History of the Peloponnesian War


Thucydides, Vol. 1-4. Smith, Charles Foster, translator. London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1919-1923.

The Athenians thereupon began to clamour against Cleon, asking him why he did not sail even now, if it seemed to him so easy a thing; and Nicias, noticing this and Cleon's taunt, told him that as far as the generals were concerned he might take whatever force he wished and make the attempt.

As for Cleon, he was at first ready to go, thinking it was only in pretence that Nicias offered to relinquish the command; but when he realized that Nicias really desired to yield the command to him, he tried to back out, saying that not he but Nicias was general; for by now he was alarmed, and never thought that Nicias would go so far as to retire in his favour.

But again Nicias urged him to go and offered to resign his command of the expedition against Pylos, calling the Athenians to witness that he did so. And the more Cleon tried to evade the expedition and to back out of his own proposal, the more insistently the Athenians, as is the way with a crowd, urged Nicias to give up the command and shouted to Cleon to sail.

And so, not knowing how he could any longer escape from his own proposal, he undertook the expedition, and, coming forward, said that he was not afraid of the Lacedaemonians, and that he would sail without taking a single Athenian soldier, but only the Lemnian and Imbrian troops which were in Athens and a body of targeteers which had come from Aenos, and four hundred archers from other places. With these, in addition to the troops now at Pylos, he said that within twenty days he would either bring back the Lacedaemonians alive or slay them on the spot.

At this vain talk of his there was a burst of laughter on the part of the Athenians, but nevertheless the sensible men among them were glad, for they reflected that they were bound to obtain one of two good things—either they would get rid of Cleon, which they preferred, or if they were disappointed in this, he would subdue the Lacedaemonians for them.