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Antiphon

(c. 480—411 bc)


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(c.480–411 bc),

of the deme of Rhamnus, the first Attic orator whose works were preserved. From a prominent family, he participated in the intellectual movement inspired by the sophists, taking a particular interest in law and rhetoric; he reportedly taught Thucydides 2. Many scholars are now inclined to identify him with Antiphon ‘the Sophist’, fragments of whose work Truth are concerned with the nature of justice and the relationship between nomos (‘law, convention’) and physis (‘nature’).

Thucydides praises Antiphon highly for ability (aretē), intelligence, and power of expression, adding that he stayed in the background himself but made his reputation giving advice to others. He credits Antiphon with planning the oligarchic coup that overturned the democratic constitution of Athens for a few months in 411 bc (see four hundred). When democracy was restored, most leaders of the coup fled, but Antiphon and Archeptolemus remained to stand trial for treason; both were convicted and executed. Antiphon's speech in his own defence, a small papyrus fragment of which survives, was the finest speech Thucydides knew. When congratulated by Agathon on its brilliance, Antiphon replied that he would rather have satisfied one man of good taste than any number of common people.

Antiphon was apparently the first to compose speeches for other litigants and thus the first to write them down. His clients included well‐known political figures and foreign allies of Athens. We have six complete works: three courtroom speeches and three Tetralogies. All concern homicide cases, though the fragmentary speeches treat many other issues. The courtroom speeches and the datable fragments come from the last two decades of Antiphon's life (430–411). In Against the Stepmother a young man accuses his stepmother of having employed a servant‐woman to poison his father. He may have brought the case from a sense of duty, for he offers little evidence. In The Murder of Herodes a Mytilenean is accused of murdering Herodes during a sea voyage: Herodes went ashore one stormy night and never returned. He defends his innocence by appeal both to facts and to probabilities, and accuses his opponent of trumping up the charge for political reasons and personal gain. In On the Chorus Boy a chorēgos (see choregia) is accused of the accidental death of a boy who was given a drug to improve his voice. The choregos argues that he was not even present at the time and that the prosecution is politically motivated.

The Tetralogies are Antiphon's earliest works. Their authenticity is disputed, but their arguments concerning probability, causation, and similar issues fit the period and Antiphon's interests. Using the sophistic method of opposed arguments (see protagoras) and displaying a self‐conscious virtuosity, the Tetralogies illustrate methods of argument that could be applied to a wide variety of cases. Each consists of four speeches for hypothetical cases, two on each side. In the First Tetralogy a man is murdered and circumstantial evidence points to the accused, who argues that others are more likely to be the killers. In the Second Tetralogy a boy is accidentally killed by a javelin; the defence argues that the boy himself, not the thrower, is guilty of unintentional homicide because he was the cause of his own death. In the Third Tetralogy a man dies after a fight and the accused argues that the victim is to blame because he started it.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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