previous next

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 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.

1 § 30.

2 § 7.

3 Spengel rejects the speech, but without assigning reasons (συν. τεχνῶν, p. 118). The special objections mentioned above were advanced by Maetzner, an editor of Antiphon, and are examined by Dr. P. G. Ottsen in a tract De rerum inventione ac dispositione quae est in Lysiae atque Antiphontis orationibus (Flensburg, 1847). If the speech was written as a mere exercise, then it certainly is not the work of Antiphon, who would have treated the subject as he treats the subjects of the Tetralogics—in outline merely, without needless details of name or place. But there is no good ground for assuming that the speech was not spoken in a real cause. The story has some melodramatic features, but contains nothing which might not have occurred in ordinary Greek life. With the designation of the accused as Klytaemnestra, compare Andok. de Myst. § 129, τίς ἂν εἴη οὗτος; Οἰδίπους Αἴγισθος; τί χρὴ αὐτὸν ὀνομόσαι; Isaeos mentions Διοκλέα τὸν Φλυέα, τὸν Ὀρέστην ἐπικαλούμενον: de Cirrh. hered. (Or. VIII.) § 3. Maetzner derived the name Φιλόνεως from φίλος and ναῦς, and thought it suspicious that such a name should be given to a resident in the Peiraeus. Ottsen accepts the etymology, but does not share the suspicion. Even if Φιλόνεως could be equivalent to Φιλόναυς (cf. λιπόναυς, μυριόναυς, &c.), the fact of a person so called living at a seaport would be about as strange as the fact of a person called Philip living at Ἄργος ἱππόβοτον. Lastly, as to the δικάζοντες in § 7, the great variety of forms used by Greek orators in addressing the judges would forbid us to pronounce this one inadmissible because it is unusual. But the genuineness of the words is not above suspicion. Blass, in his edition of Antiphon, brackets as spurious the words in § 7, πῶς οὖν περὶ τούτων, δικάζοντεςοὐκ εἴληφε. One good ms. omits them; and they seem like a scholium on what immediately precedes.

4 Attisch. Bereds. p. 180.

5 e. g. § 21 τῷ τεθνεῶτι ὑμᾶς κελεύω καὶ τῷ ἠδ ικημένῳ . . τιμωροὺς γενέσθαι...ἄξιος καὶ ἐλέου καὶ βοηθείας καὶ τιμωρίας παρ᾽ ὑμῶν τυχεῖν...§ 22 ἀθέμιτα καὶ ἀτέλεστα καὶ ἀνήκουστα...§ 23 δικασταὶ ἐγένεσθε καὶ ἐκλήθητε.

6 Compare § 1 with de Choreuta § 27.

7 Att. Bereds. p. 184.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: