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Alcibiades

Alcibiades

 

AlcibiadesAlcibiades was a remarkable product of the Athenian race and training; restless, versatile, share witted, daring in contrivance and execution, yet wanting in stability and perseverance, and therefore failing in permanent success and enduring fame.

 

Alcibiades was born at Athens, about 450 D.C. His father, Clinias, claimed descent from Ajax of Salamis; and his mother was the daughter of Megacles, of the noble family of the Alemaonidae. Clinias was killed at the battle of Coronea, and his young son was placed under the care of his relatives, Ariphron and Pericles but the latter was so entirely devoted to public business, that he probably gave little thought to the training of his young charge. On many occasions the actions of the child foreshadowed the career of the man. One day, while he was playing in the street, a chariot drove up. The boy told the driver to slop, and On his refusal, threw himself in front of the wheel and told him to drive on if he dared. On another occasion, in a fight with one of his companions, he bit his antagonist's hand. "You bite like a woman," said his companion. "No," replied Alcibiades, "I bite like a lion."

 

Alcibiades succeeded well in all his studies, and was accomplished in athletic exercises. His beauty, his birth, and the reputation of Pericles brought around him a great number of friends and courtesans, whose influence on his moral character was far from beneficial. Yet the sage Socrates saw in him the genus of great virtues as well as of great vices, and ever endeavored to bend his mind in the right direction, patiently drawing out his reasoning faculties, and developing in him that persuasive eloquence of which, later in life, he made so bad a use. His first experience in actual warfare was gained in the battle of Potidaea, where he was severely wounded, and rescued by Socrates. This kindness he was able to repay at the battle of Delium, by rescuing Socrates when pursued by the victorious enemy.

 

When Cleon, the demagogue, was killed, D.C. 422, Alcibiades began to come into notice as a public character; previous to this he had been known only by his luxury and dissipation. The only man at Athens whose influence he feared was Nicias, who had succeeded in making a treaty of peace for fifty years with the Macedemonians. Alcibiades, irritated because they had not addressed themselves to him, although he was united to them by ties of hospitality, endeavored to have the treaty broken, and did not hesitate to use unscrupulous means to effect his purpose. He succeeded in persuading the Athenians to contract an alliance with the people of Argos, which immediately produced a rupture with the jealous Macedononians.

 

On different occasions Alcibiades was irritated with the command of a Beet to ravage the Peloponnesus. In one of these expeditions, he tried to induce the Patreans to break their alliance with the Macedemonians and form one with the Athenians. "The Athenians would cat us up," said they. "That may be," replied A !cibiadcs, I. but they will begin with the feet, and eat you by degrees; whereas the Macedonians will devour you at a gulp, head first.

 

His taste for luxury and profusion never quitted him, even in the vicissitudes of war. He dressed in the finest purple, and slept on a soft couch. On his returnt to the city, after an expedition, he indulged in debauchery of every kind. Being in the street one night with some of his companions, he made a bet that he would insult Hipponicus, the millionaire, and he did it effectually. But the report of his conduct caused such a stir in the city, that Alcibiades went to the man whom he had offended, stripped himself in his presence, and begged hint to take vengeance by scourging him. Hipponicus, pleased with his repentance, not only pardoned him, but gave him his daughter in marriage with a dowry of 54,000 talents. This union did not make him wiser. His wife, irritated by his infidelilies, went to the ephor to apply for a writ of divorce; but Alcibiades, warned of her intention, anticipated her, and when she arrived lifted her in his arms and carried her back across a public square without any one interfering. This violence did not seem to displease the injured wife, who never afterwards dreamed of separating from him.

 

Although the richest people in Greece thought they displayed extraordinary magnificence in talking one chariot to the great Grecian festival of the Olympic Games, which occurred every fourth year, Alcibiades mustered no fewer than seven, and carried of three prizes. Euripides celebrates this exploit in a poem, of which only fragment have come down to us. By his continual contempt of all conventionalities, Alcibiades made himself many enemies, and among others a fellow of low origin named Hyperbolus, who proposed a decree of ostracism against Alcibiades and Nicias. The two rivals, however, laid aside their animosities for a time, and succeeded in making the scntence fall Oil the very man who had. accused them. Hyperbolus, being a person of no consideration, felt himself honored. The people were so furious at this profanation of ostracism, which was intended only for removing temporarily citizens who were becoming too powerful, that they abandoned the practice altogether.

 

The Peloponesian war had now begun, and after some minor conflicts, at the instigation of Alcibiades, the Athenians, in 415 B.C., resolved on a great expedition against the city of Syracuse, in Sicily. But while the necessary preparations were in progress, it happened that all the busts of Hermes through. out the city were mutilated in one night. These images stood at the crossings of the main streets. The sacrilegious act was represented to the people as a step towards overthrowing the democratic constitution of Athens. Alcibiades and Andocides were accused of profaning the Eleusinian mysteries,and were thought capable of the mutilation; especially as the Hermes near Andocides house was almost the only one in the city which had not been touched. Alcibiades wished to clear himself of the charge, but was hurried off with the Sicilian expedition. Scarcely had he left Athens, however, when his enemies sent a vessel after him to bring him back for judgement He managed to escape, first to Argos and titer. to Sparta, where he accommodated himself so well to the ascetic Spartan life, that he became the idol of the people, and won the affections of Timaea, the Spartan king's wife.

 

In his absence the Athenians passed a sentence of death against him but he determined to show them that he was still alive. He went to Asia Minor, stirred lip the whole of Ionia against Athens, and caused much trouble. Then the king and the principallism of Sparta became jealous of him, and sent word to their generals in Asia Minor to have him assasinated; but he saw through their projects, and made his way to Tissaphernes, a satrap of the King of Persia. He now plunged into all the excesses of Asiatic luxury, and made himself so agreeable to the satrap that he could not do without him. Tissaphernes was induced by Alcibiades to act against the Lacedemonians instead of in concert with them. It was thus that he acted through all his ever-changing fortunes. Whenever bis enemies tried to suppress him, he frustrated their designs by setting them at variance with other powers.

 

Notwithstanding his unfriendly relations with the Athenians, he lived to win battles for them, and to be recalled to his native city with wild enthusiasm. But at last his hour arrived. He had withdrawn to Bithynia, intending to pass thence to King Artaxerxes, with the view of interesting him in favor of his country; but the thirty tyrants, established by Lysander at Athens, fearing his influence, tried to have him assassinated. Lysander gave the murderous commission to Pharnabazus, a satrap of the Persian king, against whom Alcibiades had formerly fought. Alcibiades happened to be in a town of Phrygia, at the house of his mistress Timadra, when the emissaries of Pharnabazus came to carry out their master's orders. Not daring to attack Alcibiades openly, they set fire to the house, and when he rushed out to defend himself, struck him to the ground by a Bight of arrows, D.C. 404.

 

Timandra took charge of his body, and gave it decent burial. Such was the end of a man in whom nature had placed qualities the most opposite, ever ready," as Plutarch says, "like a chameleon, to take the impression of the objects with which .. he happened to be surrounded."

 

THE MUTILATION OF HERME.

 

In the time of Pericles, the Athenians had a desire after Sicily, and when he had paid the last debt to nature, they attempted it i frequently, under pretense of succoring their allies, sending aids of men and money to such of the Sicilian", as were attacked by the Syracusans. This was a step to greater armaments. But Alcibiades inflamed this desire to an irresistible degree, and persuaded them not to attempt the island in part, but to send a powerful fleet entirely to subdue it. He inspired the people with hopes of great things, and indulged himself in expectations still more lofty; for he did not, like the rest, consider Sicily us the end of his wishes, but rather as an introduction to the mighty expeditions he had conceived. And while Nicias was dissuading the people from the siege of Syracuse as a business too difficult to succeed in, Alcibiades was dreaming of Carthage and of Libya and after these were gained, had designed to grasp Italy and Peloponnesus, regarding Sicily as little more than a magazine for provisions and warlike stores.

 

The young men immediately entered into his schemes, and listened with great attention to those who, under the sanction of age, related wonders concerning the intended expeditions. However, we are informed that Socrates the philosopher, and Meton the astrologer, were far from expecting that these wars would turn to the advantage of Athens: the former, it should seem, influenced by some propnetic notices with which he was favored by the genius who attended him, and the latter either by reasoning's which led him to fear what was to come, or else by knowledge with which his art supplied him. Nicias was appointed one of the generals much against his inclination, for he would have declined the command if it had been only on account of his having such a colleague. The Athenians, however. thought the war would be better conducted if they did not give free scope to the impetuosity of Alcibiades, but tempered his boldness with the prudence of Nicias. For as to the third general, Lamacbus, though well advanced in years, he did not seem to come at all short of Alcibiades in beat and rashness.

 

When they came to deliberate about the number of the troops, and the necessary preparations for the armament, Nicias again opposed their measures, and endeavored to prevent the war. But Alcibiades replying to his arguments, and carrying all before him, the orator Demosthenes proposed a decree, that the generals should have the absolute direction of the war, and of all the preparations for it. When the people had given their assent, and everything was got ready for setting sail, unlucky omens occurred, on a festival that was celebrated at that time. It was the feast of Adonis; the women walked in procession with images, which represented the dead carried out to burial, acting the lamentations, and singing the mournful dirges usual all such occasions.

 

Add to this the mutilating and disfiguring of almost all the statues of Hermes or Mercury, which happened in one night, a circumstance which alarmed even those who had long despised things of that nature. It was imputed to the Corinthians of whom the Syracu5aus were a colony, and they were supposed to have done it, in hopes that such a prodigy might induce the Athenians to desist from the war. But the people paid little regard to this insinuation, or to the discourses of those who said that there was no manner of in presage in what had happened, and that it was nothing but the wild frolic of a parcel of young fellows, flushed with wine, and bent on some extravagance. Indignation and fear made them take this event not only for a bad omen, but for the outbreak of a plot which aimed at great matters, and therefore both Senate and people assembled several times within a few days, and strictly examined every suspicions circumstance.

 

In the meantime the demagogue Androcles produced some Athenian slaves, and certain sojourners, who accused Alcibiades and his friends of defacing some other statues, and of mimicking the Eleusinian mysteries in one of their drunken revels on which occasion, they said, one Theodorus represented the herald, Polytion the torch-bearer, and Alcibiades the high priest; his other companions attending as persons initiated, called Mystre. Such was the import of the deposition of Thessalus, the son of Cimon, who accused Alcibiades of impiety towards the goddesses Ceres and Proserpine. The people being much provoked at A1cibbdes, and Androcles, his bitterest enemy, exasperating them still more, at first he was somewhat disconcerted but when he perceived that the seamen and soldiers too, intended for the Sicilian expedition, were on his side, and heard a body of Argives and Mantineans, consisting of 1,000 men, declare that they were willing to cross the seas, and to run the risk of a foreign war for the sake of Alcibiades; but that if any injury were done to him, they would immediately march home again then he recovered l,is spirits, and appeared to defend himself. It was now his enemies' turn to be discouraged, and to fear that the people, on account of the need they had of him, would be favorable in their sentence. To obviate this inconvenience, they persuaded certain orators, who were not reputed to be his enemies, yet hated him as heartily as the most professed ones, to move it to the people, That it was extremely absurd, that a general who was invested with a discretionary power, and a very important command, when the troops were collected, and the allies are ready to sail, should lose time, while they were casting lots for judges, and filling the glasses with water, to measure out the time of his defense. In the name of the gods let him sail, and when the war is concluded, be accountable to the laws, which will still be the same.

 

Alcibiades easily saw their malicious drift, in wanting to put off the trial, and observed, "That it would be an intolerable hardship to leave such accusations and calumnies behind him, and be sent out with so important a commission, while he was in suspense as to his own fate. That he ought to suffer death, if he could not clear himself of the charge; but if he could prove his innocence, justice required that he should be set free from all fear of false accusers, before they sent him against their enemies." But he could not obtain that favor. He was indeed ordered to set sail, which he accordingly did, together with his colleagues, having nearly 140 heavy armed soldiers, and about 1,300 archers, slingers, and other light-armed soldiers with suitable provisions and stores.

 

Arriving on the coast of Italy, he lauded at Rhegium. There he gave his opinion as to the manner in which the war should be conducted, and was opposed by Nicias but as Lamachus agreed with him, he sailed to Sicily, and made himself master of Catana. This was all he performed, being soon sent for by the Athenians to take his trial. At first there was nothing against him but slight suspicions, and the depositions of slaves and persons who sojourned in Athens. Hut his enemies took advantage of his absence, to bring new matter of impeachment, ,Hiding to the mutilating of the statues, his sacrilegious behavior with respect to the mysteries, and alleging that both these crimes flowed from the same source, a conspiracy to change the government. All that were accused of being concerned in it they committed to prison unheard, and the people repented that they had not immediately brought Alcibiades to his trial, and condemned him upon so heavy a charge. While this fury lasted, every relation, every friend and acquaintance of his, was very severely dealt with by the people.

 

Among those that were then imprisoned, in order to their trial, was the orator Andocides, whom Hellanicus the historian reckons among the descendants of Ulysses he was thought to be no friend to a popular government, hut a favorer of oligarchy. 'What contributed not a little to his being suspected of having some concern in defacing the Hermae, was, that the great statue of Mercury, which was placed near his house, being consecrated to that god by the tribe called the Aegeis, was almost the only one among the most remarkable which was Icft entire.

 

It happened that among those who were imprisoned on the same account, Andocides contracted an acquaintance and friendship with one Timaeus a man not equal in rank to himself, but of uncommon parts, had a daring spirit. He advised Andocides to accuse himself and a few more; because the decree promised impunity to anyone that would confess and inform, whereas the event of the trial was uncertain to all, and much to be dreaded by such of them ~ were persons of distinction. He represented that it was better to save his life by a falsity than to suffer all infamous death as one really guilty of the crime and that with respect to the public, it would be an advantage to give lip a few persons of dubious character, in order to rescue many good men from an enraged populace.

 

Andocides was prevailed upon by these arguments of Timaeus and informing against himself and some others, enjoyed the impunity promised by the decree but all the rest whom he named were capitally punished, except a few that fled. Nay! to procure the greater credit to his depositions, he accused even his own servants.

 

However, the fury of the people was not so satisfied; but turning from the persons who had disfigured the Herme, as if it had reposed a while only to recover its strength, it fell totally upon Alcibiades. At last they sent the Salaminian galley to fetch him, artfully enough ordering their officer not to use violence, or to lay hold of his person, but to behave to him with civility, and to acquaint him with the people's orders that he should go and take his trial, and clear himself before them. For they were apprehensive of some tumult and mutiny in the army, now it was in an enemy's country, which Alcibiades had he been so disposed, might have raised. Indeed, the soldiers expressed great uneasiness at his leaving them, and expected that the war would be spun out to a great length by the dilatory counsels of Nicias, when the spur was taken away. Lamachus, indeed, was bold and brave, but lie was wanting both in dignity and weight, by reason of his poverty.

 

Alcibiades immediately embarked, the consequence of which was that the Athenians could not take Messina. There were persons in the town ready to betray it, whom Alcibiades perfectly knew, and as he apprised some that were friends to the Syracusans of their intention, the affair miscarried.

 

As soon as he arrived at Thurii, he went on shore, and concealing himself there, eluded the search that was made after him; but some person knowing him, and saying, "Will not you, then, trust your country?" he answered, "As to anything else will trust her but with my life I would not trust even my mother, lest she should mistake a black bean for a white one." Afterwards being told that the republic had condemned him to die, he said, But I will make them find that I am alive.

 

As he did not appear, the Athenian people condemned him, confiscated his goods, and ordered all the priests and priestesses to denounce an execration against him; which was denounced accordingly by all but Theno, the daughter of Menon, priestess of the temple of Agraulos, who excused herself, alleging that she was a priestess for prayer, not for execration.

 

While these decrees and sentences were passing against Alcibiades, he was at Argos, having left Thurii, which no longer afforded him a safe asylum, to come into Peloponnesus. Still dreading his enemies, and giving up alt hopes of being restored to his country, he sent to Sparta to desire permission to live there, under the protection of the public faith, promising to serve that State more effectually, now be was their friend, than he had annoyed them, whilst their enemy. The Spartans granting him a safe conduct, and expressing their readiness to receive him, he went thither with pleasure. One thing he soon effected, which was to procure succors for Syracuse without farther hesitation or delay, having persuaded them to send Gylippus thither, to take upon him the direction of the war, and to crush the Athenian power in Sicily. Another thing which he persuaded them to, was to declare war against the Athenians, and to begin its operations on the continent and the third, which was the most important of all, was to get Decelea fortified, for this, being in the neighborhood of Athens, was productive of great mischief to that commonwealth.-PLUTARCH.

 

Alcibiades

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