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*Gu/lippos), son of Cleandridas, was left, it would seem, when his father went into exile (B. C. 445) to be brought up at Sparta. In the I8th year of the Peloponnesian war, when the Lacedaemonian government resolved to follow the advice of Alcibiades, and send a Spartan commander to Syracuse, Gylippus was selected for the duty. Manning two Laconian galleys at Asine, and receiving two from Corinth, under the command of Pythen, he sailed for Leucas. Here a variety of rumours combined to give assurance that the circumvallation of Syracuse was already complete. With no hope for their original object, but wishing, at any rate, to save the Italian allies, he and Pythen resolved, without waiting for the further reinforcements, to cross at once. They ran over to Tarentum, and presently touched at Thurii, where Gylippus resumed the citizenship which his father had there acquired in exile, and used some vain endeavours to obtain assistance. Shortly after the ships were driven back by a violent gale to Tarentum, and obliged to refit. Nicias meanwhile, though aware of their appearance on the Italian coast, held it, as had the Thurians, to be only an insignificant privateering expedition. After their second departure from Tarentum, they received information at Locri, that the investment was still incomplete, and now took counsel whether they should sail at once for their object, or pass the straits and land at Himera. Their wisdom or fortune decided for the latter; four ships, which Nicias, on hearing of their arrival at Locri, thought it well to send, and which perhaps would have in the other case intercepted them, arrived too late to oppose their passage through the straits. The four Peloponnesian galleys were shortly drawn up on the shore of Himera; the sailors converted into men-at-arms; the Himeraeans induced to join the enterprise; orders dispatched to Selinus and Gela to send auxiliaries to a rendezvous; Gongylus, a Corinthian captain, had already conveyed the good news of their approach to the now-despairing Syracusans. A small space on the side of Epipolae nearest to the sea still remained where the Athenian wall of blockade had not vet been carried up; the line was marked out, and stones were lying along it ready for the builders, and in parts the wall itself rose, half-completed, above the ground. (Thuc. 6.93, 104, 7.1-2.)

Gylippus passed through the island collecting reinforcements on his way, and giving the Syracusans warning of his approach, was met by their whole force at the rear of the city, where the broad back of Epipolae slopes upward from its walls to the point of Labdalum. Mounting this at Euryelus, he came unexpectedly on the Athenian works with his forces formed in order of battle. The Athenians were somewhat confounded; but they also drew up for the engagement. Gylippus commenced his communications with them by sending a herald with an offer to allow them to leave Sicily as they had come within five days' time, a message which was of course scornfully dismissed. But in spite of this assumption, probably politic, of a lofty tone, lie found his Syracusan forces so deficient in discipline, and so unfit for action, that he moved off into a more open position; and finding himself unmolested, withdrew altogether, and passed the night in the suburb Temenites. On the morrow he reappeared in full force before the enemy's works, and under this feint detached a force, which succeeded in capturing the fort of Labdalum, and put the whole garrison to the sword. (Thuc. 7.2, 3.)

For some days thenceforward he occupied his men in raising a cross-wall, intended to interfere with the line of circumvallation. This the Athenians had now brought still nearer to completion: a night enterprise, made with a view of surprising a weak part of it, had been detected and baffled; but Nicias, in despair, it would seem, of doing any good on the land side, was now employing a great part of his force in the fortification of Plemyrium, a point which commanded the entrance of the port. At length Gylippus, conceiving his men to be sufficiently trained, ventured an attack; but his cavalry, entangled amongst stones and masonry, were kept out of action; the enemy maintained the superiority of its infantry, and raised a trophy. Gylippus, however, by openly professing the fault to have been his own selection of unsuitable ground, inspired them with courage for a fresh attempt. By a wiser choice, and by posting his horse and his dartmen on the enemy's flank, he now won the Syracusans their first victory. The counterwork was quickly completed; the circumvallation effectually destroyed; Epipolae cleared of the enemy; the city on one side delivered from siege. Gylippus, having achieved so much, ventured to leave his post, and go about the island in search of auxiliaries. (Thuc. 7.4-7.)

His return in the spring of B. C. 413 was followed by a naval engagement, with the confidence required for which he and Hermocrates combined their efforts to inspire the people. On the night preceding the day appointed, he himself led out the whole land force, and with early dawn assaulted and carried successively the three forts of Plemyrium, most important as the depot of the Athenian stores and treasure, a success, therefore, more than atoning for the doubtful victory obtained by the enemy's fleet (Thuc. 7.22, 23). The second naval fight, and first naval victory, of the Syracusans, the arrival and defeat on Epipolae of the second Athenian armament, offer, in our accounts of them, no individual features for the biography of Gylippus. Nor yet does much appear in his subsequent successful mission through the island in quest of reinforcements, nor in the first great naval victory over the new armament,-- a glory scarcely tarnished by the slight repulse which he in person experienced from the enemy's Tyrsenian auxiliaries (Thuc. 7.46, 50, 53). Before the last and decisive sea-fight, Thucydides gives us an address from his mouth which urges the obvious topics. The command of the ships was taken by other officers. In the operations succeeding the victory he doubtless took part. He commanded in the pre-occupation of the Athenian route; when they in their despair left this their first course, and made a night march to the south, the clamours of the multitude accused him of a wish to allow their escape: he joined in the proclamation which called on the islanders serving in the Athenian host to come over; with him Demosthenes arranged his terms of surrender; to him Nicias, on hearing of his colleague's capitulation, made overtures for permission to carry his own division safe to Athens; and to him, on the banks of the Asinarus, Nicias gave himself up at discretion; to the captive general's entreaty that, whatever should be his own fate, the present butchery might be ended, Gylippus acceded by ordering quarter to be given. Against his wishes, the people, whom he had rescued, put to death the captive generals,--wishes, indeed, which it is likely were prompted in the main by the desire named by Thucydides, of the glory of conveying to Sparta such a trophy of his deeds; yet into whose composition may also have entered some feelings of a generous commiseration for calamities so wholly unprecedented. (Thuc. 7.65-69, 70, 74, 79, 81-86.)

Gylippus brought over his troops in the following summer. Sixteen ships had remained to the end; of these one was lost in an engagement with twentyseven Athenian galleys, which were lying in wait for them near Leucas; the rest, in a shattered condition, made their way to Corinth. (Thuc. 8.13.)

To this, the plain story of the great contemporary historian, inferior authorities add but little. Timaeus, in Plutarch (Plut. Nic. 19), informs us that the Syracusans made no account of Gylippus ; thinking him, when they had come to know his character, to be mean and covetous; and at the first deriding him for the long hair and small upper garment of the Spartan fashion. Yet, says Plutarch, the same author states elsewhere that so soon as Gylippus was seen, as though at the sight of an owl, birds enough flocked up for the war. (The sight of an owl is said to have the effect of drawing birds together, and the fact appears to have passed into a proverb.) And this, he adds, is the truer account of the two; the whole achievement is ascribed to Gylippus, not by Thucydides only, but also by Philistus, a native of Syracuse, and eyewitness of the whole. Plutarch also speaks of the party at Syracuse, who were inclined to surrender, as especially offended by his overbearing Spartan ways; and to such a feeling, he says, when success was secure, the whole people began to give way, openly insulting him when he made his petition to be allowed to take Nicias and Demosthenes alive to Sparta. (Nic. 21, 28.) Diodorus (12.28), no doubt in perfect independence of all authorities, puts in his mouth a long strain of rhetoric, urging the people to a vindictive, unrelenting course, in opposition to that advised by Hermocrates, and a speaker of the name of Nicolaus. Finally, Polyaenus (1.42) relates a doubtful tale of a device by which he persuaded the Syracusans to entrust him with the sole command. He induced them to adopt the resolution of attacking a particular position, secretly sent word to the enemy, who, in consequence, strengthened their force there, and then availed himself of the indignation at the betrayal of their counsels to prevail upon the people to leave the sole control of them to him.

For all that we know of the rest of the life of Gylippus we are indebted to Plutarch (Nic. 28 ; Lysand. 16, 17) and Diodorus (13.106). He was commissioned, it appears, by Lysander, after the capture of Athens, to carry home the treasure. By opening the seams of the sacks underneath, he abstracted a considerable portion, 30 talents, according to Plutarch's text; according to Diodorus, who makes the sum total of the talents of silver to be 1500, exclusive of other valuables, as much as 300. He was detected by the inventories which were contained in each package, and which he had overlooked. A hint from one of his slaves indicated to the Ephors the place where the missing treasure lay concealed, the space under the tiling of the house. Gylippus appears to have at once gone into exile, and to have been condemned to death in his absence. Athenaeus (vi. p. 234.) says that he died of starvation, after being convicted by the Ephors of stealing part of Lysander's treasure; but whether he means that he so died by the sentence of the Ephors. or in exile, does not appear.

None can deny that Gylippus did the duty assigned to him in the Svracusan war with skill and energy. The favour of fortune was indeed most remarkably accorded to him; yet his energy in the early proceedings was of a degree unusual with his countrymen. His military skill, perhaps, was not much above the average of the ordinary Spartan officer of the better kind. Of the nobler virtues of his country we cannot discern much: with its too common vice of cupidity he lamentably sullied his glory. Aelian (Ael. VH 12.42; comp. Athen. 6.271) says that he and Lysander, and Callicratidas, were all of the class called Mothaces, Helots, that is, by birth, who, in the company of the boys of the family to which they belonged, were brought up in the Spartan discipline, and afterwards obtained freedom. This can hardly have been the case with Gylippus himself, as we find his father, Cleandridas, in an important situation at the side of king Pleistoanax: but the family may have been derived, at one point or another, from a Mothax. (Comp. Muller, Dor. 3.3.5.) The syllable Γυλ- in the name is probably identical with the Latin Gilvus.


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  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.28
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.106
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.7
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.104
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.22
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.23
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.3
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.4
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.46
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.50
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.53
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.65
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.70
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.74
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.81
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.79
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.93
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.69
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.86
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.13
    • Plutarch, Nicias, 19
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 12.42
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