The Peloponnesian War was a legitimately terrifying time to be an Athenian. If you’ve ever seen the movie 300, you have an idea of what it was like to fight Sparta. They were some of the most insane badasses to ever exist, and they were laying siege to Athens every single day.
Nauti Fun Times in Sicily
In 415 BCE, Alcibiades found himself as one of three generals about to set off on a nautical adventure known as The Sicilian Expedition. Shortly before he was scheduled to leave he was accused of an epic act of vandalism around the city, as well as making a mockery of the Eleusinian Mysteries in a drunken revel. It was decided that he would stand trial upon his return, which made Alcibiades extremely suspicious, but off he sailed into the sunset anyhow.
With Alcibiades out of the way, his sneaky enemies were able to sully his good name without him there to charm them back into their good graces. He was convicted in his absence, and all of his property was confiscated. As former resident consul for the Spartans in Athens, Alcibiades decides to say a huge FU to his homeland and defects to Sparta.
Adulterous Adventures in Sparta
While he’s there, he actually helped King Agis do a lot of damage to Athens. According to a bunch of historical dead guys, Alcibiades had this fantastic ability to adapt to his surroundings. Spartan life was, how you say, much more austere and hardcore than Athenian life and Alcibiades was able to blend in seamlessly. Except for this one time when Agis was out on a campaign and Alcibiades seduced his wife. Except for that time.
He “corrupted” Agis’ wife Timaea, and got her pregnant with a son. He said that he did it so that his descendants might be kings. But because he denied nothing, and probably bragged about it, Agis found out and once more our lecherous young hero was on the run.
He decided to go to Persia with one of Agis’ satraps, Tissaphernes. Tissaphernes and Alcibiades had a beautiful friendship, culminating in Tissaphernes naming a lush garden after his homie.
Dalliances in Persia
While he was in Persia, he starts trying to persuade Tissaphernes to support Athens again. He figures that if Sparta wins the war this is likely not going to be a good thing for him, on account of they all hate him now for impregnating the king’s wife.
The people of Athens finally decided they missed Alcibiades’ beautiful hair and wild antics too much to stay mad at him, and asked him to return. Not one to return empty handed, he decides he wants to return in a “blaze of glory” which is an actual quote from actual Plutarch.
The Triumphant Return to Athens’ Good Graces
So there’s this battle at the Hellespont (now known as the Dardanelles) famous for things like being whipped by Xerxes during the Greco-Persian Wars for ruining his bridge plans with a great storm. The anecdote is too fantastic not to reference. Especially the afterthought of “oh and yes please decapitate everyone who built the bridge that was destroyed in the storm.” How very Xerxes.
Ahem, anyways. The scene for this battle is set. Peloponnesians versus Athenians sitting there in their triremes. Suddenly, they spot eighteen triremes on the horizon, with Alcibiades at the forefront. Literally no one knows how to feel, because they have no idea what side he’s going to fight for. After what seems like a lifetime, Alcibiades hoists aloft Athenian colours on his ships, and the Peloponnesians collectively swore under their breath.
After winning the day, Alcibiades thought it would be a good idea to amass the booty and bring it over to his old pal Tissaphernes in hopes that he could win him over to the Athenian cause. Alas for him, Tissaphernes was afraid of King Agis, resident cuckold, and throws our hero into a Sardinian jail.
After about a month he manages to escape and is able to finally make his triumphant return to Athens and has his property restored to him.
Going Down in a Blaze of Glory
Our main man wasn’t one to lead a peaceful existence, and as my homie Plutarch puts it: “And it would seem that if ever a man was ruined by his own exalted reputation, that man was Alcibiades.” The day he died he was living in Phyrgia with a courtesan named Timandra. A conniving group of schemers decided it was time for Alcibiades to die, but there was no way in Hades they were going to challenge him directly.
Instead, they set his house on fire while he’s inside. Alcibiades manages to emerge unscathed from the burning building, and the group of assassins pull the old ‘run away’ maneuver, before launching a flurry of arrows and javelins at him from a safe distance. He was no match for a sea of sharp pointy things thrown from afar.
So. That brings us to the end of the life of possibly one of the greatest humans to ever exist, in my opinion. It’s shocking to me that there hasn’t been a movie made about him yet. Perhaps someday. Until then, I shall continue to read his stories over and over.