This is the first in my 516-part Twitter inspired series of posts. Thanks to Joseph Hall @TheWayAlone for the topic!
The other day I posted on twitter asking for help coming up with new topics to post about. And right out of the gate I get hit with this bombshell! I love learning, and so I’m grateful this amazing person got brought up. So here we go, let’s talk about Socrates’ lover, Alcibiades.
The great philosopher Plato gave discourse about Alcibiades four times in his dialogues, making him his second most talked about person besides Socrates. Most people would agree that makes him a highly influential person worth diving into their story.
This man had it all: beauty, fame, fortune. He was by all means an ancient celebrity, well revered by his fellow Athenians. As a young man, he was a student to many renown teachers. Arguably his favorite was Socrates. The multi-dimensional relationship between the two was noteworthy enough to be told and retold by many philosophers.
The young Alcibiades was often considered to be uncontrollable and vain. It is posited this is the reason Socrates decided to take him as a student — so he could change his ways and become a better person. Socrates must have seen great aptitude in him, and with it, a future that could have an effect on a countless number of people. All he had to do was rein him in.
One might believe that someone with the attributes of Alcibiades would reject Socrates’ attempts at refining him. A person absorbed with vanity and demonstrating a rebellious nature is typically stubborn. It’s my belief that he not only accepted, but loved Socrates because he challenged him.
Hubris causes one to reject any outside source that contradicts the values and beliefs that one relishes in. Alcibiades was genuinely caring about avoiding a false sense of pride and his vanity demanded no flaw be found in his character. So he listened, admired and respected Socrates.
As but one of the philosophers many lovers, the biographer Plutarch said Alcibiades “feared and reverenced Socrates alone, and despised the rest of his lovers.” Though today jealousy is a very undesirable trait, 2500 years ago, near the birth of philosophy, this trait could have been seen more as a demonstration of passion, the hallmark of true love.
Socrates loved and cared for him and wanted to facilitate his growth into a powerful leader. And the history books confirm he succeeded in his teachings. The refined Alcibiades would go on to be a successful Athenian general and politician, at ages highly uncommon.
Alcibiades came to Socrates a naive, raw young man and was transformed. He was taught how to live a life worth living, how to master his undisciplined nature, and how to interact with a world that he dreamed of dominating. A true success story, Socrates must have been proud to see the man he created.
I don’t think the wise philosopher recruited so many lovers because he wanted them to be endless students, or never wavering ears to his words. He appreciated beauty in nature, and to him, the mind was the most beautiful thing.
In Alcibiades case, his handsomeness was probably appreciated as well.
Thanks for sticking with me as I took a brief glimpse into this story! I’ve only scratched the surface, but it was quite a joy to learn this one. For more information about Alcibiades and Socrates, check out Nemisis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens by David Stuttard and Tides of War: A Novel by Steven Pressfield.