GREECE-THE PELOPONNESIAN WARS.
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.