The Sicilian Expedition
Sat Jun 20 12:24:51 2009
The Sicilian Expedition did not need a well calculated plan. It needed to be a bold stroke, a long shot with a huge payoff. While I think Nicias had the correct original argument—that it was foolish to undertake the Sicilian expedition in the first place—it is hard not to wonder about the eventual outcome.
Nicias is balanced and wise; more likely to make the best decisions over the long term. He is able to carefully estimate the risks and plan an optimal strategy accordingly. Alcibiades is petulant, rash and sometimes foolish. But he is also willing to take inordinate risks for inordinate gains.
As much as I admire Nicias and his careful, rational approach, he is entirely the wrong commander for this operation. He comes to the operation with a sense of resignation, knowing that the odds are against him. Alcibiades has the kind of charisma that could get people to believe in the impossible and sometimes pull it off. He would have been looking for that unexpected stratagem that changes everything.
Alcibiades is perhaps one of the better examples of the Greek, and particularly Athenian, virtue of metis a kind of brilliant cunning that we also see exemplified in Odysseus and Themistocles. It is metis that wins the Trojan War and the Persian Wars and the lack of it may well have doomed the Sicilian Expedition.