Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rush Limbaugh Goes Full-On Conspiracy

Look, I know I shouldn't let fluff like this get to me, but I find it disturbing that when NASA finds liquid water on Mars, Rush Limbaugh dismisses it as a liberal ploy to hype global warming.  And more disturbing that his dismissal of liquid water on Mars is his dismissal of anything that comes out of NASA:
I said 'look at the temperature data, that has been reported by NASA, has been made up, it's fraudulent for however many years, there isn't any warming, there hasn't been for 18.5 years. And yet, they're lying about it. They're just making up the amount of ice in the North and South Poles, they're making up the temperatures, they're lying and making up false charts and so forth. So what's to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?
So, if NASA comes up with evidence of rising temperatures, he simply dismisses it as fraudulent.  If NASA comes up with evidence of loss of polar ice caps, that is fraudulent, too.  So why believe them if they say they have found liquid water on Mars?  They have been corrupted (i.e., subverted from pure science to a political agenda) by the Obama Administration.  Not made clear:  Whether all the data from the last 18.5 years is equally corrupt, or only the data since Obama became President.

What this amounts to saying is that no amount of evidence will convince Limbaugh because he simply sees all data he doesn't like as a fraud by Obama.  (What he will do if a Republican wins next year and the unfavorable data keeps coming in is not clear).  Look, I know psychologists have been pointing out for some time that facts are irrelevant to convincing people, but I rarely hear it stated quit so directly.  And if you disbelieve everything from evidence of melting polar icecaps to evidence of water on Mars, you are essentially in a parallel reality with its own set of facts.  And this is not from some fringe conspiracy site, but from a (regrettably) mainstream figure with considerable influence on the Republican Party.

But I suppose I should look on the bright side.  Rush is looking a little defensive over this one.

Deficits Only Matter if a Democrat is in the White House

So Donald Trump has unveiled his new tax plan.  Surprise, surprise, it looks very much like every other Republicans' tax plans, i.e., it makes across-the-board rate cuts, while promising to make up the difference by closing loopholes.  Like all other Republican plans, the numbers don't add up.  Trump at least implies that he would make up for his income tax cuts with a stiff imports tax.  The problem, of course, is that a revenue-raising tariff and a protective tariff are basically incompatible.  One depends on a large volume of imports to raise revenue; the other is in place precisely to reduce  imports.  (The Laffer curve at work!)

In the meantime, Rolling Stone reports:
He's called for immediate tax hikes on hedge-fund profits; tax hikes for the ultrawealthy like himself to pay for sweeping cuts for the middle class; vast spending increases on health care in general and for veterans and women in particular; huge capital investments in the country's infrastructure, beginning with roads and bridges; and a wartime-era ramp-up of the Defense Department budget to "make our military so strong that nobody would mess with us." How would he plow such mandates through a Congress that is run by the very party he's betraying? And where does he find the money to do these things when he himself says we're nearing the point of no return on a deficit of $19 trillion?
Maybe he thinks that if he yells at basic arithmetic and says "You're fired!" it will go away.  After all, a whole lot of people seemed to think Obama could stop the BP oil leak by getting angry enough.

But by and large, the Republicans are all up to their old tricks.  They are all proposing huge across-the-board tax cuts, with most of the benefits at the top, and with no clue given as to how they propose to pay for them.  After years of ranting about deficits.

This primary makes one thing very clear.  Deficits only matter if a Democrat is in the White House.

Reflections on John Boehner's Resignation (Just to Show I Can Post on Modern Topics)

So, just to show that Ancient Greece has not totally distracted me from the modern world, a few notes on John Boehner's resignation, as Speaker of the House at the end of October and from Congress at the end of his term.  There is no big controversy as to why he is resigning.  His resignation was the necessary price to avoid a government shutdown until December.  Congressional Republicans were preparing for a shutdown over funding Planned Parenthood.  Boehner passed a budget that kicks the can down the road for a few months.  The only way to do so was with mostly Democratic votes.  The right wing caucus of the Republican Party said if you do that, you will have to go.  So he went.  I am not sure why Boehner decided that it was worth giving up his Speakership to postpone the shutdown for a few more months.  Most likely, he had just had all he could take and wanted to move on.

A few thoughts on the subject:

The debt ceiling.  For the life of me, I just can't get too worked up about a government shutdown.  Yes, it will be a bad thing, especially for federal employees who don't get paid, but not such a disaster.  The real disaster hasn't been much talked about -- what if we breach the debt ceiling. The last I heard, the debt ceiling ran out on March 15, 2015, but the Treasury could keep going with extraordinary measures (that are not so extraordinary any more) for a few more months.  Well, apparently the debt ceiling is still looming, but Boehner is considering raising it, with mostly Democratic votes, before he steps down.  This may be the real reason he decided to resign -- he might not be able to avoid a shutdown, but maybe he can at least avoid a default.  The Hill says that conservatives want to attach a rider, possibly "including" defunding of Planned Parenthood.  The blog Hot Air, a fair barometer of right wing viewpoints, seems to recognize the necessity of raising the debt ceiling, but wants to extract maximum concessions.

The stakes sure have changed.  The last few big showdowns were all about spending levels.  Republicans wanted massive cuts, and wanted to force over something Obama hated.  Every increase in the debt ceiling, they insisted, must be matched with an equivalent cut in spending.  A default wouldn't be so bad if it only forced adequate spending cuts.  Spending cuts and more spending cuts, massive, drastic spending cuts were all the rage.  That rage has apparently burned out.  Now the whole showdown is over funding Planned Parenthood, a minuscule portion of the federal budget. What has happened?  I don't know.  Maybe as the economy has improved, the urge to cut back just isn't as strong as it was before.  Maybe after a few showdowns, the need to raise the debt ceiling has finally been hammered home for Republicans.  Maybe Republicans are beginning to recognize that, although "spending" is always unpopular, actual cuts are even less popular and don't want to make a bunch of painful cuts with an election looming so soon.

How will it play out?  I have no idea.  The last shutdown happened to coincide with the looming debt ceiling and work against the Republicans in two ways.  First, because the two things were happening at once, they naturally became conflated in the public mind, so raising the debt ceiling did not look so bad, since it was equated with re-opening the government.  Second, the looming debt ceiling created a deadline.  The standoff had to be resolved by then, and it was.  Assuming Boehner raises the debt ceiling before he steps down, there will be no specific deadline this time, so the shutdown can go on until somebody cries uncle.  I am actually not entirely sure who that will be.

Here is the thing.  Government shutdowns are unpopular.  If the Republicans had any doubt about that, now they know for sure.  It looks somewhere between a HUGE temper tantrum and a hostage situation.  Republicans know that. The question is, who appears to be throwing a tantrum and/or holding hostages.  Republicans regularly try to blame Obama, to date without success.  Some people have theorized that the difference is structural.  Pointing out that the public sided with President Reagan against a Democratic Congress under similar circumstances, many people theorize that the public always sides with the President over Congress in cases like this.

I am not fully convinced.  I still think that substance matters.  If Republicans are shutting down government and/or threatening default in order to force highly unpopular cuts, the public will tend to side against them because their cuts are unpopular.  If Obama accuses them of taking hostages, the accusation will be credible because you would need hostages to force over such an unpopular measure.  But defunding Planned Parenthood?  I am inclined to think who is seen as taking hostages will depend on how people see the substantive issue.  And I don't have a clear sense of that.  On the one hand, Planned Parenthood provides a lot of valuable services, and a lot of people are aware of that fact.  So cutting women off from reproductive healthcare is unlikely to be popular.  On the other hand, I think Democrats are underestimating just how much the videos hurt.  It does not good to say that Planned Parenthood wasn't actually selling baby parts for profit.  That looks like an attempt to weasel out on a technicality.  The videos exposed what an abortion -- especially a late-term abortion -- really is.  Not to recognize the horror involved and find some way to incorporate that into public policy is extraordinarily tone deaf.

And just for the record, I do not want to cut women off from reproductive healthcare just because the main provider of it also does abortions.  But I am not altogether convinced that the public will see it in those terms.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Non-Salacious Look at Lysistrata (Seriously!)

Peisander's coup would take place in the summer of 411 B.C.  Aristotle dates it specifically by the Greek calendar to the 14th day of the month of Thargelion, which is May 31 in our (Roman) calendar.  Thucydides dates Peisander's appeal to the Assembly to suspend the democracy in exchange for Persian assistance to the preceding winter.  And some time in between those two events, Aristotle came out with his great classic, Lysistrata.

It is not known exactly when.  Athens had two festivals with dramatic competitions, the Lenaia,  staged in January, when the seas were too rough to allow foreign visitors, and the City Dionysia, held around the vernal equinox, when foreign visitors could also attend.*  The difference is significant, because if the play was produced at the earlier date, Peisander's speech would have been a recent and dramatic memory, while the machinations of the oligarchic clubs would not yet have made themselves felt.  If it was produced at the later date, it should have been apparent by then that something sinister was afoot.

This is significant because, like all Aristophanes' plays, this one was highly topical.  It is best known today as the play in which the women go on sex strike to force the men to end the war.  It is a timeless anti-war play, with humor raunchy enough to make Monty Python blush.  But it is also clearly addressed to the events of its time.  Most significantly, the women in Lysistrata don't just go on sex strike.  They stage a coup!  What else can it be called when they seize the Acropolis, holding the city's treasury, and cut off all funding for the war, or for routine administrative functions?  And if anyone doubts that the women are staging a coup, the old men besieging the Acropolis expressly recognize it as such.  They compare the women's seizure of the Acropolis to Cleomenes, the Spartan king who seized the Acropolis some 97 years earlier in order to install an oligarchy led by his friend, Isagoras.

The women are confronted by the Magistrate, portrayed as a general, all-around pompous ass.  The Greek work used for magistrate is apparently proboulos.  This was apparently a new office created after the Sicilian catastrophe.  We know very little about this office.  Thucydides describes them as "a council of the elder men, who should advise together, and lay before the people the measures which from time to time might be required."  Aristophanes apparently does not think they were worth much. Be that as it may, the Proboulos demands to know why the women have seized the treasury.  To cut off funds for the war, Lysistrata says.  The Proboulos asks if money is the cause of war and Lysistrata answers:
Yes, gold caused it and miseries more, too many to be told.
'Twas for money, and money alone, that Pisander with all of the army of
Raised up revolutions.
So, the play specifically names Peisander as a trouble maker.  It is hard to tell, though, what his specific offense is.  We know of him in four contexts -- as a general populist, as the foremost leader of the moral panic following the vandalism of the herms, as a military commander, and as the leader of the oligarchic conspiracy that was to overthrow the democracy.  It is hard to tell in what capacity Aristophanes is criticizing him.  For being a general rabble-rouser?  For his role in the moral panic? For his speech calling for a suspension of the democracy?  Or for the early stages of oligarchic clubs' campaign of terror and intimidation?  And if for his call for a suspension of the democracy, Donald Kagan makes an interesting point.  He points out that Peisander's generally populist reputation would have given him extra credibility in calling for a suspension of the democracy.  Many who would otherwise have refused must have decided that if eventhepopulistPeisander supported suspending the democracy, then there must truly be no alternative.  (Nixon going to China and so forth).  What the general public did not know, of course, was that Peisander was simultaneously plotting with the oligarchic clubs to overthrow the democracy.  Were the Athenians beginning to get glimpses of this at the time Lysistrata was produced?  And even if the reign of terror had begun at that time, had anyone yet begun to suspect that Peisander and his cohorts had anything to do with it?

We get a faint hint when Lysistrata compares governing the state to women's work in wool:
Well, first as we wash dirty wool so's to cleanse it, so with a pitiless zeal we will scrub
Through the whole city for all greasy fellows; burrs too, the parasites, off we will rub.
That verminous plague of insensate place-seekers soon between thumb and forefinger we'll crack.
All who inside Athens' walls have their dwelling into one great common basket we'll pack.
Disenfranchised or citizens, allies or aliens, pell-mell the lot of them in we will squeeze.
Till they discover humanity's meaning.... As for disjointed and far colonies,
Them you must never from this time imagine as scattered about just like lost hanks of wool.
Each portion we'll take and wind in to this centre, inward to Athens each loyalty pull,
Till from the vast heap where all's piled together at last can be woven a strong Cloak of State.
 The "greasy fellows," "burrs," "parasites," and "place seekers" are clearly self-seeking politicians, no doubt primarily populist politicians of the Cleon or (formerly) Peisander type.  Some  translations  also mention "tight knots" or even "the knots and snarls of those nasty cliques."  Even leaving out the reference to cliques, references to knots and snarls implies politicians improperly clumping together and has been taken by some commentators to refer to the political "clubs" and maybe even the oligarchic conspiracy that was starting to take shape.

I suppose it is possible.  But it seems out of character.  Up till now, Aristophanes' targets had always been the rabble-rousers and populist, while he dismissed any fear of conspiracy as mere paranoia. Granted, such fears do seem to have been mere paranoia prior to Peisander's mission.  It is possible that Aristophanes, after regularly setting his sights on individual populist leaders, may have begun to see a danger from oligarchic clubs.  Or, put otherwise, maybe after guarding the city's left flank all these years, he looked over his right shoulder and took alarm.  But another interpretation is possible. Maybe rumors of a coup were rife, and Aristophanes wrote his play (in part) to mock them.  A coup by the oligarchs, he may have been saying.  Don't be ridiculous.  Next you'll be suspecting a coup by the women.

Another hint that Aristophanes is not taking any coup talk seriously is the old men's reaction.  They see a tyranny like Hippias afoot, when in fact the women only mean the public good and have no intent to be tyrants at all.**  The men also fear the loss of their stipends for jury service. Aristophanes generally disapproved of paying jurors (Wasps is entirely about this issue).  Besides, there was a general consensus on the need to cut deeply into all other expenses because of the wartime emergency, which Aristophanes presumably approved of, and which had the oligarchic side effect of limiting office holding to men rich enough to serve without pay.

Still, the comment about including metics, allies, and disenfranchised citizens in the social fabric shows that he was taking the "liberal" perspective, in the sense of seeking to broaden who should be taken into account.  It is not clear whether he favored giving any of these groups a direct voice in public affairs, or was merely making a plea to Athenian citizens to take their interests into account.***

Finally, it is generally agreed that Lysistrata is given that name because it means "disbander of armies," in the feminine form of course.  The masculine form is Lysistratus.  When the two sides are meeting to discuss peace, the Athenians call for Lysistrata and the Spartans say, "Callout Lysistratus too if ye don't mind."  I have not idea what that is supposed to mean.  Maybe they think a man would be better suited for disbanding armies.  But just for what it is worth, when our old friend Andocides named four more men as vandals of the herms, one of them was named Lysistratus.  Make of it what you will.

*Aristophanes was apparently prosecuted for a lost play shown at the City Dionysia for its extremely harsh treatment of his city (possibly showing other members of the empire as slaves, grinding at a mill) in the presence of foreign dignitaries.  From them on he saved his harshest criticisms for the Lenaia.
**It is clear from Aristophanes that Hippias was still a watchword for tyranny a hundred year after his overthrow.  Lysistrata chides her countrymen for forgetting that the Spartans saved them from Hippias.  Wasps contains jokes about Athenians' rampant paranoia about restoring the tyranny of Hippias.  But then again the "hip" in Hippias meant horse (commonly used in aristocratic names) and sex in which the woman straddles the man was called horseback, so the name lent itself to double entendres that are, of course, completely lost in the translation.  OK, so this post is mostly non-salacious, anyhow.
***If so, he as naive.  Any modern political scientist could tell you that the only way to protect any group's interest is to give it the power to defend them.  Needless to say, he includes neither slaves nor women.  Neither would have occurred to any Greek.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Athens: The Conspiracy Loses its Purpose but Continues

So, to recap, Alcibiades persuaded the Athenian military commanders, holed up on the island of Samos, that he could bring assistance from the Persian satrap if they would only replace the democracy with an oligarchy.  The officers agreed, and both soldiers and sailors in the field and the Assembly back home reluctantly agreed to suspend the democracy in exchange for Persian assistance, intending to restore it later.  It soon became apparent that Alcibiades could not deliver.  But the conspirators, at home and abroad, decided to continue, without the promise of Persian aid and without Alcibiades, who they decided was not cut out to be an oligarch anyhow.

The forces in Samos started by establishing an oligarchy there.*  The conspirators went on to replace democracies with oligarchies in other subject states as well.  The main result was to remove the primary obstacle to revolt, not to attach any of these cities more closely to Athens.**  When Peisander and his co-conspirators returned to Athens from Samos, they found that the political  "clubs" had prepared the way for them.  They had assassinated Androcles, one of the leaders of the popular party who had had a major role in banishing Alcibiades.***  In this they hoped to gain the support of Alcibiades and the Persians, not realizing that that had already fallen through.  They killed several unnamed popular politicians as well.  The Assembly and the Council continued to meet and to maintain the forms of the democracy, but drained of all substance.  The only business brought before them was introduced by the conspirators, and the speakers were all members of the conspiracy, giving pre-arranged speeches.  Anyone who spoke against them had good cause to fear for his life, and none of these murders were prosecuted, even when people had strong suspicions who the killers were.  Democrats approached each other with suspicion, never knowing who might be in on the conspiracy, especially since it had often included some of the most unlikely people.  It was into this atmosphere that Peisander and his companions arrived.

The leader of the domestic conspiracy was Antiphon, who Thucydides describes as:
[A] man inferior in virtue to none of his contemporaries, and possessed of remarkable powers of thought and gifts of speech. He did not like to come forward in the assembly, or in any other public arena. To the multitude, who were suspicious of his great abilities, he was an object of dislike; but there was no man who could do more for any who consulted him, whether their business lay in the courts of justice or in the assembly.
In short, he was a teacher of rhetoric and a speech writer, both for speeches to the Assembly and in the law courts.  He was the inventor of the new profession of logographer, or speech writer, particularly of speeches before the courts.  He was regarded with the sort of suspicion that lawyers have been regarded ever since -- as a hired gun without principles, selling his advocacy to the highest bidder.  Andocides (who would also adopt the profession of logographer) also identifies an Antiphon as one of many who fled for his life when accused of profaning the Mysteries.  It is not clear if this is the same Antiphon, but no one mentions such a connection, so probably not.  The lead conspirator returning was, of course, Peisander, now joined by Phrynichus.  Despite his initial opposition to establishing an oligarchy, Phrynichus had now joined the conspiracy, largely because he thought that establishing an oligarchy was the best way to keep his arch-enemy Alcibiades away.  Rounding out the leadership (Thucydides does not say whether at home or from abroad) was Theramenes, who Thucydides describes as "a good speaker and a sagacious man."  And, yes, this is the same Theramenes who Aristotle identifies and an outstanding, though controversial, leader.  Controversial is an understatement!

But the question remains, why did they do it?  The initial decision to suspend the democracy was understandable.  It seemed a necessary evil to procure the support of Alcibiades and assistance from Persia.  The Assembly acquiesced, however reluctantly.  But once support from Persia proved a barren hope, why did the conspiracy proceed?  Thucydides to some extent implies that, having been compromised, Peisander and the others saw no choice but to proceed.  This argument is unconvincing.  Peisander and his companions were not compromised conspirators.  They had already openly persuaded the Assembly to agree to a suspension of the democracy in exchange for Persian aid. Granted, the Assembly would not have taken kindly to submitting to Peisander's suggestion that they suspend the democracy in exchange for Persian aid, only to see him come up empty-handed.  The Athenians had a deplorable record of executing or exiling defeated generals.  Peisander might have legitimately feared a similar fate.  But Peisander was abroad and safely outside the Assembly's reach. If he had been acting in good faith, he would have had two other options.  One was to stay abroad until he had a victory to boast of, at which time all would be forgiven.  That is what the general Demosthenes had done, and what Alcibiades would soon do.  The other option was voluntary exile.

But it is clear that Peisander had not been acting in good faith. If he had been acting in good faith, then once the Assembly agreed to suspend the democracy, he would not ave approached the "clubs" to discuss advancing matters further.  As for the clubs, they may very well have believed that suspending the democracy would bring Persian support and not have realized that Peisander's mission had failed.  But, once again, the clubs were clearly not acting in good faith, or they would not have instituted their campaign of terror and murder against a populace that had already agreed, however reluctantly, to the suspension of democracy.  Why did they proceed?

The modern historian Donald Kagan gives a number of reasons why the Athenian upper classes might have turned against the democracy.  Greek tradition was aristocratic, with democracy as an exception, and a suspect one at that.  Even under the best circumstances, Athens' richer citizens had a heavy burden of taxes, paying to outfit ships and finance choruses and other religious functions and athletic competitions.  Under more normal circumstances, these burdens had their compensations.  Outfitting a ship made a man a military commander, the usual stepping stone to a political career.  Payment for choruses brought the sponsor great prestige.  But the war raised these burdens to unprecedented levels, such that many of Athens'  andwealthier citizens were facing financial ruin.  Kagan estimates that the number of men of the hoplite class an above had fallen from as many as 25,000 to 9,000.  With revenue from the empire cut off, Athens relied more and more on taxes from its wealthier citizens.  The old aristocracy seemed to be losing its grip on the leadership.  The new generation of leaders seemed to be men like Cleon, a non-aristocrat with no military experience, whose power depended entirely on his rabble-rousing oratory.  Even the aristocrat and general Alcibiades had adopted the same demagogic style.  But above all else, the common people, against the advice of much of the aristocracy, had supported the Sicilian expedition, which had ended in disaster and now was threatening the city with total ruin.  It was easy for the upper classes to believe that, after opposing such a rash measure, they were better qualified to govern in general, and to fight the war in particular.

My guess, though, is that there was another thing that served to alienate much of the aristocracy from the democracy -- the moral panic following the vandalism of the herms.  The episode was, indeed, a serious black mark on the democracy.  Athens' leading citizens had gone in such fear that they  "ceased going abroad even into the Agora, because you each expected arrest" all on the word of such an obvious scoundrel as Diocleides.  The democracy had always had a certain tendency toward paranoia, as Thucydides expresses in earnest and Aristophanes in jest.  In Knights, Cleon and the sausage seller get into a denouncing contest and, when out maneuvered, Cleon denounces the whole thing as a conspiracy.  The general mood of paranoia is also mocked in Wasps.  And it would appear that a major target of the paranoia were the political "clubs" or hetairaiai, in which leading citizens met for entertainment and political caucusing.  These clubs were also known as synomosia -- taking an oath together.  This latter name is pejorative, often translated as conspiracies.  The clubs were secret societies, with oaths of secrecy and initiation rites.  Think if the paranoia that has often surrounded Masonic lodges in modern times because of their secrecy and quasi-religious initiation rites and transport it backward into ancient Athens and you may get some concept.

Of course, the Masons and their network of lodges really were a large-scale organization with at least the capacity for wide-spread conspiracies.  The political clubs were not.  They may have had a tendency toward oligarchic leanings, but little clusters of 25 men or less were simply caucuses -- they lacked the scope to do any serious harm.  Or so it appeared until one of them (probably) vandalized all the herms in the city in one night.  Although Andocides never says so, presumably the clubs were a major target of paranoia in the ensuing moral panic.  I have speculated that Andocides may have been so successful in quelling the panic because the upper classes recognized the men he denounced as his club, realized that such an organization was tight enough to conceive and carry out such a conspiracy, and managed to convey this fact to the general public.  But it must have been a source of great resentment to them that all such clubs came under suspicion when only one was guilty of the crime.  And then there was the matter of the Mysteries.  Several clubs were exposed as having mocked the Mysteries in their secret initiation rites.  Who knows how many other clubs had done things the orthodox would not approve of and now stood in fear of the slaves and women in their household, wondering how much they had seen and what they might tell.

Critics of the democracy had long feared that it would put an end to all hierarchy and distinction. An anti-democratic pamphlet from the early years of the Peloponnesian War accused the democracy of setting up equality between slave and free, citizen and metic.  Many an aristocrat who had previously dismissed such complaints and grossly exaggerated may have had second thoughts in the midst of the moral panic, when confronted with the sight of many of Athens leading citizens arrested, fleeing for their lives, or even executed on the word of metics, slaves, and women; or of members of the Council unconstitutionally threatened with torture on the denunciation of so sleazy a character as Diocleides.  Suddenly such grumblings must have seemed less like idle fears and more like living reality.  

Certainly, critics of democracy must have known what sort of mercy oligarchs who attempt to overthrow a democracy could expect if defeated.  Athens' own history offered the example of  Isagoras, a friend of the Spartan king Cleomenes, who holed up in the Acropolis with Cleomenes, a Spartan force, and at least 300 followers.  The besieged soon surrendered, and the Athenians let the king and the Spartans go (to have done otherwise would have been to invite a war), and also released Isagoras because he was the king's friend, but executed all of his followers.  They also had the more recent examples of Corcyra, Argos, and most recently Samos.  Of course, these all reached the stage of an actual or attempted oligarchic coup, not merely persuading the Assembly to suspend democracy on the hope of Persian aid, only to see that aid fail to materialize.  It seems realistic upon learning that it had all been for nothing that the democratic public might have spent its rage on Peisander and his delegation, but there is no reason to believe they would have turned against the upper classes in general.

Unless the upper classes actually went so far as to stage or attempt a coup.  And now numerous political clubs, each by itself too small to do any serious damage, had now joined forced into a grand conspiracy to do just that.

*It is not clear whether this oligarchy consisted of the old, dispossessed, landed aristocracy, or whether old leader of the democratic party were setting themselves up as a new oligarchy.
**Here Thucydides strongly seems to imply that oligarchy was an improvement over democracy,
another sign that he was a critic of democracy.  But he also appears, once again, to acknowledge that the impetus for revolt came from the oligarchs, not the democrats.
***Plutarch names Androcles as the leader who first accused Alcibiades of profaning the mysteries and produced witnesses.  Andocides, by contrast, attributes this to a man by the name of Pythonicus  and mentions Androcles only as wanting the reward for information to go the the Council as a whole.  (Presumably he was a member).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Athens: The Oligarchic Conspiracy Begins

We now move into the actual (though short-lived) failure of the Athenian democracy with the establishment of the oligarchy of the Four Hundred.  Diodorus Siculus treats the oligarchy as  voluntary, saying that after the Sicilian disaster:
Choosing four hundred men they put in their hands the supreme authority to direct the conduct of the war; for they assumed that an oligarchy was more suitable than a democracy in critical circumstances like these. The events, however, did not turn out according to the judgement of those who held that opinion, but the Four Hundred conducted the war far less competently.
Aristotle implies much the same:
In the period of the war therefore, so long as fortunes were evenly balanced, they continued to preserve the democracy. But when after the occurrence of the disaster in Sicily the Lacedaemonian side became very strong owing to the alliance with the king of Persia, they were compelled to overthrow the democracy and set up the government of the Four Hundred, Melobius making the speech on behalf of the resolution but Pythodorus of the deme Anaphlystus having drafted the motion, and the acquiescence of the mass of the citizens being chiefly due to the belief that the king would help them more in the war if they limited their constitution.
 But Thucydides, who describes events in by far the most detail, gives a very different picture.

We last left the Athenian fleet wintering over (winter 412-411 B.C.) at Samos, on the east side of the Aegean, and Alcibiades, who had previous defected to Sparta, now defected to Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap.  The plot to overthrow the democracy was initially instigated by Alcibiades himself.  He sent word that he would return to Athens (a significant promise, given his skills as a general) and secure the alliance of the Tissaphernes if only the Athenians would get rid of the democracy and establish an oligarchy.  It is not clear why he wanted an oligarchy.  Presumably his real wish was to be a dictator, and democracies are more susceptible to charismatic leaders (Alcibiades, by all accounts, was extremely charismatic), while oligarchies distrust any individual oligarch who starts looking too big for his britches (a major reason he had to flee Sparta for his life).  Thucydides seems to suggest that he just wanted to overthrow the democracy because of the shabby way it had treated him.  Thucydides is also of the opinion that most of the officers were inclined to oligarchy anyhow and did not need much persuading.  The rank-and-file were less enthusiastic, but the prospect of getting decent pay persuaded them to acquiesce.  Only Phrynichus (the same admiral who persuaded the fleet to withdraw to Samos) dissented.  Phrynichus recognized that Alcibiades cared nothing for oligarchy or democracy, but only for his own power and that the Persians distrusted Athens too much ever to make an alliance.

It was also apparently presumed that if Athens became an oligarchy, it would establish oligarchies in its dependencies as well.  Thucydides does not exactly say so, but he seems to imply that the others assumed that, since it was usually the oligarchs who revolted against Athens, establishing and
backing oligarchies would make the empire more stable.  Phrynichus dissented, saying that no government, democratic or oligarchic, would be seen as legitimate if it was complicit in their subjugation.  Athens' satellites would not find an Athenian oligarchy any more amenable than a democracy.  Quite the contrary, the wrongs done by the democracy were usually instigated by the upper classes.  Oligarchy would simply remove whatever restraints the democracy had imposed.

The others were unconvinced, however and sent Peisander (the same Peisander who had been a raging populist and most aggressively pursued the mutilators of the herms) back to Athens to work for the recall of Alcibiades and the overthrow of the democracy.  Phrynichus now anticipated that Alcibiades would be recalled and feared what revenge he might seek against Phrynichus for opposing him.  There followed the most elaborate dance of betrayals and counter-betrayals that did credit to absolutely no one.  Phrynichus sent a letter to Spartan Admiral at Miletus informing him of the plan and broadly hinting that he should kill Alcibiades.  Since Alcibiades had already fled to the Persians, this was not possible anyhow.  But the Spartan Admiral had been corrupted by the satrap and went straight to him and informed him and Alcibiades of the letter.  Alcibiades then a letter to Samos calling for Phrynichus' execution.  Phrynichus then wrote again to the Spartan Admiral, calling on him to attack and destroy the Athenian force at Samos and giving him extensive military details on how to do so!  Once again, the Admiral passed the information on to Alcibiades.  But then Phryinchus had second thoughts, realizing that the Spartan Admiral might once again pass his letter on to Alcibiades, so he warned that the Peloponnesians were about to attack and set the force to work fortifying their positions and preparing for attack.  When the warning came from Alcibiades that Phrynichus had betrayed them, no one believed it, since Phrynichus had been so energetic in preparing for attack.  It was assumed that Alcibiades was simply lying to discredit a personal enemy.

Meanwhile, Peisander and his companions had made their way to Athens and proposed that the Assembly recall Alcibiades and "modify" or "change" the democracy.  The Assembly apparently knew a euphemism when they heard one and vociferously objected (to both proposals).  To this Peisander answered that the alternative was total defeat and destruction, and that only Alcibiades and Persian alliance could save the city.  Besides, he argued, suspending the democracy was simply a wartime expedient that could be reversed later.*  The people reluctantly acquiesced, intending to restore the democracy later on when the crisis was over and authorized a delegation consisting of Peisander and ten others to negotiate with the satrap Tissaphernes.  This is presumably the source of Aristotle's and Diodorus' misleading statements that that the Assembly instituted the oligarchy voluntarily.  But Peisander's next actions make clear that his intentions were rather different.  First, he had the Assembly relieve the troublesome Phrynichus of his command and replace him with other admirals. Next he secretly approached the political "clubs," hetaireiai, or caucuses to discuss ending the democracy.

When Peisander and the others presented to Tissaphernes, there soon proved to be a serious flaw in their plan.  Tissaphernes, in fact, was not willing to ally with the Athenians, but had every intent of continuing to play the Greeks off against each other and wear them down.  Rather than admit this, Alcibiades made exorbitant demands, intending for them to be rejected.  He found out that his countrymen were prepared to swallow a lot more than he expected.  First they agreed to cede all of Ionia (the same shameful condition the Spartans had agreed to, only more shameful because the Athenians were also Ionians).  So Alcibiades upped the ante, demanding the right for the Persian king to sail warships along the Greek coast.  Peisander and the others got the message.  Alcibiades would not be able to deliver Persian aid.

At this point, one might expect the plotters to abandon their plan.  But instead they decided to proceed, without Alcibiades (who they decided was not really cut out for oligarchy anyhow), and without the prospect of Persian aid.  The obvious question is why.  Thucydides attributes it partly to fear -- they were already compromised, so their only hope was to go through with it -- and partly to ambition -- if they seized power the spoils of war would be all theirs and they would not have to share.  I hope to address that question in my next post, as well as describing how the plot proceeded.

*It should be pointed out the many democracies since then have partially suspended democratic operations as a wartime expedient and restored them afterward.  Britain suspending elections during WWII, for instance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Athens Regroups: The Beginning of the Ionian War

With the destruction of the Sicilian expedition and the establishment of a Spartan outpost in Attica, all seemed lost for Athens.  In fact, it turned out to be simply the beginning of a new phase of the war, known to modern historians as the Ionian War.  The previous phases of the war had been a war between a land power and a naval power over an overseas empire.  This gave the naval power an immense advantage in mobility.  By its unprovoked attack on Syracuse, a naval power and colony of Corinth, another naval power, Athens had most enemies of the Greeks' other leading naval powers. The Ionian war was so-called because it took place mostly among the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor. It was a naval war, very rapid and very mobile.  And, interestingly enough, though the final phase of a long and brutal war, it actually appears to have been the least brutal phase, probably because the Ionians were not fighters themselves (and had often been disarmed by Athens) and cheerfully switched sides to whoever showed up with the largest navy.

My own advice to the Athenians upon the capture of Decelea would have been to forget about overseas conquests and to focus solely on retaking Decelea.  Since the chances of seizing it by storm were close to zero, I would recommend hitting the Spartans where it hurt most, i.e., in Pylos.  I would recommend that they stir up as much trouble in Pylos as possible until the Spartans were prepared to make a swap. And, in fact, the expedition sent to relieve the forces at Sicily established an outpost in Laconia, and a base to launch raids and for helots to desert, under the command of Charicles, son of Apollodorus,* presumably the same Charicles mentioned as being so zealous in pursuit of whoever vandalized the herms.  But they abandoned this fort after the Sicilian disaster forced them to cut back on all the but most essential expenditures.  Perhaps this was a mistake.

Diplomacy over the winter
Athens was spared, perhaps, because the the time disaster had struck, the fighting season was coming to an end and everyone was hunkering down for winter.  The Spartans spend the time raising a navy, extorting money and sometimes hostages from reluctant allies to finance it.  This should have been a definite clue that in turning the the Spartans as liberators, the small states were simply  changing one hegemon for another.  The Athenians focused on  rebuilding their navy.  The winter was also spent in a flurry of diplomatic activity.  Although Thucydides portrays Athens' allies/ subjects as eager to revolt now that Athens was so fatally weakened, none of them were actually prepared to do so without Spartan assistance, and the Spartans were not prepared to support more than one revolt at a time.  King Agis, at Decelea, favored supporting Euboea (right next door and in a position to cause great harm) or Lesbos, but he was overruled by the government in Sparta, which opted for Chios, as the largest and most important member of the Athenian empire.  Another important factor appears to have been Alcibiades, who was "a personal enemy" of Agis and was  intriguing against him with one of the Ephors, seeking to get all the credit.

Once again, despite Thucydides' claim of how oppressive the Athenians were and how all their subject/allies were eager to revolt, the reason that Chios was unwilling to revolt without Spartan support was that only a narrow oligarchic party favored the revolt, while the general public was opposed.  The Athenians got wind of what was going on and proceeded to prove that they could not be counted out yet by bottling up the Peloponnesian fleet before they got started.  But five ships, commanded by Alcibiades, bypassed the Athenians and made it to Chios, where they started a revolt.**  The neighboring cities of Erythrea and Clazomenae soon joined in.  Alcibiades raised a small fleet and then moved on to Miletus to start a revolt there.  When the Athenians heard of the revolt in so important a state as Chios, ten -- and only then -- did then they consider their situation so dire that the broke out a thousand talent emergency reserve and financed a fleet to go to Chios.

Hope this make sense of the accompanying paragraph
We then begin to see the fast-moving nature of the naval war.  The Athenians quickly suppressed a  revolt the Chians had stirred up in Lesbos, then headed south and just as quickly recaptured Clazomenae.  They drove back the Chians into the city walls, laid waste to the countryside and established a fortress.  As with Decelea back home, the Chians were trapped within their city with a hostile army roaming the countryside.  They also had serious internal security problems -- the general citizenry opposed the revolt and large numbers of slaves deserted. The bulk of the Athenian force then moved on to Miletus, defeated their army in the field, and settled in for a siege.  Just then, news arrived that the blockaded Peloponnesian fleet had broken out and were arriving, joined by the Sicilian fleet.  Fearing a repeat of events at Syracuse, the Athenians withdrew.

The Athenians withdrew to the island of Samos.  Samos had recently undergone a democratic revolution with the assistance of three Athenian ships.  Thucydides give no description whatever of the pre-revolutionary regime or what led to the revolution, but only says that the democrats seized the property from the landed aristocracy, executed some 200 of them, exiled another 400, and disenfranchised the ones who remained, not even allowing them to intermarry with the general citizenry.  This established Samos as such a reliable ally that Athens granted it complete autonomy.  Thucydides salutes the wisdom of the Athenians in not repeating the mistake they made at Syracuse and instead establishing a safe base of operations from which they could venture forth as needed, one that continued to serve them to the end of the war.  Some modern historians have disagreed, saying that if the Athenians had successfully defeated the revolt at Miletus, they would have squelched the Ionian revolt altogether and won the war.  Victory or destruction, like all counter-factuals, this one is impossible to prove or disprove.  In any event, the admiral responsible for this decision was named Phrynicus.*  Andocides mentions a Phrynicus, son of Orchesamenus as arrested on false accusations in the matter of the herms.  We do not have a patronymic or deme for Phrynicus the admiral, but he is almost certainly not the same one. The Phrynicus arrested was a cousin of Andocides and therefore an aristocrat, while this Phrynicus was originally a poor man who kept sheep in the fields.

Triumphant at Miletus, the Peloponnesians went on to incite revolts in Cnidus and then Rhodes.  As the accompanying map should make clear, the war was clearly moving southward.  There is a reason for that.  The diplomatic feelers the Spartans had put out included some to the Persians.  Two main Persian satraps,  Pharnabazus in the north and Tissaphernes in the south were seeking an alliance.  Though both formally subordinate to the Persian government in Suza, both had considerable autonomy and acted for all intents and purposes as independent and rival sovereigns.  Largely as a result of Alcibiades' influence, the Spartans made their alliance with Tissaphernes and stirred up most of their trouble in the south.

So why would the Persians join with the rising hegemon among their enemies, the Greeks, to destroy a Greek power clearly on its way down?  Maybe they thought that Sparta, as a land power, would be less able to maintain an overseas empire.  Maybe they had learned that the Spartans were Dorians and would feel less kinship than the Athenians for the Ionians.  Maybe they weren't thinking ahead very far.  There is one other possibility.  There is some evidence that the Athenians had intervened in Persia's internal affairs by backing a rebel satrap named Amorges and allowing him to take refuge in the Greek city of Iasos (near Miletus, see map) when he was defeated.  Why would the Athenians stir up trouble in Persia at exactly the time they could least afford to make any  more enemies?  Perhaps it was an attempt to weaken an enemy, started well before Athens was so severely weakened.

In any event, The Spartan decision to ally with Persia may seem treasonous from a Greek perspective, but the Athenians, having allied with the Sicils and Estruscans against the Italian Greeks, were hardly in a position to criticize.  It got worse, though.  The original treaty proposed by Tissaphernes said, "All the territory and all the cities which are in possession of the King, or were in possession of his forefathers, shall be the King's."  In other words, the Persian Wars were to be set aside altogether.  Persia was reclaiming not only all of Asian Greece, but large chunks of the mainland that had been part of the Persian Empire.  The Spartans indignantly refused.***  The treaty was renegotiated, but the final product left much to be desired.  It ceded all of Asian Greece to Persia and made reference to the "King's country" that were rather vague as to its precise boundaries.  This was treason far in excess of any alliance Athens may have made with non-Greeks in Italy (although Athens would soon prove itself willing to do the same).  And the Peloponnesians lived up to their bargain with the Persians.  They captured the Greek city if Iasos because it was harboring Amorges and turned the city and its inhabitants over the the Persians.

In exchange, the Peloponnesians received access to Persia's seemingly limitless resources.  That might have meant the end for the depleted Athens had it not been for another wild card -- Alcibiades. Alcibiades had worn out his welcome in Sparta.  He was obviously unreliable and had no loyalty except to his own personal ambition.  Thucydides mentions only a personal enmity with King Agis and discusses his intrigues with a friendly Ephor to undercut Agis by opposing his policies and seeking all the credit in military and diplomatic victories.  Plutarch give a very personal reason for their enmity.  He says that Alcibiades had an affair with Agis' wife, and that she had a son of very dubious paternity.  This story may very well be true, or at least believed by contemporaries, since the son in question was denied succession because of his dubious paternity and the kingship instead went to Agis' younger brother.  Assuming this affair was genuine, it was incredibly stupid on Alcibiades' part.  But even if he fell out of favor only for his political intrigues, they were stupid, too.  Recall that the Ephors were powerful enough to override or even arrest a king, but they only held power for one year, probably in part to prevent intrigues of this very kind.  Anyone less arrogantly self-confident that Alcibiades would have remembered that, although the Ephor he chose as an ally could override the king, he would be out of power in a year and the king would still be there.  It might also have been wise to remember that the Ephors could order any non-citizen executed without trial, and that Alcibiades was not a citizen.  And, indeed, once his ally was replaced, the new Ephors sent the order to do just that.

So Alcibiades did what Alcibiades always did.  He defected, again.  As before, he did not flee to a neutral, but went where he could do most harm.  He went straight to Tissaphernes and did all he could to hurt the Peloponnesian cause.  He advised Tissaphernes to back whoever was losing in order to wear to Greeks down, eminently sensible advice from the Persian point of view, but clearly treasonous coming from a Greek.  He also advised the satrap to keep delaying the Peloponnesian action by promising to bring the Phoenician fleet to their aid, but never to actually bring it.  And he encouraged Tissaphernes to stint soldiers and sailors on their pay, paying less than promised, and irregularly, and to bribe the officers into going along with it.  And he squeezed allied cities.  In short, he was truly despicable.  But don't worry.  He has some new acts of treachery in store very soon.

*Watch this man.  He will be important later on.
**Along the way Alcibides arrested everyone they met to keep them from spreading the word and only released them on the other side.  Contrast this with Alcidas, the first Spartan admiral to cross the Aegean who also arrested everyone he met to keep word from getting out and started to execute them on the other side, until the Ionians persuaded him that he would never be accepted as a liberator if he behaved that way.  Further proof, I think that Alcibiades, while unprincipled and treacherous, was not bloodthirsty or cruel.
***Here, again, I am indebted to a modern historian.  Thucydides' account, taken at its word, would say that the Spartans originally agreed to these terms, then later rejected them and demanded better.  My editor says it is far more likely that the earlier versions were drafts and only the final agreement was the true treaty.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Disaster Strikes Athens at Syracuse and Decelea

Meanwhile, what of the Sicilian expedition?  The historian Diodorus Siculus (himself a Sicilian, but writing centuries later), reports that the Athenians planned to sell the inhabitants of Syracuse  and  Selinus as slaves to require the other Sicilians to pay tribute.  This may be so, although Thucydides never mentions it.

In any event, there is something different about the Sicilian expedition, unlike the previous phases of the war.  For one, it was launched against a fellow democracy, although the Athenians' policy up till then had been to promote democracy and treat democrats as allies.  For another, we start hearing for the first time about conflicts between Dorian Greeks and Ionian Greeks.  Up until then, although the Spartans and their Peloponnesian allies were generally Dorians, while the Athenians and their Aegean satellites were generally Ionians, ethnic differences got less attention than ideological ones.  Indeed, the Dorian but democratic Argives were happy to ally with the Ionian and democratic Athenians.  But in the case of Syracuse, the fact that the Syracusans were also Dorians gets great emphasis.  Perhaps it was because of the lack of ideological differences that ethnic difference got so much emphasis.

Another difference was that up until now, democratic politics have generally been associated with belligerent nationalism.  In Syracuse that was not the case.  In Syracuse the most belligerent politician was Hermocrates, evidently a man of oligarchic leanings, because the leading democratic politician dismissed his warnings as mere fear-mongering, probably with the intent to  establish an oligarchy.  Thucydides believes that Syracuse proved a particularly tough nut for the Athenians to crack because it was a fellow democracy and therefore not subject to internal subversion by a discontented populace.  Yet he also makes clear that the Athenians did, in fact, have subversives within who served as their spies.*  Thucydides also makes clear that the fear-mongering about the Syracusans conquering all of Sicily and then coming to the aid of the Spartans and conquering Athens was just that -- fear-mongering.  The Syracusans had no such grandiose designs and were actually inexperienced and poorly trained compared to the mainland Greeks who were invading.

The Athenians had three general, who disagreed on how to proceed.  The conservative Nicias, who has opposed the expedition in the first place, favored only intervening in the immediate quarrel that was the pretext for the expedition, giving a general show of strength, and then sailing home.  Alcibiades favored starting with diplomacy, seeing how many allies they could gain, and then attacking Syracuse.  Lamachus, the third general, favored attacking Syracuse at once.  In the end they agreed to adopt Alcibiades' approach.  it was not a success.  City after city refused alliance.  The only city to agree was Catana, and only because Catana had a badly-built gate, so the Athenians were able to sneak in and make the Assembly and offer it couldn't refuse.  Alcibiades had some success cultivating a fifth column in Messene, but when he was recalled he promptly revealed the plot, and the conspirators were executed.  This would prove typical of his character.  Without Alcibiades, the Athenian forces raised some money by capturing the minor town of Hyccara, taking its inhabitants captive, handing the city over to displaced allies, and either ransoming the inhabitants or selling them as slaves.  (Probably the latter, since there are later references to Hyccarian slaves).  They also established camp outside Syracuse, won a minor battle, and then withdrew to winter over in Catana.  Both sides devoted the winter to diplomacy, seeking allies.  The overall outcome was that the Italian Greeks either sided with Syracuse or remained neutral, while the Sicels (indigenous Sicilians) and Etruscans allied with the Athenians.  The Athenians' acceptance of so many non-Greek allies must have looked like treason to the Syracusan side.

On the subject of treason, Alcibiades, upon being recalled to face trial on capital charges, fled.  Such flight was by no means unprecedented.  As we have seen, many Athenians accused in the matter of the Mysteries and vandalism of the herms fled.  Andocides mentions two defecting directly to the enemy, but does not say where the others went.  Flight to an ally was not an option, since an ally would presumably extradite.  Flight to a neutral was becoming more difficult since Athens was doing its best to end neutrality, with its destruction of Melos and attack on the neutrals in Sicily.  Andocides himself, not formally exiled but barred from the marketplace and temples, went  to Cyprus  and  Macedonia, where he prospered as a merchant.  Thucydides is believed to have gone into exile in Thrace.

So fleeing to a neutral was certainly an option.  He went directly to Sparta, where he did all he could to harm his home city.  He promptly resumed the game of fear-mongering, claiming that the Athenians intended to conquer not only Sicily and all of Italian Greece, but then to move on to conquer Carthage, and then to surround and conquer the Peloponnese.  In effect, he accused Athens of trying to be Rome before its time.  There is nothing else in Thucydides' account to suggest that the Athenians held such grandiose designs, although it is certainly possible that Alcidiades privately entertained such schemes.  So he urged the Spartans to send relief to Syracuse, and to fortify Decelea.

The following spring (413 B.C.), the Spartans took Alcibiades' advice.  They invaded Attica  and established a fortified position in Decelea, a village about 13-14 miles from Athens.  This proved far more devastating than previous expeditions laying waste to the countryside.  All such expeditions until then had been short-lived  and allowed the Athenians to return to the countryside after.  Now the Spartans had a permanent presence in Attica and were able to cut Athens off from the countryside altogether, reducing it to a fortress, receiving all its supplies from the sea. (Though apparently without a return of the plague).  The Spartan King Agis established himself in Decelea, and some 20,000 slaves, mostly skilled craftsmen, deserted.  The city was constantly harassed by excursions from the fort.  Yet still the Athenians continued with their war in Sicily, which Thucydides seems to regard as sheer folly.

Meanwhile, when spring arrived, the Athenians resumed their siege of Syracuse.  They attempted to wall the city off and the Syracusans to build a counter-wall.  I have struggled to understand what that meant.  The map on the side is the best explanation I have seen.  Syracuse was a sort of peninsula and could not be cut off from the sea.  However, the Athenians, in the harbor on one side of the city, attempted to build a wall cutting Syracuse off from land access.  The Syracusans attempted to build a wall to protect their land access.  All such attempts had failed, the wall was nearly complete, and the Syracusans were on the verge of surrender when the Spartan general Gylippus  showed up.  The force he brought was small, but he brought military know-how and renewed allies.  They build a successful counter-wall (other maps show prior, unsuccessful attempts) and defeated Athenian attempts to stop him.  From then on, the Athenian position constantly deteriorated.  They lacked sufficient land to beach and dry their ships, so the timbers deteriorated.  Without an open sea to practice maneuvers, their skills also deteriorated.  So large a force required support personnel, many of them slaves, and increasingly deserting.  Foraging for food took up more and more time.  And as summer began, malaria and dysentery set in.  The Syracusans and Corinthians developed a new kind of ship, better suited to head-to-head ramming instead of ramming from the side.  With the Athenian navy hemmed in the harbor, this new force gave the Athenians their first defeat in naval warfare,  shattering their aura of invincibility.  Nicias requested reinforcements.

Attempts at counter-walls
Despite the crisis at Decelea, the Athenians send reinforcements under the command of Demosthenes, the same general who had captured Pylos and taken Spartans prisoner.  Demosthenes put his reinforcements to quick action.  He set out to destroy to counter-wall, hoping for victory, but intending to withdraw if defeated.  The  attempt was defeated.  Demosthenes then proposed that they return home and deal with the crisis at Decelea.  Nicias disagreed for three reasons.  He did not believe he had authority to withdraw without approval of the Assembly; he feared the fate of defeated generals, to be tried and possibly executed for his failure; and hoped that a pro-Athenian faction within Syracuse could still deliver the city to them.**  Demosthenes replied that if they were not authorized to return home, they should at least withdraw to Catana.  Reinforcements arrived.  By this time even Nicias was forced to admit the need to withdraw, but just as they were preparing to retreat under the cover of darkness, there was an eclipse of the moon.  The troops panicked and Nicias "who was too much under the influence of divination and such like," consulted with his soothsayers, who told him to wait until the next full moon.  This decision doomed the Athenian forces.***  Their situation deteriorated further during the wait.  Syracusans blocked the harbor.  An attempt to break out failed.  (Thucydides describes this battle in greater detail than any other).

This left no option but to attempt to withdraw over land.  This meant abandoning the sick and wounded:
Their prayers and lamentations drove their companions to distraction; they would beg that they might be taken with them, and call by name any friend or relation whom they saw passing; they would hang upon their departing comrades and follow as far as they could, and, when their limbs and strength failed them, and they dropped behind, many were the imprecations and cries which they uttered. So that the whole army was in tears, and such was their despair that they could hardly make up their minds to stir
The Athenians might yet have gotten away if they had left immediately after their defeat because the Syracusans were too busy celebrating to block the paths out.  But Hermocrates foresaw this and sent a few men masquerading as spies (Nicias did, after all, have real spies in the city) to urge delay.  So the army delayed for two days, which the Syracusans blocked the road leading out.  They withdrew, 40,000 strong (an immense army for those days), exhausted and starving, only to run into Syracusans blocking the roads.  Many were killed; the survivors were held captive in stone quarries.  For ten weeks they were held there, crowded, exposed to the elements, with no more than a pint of food and a half-pint of water a day, with the dead not removed.  After ten weeks, they were sold as slaves, excepts the Athenians (seen as the movers behind the whole attack) and the Italians Greeks who had joined them (seen as traitors).  These were kept for eight months.

Thucydides reports that Gylippus, the Spartan general, wanted to spare the two generals, Nicias in the belief that he was a friend who was forced to do this, and Demosthenes as an enemy to be brought home and put on display.  The strongest advocates of killing Nicias, Thucydides reports, were the pro-Athenians Syracusans who feared he would give them away, and the Corinthians who feared he would use his great wealth to bribe his way out.  Plutarch reports that Hermocrates, though the most hawkish of the Syracusans in opposing the Athenians, was also the foremost advocate of mercy once they were defeated, but that he was overruled by the angry populace.  Diodorus Siculus agrees about Hermocrates, but says that it was none other than Gylippus who persuaded them to refuse mercy. This is nowhere else confirmed although Plutarch has a low opinion of Gylippus' character and Thucydides has him speak in harsh terms about the Athenians, so it is possible.  Diodorus says that some of the better educated prisoners were spared, presumably to serve as tutors.  Plutarch says that the Syracusans spared any Athenians who could sing choruses from Euripides, that starving fugitives would receive food if they knew Euripides, that ships fleeing pirates would be admitted to Syracuse only if someone on board knew Euripides, and that Athenian survivors who made their way back home went straight to Euripides to thank him.  It seems unlikely.  If Euripides had done his country such service, presumably it would have put a stopper on Aristophanes, who loved trashing him.

It seems unlikely. Thucydides says that "few returned" from that great expedition. Yet it is obvious from his account that there were survivors, and that Thucydides had talked to them. Nothing else could account for the detail and emotional intensity of this section of the History, a vividness matched nowhere else in the work, except in the author's description of the plague, which he himself witnessed. Masters of Rome has a teen aged Brutus showing his intellectual bent by writing a summary of Thucydides. Certainly Thucydides is tough going. I strongly recommend that anyone who reads him have a map handy to show where all those places are, or his work will make no sense. And I would recommend a summary, reading only the "good parts" in full. Among "good parts" I would include his account of events following the Persian Wars (often our best source on the subject); the funeral oration of Pericles, the outstanding expression of what Athens stood for in the ideal, even as the rest of the history shows the sordid reality; the description of the great plague and accompanying breakdown in morale; the Mytilene debate; the Corcyran civil war and reflections on civil strife in general; the battle of Pylos with the capture of the Spartans and accompanying debate in the Assembly; Brasidas' expedition to the Chalcidici; the Melian dialogue; and, I would add, his description of tsunamis. But nowhere is this otherwise often dull work so dramatic and so intense as in its description of the Athenian defeat at Syracuse. It has you sitting on the edge of your chair, scarcely remembering to breath. Thucydides does not approve of Athenian imperialism. He makes his disapproval particularly clear during the Sicilian expedition. But obviously he retained some fellow-feeling for his countrymen, or he would not be able to describe their suffering in such vivid and sympathetic terms, unmatched anywhere else.

 In Plutarch's biography of Nicias, he begins by saying that he cannot hope to compete with "what Thucydides has inimitably set forth, surpassing even himself in pathos, vividness, and variety."  Indeed.  But, unlike Plutarch, I can at least link.  Read it for yourself.

*And call this ridiculous if you want, but see also Aristophanes, The Birds.  In the play the birds blockade the gods and starve them into submission by cutting off the sacrifices to them!  Obviously this is fantasy, and to the extent that it is topical, the characters compare it to the siege of Melos.  But I have to think that it has to be influenced by the contemporaneous siege of Syracuse.  Talk of walling off Mount Olympus, secret meetings with spies from within giving them tips (Prometheus, of course), and final negotiations of the terms of surrender match closely the events that Thucydides describes in Syracuse.  Of course, they may also match other sieges during the war that he did not document as well.
**As a personal aside, I would say that that second reason was probably decisive for Nicias, but it should not have been.  He always had the option of voluntary exile.  Granted, if he went into voluntary exile, he would probably become scapegoat for the expedition's failure and never be allowed back home, but for the sake of his troops he should have accepted such a fate.
***Plutarch, who does believe in such things, quotes a learned astrologer as saying that Nicias' mistake was not to consult his soothsayer, but in their both misreading the sign, because darkness is favorable to stealth.  But, of course, he had the benefit of hindsight.