At last the feud between Nicias and Alcibiades became so intense that recourse was had to the process of ostracism. This the people used to institute from time to time when they wished to remove for ten years, by the ostrakon ballot, any one man who was an object of suspicion generally because of his great reputation, or of jealousy because of his great wealth. Both the rivals were thus involved in much confusion and peril, since one or the other must in any event succumb to the ostracism.
In the case of Alcibiades, men loathed his manner of life and dreaded his boldness, as will be shown more at length in his biography; and in the case of Nicias, his wealth made him an object of jealousy. Above all else, his way of life, which was not genial nor popular but unsocial and aristocratic, seemed alien and foreign: and since he often opposed the people's desires and tried to force them against their wishes into the way of their advantage, he was burdensome to them.
To tell the simple truth, it was a struggle between the young men who wanted war and the elderly men who wanted peace; one party proposed to ostracise Nicias, the other Alcibiades.
But in a time of sedition, the base man too is in
and so in this case also the people divided into two factions, and thereby made room for the most aggressive and mischievous men. Among these was Hyperbolus of the deme Perithoedae, a man whose boldness was not due to any influence that he possessed, but who came to influence by virtue of his boldness, and became, by reason of the very credit which he had in the city, a discredit to the city.
This fellow at that time thought himself beyond the reach of ostracism, since, indeed, he was a likelier candidate for the stocks; but he expected that when one of the rivals had been banished he might himself become a match for the one who was left, and so it was plain that he was pleased at their feud, and that he was inciting the people against both of them. Accordingly, when Nicias and Alcibiades became aware of his baseness, they took secret counsel with one another, united and harmonized their factions, and carried the day, so that neither of them was ostracised, but Hyperbolus instead.2
For the time being this delighted and amused the people, but afterwards they were vexed to think that the ordinance of ostracism had been degraded by its application to so unworthy a man. They thought that even chastisement had its dignity, or rather, they regarded the ostracism as a chastisement in the cases of Thucydides and Aristides and such men, but in the case of Hyperbolus as an honor, and as good ground for boasting on his part, since for his baseness he had met with the same fate as the best men. And so Plato the comic poet somewhere said of him:—
Indeed he suffered worthy fate for men of old
Albeit a fate too good for him and for his brands.
For such as him the ostrakon was ne'er devised.
And in the end no one was ever ostracised after Hyperbolus, but he was the last, as Hipparchus of Cholargus, a kinsman of the famous tyrant Peisistratus, was the first to be so banished.3
Verily fortune is an uncertain thing, and incalculable. Had Nicias run the risk with Alcibiades of being ostracised, he had either carried the day, expelled his rival, and then dwelt safely in the city; or, defeated, he had himself gone forth from the city before his last misfortunes, and had preserved the reputation of being a most excellent general.
I am well aware that Theophrastus says that Hyperbolus was ostracised when Phaeax, and not Nicias, was striving against Alcibiades, but most writers state the case as I have done.