A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890


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.)