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THE IMAGES OF HERMES ARE DESTROYED
 IN the island of Sicily there were many different states.
In some of these dwelt Greeks who owned Corinth as
their mother-city. Trade between Sicily and Corinth
was good, and because of this Corinth was growing more
powerful than Athens liked.
War broke out in 416 B.C. between Segesta and Selinus,
two cities in the west of Sicily. When Selinus was
joined by another town named Syracuse, the Segestans in
dismay sent to the Athenians to ask for their help.
It had long been the ambition of Alcibiades to conquer
Sicily. He believed, too, that it would add to the
glory of Athens if the island became part of the
So he now urged the assembly to send a fleet to Sicily,
reminding them that if it could conquer Syracuse, it
would then be in its power to ruin the trade of Corinth
He did not tell the Athenians how great his ambitions
were, but he told them enough to make them wish to help
the Segestans, that they might in this way gain new
territory for Athens.
The assembly made up its mind to send ambassadors to
Segesta, to find out if the town was able, as she said
she was, to provide money to carry on the war, if the
Athenians provided soldiers.
When the ambassadors returned in the spring
of 415 B.C. they
brought back with them a sum of money from the
grateful Segestans. They reported, too, that the
wealth of the city was far greater than they had
 although the ambassadors did not know until too late,
they had been deceived by the townsfolk.
For the rich plate and splendid ornaments with which
the Segestans had adorned each feast to which the
ambassadors had been invited, were taken secretly from
house to house. So that the gold and silver dishes
that dazzled the eyes of the Athenians were always the
same, although they believed that each of their hosts
owned the splendid dishes with which his table was
The sacred treasures of their temples, too, the
Segestans pretended were of gold, while in reality they
were of silver.
But the ambassadors were convinced that the people they
had visited were rich, and their report made the
Athenians ready to do as Alcibiades and his party
wished. So it was agreed that sixty vessels should be
sent to the help of Segesta.
Nicias, bent as ever on peace, did all he could to
hinder the expedition. But when, in spite of all he
could say, the assembly still determined to send a
fleet to Sicily, he persuaded it at least to increase
the number of ships from sixty to a hundred. Nicias
himself, along with Lamachus and Alcibiades, was
appointed commander of the expedition.
But the night before the fleet was to sail a strange
event took place.
All over the city, at the corner of streets, in some
niche of a public building, in front of the houses of
the citizens, stood statues or busts of the god Hermes,
on short pedestals or pillars.
These figures were reverenced by the Athenians, just as
the image of the Madonna by the roadside or in villages
and towns abroad is worshipped by Roman Catholics.
On the night before the expedition the statues of
Hermes were chipped and broken, so that the god could
no longer be recognized.
In the morning as the Athenians went along the streets
of the city, bent on their usual business, these poor
 images stared them in the face. Little groups gathered
at street corners, before public buildings, wherever
they had been used to see the statues of Hermes. At
first they gazed at their mutilated god in fear, but
fear soon changed to anger.
Who had dared to do this impious thing, they asked one
another. It would surely bring down the wrath of the
gods on the Sicilian expedition.
It was perhaps natural that the people should suspect
their favourite Alcibiades. Was he not often reckless
and ever a mischief maker? They were too excited to
remember that he was not likely to do anything to delay
the expedition on which his heart was set.
When he heard that the people thought that he had
defaced the images, Alcibiades demanded to be brought
to trial. But no proof had yet been found of his
guilt, and it was decided that the fleet should sail,
and that Alcibiades should go with it.