Antiphon (person)

Antiphon (person)

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Antiphon the Sophist lived in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 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
In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in...

 Rhamnus in Attica (480–411 BC), the earliest of the ten Attic orators
Attic orators
The ten Attic orators were considered the greatest orators and logographers of the classical era . They are included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace.-The Alexandrian "Canon of Ten":* Aeschines* Andocides* Antiphon* Demosthenes*...

. For the purposes of this article, they will be treated as distinct persons.

Antiphon of Rhamnus

Antiphon of Rhamnus was a statesman
A statesman is usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. As a term of respect, it is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term...

 who took up rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 as a profession. He was active in political affairs in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, and, as a zealous supporter of the oligarchical party, was largely responsible for the establishment of the Four Hundred in 411 (see Theramenes
Theramenes was an Athenian statesman, prominent in the final decade of the Peloponnesian War. He was particularly active during the two periods of oligarchic government at Athens, as well as in the trial of the generals who had commanded at Arginusae in 406 BC...

); upon restoration of the democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 shortly afterwards, he was accused of treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 and condemned to death. Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

  famously characterized Antiphon's skills, influence, and reputation:
Antiphon may be regarded as the founder of political oratory
Oratory is a type of public speaking.Oratory may also refer to:* Oratory , a power metal band* Oratory , a place of worship* a religious order such as** Oratory of Saint Philip Neri ** Oratory of Jesus...

, 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 Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....


His chief business was that of a logographer
Logographer (legal)
The title of logographer was applied to professional authors of judicial discourse in Ancient Greece...

 (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, fence, reply, counter-reply; three refer to actual legal processes. All deal with cases of homicide
Homicide refers to the act of a human killing another human. Murder, for example, is a type of homicide. It can also describe a person who has committed such an act, though this use is rare in modern English...

 (φονικαὶ δίκαι). 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. It is of great value to political theory, as it appears to be a precursor to natural rights theory. The views expressed in it suggest its author could not be the same person as Antiphon of Rhamnus, since it was interpreted as affirming strong egalitarian and libertarian principles appropriate to a democracy - but antithetical to the oligarchical views of one who was instrumental in the anti-democratic coup of 411 like Antiphon of Rhamnus. It's been argued that that interpretation has become obsolete in light of a new fragment of text from On Truth discovered in 1984. New evidence supposedly rules out an egalitarian interpretation of the text. However, that argument cannot withstand the actual text of the surviving fragments of "On Truth," which specifically attacks class and national distinctions as being based, not on nature, but on conventional prejudice.
"Those born of illustrious fathers we respect and honour, whereas those who come from an undistinguished house we neither respect nor honour. In this we behave like barbarians towards one another. For by nature we all equally, both barbarians and Greeks, have an entirely similar origin: for it is fitting to fulfil the natural satisfactions which are necessary to all men: all have the ability to fulfil these in the same way, and in all this none of us is different either as barbarian or as Greek; for we all breathe into the air with mouth and nostrils and we all eat with the hands."

The egalitarian thrust of this statement is unmistakable and is in harmony with the Greek tendency to view liberty as requiring equality. Aristotle for one, mentions this as the consensus concerning democracy, that it champions equality as a form of liberty. This conjunction of equality with liberty would apply both to supporters of democracy like Pericles or opponents, like Plato. The following passages confirm the strongly libertarian commitments of Antiphon the Sophist.

"Nature" requires liberty

On Truth juxtaposes the repressive nature of convention and law (νόμος) with "nature" (φύσις), 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.

Repression means pain, whereas it is nature (human nature) to shun pain.

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."

In his championship of the natural liberty and equality of all men, Antiphon anticipates the natural rights doctrine of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the Declaration of Independence.


Antiphon was also a capable mathematician. Antiphon, alongside his companion Bryson of Heraclea
Bryson of Heraclea
Bryson of Heraclea was an ancient Greek mathematician and sophist who contributed to solving the problem of squaring the circle and calculating pi.-Life and work:...

, was the first to give an upper and lower bound for the value of pi
' is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter. is approximately equal to 3.14. Many formulae in mathematics, science, and engineering involve , which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants...

 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
Squaring the circle
Squaring the circle is a problem proposed by ancient geometers. It is the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge...


List of Extant Speeches (available at the Perseus Digital Library)

  1. Prosecution Of The Stepmother For Poisoning
  2. The First Tetralogy: Anonymous Prosecution For Murder
  3. The Second Tetralogy: Prosecution for Accidental Homicide
  4. The Third Tetralogy: Prosecution for Murder Of One Who Pleads Self-Defense
  5. On the Murder of Herodes
  6. On the Choreutes

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