He saw that the people, upon occasion, served their own turn with experienced men of eloquence or surpassing ability, but ever looked with suspicious and cautious eyes upon such powers, and tried to abate the pride and reputation to which they gave rise. This was manifest in their fining Pericles,1
and ostracising Damon,2
and discrediting, as most of them did, Antiphon the Rhamnusian,3
and finally, above all, in the fate of Paches, the captor of Lesbos,4
who, while he was giving the official account of his generalship, drew his sword in the very court-room and slew himself. Nicias therefore tried to evade commands which were likely to be laborious and long, and whenever he did serve as general made safety his chief aim, and so was successful for the most part, as was natural. He did not, however, ascribe his achievements to any wisdom or ability or valor of his own, but rather credited them to fortune, and took modest refuge in the divine ordering of events, relinquishing thereby part of his reputation through fear of envy.
Events bore witness to his wisdom, for in the many great reverses which the city suffered at that period he had absolutely no share. It was under the leadership of Calliades5
and Xenophon that his countrymen met defeat at the hands of the Chalcidians in Thrace; the Aetolian disaster occurred when Demosthenes was in command;6
Hippocrates was general when a thousand citizens were sacrificed at Delium;7
and for the plague Pericles incurred the most blame, because he shut up the throng from the country in the city on account of the war, and the plague was the result of their change of abode and their unwonted manner of living.8
For all these things Nicias was free from blame, while as general he captured Cythera,9
an island favorably situated for the command of Laconia and inhabited by Lacedaemonians; he captured also many places in Thrace10
which had revolted, and brought them back to their allegiance; having shut up the Megarians in their city he straightway seized the island of Minoa,11
and shortly after, from this base of operations, got possession of Nisaea;12
he also made a descent upon the territory of Corinth,13
defeated the Corinthians in battle and slew many of them, including Lycophron their general.
Here it befell him, when his dead were taken up for burial, that two of his men were left unnoticed on the field. As soon as he was made aware of this, he halted his armament and sent a herald back to the enemy asking leave to take up his dead. And yet by usage and unwritten law the side which secured the right to take up its dead by a truce, was thought to renounce all claims to victory, and for those who so obtained this right, the erection of a trophy of victory was unlawful, since they are victors who possess the field; but petitioners do not possess the field, since they cannot take what they want.
Notwithstanding this, Nicias endured rather to abandon the honor and reputation of his victory than to leave unburied two of his fellow citizens.
He also ravaged the coasts of Laconia,14
routed the Lacedaemonians who opposed him, captured Thyrea, which the Aeginetans held, and took his prisoners off alive to Athens.