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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book VI   


their spirit before giving yourselves up to confidence, and to
understand that the one thought awakened in the Lacedaemonians by
their disgrace is how they may even now, if possible, overthrow us and
repair their dishonour; inasmuch as military reputation is their
oldest and chiefest study. Our struggle, therefore, if we are wise,
will not be for the barbarian Egestaeans in Sicily, but how to
defend ourselves most effectually against the oligarchical
machinations of Lacedaemon.
"We should also remember that we are but now enjoying some respite
from a great pestilence and from war, to the no small benefit of our
estates and persons, and that it is right to employ these at home on
our own behalf, instead of using them on behalf of these exiles
whose interest it is to lie as fairly as they can, who do nothing
but talk themselves and leave the danger to others, and who if they
succeed will show no proper gratitude, and if they fail will drag down
their friends with them. And if there be any man here, overjoyed at
being chosen to command, who urges you to make the expedition,
merely for ends of his own- specially if he be still too young to
command- who seeks to be admired for his stud of horses, but on
account of its heavy expenses hopes for some profit from his
appointment, do not allow such a one to maintain his private splendour
at his country's risk, but remember that such persons injure the
public fortune while they squander their own, and that this is a
matter of importance, and not for a young man to decide or hastily to
take in hand.
"When I see such persons now sitting here at the side of that same
individual and summoned by him, alarm seizes me; and I, in my turn,
summon any of the older men that may have such a person sitting next
him not to let himself be shamed down, for fear of being thought a
coward if he do not vote for war, but, remembering how rarely
success is got by wishing and how often by forecast, to leave to
them the mad dream of conquest, and as a true lover of his country,
now threatened by the greatest danger in its history, to hold up his
hand on the other side; to vote that the Siceliots be left in the
limits now existing between us, limits of which no one can complain
(the Ionian sea for the coasting voyage, and the Sicilian across the
open main), to enjoy their own possessions and to settle their own
quarrels; that the Egestaeans, for their part, be told to end by
themselves with the Selinuntines the war which they began without
consulting the Athenians; and that for the future we do not enter into
alliance, as we have been used to do, with people whom we must help in
their need, and who can never help us in ours.
"And you, Prytanis, if you think it your duty to care for the
commonwealth, and if you wish to show yourself a good citizen, put the
question to the vote, and take a second time the opinions of the
Athenians. If you are afraid to move the question again, consider that
a violation of the law cannot carry any prejudice with so many
abettors, that you will be the physician of your misguided city, and
that the virtue of men in office is briefly this, to do their
country as much good as they can, or in any case no harm that they can
avoid."
Such were the words of Nicias. Most of the Athenians that came
forward spoke in favour of the expedition, and of not annulling what
had been voted, although some spoke on the other side. By far the
warmest advocate of the expedition was, however, Alcibiades, son of
Clinias, who wished to thwart Nicias both as his political opponent
and also because of the attack he had made upon him in his speech, and
who was, besides, exceedingly ambitious of a command by which he hoped
to reduce Sicily and Carthage, and personally to gain in wealth and
reputation by means of his successes. For the position he held among
the citizens led him to indulge his tastes beyond what his real
means would bear, both in keeping horses and in the rest of his
expenditure; and this later on had not a little to do with the ruin of
the Athenian state. Alarmed at the greatness of his licence in his own

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