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Character of Antiphon's political life.

The distinctive feature in the life of Antiphon is the suddenness of his appearance, at an advanced age, in the very front of Athenian politics. Unlike nearly all the men associated with him, he had neither made his mark in the public service nor come forward in the ekklesia; yet all at once he becomes the chief, though not the most conspicuous, organiser of an enterprise requiring in the highest degree trained political tact; does more than any other individual to set up a new government; and acts to the last as one of its foremost members. The reputation and the power which enabled him to take this part were mainly literary. Yet it would not probably be accurate to conceive Antiphon as a merely literary man who suddenly emerged and succeeded as a politician. It would have been a marvel, indeed, if any one had become a leader on the popular side in Athenian politics who had not already been prominent in the ekklesia. But the accomplishments most needed in a leader of the oligarchic party might be learned elsewhere than in the ekklesia. The member of a ἑταιρεία, though a stranger to the bema, might gain practice in the working of those secret and rapid combinations upon which his party had come to rely most in its unequal struggle with democracy. As fame and years by degrees brought Antiphon more and more weight in the internal management of the oligarchic clubs, he would acquire more and more insight into the tactics of which at last he proved himself a master1. He need not, then, be taken as an example of instinct supplying the want of training: he had probably had precisely the training which could serve him best. The real significance of his late and sudden prominence lies in its suggestion of previous self-control. No desire of place, no consciousness of growing power, had tempted him to stir until in his old age he knew that the time had come and that all the threads were in his hand.

1 ‘By far the larger number of the members of the party belonged to the sophistically-trained younger generation...who greedily imbibed the political teaching communicated to them at the meetings of the party by Antiphon, “the Nestor of his party, as it was the fashion to call him.”’ (Curtius, Hist. Gr. III. p. 435, transl Ward)The only authority for this ‘fashion’ which I have been able to find is [Plut.] Vitt. X. Oratt.:πρῶτος δὲ καὶ ῥητορικὰς τέχνας ἐξήνεγκε, γενόμενος ἀγχίνους: διὸ καὶ Νέστωρ ἐπεκαλεῖτο”. As this notice makes the name ‘Nestor’ refer simply to rhetorical skill, not to political sagacity, I have hesitated to follow Curtius in his picturesque application of it.

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