Just about that time Alcibiades was beginning to be a power at Athens. For a popular leader he was not so unmixed an evil as Cleon. The soil of Egypt, it is said, by reason of its very excellence, produces alike
Drugs of which many are good, intermixed, but 1
many are deadly.
In like manner the nature of Alcibiades, setting as it did with full and strong currents towards both good and evil, furnished cause and beginning for serious innovations.
And so it came to pass that even after Nicias was rid of Cleon, he did not get opportunity to lull the city into perfect rest and calm, but, when he had actually set the state fairly in the path of safety, was hurled from it by an impetuous onset of Alcibiades' ambition, and plunged again into war.
This was the way it came about. The men most hostile to the peace of Hellas were Cleon and Brasidas. Of these, war covered up the baseness of the one and adorned the excellence of the other; that is to say, it gave the one opportunities for great iniquities, the other for great achievements.
After these men had both fallen in one and the same battle before Amphipolis,2
Nicias found at once that the Spartans had long been eager for peace, and that the Athenians were no longer in good heart for the war; that both were, so to speak, unstrung, and glad to let their arms drop to their sides. He therefore strove to unite the two cities in friendship, and to free the rest of the Hellenes from ills, as well as to give himself a season of rest, and so to make secure for all coming time the name which he had for success.
The men who were well-to-do, and the elderly men, and most of the farmers, he found inclined to peace from the first; and after he had talked privately with many of the rest, taught them his views, and blunted the edge of their desire for war, then he at once held out hopes to the Spartans and urgently invited them to seek for peace. They had confidence in him, not only because of his usual fairness towards them, but especially because he had shown kind attentions to those of their men who had been captured at Pylos and kept in prison at Athens, had treated them humanely, and so eased their misfortune.
The two parties had before this made a sort of stay of mutual hostilities for a year, during this time they had held conferences with one another, and tasted again the sweets of security and leisure and intercourse with friends at home and abroad, so that they yearned for that old life which was undefiled by war, and listened gladly when choirs sang such strains as
Let my spear lie unused for the spider to
cover with webs
and gladly called to mind the saying,
‘In peace the sleeper is waked not by the trumpet, but by the cock.’
Accordingly, they heaped abuse on those who said that the war was fated to last thrice nine years,4
and then, in this spirit, debated the whole issue, and made peace.5
Most men held it to be a manifest release from ills, and Nicias was in every mouth. They said he was a man beloved of God, and that Heaven had bestowed on him, for his reverent piety, the privilege of giving his name to the greatest and fairest of blessings.
They really thought that the peace was the work of Nicias, as the war had been that of Pericles. The one, on slight occasion, was thought to have plunged the Hellenes into great calamities; the other had persuaded them to forget the greatest injuries and become friends. Therefore, to this day, men call that peace
‘The Peace of Nicias.’