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Public Life


. . . When still a youth, Alcibiades was a soldier in the expedition against Potidæa,2 where Socrates lodged in the same tent with him, and stood next to him in battle. Once there happened a sharp skirmish, in which they both behaved with signal bravery. Alcibiades receiving a wound, Socrates threw himself before him to defend him, and beyond any question saved him and his arms from the enemy. So in all justice Socrates might have claimed the prize of valor. But the generals appearing eager to adjudge the honor to Alcibiades, because of his rank, Socrates, who desired to increase his thirst after glory of a noble kind, was the first to give evidence for him, and pressed them to crown him, and to decree to him the complete suit of armor. Afterwards, in the battle of Delium, when the Athenians were routed, Socrates with a few others was retreating on foot. Alcibiades, who was on horseback, observing it, would not pass on, but stayed to shelter him from the danger, and brought him safe off. . . .

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 such insolence when it became known through the city. Early the next morning, Alcibiades went to his house and knocked at the door. Being admitted, Alcibiades took off his outer garment, and, presenting his naked body, desired Hipponicus 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. . . .

Hipparete was a virtuous and dutiful wife, but, at last, growing impatient at the outrages done to her by her husband . . . 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. Now the law required that a wife should deliver to the archon in person, and not by proxy, the instrument by which she claimed a divorce. When, in obedience to this law, Hipparete presented herself before the archon, Alcibiades came in, caught her up, and carried her home through the market place, no one daring to oppose him or to take her from him. She continued with him till her death, which happened not long after, when Alcibiades had gone to Ephesus.1 Nor is this violence to be thought so very serious or unmanly. For the law, in making her who desires to be divorced appear in public, seems to design to give her husband an opportunity of treating with her, and of endeavoring to retain her.

Alcibiades had a dog which cost him seventy minas.2 It was a large animal and very handsome. His tail, which was his principal ornament, Alcibiades caused to be cut off. When some friends of Alcibiades told 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 the occasion of a gift of money, which he made to the people. This was not done, however, by design. As he passed along, he heard a shout, and inquiring the cause, and having learned that there was a donative being given to the people, he went in among them and gave money also. The multitude thereupon applauded him, and shouted. Alcibiades was so transported at this applause that he forgot a quail which he had under his robe, and the bird, being frightened with the noise, flew off. Upon this the people made louder acclamations than before, and many of them started up to pursue the bird. One Antiochus, a pilot, caught it and restored it to him, for which action he was ever after a favorite with Alcibiades.

He had great advantages for entering public life. His noble birth, his riches, the personal courage he had shown in various 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 any thing except 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,1 in his oration against Midias, grants that Alcibiades, among other perfections, was a most accomplished orator. If, however, we give credit to Theophrastus,2 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 discerning what was the right thing to be said for any purpose, and on any occasion. Aiming, however, not only at saying what was required, but also at saying it well . . . 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, was a matter of common observation. Never did anyone 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 another relates it, outdoes every distinction that ever was known of that kind. . . .

But with all these words and deeds . . . he intermingled exorbitant luxury and wantonness in his eating, drinking, and dissolute living. He wore long purple robes which dragged after him as he went through the market place. He even caused the planks of his galley to be cut away, so that he might lie the softer, his bed not being placed on the boards, but hanging upon girths. His shield, again, which was richly gilded, had not the usual ensigns of the Athenians, but a painted Cupid, holding a thunderbolt in his hand.

The sight of all this luxury made the people of good repute in the city feel disgust and abhorrence. They had apprehension also, at his free-living, and his contempt of law, as things monstrous in themselves, and indicating designs of usurpation. Aristophanes1 has well expressed the people’s feeling toward him:

"They love, they hate, but cannot live 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 that his liberalities, his public shows, and other gifts to the people . . . 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, and to indulge many things to him. . . . 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. . . . Once, when Alcibiades succeeded well in an oration which he made, and the whole Assembly attended upon him to do him honor, Timon the misanthrope1 did not pass slightly by him, or avoid him, as he did others, but purposely met him. Taking him by the hand, Timon said, "Go on boldly, my son, and increase in credit with the people, for thou wilt one day bring them calamities enough." Some that were present laughed at the saying, and some reviled Timon; but there were others upon whom it made a deep impression; so various was the judgment which was made of him, and so irregular his own character.

1 Plutarch, , 7–11, 16.

2 See page 86, note 1.

1 One of the twelve Ionian cities of Asia Minor.

2 About $1260.

1 Demosthenes, the famous Athenian orator.

2 A Greek scientist and philosopher (about 372–287 B. C.).

1 The famous comic dramatist of Athens (about 448–385 B. C.).

1 An Athenian who, soured by his disappointments and the ingratitude of his friends, had retired from the world.

2 See page 91.

3 See page 93.

1 Plutarch, Alcibiades, 39.

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Chicago: Alcibiades in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 107–106. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . Alcibiades, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 107–106. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , Alcibiades. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.107–106. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from