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If they were to invest the seaport of Syracuse, the Athenians had to build a wall that would surround it on the landward side. They were on the point of accomplishing this, when the Spartan Gylippus arrived with his forces just in time to interfere with the work, so effectively that the Syracusans were able to push their counter-wall past the Athenian line. Thus investment became impossible, and the task of the Athenians so much greater that it was to prove beyond their power. A dramatic moment, fate in the balance, “on a razor’s edge,” in Homeric phrase! —perhaps magnified for effect by the historian, in service to human vanity, which plumes itself on decisive action in crisis. παρὰ τοσοῦτον μὲν αἱ Συράκουσαι ἦλθον κινδύνου, comments Thucydides (7.2): So near to danger did Syracuse come, within so little distance of it, his expression fitting the narrowness of wall and time. He had used it once before (3.49), of the port of Mytilene, that one successfully walled in (3.18) and besieged by the Athenians but likewise saved by timely arrival, of word from Athens that the remaining townsfolk should be spared (a countermand anticipating the counter-wall).

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