Alcibiades was sore distressed to see Nicias no less admired by his enemies than honored by his fellow-citizens. For although Alcibiades was resident consul for the Lacedaemonians at Athens, and had ministered to their men who had been taken prisoners at Pylos,1
still, they felt that it was chiefly due to Nicias that they had obtained peace and the final surrender of those men, and so they lavished their regard upon him. And Hellenes everywhere said that it was Pericles who had plunged them into war, but Nicias who had delivered them out of it, and most men called the peace the
‘Peace of Nicias.’
Alcibiades was therefore distressed beyond measure, and in his envy planned a violation of the solemn treaty.
To begin with, he saw that the Argives hated and feared the Spartans and sought to be rid of them. So he secretly held out hopes to them of an alliance with Athens, and encouraged them, by conferences with the chief men of their popular party, not to fear nor yield to the Lacedaemonians, but to look to Athens and await her action, since she was now all but repentant, and desirous of abandoning the peace which she had made with Sparta.
And again, when the Lacedaemonians made a separate alliance with the Boeotians, and delivered up Panactum to the Athenians not intact, as they were bound to do by the treaty, but dismantled, he took advantage of the Athenians' wrath at this to embitter them yet more. He raised a tumult in the assembly against Nicias, and slandered him with accusations all too plausible.
Nicias himself, he said, when he was general, had refused to capture the enemy's men who were cut off on the island of Sphacteria, and when others had captured them, he had released and given them back to the Lacedaemonians, whose favour he sought; and then he did not persuade those same Lacedaemonians, tried friend of theirs as he was, not to make separate alliance with the Boeotians or even with the Corinthians, and yet whenever any Hellenes wished to be friends and allies of Athens, he tried to prevent it, unless it were the good pleasure of the Lacedaemonians.
Nicias was reduced to great straits by all this, but just then, by rare good fortune as it were, an embassy came from Sparta, with reasonable proposals to begin on, and with assurances that they came with full powers to adopt any additional terms that were conciliatory and just. The council received them favorably, and the people were to hold an assembly on the following day for their reception. But Alcibiades feared a peaceful outcome, and managed to secure a private conference with the embassy.
When they were convened he said to them:
‘What is the matter with you, men of Sparta? Why are you blind to the fact that the council is always moderate and courteous towards those who have dealings with it, while the people's assembly is haughty and has great ambitions? If you say to them that you are come with unlimited powers, they will lay their commands and compulsions upon you without any feeling. Come now, put away such simplicity as this, and if you wish to get moderate terms from the Athenians, and to suffer no compulsion at their hands which you cannot yourselves approve, then discuss with them what would be a just settlement of your case, assuring them that you have not full powers to act. I will cooperate with you, out of my regard for the Lacedaemonians.’
After this speech he gave them his oath, and so seduced them wholly away from the influence of Nicias. They trusted him implicitly, admired his cleverness and sagacity, and thought him no ordinary man.
On the following day the people convened in assembly, and the embassy was introduced to them. On being asked by Alcibiades, in the most courteous tone, with what powers they had come, they replied that they were not come with full and independent powers.
At once, then, Alcibiades assailed them with angry shouts, as though he were the injured party, not they, calling them faithless and fickle men, who were come on no sound errand whatever. The council was indignant, the assembly was enraged, and Nicias was filled with consternation and shame at the men's change of front. He was unaware of the deceitful trick which had been played upon him.3