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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book VIII   


they supposed, were gone away to purchase provisions for their
dinner in the houses in the outskirts of the town; the Eretrians
having so arranged that there should be nothing on sale in the
marketplace, in order that the Athenians might be a long time in
manning their ships, and, the enemy's attack taking them by
surprise, might be compelled to put to sea just as they were. A signal
also was raised in Eretria to give them notice in Oropus when to put
to sea. The Athenians, forced to put out so poorly prepared, engaged
off the harbour of Eretria, and after holding their own for some
little while notwithstanding, were at length put to flight and
chased to the shore. Such of their number as took refuge in Eretria,
which they presumed to be friendly to them, found their fate in that
city, being butchered by the inhabitants; while those who fled to
the Athenian fort in the Eretrian territory, and the vessels which got
to Chalcis, were saved. The Peloponnesians, after taking twenty-two
Athenian ships, and killing or making prisoners of the crews, set up a
trophy, and not long afterwards effected the revolt of the whole of
Euboea (except Oreus, which was held by the Athenians themselves), and
made a general settlement of the affairs of the island.
When the news of what had happened in Euboea reached Athens, a panic
ensued such as they had never before known. Neither the disaster in
Sicily, great as it seemed at the time, nor any other had ever so much
alarmed them. The camp at Samos was in revolt; they had no more
ships or men to man them; they were at discord among themselves and
might at any moment come to blows; and a disaster of this magnitude
coming on the top of all, by which they lost their fleet, and worst of
all Euboea, which was of more value to them than Attica, could not
occur without throwing them into the deepest despondency. Meanwhile
their greatest and most immediate trouble was the possibility that the
enemy, emboldened by his victory, might make straight for them and
sail against Piraeus, which they had no longer ships to defend; and
every moment they expected him to arrive. This, with a little more
courage, he might easily have done, in which case he would either have
increased the dissensions of the city by his presence, or, if he had
stayed to besiege it, have compelled the fleet from Ionia, although
the enemy of the oligarchy, to come to the rescue of their country and
of their relatives, and in the meantime would have become master of
the Hellespont, Ionia, the islands, and of everything as far as
Euboea, or, to speak roundly, of the whole Athenian empire. But
here, as on so many other occasions, the Lacedaemonians proved the
most convenient people in the world for the Athenians to be at war
with. The wide difference between the two characters, the slowness and
want of energy of the Lacedaemonians as contrasted with the dash and
enterprise of their opponents, proved of the greatest service,
especially to a maritime empire like Athens. Indeed this was shown
by the Syracusans, who were most like the Athenians in character,
and also most successful in combating them.
Nevertheless, upon receipt of the news, the Athenians manned
twenty ships and called immediately a first assembly in the Pnyx,
where they had been used to meet formerly, and deposed the Four
Hundred and voted to hand over the government to the Five Thousand, of
which body all who furnished a suit of armour were to be members,
decreeing also that no one should receive pay for the discharge of any
office, or if he did should be held accursed. Many other assemblies
were held afterwards, in which law-makers were elected and all other
measures taken to form a constitution. It was during the first
period of this constitution that the Athenians appear to have
enjoyed the best government that they ever did, at least in my time.
For the fusion of the high and the low was effected with judgment, and
this was what first enabled the state to raise up her head after her
manifold disasters. They also voted for the recall of Alcibiades and
of other exiles, and sent to him and to the camp at Samos, and urged
them to devote themselves vigorously to the war.
Upon this revolution taking place, the party of Pisander and

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