Page 0575



The Athenians gave themselves to the work of preparation as if to a

holiday. Finally, when every thing was in readiness, and the fleet was

on the eve of departure, an event occurred which not only dampened the

public ardor but stirred the superstitions and fears of the people to

their profoundest depths. In a single night the statues of the god

Hermes, which stood at the street corners and in all the public places of

the city, were mutilated and knocked to pieces. No such a shocking

sacrilege had ever before been known in the history of the country. No

reason could be assigned for the act. The universality of the destruction

indicated that it had been accomplished by a band of conspirators acting

secretly in the dead of night. No one was detected in the work. The

people awoke in the morning to find the sacred busts in front of their

houses wantonly disfigured or broken into a shapeless mass. The

excitement and indignation of the public knew no bounds.

A commission was at once appointed to examine witnesses and discover the

perpetrators of the crime; but the investigation was without practical

results. Suspicion fell upon Alcibiades, but no proof was discovered

against him. The suspicion, however, held fast, and when no evidence

could be adduced of his guilt in the mutilation of the Hermae,

Pythonicus, one of the leaders of the Assembly, preferred against him the

charge of having profaned the Eleusinian mysteries by giving a

representation of them in private. In proof of this the testimony of a

slave was given; but Alcibiades denied the charge and demanded an

investigation. The inquiry, however, was, by the machinations of his

enemies, postponed until after the return of the expedition. It was thus

contrived that Alcibiades should depart under a cloud. Meanwhile, the

preparation of the fleet was completed, and Corcyra was named as the

place of rendezvous. The departure of the squadron was such a scene as

the Athenians had never witnessed. The force consisted of two thousand

two hundred and fifty heavy armed soldiers. At daybreak these marched on

board of the gaily decorated vessels lying at the wharves of Piraeus.

Nearly the whole population of the city lined the shores. A blast of the

trumpet proclaimed silence. Then was heard the voice of the herald lifted

in prayer to the country's gods. The war paean of the Greek was chanted,

and libations were poured into the sea from goblets of gold and silver.

Then each galley, as if in a race, started for the island of AEgina.

Thence the squadron sailed to Corcyra, where it was augmented by the

arrival of thirty-four galleys and nearly six thousand troops sent by the

states in alliance with Athens. On arriving at Southern Italy, the Greeks

were coldly received. Even at Rhegium permission to purchase supplies was

granted with reluctance. In the mean time the news was borne to Syracuse

and preparations were immediately made to defend the city.

While lying in the harbor of Rhegium, the Greek commanders fell into

serious disputes about the purposes and plans of the expedition. Nicias

was in favor of limiting the campaign to the reduction of Selinus; while

Alcibiades and Lamachus proposed that the capture of Syracuse should be

included in their conquest. Lamachus favored an immediate attack upon the

Sicilian capital while it was yet unprepared for defense. Alcibiades,

however, preferred such a delay as would enable him to procure assistance

from the Italian allies of Athens. This view prevailed. For the present

nothing was done except to explore the harbor of Syracuse and to take

possession of Catana, which henceforth was used as a base of supplies and

operations for the Greek squadron.

At this point news was received from Athens indicating an extremely

unfortunate state of affairs in the city. Terror had seized the public

mind on account of the mutilation of the Hermae. The charge of having

committed that crime was again brought forward against Alcibiades. Many

persons were arrested, among whom was an orator named Andocides, who

turned informer, and by means of his own testimony and that of slaves

secured the conviction and execution of a number of citizens. This had

the effect to quiet public excitement, but the persons put to death were

doubtless innocent of the crime.