Plutarch's Lives Volume III.
by Plutarch
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Translated from the Greek




AUBREY STEWART, M.A., Late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge,


GEORGE LONG, M.A., Formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge,.













As it appears to me that the life of Nikias forms a good parallel to that of Crassus, and that the misfortunes of the former in Sicily may be well compared with those of the latter in Parthia, I must beg of my readers to believe that in writing upon a subject which has been described by Thucydides with inimitable grace, clearness, and pathos, I have no ambition to imitate Timaeus, who, when writing his history, hoped to surpass Thucydides himself in eloquence, and to show that Philistius was but an ignorant bungler, and so plunges into an account of the speeches and battles of his heroes, proving himself not merely one

"Who toils on foot afar Behind the Lydian car,"

as Pindar has it, but altogether unfit for the office of historian, and, in the words of Diphilus,

"Dull-witted, with Sicilian fat for brains."

He often seeks to shelter himself behind the opinions of Xenarchus, as when he tells us that the Athenians thought it a bad omen that the general whose name was Victory refused to command the expedition to Sicily; and when he says that by the mutilation of the Hennas the gods signified that the Athenians would suffer their chief disasters at the hands of Hermokrates the son of Hermon; or, again, when he observes that Herakles might be expected to take the side of the Syracusans because of Proserpine, the daughter of Demeter, who gave him the dog Kerberus, and to be angry with the Athenians because they protected the people of Egesta, who were descended from the Trojans, whereas he had been wronged by Laomedon, king of Troy, and had destroyed that city. Timaeus was probably led to write this sort of nonsense by the same critical literary spirit which led him to correct the style of Philistius, and to find fault with that of Aristotle and Plato. My own opinion is that to pay too much attention to mere style and to endeavour to surpass that of other writers, is both trifling and pedantic, while any attempt to reproduce that of the unapproachable masterpieces of antiquity springs from a want of power to appreciate their real value. With regard, then, to the actions of Nikias described by Thucydides and Philistius, more especially those which illustrate his true character, having been performed under the stress of terrible disasters, I shall briefly recapitulate them, lest I be thought a careless biographer, adding to them whatever scattered notices I have been able to collect from the writings of other historians and from public documents and inscriptions; and of these latter I shall quote only those which enable us to judge what manner of man he was.

II. The first thing to be noted in describing Nikias is the saying of Aristotle, that there had been in Athens three citizens of great ability and patriotism, namely, Nikias, the son of Nikeratus, Thucydides, the son of Melesias, and Theramenes, the son of Hagnon; though the latter was not equal to the two former, but was reproached with being a foreigner from the island of Keos; and, also, because he was not a stable politician but always inclined to change sides, he was nicknamed Kothornos, which means a large boot which will fit either leg. Of these three statesmen the eldest was Thucydides, who was the leader of the conservative opposition to Perikles; while Nikias, who was a younger man, rose to a certain eminence during the life of Perikles, as he acted as his colleague in the command of a military force, and also filled the office of archon. On the death of Perikles, Nikias at once became the foremost man in Athens, chiefly by the favour of the rich and noble, who wished to make use of him to check the plebeian insolence of Kleon; yet Nikias had the good-will of the common people, and they were eager to further his interests. Kleon, indeed, became very powerful by caressing the people and giving them opportunities for earning money from the State, but in spite of this, many of the lower classes whose favour he especially strove to obtain, became disgusted with, his greed and insolence, and preferred to attach themselves to Nikias. Indeed, there was nothing harsh or overbearing in the pride of Nikias, which arose chiefly from his fear of being thought to be currying favour with the people. By nature he was downhearted and prone to despair, but in war these qualities were concealed by his invariable success in whatever enterprise he undertook; while in political life his retiring manner and his dread of the vulgar demagogues, by whom he was easily put out of countenance, added to his popularity; for the people fear those who treat them with haughtiness, and favour those who respect and fear them. The reason of this is that the greatest honour which the populace can receive from a great man is not to be treated with contempt by him.

III. Perikles, indeed, used to govern Athens by sheer force of character and eloquence, and required no tricks of manner or plausible speeches to gain him credit with the populace; but Nikias had no natural gifts of this sort, and owed his position merely to his wealth. As he could not vie with Kleon in the versatile and humorous power of speech by which the latter swayed the Athenian masses, he endeavoured to gain the favour of the people by supplying choruses for the public dramatic performances and instituting athletic sports on a scale of lavish expenditure which never before had been equalled by any citizen. The statue of Pallas, erected by him in the Acropolis, is standing at this day, although it has lost the gold with which it was formerly adorned, and also the building which supports the choragic tripods in the temple of Dionysus, for he often gained a victory when choragus, and never was vanquished.

It is said that once during the performance of a play at his expense, a slave of his appeared upon the stage habited as Dionysus; a tall and handsome youth, and still beardless. The Athenians were charmed with his appearance, and applauded for a long time, at the end of which Nikias rose and said that he did not think it right that one whose body was thus consecrated to a god should be a slave; and consequently he gave him his freedom. Tradition also tells us how magnificently and decorously he arranged the procession at Delos. In former times the choruses sent by the cities of Ionia to sing to the glory of the god used to sail up to the island in a disorderly fashion, and were at once met by a rude mob, who called upon, them to sing, so that they disembarked in a hurry, huddling on their garlands and robes with unseemly haste and confusion. Nikias disembarked with his chorus upon the little island of Rhenea close by, with all their vestments and holy things, and then during the night bridged the strait—which is very narrow—with a bridge of boats which he had had made at Athens expressly, which was beautifully ornamented with gilding and rich tapestry. Next morning at daybreak, he led the procession to the god over this bridge, with his chorus very richly dressed, and singing as they passed over the strait. After the sacrifice, the public games, and the banquet, he set up the brazen palm-tree as an offering to the god, and also set apart an estate which he had bought for ten thousand drachmas, as sacred to the god. With the revenues of this land the people of Delos were to offer sacrifice and to provide themselves with a feast, and were to pray the gods to bestow blessings on Nikias. All these injunctions to the people of Delos were inscribed upon a pillar which he left there to guard his bequest. The palm-tree was afterwards overturned by a high wind, and in its fall destroyed the great statue which had been set up by the people of Naxos.

IV. These acts of Nikias may have been prompted by ambition and desire for display, but when viewed in connection with his superstitious character they seem more probably to have been the outcome of his devotional feelings; for we are told by Thucydides that he was one who stood greatly in awe of the gods, and was wholly devoted to religion. In one of the dialogues of Pasiphon, we read that he offered sacrifice daily, and that he kept a soothsayer in his house, whom he pretended to consult upon affairs of state, but really sought his advice about his own private concerns, especially about his silver mines. He had extensive mines at Laurium, the working of which afforded him very large profits, but yet was attended with great risks. He maintained a large body of slaves at the works; and most of his property consisted of the silver produced by them. For this reason he was surrounded by hangers-on, and persons who endeavoured to obtain a share of his wealth, and he gave money to all alike, both to those who might do him harm, and to those who really deserved his liberality, for he gave to bad men through fear, and to good men through good nature. We may find proof of this in the writings of the comic poets. Telekleides, speaking of some informer, says:

"Charikles a mina gave him, fearing he might say Charikles himself was born in a suspicious way; And Nikias five minas gave. Now, what his reasons were I know full well, but will not tell, for he's a trusty fere."

Eupolis, too, in his comedy of Marikas has a scene where an informer meets with a poor man who is no politician, and says:

"A. Say where you last with Nikias did meet. B. Never. Save once I saw him in the street. A. He owns he saw him. Wherefore should he say He saw him, if he meant not to betray His crimes? C. My friends, you all perceive the fact, That Nikias is taken in the act. B. Think you, O fools, that such a man as he In any wicked act would taken be."

Just so does Kleon threaten him in Aristophanes's play:

"The orators I'll silence, and make Nikias afraid."

Phrynichus, too, sneers at his cowardice and fear of the popular demagogues, when he says:

"An honest citizen indeed he was, And not a coward like to Nikias."

V. Nikias feared so much to give the mob orators grounds for accusation against him, that he dared not so much as dine with his follow citizens, and pass his time in their society. Nor did he have any leisure at all for such amusements, but when general, he used to spend the whole day in the War office, and when the Senate met he would be the first to come to the house and the last to leave it. When there was no public business to be transacted, he was hard to meet with, as he shut himself up in his house and seldom stirred abroad. His friends used to tell those who came to his door that they must pardon him for not receiving them, as he was not at leisure, being engaged on public business of great importance. One Hieron, whom he had brought up in his house and educated, assisted him greatly in throwing this air of mystery and haughty exclusiveness over his life. This man gave out that he was the son of Dionysius, called Chalkus, whose poems are still extant, and who was the leader of the expedition to Italy to found the city of Thurii. Hiero used to keep Nikias supplied with prophetic responses from the soothsayers, and gave out to the Athenians that Nikias was toiling night and day on their behalf, saying that when he was in his bath or at his dinner he was constantly being interrupted by some important public business or other, so that, said he, "His night's rest is broken by his labours, and his private affairs are neglected through his devotion to those of the public. He has injured his health, and besides losing his fortune, has been deserted by many of his friends on account of his not being able to entertain them and make himself agreeable to them; while other men find in politics a means of obtaining both friends and fortune, at the expense of the state." In very truth the life of Nikias was such that he might well apply to himself the words of Agamemnon.

"In outward show and stately pomp all others I exceed, And yet the people's underling I am in very deed."

VI. Perceiving that the Athenian people were willing enough to make use of the talents of men of ability, and yet ever viewed them with suspicion and checked them when in full career, as we may learn from their condemnation of Perikles, their banishment of Damon by ostracism, and their mistrust of Antiphon the Rhamnusian, and especially in their treatment of Paches the conqueror of Lesbos, who while his conduct as general was being enquired into, stabbed himself in the open court—perceiving this, Nikias always avoided, as far as he could, taking the command in any important military expedition. Whenever he was employed as general, he acted with extreme caution, and was usually successful. He was careful to attribute his success, not to any skill or courage of his own, but to fortune, being willing to lessen his glory to avoid the ill-will of mankind. His good fortune was indeed shown in many remarkable instances: for example, he never was present at any of the great defeats sustained by the Athenians at that time, as in Thrace they were defeated by the Greeks of Chalkidike, but on that occasion Kalliades and Xenophon were acting as generals, while the defeat in AEtolia took place when Demosthenes was in command, and at Delium, where a thousand men were slain, they were led by Hippokrates. For the pestilence Perikles was chiefly blamed, because he shut up the country people in the city, where the change of habits and unusual diet produced disease among them. In all these disasters Nikias alone escaped censure: while he achieved several military successes, such as the capture of Kythera, an island conveniently situated off the coast of Laconia, and inhabited by settlers from that country. He also captured several of the revolted cities in Thrace, and induced others to return to their allegiance. He shut up the people of Megara in their city, and thereby at once made himself master of the island of Minoa, by means of which he shortly afterwards captured the port of Nisaea, while he also landed his troops in the Corinthian territory, and beat a Corinthian army which marched against him, killing many of them, and amongst others Lykophron their general. On this occasion he accidentally neglected to bury the corpses of two of his own men who had fallen. As soon as he discovered this omission, he at once halted his army, and sent a herald to the enemy to demand the bodies for burial, notwithstanding that by Greek custom the party which after a battle demand a truce for the burial of the dead, are understood thereby to admit that they have been defeated, and it is not thought light for them to erect a trophy in commemoration of their victory; for the victors remain in possession of the field of battle, and of the bodies of the dead, and the vanquished ask for their dead because they are not able to come and take them. Nevertheless, Nikias thought it right to forego all the credit of his victory rather than leave two of his countrymen unburied. He also laid waste the seaboard of Laconia, defeated a Lacedaemonian force which opposed him,and took Thyrea, which was garrisoned by AEginetans, whom he brought prisoners to Athens.

VII. Now when Demosthenes threw up a fortification at Pylos, and after the Peloponnesians had attacked him by sea and by land, some four hundred Spartans wore left on the island of Sphakteria, the Athenians thought that it was a matter of great importance, as indeed it was, to take them prisoners. Yet, as it proved laborious and difficult to blockade them on the island, because the place was desert and waterless, so that provisions had to be brought from a great distance by sea, which was troublesome enough in summer, and would be quite impossible in winter, they began to be weary of the enterprise, and were sorry that they had rejected the proposals for peace which had shortly before been made by the Tasmanians. These proposals were rejected chiefly because Kleon opposed them. Kleon's opposition was due to his personal dislike to Nikias; and when he saw him enthusiastically exerting himself on behalf of the Lacedaemonians, he at once took the other side, and persuaded the people to reject the proffered peace. Now as the blockade dragged on for a long time, and the Athenians learned to what straits their army was reduced, they became angry with Kleon. He threw the blame upon Nikias, asserting that it was through his remissness and want of enterprise that the Spartans still held out, and declaring that, were he himself in chief command they would soon be captured. Upon this the Athenians turned round upon him and said, "Why, then, do not you yourself proceed thither and capture them?" Nikias at once offered to transfer his command to Kleon, and bade him take what troops he thought necessary, and, instead of swaggering at home where there was no danger, go and perform some notable service to the state. At first Kleon was confused by this unexpected turn of the debate, and declined the command; but as the Athenians insisted upon it, and Nikias urged him to do so, he plucked up spirit, accepted the office of general, and even went so far as to pledge himself within twenty days either to kill the Spartans on the island or to bring them prisoners to Athens. The Athenians were more inclined to laugh at this boast than to believe it; for they were well acquainted with the vainglorious character of the man, and had often amused themselves at his expense. It is said that once the public assembly met early and sat for a long time waiting for Kleon, who came at last very late with a garland on his head, and begged them to put off their debate till the next day. "To-day," said he, "I am not at leisure, as I have just offered a sacrifice, and am about to entertain some strangers at dinner." The Athenians laughed at his assurance, and broke up the assembly.

VIII. However, on this occasion, by good fortune and good generalship, with the help of Demosthenes, he brought home prisoners all those Spartans who had not fallen in the battle, within the time which he had appointed. This was a great reproach to Nikias. It seemed worse even than losing his shield in battle that he should through sheer cowardice and fear of failure give up his office of general, and give his personal enemy such an opportunity of exalting himself at his expense, depriving himself voluntarily of his honourable charge. Aristophanes sneers at him in his play of the 'Birds,' where he says:

"We must not now, like Nikias, delay, And see the time for action pass away."

And again in the play of the 'Farmers,' where this dialogue occurs:

"A. I want to till my farm. B. And wherefore no? A. 'Tis you Athenians will not let me go; A thousand drachmas I would give, to be From office in the state for ever free. B. Your offer we accept. The state will have Two thousand, with what Nikias just gave."

Moreover, Nikias did Athens much harm by permitting Kleon to attain to such a height of power and reputation, which gave him such exaggerated confidence in himself that he grew quite unmanageable, and caused many terrible disasters, by which Nikias suffered as much as any man. Kleon also was the first to break through the decorum observed by former public speakers, by shouting, throwing back his cloak, slapping his thigh, and walking up and down while speaking, which led to the total disregard of decency and good manners among public speakers, and eventually was the ruin of the state.

IX. About this time Alkibiades began to gain credit in Athens as a public speaker, less licentious than Kleon, and like the soil of Egypt described by Homer, which bears

"A mingled crop of good and bad alike."

Thus Alkibiades, with immense powers both for good and evil, produced great changes in the affairs of Athens. Nikias, even if he had been freed from the opposition of Kleon, could not now have quietly consolidated the power of the state, for as soon as he had arranged matters in a fair way to produce peace and quiet, Alkibiades, to satisfy his own furious ambition, threw them again into confusion and war. This was brought about by the following circumstances. The two chief hindrances to peace were Kleon and Brasidas; as war concealed the baseness of the former, and added to the glory of the latter. Kleon was able to commit many crimes undetected, and Brasidas performed many great exploits while the war lasted; wherefore, when both of these men fell before the walls of Amphipolis, Nikias, perceiving that the Spartans had long been desirous of peace, and that the Athenians no longer hoped to gain anything by continuing the war, and that both parties were weary of it, began to consider how he might reconcile them, and also pacify all the other states of Greece, so as to establish peace upon a durable and prosperous basis. At Athens, the richer classes, the older men, and the country farmers all wished for peace. By constantly arguing with the others he gradually made them less eager for war, and at length was able to intimate to the Spartans that there were good hopes of coming to terms. They willingly believed him because of his high character for probity, and more especially because he had shown great kindness to the Spartan prisoners taken at Pylos. A truce for one year had already been arranged between them, and during this they conversed freely with one another, and, enjoying a life of leisure and freedom from the restraints and alarms of war, began to long for an unbroken period of peace, and to sing:

"My spear the spider's home shall be,"

remembering with pleasure the proverb that in time of peace men are awakened, not by trumpets, but by crowing cocks. They railed at those who said that it was fated that the war should last thrice nine years, and, having thus accustomed themselves to discuss the whole question, they proceeded to make peace, and thought that now they were indeed free from all their troubles. The name of Nikias was now in every man's mouth, and he was called the favourite of heaven, and the man chosen by the gods for his piety to confer the greatest of blessings upon the Greeks. For they regarded the peace as the work of Nikias, just as the war had been the work of Perikles. The latter, they thought, for no adequate reasons, had involved the Greeks in the greatest miseries, while the former had relieved them of their troubles by persuading them to become friends. For this reason this peace is to this day called the peace of Nikias.

X. The terms of the peace were that each party should restore the cities and territory which it had taken, and that it should be determined by lot which side should restore its conquests first. We are told by Theophrastus that Nikias, by means of bribery, arranged that the lot should fall upon the Lacedaemonians to make restitution first. When, however, the Corinthians and Boeotians, dissatisfied with the whole transaction, seemed likely by their complaints and menaces to rekindle the war, Nikias induced Athens and Sparta to confirm the peace by entering upon an alliance, which enabled them to deal with the malcontents with more authority, and give them more confidence in one another.

All these transactions greatly displeased Alkibiades, who was naturally disinclined to peace, and who hated the Lacedaemonians because they paid their court to Nikias and disregarded him. For this reason, Alkibiades from the very outset opposed the peace, but ineffectually at first. When, however, he observed that the Lacedaemonians were no longer regarded with favour by the Athenians, and were thought to have wronged them by forming an alliance with the Boeotians, and not restoring to Athens up the cities of Panaktus and Amphipolis, he seized the opportunity of exciting the people by exaggerated accounts of the misdeeds of the Lacedaemonians. Moreover he prevailed upon the people of Argos to send ambassadors to Athens to conclude an alliance. As, however, at the same time ambassadors, with full powers to settle all matters in dispute, came from Lacedaemon, and in a preliminary conference with the Senate were thought to have made very reasonable and just proposals, Alkibiades, fearing that they might create an equally favourable impression when they spoke before the popular assembly, deceived them by solemnly declaring with an oath that he would assist them in every way that he could, provided that they would deny that they came with full powers to decide, saying that by this means alone they would effect their purpose. The ambassadors were deceived by his protestations, and, forsaking Nikias, relied entirely upon him. Upon this Alkibiades brought them into the public assembly, and there asked them if they came with full powers to treat. When they said that they did not, he unexpectedly turned round upon them, and calling both the Senate and the people to witness their words, urged them to pay no attention to men who were such evident liars, and who said one thing in one+ assembly and the opposite in another. The ambassadors, as Alkibiades expected, were thunderstruck, and Nikias could say nothing on their behalf. The people at once called for the ambassadors from Argos to be brought before them, in order to contract an alliance with that city, but an earthquake which was felt at this moment greatly served Nikias's purpose by causing the assembly to break up. With great difficulty, when the debate was resumed on the following day, he prevailed upon the people to break off the negotiations with Argos, and to send him as ambassador to Sparta, promising that he would bring matters to a prosperous issue. Accordingly he proceeded to Sparta, where he was treated with great respect as a man of eminence and a friend of the Lacedaemonians, but could effect nothing because of the preponderance of the party which inclined to the Boeotian alliance. He was therefore forced to return ingloriously, in great fear of the anger of the Athenians, who had been persuaded by him to deliver up so many and such important prisoners to the Lacedaemonians without receiving any equivalent. For the prisoners taken at Pylos were men of the first families in Sparta, and related to the most powerful statesmen there. The Athenians, however, did not show their dissatisfaction with Nikias by any harsh measures, but they elected Alkibiades general, and they entered into a treaty of alliance with the Argives, and also with the states of Elis and Mantinea, which had revolted from the Lacedaemonians, while they sent out privateers to Pylos to plunder the Lacedaemonian coasts in the neighbourhood of that fortress. These measures soon produced a renewal of the war.

XI. As the quarrel between Nikias and Alkibiades had now reached such a pitch, it was decided that the remedy of ostracism must be applied to them. By this from time to time the people of Athens were wont to banish for ten years any citizen whose renown or wealth rendered him dangerous to the state. Great excitement was caused by this measure, as one or the other must be utterly ruined by its application. The Athenians were disgusted by the licentiousness of Alkibiades, and feared his reckless daring, as has been explained at greater length in his Life, while Nikias was disliked because of his great wealth and his reserved and unpopular mode of life. Moreover he had frequently offended the people by acting in direct opposition to their wishes, forcing them in spite of themselves to do what was best for them. On the one side were arrayed the young men and those who wished for war, and on the other the older men and the party of peace, who would be sure to vote respectively, one for the banishment of Nikias, the other for that of Alkibiades. Now

"In revolutions bad men rise to fame,"

and it appears that the violence of these factions at Athens gave an opportunity for the lowest and basest citizens to gain reputation. Amongst these was one Hyperbolus, of the township of Peirithois, a man of no ability or power, but who owed his elevation to sheer audacity, and whose influence was felt to be a disgrace to Athens. This man, who never dreamed that ostracism would be applied to him, as the pillory would have been more suitable to his deserts, openly showed his delight at the discord between Nikias and Alkibiades, and excited the people to deal severely with them, because he hoped that if one of them were to be banished, he might succeed to his place, and become a match for the one who was left behind. But the parties which supported Nikias and Alkibiades respectively made a secret compact with one another to suppress this villain, and so arranged matters that neither of their leaders, but Hyperbolus himself was banished by ostracism for ten years. This transaction delighted and amused the people for the moment, but they were afterwards grieved that they had abused this safeguard of their constitution by applying it to an unworthy object, as there was a kind of dignity about the punishment which they had inflicted. Ostracism in the case of men like Thucydides and Aristeides, was a punishment, but when applied to men like Hyperbolus, it became an honour and mark of distinction, as though his crimes had put him on a par with the leading spirits of the age. Plato, the comic poet, wrote of him

"Full worthy to be punished though he be, Yet ostracism's not for such as he."

The result was that no one was ever again ostracised at Athens, but Hyperbolus was the last, as Hipparchus of Cholargus, who was some relation to the despot of that name, was the first. Thus the ways of fortune are inscrutable, and beyond our finding out. If Nikias had undergone the trial of ostracism with Alkibiades, he would either have driven him into banishment, and governed Athens well and wisely during his absence, or he would himself have left the city, and avoided the terrible disaster which ended his life, and would have continued to enjoy the reputation of being an excellent general. I am well aware that Theophrastus says that Hyperbolus was ostracised in consequence of a quarrel of Alkibiades with Phaeax and not with Nikias; but my account agrees with that given by the best historians.

XII. When ambassadors came to Athens from Egesta and Leontini, inviting the Athenians to commence a campaign in Sicily, Nikias opposed the project, but was overruled by Alkibiades and the war party. Before the assembly met to discuss the matter, men's heads were completely turned with vague hopes of conquest, so that the youths in the gymnasia, and the older men in their places of business or of recreation, did nothing but sketch the outline of the island of Sicily and of the adjacent seas and continents. They regarded Sicily not so much as a prize to be won, but as a stepping-stone to greater conquests, meaning from it to attack Carthage, and make themselves masters of the Mediterranean sea as far as the Columns of Herakles. Public opinion being thus biassed, Nikias could find few to help him in opposing the scheme. The rich feared lest they should be thought to wish to avoid the burden of fitting out ships and the other expensive duties which they would be called upon to fulfil, and disappointed him by remaining silent. Yet Nikias did not relax his exertions, but even after the Athenian people had given their vote for the war, and had elected him to the chief command, with Alkibiades and Lamachus for his colleagues—even then, on the next meeting of the assembly, he made a solemn appeal to them to desist, and at last accused Alkibiades of involving the city in a terrible war in a remote country merely to serve his own ambition and rapacity. However, he gained nothing by this speech, for the Athenians thought that he would be the best man to command the expedition because of his experience in war, and that his caution would serve as a salutary check upon the rashness of Alkibiades and the easy temper of Lamachus; so that, instead of dissuading them his words rather confirmed them in their intention. For Demostratus, who of all the popular orators was the most eager promoter of the expedition, rose, and said that he would put an end to these excuses of Nikias: and he prevailed upon the people to pass a decree that the generals, both at home and in the field, should be invested with absolute irresponsible power.

XIII. Yet it is said that the expedition met with great opposition from the priests; but Alkibiades found certain soothsayers devoted to his own interests, and quoted an ancient oracle which foretold that the Athenians should one day win great glory in Sicily. Special messengers also came from the shrine of Ammon,[1] bringing an oracular response to the effect that the Athenians would take all the Syracusans. Those oracles which made against the project, people dared not mention, for fear of saying words of ill-omen. Yet even the most obvious portents would not turn them from their purpose, such as the mutilation of all the Hermae, or statues of Hermes, in Athens, in a single night, except only one, which is called the Hermes of Andokides, which was erected by the tribe AEgeis, and stands before the house in which Andokides lived at that time. A man likewise leaped upon the altar of the Twelve Gods, sat astride upon it, and in that posture mutilated himself with a sharp stone. At Delphi too there is a golden statue of Pallas Athene standing upon a brazen palm tree, an offering made by the city of Athens from the spoils taken in the Persian war. This was for many days pecked at by crows, who at last pecked off and cast upon the ground the golden fruit of the palm tree. This was said to be merely a fable invented by the people of Delphi, who were bribed by the Syracusans. Another oracle bade the Athenians bring to Athens the priestess of Athena at Klazomenae, and accordingly they sent for her. Her name happened to be Hesychia, signifying Repose; and this is probably what the oracle meant that the Athenians had better remain quiet. The astronomer, Meton, who was appointed to some office in the army, either because of these adverse omens and prophecies, or because he was convinced that the expedition would miscarry, pretended to be mad and to set fire to his house. Some historians relate that he did not feign madness, but that he burned down his house one night, and next morning appeared in the market-place in a miserable plight, and besought his countrymen that, in consideration of the misfortune which had befallen him, they would allow his son, who was about to sail for Sicily in command of a trireme, to remain at home. We are told that Sokrates the philosopher was warned by one of the signs from heaven which he so often received that the expedition would be the ruin of the city. And many were filled with consternation at the time fixed for the departure of the armament. It was during the celebration of the Adonia, or mourning for the death of Adonis, and in all parts of the city were to be seen images of Adonis carried along with funeral rites, and women beating their breasts, so that those who were superstitious enough to notice such matters became alarmed for the fate of the armament, and foretold that it would start forth gloriously, but would wither untimely away.

XIV. The conduct of Nikias in opposing the war when it was being deliberated upon, and his steadfastness of mind in not being dazzled by the hopes which were entertained of its success, or by the splendid position which it offered himself, deserves the utmost praise; but when, in spite of his exertions, he could not persuade the people to desist from the war, or to remove him from the office of general, into which he was as it were driven by main force, his excessive caution and slowness became very much out of place. His childish regrets, his looking back towards Athens, and his unreasonable delays disheartened his colleagues, and spoiled the effect of the expedition, which ought at once to have proceeded to act with vigour, and put its fortune to the test. But although Lamachus begged him to sail at once to Syracuse and fight a battle as near as possible to the city walls, while Alkibiades urged him to detach the other Sicilian states from their alliance with Syracuse, and then attack that place, he dispirited his men by refusing to adopt either plan, and proposed to sail quietly along the coast, displaying the fleet and army to the Sicilians, and then, after affording some slight assistance to the people of Egesta, to return home to Athens. Shortly after this, the Athenians sent for Alkibiades to return home for his trial on a charge of treason, and Nikias, who was nominally Lamachus's colleague, but really absolute, proceeded to waste time in idle negotiations and languid manoeuvres, until his troops had quite lost the high spirits and hopes with which they had arrived at Sicily; while the enemy, who were at first terrified, began to recover their spirits, and despise the Athenians. While Alkibiades was still with them they had sailed to Syracuse with sixty ships, and while the rest remained in line of battle outside, ten of these had entered the harbour to reconnoitre. These ships, approaching the city, made a proclamation by a herald that they were come to restore the people of Leontini to their city, and they also captured a Syracusan vessel, in which they found tables on which were written the names of all the inhabitants of Syracuse, according to their tribes and houses. These tables were kept far away from the city, in the temple of the Olympian Zeus, but at that time the Syracusans had sent for them in order to discover the number of men able to bear arms. These tables were now taken by the Athenians, and carried to their general. When the soothsayers saw this roll of names, they were much alarmed, fearing that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy that the Athenians should capture all the Syracusans. However, some declare that the prophecy was really fulfilled when the Athenian Kallippus slew Dion, and captured Syracuse.

XV. Shortly after this, Alkibiades left Sicily, and the supreme command devolved upon Nikias. For Lamachus, though a brave and honest man, and one who always freely risked his life in battle, was but a plain simple man, and was so excessively poor, that whenever he was appointed general he was forced to ask the Athenians to advance him a small sum of money to provide him with clothes and shoes. Now Nikias was excessively haughty, both on account of his great wealth, and his military renown. It is said that once when the generals were debating some question together, Nikias bade Sophokles the poet give his opinion first, because he was the eldest man present, to which Sophokles answered, "I am the eldest, but you are the chief." Thus when in Sicily he domineered over Lamachus, although the latter was a far abler soldier, and by sailing about the coast at the point furthest removed from the enemy, gave them confidence, which was turned into contempt, when he was repulsed from Hybla, a little fort in the interior. At last he returned to Katana, without having effected anything, except the reduction of Hykkara, a town of the aborigines, not of the Greeks, from which it is said the celebrated courtezan Lais, then a very young girl, was carried away captive and sent to Peloponnesus.

XVI. As the summer advanced, and Nikias remained inactive, the Syracusans gained so much confidence that they called upon their generals to lead them to the attack of the Athenian position at Katana, since the Athenians did not dare approach Syracuse; while Syracusan horsemen even went so far as to insult the Athenians in their camp, riding up to ask if they were come to settle as peaceful citizens in Katana, instead of restoring the Leontines. This unexpected humiliation at length forced Nikias to proceed to Syracuse, and he devised a stratagem by which he was able to approach that city and pitch his camp before it unmolested.

He despatched to Syracuse a citizen of Katana, who informed the Syracusans that if they desired to seize the camp and arms of the Athenians, they would only have to appoint a day and to march in force to Katana. Many of the Athenians, he said, spent all their time within the walls of Katana, and it would be easy for the Syracusan party there to close the gates, assail the Athenians within, and set fire to their ships. A numerous body of Kataneans, he added, were eager to co-operate in the plan now proposed.

This was by far the ablest piece of strategy accomplished by Nikias during all the time that he remained in Sicily. The Syracusans were induced to march out their entire force, leaving their city with scarcely any defenders. Meanwhile, Nikias sailed round from Katana, took possession of the harbour, and encamped his forces on the mainland in a position where he could not be attacked by the enemy's cavalry. When the Syracusan army returned from Katana, he marched out the Athenians and defeated them, but with little loss on their side, as their cavalry covered their retreat. Nikias now broke down the bridges over the river Anapus, which gave occasion to Hermokrates to say, when he was making a speech to encourage the Syracusans, that it was a ridiculous thing for Nikias to try to avoid fighting, as though it were not for the express purpose of fighting that he had been sent thither. But in spite of all that Hermokrates could say, the Syracusans were very much cast down and disheartened. Instead of the fifteen generals who usually commanded their troops they chose three, upon whom they conferred absolute powers, and swore a solemn oath that they would leave them unfettered in the exercise of those powers.

The Athenians were very anxious to occupy the temple of Olympian Zeus, which was near their camp, and full of offerings of gold and silver. Nikias, however, purposely delayed the attack until a force was sent from Syracuse to defend the temple. He thought that if the soldiers did succeed in plundering it, the state would be none the better for it, and he himself would have to bear all the blame of sacrilege.

Nikias made no use of his boasted victory, and after a short time drew off his forces to Naxos, where he passed the winter, expending an enormous sum of money for the maintenance of so large a force, and effecting little or nothing except the reduction of a few disorderly tribes in the interior. The Syracusans now took heart again, marched into the Katanean territory and laid it waste, and attempted to burn the camp of the Athenians. Upon this all men blamed Nikias for deliberating and taking precautions until the time for action was gone by. No one could find any fault with him when he was actually fighting; but though a bold and energetic man in action, he was slow to form plans and begin an enterprise.

XVII. Thus when he did at length return to Syracuse, he managed the operation so swiftly and so skilfully that he disembarked his troops at Thapsus before the enemy were aware of his approach, took Epipolae by surprise, took prisoners three hundred of the force of picked men who endeavoured to recapture that fort, and routed the Syracusan cavalry, which had hitherto been supposed to be invincible. Moreover, what chiefly terrified the Sicilians, and seemed wonderful to all Greeks, was the speed with which he built a wall round Syracuse, a city quite as large as Athens itself, but one which is much more difficult to invest completely, because of the sea being so near to it, and the rough ground and marshes by which it is surrounded on the land side. Yet he all but succeeded in accomplishing this feat, although he was not in a condition of body to superintend such works personally, for he suffered greatly from a disease of the kidneys, to which we must attribute whatever was left undone by his army. For my own part I feel great admiration for the diligence and skill of the general, and for the bravery of the soldiers, which enabled them to gain such successes. The poet Euripides, after their defeat and utter overthrow wrote this elegy upon them:

"Eight times they beat the Syracusan host, Before the gods themselves declared them lost."

Indeed, they beat the Syracusans far more than eight times, before the gods turned against the Athenians and dashed them to the ground when at the height of their pride.

XVIII. Nikias was present, in spite of his sufferings, at most of these actions; but when his disease grew worse, he was forced to stay in the camp with a small guard, while Lamachus took the command of the army, and fought a battle with the Syracusans, who were endeavouring to build a counter-wall which would obstruct the Athenians in building their wall of circumvallation. The Athenians were victorious, but followed up their success in such a disorderly manner that Lamachus was left alone and exposed to the attacks of the Syracusan cavalry. He at once challenged their leader, a brave man named Kallimachus, to single combat, and both received and inflicted a mortal wound. His dead body and arms fell into the hands of the Syracusans, who at once charged up to the Athenian walls, where Nikias lay helpless. The extremity of the danger roused him, and he ordered his attendants to set fire to a quantity of timber which had been brought thither to construct military engines, and to some of the engines themselves. This desperate expedient checked the Syracusans, and saved Nikias and the Athenians; for the rest of the Syracusan forces on perceiving so great a body of flame returned in haste to their city.

This affair left Nikias in sole command, and he had great hopes of taking the place; for many cities in Sicily had formed alliances with him, ships laden with corn kept arriving to supply his camp, and all began to be eager to be on his side, and to share in the fruits of his success. The Syracusans themselves sent to propose terms of peace, for they despaired of being able to defend their city any longer against him. At this time Gylippus too, a Lacedaemonian who was sent to assist them, heard during his voyage that they were completely enclosed and reduced to great straits, but held on his voyage notwithstanding, in order that even if, as he imagined, all Sicily had fallen into the hands of the Athenians, he might at any rate defend the Greek cities in Italy from sharing its fate. The air indeed was full of rumours that the Athenians were carrying all before them, and that the good fortune and skill of their general rendered him invincible. Even Nikias himself was so elated by his apparent good fortune, that he forgot his wonted prudence, and imagining from the secret intelligence which he had from his friends within Syracuse that it was on the point of surrender, neglected Gylippus altogether, and kept so bad a watch at the straits of Messina with his fleet, that Gylippus managed to cross there and land in Sicily. Here he at once proceeded to gather an army together, but in a quarter of the island far away from Syracuse, so that the people of Syracuse knew nothing of his arrival. They even appointed a day for the public assembly to meet and discuss terms of surrender with Nikias, and were about to attend it, as they thought that it would be best for them to come to terms before the city was quite surrounded by the wall of the Athenians. There was now only a very small portion of this left to be finished, and all the materials for building it were collected on the spot.

XIX. At this crisis there arrived at Syracuse Gongylus, a Corinthian, in one trireme. All crowded round him, to hear what news he brought. He informed them that Gylippus would soon come to their aid by land, and that other triremes besides his own were on their way by sea. This intelligence was scarcely believed, until it was confirmed by a message from Gylippus himself, bidding them march out and meet him. They now took courage and prepared for battle. Gylippus marched into the town, and at once led the Syracusans out to attack the Athenians. When Nikias had likewise brought his army out of their camp, Gylippus halted his men, and sent a herald to offer them an armistice for five days, on condition that they would collect their effects and withdraw from Sicily. Nikias disdained to answer this insulting message; but some of his soldiers jeeringly enquired whether the presence of one Spartan cloak and staff had all at once made the Syracusans so strong that they could despise the Athenians, who used to keep three hundred such men, stronger than Gylippus and with longer hair, locked up in prison, and feared them so little that they delivered them up to the Lacedaemonians again. Timaeus says that the Sicilian Greeks despised Gylippus for his avaricious and contemptible character, and that when they first saw him, they ridiculed his long hair and Spartan cloak. Afterwards, however, he tells us that as soon as Gylippus appeared they flocked round him as small birds flock round an owl, and were eager to take service under him. This indeed is the more probable story; for they rallied round him, regarding his cloak and staff to be the symbols of the authority of Sparta. And not only Thucydides, but Philistus, a Syracusan citizen by birth, who was an eye-witness of the whole campaign, tells us that nothing could have been done without Gylippus. In the first battle after his arrival, the Athenians were victorious, and slew some few Syracusans, amongst whom was the Corinthian Gongylus, but on the following day Gylippus displayed the qualities of a true general. He used the same arms, horses, and ground as before, but he dealt with them so differently that he defeated the Athenians. Checking the Syracusans, who wished to chase them back to their camp, he ordered them to use the stones and timber which had been collected by the Athenians, to build a counter-wall, reaching beyond the line of circumvallation, so that the Athenians could no longer hope to surround the city. And now the Syracusans, taking fresh courage, began to man their ships of war, and to cut off the stragglers with their cavalry. Gylippus personally visited many of the Greek cities in Sicily, all of whom eagerly promised their aid, and furnished him with troops; so that Nikias, perceiving that he was losing ground, relapsed into his former desponding condition, and wrote a despatch to Athens, bidding the people either send out another armament, or let the one now in Sicily return to Athens, and especially beseeching them to relieve him from his command, for which he was incapacitated by disease.

XX. The Athenians had long before proposed to send out a reinforcement to the army in Sicily, but as all had gone on prosperously, the enemies of Nikias had contrived to put it off. Now, however, they were eager to send him assistance. It was arranged that Demosthenes should employ himself actively in getting ready a large force, to go to reinforce Nikias in the early spring, while Eurymedon, although it was winter, started immediately with a supply of money, and with a decree naming Euthydemus and Menander, officers already serving in his army, to be joint commanders along with him. Meanwhile, Nikias was suddenly attacked by the Syracusans both by sea and land. His ships were at first thrown into confusion, but rallied and sank many of the enemy, or forced them to run on shore; but on land Gylippus managed at the same time to surprise the fort of Plemmyrium, where there was a magazine of naval stores and war material of all kinds. A considerable number of the garrison, also, were either slain or taken prisoners; but the most serious result was the stoppage of Nikias's supplies, which heretofore had been easily and quickly brought through the Great Harbour, while it remained in the hands of the Athenians, but which now could not reach his camp by sea without a convoy and a battle.[2] Moreover, the Syracusan fleet had not been defeated by any superiority of force of the Athenians, but by the disorder into which it had been thrown by pursuing the enemy. They therefore determined to renew the conflict with better success.

Nikias, on his part, was unwilling to fight a second time, thinking it was folly to fight with a diminished and disheartened force when he knew that Demosthenes was hurrying to his aid with a large and unbroken armament. However, Menander and Euthydemus, the newly-elected generals, were eager to distinguish themselves by performing some brilliant action before the arrival of Demosthenes, and to eclipse the fame of Nikias himself. The pretext they used was the glory of Athens, which they said would be dishonoured for ever if they should now appear afraid to accept the Syracusans' offer of battle. The battle was fought: and the Athenian left wing, we are told by Thucydides, was utterly defeated by the skilful tactics of the Corinthian steersman Aristion. Many Athenians perished, and Nikias was greatly disheartened, for he had now proved unfortunate both when sole commander and when acting with colleagues.

XXI. Matters were in this posture when Demosthenes was descried in the offing, approaching with a splendid armament which struck terror into the hearts of the enemy. His fleet consisted of seventy-three ships, on board of which were five thousand heavy-armed troops, and three thousand javelin men, archers, and slingers. The glittering arms of the troops, the flaunting banners of the ships of war, and the music of the flutes to which the rowers kept time with their oars, made a gallant display, which delighted the Athenians as much as it depressed the Syracusans. These latter, indeed, were struck with dismay, and thought that their last victory had been won in vain, and that they were labouring to no purpose against a foe whose ranks were continually reinforced.

Nikias was not long allowed to feast his eyes on this welcome spectacle undisturbed. Demosthenes, as soon as he landed, insisted on the necessity of instantly attacking Syracuse, and putting an end to the siege, either by capturing the place, or by returning at once to Athens in case of failure. Against this Nikias, who was alarmed at the idea of such vigorous action, urged that it would be unwise to run such a risk. Delay, he argued, favoured the besiegers more than the besieged, as their resources must soon fail, in which case their allies would desert them and they would again be brought to the necessity of capitulating. Nikias adopted this view because of what he heard from his secret correspondents within the city, who urged him to continue the siege, telling him that already the Syracusans began to feel the war too great a burden for them to support, and that Gylippus was very unpopular among them, so that in a short time they would utterly refuse to hold out any longer, and would come to terms with the Athenians. Nikias could only hint at these secret sources of information, and so his counsels were thought by his colleagues to be mere cowardice. They declared loudly that the original mistake was about to be repeated, and the first terror-stricken impression of the armament frittered away, until familiarity with the sight of it had bred contempt in the breasts of their enemies. They therefore eagerly seconded the proposal of Demosthenes, and forced Nikias, though sorely against his will, to yield to their representations. Accordingly, Demosthenes with the land force assaulted the outlying fort on the high ground of Epipolae by night, and took it by surprise, killing part of its garrison and putting the remainder to flight. He did not halt there, but followed up his success by marching further on towards the city, until he was met by some Boeotian heavy-armed troops, who had been the first to rally, and now in a compact mass met the Athenians with their spears levelled, and with loud shouts forced them to give way with severe loss. The whole Athenian army was by this thrown into confusion and panic, as the fugitives broke the formation of those troops who were still marching to the front, so that in some cases they actually fought with one another, each believing the others to be enemies. Thus the Athenians fell into sad disorder and ruin; for they were unable to distinguish friends from foes in the uncertain light, as the moon, now nearly setting, glanced upon spear-points and armour without showing them clearly enough to enable men to see with whom they had to deal. The moon was behind the backs of the Athenians: and this circumstance was greatly against them, for it made it hard for them to see the numbers of their own friends, but shone plainly on the glittering shields of their antagonists, making them look taller and more terrible than they were. Finally, attacked as they were on every side, they gave way and fled. Some were slain by the enemy, some by their own countrymen, and some were dashed to pieces by falling down the precipices; while the rest, as they straggled about the country, were cut off by the Syracusan cavalry. Two thousand men perished, and of the survivors few brought back their arms.

XXII. Nikias, who had expected this reverse, now cast the blame of it upon Demosthenes; and he, admitting his error, besought Nikias to embark his army and sail away as quickly as possible, pointing out that no further reinforcement could be hoped for, and that they could not hope for success with the force now at their disposal. Even had they been victorious, he argued, they had intended to leave their present camp, which was unhealthy at all times, and was now in the hot season becoming pestilential. The time was the beginning of autumn, and many of the Athenians were sick, while all were disheartened. Nikias, however, opposed the idea of retreat, not because he did not fear the Syracusans, but because he feared the Athenians more, and the treatment which as an unsuccessful general he would probably meet with. He declared that he saw no reason for alarm, and that even if there was, that he would rather perish by the hands of the enemy than those of his countrymen. A very different sentiment to that which was afterwards uttered by Leon the Byzantine, who said, "My countrymen, I had rather be put to death by you than to be put to death together with you."

With regard to the place to which it would be best for them to remove their camp, that, Nikias said, was a question which they might take time to discuss.

Demosthenes, seeing that Nikias was thus obstinate, and conscious that his own project, when adopted, had led to a frightful disaster, ceased pressing him to raise the siege, and gave the other generals to understand that Nikias must have secret reasons, from his correspondents within the city, which led him to persevere thus obstinately in remaining where he was. This caused them also to withdraw their objections to remaining; but when another army came to assist the Syracusans, and the Athenians began to perish from malaria, even Nikias himself agreed that it was time to retreat, and issued orders to his men to hold themselves in readiness to embark.

XXIII. When all was ready, and the enemy off their guard, as they did not expect the Athenians to retreat, an eclipse of the moon took place, which greatly terrified Nikias and some others who, from ignorance or superstition, were in the habit of taking account of such phenomena. That the sun should be sometimes eclipsed even the vulgar understood to be in some way due to the moon intercepting its light: but what body could intercept the moon's light, so that suddenly the full moon should pale its light and alter its colour, they could not explain, but thought that it was a sinister omen and portended some great calamity.

The treatise of Anaxagoras, the first writer who has clearly and boldly explained the phases and eclipses of the moon, was then known only to a few, and had not the credit of antiquity, while even those who understood it were afraid to mention it to their most trusted friends. Men at that time could not endure natural philosophers and those whom they called in derision stargazers, but accused them of degrading the movements of the heavenly bodies by attributing them to necessary physical causes. They drove Protagoras into exile, and cast Anaxagoras into prison, from whence he was with difficulty rescued by Perikles; while Sokrates, who never took any part in these speculations, was nevertheless put to death because he was a philosopher. It was not until after the period of which I am writing that the glorious works of Plato shed their light upon mankind, proving that Nature obeys a higher and divine law, and removing the reproach of impiety which used to attach to those who study these matters, so that all men might thereafter investigate natural phenomena unreproved. Indeed, Plato's companion Dion, although the moon was eclipsed when he was starting from the island of Zakynthus to attack the despot Dionysius, was not in the least disturbed by the omen, but sailed to Syracuse and drove out the despot. Nikias at this time was without a competent soothsayer, for his intimate friend, Stilbides, who used to check a great deal of his superstition, died shortly before this. Indeed, the omen, if rightly explained, as Philochorus points out, is not a bad one but a very good one for men who are meditating a retreat; for what men are forced to do by fear, requires darkness to conceal it, and light is inimical to them. Moreover men were only wont to wait three days after an eclipse of the moon, or of the sun, as we learn from Autokleides in his book on divination; but Nikias persuaded them to wait for another complete circuit of the moon, because its face would not shine upon them propitiously before that time after its defilement with the gross earthy particles which had intercepted its rays.[3] XXIV. Nikias now put all business aside, and kept offering sacrifices and taking omens, until the enemy attacked him. Their infantry assailed the camp and siege works, while their fleet surrounded the harbour, not in ships of war; but the very boys and children embarked in what boats they could find and jeered at the Athenians, challenging them to come out and fight. One of these boys, named Herakleides, the son of noble parents, ventured too far, and was captured by an Athenian ship. His uncle Pollichus, fearing for his safety, at once advanced with ten triremes which were under his command; and this movement brought forward the rest of the Syracusan fleet to support him. An obstinate battle now took place, in which the Syracusans were victorious, and many of the Athenians perished, amongst whom was their admiral Eurymedon. And now the Athenians refused to remain before Syracuse any longer, and called upon their generals to lead them away by land, for the Syracusans after their victory had at once blockaded the entrance to the harbour, so that no passage was left. Nikias and the other generals refused to agree to this proposal, as they thought it would be a pity to abandon a fleet of so many transports, and nearly two hundred ships of war. They placed the flower of the land force on board the ships, with the best of the slingers and darters, and manned one hundred and ten triremes, for they had not sufficient oars for a larger number. Nikias now abandoned the great camp and walls of investment, which reached as far as the temple of Herakles, and drew the army up on the beach as spectators of the battle. Thus the Syracusan priests and generals were able for the first time since the siege began to sacrifice to Herakles, as they were wont to do, while the people were manning their fleet.

XXV. The Syracusan soothsayers promised them the victory if they awaited attack and did not begin the attack: for Herakles himself never struck the first blow, but always waited for his enemies to attack him. The sea-fight which now took place was the fiercest and most obstinately contested of all those which took place throughout the war, and its varying fortunes were shared with agonizing interest by the Athenian army and the citizens on the walls of Syracuse, who were able from their respective positions to overlook the whole battle and watch the manoeuvres of each ship. The Athenians were placed at a great disadvantage by having all their ships collected into one mass, where they were attacked from all sides by the lighter and more manageable vessels of the enemy. The Syracusans also used stones as missiles, which strike with equal effect, however they are thrown, while the Athenians replied with volleys of arrows and javelins, whose aim was often spoiled by the motion of the vessels, and which are useless unless they fly with the point foremost. All these details had been foreseen and taught to the Syracusans by Aristion the Corinthian steersman, who fell in the moment of victory. The Athenians were finally routed and driven ashore with great slaughter, and their retreat by sea completely cut off. Knowing how difficult it would be to make their way to any place of safety by land, they allowed themselves to be so paralyzed by despair, that they let the Syracusans tow away their ships as prizes, without making an effort to save them, and actually neglected to ask for a truce for the burial of their dead. They seemed to think that the case of the sick and wounded whom they saw amongst them, and whom they must perforce abandon when they left their camp, was even more pitiable than that of the floating corpses, and they actually envied the lot of the slain, knowing well that after a few more days of suffering they themselves were all destined to share their fate.

XXVI. They were all eager to depart during the night which followed this disastrous day; but Gylippus, perceiving that the people of Syracuse were so given up to feasting and merry-making, celebrating both their victory and the festival of their national hero Herakles, to whom the day was sacred, that they could not be either forced or persuaded into attempting to harass the enemy's retreat, sent some of those men who had formerly been in correspondence with Nikias to tell him not to attempt to retreat that night, as all the roads were occupied by Syracusans lying in wait to attack him. Deceived by this intelligence, Nikias waited to find what he feared in the night turned into a reality on the following day. At daybreak the passes were occupied by the Syracusans, who also threw up entrenchments at all the places where rivers had to be forded, and broke all the bridges, stationing their cavalry upon the level ground, so that the Athenians could not advance a step without fighting. The Athenians remained for all that day and the following night in their camp, and then set out, with such weeping and lamentation that it seemed rather as if they were leaving their native country than a hostile one, so distressed were they to see the miseries of their friends and relatives, and of the sick and wounded who were unable to accompany their march and had to be left to their fate, while they themselves had a presentiment that their present sufferings were nothing in comparison with those which awaited them. Among all these piteous sights, Nikias himself offered a glorious example. Worn out by disease, compelled by the exigencies of the retreat to forego the medicines and treatment which his condition required, he nevertheless, weak as he was, did more than many strong men could do, while all his men knew well that he made those efforts, not from any wish or hope to save his own life, but that it was solely on their behalf that he did not give way to despair. The tears and lamentations of the rest were prompted by their own private sorrows and fears, but the only grief shown by Nikias was that so splendid an expedition should have ended in such miserable failure. Those who watched his noble bearing and remembered how earnestly he had opposed the whole scheme, were filled with compassion for his undeserved sufferings. They began to despair of the favour of Heaven being shown to themselves, when they reflected that this man, careful as he had always been to perform every religious duty, was now no better off than the humblest or the most wicked soldier in his army.

XXVII. Nikias made heroic efforts by cheerful looks, encouraging speeches, and personal appeals to his followers, to show himself superior to fortune. Throughout the retreat, although for eight days in succession he was constantly harassed by the attacks of the enemy, he nevertheless kept the division under his command unbroken and undefeated, until the other part of the army under Demosthenes was forced to surrender, being completely surrounded in an enclosed olive-ground, the property of Polyzelus, brother of the despot Gelon. Demosthenes himself drew his sword and stabbed himself, but not mortally, for the Syracusans quickly interposed and forced him to desist. When the Syracusans told Nikias of this disaster, and allowed him to send horsemen to convince him of its truth, he proposed terms to Gylippus, which were that the Athenians should be allowed to leave Sicily, on condition of the repayment of the whole expenses of the war, for which he offered to give hostages. These terms were refused, and the enemy with insulting cries and threats proceeded to shoot with missiles of all kinds at the Athenians, who were now completely without food or drink. Yet Nikias prevailed upon them to hold out during that night, and on the following day he led them, still under fire from the enemy, across the plain leading to the river Asinarus. There some were forced into the stream by the enemy, while others cast themselves in to quench their thirst. A most dreadful slaughter now took place, the Athenians being wild with thirst, and the Syracusans killing them as they drank, until Nikias surrendered himself to Gylippus, saying, "I beseech you, now that you are victorious, to show some mercy, not to me, but to the Athenian troops. Consider how changeful is the fortune of war, and how gently the Athenians dealt with your men in their hour of victory."

Gylippus was visibly affected by the words, and by the sight of Nikias; for he knew how well the Spartan prisoners had been treated by him, when the peace was made with Athens; moreover, he thought that it would be a great honour to him if he could carry home the enemy's commander-in-chief as a prisoner. He received Nikias with kindness, and gave orders to take the rest of the Athenians alive. It was long, however, before these orders were understood and obeyed, so that more Athenians were slain than survived, although many were spared by the Syracusans in order that they might be sold for slaves.

The prisoners were now assembled together, and their arms and armour hung upon the trees by the river side, as a trophy of the victory. The victors next crowned themselves with garlands, decorated their horses, cut off the manes and tails of the captured horses, and marched back into their own city, having by their courage and skill won the most complete victory ever gained by one Greek state over another.

XXVIII. At a public assembly of the Syracusans and their allies which was shortly afterwards held, the orator Eurykles proposed that the day on which Nikias was taken should be kept as a festival for ever, upon which no work should be done, and sacrifice should be offered to the gods, and that the feast should be called the Asinaria, from the name of the river where the victory was won. The day was the twenty-sixth of the Dorian month Karneius, which the Athenians call Metageitnion (September 21st). Furthermore, he proposed that the Athenian slaves and allies should be sold, that the Athenians themselves, with what native Sicilians had joined them, should be confined in the stone quarries within the city of Syracuse, and that their generals should be put to death.

These propositions wore accepted by the Syracusans, who treated Hermokrates with contempt when he urged that to be merciful in victory would be more honourable to them than the victory itself. Gylippus too, when he begged that he might carry the Athenian generals alive to Sparta, was shamefully insulted by the excited Syracusans, who had long disliked the irritating Spartan airs of superiority natural to Gylippus, and now, flushed with victory, no longer cared to conceal their feelings. Timaeus tells us that they accused him of avarice and peculation, a hereditary vice, it appears, in his family since his father Kleandrides was banished from Sparta for taking bribes, while he himself afterwards stole thirty of the hundred talents which Lysander sent home to Sparta, and hid them under the roof of his house, but was informed against, and exiled in disgrace. This will be found described at greater length in the Life of Lysander.

In his account of the death of Nikias and Demosthenes, Timaeus does not exactly follow the narrative of Thucydides and Philistus, as he informs us that while the assembly was still sitting, Hermokrates sent to their prison to inform them that they were condemned to death, and to afford them the means of dying by their own hands, while the other historians state that the Syracusans put them to death.[4] Be this as it may, their dead bodies were exposed before the gates of Syracuse as a spectacle for the citizens. I have heard also that at the present day a shield is shown in one of the temples at Syracuse, which is said to be that of Nikias, and which is beautifully adorned with woven coverings of purple and gold.

XXIX. Of the Athenians, the most part perished in the stone quarries of disease and insufficient food, for they received only a pint of barley-meal and half-a-pint of water each day. Not a few, however, were sold into slavery, being stolen for that purpose by Syracusans, or having escaped disguised as slaves. The rest were at length branded upon their foreheads with the figure of a horse, and sold into slavery. Yet even in this extremity their well-bred and dignified behaviour came to their aid; for they soon either obtained their freedom, or gained the confidence and respect of their masters. Some gained their freedom by their knowledge of Euripides. It appears that the dramas of Euripides were especially popular in Sicily, but that only a few fragments of his works had hitherto reached the Greek cities in that island. We are told that many of these captives on their return to Athens affectionately embraced Euripides, and told him how some of them had been sold into slavery, but had been set free after they had taught their masters as much of his poetry as they could remember, while others, when wandering about the country as fugitives after the battle, had obtained food and drink by reciting passages from his plays. We need not then wonder at the tale of the people of Kaunus, who, when a ship pursued by pirates was making for their harbour at first refused to admit it, but afterwards enquired whether any on board knew the plays of Euripides; and on hearing that they did, allowed them to enter the harbour and save themselves.

XXX. At Athens the news of the catastrophe was at first disbelieved, because of the unsatisfactory way in which it reached the city. A stranger, it is said, disembarked at Peiraeus, went into a barber's shop, and began to converse about what had happened as upon a theme which must be uppermost in every man's mind. The astonished barber, hearing for the first time such fearful tidings, ran up to Athens to communicate it to the archons, and to the public in the market-place. All were shocked and astonished at hearing this, and the archons immediately convoked the public assembly, and brought the barber before it. When he was asked to explain from whom he had heard this intelligence, as he could give no satisfactory account, he was regarded as a disturber of the public tranquillity by fabricating idle tales, and was even put to the torture. Soon, however, men arrived who confirmed his tale, and described all the details of the catastrophe as far as they had witnessed them. Then at last the countrymen of Nikias believed, after his death, what he had so often foretold to them during his life.


[Footnote 1: In North Africa, the modern oasis of Siwah.]

[Footnote 2: Plemmyrium on one side, and the city of Syracuse on the other, command the entrance of the gulf known as the Great Harbour, inside of which lay the Athenian fleet and camp.]

[Footnote 3: Grote.]

[Footnote 4: Grote, Part II. ch. lx, points out that there is no real contradiction between the statement cited from Timaeus, and the accounts gives of the transaction by Thucydides and Philistus.]


I. Marcus Crassus[5] was the son of a father who had been censor, and enjoyed a triumph; but he was brought up with his two brothers in a small house. His brothers were married in the lifetime of their parents, and all had a common table, which seems to have been the chief reason that Crassus was a temperate and moderate man in his way of living. Upon the death of one of his brothers, Crassus married the widow,[6] and she became the mother of his children; for in these matters also he lived as regular a life as any Roman. However, as he grew older, he was charged with criminal intercourse with Licinia,[7] one of the Vestal Virgins, who was brought to trial; the prosecutor was one Plotinus. Licinia had a pleasant estate in the suburbs, which Crassus wished to get at a small price, and with this view he was continually about the woman and paying his court to her, which brought on him the suspicion of a criminal intercourse; but he was acquitted by the judices, being indebted in some degree to his love of money for his acquittal from the charge of debauching the vestal. But he never remitted his attentions to Licinia till he got possession of the property.

II. Now, the Romans say that the many good qualities of Crassus were obscured by one vice, avarice; but the fact appears to be that one vice, which was more predominant in his character than all the rest hid his other vices. They allege, as the chief proof of his avarice, the mode in which he got his money and the amount of his property. Though he did not at first possess above three hundred talents, and during his first consulship he dedicated the tenth part of his property to Hercules,[8] and feasted the people, and gave every Roman out of his own means enough to maintain him for three months; yet, before the Parthian expedition, upon making an estimate of his property, he found it amount to seven thousand one hundred talents. The greatest part of this, if one must tell the truth, though it be a scandalous story, he got together out of the fire and the war, making the public misfortunes the source of his wealth; for, when Sulla took the city, and sold the property of those whom he put to death, considering it and calling it spoil, and wishing to attach the infamy of the deed to as many of the most powerful men as he could, Crassus was never tired of receiving or buying. Besides this, observing the accidents that were indigenous and familiar at Rome, conflagrations, and tumbling down of houses owing to their weight and crowded state, he bought slaves, who were architects and builders. Having got these slaves to the number of more than five hundred, it was his practice to buy up houses on fire, and the houses which were adjoining to those on fire; for the owners, owing to fear and uncertainty, would sell them at a low price; and thus the greatest part of Rome fell into the hands of Crassus: but, though he had so many artizans, he built no house except his own; for he used to say that those who were fond of building were ruined by themselves, without the aid of any opponent. Though he had many silver mines, and much valuable land, and many labourers on it, still one would suppose that all this was of little value, compared with the value of his slaves: so many excellent slaves he possessed,—readers, clerks, assayers of silver,[9] house-managers, and table-servants; and he himself superintended their education, and paid attention to it and taught them, and, in short, he considered that a master was mainly concerned in looking after his slaves, who were the living implements of domestic economy. And here Crassus was right, if, as he used to say, it was his opinion that he ought to effect everything by the instrumentality of slaves, and that he himself should direct the slaves; for, we observe, that what is economical with respect to things lifeless is political with respect to men. But he was not right in thinking and saying that nobody was rich who could not maintain an army out of his substance; for war feeds not by a fixed allowance, according to Archidamus;[10] and, consequently, the wealth that is required for war is unlimited; and this opinion of Crassus was very different from the opinion of Marius; for when Marius, after giving to each man fourteen jugera of land, found that they wanted more, he said, "May there never be a Roman who thinks that too little which is enough to maintain him."

III. Besides this, Crassus was hospitable to strangers, for his house was open to all, and he used to lend money to his friends without interest; but he would demand it back immediately on the expiration of the time of the borrower, which made the gratuitous loan more burdensome than heavy interest. In his entertainments the invitation was usually to persons of the plebeian class, and general: and the frugality of the banquet, which was accompanied with neatness and a friendly welcome, made it more agreeable than a sumptuous feast. In his literary pursuits he mainly studied oratory,[11] and that kind which was of practical use; and, having attained an ability in speaking equal to the first among the Romans, he surpassed in care and labour those who had the greatest talents; for they say, there was no case, however mean and contemptible, which he approached without preparation; and often, when Pompeius, and Caesar, and Cicero, were unwilling to get up to speak, he would perform all the duties of an advocate: and for this reason he became more popular, being considered a careful man, and always ready to give his help. He pleased people, also, by his friendly and affable manner in taking them by the hand, and addressing them; for Crassus never met a Roman, however low and humble his condition might be, without returning his salute,[12] and addressing him by his name. He is also said to have been well versed in history, and to have paid some attention to philosophy by studying the writings of Aristoteles, in which he had for his teacher Alexander, a man who gave a proof of his moderation and easy temper in his intercourse with Crassus; for it was not easy to say whether he was poorer when he became acquainted with Crassus, or after the acquaintance was made. He was, indeed, the only friend of Crassus, who always accompanied him when he travelled abroad; and he used to wear a cloak,[13] lent him for the purpose, which on his return he was asked to give back. Oh, the submission[14] of the man! for the poor fellow did not consider poverty among the things that are indifferent. But this belongs to a later period.

IV. When Marius and Cinna had got the upper hand, and it was soon apparent that they would reinstate themselves in Rome, not for the benefit of their country, but plainly for the destruction and ruin of the nobles, those who were caught in the city were put to death: among whom were the father and brother of Crassus. Crassus, being very young, escaped immediate danger; but, seeing that he was hemmed in on all sides, and hunted by the tyrants, he took with him three friends and ten slaves; and, using wonderful expedition, made his escape to Iberia, having been there before, when his father was Praetor,[15] and having made himself friends. Finding all in great alarm and trembling at the cruelty of Marius, as if he were close at hand, he did not venture to make himself known, but sought refuge in a tract bordering on the sea, belonging to Vibius Pacianus,[16] where he hid himself in a large cave. He sent a slave to Vibius to sound his disposition; for the provisions that Crassus brought with him were now exhausted. On hearing the news, Vibius was pleased that Crassus had escaped; and inquiring about the number of persons with him, and where the place was, he did not go himself to see them, but he took his villicus near the spot, and ordered him to have food daily prepared, and to carry it and place it near the rock, and to go away without speaking a word, and not to be curious about the matter, or make any inquiries; and he gave him notice, that if he did meddle at all he should be put to death, but if he faithfully helped in the matter he should have his freedom. The cave is not far from the sea, and the precipices which shut it in leave a small and hardly perceptible path[17] which leads into the cave; but when you have entered, it opens to a wonderful height, and spreads out wide, with recesses which open into one another, and are of a large circuit. It is also neither without water nor light: for a spring of the purest water oozes out at the base of the precipice; and there are natural clefts about that part where the rock closes, by which the external light is admitted, and in the daytime the spot is fully illuminated. The air within is free from all moisture caused by dropping, and is quite pure, owing to the compactness of the rock, which diverts all the wet and droppings to the spring.

V. While Crassus stayed in the cave, the slave came daily to bring provisions; but he did not see the persons who were concealed, or know who they were; though he was seen by them, inasmuch as they knew, and watched the times of his coming. Now, the provision that was made for their meals was ample enough even for luxury, and not merely sufficient for their necessities. But Vibius determined to show Crassus every kind of friendly attention; and it occurred to him to consider the youth of Crassus, that he was a very young man, and that provision should be made in some degree also for the pleasures suitable to his age, and that merely to supply his wants would argue that he was serving Crassus as little as he could, rather than with hearty zeal; accordingly, he took with him two handsome female slaves, and went down to the sea-coast. When he came to the place, he pointed to the road that led up to it, and told them to go in boldly. Crassus, seeing them approach, was afraid that the spot was known, and had been discovered; and, accordingly, he asked them what they wanted, and who they were. The women replied, as they had been instructed, that they were looking for their master, who was concealed there; on which Crassus perceived the joke which Vibius was playing off upon him, and his kind attentions, and received the women; and they stayed with him for the rest of the time, telling and reporting to Vibius what he requested them. Fenestella[18] says, that he saw one of these slaves when she was an old woman, and that he had often heard her mention this, and tell the story with pleasure.

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