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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 3 of 14

· Alcibiades ·

(statesman/general, ca. 450-404 BCE)


Read about the evidence
Athenaeus (Ath.).
Thucydides (Thuc.).
Pausanias (Paus.).
Plutarch (Plut. Alc.).
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Samos (in text as “Samians”).
Ionia, Ionian coast (in text as “Ionian coast”).

Pausanias (Paus. 6.3.15) provides the only evidence for a statue of Alcibiades set up during his life: he mentions that a bronze statue of Alcibiades was dedicated by the Samians, ca. 410-407 (when Alcibiades had a fleet along the Ionian coast), in the Temple of Hera (probably at Olympia). He was also the subject of several paintings displayed at Athens, probably during his lifetime. Athenaeus reports that when Alcibiades returned to Athens from Olympia, he set up two paintings, by Aglaophon of Thasos, on the Acropolis: (1) personifications of the “Olympic Games” and the “Pythian Games” placing wreaths on Alcibiades’ head and (2) the personification Nemea seated, with beautiful Alcibiades on her lap (Ath. 12.534D). The paintings probably celebrated Alcibiades’ victory in the chariot race at the 91st Olympiad (in 416 BCE, cf. Thuc. 6.16.12). The painting with Nemea may be that mentioned by Plutarch and Pausanias (Paus. 1.22.7), or perhaps there was more than one painting. Plutarch notes that “When Aristophon painted an allegorical picture which showed Nemea embracing Alcibiades people were delighted and came in crowds to look at it. But the older generation were offended at this too; they thought it a sight fit for a tyrant’s court and an insult to the laws of Athens” (Plut. Alc. 16.7).

Read about the evidence
Pliny (Plin. HN).
Plutarch (Plut. Alc.).
Athenaeus (Ath.).

Alcibiades’ general appearance was well known in antiquity, as he was praised by several writers for his beauty (Pliny HN 36.28; Plut. Alc. 1.3). Specifics regarding his appearance are noted by Plutarch (Plut. Alc. 1.4), that his neck was bent, and Athenaeus (Ath. 12.534C) that he usually wore his hair long.

Read about the evidence
Dio Chrysostum (Dio Chrys. Orat.).
Pliny (Pliny HN).
Pliny (Plin. HN).
Plutarch (Plut. Alc.).
Athenaeus (Ath.).
Christodoros (Christodoros Ecph. in Grk. Anth.).
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Melissa Phrygia (in text as “Melissa”).

Other statues are recorded by Dio Chrysostum (Orat. 37.40), who notes a portrait of Alcibiades sculpted by Polycles, and a another one that was changed into the portrait of Chalkopogon (L. Domitius Ahenobarbus), a Roman. Pliny records a statue of Alcibiades in a chariot, sculpted by Phyromachos (or Pyromachos) (Plin. HN 34.80), and another by Nikeratos (Plin. HN 34.88). Alcibiades was also popular among the Romans. Pliny discusses the placement of statues of Pythagoras and Alcibiades in the corners of the Comitium in Rome when, during a Samnite War, Pythian Apollo commanded that a portrait of the bravest of the Greeks and one of the wisest men, be erected in a conspicuous place (Plin. HN 34.26). Pliny also tells a story of the young Alcibiades, shown as Eros with a thunderbolt, in the Portico of Octavia in Rome (Plin. HN 36.28). As R.R.R. Smith notes (Richter 1984, 83), this story may have been confused with that told by Plutarch and Athenaeus about Alcibiades’ golden shield that depicted Eros armed with a thunderbolt (Plut. Alc. 16.1; Ath. 13.534E). The emperor Hadrian was said to have erected a statue of Alcibiades (in Parian marble) on the Tomb of Alcibiades at Melissa, in Phrygia (Ath. 13.574F), while Christodoros (Ecphr. in Grk. Anth.) mentions a statue of Alcibiades, shown as a counsellor, in the Zeuxippos at Constantinople. None of these portraits may be recognized in the extant portraits, nor in a group of eight portraits formerly thought to have been the Alcibiades type (Richter 1965, 106, figs. 499-50).

Extant portraits:

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A Roman mosaic portrait, labelled ΑΛΚΗΒΕΙΑΔΗΣ, found at Sparta, shows a youthful image of a beardless man with long, wavy, black hair, wearing a himation.

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A marble tondo, found at Aphrodisias in 1981, only preserves the lower part of the face. It depicts a beardless man, consistent with the mosaic image.

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