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
expand itself,’ says Dionysius, ‘by means of big spacious words’ (De comp. verborum,
ch. 22); and a store of such words is to be found in the poets, notably Aeschylus.1
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 archaeologist discovers and uses the hoard.2
A few familiar words
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.3
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.4