Nicias perceived that the multitude were murmuring at Cleon, and asking 'why1
he did not2
sail in any case—now was his time if he thought the capture of Sphacteria to be such an easy matter'; and hearing him find fault, he told him that, as far as they, the generals, were concerned, he might take any force which he required and try.
Cleon at first imagined that the offer of Nicias was only a pretence, and was willing to go; but finding that he was in earnest, he tried to back out, and said that not he but Nicias was general. He was now alarmed, for he never imagined that Nicias would go so far as to give up his place to him.
Again Nicias bade him take the command of the expedition against Pylos, which he formally gave up to him in the presence of the assembly. And the more Cleon declined the proffered command and tried to retract what he had said, so much the more the multitude, as their manner is, urged Nicias to resign and shouted to Cleon that he should sail.
At length, not knowing how to escape from his own words, he undertook the expedition, and, coming forward, said that he was not afraid of the Lacedaemonians, and that he would sail without taking a single man from the city if he were allowed to have the Lemnian and Imbrian forces now at Athens, the auxiliaries from Aenus, who were targeteers, and four hundred archers from other places. With these and with the troops already at Pylos he gave his word that within twenty days he would either bring the Lacedaemonians alive or kill them on the spot.
His vain words moved the Athenians to laughter; nevertheless the wiser sort of men were pleased when they reflected that of two good things they could not fail to obtain one—either there would be no more trouble with Cleon, which they would have greatly preferred, or, if they were disappointed, he would put the Lacedaemonians into their hands.