Presently their diviners announced to the Syracusans that the sacrifices indicated a splendid victory for them if only they did not begin the fighting, but acted on the defensive. Heracles also, they said, always won the day because he acted on the defensive and suffered himself to be attacked first. Thus encouraged, they put out from shore.
This proved the greatest and hottest sea fight they had yet made, and roused as many tumultuous emotions in those who were mere spectators as in those who did the fighting, because the whole action was in plain sight, and took on shifts and turns which were varied, unexpected, and sudden. Their own equipment wrought the Athenians no less harm than did that of their enemy;
for they fought against light and nimble ships, which bore down upon them from different directions at once, while their own were heavy and clumsy and all crowded together. Besides, they were bombarded with stones, whose blow is just as effective however they light; whereas they could only reply with javelins and arrows, whose proper cast was disturbed by the tossing water, so that they did not all fly head on to their mark. This method of fighting was taught the Syracusans by Ariston the Corinthian captain, who fought zealously while the battle lasted, only to fall just as the Syracusans were victorious.
The Athenians suffered such great rout and loss that they were cut off from flight by sea. Even by land they saw that their salvation was a difficult matter, so that they neither tried to hinder the enemy from towing away their ships under their very eyes, nor did they ask the privilege of taking up their dead. These, forsooth, could go unburied; the survivors were confronted with a more pitiful sight in the abandonment of their sick and wounded, and thought themselves more wretched still than their dead, since they were sure to come with more sorrows than they to the same end after all.