The commissioners sent by the Four Hundred returned from Samos to Athens and reported the1
words of Alcibiades—how he bade them stand firm and not give way to the enemy, and what great hopes he entertained of reconciling the army to the city, and of overcoming the Peloponnesians. The greater number of the oligarchs, who were already dissatisfied, and would have gladly got out of the whole affair if they safely could, were now much encouraged. They began to come together and to criticise the conduct of affairs.
Their leaders were some of the oligarchical generals and actually in office at the time, for example, Theramenes the son of Hagnon and
Aristocrates the son of Scellius. They had been among the chief authors of the revolution,2
but now, fearing, as they urged, the army at Samos, and being in good earnest afraid of Alcibiades, fearing also lest their colleagues, who were sending envoys to Lacedaemon3
, might, unauthorised by the majority, betray the city, they did not indeed openly profess4
that they meant to get rid of extreme oligarchy, but they maintained that the Five Thousand should be established in reality and not in name, and the constitution made more equal.
This was the political phrase of which they availed themselves, but the truth was that most of them were given up to private ambition of that sort which is more fatal than anything to an oligarchy succeeding a democracy. For the instant an oligarchy is established the promoters of it disdain mere equality, and everybody thinks that he ought to be far above everybody else. Whereas in a democracy, when an election is made, a man is less disappointed at a failure because he has not been competing with his equals.
The influence which most sensibly affected them were the great power of Alcibiades at Samos, and an impression that the oligarchy was not likely to be permanent. Accordingly every one was struggling hard to be the first champion of the people himself.