Romilly, Jacqueline de
The Life of Alcibiades
Dangerous Ambition and the Betrayal of Athens
Transl. by Rawlings, Elizabeth Trapnell
Series:Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 68
Aims and Scope
This biography of Alcibiades, the charismatic Athenian statesman and general (c. 450–404 BC) who achieved both renown and infamy during the Peloponnesian War, is both an extraordinary adventure story and a cautionary tale that reveals the dangers that political opportunism and demagoguery pose to democracy. As Jacqueline de Romilly brilliantly documents, Alcibiades's life is one of wanderings and vicissitudes, promises and disappointments, brilliant successes and ruinous defeats. Born into a wealthy and powerful family in Athens, Alcibiades was a student of Socrates and disciple of Pericles, and he seemed destined to dominate the political life of his city—and his tumultuous age.
Romilly shows, however, that he was too ambitious. Haunted by financial and sexual intrigues and political plots, Alcibiades was exiled from Athens, sentenced to death, recalled to his homeland, only to be exiled again. He defected from Athens to Sparta and from Sparta to Persia and then from Persia back to Athens, buffeted by scandal after scandal, most of them of his own making. A gifted demagogue and, according to his contemporaries, more handsome than the hero Achilles, Alcibiades is also a strikingly modern figure, whose seductive celebrity and dangerous ambition anticipated current crises of leadership.
- 228 pages
- 2 maps 2 Fig.
- CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS
- Greece, Sparta, Persia, Socrates
"Jacqueline de Romilly's study of Alcibiades astonishingly succeeds in arousing in the reader the same feelings as those undoubtedly once experienced by the Athenian public before this extraordinary person. Her book inspires not only wonder at Alcibiades's varied talents and admiration at his ability to seduce those around him but also anxiety about his ambitions and fear for the risks he takes. With its sudden reversals—victories followed by terrible defeats, resounding successes as well as the most bitter failures—Romilly's book possesses the color of an epic with accents of tragedy."