Nicias was elected general against his will, and he was anxious to avoid the command most of all because of his fellow commander. For it had seemed to the Athenians that the war would go on better if they did not send out Alcibiades unblended, but rather tempered his rash daring with the prudent forethought of Nicias. As for the third general, Lamachus, though advanced in years, he was thought, age notwithstanding, to be no less fiery than Alcibiades, and quite as fond of taking risks in battle.
During the deliberations of the people on the extent and character of the armament, Nicias again tried to oppose their wishes and put a stop to the war. But Alcibiades answered all his arguments and carried the day, and then Demostratus, the orator, formally moved that the generals have full and independent powers in the matter of the armament and of the whole war.1
After the people had adopted this motion and all things were made ready for the departure of the fleet, there were some unpropitious signs and portents, especially in connection with the festival, namely, the Adonia.
This fell at that time, and little images like dead folk carried forth to burial were in many places exposed to view by the women, who mimicked burial rites, beat their breasts, and sang dirges.2
Moreover, the mutilation of the Hermae, most of which, in a single night, had their faces and forms disfigured, confounded the hearts of many, even among those who usually set small store by such things. It was said, it is true, that Corinthians had done the deed, Syracuse being a colony of theirs, in the hope that such portents would check or stop the war.
The multitude, however, were not moved by this reasoning, nor by that of those who thought the affair no terrible sign at all, but rather one of the common effects of strong wine, when dissolute youth, in mere sport, are carried away into wanton acts. They looked on the occurrence with wrath and fear, thinking it the sign of a bold and dangerous conspiracy. They therefore scrutinized keenly every suspicious circumstance, the council and the assembly convening for this purpose many times within a few days.