Alcibiades: Ancient Greek Aristocratic Ideal or Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Dr Kathleen Evans
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Title: Alcibiades: Aristocratic ideal or Antisocial Personality Disorder:
Presenter: Dr Katie Evans
Outline: A review of some ancient Greek and Roman literature suggests that the Greek general Alcibiades (c. 450 - 404 B.C.) possessed personality traits that enable a DSM-IV TR diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder with narcissistic features to be formulated. Despite holding high political and military offices he showed throughout his life a persistent disregard for and violation of the law and the rights of others. He was grandiose, he craved constant attention and admiration, and he completely lacked loyalty or empathy.

But there is an element of subjectivity about assessing precisely what constitutes a personality disorder since what one believes can be based upon criteria mediated by one’s age, gender, socio-economic status and the culture in which one lives. This is especially true of the personality disorders. Alcibiades’ behaviour could have been congruent with ancient Greek societal expectations that aristocratic males display qualities that today closely correspond with those of a personality-disordered individual.

Many of the same cultural dynamics that produced Alcibiades exist in Western culture today. Forensic research literature identifies familial, social and cultural characteristics that appear to generate or show a strong relationship with both criminal offending behaviour and antisocial traits. Antisocial personality disorder in particular correlates strongly with criminal offending behaviour. Individuals with APD are disproportionately represented in our prison systems, but these probably represent “failed” or unsuccessful psychopaths. Biographical research into prominent Western males reveals that similar traits to those Alcibiades displayed can secure success in public life, and that a significant proportion of Western political and military leaders seem to display antisocial and/or narcissistic personality traits.

Alcibiades’ behaviour was evaluated by referring to what his contemporaries and later biographers wrote about him, to determine whether he was considered by them to be conspicuously different from contemporary males of similar background and aspirations.

Keywords: Culture, Ancient Greece and Rome, Mental Illness, Forensic, Literature, Biography, Personality Disorder
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, History, Historiography, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr Kathleen Evans

Convenor, Master of Advanced Practice Mental Health Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery
Faculty of Health
Nathan Campus, Griffith University


I teach mental health skills to postgraduate students at Griffith University. My research interests concern mental health and mental illness in the ancient Greek and Roman classical literature. My Masters thesis examined the evidence for the social evolution of ancient Greek women in the writing of Homer and Euripides, and my PhD examined mental illness in the ancient Graeco-Roman literature. I have published work about the appearance of mental illness, schizophrenia and major depression in the ancient Graeco-Roman literature and I am interested in literature, opera, ancient history and travelling.

Ref: H06P0041