The Story of the Greeks
Page: 74Croton and Ta-ren´tum on the mainland, and Messina and Syr´a-cuse on the Island of Sicily, were now the principal colonies. They were all very rich and prosperous, so Alcibiades told the Athenians that it would be a good plan to send out a fleet to conquer and annex them.
Nicias and his party opposed this plan; but when it was put to the vote, it was found that the eloquence of Alcibiades had prevailed. A large fleet was prepared, and Nicias, Lam´a-chus, and Alcibiades were chosen generals of the expedition. The fleet was on the point of sailing out of the Piræus, when the Athenians found out that all the statues of their god Her´mes, which were used as boundary marks and milestones, had been shamefully broken.
The excited people assembled on the market place to discuss this event; and all cried loudly against it, for the statues were considered sacred, as they represented a god. Alcibiades' enemies—and he had a number, although he was so popular—now stepped forward, and declared that he had done it after the banquet which he had given to celebrate his departure.
The young man denied having broken the statues, and asked that his trial might take place at once, so that he might prove his innocence before he started out; but, in spite of this urgent request, it was postponed, and he was forced to depart with this cloud hanging over him.
Alcibiades had no sooner sailed, however, than his enemies, grown bolder, began to talk louder, and soon convinced the people of his guilt. In their wrath, the Athenians now sent a messenger to Sicily to overtake him, and bid him return to Athens to be tried.
His friends, seeing the excitement of the people, and fearing that they would condemn him in anger, sent word to him not to return, but to wait until the popular fury had had time to blow over.
In obedience to this advice, Alcibiades left the fleet, and, instead of going to Athens, went straight to Sparta, where he took up his abode. Here the changeable youth adopted the Spartan dress, lived with the utmost simplicity and frugality, and even used the laconic mode of speech.
As he was tall and strong, and a very good athlete, he soon won the admiration of the Spartans, and made many friends. During his stay here, he heard that he had been tried at Athens, although absent, found guilty of sacrilege, and even sentenced to death.
This ingratitude on the part of his people so angered[Pg 168] Alcibiades, that he told the Spartans all the Athenian plans, and showed how to upset them. By his advice, the Spartans sent aid to the Greeks in Sicily, helped them to resist the Athenian attack, and even captured both generals and seven thousand soldiers, who were put to death.
The Spartans, still under Alcibiades' instructions, now took and fortified the small town of Dec-e-le´a, only twelve miles from Athens. Here they kept an armed force, ready to spring out at any minute and molest the Athenians, who thus found themselves in a continual state of warfare and insecurity.