The Ambition to Rule: Alcibiades and the Politics of Imperialism in Thucydides

The Ambition to Rule: Alcibiades and the Politics of Imperialism in Thucydides
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Original Articles. Pages Published online: 19 Feb Additional information Notes 1. This is the standard format for an Athenian trial in this period. This is a common, and apparently very effective, technique in the Athenian law courts. Professor John Woo's phrase. Article Metrics Views. Article metrics information Disclaimer for citing articles.

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The Ambition to Rule: Alcibiades and the Politics of Imperialism in Thucydides [ Steven Forde] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. A fine study . The Ambition to Rule: Alcibiades and the Politics of Imperialism in Thucydides. By Steven Forde. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. $ - Volume .

Alcibiades showed no respect for other people's feelings, and for them as human beings all together. Sometimes he did certain things to redeem himself, but not because he was sorry for the wrong he caused, but because he realized that even he needed to maintain a certain level of decency in the public eye. People of Athens tolerated his behavior for two reasons. First, he was a good general, and they needed him, and he knew how to get their clemency, by being very eloquent. He was a very charming man, and knew how to use that. But a time came when even the Athenian people had enough, and one day Alcibiades, having too many enemies, was accused of a religious sacrilege.

Introduction to International Relations: Theories of Realism From Thucydides to Hobbes

He escaped to Sparta where the most unforgivable example of his immoral character occurred. Alcibiades convinced the Spartans that he was their friend, and indeed helped them, against his own city, but in the meantime he was very busy himself, seducing the wife of his Spartan protector King Agis. Incredibly, Alcibiades seduced King Agis's wife to have a successor to the Spartan throne.

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He thought that he was able to manipulate everything. She gave birth to a baby boy, and even if according to Plutarch, the boy's name was not Alcibiades, she used to call him that when she was in a circle of good friends. Word got back to King Agis, and he got suspicious of Alcibiades. The king knew that the baby was not his own, since he hadn't been with his wife for about ten months prior to the child's birth. When he realized the boy's father was Alcibiades, he planned to get revenge.

Alcibiades, who up to then had pretended to be the king's friend, being scared, fled Sparta for the chief enemy of all the Greeks, The King of Persia and his satrap Tissaphernes. Once there, he behaved unscrupulously. But what should not be forgotten is he left behind to who knew what sort of dangerous fate his own son and the woman with whom Alcibiades conceived him.

But Alcibiades had never proved himself to be faithful before that time or afterward. He committed evil deeds because he thought he would be manipulating a situation for his own self-interest or simply because of whatever short-term pleasure it offered and he did not care about the harm that he caused.

85377 - Thucydides, Imperialism and Hegemonic Warfare

If he actually cared, he could have taken the mother, or at least the child with him. Of course, he did not. He did not go back to get them, or attempt to. Secondly, Alcibiades was a very ambitious man. He was eager to get to the top of the political ladder, and his desire to rule was notorious. Alcibiades started to show signs of what he was to become early in his childhood.

Alcibiades, according to Plutarch, was unable to accept defeat, even at an early age. He once bit a wrestling opponent, and when asked about it, he replied that he bit like a lion, not like a girl. As an adult, he became a general using a trick that not only brought him a title, but also broke the fragile Peace of Nicias. Alcibiades convinced the Spartan ambassadors to lie about their powers as plenipotentiaries, and then accused them of being dishonest.

Nicias was confused, and the ambassadors were rejected. The best example of how far Alcibiades went in order to satisfy his desire for superiority is when he helped Sparta to almost destroy his native city, Athens Thucydides Alcibiades was in favor of an expedition to conquer Sicily, Carthage and Libya since he envisioned himself as a great conqueror.

He persuaded the Athenians to give a green light to the expedition, despite the opposition of Nicias, a much older and experienced general. When Nicias and Alcibiades were about to embark on the expedition, however, accusations of a secret religious ritual, or more precisely the profanation of it, broke out. Alcibiades was the main suspect. He was sent nevertheless to Sicily. While there, the Athenians sent a ship to bring him back to stand trial. Alcibiades escaped and went straight to the enemy.

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Office hours See the website of Marco Cesa. Giovanni De Grandis - - Teoria Politica 3 Kahn, "Aeschines on Socratic Eros", Greek colonisation. According to Plutarch , Alcibiades had several famous teachers, including Socrates , and was well trained in the art of Rhetoric.

The Spartans welcomed him with open arms, and he gave them advice on what to do next against the Athenians. As a direct result, the Spartans sent troops to Sicily, commanded by a good general, and defeated the Athenians. They also opened a second front in Greece, and won.

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As Plutarch adds, Alcibiades could not even manage to make Sparta his new and permanent home. He cuckolded the king himself and made him a mortal enemy. As a result Alcibiades ultimately had to flee for his life to the king of Persia's minister, or satrap. Turning traitor a second time, Alcibiades advised the Persians how to best defeat the Spartans. Later on, having worn out his welcome with the Persians, Alcibiades took advantage of a pair of revolutions in Athens, the first of which overthrew the democracy and the second of which overthrew the oligarchy that had taken over.

Leo Strauss in The City and Man locates the problem in the nature of Athenian democracy itself, about which, he argued, Thucydides had a deeply ambivalent view: on one hand, Thucydides's own "wisdom was made possible" by the Periclean democracy, which had the effect of liberating individual daring, enterprise, and questioning spirit; but this same liberation, by permitting the growth of limitless political ambition, led to imperialism and, eventually, civic strife. For Canadian historian Charles Norris Cochrane — , Thucydides's fastidious devotion to observable phenomena, focus on cause and effect, and strict exclusion of other factors anticipates twentieth-century scientific positivism.

Cochrane, the son of a physician, speculated that Thucydides generally and especially in describing the plague in Athens was influenced by the methods and thinking of early medical writers such as Hippocrates of Kos. After World War II, classical scholar Jacqueline de Romilly pointed out that the problem of Athenian imperialism was one of Thucydides's central preoccupations and situated his history in the context of Greek thinking about international politics.

Since the appearance of her study, other scholars further examined Thucydides's treatment of realpolitik. More recently, scholars have questioned the perception of Thucydides as simply, "the father of realpolitik". Instead they have brought to the fore the literary qualities of the History , which they see as belonging to the narrative tradition of Homer and Hesiod and as concerned with the concepts of justice and suffering found in Plato and Aristotle and problematized in Aeschylus and Sophocles. Richard Ned Lebow terms Thucydides "the last of the tragedians", stating that "Thucydides drew heavily on epic poetry and tragedy to construct his history, which not surprisingly is also constructed as a narrative.

Thus his History could serve as a warning to future leaders to be more prudent, by putting them on notice that someone would be scrutinizing their actions with a historian's objectivity rather than a chronicler's flattery. The historian J. Bury writes that the work of Thucydides "marks the longest and most decisive step that has ever been taken by a single man towards making history what it is today".

Historian H. Kitto feels that Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, not because it was the most significant war in antiquity, but because it caused the most suffering. Indeed, several passages of Thucydides's book are written "with an intensity of feeling hardly exceeded by Sappho herself". Thucydides's work, however, Popper goes on to say, represents "an interpretation, a point of view; and in this we need not agree with him". In the war between Athenian democracy and the "arrested oligarchic tribalism of Sparta", we must never forget Thucydides's "involuntary bias", and that "his heart was not with Athens, his native city":.

Although he apparently did not belong to the extreme wing of the Athenian oligarchic clubs who conspired throughout the war with the enemy, he was certainly a member of the oligarchic party, and a friend neither of the Athenian people, the demos, who had exiled him, nor of its imperialist policy. Thucydides and his immediate predecessor, Herodotus , both exerted a significant influence on Western historiography.

Thucydides does not mention his counterpart by name, but his famous introductory statement is thought to refer to him:. To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which according to the condition of humanity may be done again, or at least their like, shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable.

And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession than to be rehearsed for a prize. Herodotus records in his Histories not only the events of the Persian Wars, but also geographical and ethnographical information, as well as the fables related to him during his extensive travels. Typically, he passes no definitive judgment on what he has heard. In the case of conflicting or unlikely accounts, he presents both sides, says what he believes and then invites readers to decide for themselves. The work of Herodotus is reported to have been recited at festivals, where prizes were awarded, as for example, during the games at Olympia.

Herodotus views history as a source of moral lessons, with conflicts and wars as misfortunes flowing from initial acts of injustice perpetuated through cycles of revenge.

In contrast, Thucydides claims to confine himself to factual reports of contemporary political and military events, based on unambiguous, first-hand, eye-witness accounts, although, unlike Herodotus, he does not reveal his sources. Thucydides views life exclusively as political life, and history in terms of political history. Conventional moral considerations play no role in his analysis of political events while geographic and ethnographic aspects are omitted or, at best, of secondary importance.

Subsequent Greek historians—such as Ctesias , Diodorus , Strabo , Polybius and Plutarch —held up Thucydides's writings as a model of truthful history. Greek historians of the fourth century BC accepted that history was political and that contemporary history was the proper domain of a historian. Cicero calls Herodotus the "father of history"; yet the Greek writer Plutarch, in his Moralia Ethics denigrated Herodotus, notably calling him a philobarbaros , a "barbarian lover", to the detriment of the Greeks.

Unlike Thucydides, however, these authors all continued to view history as a source of moral lessons. Due to the loss of the ability to read Greek, Thucydides and Herodotus were largely forgotten during the Middle Ages in Western Europe, although their influence continued in the Byzantine world. In Europe, Herodotus become known and highly respected only in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century as an ethnographer, in part due to the discovery of America, where customs and animals were encountered that were even more surprising than what he had related.

During the Reformation, moreover, information about Middle Eastern countries in the Histories provided a basis for establishing Biblical chronology as advocated by Isaac Newton. The first European translation of Thucydides into Latin was made by the humanist Lorenzo Valla between and , and the first Greek edition was published by Aldo Manuzio in During the Renaissance, however, Thucydides attracted less interest among Western European historians as a political philosopher than his successor, Polybius , although Poggio Bracciolini claimed to have been influenced by him.

Later historians, such as J. Bury , however, have noted parallels between them:. If, instead of a history, Thucydides had written an analytical treatise on politics, with particular reference to the Athenian empire, it is probable that To maintain a state, said the Florentine thinker, "a statesman is often compelled to act against faith, humanity and religion". Thucydides has no political aim in view: he was purely a historian.

But it was part of the method of both alike to eliminate conventional sentiment and morality. In the seventeenth century, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes , whose Leviathan advocated absolute monarchy, admired Thucydides and in was the first to translate his writings into English directly from Greek.

Thucydides, Hobbes, and Machiavelli are together considered the founding fathers of political realism, according to which, state policy must primarily or solely focus on the need to maintain military and economic power rather than on ideals or ethics. Nineteenth-century positivist historians stressed what they saw as Thucydides's seriousness, his scientific objectivity and his advanced handling of evidence. A virtual cult following developed among such German philosophers as Friedrich Schelling , Friedrich Schlegel , and Friedrich Nietzsche , who claimed that, "[in Thucydides], the portrayer of Man, that culture of the most impartial knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower.

For Eduard Meyer , Thomas Babington Macaulay and Leopold von Ranke , who initiated modern source-based history writing, Thucydides was again the model historian. Generals and statesmen loved him: the world he drew was theirs, an exclusive power-brokers' club.

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It is no accident that even today Thucydides turns up as a guiding spirit in military academies, neocon think tanks and the writings of men like Henry Kissinger ; whereas Herodotus has been the choice of imaginative novelists Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient and the film based on it boosted the sale of the Histories to a wholly unforeseen degree and—as food for a starved soul—of an equally imaginative foreign correspondent from Iron Curtain Poland, Ryszard Kapuscinski.

These historians also admired Herodotus, however, as social and ethnographic history increasingly came to be recognized as complementary to political history. In the twentieth century, this trend gave rise to the works of Johan Huizinga , Marc Bloch , and Fernand Braudel , who pioneered the study of long-term cultural and economic developments and the patterns of everyday life.

The Annales School, which exemplifies this direction, has been viewed as extending the tradition of Herodotus. At the same time, Thucydides's influence was increasingly important in the area of international relations during the Cold War, through the work of Hans Morgenthau , Leo Strauss , and Edward Carr. The tension between the Thucydidean and Herodotean traditions extends beyond historical research. According to Irving Kristol , self-described founder of American neoconservatism, Thucydides wrote "the favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs"; and Thucydides is a required text at the Naval War College, an American institution located in Rhode Island.

On the other hand, Daniel Mendelsohn, in a review of a recent edition of Herodotus, suggests that, at least in his graduate school days during the Cold War, professing admiration of Thucydides served as a form of self-presentation:. To be an admirer of Thucydides' History , with its deep cynicism about political, rhetorical and ideological hypocrisy, with its all too recognizable protagonists—a liberal yet imperialistic democracy and an authoritarian oligarchy, engaged in a war of attrition fought by proxy at the remote fringes of empire—was to advertise yourself as a hardheaded connoisseur of global Realpolitik.

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Another author, Thomas Geoghegan , whose speciality is labour rights, comes down on the side of Herodotus when it comes to drawing lessons relevant to Americans, who, he notes, tend to be rather isolationist in their habits if not in their political theorizing : "We should also spend more funds to get our young people out of the library where they're reading Thucydides and get them to start living like Herodotus—going out and seeing the world.

Another contemporary historian believes that, while it is true that critical history "began with Thucydides, one may also argue that Herodotus' looking at the past as a reason why the present is the way it is, and to search for causality for events beyond the realms of Tyche and the Gods, was a much larger step. Biography Lists. Intro Greek historian and Athenian general A. Life In spite of his stature as a historian, modern historians know relatively little about Thucydides's life. Evidence from the Classical period Thucydides identifies himself as an Athenian, telling us that his father's name was Olorus and that he was from the Athenian deme of Halimous.

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