Approximately seven years after the battle of Potidaea, when Socrates was in his mid-forties, the battle for Delium took place. This city was only twenty-five miles north of Athens. Yet, it was part of a region loyal to the enemy city-state of Sparta. Initially in the campaign Athens enjoyed success. Twenty thousand troops and seven thousand hoplites (including Socrates), under the command of Hippocrates, forced their way into Delium and fortified it against assault. In later field action, however, the Athenian forces were compelled to retreat leaving the garrison to fend for itself. Although heavily fortified, it fell into enemy hands. One wall was wooden and the enemy constructed a kind of ancient flame thrower and burned it down. A defeat so close to home badly damaged Athenian prestige and self confidence even though Athens remained militarily strong.
At about the same time, a great diplomatic victory was won (a peace agreement
with an old enemy, Persia, was made despite Sparta's efforts to play Persia
against Athens) but it was largely overlooked
by the average Athenian citizen. It was in this defeatist atmosphere that
Aristophanes wrote his social commentary, The
Clouds, which so maligned Socrates.