Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Athenians Leave Sicily

In 415 BCE, during the Peloponnesian War, Athens sent a large expeditionary force to attack Syracuse, in Sicily, believing they could conquer the entire island and finally win the war against Sparta. They failed, and few survived.

He sat on the beach, legs drawn up, his heels making sharp indentations in the moist, sucking sand; the water seemed limitless before him, the land limitless behind. He watched the cumulus clouds on the horizon grow and recede, exploding to immense heights before dissolving into wispy remnants.

There were moments of absolute stillness, when even the insects paused, between the blasts of wind from offshore that blew the greasy strands of hair from his face and dried his sweat while depositing a fine grit in the corners of his eyes and mouth.

He looked to the east. He could almost smell home on that wind from the east, almost see, if he squinted just so, the cloud-topped mountains to the east, even hear, ever so faintly, the echoes of sounds from beyond the horizon. As the yearning quickened, the defeat became manifest; Athenian moderation could not manipulate Syracusean excess. He picked up his bronze from the beach — there would be more battles, on other shores — and walked toward the ships. It was time to go home.

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