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Alcibiades
(450 - 404 B.C.) Greece

Alcibiades

Athenian General

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Alcibiades was born in one of the noblest and wealthiest families of Athens. His father was Clinias, a member of an old aristocratic Athenian family that traced its origins to Eurysaces, the son of Ajax, king of Salamis, who had earned Athenian citizenship by handing the island over to Athens. His mother was Deinomache, a member of the Alcmeonidæ family, the family of Cleisthenes, the Athenian lawgiver who, in 508, had reformed the Athenian constitution and instituted the system of demes.

And Deinomache's father, Megacles, who had played important enough an role in Athenian politics to deserve ostracism, was the brother of Pericles' mother Agariste. This explains why, when Alcibiades' father Clinias, who had won fame at the naval battle of Artemisium in 480, was killed at the battle of Coronea in 447, Pericles became his guardian (Alcibiades was about 4 at the time).

Besides being well-born, extremely wealthy and raised in the anteroom of power next to the most powerful man of the time, Alcibiades was also incredibly beautiful and very bright. In a word, he had everything one could desire. And as if all that weren't enough, when he married, he took his wife in the richest family of Athens, the Ceryces, torch-bearers at the Eleusinian mysteries : she was Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus and sister of Callias and Hermogenes.

Alcibiades gained a reputation early in life for arrogance and unruly behaviour. As a teenager, he met Socrates, was captivated by the philosopher's questioning of accepted wisdom, fell in love, and attempted to seduce the old man. The seduction scene in Plato's "Symposium" is based on this incident.

In the ensuing years, Alcibiades became active in the political and military affairs of Athens, then switched allegiance to the rival city-state of Sparta. He was run out of Sparta by its king following rumors of an affair between Alcibiades and the queen, and transferred his loyalties to the Persians. A few years later he returned to Athens, where a right wing coup had replaced his former enemies with allies, and was briefly made general and ruler of the city. He lost his position following a military defeat in 406 B.C.E., after which the Spartan and the Persians, worried about where he might turn up next, had him murdered.

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Socrates & Alcibiades:

"I am far more certain about it than you or anyone else can be that Alcibiades always got up from Socrates' bed like a child leaving the bed of its parents. And indeed it was a strange place and time - in bed and by night - to contemplate that pure beauty which Socrates is said to have loved without any improper desire, especially since he loved the soul's beauty rather than the body's, though in boys and not in grown men, who happen to be wiser."

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Source: Castiglione, Book of the Courier

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