But at this juncture Demosthenes hove in sight off the harbors,1
most resplendent in his array, and most terrifying to the enemy. He brought five thousand hoplites on seventy-three ships of war, besides javelineers and archers and slingers to no less a number than three thousand. What with the gleam of his arms and the insignia of his triremes and the multitude of his coxwains and pipers, he made a spectacular display, and one which smote the enemy with dismay.
Again, then, as was natural, fear reigned among the Syracusans. They saw before them no final release from their perils, but only useless toils and vain self-destruction.
But the joy of Nicias at the presence of this fresh force was not long lived. Nay, at the very first council of war, when Demosthenes urged an immediate attack upon the enemy, a settlement of the whole struggle by the speediest hazard, and either the capture of Syracuse or else a return home, he was in fearful amaze at such aggressive daring, and begged that nothing be done rashly or foolishly.
Delay, he said, was sure to work against the enemy; they no longer had money to spend, and their allies would no longer stand by them; let them only be really distressed by the straits they were in, and they would soon come to him again for terms, as they had done before. For not a few of the men of Syracuse were in secret communication with Nicias. They urged him to bide his time, on the ground that even now they were worn out by the war and weary of Gylippus, and that if their necessities should but increase a little, they would give over altogether.
At some of these matters Nicias could only hint darkly, of others he was unwilling to speak in public, and so he made the generals think him cowardly. It was the same old story over again with him, they would say,—delays, postponements, and hairsplitting distinctions; he had already forfeited the golden moment by not attacking the enemy at once, but rather going stale and winning their contempt. So they sided with Demosthenes, and Nicias, with great reluctance, was forced to yield.
Therefore, Demosthenes, with the infantry, made a night attack upon Epipolae. He took some of the enemy by surprise, and slew them; others, who tried to make a stand, he routed. Victorious, he did not halt, but pressed on farther, until he fell in with the Boeotians. These were the first of the enemy to form in battle array, and dashing upon the Athenians with spears at rest and with loud shouts, they repulsed them and slew many of them there.
Through the whole army of attack there was at once panic and confusion. The part that was still pressing on victoriously was presently choked up with the part that fled, and the part that was yet coming up to the attack was beaten back by the panic-stricken and fell foul of itself, supposing that the fugitives were pursuers, and treating friends as foes.
Their huddling together in fear and ignorance, and the deceitfulness of their vision, plunged the Athenians into terrible perplexities and disasters. For the night was one which afforded neither absolute darkness nor a steady light. The moon was low on the horizon, and was partially obscured by the numerous armed figures roving to and fro in her light, and so she naturally made even friends mutually suspicious through fear of foes, by not distinguishing their forms clearly.
Besides, it somehow happened that the Athenians had the moon at their backs, so that they cast their shadows on their own men in front of them, and thus obscured their number and the brilliancy of their weapons; while in the case of the enemy, the reflection of the moon upon their shields made them seem far more numerous than they really were, and more resplendent to the eye.
Finally, when the Athenians gave ground, the enemy attacked them on all sides and put them to flight. Some of them died at the hands of their pursuers, others by one another's hands, and others still by plunging down the cliffs. The scattered and wandering fugitives, when day came, were overtaken and cut to pieces by the enemy's horsemen. The dead amounted in all to two thousand; and of the survivors, few saved their armour with their lives.