previous next

Antiphon's life to 411 B.C.

Nothing is directly known of Antiphon's political relations before the year 411 B. C.; but there are slight indications which agree well with his later hostility to the democracy. Harpokration has preserved the names of two speeches written by him, one for the people of Samothrace, on the subject of the tribute which they paid to Athens; another, on the same subject, for the people of Lindos in Rhodes1. The oppression of the subject-allies by the demagogues, who extorted from them large sums on any pretence or threat, was a commonplace of complaint with oligarchs2. The employment of Antiphon, afterwards so staunch an oligarch, by aggrieved allies, preparing to represent their grievances at the imperial city, was perhaps more than an accident of professional routine. The hostility of Antiphon to Alkibiades3, again, need not have had any political meaning; but it would have been especially natural in one who had shared the views, and who mourned the fate, of Nikias. At all events, the words of Thucydides give a vivid idea of the position held at Athens by Antiphon just before the Revolution of the Four Hundred. His abilities were acknowledged, but they were exerted only for others; he himself came forward neither in the assembly, nor—‘when he could help it4’—in the law-courts; he lay under the suspicion of the people for ‘cleverness.’ The nature of the ‘cleverness’ (δεινότης) for which Antiphon was distrusted and disliked is sufficiently illustrated by his Tetralogies. It was the art of fighting a cause which could hardly be defended on any broad ground by raising in succession a number of more or less fine points. The indignant bewilderment expressed by the imaginary prosecutor in the Second Tetralogy5 on finding the common-sense view of the case turned upside-down represents what many a citizen of the old school must have felt when he encountered, in the ekklesia or the law-court, a client of the ingenious ‘speech-writer.’ Antiphon was a cautious, patient man. The comic poets could ridicule him for his poverty or his avarice6; they could say that the speeches which he sold for great sums were ‘framed to defeat justice7;’ but a carefully obscure life probably offered no hold to any more definite attack. Meanwhile he was quietly at work with the oligarchic clubs. According to Thucydides he was not merely the arch-plotter of the Revolution. He was the man who ‘had thought about it longest.’

1 Harpokration quotes five times a speech of Antiphon περὶ τοῦ Σαμοθρᾴκων φόρου, spoken, as the fragments show, by their ambassador; and in ten places refers to another περὶ τοῦ Λινδίων φόρου.

2 See, e.g., Ar. Vesp. 669 ff.

3 Plutarch (Alk. c. 3) quotes Antiphon as the authority for a discreditable story about Alkibiades; and goes on to say that it must be received with caution, on account of Antiphon's avowed enmity towards him: “ἐν δὲ ταῖς Ἀντιφῶντος λοιδορίαις γέγραπται”. These λοιδορίαι would seem to have formed a sort of polemical pamphlet. But Athenaeos, on the other hand, quotes a statement made by Antiphon, ἐν τῷ κατ᾽ Ἀλκιβιάδου λοιδορίας (Athen. XII 525 B). This would seem to have been a speech in a δίκη κακηγορίας (Dem. Konon. § 18), for which λοιδορία is used as a convertible term. cf. Ar. Vesp. 1207,εἷλον διώκων λοιδορίας”. Sauppe thinks that the mistake is with Athenaeos, not with Plutarch. See Blass, Att. Bereds. p. 95.

4 Thuc. VIII. 68,οὐδ᾽ ἐς ἄλλον ἀγῶνα ἑκούσιος οὐδένα”.

5 Tetr. II. Γ ad init.

6 [Plut.] Vitt. X. Oratt.κεκωμῴδηται δ᾽ εἰς φιλαργυρίαν ὑπὸ Πλάτωνος ἐν Πεισάνδρῳ”.

7 Philostratos p. 17, “καθάπτεται κωμῳδία τοῦ Ἀντιφῶντος ὡς δεινοῦ τὰ δικανικὰ καὶ λόγους κατὰ τοῦ δικαίου ξυγκειμένους ἀποδιδομένου πολλῶν χρημάτων αὐτοῖς μάλιστα τοῖς κινδυνεύουσιν”.

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 References (1 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Selections from the Attic Orators, 2.11
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: