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The Case for GreatnessHonorable Ambition and Its Critics$
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Robert Faulkner

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780300123937

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300123937.001.0001

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Imperial Ambition in Free Politics: The Problem of Thucydides' Alcibiades

Imperial Ambition in Free Politics: The Problem of Thucydides' Alcibiades

(p.58) Chapter Three Imperial Ambition in Free Politics: The Problem of Thucydides' Alcibiades
The Case for Greatness

Robert Faulkner

Yale University Press

This chapter explores the lessons and implications that can be derived about grand ambition from Thucydides' Alcibiades. It first gives the context of Alcibiades, from his work as a strategist in the culminating war between Athens and Sparta, to his turning traitor to his homeland, democratic Athens, and eventually leading the monarchic Persia against both Athens and Sparta. As such, there is an inherent problem in free politics as well as in Alcibiades. Even though such a man desires superiority that would threaten a free order, it also remains true that a free order requires his superior qualities and yet is unable to tolerate them. In essence, Athens needed Alcibiades, and every time it drove him out, they faced disastrous military consequences. Thus the chapter surveys Thucydides' picture of Alcibiades and his political exploits, focusing also on the soul seen in the public effects of these exploits. In effect, it sets the stage for Plato's psychological diagnosis of Alcibiades.

Keywords:   Thucydides' Alcibiades, Thucydides, free politics, free order, Alcibiades, Plato's psychological diagnosis

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