The Athenians, now that their affairs had taken a turn for the worse and a wave of
pestilence had struck the camp because the region round about it was marshy, counselled
together how they should deal with the situation.
thought that they should sail back to Athens
all speed, stating that to risk their lives against the Lacedaemonians in defence of their
fatherland was preferable to settling down on Sicily
and accomplishing nothing worth while; but Nicias said that they ought not to abandon the siege
in so disgraceful a fashion, while they were well supplied with triremes, soldiers, and funds;
furthermore, he added, if they should make peace with the Syracusans without the approval of
the Athenian people and sail back to their country, peril would attend them from the men who
make it their practice to bring false charges against their generals.
Of the participants in the council some agreed with Demosthenes on putting to sea, but
others expressed the same opinion as Nicias; and so they came to no clear decision and took no
And since help came to the Syracusans from the Siceli,
Selinuntians, and Geloans, as well as from the Himeraeans and Camarinaeans, the Syracusans were
the more emboldened, but the Athenians became apprehensive. Also, when the epidemic greatly
increased, many of the soldiers were dying and all regretted that they had not set out upon
their return voyage long since.
Consequently, since the
multitude was in an uproar and all the others were eager to take to the ships, Nicias found
himself compelled to yield on the matter of their returning home. And when the generals were
agreed, the soldiers began gathering together their equipment, loading the triremes, and
raising the yard-arms; and the generals issued orders to the multitude that at the signal not a
man in the camp should be late, for he who lagged would be left behind.
But when they were about to sail on the following day, on the night of
the day before, the moon was eclipsed.1
Consequently Nicias, who was not only by nature a
superstitiously devout man but also cautious because of the epidemic in the camp, summoned the
soothsayers. And when they declared that the departure must be postponed for the customary
Demosthenes and the others were
also compelled, out of respect for the deity, to accede.