Page images

some naval engagements took place off their coasts ; but subsequently they adjusted their internal feuds, and, acting on the advice of Hermocrates of Syracuse, whose speech Thucydides records, they mutually resolved to hold their own against foreign aggression. In the sixteenth year of the war, the Athenians decided to send a fleet of sixty galleys, under Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lamachus, to do what seemed best for their interests in the island. Nicias had warned them against risking the secure enjoyment of the present in grasping a visionary future, and implied that Alcibiades was influenced by youthful ambition in voting for the enterprise, an imputation which he haughtily repelled, at the same time scoffing at the idea of an effectual resistance on the part of the Sicilians. He had also entered seven chariots for the Olympian games, and the people were eager for the expedition. At dawn, therefore, on a midsummer morning it set sail, and Thucydides gives a vivid description of its departure from the Piræus. A demagogue leader persuaded the Syracusans that they had nothing to fear, but nevertheless preparations were made for defence, The commanders of the attacking force had determined to open negotiations with the islanders, when Alcibiades was suddenly recalled on a charge of sacrilege, and, on his way back, escaped to Lacedemon. Nicias and Lamachus now commenced operations against some of the towns, with indifferent success, and, after effecting a temporary landing near Syracuse, withdrew to winter quarters at Catania and Naxos. At the suggestion of Alcibiades, who plausibly justified his traitorous conduct towards his country in a long speech, the Spartans sent help to the Syracusans, and erected a fort to intercept the Athenian communications. The following summer, however, the invaders carried a hill overhanging the city, and proceeded to invest it both by land and sea. Lamachus was killed in resisting an attack against their lines, but they secured the slopes, and the situation became so critical for the besieged that communications for a surrender were opened, and Nicias grew confident and careless.

The siege had lasted four months, when a Spartan officer effected a landing on the coast, collected a force of native


allies, and made his way with them through some unguarded passes into Syracuse. The confidence of the citizens was at once restored, and the Athenians were told that terms would be made with them if they were willing to quit Sicily within five days.

Then one of their forts was captured, and, in a battle which ensued, they were driven within their lines, and prevented from completing the investment of the place. Nicias wrote a desponding letter home, begging to be relieved of his command on the plea of illness; instead of which he was promised reinforcements and money. But help for the Syracusans from the Peloponnese arrived first, and enabled them to regain command of the harbour, as well as to obtain a complete victory over the besieging fleet. The hopes of the Athenians, however, were restored by the arrival of a strong force to support them, under the command of Demosthenes, who resolved to seize the enemy's works by a night attack in their rear. He was, however, driven back, and so completely defeated that the Syracusans resumed the aggressive. Demosthenes urged an immediate retreat to their feet, but Nicias hesitated, and, an eclipse of the moon intervening, the soothsayers enjoined no movement for thrice nine days. Meanwhile the Syracusans captured several of their galleys, and blockaded the remainder. The only chance for the Athenians was to fight their way out of the harbour. Thucydides describes the struggle in thrilling language, as if he had witnessed it. The result was the utter defeat and discomfiture of the Athenians; and their retreat by land, leaving their dead, and wounded, and sick, at the mercy of their foes, is still more touchingly narrated. Nicias endeavoured to cheer them with such hopes as he could still suggest, bidding them not lose their self-respect; but they were closely pursued, and on the second day laid down their arms in an olive plantation, when thousands were slain, and the rest sold as slaves. Great as was the consternation when the terrible truth became known at Athens, her citizens bravely built a new fleet, and, retrenching their expenditure, maintained the struggle for eight years longer. One by one, however, her allies deserted her, and neither the recall of Alcibiades, nor an attempted oligarchy, nor a victory in the Hellespont over the Peloponnesian confederacy, with which Thucydides concludes his history, availed to restore her prestige, or to avert the subsequent destruction of her navy at the battle of Aigos-potami, when her fortifications were razed to the ground, and her final downfall was accomplished.

Such are the principal events which form the theme of the historian's labours, and are detailed with lucid ability and unimpeachable honesty.



DIED B.C. 380.

REEK Comedy, as represented in the plays of Aristo

phanes, took the place of the political journals, the

literary reviews, and the popular caricatures of the present times. It consequently appealed not only to the wit and humour, but to the social passions and prejudices of the audience, with whose intellectual enjoyment of parody and satire was combined a keen relish for sensational incidents, and pungent allusions. The personal characteristics of the people are thus more really portrayed than in historical sketches, and we are so better enabled to comprehend their manner of life and habit of thought.


This play is a satire against the facility with which the people allowed themselves to be gulled by those who were nominally their servants, but in reality their masters. The characters represented are the People, under the figure of a rich householder ; the manager (Cleon) whom he employed to look after his affairs and slaves, two of the latter intended for Nicias and Demosthenes, the chief naval commanders of the day ; and a black-pudding seller. The scene is at Athens, in front of the People's house.

The two slaves enter, rubbing their shoulders after a lashing from the manager, and howl. But Demosthenes remarks that crying's no good, and hints that they run away, asking the audience, in a laughable complaint of Cleon's illusage, for their advice, whilst Nicias is for dying at once. They decide, however, to steal some scrolls, by means of which Cleon influences their master, and which reveal that he will be superseded by a black-pudding seller, who now approaches, and they hail him as the coming chief of Athens. Cleon comes out of the house in a rage, Demosthenes summonses the knights, who, as the Chorus, enter, and surround Cleon, whilst they loudly abuse him. The blackpudding seller also assails him, and he retires. The Chorus chant an ode to Neptune and Pallas, and then praise the good old days of Athens, and the mighty deeds of their horses, intermixed with political allusions and humorous banter. Black-pudding returns and relates his encounter with Cleon in the senate, and how he won the hearts of the senators with sixpenny-worth of coriander seed. Cleon rushes in after his rival, and declares he will drag him before the People, at whose door he knocks, and the wealthy householder comes forth. After hearing the claimants for his favour, he decides that they must all adjourn to the Pnyx, where the contention is renewed in a comic dialogue. People is, at length, convinced that Black-pudding is his best friend, and desires Cleon to give up his seal of office. The discarded manager begs his employer will listen to one more oracle he has to communicate, which foretells that he shall be the sovereign of Greece. But Black-pudding has his oracle, too, and promises not only Greece, but Thrace also. The Chorus chant, in triumph, at the approaching fall of the demagogue, and the rivals re-enter, with their rolls of prophecy, which contain absurd parodies on real oracles. People consents to wait until he has tasted whose mess he likes best. The Chorus rally him at being so easily flattered; but he tells them, “Never think me what I seem,' and the two candidates return, laden with their dainty dishes. People eats of all, and, becoming bewildered, he turns helplessly to the audience. Black-pudding proposes that his and Cleon's lockers be searched, to test their honesty.


« PreviousContinue »