In describing the Revolution of the Four Hundred at Athens, Thucydides lays stress upon the fact that the measures which had effected it owed their unity and their success to the control of a single mind. The figure of Peisandros is most conspicuous in the foreground. ‘But he who contrived the whole matter, and the means by which it was brought to pass, and who had given his mind to it longest, was Antiphon; a man second to no Athenian of his day in virtue; a proved master of device and of expression; who did not come forward in the assembly, nor, by choice, in any scene of debate, since he lay under the suspicion of the people through a repute for cleverness; but who was better able than any other individual to assist, when consulted, those who were fighting a cause in a law-court or in the assembly. In his own case, too—when the Four Hundred in their later reverses were being roughly used by the people, and he was accused of having aided in setting up this same government—he is
known to have delivered the greatest defence made in the memory of my age by a man on trial for his life.’ (Thuc. VIII. 68.
This passage gives in outline nearly all that is known of the life of Antiphon. Other sources supply details, and make it possible to work up the sketch into something like a picture; but they add nothing which enlarges its framework. The Revolution of the Four Hundred is still the one great scene presented to our view.
Birth of Antiphon.
Antiphon was born about the year 480 B. C.1
, being thus rather younger than Gorgias, and some eight or nine years older than the historian Thucydides. He was of the tribe of Aiantis and of the deme of Rhamnus2
; of a family which cannot have
been altogether obscure, since it was made a reproach to him on his trial that his grandfather had been a partisan of the Peisistratidae3
. The tradition that his father Sophilos was a sophist antedates by a generation the appearance of that class of teachers4
, and may have been suggested simply by the jingle of the words5
. Antiphon himself, as the style of his composition indicates, must have felt the sophistic influence; but there is no evidence for his having been the pupil of any particular sophist. He is allowed by general consent to have been the first
representative at Athens of a profession for which the new conditions of the time had just begun to make a place, — the first λογογράφος
, or writer of speeches for money6
. With the recent growth of Rhetoric as a definite art, the inequality, for purposes of pleading or debating, between men who had and who had not mastered the newly-invented weapons of speech had become seriously felt. A rogue skilled in the latest subtleties of argument and graces of style was now more than ever formidable to the plain man whom he chose to drag before a court or to attack in the ekklesia: and those who had no leisure or taste to become rhetoricians now began to find it worth while to buy their rhetoric ready-made. Forensic speeches were, no doubt, those with which Antiphon most frequently supplied his clients. But
describes him as ‘the inventor and founder of the political style’,—a phrase including deliberative as well as forensic oratory: and this exactly agrees with the statement of Thucydides that Antiphon was practised in aiding, not only those who had lawsuits, but debaters in the ekklesia8
. Besides being a speech-writer, he was also a teacher of rhetoric, and, as the allusion in the Menexenos9
implies, the most fashionable master of Plato's time
at Athens. The tradition that Thucydides was the pupil of Antiphon may have been suggested by the warmth and emphasis of the passage in which the orator is mentioned by the historian10
; a passage which, in its sudden glow of a personal admiration, recalls two others in the History—the tribute to the genius of Themistokles, and the character of Perikles. In the tradition itself there is nothing improbable, but it wants the support of evidence. The special relation of master to pupil need not be assumed to
account for a tone which congeniality of literary taste11
, common sufferings at the hands of the democracy, or perhaps personal friendship, would sufficiently explain.
Antiphon's life to 411 B.C.
Nothing is directly known of Antiphon's political relations before the year 411 B. C.; but there are slight indications which agree well with his later hostility to the democracy. Harpokration has preserved the names of two speeches written by him, one for the people of Samothrace, on the subject of the tribute which they paid to Athens; another, on the same subject, for the people of Lindos in Rhodes12
. The oppression of the subject-allies by the demagogues, who extorted from them large sums on any pretence or threat, was a commonplace of complaint with oligarchs13
. The employment of Antiphon, afterwards so staunch an oligarch, by aggrieved allies, preparing to represent their grievances at the imperial city, was perhaps more than an accident of professional routine. The hostility of Antiphon to Alkibiades14
, again, need not have had any political
meaning; but it would have been especially natural in one who had shared the views, and who mourned the fate, of Nikias. At all events, the words of Thucydides give a vivid idea of the position held at Athens by Antiphon just before the Revolution of the Four Hundred. His abilities were acknowledged, but they were exerted only for others; he himself came forward neither in the assembly, nor—‘when he could help it15
’—in the law-courts; he lay under the suspicion of the people for ‘cleverness.’ The nature of the ‘cleverness’ (δεινότης
) for which Antiphon was distrusted and disliked is sufficiently illustrated by his Tetralogies. It was the art of fighting a cause which could hardly be defended on any broad ground by raising in succession a number of more or less fine points. The indignant bewilderment expressed by the imaginary prosecutor in the Second Tetralogy16
on finding the common-sense view of the case turned upside-down represents what many a citizen of the old school must have felt when he encountered, in the ekklesia or the law-court, a client of the ingenious ‘speech-writer.’ Antiphon was a cautious, patient man. The comic poets could ridicule him for his poverty or his avarice17
; they could say that the speeches which he sold for great sums were ‘framed to defeat justice18
;’ but a
carefully obscure life probably offered no hold to any more definite attack. Meanwhile he was quietly at work with the oligarchic clubs. According to Thucydides he was not merely the arch-plotter of the Revolution. He was the man who ‘had thought about it longest.’
In the spring of 411 B. C. the opportunity for which Antiphon had been waiting at last came. Alkibiades, by promises of Persian aid, induced the oligarchs in the army at Samos to commence a movement for the overthrow of the Athenian democracy. Peisandros, as their representative, came to Athens, and, by insisting on the hopelessness of the war without such help as Alkibiades covenanted to bring, extorted from the ekklesia a vote for that change of constitution which the exile demanded. Having visited the various oligarchical clubs in the city and urged them to combine in favour of the project, Peisandros went back to confer with Alkibiades. When he presently returned to Athens,—with the knowledge that his hopes from Persia were idle, but that, on the other hand, the Revolution must go on,— he found a state of things very different from that which he had left. He had left the people just conscious that an oligarchy was proposed, and consenting, in sheer despair, to entertain the idea; but, at the same time, openly and strongly averse to it, and in a temper which showed that the real difficulties of the undertaking were to come. He now finds that, in the brief interval of his absence, every difficulty has already vanished. Not a trace of open opposition remains in the senate or in the ekklesia; not a
murmur is heard in the conversation of the citizens (Thuc. VIII. 65
). It is a fair inference from the words of Thucydides that the principal agent in producing this rapid and wonderful change had been Antiphon19
. A brief consideration of the task which he had to do, and of the manner in which it was done, will supply the best criterion of his capacity. He had, first, to bring into united and disciplined action those oligarchical clubs to which Peisandros had appealed. These are described as ‘leagues with a view to lawsuits and to offices20
;’ that is, associations of which the members were pledged by oath to support, personally and with funds, any one of their body who brought, or defended, a civil action, or who sought one of the offices of the State. When, with the steady advance of democracy from the Persian wars onwards, the oligarchs found themselves more and more in a minority, such associations became their means of concentrating and economising their one great power—wealth. The tone of such clubs would always be, in a general way, antipopular. But they were unaccustomed to systematic action for great ends; and, in regard to those smaller ends which they ordinarily pursued, their interests would, from the nature of the case, frequently conflict. Antiphon need not have had much difficulty in proving to them that, on this occasion, they had a common interest. But to make them effective as well as unanimous; to restrain, without discouraging,
the zeal of novices in a political campaign, and to make of these a compact and temperate force, loyally taking the word from the best men among them, and so executing the prescribed manœuvres that in a short time they were completely ascendant over an enormous and hostile, but ill-organised majority,—this, assuredly, was the achievement of no ordinary leader. The absence of overt, and the skilful use of secret, violence was the characteristic of the Revolution. Adverse speakers were not menaced, but they disappeared; until apparent unanimity, and real terror, had silenced every objection. Antiphon had seen clearly how the Athenian instinct of reverence for constitutional forms might be used against the constitution. His too, on the showing of Thucydides, must have been that clever invention, the imaginary body of Five Thousand to whom the franchise was to be left; a fiction which, to the end, did service to the oligarchs by giving them a vague prestige for strength.
The two parties in the Council.
The Council of the Four Hundred comprised two distinct elements, — those thorough oligarchs who had been the core of the conspiracy; and a number of other men, more or less indifferent to the ideas of oligarchy, who had accepted the Revolution because they believed that it alone could save Athens. Had the new Government been able to conciliate or to frighten the army at Samos, both sorts of men would have been satisfied, and the Council would have gone on working, for a time at least, as a seemingly harmonious whole. But the resolute hostility of the army, which at once
made the case of the Four Hundred really hopeless, brought the discord to light forthwith. The Council was thenceforth divided into an Extreme and a Moderate party. Among the leaders of the Extreme party were Peisandros, Phrynichos, Aristarchos, Archeptolemos, Onomakles and Antiphon. The Moderates were led by Theramenes and Aristokrates. Two chief questions were in dispute between the parties. The Moderates wished to call into political life the nominal civic body of Five Thousand; the ultra-oligarchs objected that it was better, at such a crisis, to avoid all chance of a popular rising. The ultra-oligarchs were fortifying Eëtioneia, alleging the danger of an attack from Samos; the Moderates accused them of wishing to receive Peloponnesian troops.
The Extreme party was soon driven, in May 411 B. C., to the last resource of an embassy to Sparta. Phrynichos, Antiphon, Archeptolemos, Onomakles and eight others21
were sent ‘to make terms with the Lacedaemonians in any way that could at all be borne22
.’ Thucydides does not say what the envoys offered at Sparta or what answer they got; but he states plainly the length which he conceives that their party was ready to go. ‘They wished, if possible, having their oligarchy, at the same time to rule the allies; if that could not be, to keep their ships, their walls, and their
independence; or, if shut out even from this, at all events not to have their own lives taken first and foremost by the people on its restoration; sooner would they bring in the enemy and covenant to keep the city on any terms, without wall or ships, if only their persons should be safe.’ (Thuc. VIII. 91
Fall of the Four Hundred.
This embassy brought the unpopularity of the Extreme party to a crisis. Immediately upon his return Phrynichos was assassinated. The revolt of the citizens employed in fortifying Eëtioneia quickly followed. The assembly in the Anakeion, broken up by the sudden appearance of the Peloponnesian fleet, met again on the Pnyx soon after the Peloponnesian victory at Oropos; and the Four Hundred, who had taken office in March, were deposed about the middle of June.
The leading ultra-oligarchs hastened to save themselves by flight. Peisandros, Alexikles and others went to Dekeleia; Aristarchos, taking with him a body of bowmen, contrived to betray Oenoe on the Athenian frontier into the hands of the Boeotians who were besieging it. But, of the twelve who had formed the embassy, and who now, before all others, were in peril, three remained at Athens—Antiphon, Archeptolemos and Onomakles. An information against these three men was laid before the ekklesia by the Generals. The eisangelia charged them with having gone on an embassy to Sparta for mischief to Athens, sailing, on their way thither, in an enemy's ship, and traversing the
enemy's camp at Dekeleia. A psephism was passed by the ekklesia directing the arrest of the accused that they might be tried by a dikastery, and instructing the Thesmothetae to serve each of them, on the day following the issue of the decree, with a formal summons. On the day fixed by the summons the Thesmothetae were to bring the cases into court; and the Generals, assisted by such Synegori, not more than ten in number, as they might choose from the Council of the Five Hundred, were to prosecute for treason23
Trial and condemnation of Antiphon.
Onomakles seems to have escaped or died before the day. Archeptolemos and Antiphon were brought to trial. The scanty fragments of the speech made by Antiphon in his own defence reveal only one item of its contents. One of the prosecutors, Apolexis, having asserted that Antiphon's grandfather had been a partisan of the Peisistratidae, Antiphon replied that his grandfather had not been punished after the expulsion of the tyrants, and could scarcely, therefore, have been one of their ‘body-guard24
The other special topics are unknown; but their range, at least, is shown by the title under which the speech was extant. It was inscribed περὶ μεταστάσεως
, On the Change of Government. It dealt, then, not merely with the matter specified in the eisangelia—the embassy to Sparta—but with the whole question of the Revolution. It is described by Thucydides as the greatest defence made in the memory of that age by a man on trial for his life. The story in the Eudemian Ethics25
, whether true or not, seems at any rate characteristic. Agathon, the tragic poet, praised the speech; and Antiphon—on whom sentence of death had passed—answered that a man who respects himself must care more what one good man thinks than what is thought by many nobodies.
The sentence ran thus:—
‘Found guilty of treason—Archeptolemos son of Hippodamos, of Agryle, being present: Antiphon son of Sophilos, of Rhamnus, being present. The award on these two men was—That they be delivered to the Eleven: that their property be confiscated and the goddess have the tithe: that their houses be razed and boundary-stones put on the sites, with the inscription, ‘the houses of Archeptolemos and Antiphon the traitors:’ that the two demarchs [of Agryle and Rhamnus] shall point out
their houses. That it shall not be lawful to bury Archeptolemos and Antiphon at Athens or in any land of which the Athenians are masters. That Archeptolemos and Antiphon and their descendants, bastard or true-born, shall be infamous; and if a man adopt any one of the race of Archeptolemos or Antiphon, let the adopter be infamous. That this decree be written on a brazen column and put in the same place where the decrees about Phrynichos are set up26
Character of Antiphon's political life.
The distinctive feature in the life of Antiphon is the suddenness of his appearance, at an advanced age, in the very front of Athenian politics. Unlike nearly all the men associated with him, he had neither made his mark in the public service nor come forward in the ekklesia; yet all at once he becomes the chief, though not the most conspicuous, organiser of an enterprise requiring in the highest degree trained political tact; does more than any other individual to set up a new government; and acts to the last as one of its foremost members. The reputation and the power which enabled him to take this part were mainly literary. Yet it would not probably be accurate to conceive Antiphon as a merely literary man who suddenly emerged and succeeded as a politician. It would have been a marvel, indeed, if any one had become a leader on the popular side in Athenian politics who had not already been prominent in the ekklesia. But the accomplishments most needed in a leader of the oligarchic party might be learned elsewhere than in
the ekklesia. The member of a ἑταιρεία
, though a stranger to the bema, might gain practice in the working of those secret and rapid combinations upon which his party had come to rely most in its unequal struggle with democracy. As fame and years by degrees brought Antiphon more and more weight in the internal management of the oligarchic clubs, he would acquire more and more insight into the tactics of which at last he proved himself a master27
. He need not, then, be taken as an example of instinct supplying the want of training: he had probably had precisely the training which could serve him best. The real significance of his late and sudden prominence lies in its suggestion of previous self-control. No desire of place, no consciousness of growing power, had tempted him to stir until in his old age he knew that the time had come and that all the threads were in his hand.
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.
The new power of Rhetoric.
In a general view of Antiphon's career there is one aspect which ought not to be missed—that aspect in which it bears striking evidence to the growing importance in Athenian public life of the newly-developed art of Rhetoric. Antiphon's first and strongest claim to eminence was his mastery over the weapons now indispensable in the ekklesia and the law-courts; it was this accomplishment, no less fashionable than useful, which recommended him to the young men of his party whom he had no other pretension to influence; it was this rhetorical δεινότης
to which he owed his efficiency in the Revolution. In his person the practical branch of the new culture for the first time takes a distinct place among the qualifications for political rank. The Art of Words had its definite share in bringing in the Four Hundred: it was a curious nemesis when seven years later it was banished from Athens by the Thirty.