Nemesis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens

by David Stuttard

Hardcover, 2018



Call number



Harvard University Press (2018), Edition: First Edition, 400 pages


Alcibiades was one of the most dazzling figures of the Golden Age of Athens. A ward of Pericles and a friend of Socrates, he was spectacularly rich, bewitchingly handsome and charismatic, a skilled general, and a ruthless politician. He was also a serial traitor, infamous for his dizzying changes of loyalty in the Peloponnesian War. Nemesis tells the story of this extraordinary life and the turbulent world that Alcibiades set out to conquer. David Stuttard recreates ancient Athens at the height of its glory as he follows Alcibiades from childhood to political power. Outraged by Alcibiades's celebrity lifestyle, his enemies sought every chance to undermine him. Eventually, facing a capital charge of impiety, Alcibiades escaped to the enemy, Sparta. There he traded military intelligence for safety until, suspected of seducing a Spartan queen, he was forced to flee again--this time to Greece's long-term foes, the Persians. Miraculously, though, he engineered a recall to Athens as Supreme Commander, but--suffering a reversal--he took flight to Thrace, where he lived as a warlord. At last in Anatolia, tracked by his enemies, he died naked and alone in a hail of arrows. As he follows Alcibiades's journeys crisscrossing the Mediterranean from mainland Greece to Syracuse, Sardis, and Byzantium, Stuttard weaves together the threads of Alcibiades's adventures against a backdrop of cultural splendor and international chaos. Navigating often contradictory evidence, Nemesis provides a coherent and spellbinding account of a life that has gripped historians, storytellers, and artists for more than 2,000 years.--… (more)

Media reviews

Stuttard sets Alcibiades’ life firmly within the context of fifth-century Athens and the decades-long tension between the Athenians and Spartans that culminated in the second Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). The narrative thus moves in chronological order, with chapter breaks at major junctures
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in Alcibiades’ life. After an introduction (“Pinning Down Proteus”) that discusses the sources and methods for writing a biography on Alcibiades and a prologue (“A Family Divided”) on the history of the Alcmaeonid family, the first chapter (“Rearing the Lion Cub”) focuses on Alcibiades’ childhood and early youth. Chapter 2 (“Coming of Age”) examines Alcibiades’ early adulthood, particularly his early military service at Potidaea and his entry into Athenian public life. Since the details of Alcibiades’ life before his first appearance in Thucydides’ history, after the Peace of Nicias (421 BCE), are somewhat muddled, either by their literary quality (e.g. the account from Plato and Xenophon’s philosophic works) or by the biases against Alcibiades that developed over long passage of time (e.g. Plutarch’s life), Stuttard uses these chapters as an opportunity to provide an overview of society and education in classical Athens and the early years of the war, including its breakout, the plague, and the rise of Cleon.
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Original language


Physical description

400 p.; 9 inches


0674660447 / 9780674660441
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