It was Nicias, then, who, when an embassy came from Egesta and Leontini1
seeking to persuade the Athenians to undertake an expedition against Sicily, opposed the measure, only to be defeated by the ambitious purposes of Alcibiades. Before the assembly had met at all, Alcibiades had already corrupted the multitude and got them into his power by means of his sanguine promises, so that the youth in their training-schools and the old men in their work-shops and lounging-places would sit in cluster drawing maps of Sicily, charts of the sea about it, and plans of the harbors and districts of the island which look towards Libya.
For they did not regard Sicily itself as the prize of the war, but rather as a mere base of operations, purposing therefrom to wage a contest with the Carthaginians and get possession of both Libya and of all the sea this side the Pillars of Heracles.
Since, therefore, their hearts were fixed on this, Nicias, in his opposition to them, had few men, and these of no influence, to contend on his side. For the well-to-do citizens feared accusations of trying to escape their contributions for the support of the navy, and so, despite their better judgement, held their peace.
But Nicias did not faint nor grow weary. Even after the Athenians had actually voted for the war and elected him general first, and after him Alcibiades and Lamachus, in a second session of the assembly he rose and tried to divert them from their purpose by the most solemn adjurations, and at last accused Alcibiades of satisfying his own private greed and ambition in thus forcing the city into grievous perils beyond the seas.
Still, he made no headway, nay, he was held all the more essential to the enterprise because of the experience from which he spoke. There would be great security, his hearers thought, against the daring of Alcibiades and the roughness of Lamachus, if his well known caution were blended with their qualities. And so he succeeded only in confirming the previous vote. For Demostratus, the popular leader who was most active in spurring the Athenians on to the war, rose and declared that he would stop the mouth of Nicias from uttering vain excuses; so he introduced a decree to the effect that the generals have full and independent powers in counsel and in action, both at home and at the seat of war, and persuaded the people to vote it.