But all this statecraft and eloquence and lofty purpose and cleverness was attended with great luxuriousness of life, with wanton drunkenness and lewdness, with effeminacy in dress,—he would trail long purple robes through the market place,—and with prodigal expenditures. He would have the decks of his triremes cut away that he might sleep more softly, his bedding being slung on cords rather than spread on the hard planks. He had a golden shield made for himself, bearing no ancestral device,
but an Eros
armed with a thunderbolt. The reputable men of the city looked on all these things with loathing and indignation, and feared his contemptuous and lawless spirit. They thought such conduct as his tyrant-like and monstrous. How the common folk felt towards him has been well set forth by Aristophanes1
in these words:—
‘It yearns for him, and hates him too, but wants him back;’
and again, veiling a yet greater severity in his metaphor:—
A lion is not to be reared within the state;
But, once you've reared him up, consult his every mood.
And indeed, his voluntary contributions of money, his support of public exhibitions, his unsurpassed munificence towards the city, the glory of his ancestry, the power of his eloquence, the comeliness and vigor of his person, together with his experience and prowess in war, made the Athenians lenient and tolerant towards everything else; they were forever giving the mildest of names to his transgressions, calling them the product of youthful spirits and ambition.
For instance, he once imprisoned the painter Agatharchus in his house until he had adorned it with paintings for him, and then dismissed his captive with a handsome present. And when Taureas was supporting a rival exhibition, he gave him a box on the ear, so eager was he for the victory. And he picked out a woman from among the prisoners of Melos to be his mistress, and reared a son she bore him.
This was an instance of what they called his kindness of heart, but the execution of all the grown men of Melos2
was chiefly due to him, since he supported the decree therefor.
Aristophon painted Nemea3
with Alcibiades seated in her arms; whereat the people were delighted, and ran in crowds to see the picture. But the elders were indignant at this too; they said it smacked of tyranny and lawlessness. And it would seem that Archestratus, in his verdict on the painting, did not go wide of the mark when he said that Hellas could not endure more than one Alcibiades.
Timon the misanthrope once saw Alcibiades, after a successful day, being publicly escorted home from the assembly. He did not pass him by nor avoid him, as his custom was with others, but met him and greeted him, saying:
‘It's well you're growing so, my child; you'll grow big enough to ruin all this rabble.’ At this some laughed, and some railed, and some gave much heed to the saying. So undecided was public opinion about Alcibiades, by reason of the unevenness of his nature.