Character of his ability.
The ability which Antiphon brought to the service of his party is defined as the power ἐνθυμηθῆναι καὶ ἃ γνοίη εἰπεῖν
. It was the power of a subtle and quick mind backed by a thorough command of the new rhetoric. He was masterly in device and in utterance. Fertility of expedient,
ingenuity in making points in debate, were the qualities which the oligarchs most needed; and it was in these that the strength of Antiphon lay. In promptness of invention where difficulties were to be met on the instant he probably bore some likeness to Themistokles; but there is no reason for crediting him with that largeness of view, or with any share of that wonderful foresight, which made Themistokles a statesman as well as a diplomatist.
Thucydides praises Antiphon not only for his ability but, with equal emphasis, for his ἀρετή
, his virtue. The praise may be interpreted by what Thucydides himself says elsewhere about the moral results of the intense conflicts between oligarchy and democracy (Thuc. III. 82.
). The ἀρετή
, precious as rare, of a public man was to be a loyal partisan; to postpone personal selfishness to the selfishness of party; to be proof against bribes; and at the worst not to flinch, or at least not to desert. Thucydides means that of the men who brought about the Revolution Antiphon was perhaps the most disinterested and the most constant. He had taken previously no active part in public affairs, and was therefore less involved than such men as Peisandros and Phrynichos in personal relations: his life had been to some extent that of a student: he had never put himself forward for office: he seems, to judge from his writings, to have really believed and felt that old Attic religion which at least the older school of oligarchs professed to cherish: and thus altogether
might be considered as the most unselfishly earnest member of his party, the man who cared most for its ideas. In this measure he was disinterested: he was also constant. When the Council fell, he could, no doubt, have escaped with Peisandros and the rest. Considering his long unpopularity, and the fact that he would be assumed to have been the chief spokesman of the odious embassy to Sparta, his condemnation was perhaps more certain than that of any other person. But he stood his ground: and for the last time put out all his strength in a great defence of the fallen Government.