Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades
Story, Text and Moralism
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Leuven University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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This book offers a running commentary on Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades. The three words in the subtitle sum up the two premises upon which my analysis is based. The first is the distinction – fundamental to structuralist narratology – between a narrative text and the underlying story. ...
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During the final years of the first and the early decades of the second century A.D., Plutarch of Chaeronea (ca A.D. 45-120) published a series of at least twenty-three pairs of biographies of Greek and Roman statesmen1. In the proem to Aemilius-Timoleon, Plutarch explains why he wrote these so-called Parallel Lives (Aem. 1.1-6):
1. The Proem (Alc. 1)
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As is natural for the second Life of a Plutarchan pair, the Life of Alcibiades does not have a formal proem. Alc. 1, however, is an example of what Philip Stadter has called “informal proems”: Plutarch has adapted the biographical categories of ancestry (1.1), upbringing and education (1.2-3)1, ...
2. A Difficult Character (Alc. 2-9)
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In the proem, we learnt that Alcibiades remained beautiful throughout his life “because of the natural goodness and excellence of his body”1. But what about his soul? Was he born with a good nature (φύσις) and did he develop a virtuous character (ἦθος)2? ...
3. The Ascent to Power (Alc. 10-15)
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Alc. 10-15 deals with the first stage of Alcibiades’ political career. It begins with his first appearance before the Assembly (10.1-2) and ends with his foreign policy of the years 420-416 B.C. (14-15). In between, Plutarch discusses Alcibiades’ rhetoric (10.3-4), ...
4. A Thought-Provoking Transition (Alc. 16)
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In many Lives, Plutarch suspends chronological narration at the height of his protagonist’s career (ἀκμή) to discuss the man’s character1. Although the events in Alc. 10-15 are not narrated in the historically correct order and Alcibiades’ first achievements as a general may not have constituted the absolute high point of his life, ...
5. The Great Reversal (Alc. 17.1-23.3)
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In Alc. 17.1-23.3, Plutarch tells us about the first major reversal in Alcibiades’ life. This important section is demarcated by the discussion of Alcibiades’ character and the Athenians’ reactions to his conduct in Alc. 16 on the one hand and Alc. 23.4-5, which deals with his exceptional adaptability, on the other1. ...
6. The Art of Adaptation (Alc. 23.4-5)
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In Alc. 23.3, we read that Alcibiades brought the Spartans under his spell by adopting local customs. In Alc. 23.4-5, Plutarch expands on his protagonist’s talent to assimilate and adapt himself to the habits and lifestyles of the people around him. First, he claims that Alcibiades could change more abruptly than a chameleon (23.4) ...
7. From Sparta to Samos (Alc. 23.6-26.9)
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In Alc. 23.6-26.9, Plutarch relates how Alcibiades fell out of favour with the Lacedaemonians and returned to the Athenian side. We can distinguish four phases: in the first, Alcibiades is still in Sparta (23.6); next, he embarks on a Spartan expedition to Ionia (24.2); from there, he flees to the court of Tissaphernes in Sardis (24.4); ...
8. Fighting His Way Back (Alc. 27-31)
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Alc. 27-31 deals with the actions Alcibiades undertook in the Hellespont and the Propontis between the fall of the Four Hundred and his return to Athens. Most of the events reported in this section are posterior to the point where Thucydides’ History, the main source for the previous parts of our Life, breaks off. ...
9. At the Height of his Glory (Alc. 32-34)
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Alc. 32.1-34.2 deals with Alcibiades’ return to Athens. This section of the Life can be compared with the accounts of Xenophon, Diodorus and Cornelius Nepos, who names Theopompus as one of his sources for his biography of Alcibiades (Alc. 11.1-2) and no doubt drew upon Ephorus too1. ...
10. A Tragic Downfall (Alc. 35-39)
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In the last five chapters of his Life of Alcibiades, Plutarch describes Alcibiades’ final downfall. Three stages can be discerned. First, Alcibiades gradually falls into disfavour with the Athenians, so that he is eventually compelled to move to Thrace (35.1-36.5). ...
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Although we cannot identify the source(s) behind each part of the Life of Alcibiades with certainty, it is clear that Plutarch drew upon a great number of works belonging to various genres. His most important source was Thucydides’ Histories. ...
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Index of Plutarch Passages
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Index of Passages in Other Authors
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Page Count: 499
Publication Year: 2010