The Syracusans and their allies had already
put out with about the same number of ships as before, a part of which kept
guard at the outlet, and the remainder all round the rest of the harbor, in
order to attack the Athenians on all sides at once; while the land forces held themselves in readiness at the points at which
the vessels might put into the shore.The Syracusan fleet was commanded by Sicanus and Agatharchus, who had each
a wing of the whole force, with Pythen and the Corinthians in the center.
When the rest of the Athenians came up to the barrier, with the first shock
of their charge they overpowered the ships stationed there, and tried to
undo the fastenings; after this, as the Syracusans and allies bore down upon them from all
quarters, the action spread from the barrier over the whole harbor, and was
more obstinately disputed than any of the preceding ones.
On either side the rowers showed great zeal in bringing up their vessels at
the boatswains' orders, and the helmsmen great skill in maneuvering, and
great emulation one with another; while the ships once alongside, the soldiers on board did their best not to
let the service on deck be outdone by the others;
in short, every man strove to prove himself the first in his particular
department.And as many ships were engaged in a small compass （for these were
the largest fleets fighting in the narrowest space ever known, being
together little short of two hundred）, the regular attacks with the
beak were few, there being no opportunity of backing water or of breaking
the line; while the collisions caused by one ship chancing to run foul of another,
either in flying from or attacking a third, were more frequent.
So long as a vessel was coming up to the charge the men on the decks rained
darts and arrows and stones upon her; but once alongside, the heavy infantry tried to board each other's vessel,
fighting hand to hand.
In many quarters also it happened, by reason of the narrow room, that a
vessel was charging an enemy on one side and being charged herself on
another, and that two, or sometimes more ships had perforce got entangled
round one, obliging the helmsmen to attend to defence here, offence there,
not to one thing at once, but to many on all sides; while the huge din caused by the number of ships crashing together not only
spread terror, but made the orders of the boatswains inaudible.
The boatswains on either side in the discharge of their duty and in the
heat of the conflict shouted incessantly orders and appeals to their men; the Athenians they urged to force the passage out, and now if ever to show
their mettle and lay hold of a safe return to their country; to the Syracusans and their allies they cried that it would be glorious to
prevent the escape of the enemy, and conquering, to exalt the countries that
The generals, moreover, on either side, if they saw in any part of the
battle backing ashore without being forced to do so, called out to the
captain by name and asked him—the Athenians, whether they were
retreating because they thought the thrice hostile shore more their own than
that sea which had cost them so much labour to win; the Syracusans, whether they were flying from the flying Athenians, whom
they well knew to be eager to escape in whatever way they could.
Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.
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