Athens Ditches Its Champion

Ambitious, talented and handsome, the general and politician Alcibiades was a striking figure in fifth-century-BC Athens. He played a key role in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) between his home town and its long-standing rival, Sparta. Alcibiades’s anti-Spartan agenda led to fierce political disagreements with some of his fellow citizens. In 415 BC, when he was about to set out on a military expedition to Sicily, his opponents accused him of sacrilege, holding him responsible for the mutilation of statues of the messenger god Hermes.

The general wanted to stand trial immediately to clear his name, but was not allowed to do so. After he had set sail, his enemies accused him of other sacrilegious actions and even claimed that he wanted to overthrow the Athenian democracy. Without a chance to defend himself, Alcibiades was condemned to death and had to spend several years abroad before the verdict was revoked. After his return to Athens, he regained a leading position, but his enemies soon struck again, blaming him for the naval defeat of one of his subordinates. Once again, public opinion turned against Alcibiades. He was relieved of his command and had to leave the city – this time for good.

Literature

• Jacqueline de Romilly, Alcibiade, ou Les dangers de l’ambition (Paris 1993)
• David Gribble, Alcibiades and Athens: A Study in Literary Presentation (Oxford 1999)
• P. J. Rhodes, Alcibiades: Athenian Playboy, General and Traitor (Barnsely 2011)

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