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Alcibiades One and Contemporary Applications


I have just finished reading Alcibiades I, by Plato. In that dialog I found very good part that may illustrate many events that happen constantly when someone deals with people in regards to influence, politics, problem solving, negotiations etc.

Here’s the text I’d like to quote:
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SOCRATES: Then let us compare our antecedents with those of the Lacedaemonian and Persian kings; are they inferior to us in descent? Have we not heard that the former are sprung from Heracles, and the latter from Achaemenes, and that the race of Heracles and the race of Achaemenes go back to Perseus, son of Zeus? 
ALCIBIADES: Why, so does mine go back to Eurysaces, and he to Zeus!  
SOCRATES: And mine, noble Alcibiades, to Daedalus, and he to Hephaestus, son of Zeus. But, for all that, we are far inferior to them. For they are descended 'from Zeus,' … whereas, we and our fathers were but private persons.  
How ridiculous would you be thought if you were to make a display of your ancestors … before Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes. 
You should consider how inferior we are to them both in the derivation of our birth and in other particulars. Did you never observe how great is the property of the Spartan kings? … Still greater is the difference among the Persians; for no one entertains a suspicion that the father of a prince of Persia can be any one but the king.
Such is the awe which invests the person of the queen, that any other guard is needless. And when the heir of the kingdom is born, all the subjects of the king feast; and the day of his birth is for ever afterwards kept as a holiday and time of sacrifice by all Asia; whereas, when you and I were born, Alcibiades, as the comic poet says, the neighbours hardly knew of the important event.  
After the birth of the royal child, he is tended, not by a good-for-nothing woman-nurse, but by the best of the royal eunuchs, who are charged with the care of him, and especially with the fashioning and right formation of his limbs, in order that he may be as shapely as possible; which being their calling, they are held in great honour. And when the young prince is seven years old he is put upon a horse and taken to the riding-masters, and begins to go out hunting. And at fourteen years of age he is handed over to the royal schoolmasters, as they are termed: these are four chosen men, reputed to be the best among the Persians of a certain age; and one of them is the wisest, another the justest, a third the most temperate, and a fourth the most valiant. …  
I might enlarge on the nurture and education of your rivals, but that would be tedious; and what I have said is a sufficient sample of what remains to be said. I have only to remark, by way of contrast, that no one cares about your birth or nurture or education, or, I may say, about that of any other Athenian, unless he has a lover who looks after him. And if you cast an eye on the wealth, the luxury, the garments with their flowing trains, the anointings with myrrh, the multitudes of attendants, and all the other bravery of the Persians, you will be ashamed when you discern your own inferiority; or if you look at the temperance and orderliness and ease and grace and magnanimity and courage and endurance and love of toil and desire of glory and ambition of the Lacedaemonians — in all these respects you will see that you are but a child in comparison of them. Even in the matter of wealth, if you value yourself upon that, I must reveal to you how you stand; for if you form an estimate of the wealth of the Lacedaemonians, you will see that our possessions fall far short of theirs. … And therefore you may safely infer that the inhabitants are the richest of the Hellenes in gold and silver, and that their kings are the richest of them, for they have a larger share of these things, and they have also a tribute paid to them which is very considerable. Yet the Spartan wealth, though great in comparison of the wealth of the other Hellenes, is as nothing in comparison of that of the Persians and their kings.  
Now, I cannot help thinking to myself, What if someone were to go to Amestris, the wife of Xerxes and mother of Artaxerxes, and say to her, There is a certain Dinomache, whose whole wardrobe is not worth fifty minae — and that will be more than the value — and she has a son who is possessed of a three-hundred acre patch at Erchiae, and he has a mind to go to war with your son — would she not wonder to what this Alcibiades trusts for success in the conflict? 'He must rely,' she would say to herself, 'upon his training and wisdom — these are the things which Hellenes value.' And if she heard that this Alcibiades who is making the attempt is not as yet twenty years old, and is wholly uneducated, and when his lover tells him that he ought to get education and training first, and then go and fight the king, he refuses, and says that he is well enough as he is, would she not be amazed, and ask 'On what, then, does the youth rely?' And if we replied: He relies on his beauty, and stature, and birth, and mental endowments, she would think that we were mad, Alcibiades, when she compared the advantages which you possess with those of her own people.  
And I believe that even Lampido, the daughter of Leotychides, the wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, all of whom were kings, would have the same feeling; if, in your present uneducated state, you were to turn your thoughts against her son, she too would be equally astonished.  
But how disgraceful, that we should not have as high a notion of what is required in us as our enemies' wives and mothers have of the qualities which are required in their assailants
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Notwithstanding the last paragraph where the “wives and mothers” look a bit below in comparison with men, and the fact that this quote is a bit bigger than a usual Twitter-style quotes we got used to, there is something very important that Plato (or the author of the text) would like a reader to comprehend. This thing is exaggeration of someone or someone’s acts significance and effect of ignorance and disregarding of reality.

Usually when somebody wants to be acknowledged or heard as equal by other members of certain social group that person should possess certain values and characteristics which are considered within the group. Mere declaration of some role or experience or capabilities by somebody in relation to themselves doesn’t work. Contemporary observations demonstrate that many people tend to neglect this simple though powerful idea that helps not only in self-development and personal success, but also in building a more educated and intelligent society.

The rule works everywhere – in business, in trade, in politics, in sports, in social settings etc. It also may help in explaining many events that happen in various areas and analyse what we see in mass media not from the perspective of the media outlets, but as humans capable of seeing bigger picture.

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