, if lisping, Athenian
citizen and statesman, friend of Socrates and one of those biographied by Roman
historian Plutarch in his Nine Greek Lives
. He lived a life of adventure and intrigue, from 450 to 404 BCE
. Aside from his biography in Plutarch, he is documented in Plato
," as the leader of a wild drunken bunch of revelers who briefly crash the party
, where he criticizes Socrates
for, among other things, not loving him like a man when they were out on campaign together. Thucydides
and few of the playwrights also mention this dashing, conceited, well-spoken and frustrating young man.
Despite his lisp, Alcibiades seems always to have been popular, which of course means envied and loathed outside his circle, and made and remade enemies constantly. He was always good looking and charming, throughout all stages of his life, on account of his "his happy constitution and natural vigor of body," according to Plutarch. He aged well, and his lisp seemed to suit his quick manner of speech.
He was always ambitious and persuasive of speech. Once, when young, he was nearly bested in a wrestling match, but bit his opponent's hand. The defeated lad criticized, "You bite like a woman," to which Alcibiades retorted, "No, like a lion." Throughout his life, he was always to justify the means by the ends, and, whenever possible, in flowing speech. People led him on to thrust his ambition into politics, and only Socrates tried to humble him.
He gained his wife Hipparete by dubious means--having dreadfully insulted her father and later coming to him in such an extravagant show of obeisance that her father gave him not only his girl but also a good deal of silver. He was, however, so unfaithful that she soon left him and abode in her brother's house, though Al wouldn't give her a divorce.
The Peloponnesian War, which had been going on all his life, gave Alcibiades a vast array of leadership opportunities. He was a decent general, but not an exceedingly loyal one. Indeed, he switched sides several times during the war. When working for Sparta--a notoriously militaristic state--he ate black beans and hard bread with the other Spartans and easily gave up the "exorbitant luxury and wantonness, in his eating and drinking and dissolute living" Plutarch credits him with in Athens. He was able to go back to former friends a number of times and talk his way back into their confidence.
This, however, could not last. In the end, he had made too many enemies. Living in exile from Athens, he was assassinated by barbarians at night. A cultural icon, a manipulator of the system, a royal wise-ass, a rogue about town, Alcibiades was one of the greatest our civilization has ever known, and he is missed by some of his twenty-first century heirs.
Plutarch is highly recommended for details on his, and others', stories.