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From The Greek Orators by J. F. Dobson, M. A., London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1919; pp. 19-49.


By J. F. Dobson




§ 1

ANTIPHON is said to have been almost contemporary with Gorgias, but a little younger.1 He was born about 480 B.C. He took no part in public life, perhaps disdaining to serve the democracy owing to his strong aristocratic prejudices. He wrote many speeches for others, but himself never spoke in the assembly and very rarely in the public courts. Most of his speeches were written for private individuals, but we have a record on one ‘about the tribute of Samothrace,’ apparently composed on behalf of that community when appealing against their assessment. Having lived in comparative obscurity all his life, he stepped suddenly into brilliant light in 411 B.C. , the year of the revolution of the Four Hundred. According to Thucydides his was the brain which had planned all the details of this anti-democratic conspiracy. The historian pays a striking tribute to his ability as an organiser:

‘It was Pisander who proposed this motion and in general took the most active steps for the subversion of the democracy; but the one who contrived the whole plot and the details of its working and who had given his attention to it longest was Antiphon, a man who 20 must be placed in the first rank for his character, his ingenuity, and his powers of expression. He never put himself forward in the assembly, nor appeared, from choice, at any trial in the courts, but lay under the people’s suspicion owing to a reputation for cleverness. He was, however, more capable than any other man of giving assistance to anybody who consulted him with regard to a case either in the courts or the assembly. Eventually, when the Four Hundred suffered reverse and were being harshly treated by the democracy, he was himself brought to trial, for participation in the revolution, and is known to have made the finest defence ever on record as having been delivered by a man on trial for his life.’2

During the short rule of the Four Hundred he seems to have been one of the leaders of the extreme party, as opposed to the followers of Theramenes, who advocated measures of conciliation. He went, with Phrynichus and eight other envoys, to negotiate peace with Sparta in the hope of thus securing the oligarchical government. Shortly after the failure of this embassy came the murder of Phrynichus and the fall of the Four Hundred, and the democracy was ready for revenge. Most of the ringleaders fled to Deceleia; Antiphon and Archeptolemus remained, were prosecuted for treason to the people, condemned and executed. Their property was confiscated, their houses razed to the ground, their descendants disfranchised for all time, and their bodies refused burial in the soil of Athens or any of her allies.

On the occasion of his trial the orator, who had spent the best years of his life in pleading by the lips of others 21 in causes which did not interest him, justified his renown and far surpassed all expectation, delivering what was, in Thucydides’ opinion, the finest speech of its kind ever heard up to that time. Aristotle preserves an anecdote telling how the poet Agathon congratulated the condemned man on his brilliant effort, and Antiphon replied that ‘he would rather have satisfied one man of taste than any number of common people’ — οἱ  τυγχάνοντες, a fine aristocratic term for great Athenian people.3

§ 2

At the time when Antiphon composed his speeches, Attic prose had not settled down into any fixed forms. The first of the orators was therefore an explorer in language; he was not hampered by traditions, and this freedom was an advantage; but on the other hand, the insufficiency of models threw him back entirely on his own resources.

Of his predecessors in prose-writing, the early historians were of no account as stylists. Herodotus wrote in a foreign dialect and a discursive colloquial manner which was unsuited to the needs of oratory; Gorgias, indeed, used the Attic dialect, but had hindered the growth of prose by a too copious use of florid poetical expression. Antiphon, therefore, had little to guide him, and we should expect to find in his work the imperfections which are natural in the experimental stage of any art.

So few of his works remain that we cannot trace any development in his style; it is only possible to guess 22 at certain influences which may have helped to form it.

He must have been familiar with the methods of the best speakers in the assembly and the law-courts of the Periclean age; without great experience of procedure in both he could not have hoped for any success as a speech-writer. He must have been versed in the theories of the great Sophists, such as Protagoras and, more particularly, Gorgias; and the model discourses which they and others composed for their pupils’ instruction were, no doubt, accessible to him. The general influence of Sophistry is, however, to be traced more in the nature of his arguments than in his style.4

§ 3

As regards vocabulary, we are struck at once by the fact that Antiphon uses many words which, apart from their occurrence in these speeches, would be classed as rare or poetical; words, that is, which a maturer prose-style was inclined to reject. This was partly the result of circumstances; as has been noted, there was no canon of style and vocabulary, and the influence of Gorgias had been rather to confuse than to distinguish the dictions of prose and poetry, while the great importance attached to poetry in the sophistical education of the time increased the difficulties for any experimental writer who was unwilling to resort to the colloquial language. In many cases, however, we may give Antiphon credit for intention in the deliberate use of poetical words: the ‘austere’ style ‘is wont to 23 expand itself,’ says Dionysius, ‘by means of big spacious words’;5 and a store of such words is to be found in the poets, notably Aeschylus.6

Antiphon is not singular among prose writers in introducing poetical words; Plato, the greatest master of Attic prose, is in some cases more poetical than the poets themselves, though his genius is sufficient to obviate any sense of harshness or incongruity. But to an orator such harshness might on occasion be a positive advantage for producing a particular effect; an unusual word must, at the worst, attract attention; at the best it lends dignity to an otherwise pedestrian sentence. Dionysius classed Antiphon and Aeschylus together as masters of the ‘austere’ style, and some of the orator’s words and phrases, quite apart from his treatment of his subjects, have a certain touch of Aeschylean majesty.

Besides poetical words — words which may, as we see, have been used intentionally, in preference to their ordinary equivalents in everyday speech — he employs, for the same reasons, a certain number of unusual words and forms not necessarily poetical. Every conscious stylist makes experiments: some of his innovations may become current coin; others may never pass into general circulation, but remain unused until, perhaps, after many generations an archæologist discovers and uses the hoard.7 A few familiar words 24 occur in unusual forms which are generally regarded as un-Attic; unless they are to be removed by emendation, we must suppose that they were used intentionally to give an archaic tone.8

Another noticeable characteristic of Antiphon’s language is the frequent employment of circumlocutions both for verbs and nouns; a neuter participle or adjective in combination with the definite article does duty as a substantive, while a verbal noun joined to an auxiliary takes the place of a verb. Thus, by an artifice which becomes very common in later writers, ‘the beautiful’ is used as a synonym for the abstract noun ‘beauty,’ and to ‘be judges of the truth’ is substituted for ‘judge the truth.’ These artificialities are often to be noticed in Thucydides, especially in the speeches, and are probably derived from Gorgias, who seems to have instituted the fashion.9

§ 4

Aristotle and subsequent critics distinguish, in prose, the running style (εἰρομένη  λέξις) and the periodic (περιοδική). The characteristic of the former is that a sentence consists of a succession of clauses loosely strung together (εἴρω), like a row of beads; generally τε, δέ and other copulae; the sentence begins and ends with no definite plan, and may be of any length. In the word period (circuit) the metaphor is rather that of a hoop; the sentence does not stretch out indefinitely in a straight line, but after a certain time 25 bends back on itself so that the end is joined to the beginning. It must, according to Aristotle,10 be of limited length, not longer than can be taken in at a glance or uttered in one breath, and have a definitely marked beginning and end.11

Aristotle finds the loose, running style tedious, because it has no artistic limit of length, and never gets to an end until it has finished what it has to say. To us it seems to have this slight advantage, that it can always stop when it has said what it means, and has no temptation to plunge itself into antithesis or lose its way at the cross-roads of chiasmus before it arrives at its destination; for though, in the periodic style, the end of the sense should ideally coincide with the end of the period, there are in practice many instances where the sense is fully expressed and the sentence might end before the ‘circuit’ is artistically complete.

The baldest examples of the ‘strung together’ style must be sought in the fragments of the early historians; but Herodotus is sufficiently near to them to provide us with an object-lesson.

Take, for instance, the following:

‘When Ardys had reigned forty-nine years, Sadyattes his son succeeded him, and he reigned twelve years, and Alyattes succeeded Sadyattes. And he made war on Cyaxares, the descendant of Deioces, and the Medes, and drove the Cimmerians out of Asia and took Smyrna, a colony of Colophon, and attacked Clazomenae. Here he had not the success he desired, but met with grave disaster. 26 And during his reign he did other noteworthy deeds, as follows. He fought with the Milesians . . .’ etc., etc.12

Yet even Herodotus, the most obvious exponent of the loose style, shows a tendency towards the greater compression of periodic writing; this tendency is at times strongly marked, e.g. in the speeches of the Persian nobles in debate.13 Here there is a continual movement towards the balance of clauses; it is very far from the harmonious structure of Isocrates, and is perhaps unconscious, but the elements of the periodic style are there.

The particular faculty of this latter style is that it can be more emphatic and precise than the other. It must be concentrated (κατεστραμμένη)14 if the sentence is to be of moderate length; it tries, as Dionysius says, ‘to pack the thoughts close together, and bring them out compactly.’15

These qualities, concentration of thought and preciseness of expression, are essential for a pleader in the courts, and so it was not unnatural that the development of the periodic style should coincide at Athens with the rise of forensic oratory. Antiphon, the first practical pleader on scientific lines, is also the earliest of extant writers known to have been a careful student of periodic expression.

It must not be supposed that all his work consisted of periods carefully balanced: on the one hand, perfection could not be attained at the first onset; many of the sentences are crude; in some cases there is a 27 weakness of emphasis due to imperfect mastery of the form; on the other hand, there are cases where the style is freer and more analogous to the simple fluency of the εἰρομένη  λέξις. The plain fact is that the method of Herodotus is the most appropriate for telling a straightforward narrative from one point of view only; while the periodic style comes spontaneously into being for purposes of criticism, or where we contrast what is with what might have been; or of debate, where we put up alternatives side by side with the object of choosing between them.

The first object of history, to the mind of Herodotus, is to tell a story; and Herodotus mostly keeps this end in view. Thucydides in some parts of his narrative does the same, but whereas he has a greater tendency to consider each event not by itself but in relation to other circumstances, such as the motives for the action, its effects and influences, he is often periodic even in narrative. He is still more so in speeches. The object of a deliberative speech is not usually to tell a plain story but to produce a highly-coloured one; it mentions facts chiefly with the object of criticising them and drawing an inference or a moral.

If this is true of the speeches in Thucydides, it must be still more applicable to those of a forensic orator. In Antiphon we find short passages in the simple narrative style — for instance, in the statement of facts in the Herodes case; but a short section of this nature is followed by criticism and argument expressed in the more artificial period. This is inevitable; there is no time to spend on long narratives.

Closely connected with the desire for a periodic style is the tendency to frequent use of verbal antithesis, 28 an artistic figure which provides a happy means of completing the period and the sense. It is useful because the second part of the antithesis supplies the reader or hearer with something which he is already expecting. It is the application in practice of a familiar psychological law of association by contrary ideas. Such contrast is emphasized in Greek by the common use of the particles μὲν and δέ, and is of unnecessarily frequent occurrence in Athenian writers. All readers of Thucydides will remember that author’s craving for the contrast between ‘word and deed.’ In judicial rhetoric this kind of opposition must inevitably occur very often. From the nature of things each speaker will want to insist on his own honesty and the dishonesty of his opponents; the truth which he is telling as opposed to their lies, and to contrast the appearances, which seem so black against him, with the transparent whiteness of his character as revealed by a true account of the case. But Antiphon, like the speakers in Thucydides, carries this use of antithesis too far, for a sentence which contains too many contrasted ideas is difficult to follow, and so loses force.

A fair example may be taken from the third speech of the second tetralogy:

‘I, who have done nothing wrong, but have suffered grievously and cruelly already, and now suffer still more cruelly not from the words but the acts of my adversary, throw myself upon your mercy, Gentlemen — you who are avengers of impiety but discriminators of piety — and implore you, in view of plain facts, not to be over-persuaded by a malicious precision of speech, and so consider the true explanation of the deed to be false; for his statement has 29 been made with more plausibility than truth; mine will be made without guile, though at the same time without force.’

This outburst is part of a sentence in which the prosecutor expresses his indignation that the opponent whom he has accused of murder has had the audacity to defend himself at some length.

One more example — from the speech on the charge of poisoning — is almost ridiculous.

‘Those whose duty it was to play the part of avengers of the dead and my helpers, have played the part of murderers of the dead, and established themselves as my adversaries.’

§ 5

All speakers must consider the sound of their sentences as well as their grammatical structure, and among all careful writers we find that attention is paid to the balance of clauses. Some orators go further than this; they emphasize contrasts or parallels by the repetition of similar sounds and even show a preference for certain rhythms, it being a maxim of late rhetoricians that prose, though not strictly metrical in the same way as verse, should possess a characteristic rhythm of its own.

Some authors go so far as to change the natural order of words for the purpose of escaping hiatus of open vowels, which are necessarily awkward to pronounce in rapid speech. This is familiar from the pages of Demosthenes, and what the later writers did systematically, Antiphon, and even Thucydides, seem to have done at times instinctively.


As regards the balance of clauses, a good example may be found in the opening of the Herodes speech:

τοῦ  μὲν  πεπείραμαι  πέρα  τοῦ  προσήκοντος,
τοῦ  δ’  ἐνδεής  εἰμι  μᾶλλον  τοῦ  συμφέροντος,

where the correspondence of the two clauses in equal numbers of syllables is noticeable. The next sentence shows the same sort of correspondence, though not quite so precise; but here the structure is more elaborate, since we have two clauses, each of two parts, contrasted both in whole and part:

Α.   οὗ  μὲν  γάρ  μ’  ἔδει  κακοπαθεῖν  τῷ  σώματι  μετὰ  τῆς  αἰτίας  τῆς  οὐ  προσηκούσης,

            α.   ἐνταυθοῖ  οὐδέν  μ’  ὠφέλησεν  ἡ  ἐμπειρία,

Β.    οὗ  δέ  με  δεῖ  σωθῆναι  μετὰ  τῆς  ἀληθείας  εἰπόντα  τὰ  γενόμενα,

            β.   ἐν  τούτῳ  με  βλάπτει  ἡ τοῦ  λέγειν  ἀδυναμία.

Though there is no rhythmical correspondence here, and the syllabic lengths only correspond roughly, the ‘antistrophic’ structure is obvious.

Gorgias, if we may condemn him on the evidence of a single short fragment, seems to have affected rhyme — at any rate his collocation of γνώμην and ῥώμην cannot have been accidental — and the similar sound of the endings of the two clauses in the first passage quoted above proves that Antiphon at any rate took no pains to avoid such natural assonance. In an inflexional language, where there is always a strong probability that a rhyme will occur wherever we have to use an adjective agreeing with a noun, or two verbs in the same tense and person, some ingenuity has to be employed at times to avoid a rhyme, and 31 Antiphon here, at any rate, did not choose to avoid it. The use of rhyme in verse seems to have been offensive to the Greek ear;16 perhaps for that very reason it may have been at times desirable in prose, its harshness producing the same kind of effect which Antiphon elsewhere attains by the use of uncommon words.

Hiatus is of fairly common occurrence in Antiphon, and I cannot point to any certain instance of an attempt to avoid it by a change from the natural order of words.

Antiphon draws little from common speech; perhaps his dignity prevented him from enforcing a point by the use of those γνῶμαι — proverbial maxims — which Aristotle recommends; and he seldom has recourse to colloquialisms. We are inclined, however, to put in this class such a phrase as περιέπεσεν οἷς οὐκ ἤθελεν — ‘he got what he didn’t want’ — used of an unfortunate who has been accidentally killed through his own negligence.

Metaphors are rare, but telling when they do occur, as δίκη  κυβερνήσειε — ‘May justice steer my course’; ζῶντες  κατορωρύγμεθα — ‘I am buried in a living tomb,’ used by a man who lost his only son; or, again, the appeal of the prisoner to the jury not to condemn him to death — ἀνίατος  γὰρ  ἡ  μετάνοια  τῶν  τοιούτων  ἐστίν — ‘Repentance for such a deed can never cure it.’

Some exaggeration of language is permitted to an orator. The defendant in the first tetralogy thus appeals for pity — ‘An old man, an exile and an outcast, I shall beg my bread in a foreign land.’

The so-called ‘figures of thought’ (σχήματα  διανοίας) such as irony and rhetorical questions, so frequent in 32 Demosthenes, are scarcely used by Antiphon. There is no instance either of the hypocritical reticence (παράλειψις), also common in later orators, which by a pretence of passing over certain matters in silence hints at more than it could prove.

Greek oratory was much bound by conventions from which even the greatest speakers could not altogether escape. To some extent this may be attributed to the evil influence of the teachers of rhetoric, but by far the greater part of the blame must rest upon the Athenian audiences.

The dicasts, with a curious inconsistency, seem to have demanded a finished style of speaking, and yet to have been suspicious of any speaker who displayed too much cleverness. It was, in fact, the possession of this quality which made Antiphon himself unpopular.17 A pleader, therefore, who felt himself in danger of incurring such suspicion, must apologize to his audience in advance, stating that any strength which his case might seem to possess was due to its own inherent justice, not to his own powers of presenting it. He must compliment the jury on their well-known impartiality, and express a deep respect for the sanctity of the laws. The early rhetoricians made collections of such ‘topics’ or ‘commonplaces,’ and instructed their pupils how to use them. The process became merely mechanical; any speaker could obtain from the rhetorical handbooks specimens of sentences dealing with all such requirements, but only a man of rare genius could, by originality of treatment, make them sound at all convincing. Aristotle at a later date made a practically exhaustive collection of such topics.18


Antiphon, in his Tetralogies, showed by example how some of these commonplaces might be employed. In his real speeches he uses them freely, and with so little care that he repeats his own actual words even within the limits of the few extant speeches.19

In the introduction of these devices, however, he shows some skill. The speech on the murder of Herodes is quite subtle in places. Compliments are paid to the jury, but the flattery is not too open. It is sometimes achieved rather by suggestion than by statement. ‘Not that I wished to avoid a trial by your democracy,’ says the defendant; and again, ‘Of course I could trust you quite without considering the oath you have taken’; or once more, in parenthesis, ‘On the supposition that I had no objection to quitting this land for ever, I might have left the country.’ Here, and in other cases, there is little more than a hint which an intelligent juror may grasp.

The most prominent of all the topics used by Antiphon is the appeal to the divine law by which guile meets with punishment; the murdered man, if unavenged by human justice, will find divine champions who will not only bring the homicide to book, but will punish the guilty city which has become polluted by harbouring him. So much stress is laid upon this conception of divine justice that some writers have believed that Antiphon held firm religious views which he thus expressed. This opinion may reasonably be held, but it must not be pressed. We know from external sources that Antiphon was not in 34 sympathy with the existing government, yet the speakers of his orations express or imply admiration for the democracy; the speech-writer, in fact, wrote what he thought would be acceptable to the judges rather than what he himself believed. Arguing, in Antiphon’s own way, from probabilities, we may say it is more likely that a highly educated contemporary of Anaxagoras and Pericles should in private life profess a moderate scepticism than an unquestioning belief in the sort of curse that destroyed the house of Atreus, even though Antiphon may be Aeschylean in style.

The argument of the defendant in the Herodes, ‘Those who have sailed with me have made excellent voyages, and sacrifices at which I have assisted have been most favourably performed, and this is a strong argument for my innocence,’ does not appeal to us, who do not believe in the accidental blood-guiltiness of the community which unknowingly harbours a guilty individual. It may or may not have had some weight with Antiphon himself, but it certainly would have some influence on the common people of Athens, who believed that the whole city was polluted by the sacrilege of the mutilation of the Hermae. The fact that it must impress the jury was a good reason for inserting it, whether Antiphon had any religious feeling or not.20

§ 6

It remains to consider Antiphon’s manner in the treatment of his subjects.


His personal dignity is as remarkable in his manner as in the formalities of style. As we turn back to him from Demosthenes or Aeschines, who lowered the tone of forensic pleading to suit contemporary taste, we are surprised to find that he hardly ever condescends to ridicule, never to scurrilous invective. His judicial adversaries are not necessarily persons of discreditable parentage, immoral character, and infamous occupation. They may perhaps be liars, for one’s own statement of the case must be assumed to contain the whole truth, and consequently the other side must depend on falsehood; but even here the orator is prepared to admit, with almost un-Attic generosity, that his adversaries have been misled and are not acting up to their true character. Take the opening of Tetralogy II. 3:

‘The behaviour of my adversary shows, better than any theory could, that necessity constrains men to speak and act contrary to their better nature.

Up to the present he has never spoken shamelessly or acted desperately; but now his misfortunes have constrained him to use language which, knowing him, I should never have expected him to utter.’

Antiphon’s method of constructing his speeches is simple: a conventional preface, of the kind which every rhetorician kept in stock,21 is followed by an introduction describing and criticizing the circumstances under which the action has been brought.22 The facts, or a selection of facts of the case, are then narrated,23 and are followed by arguments and proofs.24 The evidence of witnesses may be interspersed through 36 the narrative, taken point by point; or, if the narrative is short and simple, all the testimony may be reserved for the end. A peroration,25 reviewing the situation and containing a final appeal to the court, normally ends the speech.

The speeches in the Tetralogies, which are only blank forms composed for practice or as specimens for study, contain only preface, argument, and peroration; there being no actual facts to deal with, there is no introduction or narrative.

It is a peculiar weakness of the extant speeches that they rely so much more on arguments from general probability (εἰκότα) than on real pleading on the basis of evidence.26

Thus the defendant in the Herodes mentions quite casually that he never left the ship on the night when the murder was committed on shore, but he produces no evidence for the alibi and treats it as of quite secondary importance.27 He insists more on the point that the slave who gave evidence against him was probably induced to bear false witness by the prosecutors. Another piece of evidence against him is the assertion that he wrote a letter to Lycinus, stating that he had committed the murder. ‘Why,’ he asks, ‘should I have written a letter, when my messenger would know all the facts?’

It may be, in this instance, that the defendant’s case was a very weak one, and that he was obliged to rely on generalities: but the First Tetralogy affords an interesting parallel. There the defendant, in his second 37 speech, the last speech of the trial, affirms, what he has apparently forgotten to mention before, that he never left his house on the night of the murder.

The most serious artistic defect in the extant speeches is the lack of that realism which the Greeks call ἦθος, characterization. The language of the defendants in the Herodes and the Choreutes is very similar, though the former is a young Lesbian and the later a middle-aged Athenian. Moreover, the young Lesbian apologizes for his inexperience and lack of capacity for speaking, and does so in polished periods elaborated with all the devices of rhetorical art — antithesis of words and ideas, careful balance of the length of clauses, and judicious employment of assonance.

A perusal of Antiphon’s introduction to the speech de Caede Herodis will help, better than any detailed criticism, to an understanding of his methods of composition. We must note the disproportionate length of this introduction, to which the pleader evidently attaches more importance than to the disproof of the charge itself.28 A study of it leads us to believe that the guilt or innocence of the party would have little to do with the verdict if he had once succeeded in impressing the jury favourably. He apologizes in artistic periods for his incapacity in public speaking, and enlarges on the commonplace that truth has often been stifled through lacking the power of expression.

He makes no appeal for impartiality, since he can trust the jury — another brazen commonplace (§§ 1-7).

The procedure of his adversaries is as shameless as it is unjust (§§ 8-9); it is even sacrilegious (§§ 10-12), so that they merit indignation, while the defendant, 38 who respects the laws of God and man as he loves his country, deserves every indulgence (§§ 13-15). The prosecutors’ brutality can be explained by their distrust in the justice of their case and the uprightness of the jury (§§ 16-17). Finally, they have had ample time to work up their case, while the victim of their intrigues is called upon a moment’s notice to answer the most serious charges (§§ 18-19).

‘1.  I could wish, Gentlemen, that I possessed a capacity for speaking and an experience of the world on a scale corresponding to the misfortune and sufferings that have befallen me; as it is, my experience in the latter is as much beyond my deserts as my deficiency in the former falls short of my requirements.

‘2.  When I had to suffer in my own person under an undeserved charge, I had no experience to help me on; now, when my salvation lies in a plain statement of the facts as they occurred, I am thwarted by my incapacity of speaking.

‘3.  In many instances men with no capacity in speaking have been disbelieved because they only told the truth, and have owed their ruin to the fact that they could not demonstrate the truth; many, on the other hand, who possess the capacity for speaking, have been believed on account of their lies, and owed their salvation to the fact that they lied well. So one who has not the necessary experience of procedure in the courts must inevitably be at the mercy of the speeches of the prosecution; he cannot rest secure upon a true statement of the facts of the case.

‘4.  Now, most parties in such causes as this make a request for a fair hearing — implying a mistrust of themselves and a conviction that you are not impartial. I shall make no such request, for it is only reasonable that honest men should grant a hearing to the defendant, even though he has not asked for it, just as the prosecutor has been granted a hearing without asking.


‘5.  But my prayer is, firstly, that if my tongue leads me into error, you will be merciful, and consider that my error is due to inexperience rather than guilt; and secondly, that if I should in any point express myself well, you will attribute such expression not to any cleverness of mine but to the inherent power of truth; for justice demands that a man guilty in his actions should not win salvation by his speech, and, equally, that one righteous in his actions should not for his speech be brought to ruin; for an error in speech is the tongue’s fault — an error in action is a fault of the heart.

‘6.  A man who realizes that his personal safety is endangered is bound to err sometimes; he has to think not only of the defence he is making, but of its possible results; for the issue of all matters yet undecided depends on chance rather than on forethought.

‘7.  Such considerations cannot fail to cause anxiety to one whose life is in danger; indeed, I observe that people who have a thorough experience of the courts fail to do justice to their powers when in danger themselves, but are far more successful in cases which involve no personal danger. Thus, Gentlemen, my request is both lawful and righteous; it is as just for you to grant as for me to prefer it; and I now proceed to answer in detail the charges which have been brought against me.

‘8.  First, I would draw attention to the illegality of the methods by which I have been forced into this trial, not that I wish to avoid judgment by this democratic court — for even if you had taken no oath, and were bound by no law, I should be ready to leave in your hands the decision about my life, confident as I am that I have done no wrong in this matter, and that your verdict will be a just one — but in order that my enemies’ violent and illegal actions against me in this case may help you to realize their conduct towards me on other occasions.

‘9.  My first point is this: Contrary to all precedent at Athens, though I am on trial for murder, I was indicted 40 for “criminal violence.” Now my enemies themselves have testified that I neither belong to the class of “violent criminals,” nor am subject to the law which covers such cases. It applies to such offences as stealing and highway robbery, and they have shown that no such charge can attach to me.

‘Thus their conduct in the matter of my summary arrest has made it in the highest degree legal and just for you to acquit me.

‘10.  They say, indeed, that the taking of life is in itself an aggravated form of “criminal violence.” I admit that it is a most serious kind, and so is sacrilege or treason; but you have laws which deal with each of these charges specifically.

‘And, to begin with, they have brought me to trial in the Agora, the very place which a defendant in a charge of murder is ordinarily warned to avoid; secondly, they have proposed a penalty of their own choosing, whereas the law ordains that the man who has taken another’s life shall lose his own in return.

‘This they have done, not for my benefit, but for their own convenience, and herein they have failed in that respect for the dead which the law prescribes.

‘11.  Again, as I imagine you all know, all the courts concerned with murder trials sit in the open air, with this particular object, that the jurors may not have to enter the same building with those who have blood on their hands, and that the prosecutor in a trial for murder may not find himself under the same roof with him who committed the act.

‘But you, Sir, have acted contrary to all precedent in transgressing this law; and not only this: It was incumbent on you to take the most solemn and binding oath, to invoke destruction upon yourself and your family and your house if you failed in its conditions, namely, that you would not bring any charges against me except such as referred to the murder and my complicity in it.


‘Had this obligation been observed, however great crimes I had committed I could not be found guilty, except in view of the one fact of blood-guiltiness, and on the other hand, however many good deeds I had to my credit, these good deeds could not save me.

‘12.  All this regular procedure you have violated; you have invented laws for your own use; you who prosecute me have taken no oath; your witnesses who bear witness against me have taken none, though they ought first to take the same oath as yourself; they should lay their hands upon the sacrifice while they are bearing witness against me.

‘Further, you ask the court to dispense with the oath; to give credence to your witnesses and bring in a verdict of Guilty, though you yourself have made them disinclined to credit you by transgressing the established laws, and by imagining that your own illegal conduct should in their consideration have precedence over law itself.

‘13.  You say, however, that if I had been set at liberty I should not have remained here, but should have gone away and disappeared — as if you had compelled me against my will to enter the country. I answer that, on your supposition that I should not have minded saying farewell to Athens, it was open to me either not to appear in obedience to the summons, and so incur judgment by default, or to go away after replying to the opening speech of the prosecution; for this privilege is open to all. But you, by legislating in your own interest, are trying to withhold in my case alone this privilege which belongs to all of Greek race.

‘14.  Yet I think we must all agree that the laws which govern such procedure are the best laws in the world, and most in accordance with divine sanction. They have a double claim to respect; they are the most ancient laws in this land, and they are unchangeable as the offences with which they deal; and this is the strongest indication that a law is well framed; for time and experience teach mankind to recognize what is not well done.


‘So you do not require to learn from the speeches of the prosecution whether the laws were well framed or not, as he implies; but you do require to learn by the aid of the laws whether the speeches of the prosecution are urging a righteous and lawful action, or the reverse — as I assert.

‘15.  The laws, then, which relate to the charge of murder, are excellently framed, inasmuch as no one has ever ventured to disturb them; you alone have ventured to legislate anew, and for the worse. You would set aside justice as you have transgressed law in your attempt to bring me to ruin. But your illegal procedure is in itself the stronger evidence in my favour; for you knew well enough that nobody who had taken that solemn oath would have borne witness against me.

‘16.  Again, you did not rely on the facts sufficiently to allow the question of facts to be settled indisputably by a single trial; you reserved for yourself the right to dispute the judgment, and reopen the case, implying a distrust in the verdict of the present court. The result is that even if I am acquitted I am no better off, since it is open to you to say that I was acquitted on the charge of criminal violence but not on the charge of murder; whereas, if you secure my condemnation you will demand my death on the ground that I have been found guilty of murder.

‘What can surpass the cruelty of such a device by which you, if you can once convince the jury, have attained your object; while I, if I escape your clutches once, find the same danger awaiting me again?

‘17.  Again, my imprisonment was a monstrous illegality. I consented to produce three sureties as required by law, but they contrived that I should not be allowed to do so. There is no other instance on record of the imprisonment of a non-Athenian who consented to produce sureties.

‘Yet the offenders who have custody of criminals are subject to this same law, so that this is another privilege common to all men which was withheld from me alone.


‘18.  Of course, it suited my accusers, firstly, that I should be as unprepared as possible, through being unable to attend to my own business in person, secondly, that I should suffer personal ill-usage, and in consequence of this personal ill-usage find my own friends more ready to bear false witness in support of my accusers than true witness in my support. And so they inflicted a life-long disgrace on me and my family.

‘19.  Thus I have been brought to trail handicapped in many ways in relation to your laws and to justice; but even with these disadvantages I shall try to demonstrate my innocence.

‘But it is a hard task to refute at a moment’s notice a number of deliberate falsehoods long-prepared; for it is impossible to be forearmed against unexpected attacks.’

After this long preamble, the speaker at last discusses the accusation (§§ 19. sqq.), and to some extent deals satisfactorily with the evidence — entirely circumstantial — which has been brought against him. It has already been noticed that, though he casually leaves it to be inferred that he could prove an alibi, he lays no stress on the assertion, and is far more concerned with showing that it is ‘improbable’ that he should be a murderer. The final, and, apparently, the most important argument is drawn from the absence of divine signs which might have pointed to the speaker’s guilt. He makes no attempt, like the defendant in the First Tetralogy, to suggest other explanations of the crime; many crimes, he says, have before now baffled investigation, and he is only concerned with denying the charge against himself.

§ 7

In the Life of Antiphon, falsely ascribed to Plutarch,29 we read that sixty speeches were extant under the orator’s name, but of these twenty-five were considered spurious by the critic Caecilius of Calacte. We have now fifteen, viz. the three Tetralogies, or sets of four speeches; the speeches on the Murder of Herodes, the Death of the Choreutes, and the Charge of Poisoning. All of these deal with homicide, the department in which Antiphon, presumably, showed especial skill. Blass has collected besides the titles of twenty-three other speeches on miscellaneous subjects.30

The Tetralogies, each consisting of four short speeches on the same imaginary case — two for the prosecution, and two for the defence — have this peculiar interest, that they stand on the border-line between theory and practice. They differ from the exercises composed by other early rhetoricians and from the declamations of the Roman Empire in that they are not concerned with historical or mythological personages in possible or imaginary positions, but treat cases which, although fictitious, are of the kind which might arise in everyday life at Athens. Thus these skeleton-speeches give a clear idea of the lines on which either side might plead its case in an actual trial. The professional advocate must be ready to plead on either side in any cause, and here we find Antiphon composing speeches in turn suitable for both sides. As has been noted, there is very little detail given. No narrative 45 of facts occurs; the actual circumstances presupposed can only be gathered from the arguments employed; and the result is that the outlines of the speeches both in accusation and defence are very clearly marked.

The argument of the First Tetralogy is as follows — A certain citizen has been murdered on his way home from a dinner party. His slave, who was mortally wounded at the same time, deposed that one of the murderers was a certain enemy of his master, against whom the latter was on the point of bringing a serious law-suit. The case comes before the Areopagus.

α.  The accuser argues that the deceased cannot have been murdered by robbers, since he was not plundered; nor in a drunken brawl, which was impossible considering the time and place. Therefore the crime was premeditated, and the motive was revenge or fear. The accused had both these motives, and moreover the slave identified him.

β.  The defendant argues that the murder may have been done by robbers who were scared away before they had robbed the corpse, or by some criminal who feared the dead man’s testimony, or by some other enemy, who felt secure because he knew suspicion would fall on the accused. The slave may have been mistaken or perhaps suborned. If probability is to decide the case, it is more probable that the defendant would have employed some one else to do the murder than that the slave would be certain of having recognized the criminal. The danger of losing a law-suit could not have seemed so serious as the present danger of losing his life.

γ.  The accuser in his second speech ingeniously meets the arguments of β point by point; and


δ.  The defendant criticizes and disposes of the arguments of γ, and incidentally mentions that he could prove an alibi — though he does not seem to lay any stress on this.

With the exception of the evidence of the slave, now dead, the whole case rests on a discussion of probabilities.

The Second Tetralogy deals with the death of a boy accidentally killed by a javelin with which another youth was practising in the gymnasium. The question to decide was, who was to blame — the accuser maintained that it was a case of homicide, the defendant suggested unintentional suicide!31

The Third Tetralogy supposes that an old man has been brutally beaten by a young man, and died of his injuries a few days later. The defendant attempts to put the blame first on the dead man, since he struck the first blow, secondly on the surgeon; and, finding this not plausible enough, goes into exile: the second speech for the defence is spoken by a friend of the accused.

The extant speeches composed for real cases may be taken in the order of their importance.

On the Murder of Herodes. — Herodes, an Athenian citizen who had settled at Mitylene, made a voyage to Aenus in Thrace to receive the ransom of some Thracian captives. He sailed with the accused, a Mitylenean whose father lived at Aenus. They were driven by a storm to shelter at Methymna, and there exchanged from their open boat into a decked vessel. 47 They fell to drinking to pass the time, and Herodes, going ashore one night was never heard of again. His companion continued the voyage, and on returning to Mitylene was charged with murder. It was asserted that a slave had confessed to having assisted in the murder, and that a letter had been discovered from the defendant to one Lycnius, supposed to be the instigator of the crime.

By the laws of the Athenian League, such a trial must take place at Athens; ordinarily a case of murder would come before the Areopagus, but actually the accused was indicted as a ‘malefactor,32 was arrested and brought before an ordinary court. He contends that this is a grievance, for if the prosecution fails he may still be brought before the Areopagus. Further, he was kept in prison, all bail being refused. This was, apparently, illegal.

The trial took place probably about 417 or 416 B.C. The introduction to the speech has been quoted.33 The narrative gives first the facts up to the defendant’s arrival at Athens (§§ 19-24), and shows that probability is against the prosecution (§§ 25-28); next, the return of one of the ships to Mitylene, and the confession of the slave under torture (§§ 29-30). The slave’s evidence is proved to be worthless (§§ 31-41). The alleged letter to Lycinus is discussed, and the defendant proves that he himself had no motive for the murder, and cannot be expected to know who is the real culprit (§§ 42-73). Odium has been unjustly stirred against him by the assertion of his father’s disloyalty (§§ 74-80). The absence of signs of divine anger is a further proof of his innocence (§§ 81-84). Finally, he appeals for another 48 chance at least, since, if acquitted now, he may be tried gain by the Areopagus (§§ 85-95).

The speech On the Choreutes refers to the death of a boy Diodotus, who was being trained to sing in a choir at the Thargelia, and was accidentally poisoned by a drug given him to improve his voice. The choregus or choir-master was accused of poisoning before the Areopagus.

The extant speech is the second for the defence; the date is probably about 412 B.C. The speaker comments on the disingenuous action of his adversaries, who refused to have slaves examined, and introduced much irrelevant matter. He contrasts the openness of his own conduct. The epilogue is lost.

The speech Against a Stepmother on a Charge of Poisoning is sometimes regarded as a mere exercise, but, in striking contrast to the Tetralogies, this speech contains full and detailed narrative. Its authenticity has been further questioned, but we have so little material for judging of the style of Antiphon that it is impossible to pronounce definitely against the supposition that this speech was composed by him. It may be that it was an early work; it is certainly less powerful than the other two genuine speeches.

The Argument. — A young man accuses his stepmother of having poisoned his father by the help of another woman, a slave. The father was dining with Philoneos, a former lover of this woman, and she was persuaded to administer a love-philtre to the two. Both men died, the woman was put to death, and the prosecutor now urges that his stepmother, who instigated the crime, should be punished for her guilt.


Of the speeches known to us only by name or by short fragments, it is probable that some at any rate were the work of Antiphon the Sophist, with whom the orator is often confused. A work on rhetoric and a collection of proemia and epilogues were also current under the orator’s name.


 1  Ps-Plut., Lives of the Orators, Antiphon, § 9.

 2  Thuc., viii. 68.

 3  Eth. Eudem., iii. 1232 b. 7.

 4  The Sophistical element is very prominent, especially in the tetralogies. Like Tisias he makes great use of arguments from probability.

 5  De comp. verborum, ch. 22.

 6  Such words are, for instance, ἀνατροπεύς ; μήνιμα and ἀλιτήριος, separately, as μήνιμα  ἀκέσασθαι, δεινοὺς  ἀλιτηρίους  ἔξομεν, or together, μήνιμα  τῶν  ἀλιτηρίων  προστρίψομαι ; θεία  κηλίς γεγωνεῖν, ὀπτήρ, ἀείμνηστος.

 7  Rare but not poetical words are, e.g. ὑπῆρκτο, χωροφιλεῖν, καταδοχθείς, ἐπίδοξος, and, from lost speeches, μοιρολογχεῖν, τριβωνεύεσθαι, ἀστοργία, and many others quoted by lexicographers for their peculiarity.

 8  E.g. οἴδαμεν, ᾔδεις, and the remarkable εἰκότερον.

 9  Vide supra, p. 16. A striking example of the verbal periphrasis is in Antiphon, Herodes, § 94: νῦν  μὲν  οὖν  γνωρισταὶ  γίνεσθε  τῆς  δίκης, τότε  δὲ  δικασταὶ  τῶν  μαρτύρων   νῦν  μὲν  δοξασταί  τότε  δὲ  κριταὶ  τῶν  ἀληθῶν.

10  Rhet., iii. 9. 1-2.

11  Rhet., iii. 9. 3 : λέξιν  ἔχουσαν  ἀρχὴν  καὶ  τελευτὴν  αὐτὴν  καθ’  αὐτὴν  καὶ  μέγεθος  εὐσύνοπτον.   Ibid., 5 : εὐανάπνευστος.

12  Herod., i. 16-17.

13  Id., iii. 80-81.

14  Arist., Rhet., iii. 9. 3.

15  Dion., de Lysia, 6: ἡ  συστρέφουσα  τὰ  νοήματα  καὶ  στρογγύλως  ἐκφέρουσα  λέξις.

16  See Verrall, Rhyme and Reason, in The Bacchants of Euripides.

17  Supra, p. 20.

18  Arist., Rhet., i.

19  E.g., on the laws, Herodes, § 14, and Choreutes, § 2, where the same passage of about eight lines occurs with only the alteration of two or three unimportant words.

20  Jebb (Attic Orators, vol. i. pp. 40-41) insists that the prominence given to this kind of argument points to a deep religious feeling in the orator’s heart. However, we meet with the same type of argument in Aeschines, to whom no such depth of feeling is usually imputed.

21  Cf. the Demosthenic collection of προοίμια.

22  προκατασκευή.

23  διήγησις.

24  πίστεις.

25  ἐπίλογος.

26  This is another characteristic of the earlier rhetoricians; vide supra, p. 12.

27  Herodes, § 26.

28  The Introduction amounts to one-fifth of the whole speech.

29  Ps.-Plut., Lives of the Ten Orators.

30  Attische Beredsamkeit, vol. i. pp. 104-105.

31  In the similar case discussed by Pericles and Protagoras, the third possibility was considered — the guilt of the javelin. (Plut., Pericles, ch. 36.)

32  ἔνδειξις  κακουργίας

33  Supra, p. 38 sqq.

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