Book Review: The Life of Alcibiades: Dangerous Ambition and the Betrayal of Athens


by Jacqueline de Romilly, translated by Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019. Pp. xxii, 206. Maps, chron., notes, index. $29.95. ISBN: 1501719750

The Most infamous Ancient Greek Rogue

This biography of Alcibiades (c. 450-404 B.C.), perhaps the most charismatic, brilliant, and thoroughly unreliable character in ancient Greek history, the man who might have won the Peloponnesian War for Athens but was arguably the one most responsible for its disastrous outcome, first appeared in French in 1995 and is now finally available in English.

The late Prof. de Romilly (Collège de France) called the life of the “egomaniacal” Alcibiades (p. x) one of such “astonishing journeys and adventures” (p. xi) as to be hard to believe in a novel, yet it’s all true. She offers a comprehensive look at his life and career. Alcibiades was born to wealth, with unusually good family connections, being a kinsman of Pericles. Noted as an outstanding orator, soldier, and naval officer, he was a friend to Socrates and apparently a champion of Democracy. But numerous scandals attached to his name, there were amazing twists and turns of his political views and fortune, and he ultimate committed treason, while bringing disaster on the state.

While thoroughly rooted in serious scholarship – de Romilly gives us an excellent analysis of the sources – The Life of Alcibiades is written for the lay reader, yet her insights and analysis will prove of interest even for the well-versed student of the period.



Note: The Life of Alcibiades is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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