The Athenians, seeing the closing of the harbour and inferring the intentions of the enemy,1
proceeded to hold a council.
The generals and officers met and considered the difficulties of their position. The most pressing of all was the want of food. For they had already sent to Catana, when they intended to depart, and stopped the supplies for the present; and they could get no more in the future unless they recovered the command of the sea. They resolved therefore to quit their lines on the higher ground and to cut off by a cross-wall a space close to their ships, no greater than was absolutely required for their baggage and for their sick; after leaving a guard there they meant to put on board every other man, and to launch all their ships, whether fit for service or not; they would then fight a decisive battle, and, if they conquered, go to Catana; but if not, they would burn their ships, and retreat by land in good order, taking the nearest way to some friendly country, Barbarian or Hellenic.
This design they proceeded to execute, and withdrawing quietly from the upper walls manned their whole fleet, compelling every man of any age at all suitable for service to embark.
The entire number of the ships which they manned was about a hundred and ten. They put on board numerous archers and javelin-men, Acarnanians, and other foreigners, and made such preparations for action as their difficult situation and the nature of their plan2
When all was nearly ready, Nicias, perceiving that his men were depressed by their severe defeat at sea, which was so new an experience to them, while at the same time the want of provisions made them impatient to risk a battle with the least possible delay, called the whole army together, and before they engaged exhorted them as follows:—