2. Son of Callaeschrus, and grandson of the above.
He was one of the pupils of Socrates, by whose instructions he profited but little in a moral point of view, and, together with Alcibiades, gave a colour by his life to the charge against the philosopher of corrupting the youth. Xenophon says, that he sought the company of Socrates, not from any desire of real improvement, but because he wished, for political purposes, to gain skill in confounding an adversary. We learn, however, from the same authority, that he lived a temperate life as long as his connexion with his great master lasted. (Xen. Mem. 1.2
. §§ 12-18, 39.) From a fragment of Critias himself (apud Plut. Alc.
33) it appears that he was mainly instrumental in procuring the recall of Alcibiades from banishment.
At the time of the murder of the generals who had been victorious at Arginusae, B. C. 406, we find him in Thessaly fomenting a sedition of the Penestae against their lords, and endeavouring to set up democracy in conjunction with one Prometheus, which has been supposed by some to be a surname of Jason of Pherae.
According to Xenophon, he had been banished by a sentence of the people, and this it was which afterwards made him so rancorous in his tyranny. (Xen. Mem. 1.2.24
2.3. §§ 15, 36; Schn. ad loc.
On his return to Athens he became leader of the oligarchical party, and was chosen to be one of the body called Ephori, probably not a public and legal office, but one instituted among themselves by the oligarchs for the better promotion of their ends. (Lys. c. Erat.
p. 124; Thirlwall's Greece,
vol. iv. p. 160; Hermann, Polit. Ant.
He was one of the 30 tyrants established in B. C. 404, was conspicuous above all his colleagues for rapacity and cruelty, sparing not even Socrates himself, and took the lead in the prosecution of Theramenes when he set himself against the continuance of the reign of terror.
He was slain at the battle of Munychia in the same year, fighting against Thrasybulus and the exiles. (Xen. Hell. 2.3
. §§ 2, 15-56, 4. §§ 1-19, Mem.
1.2. §§ 12-38; Diod. 14.4
; Plat. Apol.
p. 32c; Cic. Tusc. Quaest.
Cicero tells us (De Orat.
2.22), that some speeches of Critias were still extant in his time, and speaks of them as marked by the vigour of matter which distinguished those of Pericles and by a greater copiousness of style A work of his on politics is also frequently referred to by several writers (Athen. 11.463
f; Ael. VH 10.13
; Clem. Alex. Strom.
6.2; comp. Plat. Tim.
Some fragments of his elegies are still extant, and he is supposed by some to have been the author of the Peirithoüs and the Sisyphus (a satyric drama), which are commonly reckoned among the lost plays of Euripides; a tragedy named "Atalanta" is likewise ascribed to him. (Ath. 1
. p. 28b, x. p. 432e, xi. p. 496b; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
ii. pp. 252, 254, 294.)
As we might suppose à priori from his character, he was but a dabbler and a dilettante in philosophy, a circumstance which Plato, with his delicate satire, by no means loses sight of (see Protag.
p. 336), insomuch that it was said of him (Schol. ad Plat. Tim.
p. 20), that he was ἰδιώτης μὲν ἐν φιλοσόφοις
, φιλόσοφος δὲ ἐν ἰδιώταις
, "a lord among wits, and a wit among lords."
The remains of his poems have been edited separately by N. Bach, Leipzig, 1827.