Antiphon the Sophist lived in Athens probably in
the last two decades of the 5th century BC. There is an ongoing
controversy over whether he is one and the same with
Antiphon ( ) of the Athenian deme Rhamnus in Attica (480–411 BC), the earliest of the ten Attic orators.
For the purposes of this
article, they will be treated as distinct persons.
Antiphon of Rhamnus
Antiphon of Rhamnus
was a statesman who took up
as a profession. He was active in
political affairs at Athens, and, as a zealous supporter of the
oligarchical party, was largely responsible for the establishment
of the Four Hundred
411 (see Theramenes
); upon restoration of
shortly afterwards, he was
accused of treason
and condemned to death.
(viii. 68) famously
characterized Antiphon's skills, influence, and reputation:
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 Περι μεταστασεως) have been edited by J.
(1907) from an Egyptian papyrus.
His chief business was that of a logographer
(λογογραφος), 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, fence, reply, counter-reply;
three refer to actual legal processes. All deal with cases of
homicide (φονικαι δικαι). Antiphon is also said to have composed a
Τεχνη or art of Rhetoric.
Antiphon the Sophist
A treatise known as On Truth
, of which only fragments
survive, is attributed to Antiphon the Sophist
is of great value to political theory, as it appears to be a
precursor to natural rights
The views expressed in it suggest that its author could not be the
same person as Antiphon of Rhamnus; for it affirms strong egalitarian
principles appropriate to a
democracy but presumably antithetical to the oligarchical views of
one who was instrumental in the anti-democratic coup of 411. (See
W. K C. Guthrie, The Sophists
University Press, 1971)
"Nature" requires liberty
juxtaposes the repressive nature of convention
and law (nomos
) with "nature" (physis
especially human nature. Nature is envisaged as requiring
spontaneity and freedom, in contrast to the often gratuitous
restrictions imposed by institutions:
Most of the things which are legally just are [none the
less] ... inimical to nature.
By law it has been laid down for the eyes what they
should see and what they should not see; for the ears what they
should hear and they should not hear; for the tongue what it should
speak, and what it should not speak; for the hands what they should
do and what they should not do ... and for the mind what it should
desire, and what it should not desire.
(Antiphon, "On Truth," Oxyrhynchus Papyri, xi, no. 1364,
fragment 1, quoted in Donald Kagan (ed.) Sources in Greek
Political Thought from Homer to Polybius ("Sources in Western
Political Thought, A.
Hacker, gen. ed.; New York: Free Press,
Repression means pain, whereas it is nature (human nature) to shun
Elsewhere, Antiphon wrote: "Life is like a brief vigil, and the
duration of life like a single day, as it were, in which having
lifted our eyes to the light we give place to other who succeed
us." Mario Untersteiner comments: "If death follows according to
nature, why torment its opposite, life, which is equally according
to nature? By appealing to this tragic law of existence, Antiphon,
speaking with the voice of humanity, wishes to shake off everything
that can do violence to the individuality of the person." (Mario
Untersteiner, The Sophists
, tr. Kathleen Freeman (Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1954) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971,
Antiphon was also a capable mathematician. Antiphon, alongside his
companion Bryson of Heraclea
the first to give an upper and lower bound for the value of
by inscribing and then circumscribing a
polygon around a circle and finally proceeding to calculate the
polygons' areas. This method was applied to the problem of squaring the circle
- Edition, with commentary, by Eduard
- text by Friedrich Blass
- R. C.
Jebb, Attic Orators
- Ps.-Plutarch, Vitae X.
Oratorum or Lives of the Ten Orators
- Philostratus, Vit.
Sophistarum, i. 15
- van Cleef, Index
Antiphonteus, Ithaca, N. Y. (1895)
- Michael Gagarin, Antiphon the Athenian, 2002, U. of
Texas Press. Argues for the identification of Antiphon the Sophist
and Antiphon of Rhamnus.
- Gerard Pendrick, Antiphon the Sophist: The Fragments,
2002, Cambridge U. Press. Argues that Antiphon the Sophist and
Antiphon of Rhamnus are two, and provides a new edition of and
commentary on the fragments attributed to the Sophist.
- David Hoffman, "Antiphon the Athenian: Oratory,
Law and Justice in the Age of the Sophists/Antiphon the
Sophist: The Fragments", Rhetoric Society
Quarterly, summer 2006. A review of Gagarin 2002 and Pendrick