Speech Against a Stepmother.
The short speech entitled ‘Against a Step-mother, on a Charge of Poisoning,’ treats of a case which, like the preceding, belonged to the jurisdiction of the Areiopagos. The speaker, a young man, is the son of the deceased. He charges his step-mother with having poisoned his father several years before1
, by the instrumentality of a woman who was her dupe. The deceased and a friend, Philoneos, the woman's lover, had been dining together; and she was persuaded to administer a philtre to both, in hope of recovering her lover's affection. Both the men died; and the woman—a slave—was put to death forthwith. The accuser now asks that the real criminal, —the true Klytaemnestra2
of this tragedy,—shall suffer punishment.
After deprecating in a proem (§§ 1—4) the odium to
which his position exposes him, and commenting on the refusal of the adversaries to give up their slaves for examination (§§ 5—13), the speaker states the facts of the case. (§§ 14—20.) He goes on to contrast his own part as his father's avenger with that of his brother, the champion of
the murderess (§§ 21—25); appeals for sympathy and retribution (§§ 26—27); denies that his brother's oath to the innocence of the accused can have any good ground, whereas his own oath to the justice of his cause is supported by his father's dying declaration (§§ 28—30); and concludes by saying that he has discharged his solemn duty, and that it now remains for the judges to do theirs. (§ 31.)
Two questions have been raised in connexion with this speech; whether it was written merely for practice; and whether it was the work of Antiphon. I. It has been urged that stories of this kind were often chosen as subjects by the rhetoricians of the schools; that the designation of the accused as Klytaemnestra is melodramatic; that the name Philoneos (Φιλόνεως
) seems fictitious; that the address to the Areiopagites as ὦ δικάζοντες
in § 7 is strange; and that the speech stands in the mss. before the Tetralogies3
. The last
objection alone requires notice. The place of the speech in the mss. is, as Blass observes, due to the fact that it is the only accusatory speech; the Tetralogies comprise both accusation and defence; then come the defensive orations4
. On the other hand the prominence of narrative and the entire absence of argument in this speech—in direct contrast to the Tetralogies, which are all argument and no narrative—and the unfitness of the subject for practising the ingenuity of an advocate, seem conclusive against the view that this was a mere exercise. II. The question of authenticity is more difficult. As regards matter, nothing can be weaker than the speech. There is no argument. An unsupported assertion that the accused had attempted the same crime before; the belief of the deceased that his wife was guilty; the refusal of the adversaries to give up their slaves; these are the only proofs. As regards style, there is much clumsy verbiage5
. On the other hand, the narrative (§§ 14—20) shows real tragic power, especially in the
contrast drawn between the unconsciousness of the miserable dupe and the craft of the instigator; throughout there is a pathos of the same kind as that of the Tetralogies, but higher; and lastly there is a strong resemblance to a particular passage in the speech On the Choreutes6
. The conclusion to which Blass comes appears sensible7
. Our knowledge of Antiphon's style is not so complete as to justify this rejection of the speech; but it must in any case be assigned to a period when both his argumentative skill and his power as a composer were still in a rude stage of their development.