Antiphon Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Antiphon (AN-tuh-fahn) was born in Athens to an aristocratic family of the deme (local territorial district) of Rhamnus. He became a leading intellectual, writer, and orator. In 411 b.c.e., in the wake of the Sicilian disaster, Antiphon led a coup to replace the democracy with an aristocracy. The revolution failed, and Antiphon was tried and executed for his participation. The historian Thucydides reports that Antiphon’s defense speech was the best ever delivered, but unfortunately only a few lines of it survive.

Six speeches Antiphon wrote for others do survive. Three are tetralogies, sets of four speeches each presenting a generic homicide case to demonstrate examples of arguments to be used. In Against the Stepmother (430-411 b.c.e.; English translation, 1941), a young man accuses his stepmother of having conspired to poison his father. In The Murder of Herodes (430-411 b.c.e.; English translation, 1941), a man defends himself against a charge of murder. In The Chorus Boy (430-411 b.c.e.; English translation, 1941), a chorus producer (chorīgos) denies having accidentally killed a boy by giving him a potion to improve his voice. More philosophical tracts Concord (n.d.; English translation, 1941) and Truth (n.d.; English translation, 1941) survive only in fragments. Scholars since antiquity have debated whether a different man named Antiphon wrote them.

Antiphon Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The speeches break ground in using arguments from probability and in developing Attic prose style.

Antiphon Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Gagarin, Michael. Antiphon: The Speeches. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Gagarin, Michael, and D. M. MacDowell, trans. Antiphon and Andocides. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.