Assembly at which the people were asked whether they desired to resort to ostracism that year. But it is impossible to accept such a solution of the difficulty. The whole tone of the speech itself makes against it—the author assumes throughout that his audience are on the point of voting as between Nicias, Alcibiades, and himself—; and, furthermore, we have no evidence that such an attack would have been permitted even at the preliminary meeting, where proceedings were confined to the purely general question: “Shall an ὀστρακοφορία be held?”
We cannot, however, dismiss the circumstances presupposed by the speech as entirely unhistorical. The political situation is clearly intended to be that of the year 417, when an ὀστρακοφορία was held to decide between the two rivals, Alcibiades and Nicias. Alcibiades had gained prominence in 420 by his tireless advocacy of an anti-Spartan policy in the Peloponnese, and it was largely through his efforts that the Quadruple Alliance between Athens, Argos, Elis, and Mantinea was formed, ostensibly for defensive purposes, but in reality as a means of bringing the North Peloponnese under Athenian influence and prosecuting the war with Sparta on her own ground. In 418, however, Alcibiades temporarily lost his hold upon the Assembly, and was not re-elected to the Strategia. Nicias, who was thoroughly opposed to any policy which would lead to a fresh outbreak of hostilities with Sparta, seized the opportunity to undo what he could of Alcibiades’ work; Athens became dilatory in her support of her allies, with the result that Sparta won a decisive victory at Mantinea (418), and the Quadruple Alliance came to an end. Political feeling ran high
at Athens in consequence; and the demagogue Hyperbolus thought the moment an excellent one for removing one or other of the two men who stood in the way of his own supremacy. At his instigation it was decided to hold an ὀστρακοφορία. But Alcibiades was too clever for him. By arranging a truce with Nicias and combining the latter’s following with his own, he succeeded in bringing about the ostracism of Hyperbolus himself (spring, 417).
Our chief source of information for the intrigues which led to the ostracism of Hyperbolus is Plutarch, who mentions the affair more than once. On two occasions he speaks only of Nicias, Alcibiades, and Hyperbolus. But in the Life of Alcibiadesa he refers also to a certain Phaeax. His words are as follows: ἀγῶνα δ᾿ εἶχε [i.e. Alcibiades] πρός τε Φαίακα τὸν Ἐρασιστράτου καὶ Νικίαν τὸν Νικηράτου . . . ἐπεὶ δὲ δῆλον ἦν ὅτι ἑνὶ τῶν τριῶν τὸ ὄστρακον ἐποίσουσι, συνήγαγε τὰς στάσεις εἰς ταὐτὸν ὁ ᾿Αλκιβιάδης καὶ διαλεχθεὶς πρὸς τὸν Νικίαν κατὰ τοῦ Ὑπερβόλου τὴν ὀστρακοφορίαν ἔτρεψεν. Phaeax would thus seem to be the leader of a third political party, and himself in danger of ostracism. We know something of him from Aristophanes and Thucydides. He had been sent as Athenian representative to Sicily in 425, he had at least once been on trial for his life, and his politics were conservative enough to satisfy Aristophanes, who criticizes him with some geniality in the Knights.b From Eupolis we learn further that he was too conversational to make a good orator.c As to his relations with Nicias and Alcibiades we cannot be