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Antiphon and Andocides

Antiphon and Andocides

Speeches from the two earliest Greek orators whose works still survive.

Series: The Oratory of Classical Greece, Volume 1, Michael Gagarin, Series Editor

April 1998
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202 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

Classical oratory is an invaluable resource for the study of ancient Greek life and culture. The speeches offer evidence on Greek moral views, social and economic conditions, political and social ideology, and other aspects of Athenian culture that have been largely ignored: women and family life, slavery, and religion, to name just a few.

This volume contains the works of the two earliest surviving orators, Antiphon and Andocides. Antiphon (ca. 480-411) was a leading Athenian intellectual and creator of the profession of logography ("speech writing"), whose special interest was law and justice. His six surviving works all concern homicide cases. Andocides (ca. 440-390) was involved in two religious scandals—the mutilation of the Herms (busts of Hermes) and the revelation of the Eleusinian Mysteries—on the eve of the fateful Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415. His speeches are a defense against charges relating to those events.

  • Preface
  • Series Introduction (Michael Gagarin)
    • Oratory in Classical Athens
    • The Orators
    • The Works of the Orators
    • Government and Law in Classical Athens
    • The Translation of Greek Oratory
    • Abbreviations
    • Note on Currency
    • Bibliography of Works Cited
  • Antiphon (Michael Gagarin)
    • Introduction
    • 1. Against the Stepmother
    • The Tetralogies
      • 2. First Tetralogy
      • 3. Second Tetralogy
      • 4. Third Tetralogy
    • 5. The Murder of Herodes
    • 6. On the Chorus Boy
    • Fragment 1. On the Revolution
  • Andocides (Douglas M. MacDowell)
    • Introduction
    • 1. On the Mysteries
    • 2. On His Return
    • 3. On the Peace with Sparta
    • 4. Against Alcibiades
  • Index

Antiphon's speeches are introduced and translated by Michael Gagarin, Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. Andocides' speeches are introduced and translated by Douglas MacDowell, Professor of Greek at the University of Glasgow.


Antiphon of Rhamnus (a deme, or precinct, in northern Attica) came from an old Athenian family. Born around 480, he achieved enough prominence in the city to rate occasional mention by the comic poets, but for the most part he avoided public life. In 411, however, he was apparently one of the leaders of a group of aristocrats who staged a coup, replacing the democratic government with a ruling council of 400. This new government soon collapsed, and almost all its leaders went into exile, but Antiphon remained in Athens and was tried, convicted, and executed for treason. In his description of these events, Thucydides--who is reported to have been a pupil of Antiphon--gives him an exceptionally favorable notice (8.68):

Of all the Athenians of his day Antiphon was a man of the most outstanding character (arete) and had the greatest power of thought and expression. He did not come forward in public or willingly enter any dispute, being regarded with suspicion by the multitude because of his reputation for cleverness. Nevertheless, for those involved in a dispute, whether legal or political, he alone was most able to help whoever consulted him for advice.

Concerning Antiphon's trial for his role in the revolution, Thucydides adds, "Of all the men up to my time ... he seems to me to have made the best defense in a capital case." Fragments of his lost speeches suggest that Antiphon traveled and had connections abroad, and his interest in public affairs is clear from the prominence of his clients or opponents, including Alcibiades and the general Demosthenes.

Later sources tell us that Antiphon taught others and that he was the first person to write speeches. Earlier orators, such as Themistocles or Pericles, delivered their own speeches and had no need of a written text, but around 430 Antiphon, who did not speak in public himself but advised others who would be speaking in court, began the practice of "logography"--the writing out of an entire speech for a friend or client to memorize and deliver as his own. Thus Attic oratory as we know it came into being. However, his interest in law and legal oratory developed earlier, and the three Tetralogies (each with two pairs of opposing speeches written for fictitious cases) may have been composed in the 430s, if not earlier.

The most disputed question about Antiphon's life is whether the orator is the same person as the author of two "sophistic" treatises, On Truth and On Concord, that were assigned to him in antiquity, or whether there was at the time another Antiphon, a sophist, who is portrayed in Xenophon's Memorabilia 1.6. There were many Antiphons in antiquity, and ancient scholars often confused them, though most apparently considered the orator who wrote the speeches in this volume to be the same person as the Antiphon who wrote sophistic treatises. The separatist position gained strength early in this century with the discovery of several papyrus fragments of On Truth, in which the author seems to present an egalitarian view of society and to advocate obedience to the requirements of nature (physis) as against the rules of law and custom (nomos). Some scholars found it inconceivable that this "anarchist" could be the same man as the aristocrat who in his speeches repeatedly expresses respect for the laws. More recently, however, the unitarian position has gained ground; scholars now recognize that an orator who praises the law in a client's speech before a jury is not necessarily voicing his own opinion, and the papyrus fragments are less often understood as a call to anarchy; moreover, a new papyrus fragment has forced a revision of part of the text of On Truth, eliminating an earlier reconstruction in which the author appeared to challenge the traditional class structure. Scholars now also recognize that stylistic differences between different works composed for different purposes and different audiences--some perhaps for a reading audience, others for oral delivery--cannot be used as evidence for separate authorship. Most compelling, however, is Thucydides' picture of Antiphon of Rhamnus (quoted above), which could serve as the description of a typical sophist: a leading intellectual, whose special talent was writing speeches for others and who had a reputation for cleverness, especially with words. There is so much overlap between what we know of the "sophist" and the "orator" that without much stronger evidence to the contrary, we should conclude that they are one and the same.

On this reading Antiphon was a leading Athenian intellectual interested in many different issues of his day from geometry (he proposed a method for squaring the circle) to rhetoric, whose special interest was law and justice. A friend of the rich and powerful, he avoided speaking in public but advised friends on legal matters, ultimately creating the new profession of logography. Combining a quick intellect with rhetorical skill and a thorough knowledge of the law, he earned large sums. But however successful he may have been for his clients, he lost his final case--the only speech he delivered in his own behalf (Ant. Fr. 1).

We do not know how many speeches Antiphon wrote or "published" (made available for copying and distribution to others) during his career. By the first century BC some sixty works were attributed to Antiphon, some of which ancient scholars judged spurious. The speeches were arranged by subject matter, the speeches for homicide cases coming first. The six complete works we have today are from this group; they probably survived because they were the first six in the ancient corpus. Three of these (1, 5, 6) were written for actual trials and are generally accepted as authentic. The manuscripts also preserve three Tetralogies (2, 3, 4), and we have titles and fragments of twenty other works, including Antiphon's final speech "On the Revolution" (Fr. 1). Later writers also credit Antiphon with an Art of Rhetoric and a collection of Prologues, though some scholars doubt the authenticity of these, and we have fragments from three "sophistic" works: On Truth, On Concord, and Politicus.

Since the end of the nineteenth century the authenticity of the Tetralogies has been disputed by scholars who argue that historical, legal, and stylistic discrepancies set them apart from the three court speeches. But many of these alleged discrepancies can be explained if we keep in mind that these works were probably intended to be read, studied, and discussed by others. If genuine, they are probably early works of Antiphon, perhaps as early as the 440s, and thus among the earliest examples we have of Attic prose, which soon superseded Ionic prose as the medium of intellectual communication throughout the Greek world. Their influence on the style of Thucydides, the first great master of Attic prose, is evident. And the arguments of the Tetralogies fit well with the intellectual interests of the second half of the fifth century Bc and the spirit of experimentation characteristic of the sophists. In particular, arguments based on likelihood (eikos) in the First Tetralogy and the nexus of arguments concerning cause, effect, blame, and responsibility in the Second and Third can be paralleled in the work of the earliest writers on rhetoric, Corax, Tisias, and Gorgias. It is always difficult to prove authenticity, but there is no good reason not to accept the traditional ascription of the Tetralogies to Antiphon. These works demonstrate well the powers of thinking and speaking that Thucydides praised in Antiphon (8.68), as well as the cleverness that aroused popular suspicion against him.

Antiphon's great strength as a logographer is argumentation, the selection, composition, and arrangement of arguments in such a way as to make the best possible case for a client. He may lack the clarity of exposition of Lysias or the emotional appeal of Demosthenes, and he shows relatively little interest in the development of his speaker's character (ethos); but the accumulation of different kinds of argument in his speeches produces a powerful effect. A hallmark of Antiphon's argumentation is its flexibility. The traditional four-part division of a speech into prologue, narrative, proof or argument, and epilogue was said to have been devised by Tisias a generation earlier, but Antiphon often follows these divisions only loosely, fitting his presentation to the needs of the case. Thus the narrative in Antiphon 1 is more detailed and relatively much longer than in 5 or 6, in part because 1 is a speech for the prosecution and thus needs to present the first account of the facts to the jurors, but also because the speaker lacks the evidence that might support other arguments. Antiphon sometimes blurs the line between the different parts of a speech, moreover, so that even where he moves explicitly from the facts to the argument, as at 5.25, he in fact continues to present a mixture of both with only a shift in emphasis.

These considerations do not apply to the Tetralogies, which must be approached differently. Since Antiphon controls the speeches on both sides, we must assume that every relevant fact or argument is included in the text. The legal context is generally consistent with Athenian law, but the Tetralogies pay little attention to the details of actual laws, which may be distorted or ignored. Moreover, since these are not actual cases but examples of forensic argument, the facts are kept to a minimum, so that the entire emphasis can be put on argumentation. For the sake of clarity, arguments are often matched point-for-point with counter-arguments in a way that was undoubtedly rare in actual cases. Thus, the reader of the Tetralogies should not ask what are the facts or where does the truth lie, but how valid (or perhaps how interesting) are the arguments and what can we learn from them.

The following translations are based on my recent Greek text (above, n. 1), which also has an introduction, a commentary, and a bibliography. Greekless readers can find more material about Antiphon in Morrison's more complete translation (above, n. 5); he includes ancient testimonia to the life and work of Antiphon, as well as all the fragments.

Andocides was born not long before 440 BC. He was descended from a distinguished Athenian family. As a young man he became a member of a group of friends, including Euphiletus and Meletus, who shared a political interest. They held oligarchic opinions, in the sense that they disliked the Athenian democracy; they disapproved of the power of the mass of ordinary citizens in the Assembly and the demagogic politicians who led them.

In 415, during a period of peace in the middle of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, the Athenians were preparing a great naval expedition against Syracuse in Sicily. The man who had persuaded them to undertake this was Alcibiades, the most flamboyant politician of the time. Some of them thought that they might even gain possession of the whole of Sicily. Alcibiades hoped to gain military renown for himself, and he was appointed to command the expeditionary force jointly with the cautious Nicias and the experienced Lamachus. But one day shortly before the force was due to sail from Piraeus it was found that most of the Herms in Athens had been mutilated during the night. These were the images of the god Hermes standing in streets and outside houses. Each was a quadrangular stone pillar, carved with a bearded head at the top and a phallus at the front. The mutilation alarmed many Athenians: if the god of travelers took offense at it, might he not take his revenge by wrecking the ships or creating some other disaster for the men who were about to sail to Sicily?

A determined effort was made to discover the perpetrators. While the matter was being investigated, another religious scandal came to light. The Eleusinian Mysteries were the focal point of a festival held annually in honor of Demeter and her daughter (sometimes called Kore or Persephone or Pherrephatta), "the Two Goddesses." A secret ceremony was held in the temple at Eleusis a few miles from Athens, conducted by priests who belonged to the two aristocratic families of the Eumolpidae and the Ceryces. It was believed that those who had been initiated in the ritual would enjoy a happy life after death, but they were strictly forbidden to reveal the secrets to the uninitiated. The scandal that emerged in 415 was that some men had been "doing the Mysteries" in private houses. This seems to mean that they had been acting out parodies of the secret ritual to entertain their friends, for fun rather than for any serious purpose; but the effect had been not only that religious belief was mocked, but also that the secrets of the Mysteries had been divulged to some men who had not been initiated and so were not entitled to know them.

There was panic in Athens, partly from fear of the gods and partly from fear that these audacious acts might be the prelude to a political revolution intended to subvert the democracy. Both the profanation of the Mysteries and the mutilation of the Herms gave rise to many denunciations. Some men were condemned to death; others fled from Athens to avoid trial and probable execution. Among those accused was Alcibiades, but he protested his innocence. If the mutilation was really a scheme to deter the Athenians from sending the expedition to Sicily, Alcibiades cannot have been responsible for it, but it seems that he must have participated in the profanation of the Mysteries. He was allowed to set off for Sicily; soon afterwards he was recalled to stand trial, but escaped to the Peloponnese.

Also accused were Andocides, his father Leogoras, and other members of their family. Andocides' speech On the Mysteries includes a vivid description of the imprisonment of himself and his relatives, and of how he agonized over the decision to reveal what he knew even though it meant betraying his friends (1.48-53). Finally he turned state's evidence on being given immunity from prosecution. He relates how he reported that the mutilation was planned and carried out by Euphiletus and other members of their group, but not by Andocides himself, who was laid up with a riding injury at the time (1.61-64). Thus he admits that he knew of the plan but denies that he actually took part in carrying it out. He also denies that he was involved in the profanation of the Mysteries, and in particular he denies that he obtained his own release by denouncing his father for it. (Attacking one's own parents was regarded by Greeks as the worst of crimes.)

Whether he was really guilty is one of the most intriguing criminal problems of the ancient world, and the evidence is not quite sufficient for solving it. The main evidence we have is his own speech, delivered about fifteen years later, but in it he is arguing for his life and we cannot take for granted that he is telling the truth. His account of the extent of his involvement in the mutilation does seem plausible, and may be cautiously accepted. His account of the profanation, on the other hand, seems to suppress some awkward facts. In particular, although he mentions four occasions when the Mysteries were profaned in private houses and gives some evidence of the men who were involved in them (1.12-18), it is notable that he does not mention another occasion of which documentary evidence is preserved by Plutarch (Alcibiades 22), when the Mysteries were profaned in Alcibiades' house by Alcibiades, Pulytion, and Theodorus. This arouses our suspicion that Andocides has deliberately suppressed information about that particular incident because it was one at which he himself was present. But the whole question of the guilt or innocence of Andocides in the religious scandals is too complex to be considered fully here; for detailed discussion readers should turn to the two editions of his speeches mentioned at the end of this Introduction.

The upshot in 415 was that Andocides was not condemned either for profanation of the Mysteries or for mutilation of the Herms, although he was widely suspected of being guilty of both. It was evidently in order to get at him that a decree, proposed by an otherwise unknown man named Isotimides, was passed by the Assembly. It laid down that anyone who was guilty of impiety and had confessed it should be excluded from the Agora and all sacred places. Since everyone else guilty of either the profanation or the mutilation had already been executed or had fled into exile, Andocides was probably the only person to whom the decree might be thought to apply. He bowed to this pressure and left Athens altogether. For the next few years he lived abroad, spending some of the time in Cyprus. He made two attempts to return to Athens, the second of which was the occasion of his speech On His Return; but both these attempts were unsuccessful.

In 404 the Peloponnesian War came to an end when Athens was besieged and beaten by Sparta. The oligarchic regime of the Thirty ruled oppressively in 404/3, but then there was civil war, and the Thirty were expelled. Democracy was restored from the year in which Eucleides was Archon (403/2), and the Athenians tried to make a fresh start. They swore an oath to observe an amnesty for what they had done to one another in the civil war. No one (except members of the Thirty and their henchmen the Eleven) was to be prosecuted for any offense committed before the Archonship of Eucleides. They authorized a review of all their laws; those which were to remain valid were inscribed on stone, and any law not so inscribed was declared invalid.

So Andocides returned to live in Athens, assuming that he would not now be penalized for his actions in 415. But three years later, probably in 400 or possibly in 399, he found himself prosecuted for infringement of the decree of Isotimides. He defended himself with his speech On the Mysteries, which is our principal source of information about his life. He was acquitted, and thus was able to continue living in Athens.

In 392/1 he was one of the members of an Athenian delegation sent to Sparta to discuss a treaty, and on returning home he delivered his speech On the Peace with Sparta, recommending acceptance of the proposed terms. But he and the other delegates were accused of corruption and had to flee Athens. Presumably he never came back again; nothing is known of his life after that.

For the first speech this translation follows the Greek text as printed in Andokides, On the Mysteries, edited by Douglas MacDowell (Oxford, 1962). For the other speeches it follows the text of Greek Orators, IV, Andocides, edited by Michael Edwards (Warminster, 1995). Both those editions include introductions and commentaries which maybe consulted for more detailed discussion of Andocides' life and speeches. In the present translation Greek names are generally given in Latinized forms. This departure from my normal practice has been adopted to conform to the policy of the whole series of translations.



“In its primary aim of making Antiphon and Andocides accessible to a broader audience, the volume is eminently successful. Both translators show steady hands, accurately conveying the substance (and nuances) of the speeches in a clear, modern idiom...The book also succeeds in its aim of making the orators intelligible to novices; the introductions and notes provide a brief survey of some of the historical and legal complexities of Attic oratory. Indeed, Gagarin and MacDowell touch on an impressive range of topics within short compass.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review


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