SIXTY speeches ascribed to Antiphon were known
in the reign of Augustus; but of these Caecilius pronounced twenty-five spurious1
. Fifteen, including the twelve speeches of the Tetralogies, are now extant. All these relate to causes of homicide. The titles of lost speeches prove that Antiphon's activity was not confined to this province; but it was in this province that he excelled; and as the orations of Isaeos are now represented by one class only, the κληρικοί
, so the orations of Antiphon are represented by one class only, the φονικοί
The Tetralogies have this special interest, that they represent rhetoric in its transition from the technical to the practical stage, from the schools to the law-courts and the ekklesia. Antiphon stood between the sophists who preceded and the orators who followed him as the first Athenian who was at once a theorist of rhetoric and a master of practical eloquence. The Tetralogies hold a corresponding place between merely ornamental exercises and real
orations. Each of them forms a set of four speeches, supposed to be spoken in a trial for homicide. The accuser states his charge, and the defendant replies; the accuser then speaks again, and the defendant follows with a second reply. The imaginary case is in each instance sketched as lightly as possible; details are dispensed with; only the essential framework for discussion is supplied. Hence, in these skeleton-speeches, the structure and anatomy of the argument stand forth in naked clearness, stripped of everything accidental, and showing in bold relief the organic lines of a rhetorical pleader's thought. It was the essence of the technical rhetoric that it taught a man to be equally ready to defend either side of a question. Here we have the same man— Antiphon himself—arguing both sides, with tolerably well-balanced force; and it must be allowed that much of the reasoning—especially in the Second Tetralogy—is, in the modern sense, sophistical. In reference, however, to this general characteristic one thing ought to be borne in mind. The Athenian law of homicide was precise, but it was not scientific. The distinctions which it drew between various degrees of guilt in various sets of circumstances depended rather on minute tradition than on clear principle. A captious or even frivolous style of argument was invited by a code which employed vague conceptions in the elaborate classification of accidental details. Thus far the Tetralogies bear the necessary mark of the age which produced them. But in all else they are distinguished as widely as possible from the essays of a
merely artificial rhetoric; not less from the ‘displays’ of the elder sophists than from the ‘declamations’ of the Augustan age2
. They are not only thoroughly real and practical, but they show Antiphon, in one sense, at his best. He argues in them with more than the subtlety of the speeches which he composed for others, for here he has no less an antagonist than himself: he speaks with more than the elevation of his ordinary style,—for in the privacy of the school he owed less concession to an altered public taste.