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1. The most ancient among the ten Attic orators contained in the Alexandrine canon, was a son of Sophilus the Sophist, and born at Rhamnus in Attica in B. C. 480. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 832b.; Philostrat. Vit. Soph. 1.15.1; Phot. Cod. p. 485; Suid. s.v. Eudoc. p. 59.) He was a man of eminent talent and a firm character (Thuc. 8.68; Plut. Nic. 6), and is said to have been educated partly by his father and partly by Pythodorus, while according to others he owed his education to none but himself. When he was a young man, the fame of Gorgias was at its height. The object of Gorgias' sophistical school of oratory was more to dazzle and captivate the hearer by brilliancy of diction and rhetorical artifices than to produce a solid conviction based upon sound arguments; it was, in short, a school for show-speeches, and the practical purposes of oratory in the courts of justice and the popular assembly lay beyond its sphere. Antiphon perceived this deficiency, and formed a higher and more practical view of the art to which he devoted himself; that is, he wished to produce conviction in the minds of the hearers by means of a thorough examination of the subjects proposed, and this not with a view to the narrow limits of the school, but to the courts and the assembly. Hence the ancients call Antiphon the inventor of public oratory, or state that he raised it to a higher position. (Philostr. Vit. Soph. 1.15.2; Hermog. de Form. Orat. ii. p. 498; comp. Quint. Inst. 3.1.1 ; Diod. apud Clem. Alex. Strom. i. p. 365.) Antiphon was thus the first who regulated practical eloquence by certain theoretical laws, and he opened a school in which he taught rhetoric. Thucydides, the historian, a pupil of Antiphon, speaks of his master with the highest esteem, and many of the excellencies of his style are ascribed by the ancients to the influence of Antiphon. (Schol. ad Thuc. iv. p. 312, ed. Bekker; comp. Dionys. de Comp. Verb. 10.) At the same time, Antiphon occupied himself with writing speeches for others, who delivered them in the courts of justice; and as he was the first who received money for such orations--a practice which subsequently became quite general--he was severely attacked and ridiculed, especially by the comic writers, Plato and Peisander. (Philostr. l.c.; Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 833c.) These attacks, however, may also have been owing to his political opinions, for he belonged to the oligarchical party. This unpopularity, together with his own reserved character, prevented his ever appearing as a speaker either in the courts or the assembly; and the only time he spoke in public was in B. C. 411, when he defended himself against the charge of treachery. (Thuc. 8.68 ; Lys. c. Eratosth. p. 427; Cic. Brut. 12.)

The history of Antiphon's career as a politician is for the most part involved in great obscurity, which is in a great measure owing to the fact, that Antiphon the orator is frequently confounded by ancient writers with Antiphon the interpreter of signs, and Antiphon the tragic poet. Plutarch (l.c.) and Philostratus (Vit. Soph. 1.15.1) mention some events in which he was engaged, but Thucydides seems to have known nothing about them. The only part of his public life of which the detail is known, is that connected with the revolution of B. C. 411, and the establishment of the oligarchical government of the Four Hundred. The person chiefly instrumental in bringing it about was Peisander; but, according to the express testimony of Thucydides, Antiphon was the man who had done everything to prepare the change, and had drawn up the plan of it. (Comp. Philostr. l.c.; Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 832f.) On the overthrow of the oligarchical government six months after its establishment, Antiphon was brought to trial for having attempted to negotiate peace with Sparta, and was condemned to death. His speech in defence of himself is stated by Thucydides (8.68; comp. Cic. Brut. 12) to have been the ablest that was ever made by any man in similar circumstances. It is now lost, but was known to the ancients, and is referred to by Harpocration (s. v. στασιώτης), who calls it λόγος περὶ μεταστάσεως. His property was confiscated, his house razed to the ground, and on the site of it a tablet was erected with the inscription "Antiphon the traitor." His remains were not allowed to be buried in Attic ground, his children, as well as any one who should adopt them, were punished with atimia. (Plut. l.c.


As an orator, Antiphon was highly esteemed by the ancients. Hermogenes (de Form. Orat. p. 497) says of his orations, that they were clear, true in the expression of feeling, and faithful to nature, and consequently convincing. Others say, that his orations were beautiful but not graceful, or that they had something austere or antique about them. (Dionys. de Verb. Comp. 10, de Isaeo, 20.) The want of freshness and gracefulness is very obvious in the orations still extant, but more especially in those actually spoken by Antiphon's clients. (No. 1, 14, and 15.) His language is pure and correct, and in the three orations mentioned above, of remarkable clearness. The treatment and solution of the point at issue are always striking and interesting. (Dionys. Jud. de Thuc. 51, Demosth. 8; Phot. p. 485.)

The ancients possessed sixty orations of different kinds which went by the name of Antiphon, but Caecilius, a rhetorician of the Augustan age, declared twenty-five to be spurious. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 833b.; Phot. l.c.

Orations written for others

We now possess only fifteen orations of Antiphon, three of which were written by him for others, viz. No. 1. Κατηγορία φαρμακείας κατὰ τῆς μητρυιᾶς; No. 14. Περὶ τοῦ Ἡρώδου φόνου, and No. 15. Περὶ τοῦ χορευτοῦ.


The remaining twelve were written as specimens for his school or exercises on fictitious cases. They are a peculiar phenomenon in the history of ancient oratory, for they are divided into three tetralogies, each of which consists of four orations, two accusations and two defences on the same subject. The subject of the first tetralogy is a murder, the perpetrator of which is yet unknown; that of the second tetralogy is an unpremeditated murder; and that of the third tetralogy is a murder committed in self-defence. The clearness which distinguishes his other three orations is not perceptible in these tetralogies, which arises in part from the corrupt and mutilated state in which they have come down to us. A great number of the orations of Antiphon, and in fact all those which are extant, have for their subject the commission of a murder, whence they are sometimes referred to under the name of λόγοι φονικοί. (Hermog. de Form. Orat. p. 496, &c.; Ammon. s. v. ἐνθύμημα.) The genuineness of the extant orations has been the subject of much discussion, but the best critics are at present pretty nearly agreed that all are really the works of Antiphon. As to the historical or antiquarian value of the three real speeches--the tetralogies must be left out of the question here--it must be remarked, that they contain more information than any other ancient work respecting the mode of proceeding in the criminal courts of Athens.


All the orations of Antiphon are printed in the collections of the Attic orators edited by Aldus, H. Stephens, Reiske, Bekker, Dobson, and others. The best separate editions are those of Baiter and Sauppe, Zürich, 1838, 16mo., and of E. Mätzner, Berlin, 1838, 8vo.

Other works

Besides these orations, the ancients ascribe to Antiphon:

Art of Rhetoric

A Rhetoric (τέχνη ῥητορική) in three books. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 832d.; Phot. l.c. ; Quint. Inst. 3.1.10.) When it is said, that he was the first who wrote a work on rhetoric, this statement must be limited to the theory of oratory in the courts of justice and in the assembly; for treatises on the art of composing show-speeches had been written by several sophists before him. The work is occasionally referred to by ancient rhetoricians and grammarians, but it is now lost.

Beginnings and Endings

Προοίμια καὶ ἐπίλογοι, seem to have been model speeches or exercises for the use of himself or his scholars, and it is not improbable that his tetralogies may have belonged to them.

Further Information

Suid. s. vv. ἅμα, αἴθησθαι, μοχθηρός; Phot. Lex. s. v. μοχθηρός.

Further Information

The best modern works on Antiphon are: P. van Span (Ruhnken), Dissertatio historica de Antiphonie, Oratore Attico, Leyden, 1765, 4to., reprinted in Ruhnken's Opuscula, and in Reiske's and Dobson's Greek orators; Taylor, Lect. Lysiac. vii. p. 268, &c., ed. Reiske; Westermann, Geschichte der Griech. Beredtsamkeit, §§ 40 and 41.

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hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.68
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 3, 1.1
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 3, 1.10
    • Plutarch, Nicias, 6
    • Cicero, Brutus, 12
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