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Notes on pseudo-Plutarch's Life of Antiphon1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Michael J. Edwards
Queen Mary and Westfield College, London


The Lives of the Ten Orators (), preserved in the manuscripts of Plutarch's Moralia (832b–852e) but almost universally acknowledged not to be the work of Plutarch himself, have been much maligned by modern scholars, and the information they provide has been treated with extreme caution, not to say disdain. My purpose here is to demonstrate that the first of these biographies, the Life of Antiphon (832b–834b), repays close study and, far from being worthless, reliably preserves a tradition which provides useful material on its subject. Some of what appears below is inevitably going over well-trodden ground, but there is, in my opinion, sufficient material in the Life which has been overlooked or misinterpreted to justify the following re-examination.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1998

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2 See Schaefer, A., Commentatio de libro Vitarum X Oratorwn(Dresden, 1844)Google Scholar; Cuvigny, M., Plutarque, Oeuvres Morales,vol. XII–1 (Paris, 1981), p. 25Google Scholar. Little close attention has been paid to the Lives,except in the context of the later Photian version; see Prasse, A., De Plutarchi quae feruntur Vitis X oratorum(Diss., Marburg, 1891)Google Scholar; Smith, R. M., ‘Photius on the Ten Orators’, GRBS 33 (1992), 159189Google Scholar, with further bibliography. I have not seen McComb, R. A., The Tradition of ‘The Lives of the Ten Orators’ in Plutarch and Photius(Diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1991).Google Scholar

3 There is a case, which I readily acknowledge, that such a study should incorporate all ten of the Lives,and this piece would then become a book-length project. Without pre-empting the investigation, my initial reading suggests that the material in the Livesvaries greatly in quality, but this is often due not so much to an incompetent or careless author as to the variability of the source material at his disposal. Since, then, there were different sources available for each of the Lives,which will have raised different problems (see Cuvigny [n. 2], pp. 28–34), there is some justification for this preliminary examination of an individual Life.See further n. 16 below.

4 See e.g. Morrison, J. S., ‘Antiphon’, PCPhSn.s. 7 (1961), 4958Google Scholar; Avery, H. C., ‘One Antiphon or two?’, Hermes 110 (1982), 145158Google Scholar; Pendrick, G., ‘Once again Antiphon the Sophist and Antiphon of Rhamnus’, Hermes 115 (1987), 4760Google Scholar; idem, ‘The ancient tradition on Antiphon reconsidered’, GRBS 34 (1993), 215228Google Scholar; Gagarin, M., ‘The ancient tradition on the identity of Antiphon’, GRBS 31 (1990), 2744Google Scholar; idem, Antiphon. The Speeches(Cambridge, 1997), pp. 56Google Scholar; Wiesner, J., ‘Antiphon, der Sophist und Antiphon, der Redner-ein oder zwei Autoren?’, Wiener Studien 107 (1994), 225243. I should state my position here on the two main Antiphontean questions, though the concomitant dangers of circular argument are very much to be borne in mind. I am inclined to accept the identity of Antiphon the orator and sophist, mainly on the grounds of the evidence for sophistic activity by the former (see section II). This in turn suggests the authenticity of the Tetralogiesas being exactly the kind of teaching material that sophists will have used. See further on the latter question Gagarin (1997), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar

5 The text of the Lifeand the fragments of Antiphon's speeches mentioned below may be consulted in the Teubner edition of Antiphon by F. Blass and T. Thalheim (Stuttgart, 1914), though Blass and Thalheim do not adopt the regular ‘832b’ style of numbering from Stephanus' edition of Plutarch. See also the Bude edition of M. Cuvigny (n. 2) and the Loeb of Fowler, H. N., Plutarch's Moralia,vol. X (Cambridge, MA, 1936). My translations are deliberately literal.Google Scholar

6 He is generally accurate, though he is unclear as to Andocides' deme (834b). For the other orators cf. 835c, 836e, 839e, 840a, 841a-b, 844a, 848d, and 850b. Pseudo-Plutarch only mentions one tribe, Aegeis, in connection with the Hermes of Andocides (835b), though Andocides' deme Cydathenaeum was in fact in the tribe Pandionis, the deme Cydantidae being in Aegeis. Demosthenes' tribe Pandionis is recorded in the decree at 851a.

7 Gagarin (n. 4,1990), pp. 38–9 with n. 43, notes that the author of the shorter Lifeseems to distinguish the orator and the poet, and so doubts that this Lifewas entirely dependent on Pseudo-Plutarch. I would argue that Pseudo-Plutarch also distinguishes the two (see sections III and IV below).

8 The exception is again Andocides; for the other orators cf. 835d (Lysias: the Syracusans Tisias and Nicias), 836e-f (Isocrates: Prodicus, Gorgias, Tisias, and Theramenes), 839e (the identity of Isaeus' teacher is lost in a MS. lacuna), 840b (Aeschines: Isocrates and Plato, or Leodamas, though there was an alternative tradition denying that he had teachers, 840f), 841b and 842c (Lycurgus: Plato, Isocrates, and unnamed sophists), 844b-c and 845b-c (Demosthenes: several teachers, but especially Isaeus), 848d (Hyperides: Plato and Isocrates), and 850c (Dinarchus: Theophrastus and Demetrius of Phalerum).

9 See Strauss, B. S., Fathers and Sons in Athens(London, 1993), pp. 8286. The speaker of Antiphon's Second Tetralogytalks of training his son (Ant. 3.2.3).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 See section III below.

11 See Kerferd, G. B., The Sophistic Movement(Cambridge, 1981), p. 42.Google Scholar

12 Like most others, I was very doubtful about this in Edwards, M. and Usher, S., Greek Orators I. Antiphon and Lysias(Warminster, 1985), p. 21.Google Scholar

13 As did Ostwald, M., From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law(Berkeley, 1986), pp. 361362. See section III below.Google Scholar

14 See Davies, J. K., Athenian Propertied Families 600–300B. c (Oxford, 1971), p. 18.Google Scholar

15 It is also possible that the school continued to be regarded as ‘Sophilus’ school' after he himself ended his active participation in it, perhaps with his son taking over the reins (I am grateful to the Editor for this suggestion).

16 Various formulations are used in this and the other Liveswhen Pseudo-Plutarch does not name his source. These include and expressions including this verb, such as (twice in 832c; cf. 837a, 837b, 837d twice, 838b, 840c, 844b, 847a, 847b, 847e, 848a) or simply (835c, 836a twice, 837f twice, 841b, 843e, 846c, 849c, 850e); (832c); (832f; cf. 850b); (833a, though Lysias is thennamed; cf. 848c);(833b); (833c; cf. 839c, 847d, 849d, 850a) and other expressions including this verb (837f, 839c, 838f, 839f, 840b, 840d, 840f, 841e, 844d, 847b twice, 849c); and (833d).

17 The anonymous reader makes the helpful suggestion that in the clauses the might have an adversative force, indicating that Antiphon began a public career but then set up a school (and so abandoned his active political ambitions).

18 This tradition was picked up by Plutarch at Nicias6.1. Thucydides might, of course, be simply alluding to Antiphon's trial.

19 For the latter point see Morrison (n. 4), pp. 57–8. There is a possibility that Antiphon was a tamiasin429/8, with Develin, R., Athenian Officials 684–321 B.c.(Cambridge, 1989), p. 121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20 The fact that Antiphon the orator may be termed a sophist does not, of course, prove that he is the same person as the Antiphon who wrote the sophistic pieces On Truthand On Concord.But ‘sophist’ is an apt description of the man described by Thucydides. See further n. 24 below.

21 See Morrison (n. 4), p. 49, n. 3, pace Dover, K. J., ‘The chronology of Antiphon’s speeches’, CQ 44 (1950), 4460, at 59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

22 The evidence for three books of rhetorikai technaiis collected at frr. 71–6 (cf. also Quint. 3.1.11), and although their authenticity was questioned by Pollux (fr. 74), we do not know on what grounds. What these handbooks consisted of exactly is unclear. For different views see Kennedy, G. A., The Art of Persuasion in Greece(Princeton, 1963), p. 54Google Scholar; Cole, T., The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece(Baltimore, 1991), pp. 81, 84–85. Kennedy distinguished between exposition of precepts and collections of examples, such as Antiphon is also credited with (i.e. the Tetralogiesand the collection of proems and epilogues); but Cole will only allow model speeches and illustration by example. I have supported the more traditional view of Kennedy (in a paper on narrative in the early orators delivered to the literature seminar at the Institute of Classical Studies), but either way, if Antiphon was a teacher of rhetoric, there is little reason to doubt that he wrote rhetorical treatises.Google Scholar

23 See n. 15. Other members of the canon whom Pseudo-Plutarch records as setting up schools were Isocrates (837a-b), Isaeus (839f), and Aeschines (840d-e).

24 The case that the Antiphon of Xenophon, Mem.1.6.1–15 (whom Xenophon expressly calls ‘Antiphon the sophist’) was the same person as the orator has been strongly argued by Gagarin, following Morrison and Avery, and I have nothing to add here (see n. 4). It is worth noting, however, that the words show that Pseudo-Plutarch, or rather Caecilius, had more than one source available, since they are clearly meant to counter Aristotle (in Diog. Laert. 2.46), who talks of Antiphon ‘the diviner’ who ‘disputed contentiously’ with Socrates. Pseudo-Plutarch unfortunately gives no indication of the date of Antiphon's teaching activities and his dispute with Socrates.

25 For another inference, possibly drawn by Pseudo-Plutarch himself, cf. 839e.

26 As by Gomme, A. W., Andrewes, A. and Dover, K. J., A Historical Commentary on Thucydides (HCT)vol. 5 (Oxford, 1981), p. 173Google Scholar; Cartledge, P. A. in Cartledge et al.(edd.), Nomos(Cambridge, 1990), p. 49.Google Scholar

27 In an as yet unpublished paper on oratory and literacy delivered to the ancient history seminar at Bristol University.

28 See Kennedy (n. 22), pp. 203206Google Scholar; Edwards and Usher (n. 12), pp. 710Google Scholar; Trevett, J., ‘Did Demosthenes publish his deliberative speeches?’, Hermes 124 (1996), 425441. Pseudo-Plutarch himself interestingly does not draw the distinction made by Aristotle at Rhetoric1.3.Google Scholar

29 On the Sicilian tradition see e.g. Kennedy (n. 22), pp. 5861. Pseudo-Plutarch adds that his sharp intellect earned Antiphon the nickname ‘Nestor’. This would have been entirely appropriate to one of the leading intellectuals of his day, but there is no evidence for it earlier than Pseudo-Plutarch. Interestingly, given the Sicilian tradition, Plato assigns the name to Gorgias at Phaedrus261c.Google Scholar

30 A similarly brief stylistic judgement introduced by is found in the Lifeof Andocides (835b); still briefer comments are made on Lysias (836b), Isaeus (839e, partly in a lacuna), and Dinarchus (85Oe).

31 Though Smith (n. 2) argues for considerable independence of thought in stylistic matters on the part of Photius.

32 As HCT5M2;Ostwald (n. 13), p. 361Google Scholar, n. 94. Kerferd (n. 11), p. 44, dates Gorgias' birth to c.485.Google Scholar

33 For this Antiphon see Davies (n. 14), pp. 327328.Google Scholar

34 Davies (n. 14), p. 327, n. 1, suspects a textual error in Pseudo-Plutarch's reference to the fifteenth book of Theopompus' Philippics,proposing book five of his Hellenicaas the obvious place for such a statement. The source of the error (if such it be) is again unclear.Google Scholar

35 Note, however, that Develin (n. 19), p. 161, is sceptical about the tradition of a generalship, and rules out the possibility that it was held by Antiphon the orator.

36 See Gagarin (n. 4,1990), p. 33.Google Scholar

37 The standard introductory formula is (836a, 838d, 840e, 847e, 849d, 850e with added); here and at 843c; is used at 835a, at 839f.

38 There can be no doubt that the Tetralogieswere included here, and that each speech was counted separately, as Blass, F., Die attische Beredsamkeitvol. 1 (Leipzig, 1887), p. 102, n. 2.Google Scholar

39 Blass (n. 38), p. 106. Again, the On Truthand On Concordmay have been written by a separate Antiphon (see n. 20).

40 If we count the fifteen that survive and seventeen of the fragments, there is not enough room for the epideictic speeches; if we do not count the Truth, Concord,and Politicus,there are thirty-five including the two doubtful speeches and the Abuse of Alcibiades.But there may, of course, have been other speeches known to Caecilius, and we possess numerous fragments of uncertain origin.

41 On the assumption that Caecilius' method was similar to that of Dionysius, for whom these criteria were of the utmost importance (cf. D.H. Lysias12, Dinarchus4–7).

42 Cf. the money-loving Antiphon in Xen. Mem.1.6 (see n. 23), and see in detail Avery (n. 4), pp. 151155.Google Scholar

43 This was clearly not Pseudo-Plutarch's choice-n.b. the passive verb

44 As by Blass (n. 38), pp. 105106.Google Scholar