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Exploration in language

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 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.1

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

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