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Antiphon's style—its dignity.

In the first place, then, Antiphon is preeminently dignified and noble. He is to his successors generally as Aeschylos to Euripides. The elder tragedy held its gods and heroes above the level of men by a colossal majesty of repose, by the passionless utterance of kingly thoughts; and the same feeling to which these things seemed divine conceived its ideal orator as one who controls a restless crowd by the royalty of his calm power, by a temperate and stately eloquence. The speaker who wins his hearers by blandishments, who surprises them by adroit turns, who hurries them away on a torrent of declamation, belonged to a generation for which gods also and heroes declaimed or quibbled on the stage. Plutarch has described, not without a tinge of sarcasm, the language and demeanour by which Perikles commanded the veneration of his age1. ‘His thoughts were awe-inspiring2, his language lofty, untainted by the ribaldry of the rascal crowd. His calm features, never breaking into laughter; his measured step; the ample robe which flowed around him and which nothing deranged; his moving eloquence; the tranquil modulation of his voice; these things, and such as these, had over all men a marvellous spell.’ The biographer goes on to relate how Perikles was once abused by a coarse fellow in the market-place, bore it in silence until he had finished his business there, and when his persecutor followed him home, merely desired a slave to take a lantern and see the man home3. It is not probable that the receiver of the escort felt all the severity of the moral defeat which he had sustained; and he is perhaps no bad representative of the Athenian democracy in its relations to the superb decorum4 of the old school. Much of this decorum survives in Antiphon, who, in a literary as in a political sense, clung to traditions which were fading. Yet even in him the influence of the age is seen. The Tetralogies, written for practice, and in which he had to please no one but himself, are the most stately of his compositions. The speech On the Murder of Herodes is less so, even in its elaborate proem; while part of the speech On the Choreutes, doubtless the latest of his extant works, shows a marked advance towards the freedom and vivacity of a newer style. It was in the hands of Antiphon that rhetoric first became thoroughly practical; and for this very reason, conservative as he was, he could not maintain a rigid conservatism. The public position which he had taken for his art could be held only by concessions to the public taste.

1 Plut. Per. c. 5.

2 σοβαρόν. The word is openly sarcastic, and is meant by Plutarch to describe a pompous tone which Perikles took from ‘his sublime speculations’ (μετεωρολογία) and ‘supramundane talk’ (μεταρσιολεσχία) with Anaxagoras.

3 loc. cit.

4 εὐκοσμία. Aeschines says that Solon made regulations περὶ τῆς τῶν ῥητόρων εὐκοσμίας. The oldest citizen was to speak first in the assembly—σωφρόνως ἐπὶ τὸ βῆμα παρελθὼν ἄνευ θορὑβου καὶ ταραχῆς. (In Ctes. § 2.) Cf. Dem. de F. L. § 251: ‘He said that the sobriety (σωφροσύνη) of the popular speakers of that day is illustrated by the statue of Solon with his cloak drawn round him and his hand within the folds.’

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  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Selections from the Attic Orators, 7.37
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