that time (Parra, pg27). Everything from his bed to fighting shield has heavily had an element of luxury. People felt disgusted at his free life, as well as his contempt for the law, which he demonstrated on several different occasions. Despite his excesses, the Athens had to manage it because they needed him. His strength and courage towards military affairs were his greatest made people love Alcibiades and an excused his habits and weakness as an influence on nature and the youth. He made prisoners of the people whom he wanted to work for him, but later dismissed them with a reward, he also favored and influenced the slaughter of all people of arms-bearing age from the cities he fought and captured. In addition, he also selected captive’s women as his wives, and all these things made a deep impression of his random character with the people, who thought that Alcibiades was heading towards tyranny. This behavior, although cherished by the youth, was not well received by the odd, who believed that althoughAlcibiades impressed the people, he would bring them enough calamities one day for them to hate him.

Alcibiades convinced the people of Athens to send a fleet to capture Sicily. The Athenians for a long time looked upon Sicily even at the times of his great ruler Pericles. Alcibiades pushed for the conquest of Sicily and put the people’s hopes and ambitions high. In addition, he declared his plans to capture Italy, Libya, and other territories against the advice of the older people, who advised him the war had nothing for Athens. Alcibiades overrun Nicas from stopping the war despite that senior military official seemed to be against the war. Alcibiades took his plans to the people for their support, who still were not convinced and thought his plans were extravagant.

 To ensure his failure and fallout with the people, Alcibiades enemies organized for false accusations were that he had mocked the goddesses Ceres and Proserpine. The accusers claimed that Alcibiades and a few of his accomplish had conducted a sacred ritual with at a drunk meeting. The accusations increased the people rage against Alcibiades.  However, the military men serving under him mostly defended him by claiming that they were fighting in the war for the sake of Alcibiades and if he were not in the war, they would go home. The Athenians knew how much they required Alcibiades in the conquest on Sicily, and thereforepostponed his judgment at least after the war.

On mockery to the goddesses Ceres and Proserpine, all the people accused alongsideAlcibiades were tried without hearing because of the seriousness of the offense. Whereas, the judgment for Alcibiades was postponed until after the war, however, the account given by the accusers was significantly flawed, claiming that they saw the acts of mockery conducted by Alcibiades with the light of the moon, when indeed the act was committed in a new moon. The accusation had made people rage with fury. Therefore, when Andocides was persuaded upon by his servants to accuse them of the act of defacing the sacred images, he was pardoned and those accused faced death, with a few escaping from the rage of the people to punish those involved. His enemies felt that their plan was not as successful and therefore turned the accusation to Alcibiades, forcing him to be recalled from the war. Therefore, to escape the false accusation raged upon by the people, Alcibiades escaped stating that he could no longer trust his native country with his life, and also from the fact threat the assembly of the people has passed a judgment of death for reasons he was falsely accused.

Alcibiades in Sparta and Persia

After escaping and not turning up for the ruling of the Assembly, Alcibiades fled to Sparta,  with a promise that he will make up for the wrongs he had committed against them through offering his services in the future. The Spartans agreed to host him in exile, in exchange for his military experience (Roisman, pg 375). He joined the enemies of the Athenians sent forces to Sicily, to face up with the Athenians that had supported capture Sicily. He did all what he could to learn the social life of the Spartans, and made sure that he pleased them in every way, until they grew fond of him.. He was accused of sleeping with the wife of king Agis, when the king was abroad in battles with the army, bearing him a son known as Leoetychides (Michael, 82)[6].

Following his support for the Spartans, the Athens was greatly defeated in Sicily. He joined with the generals of Sparta to wage war against Athens, for had promised that he would make they feel that he is alive. However, the king of Sparta, KingAgis declared Alcibiades as his enemy for dishonoring his wife and sent word for him to be killed. As a result, he left Sparta and joined the king of Persia. The king of Persia hated Greeks and made Alcibiades his general, and declared war against Athens immediately (De Souza, pg 28). This forced the Athenians to repent of the severe sentencing they took against Alcibiades, because of the misfortune e and the calamity he had brought against them when he joined the Spartans and now the Persians to fight the Athenians.

Return to Athens from Exile

Under their misfortunes that Alcibiades contributed to bringing upon Athenians, they desperately required the service of Alcibiades, making him the general of their army. He managed to convince the Persian king against aiding the Lacedaemoniansto destroy the Greeks.

The return of Alcibiades to Athens
Alcibiades Return to Athens

His efforts saved the commonwealth of Athens from the destruction. He declared the war against them and helped the people to restore the leadership of Athens to democracy from the four hundred tyrants he had helped impose win the public support. Through tactical planning, he helped the people of Athens to win the war against Sparta (Unz, pg 3). His success and victory won him the heroic welcome back to his native country from exile.

Works cited

Ager, Sheila L. “Personalities and the Peloponnesian War: Alcibiades, the Golden Boy of Athens.” pp. 1-9, Accessed 13 Nov. 2016.

De Souza, P., & France, J. (Eds.). (2008). War and peace in ancient and medieval history. Cambridge University Press.

Dryden, John. “Alcibiades by Plutarch.” The Internet Classics Archive: 441 Searchable Works of Classical Literature, 2000, Accessed 13 Nov. 2016.

Gribble, David. Alcibiades and Athens: A Study in Literary Presentation. Clarendon P, 1999.

Huck, Lachlan. “Alcibiades and Socrates: A critical analysis of the socio-political atmosphere of Athens, and how it condemned them both.” The Stacks History Undergraduate Journal 1 (2011).

Michael, Vickers. “Alcibiades in exile.” Sophocles and Alcibiades: Athenian Politics in Ancient Greek Literature, Acumen Publishing, 2008, p. 82–94, Accessed 13 Nov. 2016.

Papakonstantinou, Zinon. “Alcibiades in Olympia: Olympic ideology, sport and social conflict in classical Athens.” Journal of Sport History 30.2 (2003): 173-182.

Parra, José Daniel. “Political psychology in Plato’s Alcibiades I.” Praxis Filosófica 31 (2010): 25-44.

Roisman, Joseph. Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander: the evidence. Vol. 15. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Unz, Ron Keeva. THE SPARTAN NAVAL EMPIRE. Diss. Harvard University, 3-6

Urstad, Kristian. “Loving Socrates: The Individual and the Ladder of Love in Plato’s Symposium.” Res Cogitans–Journal of Philosophy 1.7 (2010): 33-46.

Verdegem, Simon. Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades: story, text and moralism. Leuven University Press, 2010.