Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.38

Michael Gagarin, Antiphon the Athenian: Oratory, Law, and Justice in the Age of the Sophists.   Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2002.  Pp. xiv + 222.  ISBN 0-292-72841-7.  $40.00.  

Reviewed by P. J. Rhodes, Department of Classics, University of Durham
Word count: 1816 words

Throughout his career Gagarin has been interested in Athenian law and the Athenian orators. In this book he seeks to show -- as he has already argued in GRBS 31 (1990), 27-44 and in his article on Antiphon in the 3rd edition of the OCD -- that one and the same Antiphon was author of the law-court speeches attributed to Antiphon (1, 5, 6), of the three Tetralogies (2, 3, 4), and of the philosophical works, particularly Truth and Concord (Diels & Kranz 87), and to clarify the ideas and strategies of these works as the works of a late-fifth-century Athenian.

After a short Introduction, ch. i provides an account of the sophistic movement as a background to Antiphon's career, stressing the spirit of enquiry and scepticism, and the fondness for paradoxes and challenges to traditional thinking and for competition and debate. To attribute to all the sophists a primary interest in rhetoric is unfair, but they were all interested in one of more aspects of logos, and particularly in the art of arguing on both sides of a subject and in the relationship between argument and truth. They are better regarded as humanists, who "see in human beings the one measure of knowledge and values" (p. 33), than as total relativists.

In ch. ii G addresses the arguments for one Antiphon or two or three. Antiphon the son of Sophilus of Rhamnus is the Antiphon of Ar. Wasps 1270, 1301-2, and the éminence grise behind the revolution of 411, who gave his support to men contending in the law-courts and the assembly, of Thuc. 8. 68. 1; the patronymic and demotic are given in the second of the documents quoted in [Plut.] Ten Orators 833 a - 834 b; and this man will be the author of the law-court speeches 1, 5 and 6. "Antiphon the Sophist" appears as a rival of Socrates in Xen. Mem. 1. 6: G argues that this man could well be the teacher of rhetoric, Antiphon of Rhamnus, of Plat. Menex. 236 a, and the Antiphon of Aristophanes and Thucydides, and there is no good reason to think that Xenophon used the label in order to distinguish Socrates' rival from that more famous Antiphon. If the author of the philosophical works was another Antiphon, he has left no biographical traces. The first surviving text to consider distinguishing the author of the philosophical works from the author of the law-court speeches is Hermogenes On Style, of the second century A.D., arguments except from style. G claims that recent readings of the philosophical fragments make it easier to believe that they could have been written by the author of the law-court speeches, and concludes that the case for unity is not certain but is good enough to serve as a working hypothesis.

The problem of the Tetralogies is different: nobody in antiquity suggested that they were not by the same man as the law-court speeches; they have been transmitted with the law-court speeches in the manuscript tradition, and, like those law-court speeches, they are concerned with homicide cases; but linguistically they display Ionic features which the law-court speeches do not display, and in content some scholars have judged them to be incompatible with late-fifth-century Athenian law and procedure. A stylistic judgment is difficult, since, if authentic the Tetralogies are among the earliest surviving specimens of Greek prose, and Antiphon could well have modified his style later for arguing cases in law-courts. References to the payment of many large eisphorai (2. 2. 12), to the law and decrees (3. 1. 1), and to a law which forbids "killing justly or unjustly" (3. 2. 9, 3. 3. 7; 4. 2. 3, 4. 4. 8), and an emphasis on pollution which is absent from the law-court speeches, are problems, but G thinks not insuperable problems. He again concludes that the case for a single author is not certain but should be accepted in the absence of conclusive arguments against it.

G believes that "the ultimate argument for a unified Antiphon is the coherence of the picture that results" from viewing the different works together (p. 8), and the remainder of the book is devoted to presenting that argument.

G begins, in ch. iii, with Truth. He argues that for Antiphon nomos and physis are not necessarily and invariably in conflict, but nomos imposes additional restrictions which are not required by physis; in giving truthful evidence in accordance with one kind of nomos one may breach that other kind of nomos which requires one not to wrong a person by whom one has not been wronged. Antiphon may be exploring problems concerned with nomos rather than cynically condemning all nomoi. The polarities of advantage >< disadvantage and pleasure >< pain are independent of each other and of nomos and physis. Antiphon does not simply contrast (deceptive) perception with (veridical) truth but here too explores complex problems. G makes a good case for this more nuanced interpretation (on lines which others too have been pursuing).

In ch. iv G turns to Concord, from which much less survives, none of it concerned with political concord. Fr. 58 suggests that harming one's neighbour frequently turns out not to be the best policy after all, and G argues that just as Antiphon did not simply condemn nomoi in Truth he did not simply uphold them in Concord. In both works he criticised not all nomoi but unthinking acceptance of nomoi. Concord is indeed more concerned with popular issues and more inclined to traditional conclusions, and G thinks it was perhaps intended for oral delivery to a general audience. Fragments On Interpreting Dreams suggest not that Antiphon was a serious interpreter but that he showed how dreams could be made to mean whatever one wanted.

Next, in ch. v, G looks at the Tetralogies. They were probably composed as a group; they pursue a single issue, as the law-court speeches do not, and they do it even-handedly, without producing a winner and a loser. They were written, G suggests, not for a particular performance but for a reading audience, and since they deal with unlikely occasions they would not have been of much practical help to aspiring litigants. Pollution is introduced not as an underlying doctrine but as a concept which can be exploited in different ways by speakers on different sides of a particular case. The Tetralogies adhere generally but not in every detail to current Athenian law and practice, and they reflect intellectual concerns of the second half of the fifth century.

Finally, in ch. vi, G turns to the law-court speeches. They loosely follow what G calls "the traditional four-part division ... into prologue, narrative, proof or argument, and epilogue" (p. 138) [which is in any case a sensible arrangement, but I wonder whether it was already traditional or normal in the time of Antiphon], and they adopt strategies which are rational responses to the circumstances of the particular cases. 6 (Chorus-Boy) concentrates on the conduct and motivation of the prosecution rather than on giving an alternative account of what happened (G suggests that it would not suit the defendant to divert the blame from himself to one of his associates), but this does not make the speech irrelevant, since the defendant's case is strengthened if he can show that he has in general behaved responsibly and public-spiritedly and his attackers have not. 1 (Stepmother) is generally regarded as a weak speech which fails to give good reason to think that the stepmother believed she was administering not a poison but a love-potion; but G claims that its main, and more effective argument is that, whatever she thought the effect of the drug might be, the stepmother had been plotting against her husband over a long period. In 5 (Murder of Herodes) the narrative plays down the fact that the speaker cannot say what did happen to Herodes, and the arguments are fragmented and do more to undermine the prosecution than to present a positive defence. What we have of Antiphon's speech in his own defence in 411 indicates that he did not limit himself to the charge of betraying Athens' interests to Sparta ([Plut.] Ten Orators 833 e - 834 b) but defended his whole career and (like the speaker of Lysias 25) argued that he was not a man who would benefit from an oligarchic régime.

Ch. vii sums up G's view of "The Complete Antiphon". He was concerned about style, and developed different styles for his different genres of writing; his Tetralogies use the sophistic device of antilogiae to explore interesting and important issues; his philosophical works likewise explore problems; his law-court speeches have to argue a case and persuade; through the different works run threads of interest in nature, law and justice, and in words, deeds and truth. G suggests that the Tetralogies were written between 450 and 430, the philosophical works about 430, and then after 430 Antiphon progressed from advising friends who were involved in court cases to become the first logographer writing speeches for clients to memorise and deliver.

Appendices give the Greek text and an English translation of the papyrus fragments of Truth and the more substantial fragments of Concord. There are a bibliography, an index of passages cited and a general index.

This is an intelligent and enlightening book, with many perceptive comments on the different works, and a number of observations to the effect that the gulf between Athenian law and practice and present-day American [and British] law and practice is not as wide as is sometimes maintained. But on the main thesis, that the works under discussion were written by a single Antiphon, how far does G persuade? He demonstrates, as he has demonstrated before, that the ancient evidence for distinguishing Antiphon the Sophist from the orator is weak and that the ancient evidence for distinguishing the author of the Tetralogies from the author of the law-court speeches is non-existent. Beyond that, if all the works are to be attributed to the one Antiphon, there are problems which have to be explained away. G shows that they can be explained away; but a separatist could argue that the similarities are such as could easily occur between men influenced by the sophistic movement in the late fifth century and that the dissimilarities cannot be explained away as easily as G thinks. The new Truth which explores problems strikes me as no more likely to be the work of the oligarch than the old Truth which rejected all nomoi, and among the problems with the Tetralogies I find it particularly hard to believe that a claim to have paid many large eisphorai should have been written before c. 430. Neither the case for one Antiphon nor the case for two or three can be proved; after reading G's book I am still not certain that there was only one.1


1.   Three small points. I am glad that G eschews that too-often-encountered figment, the archon basileus (p. 135 n. 3); but Erythrae (not Erythrea) was an Athenian colony (p. 61 n. 86) only in that Athens claimed to be the mother city of all the Ionians; and in 411 the word "council" is better applied to the Four Hundred than to the Five Thousand (p. 181).

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