From Peithô's Web
Lives of the Ten Orators, tr. Bancroft


ANTIPHON, the son of Sophilus, by descent a Rhamnusian, was his father's scholar; for Sophilus kept a rhetoric school, to which it is reported that Alcibiades himself had recourse in his youth. Having attained to competent measure of knowledge and eloquence,--and that, as some believe, from his own natural ingenuity,--he dedicated his study chiefly to affairs of state. And yet he was for some time conversant in the schools, and had a controversy with Socrates the philosopher about the art of disputing,--not so much for the sake of contention as for the profit of arguing, as Xenophon tells us in his Commentaries of Socrates. At the request of some citizens, he wrote orations by which they defended their suits at law. Some say that he was the first that ever did any thing of this nature. For it is certain there is not one juridical oration extant written by any orator that lived before him, nor by his contemporaries either, as Themistocles, Aristides, and Pericles; though the times gave them opportunity, and there was need enough of their labor in such business. Not that we are to impute it to their want of parts that they did nothing in this way, for we may inform ourselves of the contrary from what historians relate of each of them. Besides, if we inspect the most ancient of those known in history who had the same form and method in their pleadings, such as Alcibiades, Critias, Lysias, and Archinous, we shall find that they all followed Antiphon when he was old. For being a man of incomparable sagacity, he was the first that published institutions of oratory; and by reason of his profound learning, he was surnamed Nestor. Caecilius, in a tract which he wrote of him, supposes him to have been Thucydides's pupil, from what Antiphon delivered in praise of him. He is most accurate in his orations, in invention subtle; and he would frequently baffle his adversary at unawares, by a covert sort of pleading; in troublesome and intricate matters he was very judicious and sharp; and as he was a great admirer of ornamental speaking, he would always adapt his orations to both law and reason.

He lived about the time of the Persian war and of Gorgias the rhetorician, being somewhat younger than he. And he lived to see the subversion of the popular government in the commonwealth which was wrought by the four hundred conspirators, in which he himself is thought to have had the chiefest hand, being sometimes commander of two galleys, and sometimes general, and having by the many and great victories he obtained gained them many allies, he armed the young men, manned out sixty galleys, and on all their occasions went ambassador to Lacedaemon at the time when Eetionia was fortified. But when those Four Hundred were overcome and taken down, he with Archeptolemus, who was likewise one of the same number, was accused of the conspiracy, condemned, and sentenced to the punishment due to traitors, his body cast out unburied, and all his posterity infamous on record. But there are some who tell us, that he was put to death by the Thirty Tyrants; and among the rest, Lysias, in his oration for Antiphon's daughter, says the same; for he left a little daughter, whom Callaeschrus claimed for his wife by the law of propinquity. And Theopompus likewise, in his Fifteenth Book of Philippics, tells us the same thing. But this must have been another Antiphon, son of Lysidonides, whom Cratinus mentions in his Pytine as a rascal. But how could he be executed in the time of the Four Hundred, and afterward live to be put to death by the Thirty Tyrants? There is likewise another story of the manner of his death: that when he was old, he sailed to Syracuse, when the tyranny of Dionysius the First was most famous; and being at table, a question was put, what sort of brass was best. When others had answered as they thought most proper, he replied, That is the best brass, of which the statues of Harmodius and Aristogiton were made. The tyrant hearing this, and taking it as a tacit exhortation to his subjects to contrive his ruin, he commanded Antiphon to be put to death; and some say that he put him to death for deriding his tragedies.

This orator is reported to have written sixty orations; but Caecilius supposes twenty-five of them to be spurious and none of his. Plato, in his comedy called Pisander, traduces him as a covetous man. He is reported to have composed some of his tragedies alone, and others with Dionysius the tyrant. While he was poetically inclined, he invented an art of curing the distemper of the mind, as physicians are wont to provide cure of bodily diseases. And having at Corinth built him a little house, in or near the market, he set a postscript over the gate, to this effect: that he had a way to cure the distemper of men's minds by words; and let him but know the cause of their malady, he would immediately prescribe the remedy, to their comfort. But after some time, thinking that art not worth his while, he betook himself to the study and teaching of oratory. There are some who ascribe the book of Glaucus of Rhegium concerning Poets to him as author. His orations concerning Herodes, against Erasistratus concerning Peacocks,(1) are very much commended, and also that which, when he was accused, he penned for himself against a public indictment, and that against Demosthenes the general for moving an illegal measure. He likewise had another against Hippocrates the general; who did not appear on the day appointed for his trial, and was condemned in his absence.

Caecilius has recorded the decree of the senate for the judicial trial of Antiphon, passed in the year(2) in which Theopompus was chief magistrate of Athens, the same in which the Four Hundred were overthrown,--in these words:

"Enacted by the senate on the twenty-first day of the prytany. Demonicus of Alopece was clerk; Philostratus of Pallene was president.

"Andron moved in regard to those men,--viz. Archeptolemus, Onomacles, and Antiphon, whom the generals had declared against, for that they went in an embassage to Lacedaemon, to the great damage of the city of Athens, and departed from the camp in an enemies' ship, and went through Decelea by land,--that they should be apprehended and brought before the court for a legal trial.
"Therefore let the generals, with others of the senate, to the number of ten, whom it shall please the generals to name and choose, look after these men to present them before the court, that they may be present during the proceedings. Then let the Thesmothetes summon the defendants to appear on the morrow, and let them open the proceedings in court at the time at which the summonses shall be returnable. Then let the chosen advocates, with the generals and any others who may have any thing to say, accuse the defendants of treason; and if any one of them shall be found guilty, let sentence be passed upon him as a traitor, according to the law in such case made and provided."

At the bottom of this decree was subscribed the sentence .--

"Archeptolemus son of Hippodamus, the Agrylian, and Antiphon son of Sophilus, the Ramnusian, being both present in court, are condemned of treason. And this was to be their punishment: that they should be delivered to the eleven executioners, their goods confiscated, the tenth part of them being first consecrated to Minerva; their houses to be levelled with the ground, and in the places where they stood this subscription to be engraven on brass, '[The houses] of Archeptolemus and Antiphon, traitors.' . . .(3)
That Archeptolemus and Antiphon should neither of them be buried in Athens, nor anywhere else under that government. And besides all this, that their posterity should be accounted infamous, bastards as well as their lawful progeny; and he too should be held infamous who should adopt any one of their progeny for his son. And that all this should be engrossed and engraven on a brass column, and that column should be placed where that stands on which is engraven the decree concerning Phrynichus."

1. Concerning Ideas, according to the MSS. (G.)

2. Theopompus was Archon in B.C. 411 (G.)

3. The corrupt clause indicated by . . . probably means, that the Demarchs were to make inventories (apophênai) of the traitors' estates. (G.)

Scanned by Agathon (RSB) from the University of Washington's copy of Plutarch's Lives and Writings, ed. by A.H. Clough and William W. Goodwin, with an introd. by Ralph Waldo Emerson. London, Simpkin, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd. [1914?], vol. 5.

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