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The invasion of Attica by the Lacedaemonians had now become an ordinary enterprise, undertaken in every year of the war except the third and sixth, and then omitted only from accidental causes: though the same hopes were no longer entertained from it as at the commencement of the war. During the present spring Agis king of Sparta conducted the Peloponnesian army into the territory, seemingly about the end of April, and repeated the usual ravages.

It seemed, however, as if Corcyra were about to become the principal scene of the year’s military operations. For the exiles of the oligarchical party, having come back to the island and fortified themselves on Mount Istone, carried on war with so much activity against the Corcyraeans in the city, that distress and even famine reigned there. Sixty Peloponnesian triremes were sent thither to assist the aggressors. As soon as it became known at Athens how hardly the Corcyraeans in the city were pressed, orders were given to an Athenian fleet of forty triremes, about to sail for Sicily under Eurymedon and Sophocles, to halt in their voyage at Kerkira, and to lend whatever aid might be needed. But during the course of this voyage an incident occurred elsewhere, neither foreseen nor imagined by any, one, which gave a new character and promise to the whole war—illustrating forcibly the observations of Perikles and Archidamus before its commencement, on the impossibility of calculating what turn events might take.

So high did Demosthenes stand in the favor of his countrymen after his brilliant successes in the Ambracian Gulf, that they granted him permission at his own request to go aboard and to employ the fleet in any descent which he might think expedient on the coast of Peloponnesus. The attachment of this active officer to the Messenians at Naupactus inspired him with the idea of planting a detachment of them on some well-chosen maritime post in the ancient Messenian territory, from whence they would be able permanently to harass the Lacedaemonians and provoke revolt among the Helots—the more so from their analogy of race and dialect. The Messenians, active in privateering, and doubtless well acquainted with the points of this coast, all of which had formerly belonged to their ancestors, had probably indicated to him Pylus on the southwestern shore. That ancient and Homeric name was applied specially and properly to denote the promontory which forms the northern termination of the modern bay of Navarino opposite to the island of Sphagia or Sphacteria; though in vague language the whole neighbouring district seems also to have been called Pylus. Accordingly, in circumnavigating Laconia, Demosthenes requested that the fleet might be detained at this spot long enough to enable him to fortify it, engaging himself to stay afterward and maintain it with a garrison. It was an uninhabited promontory—about forty-five miles from Sparta, that is, as far distant as any portion of her territory—presenting rugged cliffs, and easy of defence both by sea and land. But its great additional recommendation, with reference to the maritime power of Athens, consisted in its overhanging the spacious and secure basin now called the bay of Navarino. That basin was fronted and protected by the islet called Sphacteria or Sphagia, untrodden, untenanted, and full of wood: which stretched along the coast for about a mile and three-quarters, leaving only two narrow entrances; one at its northern end, opposite to the position fixed on by Demosthenes, so confined as to admit only two triremes abreast—the other at the southern end about four times as broad; while the inner water approached by these two channels was both roomy and protected. It was on the coast of Peloponnesus, a little within the northern or narrowest of the two channels, that Demosthenes proposed to plant his little fort—the ground being itself eminently favourable; with a spring of fresh water in the center of the promontory.

But Eurymedon and Sophocles decidedly rejected all proposition of delay; and with much reason, since they had been informed (though seemingly without truth) that the Peloponnesian fleet had actually reached Corcyra. They might well have remembered the mischief which had ensued three years before, from the delay of the re-enforcement sent to Phormio in some desultory operations on the coast of Crete. The fleet accordingly passed by Pylus without stopping: but a terrible storm drove them back and forced them to seek shelter in the very harbour which Demosthenes had fixed upon—the only harbour anywhere near. That officer took advantage of this accident to renew his proposition, which however appeared to the commanders chimerical. There were plenty of desert capes round Peloponnesus (they said), if he chose to waste the resources of the city in occupying them. They remained unmoved by his reasons in reply. Finding himself thus unsuccessful, Demosthenes presumed upon the undefined permission granted to him by the Athenian people, to address himself first to the soldiers, last of all to the taxiarchs or inferior officers—and to persuade them to second his project, even against the will of the commanders. Much inconvenience might well have arisen from such clashing of authority: but it happened that both the soldiers and the taxiarchs took the same view of the case as their commanders, and refused compliance. Nor can we be surprised at such reluctance, when we reflect upon the seeming improbability of being able to maintain such a post against the great real, and still greater supposed, superiority of Lacedaemonian land-force. It happened however that the fleet was detained there for some days by stormy weather; so that the soldiers, having nothing to do, were seized with the spontaneous impulse of occupying themselves with the fortification, and crowded around to execute it with all the emulation of eager volunteers. Having contemplated nothing of the kind on starting from Athens, they had neither tools for cutting stone, nor hods for carrying mortar. Accordingly, they were compelled to build their wall by collecting such pieces of rock or stones as they found, and putting them together as each happened to fit in: whenever mortar was needed, they brought it up on their bended backs, with hands joined behind them to prevent it from slipping away. Such deficiencies were made up, however, partly by the unbounded ardour of the soldiers, partly by the natural difficulties of the ground, which hardly required fortification except at particular points; the work was completed in a rough way in six days, and Demosthenes was left in garrison with five ships, while Eurymedon with the main fleet sailed away to Corcyra. The crews of the five ships (two of which, however, were sent away to warn Eurymedon afterward) would amount to about 1000 men in all. But there presently arrived two armed Messenian privateers, from which Demosthenes obtained a re-enforcement of forty Messenian hoplites, together with a supply of wicker shields, though more fit for show than for use, wherewith to arm his rowers. Altogether, it appears that he must have had about 200 hoplites, besides the half-armed seamen. 

Intelligence of this attempt to plant, even upon the Lacedaemonian territory, the annoyance and insult of a hostile post, was Boon transmitted to Sparta. Yet no immediate measures were taken to march to the spot; as well from the natural slowness of the Spartan character, strengthened by a festival which happened to be then going on, as from the confidence entertained that, whenever attacked, the expulsion of the enemy was certain. A stronger impression however was made by the news upon £he Lacedaemonian army invading Attica, who were at the same time suffering from want of provisions (the corn not being yet ripe), and from an unusually cold spring: accordingly, Agis marched them back to Sparta, and the fortification of Pylus thus produced the effect of abridging the invasion to the unusually short period of fifteen days. It operated in like manner to the protection of Corcyra: for the Peloponnesian fleet, recently arrived thither or still on its way, received orders immediately to return for the attack of Pylus. Having avoided the Athenian fleet by transporting the ships across the isthmus of Leukas, it reached Pylus about the same time as the Lacedaemonian land-force from Sparta, composed of the Spartans themselves and the neighbouring Perioeki. For the more distant Perioeki, as well as the Peloponnesian allies, being just returned from Attica, though summoned to come as soon as they could, did not accompany this first march.

At the last moment before the Peloponnesian fleet came in and occupied the harbour, Demosthenes detached two out of his five triremes to warn Eurymedon and the main fleet, and to entreat immediate succour; the remaining ships he hauled ashore under the fortification, protecting them by palisades planted in front, and prepared to defend himself in the best manner he could. Having posted the larger portion of his force—some of them mere seamen without arms, and many only half-armed—round the assailable points of the fortification, to resist attacks from the land-force, he himself, with sixty chosen hoplites and a few bowmen, marched out of the fortification down to the sea-shore. It was on that side that the wall was weakest, for the Athenians, confident in their naval superiority, had given themselves little trouble to provide against an assailant fleet. Accordingly, Demosthenes foresaw that the great stress of the attack would lie on the sea-side. His only safety consisted in preventing the enemy from landing; a purpose seconded by the rocky and perilous shore, which left no possibility of approach for ships except on a narrow space immediately under the fortification. It was here that he took post, on the water’s edge, addressing a few words of encouragement to his men, and warning them that it was useless now to display acuteness in summing up perils which were but too obvious—and that the only chance of escape lay in boldly encountering the enemy before they could set foot ashore; the difficulty of effecting a landing from ships in the face of resistance being better known to Athenian mariners than to any one else.

With a fleet of forty-three triremes under Thrasymelidas, and a powerful land-force, simultaneously attacking, the Lacedaemonians had good hopes of storming at once a rock so hastily converted into a military post. But as they foresaw that the first attack might possibly fail, and that the fleet of Eurymedon would probably return, they resolved to occupy forthwith the island of Sphacteria, the natural place where the Athenian fleet would take station for the purpose of assisting the garrison ashore. The neighbouring coast on the mainland of Peloponnesus was both harbourless and hostile, so that there was no other spot near, where they could take station. And the Lacedaemonian commanders reckoned upon being able to stop up, as it were mechanically, both the two entrances into the harbour, by triremes lashed together from the island to the mainland, with their prows pointing outward: so that they would be able at any rate, occupying the island as well as the two channels, to keep off the Athenian fleet, and to hold Demosthenes closely blocked up on the rock of Pylus; where his provisions would quickly fail him. With these views they drafted off by lot some hoplites from each of the Spartan lochi, accompanied as usual by helots, and sent them across to Sphacteria; while their land-force and their fleet approached at once to attack the fortification.

Of the assault on the land-side we hear little. The Lacedaemonians were proverbially unskilful in the attack of anything like a fortified place, and they appear now to have made little impression. But the chief stress and vigour of the attack came 011 the sea-side, as Demosthenes had foreseen. The landing-place, even where practicable, was still rocky and difficult—and so narrow in dimensions, that the Lacedaemonian ships could only approach by small squadrons at a time; while the Athenians maintained their ground firmly to prevent a single man from setting foot 011 land. The assailing triremes rowed up with loud shouts and exhortations to each other, striving to get so placed as that the hoplites in the bow could effect a landing: but such were the difficulties arising partly from the rocks and partly from the defence, that squadron after squadron tried this in vain. Nor did even the gallant example of Brasidas procure for them any better success. That officer, commanding a trireme, and observing that some of the pilots near him were cautious in driving their ships close in shore for fear of staving them against the rocks, indignantly called to them not to spare the planks of their vessels when the enemy had insulted them by erecting a fort in the country: Lacedaemonians (he exclaimed) ought to carry the landing by force, even though their ships should be dashed to pieces: the Peloponnesian allies ought to be forward in sacrificing their ships for Sparta, in return for the many services which she had rendered to them. Foremost in performance as well as in exhortation, Brasidas constrained his own pilot to drive his ship close in, arid advanced in person even 011 to the landing-steps, for the purpose of leaping first ashore. But here he stood exposed to all the weapons of the Athenian defenders, who beat him back and pierced him with so many wounds, that he fainted away and fell back in to the bows (or foremost part of the trireme, beyond the rowers); while his shield, slipping away from the arm, dropped down and rolled overboard into the sea. His ship was obliged to retire, like the rest, without having effected any landing. All these successive attacks from the sea, repeated for one whole day and a part of the next, were repulsed by Demosthenes and his little band with victorious bravery. To both sides it seemed a strange reversal of ordinary relations, that the Athenians, essentially maritime, should be fighting on land—and that too Lacedaemonian land—against the Lacedaemonians, the select land-warriors of Greece, now on ship­board, and striving in vain to compass a landing on their own shore. The Athenians, in honour of their success, erected a trophy, the chief ornament of which was the shield of Brasidas, cast ashore by the waves.

On the third day, the Lacedaemonians did not repeat their attack, but sent some of their vessels round to Asine in the Messenian Gulf for timber to construct battering machines; which they intended to employ against the wall of Demosthenes on the side toward the harbour, where it was higher, and could not be assailed without machines, but where at the same time there was great facility in landing—for their previous attack had been made on the side fronting the sea, where the wall was lower, but the difficulties of landing insuperable. But before these ships came back, the face of affairs was seriously changed by the unwelcome return of the Athenian fleet from Zakynthos under Eurymedon, re-enforced by four Chian ships and some of the guardships at Naupactus, so as now to muster fifty sail. The Athenian admiral, finding the enemy’s fleet in possession of the harbour, and seeing both the island of Sphacteria occupied, and the opposite shore covered with Lacedaemonian hoplites—for the allies from all parts of Peloponnesus had now arrived—looked around in vain for a place to land. He could find no other night-station except the uninhabited island of Prote, not very far distant. From hence he sailed forth in the morning to Pylus, prepared for a naval engagement—hoping that perhaps the Lacedaemonians might come out to fight him in the open sea, but resolved, if this did not happen, to force his way in and attack the fleet in the harbour; the breadth of sea between Sphacteria and the mainland being sufficient to admit of nautical manoeuvre. The Lacedaemonian admirals, seemingly confounded by the speed of the Athenian fleet in coming back, never thought of sailing out of the harbour to fight, nor did they even realize their scheme of blocking up the two entrances of the harbour with triremes closely lashed together. Leaving both entrances open, they determined to defend themselves within, but even here, so defective were their precautions that several of their triremes were yet moored, and the rowers not fully aboard, when the Athenian admirals sailed in by both entrances at once, to attack them. Most of the Lacedaemonian triremes, afloat and in fighting trim, resisted the attack for a certain time, but were at length vanquished and driven back to the shore, many of them with serious injury. Five of them were captured and towed off, one with all her crew aboard. The Athenians, vigorously pursuing their success, drove against such as took refuge on the shore, as well as those which were not manned at the moment when the attack began, and had not been able to get afloat or into action. Some of the vanquished triremes being deserted by their crews, who jumped out upon the land, the Athenians were proceeding to tow them off, when the Lacedaemonian hoplites on the shore opposed a new and strenuous resistance. Excited to the utmost pitch by witnessing the disgraceful defeat of their fleet, and aware of the cruel consequences which turned upon it—they marched all armed into the water, seized the ships to prevent them from being dragged off, and engaged in a desperate conflict to baffle the assailants. We have already seen a similar act of bravery, two years before, on the part of the Messenian hoplites accompanying the fleet of Phormio near Naupactus. Extraordinary daring and valour was here displayed on both sides, in the attack as well as in the defence, and such was the clamour and confusion, that neither the land-skill of the Lacedaemonians, nor the sea-skill of the Athenians, were of much avail: the contest was one of personal valour, and considerable suffering, on both sides. At length the Lacedaemonians carried their point and saved all the ships ashore; none being carried away except those at first captured. Both parties thus separated: the Athenians retired to the fortress at Pylus, where they were doubtless hailed with overflowing joy by their comrades, and where they erected a trophy for their victory—giving up the enemy’s dead for burial, and picking up the floating wrecks and pieces.

But the great prize of the victory was neither in the five ships captured, nor in the relief afforded to the besieged at Pylus. It lay in the hoplites occupying the island of Sphacteria, who were now cut off from the mainland, as well as from all supplies. The Athenians, sailing round it in triumph, already looked upon them as their prisoners; while the Lacedaemonians on the opposite mainland, deeply distressed but not knowing what to do, sent to Sparta for advice. So grave was the emergency, that the Ephors came in person to the spot forthwith. Since they could still muster sixty triremes, a greater number than the Athenians—besides a large force on land, and the whole command of the resources of the country—while the Athenians had no footing on shore except the contracted promontory of Pylus, we might have imagined that a strenuous effort to carry off the imprisoned detachment across the narrow strait to the mainland would have had a fair chance of success. And probably, if either Demosthenes or Brasidas had been in command, such an effort would have been made. But Lacedaemonian courage was rather steadfast and unyielding than adventurous. Moreover the Athenian superiority at sea exercised a sort of fascination over men’s minds analogous to that of the Spartans themselves on land; so that the Ephors, on reaching Pylus, took a desponding view of their position, and sent a herald to the Athenian generals to propose an armistice, in order to allow time for envoys to go to Athens and treat for peace.

To this Eruymedon and Demosthenes assented, and an armistice was concluded on the following terms. The Lacedaemonians agreed to surrender not only all their triremes now in the harbour, but also all the rest in their ports, altogether to the number of sixty; also to abstain from all attack upon the fortress at Pylus either by land or sea, for such time as should be necessary for the mission of envoys to Athens as well as for their return, both to be effected in an Athenian trireme provided for the purpose. The Athenians on their side engaged to desist from all hostilities during the like interval, but it was agreed that they should keep strict and unremitting watch over the island, yet without landing upon it. For the subsistence of the detachment in the island, the Lacedaemonians were permitted to send over every day two choenikes of barley-meal in cakes ready baked, two kotylae of wine, and some meat, for each hoplite—together with half that quantity for each of the attendant Helots; but this was all to be done under the supervision of the Athenians, with peremptory obligations to send no secret additional supplies. It was moreover expressly stipulated that if any one provision of the armistice, small or great, were violated, the whole should be considered as null and void. Lastly, the Athenians engaged, on the return of the envoys from Athens, to restore the triremes in the same condition as they received them.

Such terms sufficiently attest the humiliation and anxiety of the Lacedaemonians; while the surrender of their entire naval force, to the number of sixty triremes, which was forthwith carried into effect, demonstrates at the same time that they sincerely believed in the possibility of obtaining peace. Well aware that they were themselves the original beginners of the war, at a time when the Athenians desired peace—and that the latter had besides made fruitless overtures while under the pressure of the epidemic—they presumed that the same disposition still prevailed at Athens, and that their present pacific wishes would be so gladly welcomed as to procure without difficulty the relinquishment of the prisoners in Sphacteria.

The Lacedaemonian envoys, conveyed to Athens in an Athenian trireme, appeared before the public assembly to set forth their mission, according to custom, prefacing their address with some apologies for that brevity of speech which belonged to their country. Their proposition was in substance a very simple one—“Give up to us the men in the island, and accept, in exchange for this favor, peace, with the alliance of Sparta.” They enforced their cause by appeals, well-turned and conciliatory, partly indeed to the generosity, but still more to the prudential calculation of Athens; explicitly admitting the high and glorious vantage-ground on which she was now placed, as well as their own humbled dignity and inferior position. They, the Lacedaemonians, the first and greatest power in Greece, were smitten by adverse fortune of war—and that too without misconduct of their own, so that they were for the first time obliged to solicit an enemy for peace; which Athens had the precious opportunity of granting, not merely with honour to herself, but also in such manner as to create in their minds an ineffaceable friendship. And it became Athens to make use of her present good fortune while she had it—not to rely upon its permanence nor to abuse it by extravagant demands. Her own imperial prudence, as well as the present circumstances of the Spartans, might teach her how unexpectedly the most disastrous casualties occurred. By granting what was now asked, she might make a peace which would be far more durable than if it were founded on the extorted compliances of a weakened enemy, because it would rest on Spartan honor and gratitude; the greater the previous enmity, the stronger would be such reactionary sentiment. But if Athens should now refuse, and if, in the farther prosecution of the war, the men in Sphakteria should perish—a new and inexpiable ground of quarrel, peculiar to Sparta herself, would be added to those already subsisting, which rather concerned Sparta as the chief of the Peloponnesian confederacy. Nor was it only the goodwill and gratitude of the Spartans which Athens would earn by accepting the proposition tendered to her; she would farther acquire the grace and glory of conferring peace on Greece, which all the Greeks would recognize as her act. And when once the two pre­eminent powers, Athens and Sparta, were established in cordial amity, the remaining Grecian states would be too weak to resist what they two might prescribe.

Such was the language held by the Lacedaemonians in the assembly at Athens. It was discreetly calculated for their purpose, though when we turn back to the commencement of the war, and read the lofty declarations of the Spartan Ephors and assembly respecting the wrongs of their allies and the necessity of extorting full indemnity for them from Athens—the contrast is indeed striking. On this occasion, the Lacedaemonians acted entirely for themselves and from consideration of their own necessities; severing themselves from their allies, and soliciting a special peace for themselves, with as little scruple as the Spartan general Menedaeus during the preceding year, when he abandoned his Ambraciot confederates after the battle of Olpae, to conclude a separate capitulation with Demosthenes.

The course proper to be adopted by Athens in reference to the proposition, however, was by no means obvious. In all probability, the trireme which brought the Lacedaemonian envoys also brought the first news of that unforeseen and instantaneous turn of events, which had rendered the Spartans in Sphacteria certain prisoners (so it was then conceived), and placed the whole Lacedaemonian fleet in their power: thus giving a totally new character to the war. The sudden arrival of such prodigious intelligence—the astounding presence of Lacedaemonian envoys, bearing the olive-branch and in an attitude of humiliation—must have produced in the susceptible public of Athens emotions of the utmost intensity; an elation and confidence such as had probably never been felt since the reconquest of Samos. It was difficult at first to measure the full bearings of the new situation, and even Pericles himself might have hesitated what to recommend. But the immediate and dominant impression with the general public was, that Athens might now ask her own terms, as consideration for the prisoners in the island.

Of this reigning tendency Cleon made himself the emphatic organ, as he had done three years before in the sentence passed on the Mitylenians; a man who—like leading journals in modern times—often appeared to guide the public because he gave vehement utterance to that which they were already feeling, and carried it out in its collateral bearings and consequences. On the present occasion he doubtless spoke with the most genuine conviction, for he was full of the sentiment of Athenian force and Athenian imperial dignity, as, well as disposed to a sanguine view of future chances. Moreover, in a discussion like that now opened, where there was much room for doubt, he came forward with a proposition at once plain and decisive. Reminding the Athenians of the dishonourable truce of Thirty years to which they had been compelled by the misfortunes of the times to accede, fourteen years before the Peloponnesian war—Kleon insisted that now was the time for Athens to recover what she had then lost—Nisaea, Pegae, Troezen, and Achaia. He proposed that Sparta should be required to restore these to Athens, in exchange for the soldiers now blocked up in Sphacteria; after which a truce might be concluded for as long a time as might be deemed expedient.

This decree, adopted by the assembly, was communicated as the answer of Athens to the Lacedaemonian envoys, who had probably retired after their first address, and were now sent for again into the assembly to hear it. On being informed of the resolution, they made no comment on its substance, but invited the Athenians to name commissioners, who might discuss with them freely and deliberately suitable terms for a pacification. Here, however, Kleon burst upon them with an indignant rebuke. He had thought from the first (he said) that they came with dishonest purposes, but now the thing was clear—nothing else could be meant by this desire to treat with some few men apart from the general public. If they had really any fair proposition to make, he called upon them to proclaim it openly to all. But this the envoys could not bring themselves to do. They had probably come with authority to make certain concessions; but to announce these concessions forthwith would have rendered negotia­tion impossible, besides dishonouring them in the face of their allies.

Such dishonour would be incurred, too, without any advantage, if the Athenians should after all reject the terms, which the temper of the assembly before them rendered but too probable. Moreover, they were totally unpractised in the talents for dealing with a public assembly, such discussions being so rare as to be practically unknown in the Lacedaemonian system. To reply to the denunciation of a vehement speaker like Kleon, required readiness of elocution, dexterity, and self-command, which they had had no opportunity of acquir­ing. They remained silent—abashed by the speaker and intimidated by the temper of the assembly. Their mission was thus terminated, and they were reconvened in the trireme to Pylus.

It is probable that if these envoys had been able to make an effective reply to Kleon and to defend their proposition against his charge of fraudulent purpose, they would have been sustained by Nicias and a certain number of leading Athenians, so that the assembly might have been brought at least to try the issue of a private discussion between diplomatic agents on both sides. But the case was one in which it was absolutely necessary that the envoys should stand forward with some defence for themselves; which Nicias might effectively second, but could not originate: and as they were incompetent to this task, the whole affair broke down. We shall hereafter find other examples in which the incapacity of Lacedaemonian envoys to meet the open debate of Athenian political life is productive of mischievous results. In this case, the proposition of the envoys to enter into treaty with select commissioners was not only quite reasonable, but afforded the only possibility (though doubtless not a certainty) of some ultimate pacification: and the manoeuvre whereby Kleon discredited it was a grave abuse of publicity—not unknown in modern, though more frequent in ancient, political life. Cleon probably thought that if commissioners were named, Nicias, Laches, and other politicians of the same rank and colour, would be the persons selected; persons whose anxiety for peace and alliance with Sparta would make them over-indulgent and careless in securing the interests of Athens. It will be seen, when we come to describe the conduct of Nikias four years afterward, that this suspicion was not ill-grounded.

Unfortunately Thucydides, in describing the proceedings of this assembly, so important in its consequences because it intercepted a promising opening for peace, is brief as usual—telling us only what was said by Cleon and what was decided by the assembly. But though nothing is positively stated respecting Nicias and his partisans, we learn from other sources, and we may infer from what after­ward occurred, that they vehemently opposed Cleon, and that they looked coldly on the subsequent enterprise against Sphacteria as upon his peculiar measure.

It has been common to treat the dismissal of the Lacedaemonian envoys on this occasion as a peculiar specimen of democratical folly.

Yet over-estimation of the prospective chances arising out of success, to a degree more extravagant than that of which Athens was now guilty, is by no means peculiar to democracy. Other governments, opposed to democracy not less in temper than in form—an able despot like the Emperor Napoleon, and a powerful aristocracy like that of England—have found success to the full as misleading. That Athens should desire to profit by this unexpected piece of good fortune, was perfectly reasonable: that she should make use of it to regain advantages which former misfortunes had compelled herself to surrender, was a feeling not unnatural. And whether the demand was excessive, or by how much—is a question always among the most embarrassing for any government—kingly, oligarchical, or democratical—to determine.

We may, however, remark that Cleon gave an impolitic turn to Athenian feeling, by directing it toward the entire and literal reacquisition of what had been lost twenty years before. Unless we are to consider his quadruple demand as a flourish, to be modified by subsequent negotiation, it seems to present some plausibility, but little of long-sighted wisdom. For while on the one hand, it called upon Sparta to give up much which was not in her possession, and must have been extorted by force from allies—on the other hand, the situation of Athens was not the same as it had been when she concluded the Thirty years’ truce; nor does it seem that the restoration of Achaia and Troezen would have been of any material value to her. Nisaea and Pegae—which would have been tantamount to the entire Megarid, inasmuch as Megara itself could hardly have been held with both its ports in the possession of an enemy—would indeed have been highly valuable, since she could then have protected her territory against invasion from Peloponnesus, besides possessing a port in the Corinthian gulf. And it would seem that if able commissioners had now been named for private discussion with the Lacedaemonian envoys, under the present urgent desire of Sparta coupled with her disposition to abandon her allies—this important point might possibly have been pressed and carried, in exchange for Sphacteria. Nay, even if such acquisition had been found impracticable, still the Athenians would have been able to effect some arrangement which would have widened the breach and destroyed the confidence between Sparta and her allies; a point of great moment for them to accomplish. There was therefore every reason for trying what could be done by negotiation, under the present temper of Sparta; and the step, by which Kleon abruptly broke off such hopes was decidedly mischievous.

On the return of the envoys without success to Pylus, twenty days after their departure from that place, the armistice immediately terminated; and the Lacedaemonians redemanded the triremes which they had surrendered. But Eurymedon refused compliance with this demand, alleging that the Lacedaemonians had during the truce made a fraudulent attempt to surprise the rock of Pylus, and had violated the stipulations in other ways besides; while it stood expressly stipulated in the truce, that the violation by either side even of the least among its conditions should cancel all obligation on both sides. Thucydides, without distinctly giving his opinion, seems rather to imply that there was no just ground for the refusal though if any accidental want of vigilance had presented to the Lacedaemonians an opportunity for surprising Pylus, they would be likely enough to avail themselves of it. seeing that they would thereby drive off the Athenian fleet from its only landing-place, and render the continued blockade of Sphacteria impracticable. However the truth may be, Eurymedon persisted in his refusal, in spite of loud protests of the Lacedaemonians against his perfidy. Hostilities were energetically resumed: the Lacedaemonian army on laud began again to attack the fortifications of Pylus, while the Athenian fleet became doubly watchful in the blockade of Sphacteria, in which they were re-enforced by twenty fresh ships from Athens, making a fleet of seventy triremes in all. Two ships were perpetually rowing round the island, in opposite directions, throughout the whole day; while at night the whole fleet were kept on watch, except on the sea side of the island in stormy weather.

The blockade, however, was soon found to be more full of privation in reference to the besiegers themselves, and more difficult of enforcement in respect to the island and its occupants, than had been originally contemplated. The Athenians were much distressed for want of water. They had only one really good spring in the fortification of Pylus itself, quite insufficient for the supply of a large fleet: many of them were obliged to scrape the shingle and drink such brackish water as they could find; while ships as well as men were perpetually afloat, since they could take rest and refreshment only by relays successively landing on the rock of Pylus, or even on the edge of Sphacteria itself, with all the chance of being interrupted by the enemy—there being no other landing-place, and the ancient trireme affording no accommodation either for eating or sleeping.

At first, all this was patiently borne, in the hopes that Sphacteria would speedily be starved out, and the Spartans forced to renew the request for capitulation. But no such request came, and the Athenians in the fleet gradually became sick in body as well as impatient and angry in mind. In spite of all their vigilance, clandestine supplies of provisions continually reached the island, under the temptation of large rewards offered by the Spartan government. Able swimmers contrived to cross the strait, dragging after them by ropes skins full of linseed and poppy-seed mixed with honey; while merchant-vessels, chiefly manned by Helots, started from various parts of the Laconian coast, selecting by preference the stormy nights, and encountering every risk in order to run their vessel with its cargo ashore on the seaside of the island, at a time when the Athenian guardships could not be on the lookout. They cared little about damage to their vessel in landing, provided they could get the cargo on shore; for ample compensation was insured them, together with emancipation to every Helot who succeeded in reaching the island with a supply. Though the Athenians redoubled their vigilance, and intercepted many of these daring smugglers, still there were others who eluded them. Moreover the rations supplied to the island by stipulation during the absence of the envoys in their journey to Athens had been so ample, that Epitadas the commander had been able to economize, and thus to make the stock hold out longer. Week after week passed without any symptoms of surrender. The Athenians not only felt the present sufferings of their own position, but also became apprehensive for their own supplies, all brought by sea round Peloponnesus to this distant and naked shore. They began even to mistrust the possibility of thus indefinitely continuing the blockade, against the contingencies of such violent weather as would probably ensue at the close of summer. In this state of weariness and uncertainty, the active Demosthenes began to organize a descent upon the island, with the view of carrying it by force. He not only sent for forces from the neighbouring allies, Zakynthos and Naupactus, but also transmitted an urgent request to Athens that re-enforcements might be furnished to him for the purpose—making known explicitly both the uncomfortable condition of the armament and the unpromising chances of simple blockade.

The arrival of these envoys caused infinite mortification to the Athenians at home. Having expected to hear long before that Sphacteria had surrendered, they were now taught to consider even the ultimate conquest as a matter of doubt. They were surprised that the Lacedaemonians sent no fresh envoys to solicit peace, and began to suspect that such silence was founded upon well-grounded hopes of being able to hold out. But the person most of all discomposed was Kleon, who observed that the people now regretted their insulting repudiation of the Lacedaemonian message, and were displeased with him as the author of it; while on the contrary, his numerous political enemies were rejoiced at the turn events had taken, as it opened a means of effecting his ruin. At first, Kleon contended that the envoys had misrepresented the state of facts. To which the latter replied by entreating, that if their accuracy were mistrusted, commissioners of inspection might be sent to verify it; and Cleon himself, along with Theogenes, was forthwith named for this function.

But it did not suit Cleon’s purpose to go as commissioner to Pylus. His mistrust of the statement was a mere general suspicion, not resting on any positive evidence. Moreover he saw that the dispositions of the assembly tended to comply with the request of Demosthenes, and to dispatch a re-enforcing armament. He accordingly altered his tone at once: “If ye really believe the story (he said), do not waste time in sending commissioners, but sail at once to capture the men. It would be easy with a proper force, if our generals were men (here he pointed reproachfully to his enemy Nicias, than Strategus), to sail and take the soldiers in the island. That is what I at least would do if I were general.” His words instantly provoked a hostile murmur from a portion of the assembly: “Why do you not sail then at once, if you think the matter so easy?” . Nicias, taking up this murmur, and delighted to have caught his political enemy in a trap, stood forward in person and pressed him to set about the enterprise without delay; intimating the willingness of himself and his colleagues to grant him any portion of the military force of the city which he chose to ask for.

Cleon at first closed with this proposition, believing it to be a mere stratagem of debate and not seriously intended. But so soon as he saw that what was said was really meant, he tried to back out, and observed to Nicias—“It is your place to sail: you are general, not I.” Nicias only replied by repeating his exhortation, renouncing formally the command against Sphacteria, and calling upon the Athenians to recollect what Cleon had said, as well as to hold him to his engagement. The more Cleon tried to evade the duty, the louder and more unanimous did the cry of the assembly become that Nicias should surrender it to him, and that he should undertake it. At last, seeing that there was no possibility of receding, Cleon reluctantly accepted the charge, and came forward to announce his intention in a resolute address—“I am not at all afraid of the Lacedaemonians (he said): I shall sail without even taking with me any of the hoplites from the regular Athenian muster-roll, but only the Lemnian and Imbrian hoplites who are now here (that is, Athenian kleruchs or out-citizens who had properties in Lemnos and Imbros, and habitually resided there), together with some peltasts brought from Oenos in Thrace, and 400 bowmen. With this force, added to what is already at Pylus, I engage in the space of twenty days either to bring the Lacedaemonians in Sphacteria hither as prisoners, or to kill them in the island.” The Athenians (observes Thucydides) laughed somewhat at Kleon’s looseness of tongue; but prudent men had pleasure in reflecting that one or other of the two advantages was now certain: either they would get rid of Cleon, which they anticipated as the issue at once most probable and most desirable—or if mistaken on this point, the Lacedaemonians in the island would be killed or taken. The vote was accordingly passed for the immediate departure of Cleon, who caused Demosthenes to be named as his colleague in command, and sent intelligence to Pylas at once that he was about to start with the re-enforcement solicited.

This curious scene, interesting as laying open the interior feeling of the Athenian assembly, suggests, when properly considered, reflections very different from those which have been usually connected with it. It seems to be conceived by most historians as a mere piece of levity or folly in the Athenian people, who are supposed to have enjoyed the excellent joke of putting an incompetent man against his own will at the head of this enterprise, in order that they might amuse themselves with his blunders: Cleon is thus contemptible, and the Athenian people ridiculous. Certainly, if that people had been disposed to conduct their public business upon such childish fancies as are here implied, they would have made a very different figure from that which history actually presents to us. The truth is, that in regard to Cleon’s alleged looseness of tongue, which excited more or less of laughter among the persons present, there was no one really ridiculous except the laughers themselves. For the announcement which he made was so far from being extravagant, that it was realized to the letter—and realized too, let us add, without any peculiar aid from unforeseen favourable accident. To illustrate further what is here said, we have only to contrast the jesters before the fact with the jesters after it. While the former deride Cleon as a promiser of extravagant and impossible results, we find Aristophanes (in his comedy of the Knights about six months afterward) laughing at him as having achieved nothing at all—as having cunningly put himself into the shoes of Demosthenes, and stolen away from that general the glory of taking Sphacteria, after all the difficulties of the enterprise had been already got over, and “the cake ready baked”—to use the phrase of the comic poet. Both of the jests are exaggerations in opposite directions; but the last in order of time, if it be good at all against Cleon, is a galling sarcasm against those who derided Cleon as an extravagant boaster.

If we intend fairly to compare the behaviour of Cleon with that of his political adversaries, we must distinguish between the two occasions: first, that in which he had frustrated the pacific mission of the Lacedaemonian envoys; next, the subsequent delay and dilemma which has been recently described. On the first occasion, his advice appears to have been mistaken in policy, as well as offensive in manner: his opponents, proposing a discussion by special commissioners as a fair change for honourable terms of peace, took a juster view of the public interests. But the case was entirely altered when the mission for peace (wisely or unwisely) had been broken up, and when the fate of Sphacteria had been committed to the chances of war. There were then imperative reasons for prosecuting the war vigorously, and for employing all the force requisite to insure the capture of that island. And looking to this end, we shall find that there was nothing in the conduct of Cleon either to blame or to deride; while his political adversaries (Nicias among them) are deplorably timid, ignorant, and reckless of the public interest; seeking only to turn the existing disappointment and dilemma into a party-opportunity for ruining him.

To grant the re-enforcement asked for by Demosthenes was obviously the proper measure, and Cleon saw that the people would go along with him in proposing it. But he had at the same time good grounds for reproaching Nicias and the other Strategi, whose duty it was to originate that proposition, with their backwardness in remaining silent, and in leaving the matter to go by default, as if it were Cleon’s affair and not theirs. His taunt—“This is what I would have done, if I were general”—was a mere phrase of the heat of debate, such as must have been very often used without any idea on the part of the hearers of construing it as a pledge which the speaker was bound to realize. It was no disgrace to Cleon to decline a charge which he had never sought, and to confess his incompetence to command. The reason why he was forced into the post, in spite of his own unaffected reluctance, was not (as some historians would have us believe) because the Athenian people loved a joke, but from two feelings, both perfectly serious, which divided the assembly—feelings opposite in their nature, but coinciding on this occasion to the same result. His enemies loudly urged him forward, anticipating that the enterprise under him would miscarry and that he would thus be ruined: his friends, perceiving this manoeuvre, but not sharing in such anticipations, and ascribing his reluctance to modesty, pronounced themselves so much the more vehemently on behalf of their leader, and repaid the scornful cheer by cheers of sincere encouragement. “Why do not you try your hand at this enterprise, Cleon, if you think it so easy? you will soon find that it is too much for you”—was the cry of his enemies: to which his friends would reply—“Yes, to be sure, try, Cleon: by all means, try: do not be backward; we warrant that you will come honourably out of it, and we will stand by you.” Such cheer and counter-cheer is precisely in the temper of an animated multitude (as Thucydides states it) divided in feeling. Friends as well as enemies thus concurred to impose upon Cleon a compulsion not to be eluded. Of all the parties here concerned, those whose conduct is the most unpardonably disgraceful are Nicias and his oligarchical supporters, who force a political enemy into the supreme command against his own strenuous protest, persuaded that he will fail so as to compromise the lives of many soldiers and, the destinies of the state on an important emergency—but satisfying themselves with the idea that they shall bring him to disgrace and ruin.

It is to be remarked that Nicias and his fellow Strategi were backward on this occasion, partly because they were really afraid of the duty. They anticipated a resistance to the death at Sphacteria such as that at Thermopylae: in which case, though victory might perhaps be won by a superior assailant force, it would not be won without much bloodshed and peril, besides an inexpiable quarrel with Sparta. If Kleon took a more correct measure of the chances, he ought to have credit for it as one “bene ausus vana contemnere.” And it seems probable that if he had not been thus forward in supporting the request of Demosthenes for reinforcement—or rather, if he had not been so placed that he was compelled to be forward—Nicias and his friends would have laid aside the enterprise, and reopened negotiations for peace under circumstances neither honourable nor advantageous to Athens. Cleon was in this matter one main author of the most important success which Athens obtained throughout the whole war. 

On joining Demosthenes with his re-enforcement, Cleon found every preparation for attack made by that general, and the soldiers at Pylus eager to commence such aggressive measures as would relieve them from the tedium of a blockade. Sphacteria had become recently more open to assault in consequence of an accidental conflagration of the wood, arising from a fire kindled by the Athenian seamen, while landing at the skirt of the island and cooking their food. Under the influence of a strong wind, most of the wood in the island had thus caught fire and been destroyed. To Demosthenes this was an accident especially welcome: for the painful experience of his defeat in the forest-covered hills of Aetolia had taught him how difficult it was for assailants to cope with an enemy whom they could not see, and who knew all the good points of defence in the country. The island being thus stripped of its wood, he was enabled to survey the garrison, to count their number, and to lay his plan of attack on certain data. He now, too, for the first time discovered that he had underrated their real number, having before suspected that the Lacedaemonians had sent in rations for a greater total than was actually there. The island was occupied altogether by 420 Lacedaemonian hoplites, out of whom more than 120 were native Spartans, belonging to the first families in the city. The commander Epitadas, with the main body, occupied the center of the island, near the only spring of water which it afforded: an advanced guard of thirty hoplites was posted not far from the sea-shore in the end of the island farthest from Pylus; while the end immediately fronting Pylus, peculiarly steep and rugged, and containing even a rude circuit of stones, of unknown origin, which served as a sort of defence—was held as a post of reserve.

Such was the prey which Cleon and Demosthenes were anxious to grasp. On the very day of the arrival of the former, they sent a herald to the Lacedaemonian generals on the mainland, inviting the surrender of the hoplites on the island on condition of being simply detained under guard without any hardship, until a final pacification should take place. Of course the summons was refused; after which, leaving only one day for repose, the two generals took advantage of the night to put all their hoplites aboard a few triremes, making show as if they were merely commencing the ordinary nocturnal circumnavigation, so as to excite no suspicion in the occupants of the island. The entire body of the Athenian hoplites, 800 in number, were thus disembarked in two divisions, one on each side of the island, a little before daybreak: the outposts, consisting of thirty Lacedaemonians, completely unprepared, were surprised even in their sleep, and all slain. At the point of day, the entire remaining force from the seventy-two triremes was also disembarked, leaving on board none but the thalamii or lowest tier of rowers, and reserving only a sufficient number to man the walls of Pylus. Altogether there could not have been less than 10,000 troops employed in the attack on the island—men of all arms: 800 hoplites, 800 peltasts, 800 bowmen; the rest armed with javelins, slings, and stones. Demosthenes kept his hoplites in one compact body, but distributed the light-armed into separate companies of about 200 men each, with orders to occupy the rising grounds all round, and harass the flanks and rear of the Lacedaemonians.

To resist this large force, the Lacedaemonian commander Epitadas had only 360 hoplites around him; for his outlying company of thirty men had been slain, and as many more must have been held in reserve to guard the rocky station in his rear. Of the Helots who were with him, Thucydides says nothing during the whole course of the action. As soon as he saw the numbers and disposition of his enemies, Epitadas placed his men in battle array, and advanced to encounter the main body of hoplites whom he saw before him. But the Spartan march was habitually slow: moreover, the ground was rough and uneven, obstructed with stumps, and overlaid with dust and ashes, from the recently burnt wood, so that a march at once rapid and orderly was hardly possible. He had to traverse the whole intermediate space, since the Athenian hoplites remained immovable in their opposition. No sooner had his march commenced, than he found himself assailed both in rear and flanks, especially in the right or unshielded flanks, by the numerous companies of light-armed. Notwithstanding their extraordinary superiority of number, these men were at first awe-stricken at finding themselves in actual contest with Lacedaemonian hoplites. Still they began the fight, poured in their missile weapons, and so annoyed the march that the hoplites were obliged to halt, while Epitadas ordered the most active among them to spring out of their ranks and repel the assailants. But pursuers with spear and shield had little chance of overtaking men lightly clad and armed, who always retired, in whatever direction the pursuit was commenced—had the advantage of difficult ground—redoubled their annoyance against the rear of the pursuers, as soon as the latter retreated to resume their place in the ranks—and always took care to get ground to the rear of the hoplites.

After some experience of the inefficacy of Lacedaemonian pursuit, the light-armed, becoming far bolder than at first, closed upon them nearer and more universally, with arrows, javelins, and stones—raising shouts and clamours that rent the air, rendering the word of command inaudible by the Lacedaemonian soldiers—who at the same time were almost blinded by the thick clouds of dust, kicked up from the recently spread wood-ashes. Such method of fighting was one for which Lycurgean drill made no provision. The longer it continued, the more painful did the embarrassment of the exposed hoplites become. Their repeated efforts, to destroy, or even to reach nimble and ever-returning enemies, all proved abortive, whilst their own numbers were incessantly diminishing by wounds which they could not return. Their only offensive arms consisted of the long spear and short sword usual to the Grecian hoplite, without any missile weapons whatever; nor could they even pick up and throw back the javelins of their enemies, since the points of these javelins commonly broke off and stuck in the shields, or sometimes even in the body which they had wounded. Moreover, the bows of the archers, doubtless carefully selected before starting from Athens, were powerfully drawn, so that their arrows may sometimes have pierced and inflicted wounds even through the shield or the helmet—but at any rate, the stuffed doublet, which formed the only defence of the hoplite on his unshielded side, was a very inadequate protection against them. Under this trying distress did the Lacedaemonians continue for a long time, poorly provided for defence, and in this particular case altogether helpless for aggression—without being able to approach at all nearer to the Athenian hoplites. At length the Lacedaemonian commander, seeing that his position grew worse and worse, gave orders to close the ranks and retreat to the last redoubt in the rear. But this movement was not accomplished without difficulty, for the light-armed assailants became so clamorous and forward, that many wounded men, unable to move, or at least to keep in rank, were overtaken and slain.

A diminished remnant, however, reached the last post in safety. Here they were in comparative protection, since the ground was so rocky and impracticable that their enemies could attack them neither in flank nor rear; though the position at any rate could not have been long tenable separately, inasmuch as the only spring of water in the island was in the center, which they had just been compelled to abandon. The light-armed being now less available, Demosthenes and Kleon brought up their 800 Athenian hoplites, who had not before been engaged. But the Lacedaemonians were here at home with their weapons, and enabled to display their well-known superiority against opposing hoplites, especially as they had the vantage-ground against enemies charging from beneath. Although the Athenians were double in numbers, and withal yet unexhausted, they were repulsed in many successive attacks. The besieged maintained their ground in spite of all previous fatigue and suffering, harder to be borne from the scanty diet on which they had recently subsisted. The struggle lasted so long that heat and thirst began to tell even upon the assailants, when the commander of the Messenians came to Kleon and Demosthenes, and intimated that they were now labouring in vain; promising at the same time that if they would confide to him a detachment of light troops and bowmen, he would find his way round to the higher cliffs in the rear of the assailants. He accordingly stole away unobserved from the rear, scrambling round over pathless crags, and by an almost impracticable footing on the brink of the sea, through approaches which the Lacedaemonians had left unguarded, never imagining that they could be molested in that direction. He suddenly appeared with his detachment on the higher peak above them, so that their position was thus commanded, and they found themselves, as at Thermopylae, between two fires, without any hope of escape. Their enemies in front, encouraged by the success of the Messenians, pressed forward with increased ardour, until at length the courage of the Lacedaemonians gave way, and the position was carried.

A few moments more, and they would have been all overpowered and slain—when Kleon and Demosthenes, anxious to carry them as prisoners to Athens, constrained their men to halt, and proclaimed by herald an invitation to surrender, on condition of delivering up their arms, and being held at the disposal of the Athenians. Most of them, incapable of farther effort, closed with the proposition forthwith, signifying compliance by dropping their shields and waving their hands above their heads. The battle being thus ended, Styphon the commander—originally only third in command, but now chief; since Epitadas had been slain, and the second in command, Hippagretes, was lying disabled by wounds on the field—entered into conference with Kleon and Demosthenes, and entreated permission to send across for orders to the Lacedaemonians on the mainland. The Athenian commanders, though refusing this request, sent a messenger of their own, inviting Lacedaemonian heralds over from the mainland, through whom communications were exchanged twice or three times between Styphon and the chief Lacedaemonian authorities. At length the final message came—“The Lacedaemonians direct you to take coun­sel for yourselves, but to do nothing disgraceful.” Their counsel was speedily taken; they surrendered themselves and delivered up their arms; 292 in number, the survivors of the original total of 420. And out of these no less than 120 were native Spartans, some of them belonging to the first families in the city. They were kept under guard during that night, and distributed on the morrow among the Athenian trierarchs to be conveyed as prisoners to Athens; while a truce was granted to the Lacedaemonians on shore, in order that they might carry across the dead bodies for burial. So careful had Epitadas been in husbanding the provisions, that some food was yet found in the island; though the garrison had subsisted for fifty-two days upon casual supplies, aided by such economies as had been laid by during the twenty days of the armistice, when food of a stipulated quantity was regularly furnished. Seventy-two days had thus elapsed, from the first imprisonment in the island to the hour of their surrender.

The best troops in modern times would neither incur reproach, nor occasion surprise, by surrendering, under circumstances in all respects similar to this gallant remnant in Sphacteria. Yet in Greece the astonishment was prodigious and universal, when it was learnt that the Lacedaemonians had consented to become prisoners. For the terror inspired by their name, and the deep struck impression of Thermopylae had created a belief that they would endure any extremity of famine, and perish in the midst of any superiority of hostile force, rather than dream of giving up their arms and surviving as captives. The events of Sphacteria, shocking as they did this preconceived idea, discredited the military prowess of Sparta in the eyes of all Greece, and especially in those of her own allies. Even in Sparta itself, too, the same feeling prevailed—partially revealed m the answer transmitted to Styphon from the generals on shore, who did not venture to forbid surrender, yet discountenanced it by implication. It is certain that the Spartans would have lost less by their death than by their surrender. But we read with disgust the spiteful taunt of one of the allies of Athens (not an Athenian) engaged in the affair, addressed in the form of a question to one of the prisoners— “Have your best men then been all slain?’' The reply conveyed an intimation of the standing contempt entertained by the Lacedaemonians for the bow and its chance-strokes in the line—“That would be a capital arrow which could single out the best man.” The language which Herodotus puts into the mouth of Demaratus, composed in the early years of the Peloponnesian war, attests this same belief in Spartan valour—“The Lacedaemonians die, but never surrender.” Such impression was from henceforward, not indeed effaced, but sensibly enfeebled, nor was it ever again restored to its full former pitch. But the general judgment of the Greeks respecting the capture of Sphacteria, remarkable as it is to commemorate, is far less surprising than that pronounced by Thucydides himself. Kleon and Demosthenes returning with a part of the squadron and carrying all the prisoners, started from Sphacteria on the next day but one after the action, and reached Athens within twenty days after Cleon had left it. Thus “the promise of Kleon, insane as it was, came true”— observes the historian.

Men with arms in their hands have always the option between death and imprisonment, and Grecian opinion was only mistaken in assuming as a certainty that the Lacedaemonians would choose the former. But Kleon had never promised to bring them home as prisoners: his promise was disjunctive—that they should be either so brought home, or slain, within twenty days. No sentence throughout the whole of Thucydides astonishes me so much as that in which he stigmatizes such an expectation as “insane.” Here are 420 Lacedaemonian hoplites, without any other description of troops to aid them—without the possibility of being re-enforced—without any regular fortification—without any narrow pass such as that of Thermopylae—without either a sufficient or a certain supply of food—cooped up in a small open island less than two miles in length. Against them are brought 10,000 troops of divers arms, including 800 fresh hoplites from Athens, and marshalled by Demosthenes, a man alike enterprising and experienced. For the talents as well as the presence and preparations of Demosthenes are a part of the data of the case, and the personal competence of Kleon to command alone is foreign to the calculation. Now if, under such circumstances, Kleon engaged that this forlorn company of brave men should be either slain or taken prisoners, how could he be looked upon, I will not say as indulging in an insane boast, but even as overstepping a cautious and mistrustful estimate of probability? Even to doubt of this result, much more to pronounce such an opinion as that of Thucydides, implies an idea not only of superhuman power in the Lacedaemonian hoplites, but a disgraceful incapacity on the part of Demosthenes and the assailants. The interval of twenty days, named by Kleon, was not extravagantly narrow, considering the distance of Athens from Pylus. For the attack of this petty island could not possibly occupy more than one or two days at the utmost, though the blockade of it might by various accidents have been prolonged, or might even, by some terrible storm, be altogether broken off. If, then, we carefully consider this promise, made by Kleon to the assembly, we shall find that so far from deserving the sentence pronounced upon it by Thucydides, of being a mad boast which came true by accident—it was a reasonable and even a modest anticipation of the future: reserving the only really doubtful point in the case—whether the garrison of the island would be ultimately slain or made prisoners. Demosthenes, had he been present at Athens instead of being at Pylus, would willingly have set his seal to the engagement taken by Kleon.

I repeat with reluctance, though not without belief, the statement made by one of the biographers of Thucydides—that Kleon was the cause of the banishment of the latter as a general, and has therefore received from him harder measure than was due in his capacity of historian. But though this sentiment is not probably without influence in dictating the unaccountable judgment which I have just been criticizing—as well as other opinions relative to Kleon, on which I shall say more in a future chapter—I nevertheless look upon that judgment not as peculiar to Thucydides, but as common to him with Nicias and those whom we must call, for want of a better name, the oligarchical party of the time at Athens. And it gives us some measure of the prejudice and narrowness of vision which prevailed among that party at the present memorable crisis; so pointedly contrasting with the clear sighted and resolute calculations, and the judicious conduct in action, of Kleon, who, when forced against his will into the post of general, did the very best which could be done in his situation—he selected Demosthenes as colleague and heartily seconded his operations. Though the military attack of Sphacteria, one of the ablest specimens of generalship in the whole war, and distinguished not less by the dexterous employment of different descriptions of troops than by care to spare the lives of the assailants—belongs altogether to Demosthenes ; yet if Kleon had not been competent to stand up in the Athenian assembly and defy those gloomy predictions which we see attested in Thucydides, Demosthenes would never have been re-enforced nor placed in condition to land on the island. The glory of the enterprise, therefore, belongs jointly to both. Kleon, far from stealing away the laurels of Demosthenes (as Aristophanes represents in his comedy of the Knights), was really the means of placing them on his head, though he at the same time deservedly shared them. It has hitherto been the practice to look at Kleon only from the point of view of his opponents, through whose testimony we know him. But the real fact is that this history of the events of Sphacteria, when properly surveyed, is a standing disgrace to those opponents, and no inconsiderable honour to him; exhibiting them as alike destitute of political foresight and of straightforward patriotism—as sacrificing the opportunities of war, along with the lives of their fellow-citizens and soldiers, for the purpose of ruining a political enemy. It was the duty of Nicias, as Strategus, to propose, and undertake in person if necessary, the reduction of Sphacteria. If he thought the enterprise dangerous, that was a good reason for assigning to it a larger military force, as we shall find him afterward reasoning about the Sicilian expedition—but not for letting it slip or throwing it off upon others.

The return of Cleon and Demosthenes to Athens, within the twenty days promised, bringing with them nearly 300 Lacedaemonian prisoners, must have been by far the most triumphant and exhilarating event which had occurred to the Athenians throughout the whole war. It at once changed the prospects, position, and feelings of both the, contending parties. Such a number of Lacedaemonian prisoners, especially 120 Spartans, was a source of almost stupefaction to the general body of Greeks, and a prize of inestimable value to the captors. The return of Demosthenes in the preceding year from the Ambracian Gulf, when he brought with him 300 Ambracian panoplies, had probably been sufficiently triumphant. But the entry into Piraeus on this occasion from Sphacteria, with 300 Lacedaemonian prisoners, must doubtless have occasioned emotions transcending all former experience. It is much to be regretted that no description is preserved to us of the scene, as well as of the elate manifestations of the people when the prisoners were marched up from Piraeus to Athens. We should be curious also to read some account of the first Athenian assembly held after this event—the overwhelming cheers heaped upon Kleon by his joyful partisans, who had helped to invest him with the duties of general, in confidence that he would discharge them well—contrasted with the silence or retractation of Nicias and the other humiliated political enemies. But all such details are unfortunately denied to us—though they constitute the blood and animation of Grecian history, now lying before us only in its skeleton.

The first impulse of the Athenians was to regard the prisoners as a guarantee to their territory against invasion. They resolved to keep them securely guarded until the peace; but if at any time before that even the Lacedaemonian army should enter Attica, then to bring forth the prisoners, and put them to death in sight of the invaders. They were at the same time full of spirits in regard to the prosecution of the war, and became further confirmed in the hope, not merely of preserving their power undiminished, but even of recovering much of what they had lost before the Thirty years’ truce. Pylus was placed in an improved state of defence, with the adjoining island of Sphacteria doubtless as a subsidiary occupation. The Messenians, transferred thither from Naupactus, and overjoyed to find themselves once more masters even of an outlying rock of their ancestral territory, began with alacrity to overrun and ravage Laconia: while the Helots, shaken by the recent events, manifested inclination to desert to them. The Lacedaemonian authorities, experiencing evils before unfelt and unknown, became sensibly alarmed lest such desertions should spread through the country. Reluctant as they were to afford obvious evidence of their embarrassments, they nevertheless brought themselves (probably under the pressure of the friends and relatives of the Sphacterian captives) to send to Athens several missions for peace; but all proved abortive. We are not told what they offered, but it did not come up to the expectations which the Athenians thought themselves entitled to indulge.

We, who now review these facts with a knowledge of the subsequent history, see that the Athenians could have concluded a better bargain with the Lacedaemonians during the six or eight months succeeding the capture of Sphacteria, than it was ever open to them to make afterward: and they had reason to repent letting slip the opportunity. Perhaps indeed Perikles, had he been still alive, might have taken a more prudent measure of the future, and might have had ascendency enough over his countrymen to be able to arrest the tide of success at its highest point, before sit began to ebb again.

But if we put ourselves back into the situation of Athens during the autumn which succeeded the return of Kleon and Demosthenes from Sphacteria, we shall easily enter into the feelings under which the war was continued. The actual possession of the captives now placed Athens in a far better position than she had occupied when they were only blocked up in Sphacteria, and when the Lacedaemonian envoys first arrived to ask for peace. She was now certain of being able to command peace with Sparta on terms at least tolerable, whenever she chose to invite it—she had also a fair certainty of escaping the hardship of invasion. Next—and this was perhaps the most important feature of the case—the apprehension of Lacedaemonian prowess was now greatly lowered, and the prospects of success to Athens considered as prodigiously impended, even in the estimation of impartial Greeks: much more in the eyes of the Athenians themselves. Moreover, the idea of a tide of good fortune—of the favour of the gods now begun and likely to continue—of future success as a corollary from past—was one which powerfully affected Grecian calculations generally. Why not push the present good fortune and try to regain the most important points lost before and by the Thirty years’ truce, especially in Megara and Boeotia—points which Sparta could not concede by negotiation, since they were not in her possession? Though these speculations failed (as we shall see in the coming chapter), yet there was nothing unreasonable in acting upon them, Probably the almost universal sentiment of Athens was at this moment warlike. Even Nicias, humiliated as he must have been by the success in Sphacteria, would forget his usual caution in the desire of retrieving his own personal credit by some military exploit. That Demosthenes, now in full measure of esteem, would be eager to prosecute the war, with which his prospects of personal glory were essentially associated (just as Thucydides observes about Brasidas on the Lacedaemonian side), can admit of no doubt. The comedy of Aristophanes called the Acarnians was acted about six mouths before the affair of Sphacteria, when no one could possibly look forward to such an event—the comedy of the Knights about six months after it. Now there is this remarkable difference between the two—that while the former breathes the greatest sickness of war, and presses in every possible way the importance of making peace, although at that time Athens had no opportunity of coming even to a decent accommodation—the latter, running down the general character of Kleon with unmeasured scorn and ridicule, talks in one or two places only of the hardships of war, and drops altogether that emphasis and repetition with which peace had been dwelt upon in the Acharnians—although coming out at a moment when peace was within the reach of the Athenians.

To understand properly the history of this period, therefore, we must distinguish various occasions which are often confounded. At the moment when Sphacteria was first blockaded, and when the Lacedaemonians first sent to solicit peace, there was a considerable party at Athens disposed to entertain the offer. The ascendency of Kleon was one of the main causes why it was rejected. But after the captives were brought home from Sphacteria, the influence of Kleon, though positively greater than it had been before, was no longer required to procure the dismissal of Lacedaemonian pacific offers and the continuance of the war. The general temper of Athens was then warlike, and there were very few to contend strenuously for an opposite policy. During the ensuing year, however, the chances of war turned out mostly unfavourable to Athens, so that by the end of that year she had become much more disposed to peace. The truce for one year was then concluded. But even after that truce was expired, Kleon still continued eager (and on good grounds, as will be shown hereafter) for renewing the war in Thrace, at a time when a large proportion of the Athenian public had grown weary of it. He was one of the main causes of that resumption of warlike operations which ended in the battle of Amphipolis, fatal both to himself and to Brasidas. There were thus two distinct occasions on which the personal influence and sanguine character of Kleon seems to have been of sensible moment in determining the Athenian public to war instead of peace. But at the moment which we have now reached—that is, the year immediately following the capture of Sphacteria—the Athenians were sufficiently warlike without him; probably Nicias himself as well as the rest.

It was one of the earliest proceedings of Nicias, immediately after the inglorious exhibition which he had made in reference to Sphacteria, to conduct an expedition, in conjunction with two colleagues, against the Corinthian territory. He took with him 80 triremes, 2,000 Athenian hoplites, 200 horsemen aboard of some horse transports, and some additional hoplites from Miletus, Andros, and Karystus. Starting from Piraeus in the evening, he arrived a little before daybreak on a beach at the foot of the hill and village of Solygeia, about seven miles from Corinth, and two or three miles south of the Isthmus. The Corinthian troops, from all the territory of Corinth within the Isthmus, were already assembled at the Isthmus itself to repel him; for intelligence of the intended expedition had reached Corinth some time before from Argos, with which latter place the scheme of the expedition may have been in some way connected. The Athenians having touched the coast during the darkness, the Corinthians were only apprised of the fact by fire-signals from Solygeia. Not being able to hinder the landing, they dispatched forthwith half their forces, under Battus and Lykophron, to repel the invader, while the remaining half were left at the harbour of Kenchreae, on the northern side of Mount Oneion, to guard the port of Krommyon (outside of the Isthmus) in case it should be attacked by sea. Battus with one loch us of hoplites threw himself into the village of Solygeia, which was unfortified, while Lykophron conducted the remaining troops to attack the Athenians. The battle was first engaged on the Athenian right, almost immediately after its landing, on the point called Chersonesus. Here the Athenian hoplites, together with their Karystian allies, repelled the Corinthian attack, after a stout and warmly dis­puted hand-combat of spear and shield. Nevertheless the Corinthians, retreating up to a higher point of ground, returned to the charge, and with the aid of a fresh lochus drove the Athenians back to the shore and to their ships: from hence the latter again turned, and again recovered a partial advantage. The battle was no less severe on the left wing of the Athenians. But here, after a contest of some length, the latter gained a more decided victory, greatly by the aid of their cavalry—pursuing the Corinthians, who fled in some disorder to a neighbouring hill and there took up a position. The Athenians were thus victorious throughout the whole line, with the loss of about forty-seven men, while the Corinthians had lost 212, together with the general Lykophron. The victors erected their trophy, stripped the dead bodies and buried their own dead. The Corinthian detachment left at Kenchreae could not see the battle, in consequence of the interposing ridge of Mount Oneium: but it was at last made known to them by the dust of the fugitives, and they forthwith hastened to afford help. Re-enforcements also came both from Corinth and from Kenchreae, and as it seems too, from the neighbouring Peloponnesian cities—so that Nicias thought it prudent to retire 011 board of his ships, and halt upon some neighbouring islands. It was here first discovered that two of the Athenians slain had not been picked up for burial; upon which he immediately sent a herald to solicit a truce, in order to procure these two missing bodies. We have here a remarkable proof of the sanctity attached to that duty: for the mere sending of the herald was tantamount to confession of defeat.

From hence Nicias sailed to Krommyon, where after ravaging the neighbourhood for a few hours he rested for the night. On the next day he re-embarked, sailed along the coast of Epidaurus, upon which he inflicted some damage in passing, and stopped at last on the peninsula of Methana, between Epidaurus and Troezen. On this peninsula he established a permanent garrison, drawing a fortification across the narrow neck of land which joined it to the Epidaurian peninsula. This was his last exploit. He then sailed home: but the post at Methana long remained as a centre for pillaging the neighbouring regions of Epidaurus, Troezen, and Halieis.

While Nicias was engaged in this expedition, Eurymedon and Sophocles had sailed forward from Pylus with a considerable portion of that fleet which had been engaged in the capture of Sphacteria, to the island of Corcyra. It has been already stated that the democratical government at Corcyra had been suffering severe pressure and privation from the oligarchical fugitives, who had come back into the island with a body of barbaric auxiliaries, and established themselves upon Mount Istone, not far from the city. Eurymedon and the Athenians, joining the Corcyraeans in the city, attacked and stormed the post on Mount Istone; while the vanquished, retiring first to a lofty and inaccessible peak, were forced to surrender themselves on terms to the Athenians. Abandoning altogether their mercenary auxiliaries, they only stipulated that they should themselves be sent to Athens, and left to the discretion of the Athenian people. Euryimedon, assenting to these terms, deposited the disarmed prisoners in the neighbouring islet of Ptychia, under the distinct condition that if a single man tried to escape, the whole capitulation should be null and void.

Unfortunately for these men, the orders given to Eurymedon carried him onward straight to Sicily. It was irksome therefore to him to send away a detachment of his squadron to convey prisoners to Athens; where the honours of delivering them would be reaped, not by himself, but by the officer to whom they might be confided. And the Corcyraeans in the city, on their part, were equally anxious that the men should not be sent to Athens. Their animosity against them being bitter in the extreme, they were afraid that the Athenians might spare their lives, so that their hostility against the island might be again resumed. And thus a mean jealousy on the part of Eurymedon, combined with revenge and insecurity on the part of the victorious Corcyraeans, brought about a cruel catastrophe, paralleled nowhere else in Greece, though too well in keeping with the previous acts of the bloody drama enacted in this island.

The Corcyraean leaders, seemingly not without the privity of Eurymedon, sent across to Ptychia fraudulent emissaries under the guise of friends to the prisoners. These emissaries,—assuring the prisoners that the Athenian commanders, in spite of the convention signed, were about to hand them over to the Corcyraean people for destruction,—induced some of them to attempt escape in a boat prepared for the purpose. By concert, the boat was seized in the act of escaping, so that the terms of the capitulation were really violated: upon which Eurymedon handed over the prisoners to their enemies in the island, who imprisoned them all together in one vast building, under guard of hoplites. From this building they were drawn out in companies of twenty men each, chained together in couples, and compelled to march between two lines of hoplites marshalled on each side of the road. Those who loitered in the march were hurried on by whips from behind: as they advanced, their private enemies on both sides singled them out, striking and piercing them until at length they miserably perished. Three successive companies were thus destroyed—ere the remaining prisoners in the interior, who thought merely that their place of detention was about to be changed, suspected what was passing. As soon as they found it out, one and all refused either to quit the building or to permit any one else to enter. They at the same time piteously implored the intervention of the Athenians, if it were only to kill them and thus preserve them from the cruelties of their merciless countrymen. The latter, abstaining from attempts to force the door of the building, made an aperture in the roof, from whence they shot down arrows, and poured showers of tiles upon the prisoners within; who sought at first to protect themselves, but at length abandoned themselves to despair, and assisted with their own hands in the work of destruction. Some of them pierced their throats with the arrows shot down from the roof: others hung themselves, either with cords from some bedding which happened to be in the building, or with strips torn and twisted from their own garments. Night came on, but the work of destruction both from above and within, was continued without intermission, so that before morning all these wretched men had perished, either by the hands of their enemies or by their own. At daybreak the Corcyraeans entered the building, piled up the dead bodies on carts, and transported them out of the city: the exact number we are not told, but seemingly it cannot have been less than 300. The women who had been taken at Istone along with these prisoners were all sold as slaves.

Thus finished the bloody dissensions in this ill-fated island, for the oligarchical party were completely annihilated, the democracy was victorious, and there were no farther violences throughout the whole war. It will be recollected that these deadly feuds began with the return of the oligarchical prisoners from Corinth, bringing along with them projects both of treason and of revolution. They ended with the annihilation of that party, in the manner above described; the interval being filled by mutual atrocities and retaliation, wherein of course the victors had most opportunity of gratifying their vindictive passions. Eurymedon, after the termination of these events, proceeded onward with the Athenian squadron to Sicily. What he did there will be described in a future chapter devoted to Sicilian affairs exclusively.

The complete prostration of Ambracia during the campaign of the preceding year had left Anactorium without any defence against the Acarnanians and Athenian squadron from Naupactus. They besieged and took it during the course of the present summer; expelling the Corinthian proprietors, and repeopling the town and its territory with Acarnanian settlers from all the townships in the country.

Throughout the maritime empire of Athens matters continued perfectly tranquil, except that the inhabitants of Chios, during the course of the autumn, incurred the suspicion of the Athenians from having recently built a new wall to their city, as if it were done with the intention of taking the first opportunity to revolt. They solemnly protested their innocence of any such designs, but the Athenians were not satisfied without exacting the destruction of the obnoxious wall. The presence on the opposite continent of an active band of Mitylenians exiles, who captured both Rhoeteium and Antandrus during the ensuing spring, probably made the Athenians more anxious and vigilant on the subject of Chios.

The Athenian regular tribute-gathering squadron, circulating among the maritime subjects, captured, during the course of the present autumn, a prisoner of some importance and singularity. It was a Persian ambassador, Artaphernes, seized at Eion on the Strymon, in his way to Sparta with dispatches from the Great King. He was brought to Athens, where his dispatches, which were at some length and written in the Assyrian character, were translated and made public. The Great King told the Lacedaemonians, in substance, that he could not comprehend what they meant; for that among the numerous envoys whom they had sent, no two told the same story. Accordingly he desired them, if they wished to make themselves understood, to send some envoys with fresh and plain instructions to accompany Artaphernes. Such was the substance of the dispatch, conveying a remarkable testimony as to the march of the Lacedaemonian government in its foreign policy. Had any similar testimony existed respecting Athens, demonstrating that her foreign policy was conducted with half as much unsteadiness and stupidity, ample inferences would have been drawn from it to the discredit of democracy. But there has been no motive generally to discredit Lacedaemonian institutions, which included kingship in double measure—two parallel lines of hereditary kings; together with an entire exemption from everything like popular discussion. The extreme defects in the foreign management of Sparta, revealed by the dispatch of Artaphernes, seem traceable partly to an habitual faithlessness often noted in the Lacedaemonian character—partly to the annual change of Ephors, so frequently bringing into power men who strove to undo what had been done by their predecessors—and still more to the absence of everything like discussion or canvass of public measures among the citizens. We shall find more than one example, in the history about to follow, of this disposition on the part of Ephors not merely to change the policy of their predecessors, but even to subvert treaties sworn and concluded by them. Such was the habitual secrecy of Spartan public business, that in doing this they had neither criticism nor discussion to fear. Brasidas, when he started from Sparta on the expedition which will be described in the coming chapter, could not trust the assurances of the Lacedaemonian executive without binding them by the most solemn oaths.

The Athenians sent back Artaphernes in a trireme to Ephesus, and availed themselves of this opportunity for procuring access to the Great King. They sent envoys along with him with the intention that they should accompany him up to Susa; but on reaching Asia, the news met them that King Artaxerxes had recently died. Under such circumstances, it was not judged expedient to prosecute the mission, and the Athenians dropped their design.

Respecting the great monarchy of Persia, during this long interval of fifty-four years since the repulse of Xerxes from Greece, we have little information before us except the names of the successive kings. In the year 465 B.C., Xerxes was assassinated by Artabanus and Mithridates, through one of those plots of great household officers, so frequent in Oriental palaces. He left two sons, or at least two sons present and conspicuous among a greater number, Darius and Artaxerxes. But Artabanus persuaded Artaxerxes that Darius had been the murderer of Xerxes, and thus prevailed upon him to revenge his father’s death by becoming an accomplice in killing his brother Darius: he next tried to assassinate Artaxerxes himself, and to appropriate the crown. Artaxerxes, however, being apprised before­hand of the scheme, either slew Artabanus with his own hand or procured him to be slain, and then reigned (known under the name of Artaxerxes Longimanus) for forty years, down to the period at which we are now arrived.

Mention has already been made of the revolt of Egypt from the dominion of Artaxerxes, under the Libyan prince Inarus, actively aided by the Athenians. After a few years of success, this revolt was crushed and Egypt again subjugated, by the energy of the Persian general Megabyzus—with severe loss to the Athenian forces engaged. After the peace of Kallias, erroneously called the Cimonian peace, between the Athenians and the king of Persia, war had not been since resumed. We read in Ctesias, amid various anecdotes seemingly collected at the court of Susa, romantic adventures ascribed to Megabyzus, his wife Amytis, his mother Amestris, and a Greek physician of Kos, named Apollonides. Zopyrus son of Megabyzus, after the death of his father, deserted from Persia and came as an exile to Athens.

At the death of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the family violences incident to a Persian succession were again exhibited. His son Xerxes succeeded him, but was assassinated, after a reign of a few weeks or months. Another son, Sogdianus, followed, who perished in like manner after a short interval. Lastly, a third son, Ochus (known under the name of Darius Nothus), either abler or more fortunate, kept his crown and life between nineteen and twenty years. By his queen the savage Parysatis, he was father to Artaxerxes Mnemon and Cyrus the younger, both names of interest in reference to Grecian history, to whom we shall hereafter recur