THE EXPEDITION AGAINST SYRACUSE, B.C.
One hope only of bold offence now remained for Athens. In B.C., on an appeal for help made by Egesta, Alcibiades ad vocated vigorous intervention again in Sicily. To conquer Syra cuse, subdue the whole island, crush Carthage, and then return with triumphant prestige and added forces to finish the war at home was a strategy which might seem to promise a great, even if a temporary success, and did in fact come within an ace of suc ceeding at Syracuse itself. The expedition to Sicily was no error of judgment, and the glamour of the west which cast its spell over the vigorous youth of Athens was no false gleam. In vain Nicias urged the dreary alternative of continued operations in Chalcidice. Expedition after expedition had been sent there in B.C. and all had been dolefully futile. Only in the west could Athens win the war. The expedition was voted with en thusiasm. On May 22, 415 B.C., the Hermae busts in Athens' streets were mysteriously mutilated. Despite the omen the great armada sailed in June, under three generals of equal authority, Alcibiades the author, Nicias the resolute opponent of the plan, and Lamachus, a straightforward soldier. Hardly had it reached western waters when Alcibiades was recalled to stand his trial at Athens for sacrilege. He had in vain demanded a trial before he sailed. In his absence his enemies played upon the religious credulity of the pious and upon the general dread of oligarchic plots. Alcibiades' own adherents were with him on shipboard. At Athens a death sentence awaited him. He eluded his escort and fled, furious, to Sparta.
Some progress at first was made in Sicily. A preliminary land ing at Dascon in Syracuse Great Harbour in November 415 B.C. resulted in a useless Athenian victory. But in April 414 B.C. the whole fleet and army moved from Catana on Syracuse, and the Athenians began to encompass the city with a wall on the land ward side while the fleet blocked the harbour approaches. But
presently everything went wrong. Lamachus was killed, the fleet was heavily defeated, supplies ran short, a Spartan commander in-chief, Gylippus, sent at Alcibiades' prompting, arrived to stif fen the Syracusan defence, and the circumvallation was stopped by a cross-wall. In response to Nicias' pitiful despatches Athens sent out Demosthenes with a second armada of 73 vessels. On his arrival, in July 413 B.C., he led an attack by night on the cross wall. It was ruinously defeated. Nicias still dallied and refused Demosthenes' urgent entreaty to leave Syracuse. At last he had consented, after criminal delay, when, on August 27, an eclipse of the moon worked on the men's superstitious fears and Nicias bowed to the soothsayers' mandate to remain. The Syracnsans under Hermocrates and Gylippus seized the unexpected chance. The Athenian fleet was penned up in the Great Harbour by a boom across its mouth, and, in a final desperate engagement, was heavily worsted. The Athenians, abandoning the ships, struck inland for the hills, then, their road here blocked by the enemy, turned south again in two divisions. The rear, under Demosthenes, was surrounded on Sept. 14 in the olive-yard of Polyzelus and surrendered. The van, under Nicias, struggled on for two more days until, cut off on the banks of the river Assinarus, the sur vivors of a bloody massacre surrendered also. The two captured generals were put to death, against Hermocrates' pleading, in cold blood. Many prisoners perished in the horrors of the quarries at Syracuse. Scarcely a man returned to Athens. The great armada was annihilated. Thucydides' story of this disaster re mains the masterpiece of Greek historical writing. In its stark simplicity, sombre majesty, and tragic intensity, his narrative has never been surpassed.