What leads a convalescent city, in need of heroes and role models, to execute its wisest and most famous citizen? And why would that citizen participate willingly and hasten his own demise?

Athens was a city in decline. Its hegemony had been eclipsed by that of Sparta, and its spirit was flagging. It had suffered a terrible defeat at Aegospotami by the Lacedaemonians, and its democratic ideals had been severely circumscribed by thirty tyrants who controlled the city for almost a year. Many of Athens’ heroes had been disgraced, perhaps most notably Alcibiades.1 Athenian supremacy was no longer certain, and the traditional ideals were everywhere being challenged. Sacrifices were necessary to regain the graces of the gods.

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