Nicias, accordingly, was overcome by this disaster, though it did not take him wholly by surprise, and he accused Demosthenes of rashness. Demosthenes defended himself on this score, and then urged that they sail away as soon as they could. No other force would come to their aid, he declared, and with the one they had they could not finally master the enemy,
since, even if they were victorious in battle they would be forced to change their base and abandon their present position; this was always, as they heard, a grievous and unwholesome spot for encampment, and now particularly, as they saw, it was actually deadly on account of the season of the year. For it was the beginning of autumn; many were sick already, and all were in low spirits.
But Nicias could not bear to hear of sailing off in flight, not because he had no fear of the Syracusans, but because he was more afraid of the Athenians with their prosecutions and denunciations.
Nothing dreadful, he would say, was to be expected where they were, and even if the worst should come, he chose rather to die at the hands of his enemies than at the hands of his fellow citizens. In this he was not like-minded with Leon of Byzantium, who, at a later time,1
said to his fellow citizens:
‘I would rather be put to death by you than with you.’ However, regarding the exact spot to which they should remove their camp, Nicias said they would deliberate at their leisure.
Thereupon Demosthenes, who had not been successful in his previous plan, ceased trying to carry his point, and so led the rest of the generals to believe that Nicias must have confident expectations from his correspondents in the city in making such a sturdy fight against the proposed retreat; they therefore sided with him. However, a fresh army came to the aid of the Syracusans, and sickness kept spreading among the Athenians, so that at last Nicias also decided in favour of a change of base, and ordered the soldiers to hold themselves in readiness to sail away.