Thucydides’ History, Book 6

Chapter 8

During the summer that followed, in the spring, the ambassadors of the Athenians arrived from Sicily and the Egestaioi with them, bringing sixty talants of unmarked silver as a month’s payment for sixty ships, which they intended to ask them to send. And the Athenians held an assembly and from both the Egestaioi and from their own ambassadors they heard, among other things, both seductive and not true, about the wealth, that much would be at hand in the temples and in the commons, and then they cast their votes to send the sixty ships to Sicily, and generals, under their own oversight, Alcibiades son of Cleinios, Nicias son of Niceratos, and Lamachos son of Xenophanos, as aid to the Egestaioi against the Selinuntines, and to jointly colonize Leontinoi, if any opportunities arose for them during the war, but moreover to accomplish whatever dealings in Sicily they thought would be best for the Athenians. And on the fifth day afterward, they again held an assembly, to cast ballots concerning how they might make preparations for the ships as quickly as possible, and for the generals, whether anything was needed for the sailing. And Nicias, although chosen was unwilling to lead, as he believed that the city had not been thinking straight, but that for a motive trifling and specious, they desired all Sicily, a great work indeed, and coming forward he wanted to turn them away from this, and to the Athenians, he advised as follows:

Chapter 9

“The Assembly for our preparations has assembled here, concerning in what way we must sail away to Sicily ; but it seems to me that the thing itself still needs to be examined, whether it really is best to send our ships, and so not thusly by trifling counsel concerning a great matter, and by obeying men of another tribe, take up a war that is none of our concern. Furthermore, although I myself gain honour by such affairs as this and fear for my own body less than other men, I believe that the citizen is eqally good who does have some care for his body or being ; such a man, for his own sake, would more wish that the affairs of the city were set right. Nevertheless, neither in prior times have I spoken contrary to my opinion for the sake of being honoured, nor shall I now, but rather I say what I know would be best. But my words would be without strength considering your character, were I to advise you to safeguard the status quo, and not to take risks with what you have for things unrevealed and yet to come ; but you are not striving at the opportune moment nor is it easy to take hold upon that which you desire, this is what I shall instruct.”

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