Antiphon (orator)

Antiphon of Rhamnus (/ˈæntɪfɒn, -ən/; Greek: Ἀντιφῶν ὁ Ῥαμνούσιος; 480–411 BC) was the earliest of the ten Attic orators, and an important figure in fifth-century Athenian political and intellectual life.

There is longstanding uncertainty and scholarly controversy over whether the Sophistic works of Antiphon and a treatise on the Interpretation of Dreams were also written by Antiphon the Orator, or whether they were written by a separate man known as Antiphon the Sophist. This article only discusses Antiphon the Orator's biography and oratorical works.


Antiphon was a statesman who took up rhetoric as a profession. He was active in political affairs in Athens, and, as a zealous supporter of the oligarchical party, was largely responsible for the establishment of the Four Hundred in 411 (see Theramenes); upon restoration of the democracy shortly afterwards, he was accused of treason and condemned to death.[1] Thucydides famously characterized Antiphon's skills, influence, and reputation:

...He who concerted the whole affair [of the 411 coup], and prepared the way for the catastrophe, and who had given the greatest thought to the matter, was Antiphon, one of the best men of his day in Athens; who, with a head to contrive measures and a tongue to recommend them, did not willingly come forward in the assembly or upon any public scene, being ill-looked upon by the multitude owing to his reputation for cleverness; and who yet was the one man best able to aid in the courts, or before the assembly, the suitors who required his opinion. Indeed, when he was afterwards himself tried for his life on the charge of having been concerned in setting up this very government, when the Four Hundred were overthrown and hardly dealt with by the commons, he made what would seem to be the best defence of any known up to my time.

— Thucydides, Histories 8.68[2]

Antiphon may be regarded as the founder of political oratory, but he never addressed the people himself except on the occasion of his trial. Fragments of his speech then, delivered in defense of his policy (called Περὶ μεταστάσεως) have been edited by J. Nicole (1907) from an Egyptian papyrus.[1]

His chief business was that of a logographer (λογογράφος), that is a professional speech-writer. He wrote for those who felt incompetent to conduct their own cases—all disputants were obliged to do so—without expert assistance. Fifteen of Antiphon's speeches are extant: twelve are mere school exercises on fictitious cases, divided into tetralogies, each comprising two speeches for prosecution and defence—accusation, defence, reply, counter-reply; three refer to actual legal processes. All deal with cases of homicide (φονικαὶ δίκαι). Antiphon is also said to have composed a Τέχνη or art of Rhetoric.[1]

List of extant speechesEdit

This is a list of extant speeches by Antiphon:

  1. Against the Stepmother for Poisoning (Φαρμακείας κατὰ τῆς μητρυιᾶς)
  2. The First Tetralogy: Anonymous Prosecution For Murder (Κατηγορία φόνου ἀπαράσημος)
  3. The Second Tetralogy: Prosecution for Accidental Homicide (Κατηγορία φόνου ἀκουσίου)
  4. The Third Tetralogy: Prosecution for Murder Of One Who Pleads Self-Defense (Κατηγορία φόνου κατὰ τοῦ λέγοντος ἀμύνασθαι)
  5. On the Murder of Herodes (Περὶ τοῦ Ἡρῷδου φόνου)
  6. On the Choreutes (Περὶ τοῦ χορευτοῦ)


  1. ^ a b c   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Antiphon". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 133.
  2. ^ trans. by Richard Crawley, revised by Robert Strassler, 1996


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit