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Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato’s Drama of Political Ambition and Philosophy (2017)

Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato's Drama of Political Ambition and Philosophy

by Ariel Helfer

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“In the classical world, political ambition posed an intractable problem. Ancient Greek democracies fostered in their most promising youths a tension-ridden combination of the desire for personal glory and deep-seated public-spiritedness in hopes of producing brilliant and capable statesmen. But as much as active civic engagement was considered among the highest goods by the Greek nobility, the attempt to harness the love of glory to the good of the city inevitably produced notoriously ambitious figures whose zeal for political power and prestige was so great that it outstripped their intention to win honor through praiseworthy deeds. No figure better exemplifies the risks and rewards of ancient political ambition than Alcibiades, an intelligent, charming, and attractive statesman who grew up during the Golden Age of Athens and went on to become an infamous demagogue and traitor to the city during the Peloponnesian War.”


“This book is an engaging, wittily written analysis of the conversations between Alcibiades and Socrates. Ariel Helfer captures well the challenges and difficulties of a Socratic education, and in the process, he also brings out important questions about the desire to do good, political power, dependence on the divine, and the meaning of fame.”—Arlene Saxonhouse

“Socrates and Alcibiades is unusually clear, powerfully argued, and intelligent. It makes a convincing case that, in witnessing Socrates’ attempts to educate young Alcibiades, we are witnessing the first manifestations of what has come to be called Socratic political philosophy. The book is essential reading for scholars of Socrates and Plato, especially their moral and political thought, and for those interested in the understudied and under-theorized phenomenon of political ambition.”—Robert C. Bartlett