previous next


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(5.1), 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:

῾ἀ οὗ μὲν γάρ μ᾽ ἔδει κακοραθεῖν τῷ σώματι μετὰ τῆς αἰτίας τῆς οὐ προσηκούσης,
῾ἀ ἐνταυθοῖ οὐδέν μ᾽ ὠφέλησεν ἐμπειρία,
῾β̓ οὗ δέ με δεῖ σωθῆναι μετὰ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰπόντα τὰ γενόμενα,
῾β̓ ἐν τούτῳ με βλάπτει τοῦ λέγειν ἀδυναμία
(5.2) 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 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;1 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’; ξῶντες 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 γὰπ 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 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 (Above, p. 20). 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 (Arist., Rhet., i).

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.2

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 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.3

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

2 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.

3 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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: