In 415 BC, Athens sent a fleet of over 100 ships and 5,000 hoplites to attack the city of Syracuse, in Sicily, an expedition that would result in catastrophe. The philosopher Plato writing decades later described a drinks party, held perhaps a few months or weeks before, given by the poet Agathon to celebrate his winning first prize in the Lenaia festival not long before. Among Agathon’s famous guests was philospher and Athenian gadfly Socrates; and coming unvited to the feast later on in Plato’s telling was Alcibiades, the chief mover and proponent of the Sicilian Expedition, and a one-time student of Socrates. Any Athenian who read Plato would have known that; and know also that Alcibiades had ultimately been exiled from Athens not once but twice; and that Socrates had been executed by the city for having “corrupted the young”, young men like Alcibiades, and others.
With me to discuss what Alcibiades learned from Socrates, and the importance of political ambition, is Ariel Helfer. He is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University, and author of Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato’s Drama of Political Philosophy and Ambition, published in 2017 by the University of Pennsylvania Press.
For Further Investigation
Plato. Socrates and Alcibiades. Plato: Alcibiades I, Plato: Alcibiades II, Plato: Symposium (212c-223b), Aeschines of Sphettus: Alcibiades. Translated by David M. Johnson, Focus Philosophical Library/Focus Pub., 2003.