Alkibiades: The Chameleon of Athens

Alkibiades: Hero? Traitor? Champion? Lover? He was many things to many people, and came to be know as the Chameleon of Athens. However, his great power may have ultimately contributed to the downfall of the Athenian golden age.

For Alkibiades, among his other extraordinary qualities, had this especial art of captivating men by assimilating his own manners and habits to theirs, being able to change, more quickly than the chameleon, from one mode of life to another. The chameleon, indeed, cannot turn itself white; but Alkibiades never found anything, good or bad, which he could not imitate to the life. Thus at Sparta he was fond of exercise, frugal and severe; in Ionia, luxurious, frivolous, and lazy; in Thrace, he drank deep; in Thessaly he proved himself a good horseman; while, when he was consorting with the satrap Tissaphernes, he outdid even the Persian splendour and pomp. It was not his real character that he so often and so easily changed, but as he knew that if he appeared in his true colours, he would be universally disliked, he concealed his real self under an apparent adoption of the ways and fashions of whatever place he was in. In Lacedaemon you would say, looking at his appearance,

"'Tis not Achilles' son, 'tis he himself."

Listen to Derek and Ben discuss Alkibiades: was he a hero or tyrant? 

"His youthful beauty soon caused him to be surrounded with noble admirers, but the regard of Sokrates for him is a great proof of his natural goodness of disposition, which that philosopher could discern in him, but which he feared would wither away like a faded flower before the temptations of wealth and position, and the mass of sycophants by whom he was soon beset. For no one ever was so enclosed and enveloped in the good things of this life as Alkibiades, so that no breath of criticism or free speech could ever reach him. Yet, with all these flatterers about him, trying to prevent his ever hearing a word of wholesome advice or reproof, he was led by his own goodness of heart to pay special attention to Sokrates, to whom he attached himself in preference to all his rich and fashionable admirers."