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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book IV   


soldiers at Pylos, he would within twenty days either bring the
Lacedaemonians alive, or kill them on the spot. The Athenians could
not help laughing at his fatuity, while sensible men comforted
themselves with the reflection that they must gain in either
circumstance; either they would be rid of Cleon, which they rather
hoped, or if disappointed in this expectation, would reduce the
Lacedaemonians.
After he had settled everything in the assembly, and the Athenians
had voted him the command of the expedition, he chose as his colleague
Demosthenes, one of the generals at Pylos, and pushed forward the
preparations for his voyage. His choice fell upon Demosthenes
because he heard that he was contemplating a descent on the island;
the soldiers distressed by the difficulties of the position, and
rather besieged than besiegers, being eager to fight it out, while the
firing of the island had increased the confidence of the general. He
had been at first afraid, because the island having never been
inhabited was almost entirely covered with wood and without paths,
thinking this to be in the enemy's favour, as he might land with a
large force, and yet might suffer loss by an attack from an unseen
position. The mistakes and forces of the enemy the wood would in a
great measure conceal from him, while every blunder of his own
troops would be at once detected, and they would be thus able to
fall upon him unexpectedly just where they pleased, the attack being
always in their power. If, on the other hand, he should force them
to engage in the thicket, the smaller number who knew the country
would, he thought, have the advantage over the larger who were
ignorant of it, while his own army might be cut off imperceptibly,
in spite of its numbers, as the men would not be able to see where
to succour each other.
The Aetolian disaster, which had been mainly caused by the wood, had
not a little to do with these reflections. Meanwhile, one of the
soldiers who were compelled by want of room to land on the extremities
of the island and take their dinners, with outposts fixed to prevent a
surprise, set fire to a little of the wood without meaning to do so;
and as it came on to blow soon afterwards, almost the whole was
consumed before they were aware of it. Demosthenes was now able for
the first time to see how numerous the Lacedaemonians really were,
having up to this moment been under the impression that they took in
provisions for a smaller number; he also saw that the Athenians
thought success important and were anxious about it, and that it was
now easier to land on the island, and accordingly got ready for the
attempt, sent for troops from the allies in the neighbourhood, and
pushed forward his other preparations. At this moment Cleon arrived at
Pylos with the troops which he had asked for, having sent on word to
say that he was coming. The first step taken by the two generals after
their meeting was to send a herald to the camp on the mainland, to ask
if they were disposed to avoid all risk and to order the men on the
island to surrender themselves and their arms, to be kept in gentle
custody until some general convention should be concluded.
On the rejection of this proposition the generals let one day
pass, and the next, embarking all their heavy infantry on board a
few ships, put out by night, and a little before dawn landed on both
sides of the island from the open sea and from the harbour, being
about eight hundred strong, and advanced with a run against the
first post in the island.
The enemy had distributed his force as follows: In this first post
there were about thirty heavy infantry; the centre and most level
part, where the water was, was held by the main body, and by
Epitadas their commander; while a small party guarded the very end
of the island, towards Pylos, which was precipitous on the sea-side
and very difficult to attack from the land, and where there was also a
sort of old fort of stones rudely put together, which they thought
might be useful to them, in case they should be forced to retreat.
Such was their disposition.

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