Alcibiades: His Own Man

History is constantly evolving. For instance, suppose for a second that your Prime Minister is accused of cutting off the naughty bits of some statues around the town…would that make him a traitor? Or would you just think, “gosh, the man is gone mental”. (In fact your actual Prime Minister is cutting off a lot much more important things without getting more than some press’ rebukes, and surely some people care about his mental health). But if you were a political leader in Athens’ Golden Age, cutting off bits from the representation of a god, well, was surely not the way to pave your way to unconditional support, to say the least.
So, that is the story. You are a leader, obviously you have some enemies, some said you did something really wrong and, just in the middle of the military campaign that is intended to launch yourself to immortality, you are put under arrest. What are you going to do now? Defect to your nations’ most bitter enemy, of course. And then, is when you become a traitor in the best of traditions.
And your name is Alcibiades, by the way…
Well, there you are, working for the Spartans now. How you dare, Alcibiades?! Our enemies, the people who want to enslave our families…What were you thinking o? Revenge, probably. You are going to exaggerate the strength of Athens to improve your own value for them; but then again, your advice would be worthy and it would set a new step in the long Peloponnesian War turning it over to Sparta. Great. But not so.
Not so, because, my friend Alcibiades, you are seemingly having a romance with king Agis’ wife. Not a very good idea, since it makes you a traitor in the eyes of the very strict Spartan society. And, what now Alcibiades? On the run again, yes, but where to?
When you are a traitor, twice, you can be sure your options are narrowing, but there are always opportunities for a man of your wit and qualities. Maybe you could become an alien, a monster for the whole Greek world. Why not going to Persia? There is a satrap there, Tisafernes, who is subsidizing Sparta and the Peloponnesian League in its struggle against Athens. Settled then: to Persia.
Once in Persia is the same all routine again: good advice against your old friends like, for example, cut the money you are spending on them, do not involve your fleet yet, let those Greek fanatics to kill each other, then be their conqueror…but as always, that could not be enough for you. You are getting bored. You need some action so, why not contacting the Athens’ leaders with and offer to get back, once you are cleared of the old charges of blasphemy, this time bringing with you Persian money and a Persian fleet to help in the fight against the Spartans?
Ironically, this started a traitors’ game between politicians on both sides of the war…anyway, you finally get a promise from Athens and a delegation comes to negotiate. But Tisafernes knows you better now, and he decided that he is not buying in, moreover, he is very amused by the constant friction between Greeks, so, no goal for you this time, my friend Alcibiades. But, at least, you have gained some friends back home, ambitious politicians who think that maybe there is too much democracy in Athens and the rulership should be limited to a chosen few…maybe there is an opportunity there.
Ah, my friend, evil actions always bring you a fair reward. All that political revolt will finally pay for your efforts, once the Army has restored democracy, one of the generals has proposed to bring you back, in the idea that you really have influence over Tisafernes. Sweet… apparently. Reality is disappointing, tough: Army and Fleet are in fact against the city in their support of democracy, and your glorious return is somewhat restricted: first you help the Army, then we will see to your restoration they say. Well, now you can prove your reputation as a military leader, and you will do, do you not?
Victory at Abidos! The campaign is going quiet smooth for your forces, even if Tisafernes is not helping or supporting you anymore. Traitor!. But against that, you take a chain of victories at long last. Finally, you can come back home, this time as a victor and a hero. But you have made a mistake: you have arrived in the festivity of the Plinterias considered the less auspicious day to enter the town. You must be getting old, my friend.
So when your fleet is utterly defeated at the battle of Notios, your enemies give new life to the old charges of blasphemy, related now to your unfortunate election for your arrival day; therefore yours must be the guilt and responsibility for defeat. You are doomed now Alcibiades. No political trickery could save you now, no new defection can be done as everyone is very aware of your deceitfulness. Off you go, then, to bitter exile. But in a last effort to regain your reputation in the hours before what would be the last battle of the war, you try to advise Athens’ Army. But it is precisely your reputation what they are considering, your reputation as a turncoat and traitor. There is no space for you in the Greek world now.
Your last years are spent in Persia again, trying to gain the Persian’s king trust. But now everybody see you as a danger because of your previous deeds, so there is only one solution. And thus, one morning, your house is surrounded, attacked and burnt to ashes, with you inside. And curtain falls for you, Alcibiades.
This is the life of a traitor. He changed sides trying to gain political influence and power, and sometimes escaping narrowly from his enemies. We can consider that it all was just politics in the Antiquity style, or we can assume that Alcibiades was a man with no principles and strictly power ridden. What is clear is that he was a traitor, and a very successful one, coming to that. He went from Athens to Sparta to Persia then to Athens again, and in every place he was an influential leader in spite of whatever his comrades could think about him. What makes me think…I started this article stating that History is constantly evolving. It seems to me that political leaders, unfortunately, are not.

2 thoughts on “Alcibiades: His Own Man

  1. Thomas

    Hi, great article, but I was wondering, there was a great article here from 2013 about Plutarch’s opinion on Alcibiades and it’s no longer available. Any idea how I can access it?
    Thanks for your time.


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