Summary Of Ambition By Plutarch

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Themistocles was arguable one of the most significant political and military figures of Athens during the fifth century. He is often remembered for his emphasis on naval power and for his influence on the success of the Greeks during the Persian wars. However, more can be learned from studying Themistocles than war strategy and political conduct. In his work, Themistocles, Plutarch examines the role ambition plays throughout Themistocles’ life. His evaluation serves to highlight the boundaries and dangers of ambition, while emphasizing its double-sided nature.
Ambition, in the context of this biography, can be a stimulant that provokes action from a person. From a young age, Themistocles showed a strong affinity for influence and public service.
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One of his biggest rivals in the beginning of his public career was Aristides, who is said to have “always aimed at securing the utmost advantage for the state,” unlike Themistocles whose only concern was his own furtherance (Plutarch 79). After gaining enough influence, Themistocles had Aristides ostracized and also bribed Epicydes into declining the leadership of the Athenian forces, actions that create an image of a man driven by uncontrollable competitiveness and not by concern for the good of his people. With these two opponents out of the way, Themistocles was free to exercise his own schemes during the Persian wars. While Themistocles’ supervision did result in victory for the Greeks, it also enflamed his arrogance. After the war, Themistocles “carried his ambition to its furthest limit,” which created growing opposition towards himself (Plutarch 94). As a result, “the Athenians banished him. They made use of his ostracism to humble his great reputation and his authority” (Plutarch 98). While in exile, the same characteristics of ambition and ingenuity show themselves again, at first resulting in more success for Themistocles, but ultimately culminating in his suicide. Some believe the motivation for his death was “that he refused to tarnish the glory of his earlier achievements, or dishonor the trophies he had won,” showing that even in his last moments, his greatest concern was for his own

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