Aka: THUCYDIDES: THE PELOPONNESIAN WARS AND PLATO: ALCIBIADES I. Adaptation by John Barton for Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian Wars and Plato's Dialogues. Music composed by Leo Cottakis Directed by Jack Gold Produced by BBC Television, the Greek Collection 1991, 70 minutes running time. Actors/readers include in order of appearance: Alec McCowen as Thucydides, John Bennett as Corcyran Representative, Jonathan Hyde as Corinthian Representative, Ben Kingsley as Pericles, Stephen Moore as 1st Athenian, Michael Kitchen as 2nd Athenian, Norman Rodway as Spartan General, Andrew Keir as Archidamus, David Calder as Cleon, Ronald Pickup as Diodotus, Oliver Ford Davies as Melian Representative, Nathaniel Parker as Alcibiades, Don Henderson as Socrates, Bob Peck as Nicias, John Rowe as Hermocrates and Clive Swift as Athenagoras. Actors/readers are members of the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.



Plot Summary

This film is an analysis of the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta that destroyed the Athenian empire. It explores the machinations of political expediency and the appropriation of moral right through the speeches and dialogue of the political and military men of that time. In the style of a news program, the actors address assemblies, address armies, negotiate with opposites, and debate with friends.

Nathaniel Parker's Role

Nathaniel Parker plays the part of Alcibiades, a strikingly handsome, gifted, and privileged man in the Athenian aristocracy. As such, he is perfectly cast. But he does look very young (29 years) especially when he debates with Socrates on erudite subjects or orates to assemblies or armies. Most of the other actors look much older. Perhaps their characters were much older than Alcibiades. It is not until the second half of the film that Parker appears. He has a series of informal scenes with Socrates. Later he gives a oration to an Athenian council exhorting the members to support his position. Alcibiades was renowned for his powers of speech and persuasion, his ability to relate to all people at whatever level of society. And this is evident in Parker's presentations. He always appears completely self-assured, in command. But I do wonder how he would have enacted a final scene of Alcibiades fleeing his residence and being levelled with a volley of arrows in his backside. But Parker's role, and all roles, are dramatic readings. There is nothing of a costume drama here and the death of the characters is not explored. Alcibiades is reported to have had a lisp, called the Attic lisp (which became quite the fad in Athens), in which the l and r are fused or confused in some way. There is no evidence that Parker attempted to duplicate this lisp.



Thucydides was born near Athens in 460 BC, the son of an aristocratic Athenian. When the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta broke out in 431 BC, Thucydides realized its importance and recorded its course and outcome which he later incorporated into his great work, the History of the Peloponnesian War. It covers three phases of the war: the conflict between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 421 BC; the failed Sicilian expedition of the Athenians from 415 to 413 BC; the renewed war between Athens and Sparta from 413 to 404 BC.



Thucydides was chiefly interested in the military matters and obtained his material through his own observations or from others who were present. To impart vividness to his narration and to portray the leading figures with more import, he gave them lengthy speeches which represented what he thought they would have said. Thucydides - Realism and Change - The History of the Peloponnesian War In the realist theory , it is believed that political change and the variable rate of development between states is closely linked with war, as the balance of power that maintains relative peace is disrupted. This insight, first conceived by Thucydides over twenty-four hundred years ago, is the cornerstone of realist theory. In his work, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides described the underlying cause of war between the city-states of Athens and Sparta as: "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta" - in other words, the dynamism of Athenian society as opposed to the static Spartan society. Thucydides then introduced the concept of modernization as the second cause of changes in international politics. Athens had a more internally dynamic state having a greater ability to adopt ideas and processes. Thucydides then outlined the components of why the internal/external dynamic of an individual state is key to understanding change in the international system. These were the character of the people (Athenians were energetic and innovative) and the presence of wise leadership. His book was written to provide a guide to future leaders. Nevertheless, Thucydides concluded that undoubtedly war was inevitable. Change begins with the varying internal dynamics of individual states. The balance of power is shifted. This shift creates fear between states which strains the balance in the international system. These tensions lead to war between the principal states. War is a mechanism by which the system is changed and a new balance of power is created. This concept leads naturally to the title "The War That Never Ends".


Alcibiades lived from 450-404 BC. After the death of his father in 447 PC, Alcibiades lived with his uncle, the great Greek statesman Pericles who provided his education and support but gave him very little attention. Alcibiades was influenced by Socrates, his teacher and friend and frequent confident. Alcibiades was greatly favoured in intelligence, looks, charm, power of speech - by all accounts far beyond what anyone might expect to find embodied in one man.. However, as he grew to manhood he increasingly lived a life of excesses and dissipation which fluxuated with the changes of his fortunes. But of the elements of his character, the strongest were his ambition and desire of superiority. These led him naturally to politics and affairs of the state including warfare. With his personal and mental superiority so evident, he became of special interest to Socrates who sought to guide his thinking on all matters. His only political rival was the Athenian statesman Nicias. In 415 Alcibiades made himself head of the army and persuaded the Athenians to undertake an expedition against Syracuse, with him as one commander, Nicias as another. Before their departure, all the statues of the god Hermes in Athens were mutilated in a single night (many castrated); the serious charge was laid on Alcibiades who was recalled from the expedition. He fled to Sparta, where he told of the plans and helped the Spartans and Syracusans to defeat the Athenians. For this act of treason, he was sentenced to death. He supported the Spartans in battles but when some difficulties arose, the Spartan leaders plotted to assassinate him. On learning of the plot, Alcibiades fled to Persia. He then offered to bring Persian support to the Athenians if they would revoke the decree making him an exile. His offer was accepted, and he subsequently won several important victories for the Athenians. Alcibiades returned to Athens in 407 and was received joyously. However, in 406 he was defeated at Notium and with new accusations brought by his enemies, he was relieved of his command. He fled to Persia where, at the request and approval of both the Athenian and Spartan governments, his residence was torched and he was killed by arrows as he fled.


From 431-404 BC, the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta raged. In the end it ruined Athens. The rivalry between Athens' maritime domain and Sparta's land empire was of long standing. Athens had developed a strong democracy which provided help to local democrats while the Spartans became an oligarchy. The war began with conflicts between Athens and Corinth over Corcyra (433) . Meanwhile the bubonic plague wiped out (430-428) a quarter of the population of Athens, and Pericles died. Subsequently Cleon replaced Pericles. Later Cleon was killed (422) in battle and was replaced by a new Athenian leader Nicias who was the chief rival to Alcibiades.. Cleon arranged a peace (421), but his rival Alcibiades persuaded the Athenians to invade powerful Syracuse which had an alliance (of sorts) with Sicily. A great expeditionary force was assembled with both Alcibiades and Nicias given commands. However, before the attack on Syracuse had begun, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens to face a charge of sacrilege which had been trumped up by his enemies. He fled to Sparta where he informed the Spartans of the Athenian's plans. Hence, the incompetent Nicias lost his chance to surprise Syracuse, and after two years his force was wiped out (413). To challenge Athen's navy, Persia financed a Spartan fleet. Alcibiades sailed it across the Aegean, and there was (412) a general revolt of Athenian dependencies. At Athens, the ruling oligarchic council gave (410) Alcibiades (who had quit the Spartans) an Athenian command. He destroyed the Spartan fleet at Cyzicus (410). The new Spartan admiral, built (407) a fleet with Persian aid and won a naval battle off Notium, and Alcibiades was driven from Athens. He was later killed as he fled from his burning residence in Persia. The next year the Spartans wiped out the Athenian navy and then besieged Athens, which capitulated in 404. For about 30 years afterwards Sparta was the main power in Greece.



This made for TV movie / docudrama has never been published for sale for large audiences. It is available through some American libraries.  

We use cookies on our website. Read our Policy