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Table of Contents > 2.5 Plutarch, Alcibiades

2.5: Plutarch, Alcibiades 3.1-4.1, 4.3-5.3

Plutarch's biography describes the youth of the famous Athenian general Alcibiades (c. 450-404 BCE).

[3.1] Among Antiphon's slanders15 it has been written that Alcibiades ran away from home to Democrates, one of his lovers. When Ariphron16 wanted to have his disappearance announced publicly by heralds, Pericles17 did not allow it, saying, "If he is dead, it will be revealed only one day sooner, but if he is safe, his reputation for the rest of his life will not be saved." Antiphon also says that he struck and killed with a staff one of those attending him in the wrestling school of Sibyrtius. But these things are perhaps not worthy of belief, since they were said by a man who admitted that he abused Alcibiades out of hatred.

[4.1] Soon many noble men gathered around him and pursued him: some were clearly struck by the brilliance of his youthful prime and flattered him, but Socrates' love was a testimony to the boy's excellence of character and good birth. Seeing this appear and shine in his outward form, Socrates feared that his wealth and status, as well as the throng of citizens and foreigners with their flattery and favors, would spoil him prematurely. He undertook, as much as he could, to protect the boy and not stand by idly while a plant in bloom lost its own fruit and was ruined. . . . [4.3] Alcibiades quickly made Socrates his associate and listened to the words of a lover who did not hunt unmanly pleasure or ask for kisses and caresses, but examined the rottenness of his soul and restrained his empty and foolish vanity.
"The proud fighting cock cowered like a slave, with lowered wing."
Alcibiades considered Socrates' activity truly a service he rendered the gods for the care and salvation of young men. [4.4] Despising himself and wondering at that man, loving his kind disposition and feeling shame before his upright character, Alcibiades without knowing it acquired an "image of love," as Plato calls it,18 a reciprocal love, such that all men were amazed at seeing him constantly dine with, wrestle with, and even share the same tent with Socrates, while he was difficult and unmanageable for other lovers, and even altogether hostile to some, like Anytus son of Anthemion.19

[4.5] For this man happened to be a lover of Alcibiades, and when hosting some guests to dinner, invited Alcibiades too. He refused the invitation, but getting drunk at home with his friends, made a wild procession to Anytus' house. Standing at the door to the men's room and seeing the tables full of silver and gold cups, he told the slaves to take half of them back to his house; he did not think it worth going in himself, but went back home after this matter had been accomplished. When the guests were angry and said that Alcibiades had treated Anytus violently and contemptuously, Anytus replied, "No, he treated me fairly and humanely, for when it was possible for him to take everything, he left part for us."

[5.1] He also treated his other lovers in this way, except for one metic,20 as they relate, who did not have much property, but sold all he had and brought the proceeds to Alcibiades, in the sum of 100 staters,21 asking him to take it. Alcibiades laughed and with pleasure invited him to dinner. After feasting him and being kind, Alcibiades gave him back his money, but ordered him to outbid the tax collectors at the auction of public tax contracts on the following day.22 [5.2] The man protested, because the purchase would cost many talents,23 but Alcibiades threatened to whip him if he failed to do it. For he happened to have a private quarrel with the tax collectors. The next morning the metic went to the marketplace and raised the purchase price by a talent. When the tax collectors gathered around him and demanded to know his security for the bid, as if he did not have one, the man was confused and withdrew. But Alcibiades, standing up at the rear of the crowd, said to the magistrates conducting the sale, "Write my name down. He is my friend and I pledge security for him." [5.3] The tax collectors were confounded when they heard this, for they had always been accustomed to pay off loans for earlier purchases with profits on later purchases, and they did not see any way out of their bind. They tried begging the metic and even offered him money to withdraw his bid. But Alcibiades would not let him take less than a talent, and when they offered it, he ordered the metic to take it and withdraw. That man he helped in this way.
This website makes available to the public the first two chapters of Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, edited by Thomas K. Hubbard and published by University of California Press in April 2003. The index also lists the rest of the sourcebook's contents; the book may be ordered at www.ucpress.edu, list price $34.95 paperback. In addition, a file of close to 200 pertinent artistic images is assembled, including those published in the sourcebook and many others. Acknowledgement is made to University of California Press for permission to reproduce this material, as well as to the various museums that have granted permission to use their photographic images. Comments may be directed to Prof. Hubbard at tkh@mail.utexas.edu.