AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Nicias

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Study Notes prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White, 2016 using Thomas North's text. If you wish to use this Study Guide as a teacher's edition, text-only version of this Life (without the Study Guide) is also available to print for your student. Read Intro to these study guides here.

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6
Lesson 7
Lesson 8
Lesson 9
Lesson 10
Lesson 11
Lesson 12

Nicias (ca. 470 B.C. - 413 B.C.)

The Golden Age of Athens

The strongest world power during the fifth century B.C. was the Persian Empire. By the time Nicias was born, Persia had overcome most of its rivals; but the Greeks held out, and they were entering a "Golden Age," particularly in the city-state of Athens.

The Athenian "Golden Age" is also called the "Age of Pericles," after its leader Pericles, who lived from 495-429 B.C. and was a chief influence in the city from about 461 B.C. until his death.

What was a strategos?

The word that North translates "captain" is the Greek word strategos. It means a military general, but the strategoi were also governors in Athens. The Athenians elected ten strategoi each year.

Who was Nicias?

What we know of Nicias' early life comes mostly from Plutarch: he was a man who had inherited wealth; he was by nature generous and pious, although not particularly sociable; and he seemed to be the natural leader of the aristocratic party after the death of Pericles.

What is "timorous?"

Plutarch describes Nicias as timorous. This word comes from the Latin timor, meaning "fear." It usually signifies someone who is timid or nervous, lacking confidence; or, more positively, it could mean "humble" or "cautious." The theme of Nicias' timorousness, and how it affects his leadership, is something to watch throughout the story.

Who was Cleon?

Cleon was the main political opponent of Nicias until his death in 422 B.C. Although he was an aristocrat himself, he represented the interests of the commercial class, a lower tier of citizens.

Who was Alcibiades?

Alcibiades (450-404 B.C.) is the subject of a Life by Plutarch. After the death of Cleon, he became the political rival of Nicias (although, on occasions such as a threatened ostracism, they did co-operate). The Sicilian Expedition (the subject of the last half of the Life of Nicias) was taken on at his urging.

What was the Peloponnesian War?

The half-century of peace after the Persian War ended with the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C. The Peloponnesus is the southern region of Greece, the location of Sparta (Lacedaemon); and the war was a struggle for power between Athens and Sparta. The fighting was occasionally halted by agreements such as the Peace of Nicias in 421; but the war dragged on until the year 404, ten years after Nicias' death. This Life begins with events after the death of Pericles, soon after the war began.

Lesson One


We may not have childhood stories of Nicias, but there are many resources for learning about Athenian life during the time he was growing up. It is not hard to imagine the things that Nicias might have seen: the Parthenon, built between 447-438 B.C.; Phidias' statue of Zeus at Olympia, finished around 435 B.C. and one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the first performances of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The philosopher Socrates was born the same year as Nicias, and died only a few years before him.

As a politician, Nicias felt he had only one real asset in persuading people to follow him: his money. He didn't have the strong personality of either Pericles or Cleon; but he did have the financial means to sponsor public events and religious processions. He could also stage-manage a performance, as we see in the story of the spectacle at Delos.


      clerkly: in a scholarly or learned manner; "clerically"
      things that are past all challenge and correcting: Dryden translates this "works of inimitable excellence." Plutarch is referring here to histories written by others, not the actual people studied.
      the communalty: the state, commonwealth
      withal: in addition
      to advance and prefer him: to give him more power
      feeding their humour with gain: pleasing them with gifts
      timorous: see introductory note
      liberality, with charges . . . : by providing entertainment and public events at his own expense
      the profits of the same: the income from that land
      giving out abroad: telling everyone
      about Laurion side: around Mount Laurium


      Thucydides: There are two people named Thucydides mentioned here. One is the historian Thucydides, author of The History of the Peloponnesian War; the other is a politician, the political rival of Pericles. Plutarch also names Philistus, another historian.


Part One

In my fancy, the ambition and contention to write or to speak more clerkly than others, sheweth always a base envious mind, like a scholar full of his school points. But when it striveth with things that are past all challenge and correcting, then is it extreme folly and madness. Since therefore I may not pass over nor omit certain things which Thucydides and Philistus have already set down; and especially those wherein they lay open Nicias' nature and qualities, which the variety of his successes and fortune did cover: I must lightly touch them, and report so much as is necessary, and convenient, lest men condemn me for sloth and negligence. And in the rest I have endeavoured to gather and propound things not commonly marked and known, which I have collected as well out of sundry men's works and ancient records, as out of many old antiquities: and of them all compiled a narration, which will serve (I doubt not) to decipher the man and his nature.

Of Nicias therefore [it] may be said that which Aristotle hath written of him: that there were three famous citizens of Athens, very honest men, and which favored the communalty with a natural fatherly love: Nicias the son of Niceratus; Thucydides [the politician], the son of Milesius; and Theramenes the son of Agnon. But of the three, this last was of smallest account: for he is flouted as a foreigner. Of the other two, Thucydides, being the elder, did many good acts in favour of the nobility against Pericles, who always took part with the inferior sort.

Nicias, that was the younger, had reasonable estimation in Pericles' lifetime: for he was joined captain with him, and oftentimes also had charge by himself alone without him. After Pericles' death, the nobility raised him to great authority, to be as a strong bulwark for them against Cleon's insolency and boldness: and withal, he had the love of the people, to advance and prefer him.

Now this Cleon in truth could do much with the people, he did so flatter and dandle them, like an old man, still feeding their humour with gain: but yet they themselves whom he thus flattered, knowing his extreme covetousness, impudency, and boldness, preferred Nicias before him, because his gravity was not severe nor odious, but mingled with a kind of modesty, that he seemed to fear the presence of the people, which made them thereby the more to love and esteem him. For being (as he was) of a fearful and mistrustful nature and disposition: in wars he cloaked his fear with good fortune, which ever favoured him alike in all his journeys and exploits that he took in hand where he was captain. Now being much afraid of accusers, this timorous manner of his [in civil life] was found to be popular, whereby he won him[self] the goodwill of the people: and by means thereof rose daily more and more, the people [being fearful of all that despised them, but willing to promote one who seemed to be afraid of them]. For the greatest honour nobility can do to the people, the communalty, is to show that they do not despise them.

Now Pericles, who through his perfect virtue only, and [the] force of his great eloquence, ruled the whole state and commonwealth of Athens, he need[ed] no counterfeit colour, nor artificial flattering of the people, to win their favour and goodwill: but Nicias lacking that, and having wealth enough, sought thereby to creep into the people's favour. And where Cleon would entertain the Athenians [by amusing them with bold jests]: Nicias finding himself no fit man to work by such encounter, crept into the people's favour with liberality, with charges of common plays, and with suchlike sumptuousness, exceeding in cost and pleasant sports, not only all those that had been before him, but such also as were in his time.

Part Two

Men write also of certain sumptuous and devout acts [that Nicias] did in the isle of Delos, where the dancers and singers which the cities of Greece sent thither to sing rhymes and verses in the honour of Apollo were wont before to arrive disorderly: and the cause was, for the numbers of people that ran to see them, who made them sing straight without any order, and landing in haste out of their ships, they left their apparel, and put on such vestments as they should wear in procession, and their garlands of flowers on their heads, all at one present time.

But Nicias, being commanded to go thither to present the singers of Athens, landed first in the isle of Renia, hard adjoining to the isle of Delos, with his singers, his beasts for sacrifice, and with all the rest of his train, carrying a bridge with him, which he had caused to be made at Athens, upon measure taken of the channel betwixt the one and the other isle, [magnificently adorned with gilding and colouring, and with garlands and tapestries]: which in the night he set up upon the channel, being not very broad; and the next morning by break of the day [he] caused his singers to pass over upon it, singing all the way as they went, in his procession so nobly set forth, even unto the very temple of Apollo.

And when the sacrifice, the feast, and games that were to be played were finished, he gave a goodly palm tree of copper, which he offered up to Apollo, bought lands besides that cost him ten thousand drachmas, which he consecrated also unto [the god of the isle], and ordained, that the profits of the same should be yearly bestowed by the Delians, upon an open sacrifice and feast, in the which they should pray to their god for the health and prosperity of Nicias: and so caused it to be written and graven upon a pillar he left in Delos, as a perpetual monument and keeper of his offering, and foundation. Afterwards, this copper palm tree being broken by winds, it fell upon the great image of the Naxians' gift, and threw it down to the ground.

Surely in this ceremony and act of his, there was a marvellous pomp, and great shew of popular ambition: nevertheless, he that shall consider of [Nicias'] life and actions, may easily persuade himself that above all he did it of very pure zeal and devotion, and secondly, to give pleasure and pastime to the people. For by Thucydides' report of him, he was one that feared the gods with trembling, and was wholly given to religion. We find written in one of the dialogues of Pasiphoon, that Nicias did sacrifice daily to the gods, and kept a soothsayer continually in his house, giving out abroad that it was to counsel with him what should happen about the affairs of the commonwealth: but in truth it was to inquire of his own business, and specially of his mines of silver.

For he had many great mines about Laurion side, that were very profitable to him: but withal they [were] digged with great danger, and he was driven continually to keep a marvellous number of slaves at work there. The most part of Nicias' riches was in ready money, and thereby he had many cravers and hangers on him, whom he gave money unto: for he gave as well unto wicked people that might do mischief, as unto them that deserved reward, and were worthy of his liberality. Thus was his fear a rent to the wicked, as his liberality was also a revenue to the good.

Narration and Discussion

"Now this Cleon in truth could do much with the people, he did so flatter and dandle them, like an old man, still feeding their humour with gain." How did Nicias win their confidence in his own way?

What used to be the problem with the religious processions at Delos? How did Nicias solve this?

Lesson Two


Nicias noticed that men who were envied usually ended up in trouble; so he made sure everyone heard him thanking the gods for every success. He also avoided taking part in anything risky, because he didn't want to be blamed if things went wrong. But even cautious Nicias could occasionally produce a surprise.


      would suffer no access unto him: would allow no one to see him
      in his hot house to wash him: bathing and grooming himself
      looked like nobody: looked terrible
      abate: lessen
      offices: duties
      ought: anything
      the plague: in 430-429 B.C., there was a horrendous epidemic in Athens, which was the cause of Pericles' death
      Laconia: the region of Sparta


Part One

Now Nicias, being thus timorous of nature, and fearing to give any little occasion to the orators to accuse him, kept himself so warily that he neither durst eat nor drink with any man in the city, nor yet put forth himself in company to talk, or pass the time amongst them, but altogether avoided such sports and pleasures.

For when he was in office, he would never [come] out of the council house, but still busied himself in dispatching causes, from morning till night, and was ever the first that came, and last that went away. And when he had no matter of state in hand, then was he very hardly to be spoken withal, and would suffer no access unto him, but kept close in his house: and some of his friends did ever answer [people] that came to his gate, and prayed them to pardon him, saying that he was busy then about affairs of the commonwealth.

One Hieron, whom Nicias had brought up in his house, and had himself taught him both learning and music, was his greatest procurer and instrument to keep him from speech with any man, and brought him to this reputation of greatness and gravity. This Hieron did serve his turn, and helped him secretly to inquire what he would understand of the soothsayers, and gave out these words among the people: that Nicias led too miserable and painful a life, for the overgreat care he took to serve the commonwealth: insomuch, as though he were in his hot house to wash him, or at his table at meat, his mind ran still of some matters about the commonwealth, and to serve the state, did neglect his own private affairs: so that he scant began to sleep and take rest, when others commonly had slept their first sleep, and that he looked like nobody. Furthermore, that he was grown crabbed and uncourteous, even to such as before had been his familiar friends. So that, said he, he loseth them together with his goods, and all for service of the commonwealth: where others grow rich, and win friends, by the credit they have to be heard of the people, and can make merry among them, and sport with the matters of state which they have in their hands.

Now in truth, such was Nicias' life that he might truly say that which Agamemnon spake of himself in the tragedy of Euripides:

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

Part Two

[Nicias observed that the people, in the case of men of eloquence, or of eminent parts, made use of their talents upon occasion, but were always jealous of their abilities, and held a watchful eye upon them, taking all opportunities to humble their pride and abate their reputation; as was manifest in their condemnation of Pericles, their banishment of Damon, their distrust of Antiphon the Rhamnusian, but especially in the case of Paches who took Lesbos; who, having to give an account of his conduct, in the very court of justice, unsheathed his sword and slew himself.] Nicias, I say, remembering these examples, sought ever to flee from these offices which were either too great, or too small; and when he accepted any, had special regard to work surely, and to venture nothing. Whereby all his enterprises that he took in hand, as we may easily conjecture, prospered marvellous well: but yet he imputed nothing to his own wisdom, nor yet to his virtue and sufficiency, but thanked fortune ever for all, and praying diligently to the gods, contented himself to lessen his glory, and that only to avoid envy. As the event of things falling out even in his time do sufficiently witness unto us.

Part Three

For the city of Athens having sustained many great losses and overthrows, he was never a party, nor had ought to do, in any of them. As once for example: the Athenians were overcome in Thracia by the Chalcidonians, howbeit it was under the leading of Calliades and Xenophon, who were their captains. Another time, the loss they had in Aetolia under the charge of Demosthenes. Moreover at Delium, a city of Boeotia, where they lost a thousand men at one conflict, Hippocrates then being their general. And as touching the plague, the greatest number laid the fault thereof to Pericles, who by reason of wars kept the men that came out of the country, within the walls of the city of Athens: and so by changing of air, and their wonted manner of life, they fell into it. Now with none of all these great troubles and misfortunes, was Nicias ever burdened: but contrariwise he being captain took the isle of Cythera, which the Lacedaemonians inhabited, being an excellent place for situation to molest and destroy the country of Laconia. He won divers cities again that had rebelled in Thracia, and brought them once more under the obedience of Athens. At his first coming, having shut in the Megarians within their walls, he took the isle of Minoa: and at his departure thence, shortly after won the haven of Nisea also.

[Making a descent upon the Corinthian territory, he fought a successful battle, and slew a great number of the Corinthians with their captain, Lycophron. There it happened that two of his men were left, by an oversight, when they carried off the dead; which, when he understood, he stopped the fleet, and sent a herald to the enemy for leave to carry off the dead; though by law and custom, he that by a truce craved leave to carry off the dead was hereby supposed to give up all claim to the victory. Nor was it lawful for him that did this to erect a trophy, for his is the victory who is master of the field, and he is not master who asks leave, as wanting power to take.] Nicias, notwithstanding, was contented rather to forsake the honour of his victory, than to leave the bodies of two of his countrymen in the field without burial.

Narration and Discussion

How did Hieron excuse Nicias' unwillingness to see visitors? Was the excuse true? Some Scriptures to consider: Mark 10:44; Matt. 6:17.

Explain the choice that Nicias made after the battle with the Corinthians (in the last paragraph of the reading).

Lesson Three


Some enemy soldiers were stranded on an island, and the obvious plan was to besiege them and take them prisoner. However, capturing them proved difficult, and the Athenians, led by Nicias' enemy Cleon, began to wonder loudly why this simple maneuver was taking so long, or why they didn't agree to a recent peace proposal by the Lacedaemonians. "Were I general," Cleon said, "they should not hold out so long." Nicias decided that the best response was to challenge him to do a better job.


      fetch a marvellous compass: go a long way around
      victuals: food, supplies
      burdened: blamed
      importunate: persistent
      licentiousness: unruly behaviour
      fatness and lustiness: richness
      noisome: poisonous
      broil: turmoil
      husbandmen: landowners and farmers
      hearken: give attention

Historic Occasions

423 B.C.: The Battle of Amphipolis


Part One

And when the Peloponnesians had prepared great armies both by sea and by land to besiege the fort of Pyle [Pylos], the which Demosthenes the captain had fortified: battle being given by sea, it chanced there remained four hundred natural citizens of Sparta, within the isle of Spacteria [Sphacteria].

Now the Athenians thought it a noble exploit of them, (as indeed it was) to take those four hundred alive: howbeit the siege was very sore, because they lacked water even in the midst of summer, and were forced to fetch a marvellous compass to bring victuals to their camp, which when winter should be once come would be very dangerous, and almost an impossible thing to do. Whereupon, they then became sorry, and repented them much that they had sent away the ambassadors of the Lacedaemonians, which came to them to treat of peace, and that they had (through Cleon's procurement) suffered them to depart in that sort without resolution taken. [Cleon opposed it chiefly out of a pique to Nicias; for, being his enemy, and observing him to be extremely solicitous to support the offers of the Lacedaemonians, he persuaded the people to refuse them.]

But when the people saw that this siege drew out in length, and that their camp suffered grievous wants and necessities: then fell they out with Cleon, and he again burdened Nicias, saying that through his fear he would let the besieged Spartans escape, and that if he [Cleon] had been captain, they should not have holden out so long. Thereupon the Athenians said aloud to Cleon: "And why dost not thou go thither yet to take them?"

Moreover Nicias [him]self also rising up, openly gave him his authority to take this Pyle, and bade him levy as many soldiers as he would to go thither, and not to brag with such impudent words where was no danger, but to do some notable service to the commonwealth.

Cleon at the first shrank back, being amazed withal, little thinking they would have taken him so suddenly at his word. But in the end, perceiving the people urged him to it, and that Nicias also was importunate with him: ambition so inflamed him, that he not only took the charge upon him, but in a bravery said that within twenty days after his departure he would either put all the Spartans to the sword, or bring them prisoners unto Athens. The Athenians, hearing Cleon say so, had more [inclination] to laugh [at] than to believe that [which] he spake: for it was their manner ever to laugh at his anger and folly.

This notwithstanding, fortune favoured him at that time, and he handled himself so well in this charge with Demosthenes, that he took all the Spartans that they besieged, within the time he had appointed, saving such as were slain: and having made them yield, brought them prisoners to Athens. This fell out greatly to Nicias' shame and reproach.

But herein Nicias did great hurt to the commonwealth, suffering Cleon in that sort to grow to credit and estimation. For after that victory, Cleon grew to so haughty a mind and pride of himself, that he was not to be dealt withal: whereupon fell out the occasion of the great miseries that happened to the city of Athens, which most grieved Nicias of all other. For Cleon, amongst other things, took away the modesty and reverence used before in public orations to the people: he of all other was the first that cried out in his orations, that clapped his hand on his thigh, threw open his gown, and flung up and down the pulpit as he spake. Of which example afterwards followed all licentiousness, and contempt of honesty, the which all the orators and councillors fell into, that dealt in matters of state and commonwealth, and was in the end the overthrow of all together.

Part Two

In that very time began Alcibiades to grow to credit, by practise in the state, who was not altogether so corrupt, neither simply evil: but as they say of the land of Egypt, that for the fatness and lustiness of the soil,

It bringeth forth both wholesome herbs, and also noisome weeds.

Even so Alcibiades' wit, excelling either in good or ill, was the cause and beginning of great change and alteration. For, it fell out, that after Nicias was rid of Cleon [see next paragraph], he could not yet bring the city of Athens again to peace and quietness. For when the commonwealth began to grow to some rest and reasonable good order, then was it again brought into wars, through Alcibiades' extreme fury of ambition. And thus it began.

The only peacebreakers and disturbers of common quiet generally throughout Greece, were these two persons, Cleon and Brasidas: for war cloaked the wickedness of the one, and advanced the valiantness of the other, giving to either [one] occasion to do great mischief, and also opportunity to work many noble exploits.

Now Cleon and Brasidas being both slain together at [the battle of Amphipolis], Nicias straight perceiving the Spartans had long desired peace, and that the Athenians were no more so hotly given to the wars, but that both the one and the other had their hands full, and were willing to be quiet: devised what means he might use to bring Sparta and Athens to reconciliation again, and to rid all the cities of Greece also from broil and misery of war, that thenceforth they might all together enjoy a peaceable and happy life. The rich men, the old men, and the husbandmen, he found very willing to hearken to peace: and talking privately also with divers others, he had so persuaded them, that he cooled them for being desirous of wars. Whereupon, putting the Spartans in good hope that all were inclined to peace, if they sought it: the Spartans believed him, not only for that they had found him at other times very soft and courteous, but also because he was careful to see that their prisoners of Sparta, (who had been taken at the fort of Pyle) were gently treated, and had made their miserable captivity more tolerable.

Narration and Discussion

What was the worst result (according to Plutarch) of Cleon's unexpected capture of the Spartans? What might have happened if Cleon had lost the battle?

How did Nicias bring the war to a temporary halt?

Lesson Four


This lesson shows both the desire of (most) people to live in peace, and their fickleness when it comes to bestowing praise or blame.


      frequenting one another: building connections with each other
      strangers: foreigners
      amity: friendship
      whose lot it was to begin: they agreed to decide by lot who should be the first to return prisoners or land
      bought the lot: somehow arranged which side would get the "short straw"
      privity: agreement
      rendered up: surrendered
      to set all things at stay: settle all issues
      so far forth as: on the condition that
      Ephors: the Lacedaemonian rulers
      there fell out an earthquake: an earthquake interrupted the meeting
      as he departed thence: in the same position as he had left
      redelivered: released
      captain: general

Historic Occasions

421 B.C.: the Peace of Nicias


Part One

So peace was concluded between the Spartans and the Athenians for a year, during which abstinence, they frequenting one another again, and beginning to taste the sweetness and pleasures of peace, and the safety of free access one to see another's friends that were strangers: began then to wish that they might still continue in peace and amity together, without effusion of blood of either party, and took great delight in their dances, to hear them sing such songs:

And let my spear lie overgrown, with dusty spiders' webs.

And so, upon a meeting together to talk of many matters, they made a universal peace throughout all Greece. Now most men thought that surely all their sorrows and miseries were come to an end, and there was no talk of any man but of Nicias, saying that he was a man beloved of the gods, who for his devotion towards them, had this special gift given him, that the greatest blessing that could come unto the world, was called after his name. For to confess a truth, every man was certainly persuaded that this peace was Nicias' work, as the war was Pericles' procurement, who upon light causes persuaded the Grecians to run headlong into most grievous calamities: and Nicias on the other side had brought them [all] to become friends, and to forget the great hurts the one had received of the other in former wars. And even to this present day, that peace is called Nicium, as who would say, Nicias' peace.

Part Two

The capitulations of the peace were thus agreed upon: that of either side they should alike deliver up the cities, and lands, which each had taken from other in time of wars, together with the prisoners also: and that they should first make restitution, whose lot it was to begin. Nicias (according to Theophrastus' report) for ready money secretly bought the lot, that the Lacedaemonians might be the first that should make restitution.

And when the Corinthians and Boeotians that disliked of this peace, sought by the complaints they made, to renew the war again: Nicias then persuaded both the Athenians and Lacedaemonians, that they should add for strength unto their country, the alliance and peace, offensive and defensive, made between them, for a more sure knot of frendship, whereby they might be the better assured the one of the other, and also the more dreadful to their enemies that should rebel against them. These things went clean against Alcibiades' mind: who besides that he was ill-born for peace, was enemy also unto the Lacedaemonians, for that they sought to [please] Nicias, and made none account of him [Alcibiades], but despised him.

Here was the occasion that caused Alcibiades to prove from the beginning what he could do to hinder this peace, wherein he prevailed nothing. Yet shortly after, Alcibiades perceiving that the Athenians liked not so well of the Lacedaemonians as they did before, and that they thought themselves injured by them, because they had lately made league with the Boeotians without their privity, and had not wholly rendered up the cities of Panactum and Amphipolis according to the conditions articled between them: [he] began then to enlarge and aggravate the peoples' complaints, and to make them offended with every one of them. And furthermore he procured ambassadors from the city of Argos to come to Athens, and so handled the matter, that the Athenians made league, offensive and defensive, with them.

Part Three

While these matters were thus in hand, there came to Athens also ambassadors from Lacedaemon, with full power and authority to set all things at stay, and to compound all controversies: who having first spoken with the Senate, propounded things unto them both very honest and reasonable.

Whereupon, Alcibiades being afraid that they letting the people understand so much, should thereby bring them to yield to what they desired: he finely deceived the poor ambassadors by this device. He promised upon his oath to help them in that they went about, so far forth as they would not confess themselves to have absolute power from the Ephors: making them to believe it was the only way to bring their matters to pass.

The Ambassadors giving credit to his words, relied upon him, and so forsook Nicias. Whereupon Alcibiades brought them before the people being set in council, and there demanded openly of them, whether they had full power and authority to accord all matters yea or no. Whereunto they answer[ed] with a loud voice, that they had not [as they had promised to say]. Thereupon Alcibiades, contrary both to their expectation, and his own oath and promise made unto them: began to call the council to witness, whether they did not in open Senate say the contrary, and so advised the people not to trust nor give credit unto such men, as were openly taken with so manifest a lie, [who] would one while say one thing, another while another.

It boots not to ask whether the ambassadors were much amazed to hear Alcibiades' words: for Nicias himself wist not what to say to the matter, the suddenness of the cause did so confuse and grieve him, being a thing he least looked for. Now the people they were so moved besides, that they became indifferent whether to have sent for the ambassadors of Argos presently to have made league with them or not: but there fell out an earthquake upon this matter, that greatly served Nicias' turn, and brake up the assembly.

Part Four

The people meeting again in council the next morning, Nicias with all that he could do, or say, could scant withhold them from making league with the Argives [those of Argos]: and to get leave in the meantime to go to the Lacedaemonians, promising he would make all well again.

Thereupon, Nicias going to Sparta, was received and honoured there like a nobleman, and as one whom they thought well-affected towards them: but for the rest, he prevailed nothing, and being overcome by those that favoured the Boeotians, returned again to Athens as he departed thence. Where he was not only ill-welcomed home, and worse esteemed, but was also in danger of his person, through the fury of the people, that at his request and counsel had redelivered such men prisoners, and so great a number of them. For indeed, the prisoners which Cleon had brought to Athens from the fort of Pyle [Pylos], were all of the chiefest houses of Sparta, and their kinsmen and friends were the noblest men of the city. Notwithstanding, the people in the end did none other violence to him, saving that they chose Alcibiades their captain, and made league with the Elians, and Mantinians (which had revolted from the Lacedaemonians) and with the Argives also: and sent pirates to the fort of Pyle, to spoil the country of Laconia. Upon these occasions the Athenians fell again into wars.

Narration and Discussion

Why did Alcibiades want to stir up unrest? Was he successful?

Why was Nicias suddenly so unpopular when he returned to Athens?

Lesson Five


It was officially time for an ostracism. Who would be voted out of Athens? Would it be "abominable" Alcibiades? Or would it be Nicias, who was disliked and envied in spite of his best efforts and his timorousness?


      his valiantness: Dryden translates this "his boldness and resolution," which still doesn't explain why they didn't value in Alcibiades what is usually seen as a good quality. (A good point for discussion!)
      being no more familiar nor conversant with the people than he was: Nicias was not known for his friendliness
      stately: haughty
      haviour: behaviour, demeanour
      discord and variance: disagreement
      Sicily, Syracuse: Sicily is the very large island at the toe of Italy's "boot." Syracuse was a Greek colony (and city) in Sicily.
      compassed chairs: chairs gathered together
      against their inclination: against their better judgment


      Egestans and Leontines: Egesta is the Greek word for Segesta, a city in Sicily. The Leontines were citizens of Leontini, also in Sicily.

Historic Occasions

415 B.C.: The Sicilian Expedition began


Part One

Now when the quarrel and controversy was greatest between Nicias and Alcibiades, the Ostracismon (to wit, the banishment for a time) came in, by the which the people banished for ten years any such of their citizens as they thought either of too great authority, or that was most envied for his wealth and substance.

Alcibiades and Nicias were then not a little perplexed, considering their present danger, being sure that the one of them two should not fail but be banished by this next banishment. For the people hated Alcibiades' life, and were afraid of his valiantness: as we have more amply declared in the description of his life. And for Nicias, his wealth made him to be envied; besides they misliked his strange manner of dealing, being no more familiar nor conversant with the people than he was, and counted him too stately: moreover they hated him also, because in many matters he had spoken directly against the thing the people desired, and had enforced them against their wills to agree to that which was profitable for themselves. In fine, to speak more plainly, there fell out great strife between the young men that would have wars, and the old men that coveted peace, some desirous to banish Nicias, and some others Alcibiades: but

Where discord reigns in realm or town,
The wicked win the chief renown.

And so fell it out then. For the Athenians being divided in two factions, gave authority to certain of the most impudent and insolent persons that were in all the city: and among them was one Hyperbolus, of the town of Perithus, a man of no haviour nor value, why he should be bold: but yet one that grew to some credit and power, dishonouring his country, by the honour they gave him. Now Hyperbolus thinking himself free at that time from any danger of banishment, (having rather deserved the gallows) hoping that if one of them two were banished, he should match [the one] well enough that remained behind: shewed openly, that he was glad of their discord and variance, and busily stirred up the people against them both.

Nicias and Alcibiades being acquainted with his wicked practices, having secretly talked together, joined both their factions in one: whereby they brought it so to pass, that neither of them were banished, but Hyperbolus [him]self for ten years. Which matter for the present time made the people very merry, though afterwards it grieved them much, seeing their ordinance of the Ostracismon blemished by the unworthiness of the person: which punishment was an honour unto him. For this banishment was thought a meet punishment for Thucydides, Aristides, and such like men of account as they, or their like: but for Hyperbolus, it was thought too great an honour, and too manifest an occasion of glory to be given to him, that for his wickedness had the selfsame punishment which was to be inflicted upon the chiefest estates for their greatness. And the comical poet Plato himself sayeth in a place:

Although his lewd behavior did deserve as much or more,
Yet was not that the punishment he should have had therefore.
The Ostracy devised was for men of noble fame,
And not for varlets, whose lewd life deserved open shame.

After this Hyperbolus, there was never man banished with the Ostracismon.

Part Two

Now the ambassadors of the Egestans and Leontines being come to Athens, to persuade the Athenians to attempt the conquest of Sicily: Nicias being against it, was overcome by Alcibiades' craft and ambition. For he, before they were called to council, had already through false surmises filled the people's heads with a vain hope and persuasion of conquest. Insomuch as the young men meeting in places of exercise, and the old men also in artificers' shops, and in their compassed chairs, or half circles where they sat talking together, were every one occupied about drawing the platform of Sicily, telling the nature of the Sicilian sea, and reckoning up the havens and places looking towards Africa. For they made not their account that Sicily should be the end of their wars, but rather the storehouse and armoury for all their munition and martial provision to make war against the Carthaginians, and to conquer all Africa, and consequently all the African seas, even to Hercules' pillars.

Now all their minds being bent to wars, when Nicias spake against it, he found very few men of quality to stand by him. For the rich, fearing lest the people would think they did it to avoid [the public charges and ship-money, were quiet against their inclination; nevertheless he did not tire nor give it up.]

Narration and Discussion

Why were Nicias and Alcibiades willing to work together to get someone else ostracized? If you had a vote in the Ostracism, for whom would you have voted , and why?

Look at a map that shows Sicily. Why did the Athenians view it as a first step in conquering territory in Africa?

Lesson Six


In the Sicilian Expedition, Nicias had the opportunity for a "defining moment." Pushed into a risky military venture, forced into a leadership role he didn't want, he nevertheless could choose to act heroically. Or he could scare everyone else into going home.


      holden: held
      burdening: blaming
      suborned: bribed, induced
      prognosticate: foretell
      descrying: looking carefully at
      Egestans: see Lesson Five
      the Athenians having sent for Alcibiades to answer to certain accusations: Alcibiades, from this point on, was no longer with the campaign
      haven: harbour
      discover: see what they could find out


Part One

But when they had passed the decree in council for the enterprise of Sicily, and [when] the people had chosen him chief captain, with Alcibiades and Lamachus to follow the same: at the next session of the council holden in the city, Nicias rose up again, to see if he could turn the people from this journey with all the protestations he could possibly make, burdening Alcibiades that, for his own ambition and private commodity, he brought the commonwealth into so far and dangerous a war.

But all his words prevailed not. [Nicias] before all others was thought the meetest man for this charge, partly because of his experience, but chiefly for [the fact] that they knew he would handle their matters with greater safety, when his timorous foresight should be joined with Alcibiades' valiantness, and with Lamachus' softness, which indeed most confirmed the election.

[Now after the matter thus debated, Demostratus, who, of the popular leaders, was the one who chiefly pressed the Athenians to the expedition, stood up and said he would stop the mouth of Nicias from urging any more excuses, and moved that the generals should have absolute power, both at home and abroad, to order and to act as they thought best; and this vote the people passed.]

Yet it is said that the priests objected many things to hinder the journey. But Alcibiades also having suborned certain soothsayers, alleged in like case some ancient oracles that said the Athenians should have great honour from Sicily: and further had enticed certain pilgrims, who said they were but newly come from the oracle of Iupiter Ammon, and had brought this oracle thence, "That the Athenians should take all the Syracusans." But worst of all, if any knew of contrary signs or tokens to come, they held their peace, lest it should seem they intermeddled to prognosticate evil for affection's sake, seeing that the signs themselves, which were most plain and notorious, could not remove them from the enterprise of this journey. [Omitted: certain religious statues in the city were vandalized at this time, and prophets warned against the invasion.]

Part Two

Now for Nicias, that he spake against this war in open council, whilst they were deliberating upon it, and that he was not carried away with any vain hope, nor puffed up with the glory of so honourable a charge to make him change his mind: therein surely he shewed himself an honest man, wise, and constant. But when he saw plainly that he could by no persuasions remove the people from the enterprise of this war, neither yet by suit nor entreaty get himself discharged from being a captain thereof, but that they would in any case make him one of the heads of the army: then was it out of time to be fearful, and still giving back, turning his head so oft, like a child, to look upon his galley behind him, and ever to be telling that no reason could be heard in determining of this journey.

For indeed this was enough to discourage his companions, and to mar all at their first setting out: where, to say truly, he should suddenly have set upon his enemies, and have gone to it with a lusty courage, [and put fortune immediately to the test in battle]. But he took a clean contrary course. For Lamachus thought good, at their first coming, to go straight to Syracuse, and to give them battle as near the walls as might be; and Alcibiades, on the other side, was of opinion first of all to go about to win the cities that were in league with the Syracusans, and after that they had made them rebel, then to go against the Syracusans themselves. Nicias, to the contrary spake in council, and thought it better to go on fair and softly, descrying the coasts of Sicily round about to view their galleys and preparation, and so to return straight to Athens again, leaving only a few of their men with the Egestans, to help to defend them. But this from the beginning marvellously cooled the courage of the soldiers, and quite discouraged them.

Shortly after also, the Athenians having sent for Alcibiades to answer to certain accusations, Nicias remaining captain with Lamachus (the other captain [by title], but Nicias [him]self in power and authority, the lieutenant general of all the army) still used delays, running up and down, and spending time so long in consultation, till the soldiers were left without both hope and courage: and the fear the enemy had of them at their first coming to see so great an army, was now in manner clean gone.

Yet [with] Alcibiades (before he was sent for from Athens), they went with threescore galleys to Syracuse, of the which they placed fifty in battle [ar]ray out of the haven, and sent the other ten into the haven to discover: which approaching near the city, caused a herald to make open proclamation, that they were come thither to restore the Leontines to their lands and possessions.

Narration and Discussion

How was Nicias' "timorous foresight" again seen as an asset to Athens?

"He should suddenly have set upon his enemies, and have gone to it with a lusty courage . . . ." Do you agree?

Lesson Seven


The Sicilian Expedition continued, with what seemed mixed success. Nicias as a general was frustratingly slow to act, and let many opportunities slip. "Yet when he would do a thing indeed, he did it so thoroughly as no man could take exception to his doings, for that he brought it to so good a pass: and once taking it in hand, he did execute it with all speed . . . "


      pantofles: slippers
      deferring of time still: delaying things
      a pelting little town: Dryden translates this "a petty fortress"
      Catana: a city on the eastern shore of Sicily, north of Syracuse
      a baggage village: "a humble town"
      they would come and enterprise the charge upon them first: the Syracusans had decided to attack the Athenians (instead of the other way round)
      carriage: supplies
      of this confederacy: in this conspiracy
      without let or difficulty: without any interference
      Hermocrates: the Syracusan general
      which ran straight through Sicily: the news travelled quickly
      Naxos: another city on the east coast of Sicily, about the same distance north of Catana as Catana was from Syracuse
      for the doing of things of small moment . . . : they carried out a few minor raids
      environed: surrounded
      sick as he was of the stone: Nicias was ill with kidney stones


Part One

Now when Alcibiades was gone from the camp, Nicias bare all the sway and commanded the whole army. For Lamachus, though otherwise he was a stout man, an honest man, and very valiant of his hands, and one that would not spare himself in time of need: nevertheless he was so poor and miserable, that even when he was in state of a general, and gave up an account of his expenses, he would not stick to put into his books, so much for a gown, and so much for a pair of pantofles.

Where Nicias' authority and reputation, contrarywise, was of another manner of cut, as well for other respects, as for his riches, and for the honour of many noble things which he had done before. As one [story] namely which they tell of him, that on a time being a captain with others, and sitting in council with his companions in the council house at Athens, about the dispatch of certain causes, he spake unto Sophocles the Poet, then present amongest them, and bade him speak first and say his opinion, being the oldest man of all the whole company. Sophocles answered him again: "Indeed I confess I am the oldest man, but thou art the noblest man, and him whom every man regardeth best."

So having at that time Lamachus under him, a better captain and man of war than himself was; yet by being so slow to employ the army under his charge by deferring of time still, and hovering about Siciy as far from his enemies as he could: he first gave the enemies time and leisure to be bold without fear of him. And then going to besiege Hybla, being but a pelting little town, and raising the siege without taking of it: he fell into so great a contempt with every man, that from thenceforth no man almost made any more reckoning of him.

At last, he retired unto Catana with his army, without any other exploit done, saving that he took Hyccara, a baggage village of the barbarous people.

And in fine, the summer being far spent, Nicias was informed that the Syracusans had taken such courage to them, that they would come and enterprise the charge upon them first: and that their horsemen were approached already before his camp, to skirmish with them, asking the Athenians in mockery, if they were come into Sicily to dwell with the Catanians, or to restore the Leontines to their lands again.

Hereupon with much ado, Nicias determined to go to Syracuse, and because he would camp there in safety, and at ease without hazard, he sent one of Catana before [them] to Syracuse, to tell them (as if he had been a spy) that if they would suddenly come and set upon the camp of the Athenians and take all their carriage, he wished them to come with all their power to Catana at a day certain which he would appoint them.

For the Athenians (said he) for the most part are within the city, wherein there are certain citizens, which, favouring the Syracusans, have determined so soon as they hear of their coming, to keep the gates of the city, and at the same time also to set the Athenians' ships afire: and how there were also a great number in the city of this confederacy, that did but look every hour for their coming.

And this was the noblest stratagem of war, that Nicias shewed all the time he was in Sicily. For by this device he made the Syracusans come into the field with all their power, so that they left their city without guard: and he himself departing in the meantime from Catana with all his fleet, won the haven of Syracuse at his ease, and chose out a place to camp in, where his enemies could not hurt him: in the which he was both the stronger, and might without let or difficulty set upon them with that, wherein he most trusted.

The Syracusans returning straight from Catana, and offering him battle hard by the walls of Syracuse, he came out into the field, and overthrew them. There were not many of the Syracusans slain at this battle, because their horsemen did hinder the chase: but Nicias, breaking up the bridges upon the river, gave Hermocrates occasion to mock him. For, comforting and encouraging the Syracusans, he told them Nicias deserved to be laughed at, because he did what he could that he might not fight, as if he had not purposely come from Athens to Syracuse to fight. This notwithstanding, he made the Syracusans quake for fear: for where they had then fifteen captains, they chose out three only, to whom the people were sworn, that they would suffer them to have full power and authority to command and take order for all things.

The temple of Iupiter Olympian was hard by the Athenians' camp, which they would gladly have taken, for that it was full of rich jewels and offerings of gold and silver, given unto the temple afore time. But Nicias of purpose still drave of time, and delayed so long, till the Syracusans at last sent a good garrison thither to keep it safe: thinking with himself, that if his soldiers came to take and spoil the temple, his country should be nothing the richer by it, and himself besides should bear all the blame of sacrilege.

Part Two

So, having obtained victory without profit, (which ran straight through Sicily) within few days after he returned unto the city of Naxos, where he lay all the winter, consuming a wonderful mass of victuals with so great an army, for the doing of things of small moment, upon certain Sicilians that yielded to him.

The Syracusans in the meantime being in heart again, and courageous: returned to Catana, where they spoiled and overran all the country, and burnt the camp of the Athenians. Herefore every man blamed Nicias much, because through his long delay, and protracting of time to make all things sure, he let slip sundry occasions of notable exploits, wherein good service might have been done. Yet when he would do a thing indeed, he did it so thoroughly as no man could take exception to his doings, for that he brought it to so good a pass: and once taking it in hand, he did execute it with all speed, though he was both slow to determine and a coward to enterprise.

Now when he removed his army to return to Syracuse, he brought it so orderly, and also with such speed and safety, that he was come by sea to Thapsus, had landed and taken the fort of Epipolis, before the Syracusans had any intelligence of it, or could possibly help it. For the choice men of the Syracusans being set out against him, hoping to have stopped his passage: he overthrew them, took three hundred prisoners and made their horsemen flee, which before were thought invincible. But that which made the Syracusans most afraid, and seemed most wonderful also to the other Grecians, was this: that in a very short space he had almost environed Syracuse with a wall, which was as much in compass about, as the walls of Athens, and worse to perform, by reason of the woody country, and for the sea also that beateth upon the walls. Besides that, there were divers marshes hard by it: and yet (sick as he was of the stone) he had almost finished it. And sure good reason it is that we attribute the fault of the not finishing of it, unto his sickness.

For mine own part I wonder marvellously both of the care and diligence of the captain, and of the valiantness and dexterity of the soldiers, which appeareth by the notable feats they did. For Euripides, after their overthrow and utter ruin, made a funeral epitaph in verse, and sayeth thus:

Eight times our men did put the men of Syracuse to flight,
So long as with indifferency the gods did use their might.

But we find it written, that the Syracusans were not only eight times, but many times more overthrown by them: a time at length there was indeed, that both the gods and fortune fought against them, even when the Athenians were of greatest power.

Narration and Discussion

Writing or interview assignment: In the format of a journal entry, letter, or oral interview, take the point of view of a member of the expedition to express your concerns. (You could also write from the Syracusan point of view.) Do you feel optimistic?

" . . . for where they had then fifteen captains, they chose out three only, to whom the people were sworn, that they would suffer them to have full power and authority to command and take order for all things." Why did this make the Syracusans "quake for fear?"

Plutarch said he admired Nicias "for what he succeeded in." Do you agree that his successes outweighed his disasters?

Lesson Eight


We continue with the Athenians' attempt to take the city of Syracuse by building a wall around it. Alcibiades had left the expedition; Lamachus was also killed in the fighting, and that left Nicias, who made no secret of the fact that he didn't want to come in the first place, and who was suffering from kidney stones.

However, he put aside his reluctance and his physical problems, and led what could have been a successful siege; until some unexpected help arrived for the Syracusans.


      to keep: to ensure
      abode him: engaged with him
      they spurred cut for life: they ran
      to set the wood afire . . . : they started a fire to keep the enemy away
      that device only stayed the Syracusans: this was the one thing that saved the Athenians
      fraught with corn: loaded with grain
      parle: speak
      a poor cape and wand of Lacedaemon: Dryden translates this "at the sight of one coarse coat and Laconian staff," or, just seeing a few tokens of Spartan power
      by his procurement: by his persuasion
      fell to his old trade: fell into his old way of thinking


      Gylippus: the leader of a fleet sent by the Spartans to assist Syracuse


Part One

Now Nicias in his own person was ever in the greatest and most weighty affairs, striving with his sickly body. Howbeit one day when his disease grew sore upon him, he was compelled to be lodged in his camp with a few of his men: and Lamachus in the meantime alone having charge of the whole army, fought with the Syracusans, who then had brought a wall from the city, unto the wall with which the Athenians had purposed to have shut them in, to keep that they should not compass it round.

And because the Athenians commonly were the stronger in these skirmishes, they many times over-rashly followed the chase of their enemies that fled. As it chanced one day that Lamachus went so far, that he was left alone to encounter a company of horsemen of the city, before whom Callicrates marched foremost, a valiant man of his hands, who challenged Lamachus hand to hand. Lamachus abode him, and in the conflict was first hurt: but he gave Callicrates also such a wound therewithal, that they both fell down dead presently in the place.

At that time the Syracusans being the stronger side, took up his body, and carried it away with them: but they spurred cut for life to the Athenians' camp, where Nicias lay sick, without any guard or succour at all: nevertheless, Nicias rose with speed out of his bed, and perceiving the danger he was in, commanded certain of his friends to set the wood afire which they had brought within the trenches of the camp, to make certain devices for battery, and the engines of timber also that were already made. That device only stayed the Syracusans, saved Nicias, and the strength of their camp, together with all the silver and carriage of the Athenians. For the Syracusans perceiving afar off, betwixt them and the strength of their camp, such a great flame as rose up in the air: upon sight of it turned tail straight, and made towards their city.

Things falling out thus, Nicias being left sole captain of the army without any companion, in great hope notwithstanding to do some good: divers cities of Sicily yielded unto him, ships fraught with corn came out of every quarter to his camp, and many submitted themselves, for the good success he had in all his doings. Furthermore the Syracusans also sent to parle with him of peace, being out of hope that they were able to defend their city any longer against him.

Gylippus also, a captain of the Lacedaemonians, coming to aid the Syracusans, understanding by the way how the city of Syracuse was shut in with a wall round about, and in great distress: held on his voyage notwithstanding, not with any hope to defend Sicily (supposing the Athenians had won the whole country) but with intent nevertheless to help the cities of Italy if he could possibly.

For it was a common rumour abroad, that the Athenians had won all, and that their captain for his wisdom and good fortune was invincible. Nicias himself now, contrary to his wonted wisdom and foresight, trusting altogether to the good success which he saw to follow him, but specially believing the reports that were told him of Syracuse, and the news that were brought him thence by some of themselves, which came secretly unto him, [believing they would almost immediately surrender the town upon terms]: took no care to withstand Gylippus' coming hither, neither sent any men to keep him from landing in Sicily. By which negligence, Gylippus landed in a passenger [ship], without Nicias' knowledge: so small reckoning they made of him, and so much did they fondly despise him.

Gylippus being thus landed far from Syracuse, began to gather men of war together, before the Syracusans themselves knew of his landing, or looked for his coming: insomuch as they had already appointed the assembly of a council to determine the articles and capitulations of peace, which they should conclude upon with Nicias.

Moreover, there were some that persuaded they should do well to make haste to conclude the peace, before the enclosure of Nicias' wall was altogether finished, which then lacked not much to perform, having all the stuff for the purpose brought even ready to the place.

Part Two

But as these things were even thus a-doing, arrived one Gongylus at Syracuse, that came from Corinth with a galley. At whose landing, the people upon the pier flocking about him, to hear what news: he told them that Gylippus would be there before it were long, and that there came certain other galleys after to their aid. The Syracusans would hardly believe him, untill there came another messenger also sent from Gylippus [him]self of purpose, that willed them to arm, and come to him into the field.

Thereupon the Syracusans being marvellously revived, went all straight and armed themselves. And Gylippus was no sooner come into Syracuse, but he presently put his men in battle [ar]ray, to set upon the Athenians. Nicias for his part had likewise also set the Athenians in order of battle, and ready to fight.

When both the armies were now approached near each to other, Gylippus threw down his weapons, and sent a herald unto Nicias to promise them life and baggage to depart safely out of Sicily. But Nicias would make the herald none answer to that message. Howbeit there were certain of his soldiers that in mockery asked the herald, if for the coming of a poor cape and wand of Lacedaemon, the Syracusans thought themselves strengthened so much, that they should despise the Athenians, which not long before kept three hundred Lacedaemonians [as] prisoners in irons, far stronger and [with] more hair on their heads than Gylippus had, and had also sent them home to their citizens at Lacedaemon.

And Timaeus writeth also, that the Sicilians themselves made no reckoning of Gylippus, neither then, nor at any time after. After, because they saw his extreme covetousness and misery: and then, for that he came so meanly apparelled, with a threadbare cape, and a long bush of hair, which made them scorn him. Yet in another place he sayeth, that so soon as Gylippus arrived in Sicily, many came to him out of every quarter with very good will, like birds wondering at an owl. This second report seemeth truer then the first: for they swarmed about him, because in this "cape and wand" they saw the tokens and the majesty of the city and seigniory of Sparta.

Thucydides also sayeth, that it was Gylippus only that did all there. And much like doth Philistus ([him]self a Syracusan) confess, who was present then in prison and saw all things that were done. Notwithstanding, at the first battle the Athenians had the upper hand, and slew a number of the Syracusans, among the which Gongylus the Corinthian was one.

But the morning following, Gylippus made them know the skill and experience of a wise captain. For, with the selfsame weapons, with the same men, with the same horses, and in the same places, changing only the order of his battle, he overthrew the Athenians: and (fighting with them still) having driven them even into their camp, he set the Syracusans to work to build up a wall overthwart, (with the very selfsame stones and stuff which the Athenians had brought and laid there for the finishing of their enclosure) to cut off the other, and to keep it from going forward, that it joined not together. So, all that the Athenians had done before until that present, was utterly to no purpose.

Things standing in these terms, the Syracusans, being courageous again, began to arm galleys, and running up and down the fields with their horsemen and slaves, took many prisoners. Gylippus, on the other side, went in person to and fro through the cities of Sicily, persuading and exhorting the inhabitants in such sort, that they all willingly obeyed him, and took arms by his procurement. Nicias, seeing things thus fall out, fell to his old trade again, and considering the change of his state and former good luck, his heart beginning to faint: wrote straight to the Athenians to send another army into Sicily, or rather to call that home which he had there, but in any case to give him leave to return, and to discharge him of his office, for cause of his sickness.

Narration and Discussion

Narrate the events around the arrival of Gylippus. Why was so little attention paid when his troops first landed?

Plutarch describes Gylippus as having "the skill and experience of a wise captain man of experience," and who could take "the selfsame weapons, the same men, the same horses," and fight successfully where another general failed. Have you seen a skilled person perform "miracles" with less-than-ideal equipment or circumstances?

Extra challenge

Write Nicias's letter to Athens, asking to be relieved of the command.

Lesson Nine


Nicias pleaded for help against the Syracusans. The Athenians agreed to send reinforcements, with the promise that more help would arrive soon under Demosthenes. But the newly-arrived commanders seized their own chances for personal glory, and disaster followed.


      the store and tackle for many galleys: their naval supply
      covered with: protected by
      but for that: but only because
      to prevent Demosthenes . . . : to jump the gun on him; do something great before he could get there
      descried: spotted
      hautboy: a musical instrument (oboe)
      to fear: to frighten
      straited a little more with want of victuals: put in a worse position by lack of food and supplies


      Demosthenes, Eurymedon: Athenian generals sent to assist with the siege of Syracuse

Historic Occasions

414 B.C.: Athens sent ships to aid the expedition


Part One

The Athenians were indifferent before he wrote, to send aid thither: howbeit the envy the nobility bare unto Nicias' good fortune, did ever cause some delay [so] that they sent not, until then; and then they determined to send with speed. So Demosthenes was named to be sent away immediately after winter, with a great navy.

In the midst of winter, Eurymedon went to Nicias, and carried him both money and news, that the people had chosen some of them for his companions in the charge, which were already in service with him, to wit, Euthydemus and Menander. Now Nicias in the meantime being suddenly assailed by his enemies, both by sea and land: though at he first he had fewer galleys in number than they, yet he budged divers of theirs and sunk them. But by land again, he could not aid his men in time, because Gylippus at the first onset had taken a fort of his called Plemmyrion, within the which lay the store and tackle for many galleys, and a great mass of ready money which was wholly lost. Besides, in the same conflict also were many men slain, and many taken prisoners.

Yet further, the greatest matter of weight was, that thereby he took from Nicias the great commodity he had to bring his victuals safely by sea to his camp. For while the Athenians kept this fort, they might at their pleasure bring victuals without danger to their camp, being covered with the same: but when they had lost it, then it was hard for them so to do, because they were ever driven to fight with the enemies that lay at anchor before the fort. Furthermore, the Syracusans did not think that their army by sea was overthrown, because their enemies were the stronger, but for that their men had followed the Athenians disorderedly: and therefore were desirous once again to venture, in better sort and order than before.

But Nicias by no means would be brought to fight again, saying that it were a madness, looking for such a great navy and a new supply as Demosthenes was coming withal, rashly to fight with a fewer number of ships than they, and but poorly furnished. But contrarily, Menander, and Euthydemus, newly promoted to the state of captains with Nicias, being pricked forwards with ambition against the two other captains (Nicias, and Demosthenes that was then coming) desired to prevent Demosthenes in performing some notable service before his arrival, and thereby also to excel Nicias' doings. Howbeit, the cloak they had to cover their ambition withal was, the honour and reputation of the city of Athens, the which (said they) were shamed and dishonoured forever, if they now should shew themselves afraid of the Syracusans, who provoked them to fight.

Thus brought they Nicias against his will to battle, in the which the Athenians were slain and overcome, by the good counsel of a Corinthian pilot called Ariston. For the left wing of their battle (as Thucydides writeth) was clearly overthrown, and they lost a great number of their men.

Whereupon Nicias was wonderfully perplexed, considering on the one side that he had taken marvellous pains, whilst he was sole captain of the whole army: and on the other side, for that he had committed a foul fault, when they had given him companions.

But as Nicias was in this great despair, they descried Demosthenes upon a pier of the haven, with his fleet bravely set out and furnished, to terrify the enemies. For he had threescore and thirteen galleys, and in them he brought five thousand footmen well armed and appointed, and of darters, bowmen, and hurlers with slings about three thousand, and the galleys trimmed and set forth with goodly armours, numbers of ensigns, and with a world of trumpets, hautboys, and such marine music, and all set out in this triumphant show, to fear the enemies the more.

Part Two

Now thought the Syracusans themselves again in a peck of troubles, perceiving they strove against the stream, and consumed themselves to no purpose, when by that they saw there was no likelihood to be delivered from their troubles. And Nicias also rejoiced, that so great aid was come, but his joy held not long.

For so soon as he began to talk with Demosthenes of the state of things, he found him bent forthwith to set upon the Syracusans, and to hazard all with speed, that they might quickly take Syracuse, and so dispatch away home again. Nicias thought this more haste than good speed, and feared much this foolhardiness. Whereupon he prayed him to attempt nothing rashly, nor desperately: and persuaded him that it was their best way to prolong the war against the enemies, who were without money, and therefore would soon be forsaken of their confederates. And besides, if they came once to be pinched for lack of victuals: that they would then quickly seek to him for peace, as they had done aforetime. For there were many within Syracuse that were Nicias' friends, who wished him to abide time: for they were weary of war, and waxed angry also with Gylippus. So that if they were but straited a little more with want of victuals, they would yield straight [away]. Nicias, delivering these persuasions somewhat darkly, and keeping somewhat also from utterance, because he would not speak them openly: made his colleagues think he spake it for cowardliness, and that he returned again to his former delays to keep all in security, by which manner of proceeding he had from the beginning killed the hearts of his army, for that he had not at his first coming set upon the enemies, but had protracted time so long, till the courage of his soldiers was cold and done, and himself also brought into contempt with his enemies.

Whereupon the other captains (his colleagues and companions with him in the charge), Euthydemus and Menander, stuck to Demosthenes' opinion: whereunto Nicias was also forced against his will to yield.

Narration and Discussion

Imagine the conversation between Demosthenes and Nicias, as Nicias pleaded with him to delay the battle in hopes that the Syracusans will give up.

Plutarch says that part of the problem was that Nicias did not speak plainly, but only made hints about the situation. Can you think of any Scriptures that describe the value of clear and honest speech?

Lesson Ten


Under cover of night, the Athenians loaded their ships to return home, but they were frightened by an eclipse of the moon. "They concluded it to be ominous," Plutarch says, and it probably was; but what sabotaged their escape was fear, not fate.


      basing their pikes: raising their spears
      apace: rapidly
      targets: shields
      appointed: equipped
      betimes: early
      motion: this is not a typo for "notion"; it can be read as "make a motion to do something"
      natural philosophy: an early term for science


      Anaxagoras: a Greek philosopher (510-428 B.C.) who explained eclipses


Part One

So Demosthenes the selfsame night taking the footmen, went to assault the fort of Epipolis: where, before his enemies heard anything of his coming, he slew many of them, and made the rest flee that offered resistance.

But not content with this victory, he went further, till he fell upon the Boeotians. They, gathering themselves together, were the first that resisted the Athenians, basing their pikes with such fury and loud cries, that they caused the [Athenians] to retire, and made all the rest of the assailants afraid and amazed. For the foremost [of them] fleeing back, came full upon their companions: who, taking them for their enemies, and their flight for a charge, resisted them with all their force, and so mistaking one another, both were wounded and slain, and the hurt they meant unto their enemies, did unfortunately light upon their own fellows.

For this multitude meeting thus confusedly together, what through their great fear, and what for that they could not discern one another in the night, the which was neither so dark that they could not see at all, nor yet so clear, as they might certainly judge by sight what they were that met them. (For then the moon declined apace, and the small light it gave was diffused with the number of men that ran to and fro.) The fear they had of the enemy made them mistrust their friends.

All these troubles and disadvantages had the Athenians, and beside, the moon on their backs, which, causing the shadow to fall forward, did hide their number; and contrarily, the enemies' targets, glaring in their eyes by the reflection of the moon that shone upon them, increased their fear, and making them seem a greater number and better appointed than they were indeed. At last, the enemies giving a lusty charge upon them on every side, after they once began to give back and turn tail: some were slain by their enemies, others by their own company, and others also brake their necks falling from the rocks. The rest that were dispersed abroad in the fields, were the next morning every man of them put to the sword by the horsemen. So, the account made, two thousand Athenians were slain, and very few of them escaped by flight, that brought their armours back again.

Wherefore Nicias, that always mistrusted it would thus come to pass, was marvellously offended with Demosthenes, and condemned his rashness. But he [Demosthenes], excusing himself as well as he could, thought it best to embark in the morning betimes, and so to hoist sail homewards. For, said he, we must look for no new aid from Athens, neither are we strong enough with this army to overcome our enemies: and though we were, yet must we of necessity avoid the place we are in, because (as it is reported) it is always unwholesome for an army to camp in, and then specially most contagious, by reason of the autumn and season of the year, as they might plainly see by experience. For many of their people were already sick, and all of them in manner had no mind to tarry.

Nicias in no case liked the motion of departing thence, because he feared not the Syracusans, but rather the Athenians, for their accusations and condemnation. And therefore in open council he told them, that as yet he saw no such danger to remain: and though there were, yet that he had rather die of his enemies' hands, than to be put to death by his own countrymen. And furthermore, as for removing their camp to some other place, they should have leisure enough to determine of that matter as they thought good.

Now when Nicias had delivered this opinion in council, Demosthenes having had ill luck at his first coming, durst not contrary it. And the residue also supposing that Nicias stuck not so hard against their departure, but that he relied upon the trust and confidence he had of some within the city: they all agreed to Nicias. But when news came that there was a new supply come unto the Syracusans, and that they saw the plague increased more and more in their camp: then Nicias [him]self thought it best to depart thence, and gave notice to the soldiers to prepare themselves to ship away.

Part Two

Notwithstanding, when they had put all things in readiness for their departure, without any knowledge of the enemy, or suspicion thereof: the moon began to eclipse in the night, and suddenly to lose her light, to the great fear of Nicias and divers others, who through ignorance and superstition quaked at such sights. For, touching the eclipse and darkening of the sun, which is ever at any conjunction of the moon, every common person then knew the cause to be the darkness of the body of the moon betwixt the sun and our sight. But the eclipse of the moon itself, to know what doth darken it in that sort, and how being at the full it doth suddenly lose her light, and change into so many kind of colours: that was above their knowledge, and therefore they thought it very strange, persuading themselves that it was a sign of some great mischiefs the gods did threaten unto men.

For Anaxagoras, the first that ever determined and delivered anything, for certain and assured, concerning the light and darkness of the moon: his doctrine was not then of any long continuance, neither had it the credit of antiquity, nor was generally known, but only to a few, who durst not talk of it but with fear even to them they trusted best. And the reason was, for that the people could not at that time abide them that professed the knowledge of natural philosophy, and inquired of the causes of things: for them they called [theorists], as much to say, as curious inquirers, and tattlers of things above the reach of reason, done in heaven and in the air. Because the people thought they ascribed that which was done by the gods only, unto certain natural and necessary causes, that work their effects not by providence nor will, but by force, and necessary consequences.

But then it fell out unfortunately for Nicias, who had no expert nor skillful soothsayer: for the party which he was wont to use for that purpose, and which took away much of his superstition, called Stilbides, was dead not long before. For this sign of the eclipse of the moon (as Philochorus [observes]) was not hurtful for men that would flee, but contrarily very good: for said he, things that men do in fear, would be hidden, and therefore light is an enemy unto them. [Nor was it usual to observe signs in the sun or moon more than three days, as Autoclides states in his Commentaries. But Nicias persuaded them to wait another full course of the moon, as if he had not seen it clear again as soon as ever it had passed the region of shadow where the light was obstructed by the earth.]

Narration and Discussion

Why was Nicias more afraid of the Athenians than he was of the Syracusans?

Plutarch says that an eclipse of the moon would actually be a very good "omen" for the Athenians, because the darkness would help them escape. How did Nicias fail to make the most of this opportunity?

Why did people feel it would lessen the power of the gods if they looked for scientific reasons for things that happened? Were they right? Should the same viewpoint limit the interest of Christians in science?

Lesson Eleven


Could the Athenians could somehow get away from Syracuse without all being killed or taken captive? Nicias believed it was possible.

This is a complex lesson, so it may be better to read it in more than one sitting.


      haven: harbour
      light barks: small boats
      shamefully reviled them: taunted them
      amain: quickly
      retire: retreat
      wonted: usual
      mortal: fatal
      alteration: turn(s) of fortune
      which were to end their lives with much more cruelty: they expected to be taken as prisoners and treated cruelly or killed
      by peep of day: at daybreak


      Gylippus: the Spartan general sent to aid Syracuse (see Lesson Eight)
      Hermocrates: the Syracusan general (see Lesson Seven)

Historic Occasions

413 B.C.: The Second Battle of Syracuse


Part One

But all other things laid aside and forgotten, Nicias disposed himself to sacrifice unto the gods: until such time as the enemies came again as well to besiege their forts, and all their camp by land, as also to occupy the whole haven by sea. For they [the enemy] had not only put men aboard into their galleys able to wear armour, but moreover young boys into fisher boats and other light barks, with the which they came to the Athenians, and shamefully reviled them, to procure them to fight: among the which there was one of a noble house, called Heraclides, whose boat being forwarder than his companions, was in danger of [being taken] by a galley of the Athenians, that rowed against him. Pollichus, his uncle, being afraid of it, launched forward with ten galleys of Syracuse for his rescue, of the which himself was captain. The other galleys doubting also lest Pollichus should take hurt, came on likewise amain: so that there fell out a great battle by sea, which the Syracusans won, and slew Eurymedon, the [Athenian] captain, and many other[s].

This made the soldiers of the Athenians so afraid, that they began to cry out [that] it was no longer [any use] tarrying there, and that there was none other way but to depart thence by land. For after the Syracusans had won that battle, they had straight shut up the haven mouth.

Nicias could not consent to such a retire. For, said he, it would be too great a shame for them to leave their galleys and other ships to the enemy, considering the number not to be much less then two hundred: but he thought good rather to arm a hundred and ten galleys with the best and valiantest of their footmen and darters, because the other galleys had spent their oars. And for the rest of the army, Nicias, forsaking their great camp and walls (which reached as far as the temple of Hercules) did set them in battle [ar]ray upon the pier of the haven. Insomuch, that the Syracusans, which until that day could not perform their wonted sacrifices unto Hercules, did then send their priests and captains thither to do them.

The soldiers being embarked into the galleys, the priests and soothsayers came and told the Syracusans that undoubtedly the signs of the sacrifices did promise them a noble victory, so that they gave no charge, but only stood upon their defense: for so did Hercules ever overcome, defending, when he was assailed.

Part Two

With this good hope the Syracusans rowed forward, and there was such a hot and cruel battle by sea, as had not been in all this war before: the which was as dreadful to them that stood on the shore to behold it, as it was mortal unto them that fought it, seeing the whole conflict, and what alteration fell out beyond all expectation. For the Athenians did as much hurt themselves by the order they kept in their fight, and by the ranks of their ships, as they were hurt by their enemies. For they had placed all their great ships together, fighting with the heavy [ones], against the enemies' [ships] that were light and swift, which came on on every side of them, whirling stones at them which were made sharp to wound however they lighted: whereas the Athenians only casting their darts, and using their bows and slings, by means of their rowing up and down could not lightly aim to hit with the head. That manner of fight, Aristo a Corinthian (an excellent shipmaster) had taught the Syracusans, who was himself slain valiantly fighting, when they were conquerers.

The Athenians thereupon being driven to fight, having sustained marvellous slaughter and overthrow, (their way to flee by sea being also clearly taken from them) and perceiving moreover that they could hardly save themselves by land, were then so discouraged as they made no longer resistance when their enemies came hard by them and carried away their ships before their faces. Neither did they ask leave to take up their dead men's bodies to bury them, taking more pity to forsake their diseased and sore wounded companions, than to bury them that were already slain. When they considered all these things, they thought their own state more miserable than theirs, which were to end their lives with much more cruelty, than was their misery [at] present.

Part Three

So [as the Athenians had] determined to depart thence in the night, Gylippus, perceiving the Syracusans through all the city disposed themselves to sacrifice to the gods, and to be merry, as well for the joy of their victory, as also for Hercules' feast; [he] thought it bootless to persuade them, and much less to compel them, to take arms upon a sudden, to set upon their enemies that were departing.

Howbeit Hermocrates, devising with himself how to deceive Nicias, sent some of his friends unto him with instructions, to tell him that they came from such as were wont to send him secret intelligence of all things during this war: and willed him to take heed not to depart that night, lest he fall into the ambushes which the Syracusans had laid for him, having sent before to take all the straits and passages, by the which he should pass. Nicias being overreached by Hermocrates' craft and subtlety, stayed there that night, as though he had been afraid to fall within the danger of his enemies' ambush.

Thereupon, the Syracusans the next morning by peep of day, hoist[ed] sail, got the straits of Nicias' passage, stopped the rivers' mouths, and brake up the bridges: and then cast their horsemen in a squadron in the next plain fields adjoining, so that the Athenians had no way left to escape, and pass by them, without fighting.

At last, notwithstanding, having stayed all that day and the next night following, they put themselves in journey, and departed with great cries and lamentations, as if they had gone from their natural country, and not out of their enemies' land: as well for the great distress and necessity wherein they were, (lacking all things needful to sustain life) as also for the extreme sorrow they felt to leave their sore wounded companions and diseased kinsmen and friends behind them, that could not for their weakness follow the camp, but specially for that they looked for some worse matter to fall to themselves, than that which they saw present before their eyes [which had] happened to their fellows.

But of all the most pitiful sights to behold in that camp, there was none more lamentable nor miserable, than the person of Nicias [him]self: who being tormented with his disease, and waxen very lean and pale, was also unworthily brought to extreme want of natural sustenance, even when he had most need of comfort, being very sickly. Yet notwithstanding his weakness and infirmity, he took great pains, and suffered many things, which the soundest bodies do labour much to overcome and suffer: making it appear evidently to every man, that he did not abide all that pains for any respect of himself, or desire that he had to save his own life, so much as for their sakes in that he yielded not unto present despair. For where the soldiers for very fear and sorrow burst out into tears and bitter wailing: Nicias [him]self shewed, that if by chance he were forced at any time to do the like, it was rather upon remembrance of the shame and dishonour that came into his mind, to see the unfortunate success of this voyage, instead of the honour and victory they hoped to have brought home, than for any other respect.

But if to see Nicias in this misery did move the lookers-on to pity, yet did this much more increase their compassion, when they remembered Nicias' words in his orations continually to the people, to break this journey, and to dissuade them from the enterprise of this war. For then they plainly judged him not to have deserved these troubles. Yet furthermore, this caused the soldiers utterly to despair of help from the gods, when they considered with themselves, that so devout and godly a man as Nicias (who left nothing undone that might tend to the honour and service of the gods) had no better success than the most vile and wicked persons in all the whole army.

Narration and Discussion

Describe the battle in the harbour. What advantages did the Syracusans have?

How did Hermocrates deceive Nicias?

In Dryden's words, the soldiers had no "heart to put their trust in the gods, considering that a man so religious, who had performed to the divine powers so many and so great acts of devotion, should have no more favourable treatment than the wickedest and meanest of the army." Were they right? If you could travel back in time, would you agree with them about the futility of continuing to sacrifice to the gods? Consider how you would respond if they asked if your God would also allow his faithful ones to suffer.

Lesson Twelve


In this, the last passage on the life of Nicias, we hear little more of him other than the manner of his death. "The fortunes of war are common," he pleaded with Gylippus, with a thought that echoes the end of Pyrrhus.

Plutarch's attention at the end shifts to the fates of the other Athenians and their slaves. But in the midst of this chaos, some of them find themselves saved by . . . poetry.


      bands: troops
      understand: discover
      hearken to: consider
      victuals: food, supplies
      residue: remaining
      divers: some of them
      government: leadership
      cusinges: Dryden translates this "tiles"
      bewrayed: betrayed
      the haven of Piraea: the harbour used by Athens


      Demosthenes: one of the Athenian commanders (see Lesson Nine)
      Gylippus: the Spartan general sent to aid Syracuse (see Lesson Eight)
      Hermocrates: the Syracusan general (see Lesson Seven)
      Euripides: an Athenian playwright (480-406 B.C.)


Part One

All this notwithstanding, Nicias strained himself in all that might be, both by his good countenance, his cheerful words, and his kind using of every man: to let them know that he fainted not under his burden, nor yet did yield to this his misfortune and extreme calamity. And thus travelling eight days' journey outright together, notwithstanding that he was by the way continually set upon, wearied, and hurt: yet he ever maintained his bands, and led them whole in company until that Demosthenes, with all his bands of soldiers, was taken prisoner, in a certain village called Polyzelios: where remaining behind, he was environed by his enemies in fight, and seeing himself so compassed in, drew out his sword, and with his own hands thrust himself through, but died not of it, because his enemies came straight about him, and took hold of him.

The Syracusans thereupon went with speed to Nicias, and told him of Demosthenes' case. He, giving no credit to them, sent presently certain of his horsemen thither to understand the truth: who brought him word that Demosthenes and all his men were taken prisoners. Then he besought Gylippus [for a truce for the Athenians to depart out of Sicily, leaving hostages for payment of money that the Syracusans had expended in the war].

Howbeit the Syracusans would in no wise hearken to peace, but cruelly threatening and reviling them that made motion hereof, in rage gave a new onset upon him, more fiercely than ever before they had done. Nicias being then utterly without any kind of victuals, did notwithstanding hold out that night, and marched all the next day following (though the enemies' darts still flew about their ears) until he came to the river of Asinarus, into the which the Syracusans did forcibly drive them.

Some others of them also dying for thirst, entered the river of themselves, thinking to drink. But there of all others was the most cruel slaughter of the poor wretches, even as they were drinking: until such time as Nicias falling down flat at Gylippus' feet, said thus unto him: "Since the gods have given thee (Gylippus) victory, shew mercy, not to me that by these miseries have won immortal honour and fame, but unto these poor vanquished Athenians: calling to thy remembrance, that the fortunes of war are common, and how that the Athenians have used you Lacedaemonians courteously, as often as fortune favoured them against you."

Gylippus beholding Nicias, and persuaded by his words, took compassion of him (for he knew he was a friend unto the Lacedaemonians at the last peace concluded betwixt them, and furthermore thought it great honour to him, if he could carry away the two captains or generals of his enemies [as] prisoners); shewed him mercy, gave him words of comfort, and moreover commanded besides that they should take all the residue prisoners. But his commandment was not known in time to all: insomuch as there were many more slain than taken, although some private soldiers saved divers notwithstanding by stealth.

Now the Syracusans having brought all the prisoners that were openly taken into a troop together, first unarmed them, then taking their weapons from them hung them up upon the goodliest young trees that stood upon the river's side in token of triumph And so putting on triumphing garlands upon their heads, and having trimmed their own horses in triumphant manner, and also shorn all the horses of their enemies, in this triumphing sort they made their entry into the city of Syracuse, having gloriously ended the most notable war that ever was amongst the Greeks one against another, and attained also the noblest victory that could be achieved, and that only by force of arms and valiancy.

Part Two

[And a general assembly of the people of Syracuse and their confederates sitting, Eurycles, the popular leader, moved, first, that the day on which they took Nicias should from thenceforward be kept holiday by sacrificing and forbearing all manner of work, and from the river he called the Asinarian Feast. This was the twenty-sixth day of the month Carneus, the Athenian Metagitnion. And that the servants of the Athenians with the other confederates be sold for slaves, and they themselves and the Sicilian auxiliaries be kept and employed in the quarries, except the generals, who should be put to death.] And when the captain Hermocrates went about to persuade them that to be merciful in victory woul be more honour unto them than the victory itself, they thrust him back with great tumult.

And furthermore, when Gylippus made suit that for the captains of the Athenians, he might carry them alive with him to Sparta: he was not only shamefully denied, but most vilely abused, so lusty were they grown upon this victory, beside also that in the time of the war they were offended with him, and could not endure his severe Laconian government. Timaeus sayeth moreover, that they accused him (Gylippus) of covetousness and theft, which vice he inherited from his father. For Cleandrides his father was convict[ed] for extortion, and banished [from] Athens. And Gylippus [him]self having stolen thirty talents out of a thousand which Lysander sent to Sparta by him, and having hid them under the cusinges of his house, being bewrayed, was compelled with shame to flee his country, as we have more amply declared in the Life of Lysander.

Part Three

So Timaeus writeth, that Nicias and Demosthenes were not stoned to death by the Syracusans, as Thucydides and Philistus report, but that they killed themselves, upon word sent them by Hermocrates (before the assembly of the people was broken up) by one of his men whom the keepers of the prison let in unto them: howbeit their bodies were cast out at the jail door for every man to behold.

As for the other prisoners of the Athenians, the most of them died of sickness, and of ill handling in the prison: where they had no more allowed them to live withal but two dishfuls of barley for their bread, and one of water for each man a day. Indeed many of them were conveyed away, and sold for slaves: and many also that [e]scaped unknown as slaves, were also sold for bondmen, whom they branded in the forehead with the print of a horse, who notwithstanding besides their bondage endured also this pain. But such, their humble patience and modesty did greatly profit them. For either shortly after they were made free men, or if they still continued in bondage, they were gently treated, and beloved of their masters.

Some of them were saved also for Euripides' sake. For the Sicilians liked the verses of this poet better than they did any other Grecian's verses. For if they heard any rhymes or songs like unto his, they would have them by heart, and one would present them to another with great joy. And therefore it is reported, that divers escaping this bondage, and returning again to Athens, went very lovingly to salute Euripides, and to thank him for their lives: and told him how they were delivered from slavery, only by teaching them those verses which they remembered of his works. Others told him also, how that after the battle, they [e]scaping by flight, and wandering up and down the fields, met with some that gave them meat and drink to sing his verses. And this is not to be marvelled at, weighing the report made of a ship of the city of Caunus, that on a time being chased in thither by pirates, thinking to save themselves within their ports, could not at the first be received, but had repulse: howbeit being demanded whether they could sing any of Euripides' songs, and answering that they could, were straight suffered to enter, and come in.

Part Four

The news of this lamentable overthrow was not believed, at the first, when they heard of it at Athens. For a stranger that landed in the haven of Piraea, went and sat him down (as the manner is) in a barber's shop, and thinking it had been commonly known there, began to talk of it. The barber, hearing the stranger tell of such matter before any other had heard of it, ran into the city as fast as he could, and going to the governors told the news openly before them all.

The magistrates thereupon did presently call an assembly, and brought the barber before them: who being demanded of whom he heard these news, could make no certain report. At last there arrived certain men in the city, who brought certain news thereof, and told how the overthrow came. So as in fine they found Nicias' words true, which now they believed, when they saw all those miseries light fully upon them, which he long before had prognosticated unto them.

Narration and Discussion

Explain Nicias's words to Gylippus: "Since the gods have given thee (Gylippus) victory, shew mercy, not to me that by these miseries have won immortal honour and fame, but unto these poor vanquished Athenians: calling to thy remembrance, that the fortunes of war are common, and how that the Athenians have used you Lacedaemonians courteously, as often as fortune favoured them against you." Why did Gylippus respond as he did?

Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a time when books are outlawed. The main character discovers a secret community of people who have each memorized one piece of literature . . . a sort of living library. Similarly, some of the Athenians escaped death or slavery by being able to repeat something they had memorized. What do you think would be most valuable to know by heart?

Plutarch says that the Syracusans "gloriously ended the most notable war that ever was amongst the Greeks one against another." Why was this battle so important in history?