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Πολιτικός Ἔρως: Alcibiades’ Love in Thucydides and Plato

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Title: Πολιτικός Ἔρως: Alcibiades’ Love in Thucydides and Plato
Author: Olin, Nicholas J.
Advisor: Edmonds, Radcliffe
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Classics.
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2013
Abstract: My senior thesis, titled Πολιτικός Ἔρως: Alcibiades’ Love in Thucydides and Plato, concerns the decline of Athenian politics during the late 5th century BCE and the Peloponnesian War. I argue that Thucydides attributes Athens’ success under Pericles to the ideal erotic relationship between the citizen and the πόλις that the general sets forth in his famous Funeral Oration. This relationship is based off of the educational and sexual relationship that prevailed between older male lovers and younger male beloveds in the classical period, what I call the ἐραστής-ἐρώμενος relationship. I examine the structure of this homoerotic relationship, the gender norms that constitute it, and how it informs Pericles’ Ideal. I then show how Thucydides attributes Athens’ decline from Pericles’ wartime leadership to the kind of erotic relationship Alcibiades cultivates with the Athenian people, or δῆμος. This relationship was fundamentally one of erotic ambiguity, in which Alcibiades took on perverted roles as ἐραστής and ἐρώμενος of the people. I use Plato’s depiction of Alcibiades’ and Socrates’ ambiguous relationship to determine the extent to which Alcibiades transgressed the norms of behavior of model ἐρασταί and ἐρώμενοι as they constitute Pericles’ Ideal. In sum, after detailing Pericles’ Ideal and the ἐραστής-ἐρώμενος relationship, I first detail Alcibiades as a bad lover of the δῆμος and of Socrates, then his erotic ambiguity in Plato, and then his courting the δῆμος as a bad beloved. I then examine Thucydides’ lengthy digression on the myth of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton. He comments on how the Athenians err in their response to widespread sacrilegious vandalism on the eve of their fateful departure for Sicily due to a faulty interpretation of the myth. As a consequence, they ultimately exile Alcibiades, and in doing so, precipitate their failure in subduing Sicily and their failure in the wider war with the Spartans. I link their love for Alcibiades with their overwhelming desire to invade Sicily, with their failure to adequately (i.e. rationally) respond to the sacrilegious vandalism, and with their exile of their foremost general.
Subject: Homosexuality in literature
Subject: Alcibiades -- In literature
Subject: Thucydides -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Plato -- Criticism and interpretation
Access Restrictions: Open Access
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Olin, Nicholas J.. "Πολιτικός Ἔρως: Alcibiades’ Love in Thucydides and Plato". 2013. Available electronically from

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