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However, it was this very Nicias who tried, both by words and looks and kindly manner, to show himself superior to his dreadful lot. And during all the march which he conducted for eight successive days,1 though suffering from the missiles of the enemy, he yet succeeded in keeping his own forces from defeat, until Demosthenes and his detachment of the army were captured. These fell behind as they fought their way along, and were surrounded on the homestead of Polyzelus. [2] Demosthenes himself drew his sword and gave himself a thrust; he did not, however, succeed in killing himself since the enemy quickly closed in upon him and seized him.

When the Syracusans rode up and told Nicias of this disaster, he first sent horsemen to make certain that the force of Demosthenes was really taken, and then proposed to Gylippus a truce permitting the Athenians to depart from Sicily after giving hostages to the Syracusans for all the moneys which they had expended on the war. [3] But they would not entertain the proposal. Nay, with insolent rage they reviled and insulted him, and kept pelting him with missiles, destitute as he was of all the necessaries of life. However, through that night and the following day he managed to hold out, and finally came, under constant fire, to the river Asinarus. There some of his men were crowded along by the enemy and thrust into the stream, while others, in advance of pursuit, were impelled by their thirst to cast themselves in, [4] and an exceeding great and savage carnage raged in the river itself, men being butchered as they drank. At last Nicias fell down at the feet of Gylippus and cried: ‘Have pity, Gylippus, now that you are victorious, not on me at all, though my great successes have brought me name and fame, but on the rest of these Athenians. Remember that the fortunes of war are common to all, and that the Athenians, when they were in good fortune, used it with moderation and gentleness toward you.’ [5]

So spake Nicias, and Gylippus felt some compunction, both at the sight of him, and at what he said. For he knew that the Lacedaemonians had been well treated by him when the peace was made, and, besides, he thought it would increase his own fame if he should bring home alive the generals who had opposed him. Therefore he raised Nicias up, gave him words of cheer, and issued command to take the rest of his men alive. But the command made its way slowly along, so that the spared were far fewer than the slain. And yet many were stolen and hidden away by the soldiery. [6] The public prisoners were collected together, the fairest and tallest trees along the river bank were hung with the captured suits of armour, and then the victors crowned themselves with wreaths, adorned their own horses splendidly while they sheared and cropped the horses of their conquered foes, and so marched into the city. They had brought to successful end a struggle which was the most brilliant ever made by Hellenes against Hellenes, and had won the completest of victories by the most overwhelming and impetuous display of zeal and valor.

1 Minutely described, day by day, in Thuc. 7.78-85.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • E.C. Marchant, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 7, 7.86
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ASINARUS
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.78
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (3):
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