Close on the heels of his victorious pursuit came his seizure of the harbor, and then he laid formal siege to the Samians, who, somehow or other, still had the daring to sally forth and fight with him before their walls. But soon a second and a larger armament came from Athens, and the Samians were completely beleaguered and shut in. Then Pericles took sixty triremes and sailed out into the main sea, as most authorities say, because he wished to meet a fleet of Phoenician ships which was coming to the aid of the Samians, and fight it at as great a distance from Samos as possible; but according to Stesimbrotus, because he had designs on Cyprus, which seems incredible.
But in any case, whichever design he cherished, he seems to have made a mistake. For no sooner had he sailed off than Melissus, the son of Ithagenes, a philosopher who was then acting as general at Samos, despising either the small number of ships that were left, or the inexperience of the generals in charge of them, persuaded his fellow-citizens to make an attack upon the Athenians. In the battle that ensued the Samians were victorious, taking many of their enemy captive, and destroying many of their ships, so that they commanded the sea and laid in large store of such necessaries for the war as they did not have before.
And Aristotle says that Pericles was himself also defeated by Melissus in the sea-fight which preceded this.
The Samians retaliated upon the Athenians by branding their prisoners in the forehead with owls; for the Athenians had once branded some of them with the samaena. Now the samaena is a ship of war with a boar's head design for prow and ram, but more capacious than usual and paunchlike, so that it is a good deep-sea traveller and a swift sailor too.
It got this name because it made its first appearance in Samos, where Polycrates the tyrant had some built. To these brand-marks, they say, the verse of Aristophanes1
made riddling reference:—
For oh! how lettered is the folk of the Samians!