Scion of a famous and wealthy family of aristocrats, possessing the charisma and keen intellect to become Socrates’ pet disciple as well as the athletic courage to be a much-admired warrior, bisexual pretty boy Alkibiades had it all during the Athenian golden age.
Greek philosopher Plato wrote admiringly (perhaps enviously) about Alkibiades, the brilliant bad boy of Athens, who was sexually pursued by men and women alike.
Well, almost all. From Plato’s writings we learn that young Alkibiades, to his utter chagrin, could not seduce his mentor Socrates. An excerpt reads: “I allowed myself to be alone with [Socrates] and naturally supposed he would embark on conversation that a lover usually addresses to his darling. Nothing of the kind; he spent the day with me in the sort of talk habitual to him, then left. Next I invited him to train with me in the gym, and accompanied him there, believing I should succeed with him now. He took exercise and wrestled with me frequently, with no one else present, but I need hardly say that I was no nearer my goal … so I invited him to dine with me, behaving just like a lover who has designs on his favorite … when the light was out and the servants had withdrawn … I nudged him and said, ‘Are you asleep, Socrates?’ ‘Far from it,’ he answered. I said, ‘I think that you are the only lover I’ve ever had who is worthy of me but you are afraid to mention your passion to me.’” (Alkibiades continues in this self-indulgent vein but gets no further.)
He then says, “Finally, I got up and covered him with my own clothes—for it was winter—and then laid myself down under his worn cloak, and threw my arms round this truly superhuman and wonderful man, and remained thus the whole night long … but in spite of all my efforts … I swear by all the gods that after sleeping with Socrates, I might as well have been sleeping with my father or elder brother.”
This story is attested elsewhere, as is the genuine astonishment Alkibiades demonstrates at being turned down.
When it came to lovers male or female, however, Socrates was probably the only holdout. Due to Alkibiades’ extraordinary physical beauty, his orator’s way with words, and his charming impudence, he had a long string of male suitors.
He had female alliances as well. He delighted the richest man in Athens, who gave him his daughter Hipparete; Alkibiades then treated her shamefully, bringing hookers home and forcing her to endure other abuses. When she tried to file divorce papers, Alkibiades swept her away from the magistrate and then imprisoned her at home. Hipparete died in childbirth in 417 B.C.
In addition, this arrogant risktaker had a string of reckless affairs with supposedly untouchable women. The most notorious? His fling with Spartan queen Timaea while her husband, King Agis II, was off doing battle. Their interlude produced that awkward byproduct, a love child. Later, the baby boy that Timaea and Alkibiades collaborated on got passed over for Spartan kingship, but the adulterers emerged unscathed.
Another sexcapade involved his pal and fellow philanderer Axiochus. The two went to Abydos in Asia Minor, somehow achieving the extraordinary feat of marrying the same woman. When she gave birth to a daughter, neither man claimed to know whose it was; as the girl reached puberty, they both cohabited with her. When Alkibiades was intimate with his offspring, he’d say, “Oh, she’s the daughter of Axiochus,” and vice versa.
Exceedingly nimble at erotic triumphs with both genders, this man was equally adept at switching political sides and carrying out criminal acts without paying the price.
An active politician as well as a part-time general, Alkibiades pushed for several disastrous moves. He led a huge Athenian armada to conquer Sicily’s rich Greek cities, a defeat that lost thousands of men and the entire fleet, crippling his home city-state. After the Sicily debacle, with Athenians calling for his blood, he fled to live in Sparta (bitter enemy of his home city). Despite his despicable moves, Alkibiades easily won back the esteem and love of the Athenians when he defected back to them in 412!
In a few years, when it became clear that he couldn’t keep his current crop of false promises, Alkibiades once more ran for it. He was killed shortly after Athens surrendered to the Persians in 404 B.C.
As comic playwright Aristophanes once said of Alkibiades, the most insolent native son of Athens, “They love, and hate, and cannot do without him.”