Now, that Marcius is usually thought to have been rather simple in his nature, and straightforward, while Alcibiades was unscrupulous in his public acts, and false, is very clear. And Alcibiades is particularly denounced for the malicious deceit by which he cheated the Lacedaemonian ambassadors, as Thucydides relates,1
and put an end to the peace.
But this policy of his, although it did plunge the city again into war, made it nevertheless strong and formidable, by reason of the alliance with Mantinea and Argos which Alcibiades secured for it. And yet Marcius himself also used deceit to stir up war between the Romans and Volscians, when he brought a false charge against the visitors to the games, as Dionysius relates;2
and the motive for his action makes it the worse of the two.
For he was not influenced by ambition, or by rivalry in a political struggle, as Alcibiades was, but simply gave way to his anger, from which passion, as Dion says,
‘no one ever gets a grateful return,’ and threw many districts of Italy into confusion, and needlessly sacrificed many innocent cities to his rage against his country. It is true, indeed, that Alcibiades also, through his anger, was the cause of great calamities to his countrymen.
But just as soon as he saw that they were repentant, he showed them his goodwill, and after he had been driven away a second time, he did not exult over the mistakes of their generals, nor look with indifference upon their bad and perilous plans, but did precisely what Aristides is so highly praised for doing to Themistocles: he came to the men who were then in command, although they were not his friends, and told them plainly what they ought to do.
Marcius, however, in the first place, did injury to his whole city, although he had not been injured by the whole of it, but the best and strongest part of it shared his wrongs and his distress; in the second place, by resisting and not yielding to the many embassies and supplications with which his countrymen tried to heal his single wrath and folly, he made it clear that he had undertaken a fierce and implacable war for the overthrow and destruction of his country, not that he might recover and regain it.
Further, in this point it may be said there was a difference between them, namely, that Alcibiades, when he went over to the side of the Athenians, was moved by fear and hatred of the Spartans, who were plotting to take his life; whereas it was dishonourable for Marcius to leave the Volscians in the lurch when they were treating him with perfect fairness. For he was appointed their leader,
and had the greatest credit and influence among them, unlike Alcibiades, whom the Lacedaemonians misused rather than used, who wandered about aimlessly in their city, and again was tossed to and fro in their camp, and at last threw himself into the hands of Tissaphernes; unless, indeed, he was all the while paying him court in order that the Athens to which he longed to return might not be utterly destroyed.