On entering public life, though still a mere stripling, he immediately humbled all the other popular leaders except Phaeax, the son of Erasistratus, and Nicias, the son of Niceratus. These men made him fight hard for what he won. Nicias was already of mature years, and had the reputation of being a most excellent general; but Phaeax, like himself, was just beginning his career, and, though of illustrious parentage, was inferior to him in other ways, and particularly as a public speaker.
He seemed affable and winning in private conversation rather than capable of conducting public debates. In fact, he was, as Eupolis says, 1
‘A prince of talkers, but in speaking most incapable.’
And there is extant a certain speech written by Phaeax2
‘Against Alcibiades,’ wherein, among other things, it is written that the city's numerous ceremonial utensils of gold and silver were all used by Alcibiades at his regular table as though they were his own.
Now there was a certain Hyperbolus, of the deme Perithoedae, whom Thucydides mentions3
as a base fellow, and who afforded all the comic poets, without any exception, constant material for jokes in their plays. But he was unmoved by abuse, and insensible to it, owing to his contempt of public opinion. This feeling some call courage and valor, but it is really mere shamelessness and folly. No one liked him, but the people often made use of him when they were eager to besmirch and calumniate men of rank and station.
Accordingly, at the time of which I speak, persuaded by this man, they were about to exercise the vote of ostracism, by which they cripple and banish whatever man from time to time may have too much reputation and influence in the city to please them, assuaging thus their envy rather than their fear. When it was clear that the ostracism would fall on one of three men—Phaeax, Alcibiades, or Nicias—Alcibiades had a conference with Nicias, united their two parties into one and turned the vote of ostracism upon Hyperbolus.
Some say, however, that it was not Nicias, but Phaeax, with whom Alcibiades had the conference which resulted in winning over that leader's party and banishing Hyperbolus, who could have had no inkling of his fate.
For no worthless or disreputable fellow had ever before fallen under this condemnation of ostracism. As Plato, the comic poet, has somewhere said, in speaking of Hyperbolus,
And yet he suffered worthy fate for men of old;
A fate unworthy though of him and of his brands.
For such as he the ostrakon was ne'er devised.
However, the facts which have been ascertained about this case have been stated more at length elsewhere.4