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The Athenians, now that their affairs had taken a turn for the worse and a wave of pestilence had struck the camp because the region round about it was marshy, counselled together how they should deal with the situation. [2] Demosthenes thought that they should sail back to Athens with all speed, stating that to risk their lives against the Lacedaemonians in defence of their fatherland was preferable to settling down on Sicily and accomplishing nothing worth while; but Nicias said that they ought not to abandon the siege in so disgraceful a fashion, while they were well supplied with triremes, soldiers, and funds; furthermore, he added, if they should make peace with the Syracusans without the approval of the Athenian people and sail back to their country, peril would attend them from the men who make it their practice to bring false charges against their generals. [3] Of the participants in the council some agreed with Demosthenes on putting to sea, but others expressed the same opinion as Nicias; and so they came to no clear decision and took no action. [4] And since help came to the Syracusans from the Siceli, Selinuntians, and Geloans, as well as from the Himeraeans and Camarinaeans, the Syracusans were the more emboldened, but the Athenians became apprehensive. Also, when the epidemic greatly increased, many of the soldiers were dying and all regretted that they had not set out upon their return voyage long since. [5] Consequently, since the multitude was in an uproar and all the others were eager to take to the ships, Nicias found himself compelled to yield on the matter of their returning home. And when the generals were agreed, the soldiers began gathering together their equipment, loading the triremes, and raising the yard-arms; and the generals issued orders to the multitude that at the signal not a man in the camp should be late, for he who lagged would be left behind. [6] But when they were about to sail on the following day, on the night of the day before, the moon was eclipsed.1 Consequently Nicias, who was not only by nature a superstitiously devout man but also cautious because of the epidemic in the camp, summoned the soothsayers. And when they declared that the departure must be postponed for the customary three days,2 Demosthenes and the others were also compelled, out of respect for the deity, to accede.

1 27th August, 413 B.C.

2 "Thrice nine days," according to Thuc. 7.50.4; "another full period of the moon," according to Plut. Nic. 23.6.

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  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CAMARI´NA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), GELA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), HI´MERA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SELI´NUS
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.50.4
    • Plutarch, Nicias, 23.6
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