previous next


In the Life of Antiphon, falsely ascribed to Plutarch (Ps.-Plut., Lives of the Ten Orators), 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.1

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 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The accuser in his second speech ingeniously meets the arguments of (2) point by point; and
  • The defendant criticizes and disposes of the arguments of (3), 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!2

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. 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 Lycinus, 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’ (ἔνδειξις κακουργίας), was arrested, and was 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 above, p. 38 sqq. 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 chance at least, since, if acquitted now, he may be tried again 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 χορηγός 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 Attische Beredsamkeit, vol. i. pp. 104-105.

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

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: