They purposed to set out during the night, and Gylippus, who saw that the Syracusans were given over to sacrificial revels because of their victory and their festival of Heracles, despaired of persuading or compelling them to rise up from their pleasures at once and attack their enemy as he departed. But Hermocrates, all on his own account, concocted a trick to put upon Nicias,
and sent certain companions to him with assurances that they were come from those men who before this had often held secret conferences with him. They advised Nicias not to set out during the night, inasmuch as the Syracusans had laid snares for him and preoccupied the ways of escape. Nicias was completely out-generalled by this trick, and so ended by suffering in very truth at the hands of his enemies what their lies had made him fear.
For the Syracusans set forth at break of day, occupied the difficult points in the roads, fortified the river fords, cut away the bridges, and posted their cavalry in the smooth open spaces, so that no spot was left where the Athenians could go forward without fighting.
They waited therefore all that day and the following night, and then set out, for all the world as though they were quitting their native city and not an enemy's country, with wailings and lamentations at their lack of the necessaries of life and their enforced abandonment of helpless friends and comrades. And yet they regarded these present sorrows as lighter than those which they must expect to come.
Many were the fearful scenes in the camp, but the most pitiful sight of all was Nicias himself, undone by his sickness, and reduced, as he little deserved, to a scanty diet, and to the smallest supply of those personal comforts whereof he stood so much in need because of his disease. And yet, for all his weakness, he persisted in doing what many of the strong could barely endure, and all saw plainly that it was not for his own sake or for any mere love of life that he was faithful to his tasks, but for their sakes he would not give up hope.
The rest, for very fear and distress, had recourse to lamentations and tears; but whenever he was driven to this pass, it was plainly because he was contrasting the shameful dishonor to which his expedition had now come with the great and glorious successes which he had hoped to achieve.
Besides, it was not merely the sight of him now, but also the memory of the arguments and exhortations with which he had once tried to prevent the sailing of the expedition, that led men to think him all the more unworthy to suffer such hardships now; and they had no courage to hope for aid from the gods when they reflected that a man so devout as he, and one who had performed so many great and splendid religious services, now met with no seemlier fortune than the basest and most obscure man in his army.