Now Pericles led the city by virtue of his native excellence and powerful eloquence, and had no need to assume any persuasive mannerisms with the multitude; but Nicias, since he lacked such powers, but had excessive wealth, sought by means of this to win the leadership of the people.
And since he despaired of his ability to vie successfully with the versatile buffoonery by which Cleon catered to the pleasure of the Athenians, he tried to captivate the people by choral and gymnastic exhibitions, and other like prodigalities, outdoing in the costliness and elegance of these all his predecessors and contemporaries.
Of his dedicatory offerings there remain standing in my day not only the Palladium on the acropolis,—the one which has lost its gilding,—but also the temple surmounted by choregic tripods,1
in the precinct of Dionysus. For he was often victorious with choruses, and was never defeated. A story is told how, in one of his choral exhibitions, a house servant of his appeared in the costume of Dionysus, very fair to see, and very tall, the down of youth still upon his face. The Athenians were delighted at the sight, and applauded for a long time. At last Nicias rose and said he deemed it an unholy thing that one who had been acclaimed as a god should be a slave, and gave the youth his freedom.
It is matter of record also how splendid and worthy of the god his lavish outlays at Delos were. The choirs which cities used to send thither to sing the praises of the god were wont to put in at the island in haphazard fashion. The throng of worshippers would meet them at the ship and bid them sing, not with the decorum due, but as they were hastily and tumultuously disembarking, and while they were actually donning their chaplets and vestments.
But when Nicias conducted the festal embassy, he landed first on the neighboring island of Rheneia, with his choir, sacrificial victims, and other equipment. Then, with the bridge of boats which he had brought along with him from Athens, where it had been made to measure and signally adorned with gildings and dyed stuffs and garlands and tapestries, he spanned during the night the strait between Rheneia and Delos, which is not wide. At break of day he led his festal procession in honor of the god, and his choir arrayed in lavish splendor and singing as it marched, across the bridge to land.
After the sacrifices and the choral contests and the banquets were over, he erected the famous bronze palm-tree as a thank offering to the god, and consecrated to his service a tract of land which he bought at the price of ten thousand drachmas,2
the revenues from which the Delians were to expend in sacrificial banquets, at which many blessings should be invoked upon Nicias from the gods. This stipulation he actually had graven on the stone which he left in Delos to be as it were the sentry over his benefaction. The palm-tree, however, was torn away by the wind and fell against the colossal statue of the god which the Naxians erected, and overturned it.