Alcibiades, son of Clinias was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War. He played a major role in the second half of that conflict as a strategic advisor, military commander, and politician.
Sophocles' Philoctetes was produced in 409: reflections of a particular context are always hard to find in his plays, but some modern scholars have been inclined to see in the need to reintegrate Philoctetes into society an allegory for the problem of Alcibiades.
Alcibiades, now living in a village in Phrygia with his mistress, was nevertheless considered a threat as long as he lived, and Lysander ordered him killed. Assassins set fire to his house during the night and shot him with arrows as he attempted to flee, taking his head as proof of his death to the new Persian satrap, Pharnabazus.
He was criticized for excessive drinking and gambling, and admonished for his habit of wearing luxurious purple robes which he allowed to drag behind him in the street. He spent an enormous sum on his horses, and became the first man ever to enter seven chariots in the Olympic games, taking first, second, and fourth places.
The Spartans, mistrusting him, decreed his death, upon which he sought refuge with Tissaphernes, and induced the Athenians to believe that he could command the aid of the satrap in their struggle against the Lacedaemonians. Peisander negotiated his return, and he joined the force under Thrasybulus, off Samos, as a general.
His next venture was the disastrous Sicilian expedition, of which he was appointed joint commander with Nicias and Lamachus. From this he was early recalled (415 B.C.), to answer a charge of being concerned in that mysterious offence, "the mutilation of the Hermae." Rather than face his accusers he escaped to Sparta, betrayed the plans of the Athenians, helped to organise the force which Gylippus led into Sicily, and planned the invasion of Attica.
Alcibiades, unscrupulous as a public man, and false. He is more especially blamed for the dishonourable and treacherous way in which, as Thucydides relates, he imposed upon the Lacedaemonian ambassadors, and disturbed the continuance of the peace. Yet this policy, which engaged the city again in war, nevertheless placed it in a powerful and formidable position, by the accession, which Alcibiades obtained for it, of the alliance of Argos and Mantinea.
When the Peace of Nicias was declared and hostilities with Sparta were suspended, the pro-war party looked about for ways to reignite the conflict, and the plan of an attack upon the wealthy city of Syracuse was hatched. Alcibiades led the charge and was able to convince a population that was finally at peace after ten years of futile fighting, that it should resume the mantle of war, and attack another city unprovoked.
Alcibiades (born at the end of the 450's) is not mentioned by Thucydides until V. 43. ii, but we are told there that because of a family connection with Sparta (his grandfather had been Spartan proxenos but had renounced the position, probably when Athens turned against Sparta at the end of the 460's) he had looked after the Spartan prisoners from Sphacteria, and felt insulted when his Spartan connection was not used in the making of peace in 421.
With the skill which Alcibiades, on the contrary, possessed to treat every one in the way most agreeable to him, we cannot wonder that all his successes were attended with the most exuberant favour and honour; his very errors, at times, being accompanied by something of grace and felicity. And so in spite of great and frequent hurt that he had done the city, he was repeatedly appointed to office and command;
Alcibiades was the last famous member of the Alcmaeonidae family, and a close relative of Pericles. He was blessed with great beauty, and an agreeable disposition, but was spoiled, vain, and self-willed. Although he had outstanding leadership ability, and did Athens great service, he did her far more harm, due to his incontinence and selfishness.