Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, by Kathleen Freeman, [1948], at


Antiphôn the Sophist, believed to be of Athens, and to have lived in the latter half of the fifth century B.C.

Confusion has arisen over his identity: was he a different person from Antiphon the orator and Antiphon the tragedian? It is now generally believed that he was, and that his writings can be distinguished by difference of subject-matter and style.

If so, Antiphon the Sophist was a rhetorician, seer and interpreter of dreams. His chief work was called Truth; of this a portion has been discovered in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus. Other works were rhetorical essays On Concord, and on The State, or The Statesman; and a treatise on dream-interpretation. A treatise entitled The Art of Freedom from Pain, attributed to Antiphon the Orator, is now thought to be by Antiphon the Sophist.

1. (From 'Truth'): If you realise these things, you will know that there exists for it (the mind) no single thing of those things which the person who sees farthest sees with his vision, nor of those things which the person whose knowledge goes furthest knows with his mind.

2. In all men, the mind has the leadership of the body towards both health and disease and everything else.

p. 145

3. (From 'Truth'): With unprepared mind. (Unusual word for 'unprepared').

4. (From 'Truth': word for 'unseen' used to mean 'things not seen but thought to be seen').

5. (From 'Truth': word for 'unfelt' used to mean 'things not felt but thought to be felt').

6. (Words for 'look through' and 'visible').

7. (Words for 'sight' etc.).

8. (Words for 'smell').

9. Time is a thought or a measure, not a substance.

10. (From 'Truth'): Hence he (God) needs nothing and receives no addition from anywhere, but is infinite and lacking nothing.

11. When therefore in the air there occurs a clash of contrary winds and showers.

12. ('Truth' ascribed to Antiphon the Orator).

13. (Aristotle, Physics 185a: Antiphon's construction for the squaring of the circle by means of the inscription of triangles). 1

14. (From 'Truth'): (Nature? Mind?) if robbed of its material would have arranged many excellent things badly.

15. (From 'Truth'): If one buried a bed, and the rotting wood obtained life, it would become not a bed, but wood.

16. (Usual word for 'extend': context unknown).

(From 'Truth', Book I)

17. ('Aphrodite' for 'sexual intercourse').

18. (Word for 'gone over again from the beginning', of arguments, etc.).

19. (Word for 'proceed').

20. ('Exchanges' used for 'combinations' or 'mixings').

21. (Unusual word for 'desire').

(From 'Truth', Book II)

22. (Word for 'everlastingness').

p. 146

23. (Word for 'the prevailing arrangement of the Whole').

24. (Word for 'that which is still unarranged').

24a. (Various uses of the word 'disposition').

25. By an eddy.

26. (On the essence of the sun: it is a fire which feeds on the damp air round the earth, and its risings and settings are caused by the varying prevalence of the damp and the fiery elements).

27. (The moon has its own light, but the rays of the sun cause the parts round it to be dimmed).

28. (Eclipses of the moon are caused by the turning of its bowl).

29. (Hail): When therefore in the air showers and contrary winds occur together, the water is then compressed and condensed to a large extent; and whichever of the colliding factors is overpowered is condensed and compressed by being squeezed together by the wind and its force.

30. (The fire) by heating the earth and melting it, makes it corrugated.

31. (Word for earthquake): Corrugation.

32. (The sea is) sweat, made salt (by heating).

33. (Human skin): Hide.

34. (To give an analgesic for headache): To stupefy.

35. (Word for) having blood.

36. That in which the embryo grows and is nourished is called 'membrane'.

37. Naval expedition (context unknown).

38. Abortion.

39. Mutilated things.

40. Dipping (tempering) of bronze and iron.

41. Skilled at maintaining life.

42. (Word for) weight.

43. (Word for) wealthy.

p. 147

(Oxyrhynchus papyrus. From 'Truth')

44. Justice, then, is not to transgress that which is the law of the city in which one is a citizen. A man therefore can best conduct himself in harmony with justice, if when in the company of witnesses he upholds the laws, and when alone without witnesses he upholds the edicts of nature. For the edicts of the laws are imposed artificially, but those of nature are compulsory. And the edicts of the laws are arrived at by consent, not by natural growth, whereas those of nature are not a matter of consent.

So, if the man who transgresses the legal code evades those who have agreed to these edicts, he avoids both disgrace and penalty; otherwise not. But if a man violates against possibility any of the laws which are implanted in nature, even if he evades all men's detection, the ill is no less, and even if all see, it is no greater. For he is not hurt on account of an opinion, but because of truth. The examination of these things is in general for this reason, that the majority of just acts according to law are prescribed contrary to nature. For there is legislation about the eyes, what they must see and what not; and about the ears, what they must hear and what not; and about the tongue, what it must speak and what not; and about the hands, what they must do and what not; and about the feet, where they must go and where not. Now the law's prohibitions are in no way more agreeable to nature and more akin than the law's injunctions. But life belongs to nature, and death too, and life for them is derived from advantages, and death from disadvantages. And the advantages laid down by the laws are chains upon nature, but those laid down by nature are free. So that the things which hurt, according to true reasoning, do not benefit nature more than those which delight; and things which grieve are not more advantageous than those which please; for things truly advantageous must not really harm, but must benefit. The naturally advantageous things from among these . . .

(According to law, they are justified) who having suffered defend themselves and do not themselves begin action; and those who treat their parents well, even though their parents have treated them badly; and those who give the taking of an oath to others and do not themselves swear. Of these provisions, one could find many which are hostile to nature; and there is

p. 148

in them the possibility of suffering more when one could suffer less; and enjoying less when one could enjoy more; and faring ill when one need not. Now if the person who adapted himself to these provisions received support from the laws, and those who did not, but who opposed them, received damage, obedience to the laws would not be without benefit; but as things are, it is obvious that for those who adapt themselves to these things the justice proceeding from law is not strong enough to help, seeing that first of all it allows him who suffers to suffer, and him who does, to do, and does not prevent the sufferer from suffering or the doer from doing. And if the case is brought up for punishment, there is no advantage peculiar to the sufferer rather than to the doer. For the sufferer must convince those who are to inflict the punishment, that he has suffered; and he needs the ability to win his case. And it is open to the doer to deny, by the same means . . . and he can defend himself no less than the accuser can accuse, and persuasion is open to both parties, being a matter of technique. . . .

We revere and honour those born of noble fathers, but those who are not born of noble houses we neither revere nor honour. In this we are, in our relations with one another, like barbarians, since we are all by nature born the same in every way, both barbarians and Hellenes. And it is open to all men to observe the laws of nature, which are compulsory. Similarly all of these things can be acquired by all, and in none of these things is any of us distinguished as barbarian or Hellene. We all breathe into the air through mouth and nostrils, and we all eat with hands. . .

(From another book of 'Truth')

If justice were taken seriously, then witnessing the truth among one another is considered just, and useful no less for men's business affairs. But he who does this is not just, since not to wrong anyone unless wronged oneself is just; for it is inevitable for the witness, even if he witnesses to the truth, nevertheless to wrong another in some way, and at the same time himself be wronged later, because of what he said; in that because of the evidence given by him, the person witnessed against is condemned, and loses either money or his life, through someone to whom he does no wrong. Therein therefore

p. 149

he wrongs the man against whom he gives evidence, in that he wrongs someone who did him no wrong; and he himself is wronged by the man against whom he gave evidence, because he is hated by him for having given truthful evidence. And (he is wronged) not only by this hatred, but also because he must for the whole of his life be on his guard against the man against whom he gave evidence; for he has an enemy such that he will say or do him any harm in his power. Indeed, these are clearly no small wrongs which he himself suffers and which he inflicts; for these cannot be just, nor can the demand to do no wrong (if one is not wronged?) But it is inevitable that either both are just or both unjust. It is clear, also, that to judge, give judgement, and arbitrate for a settlement are not just; for that which helps some, hurts others; and in this case, those who are benefited are not wronged, but those who are injured are wronged. . . .

44a. (Philostratus: The speech 'On behalf of Concord' is his most brilliant, being full of apophthegms, dignified in style, adorned with poetical terms, and smoothly flowing).

(Names of tribes)

45. Shadowfeet.

46. Longheads.

47. (Troglodytes). Dwellers underground.

48. Man, who, they say, is the most divine of all animals.

49. Now let life proceed, and let him desire marriage and a wife. This day, this night begin a new destiny; for marriage is a great contest for mankind. If the woman turns out to be incompatible, what can one do about the disaster? Divorce is difficult: it means to make enemies of friends, who have the same thoughts, the same breath, and had been valued and had regarded one with esteem. And it is hard if one gets such a possession, that is, if when thinking to get pleasure, one brings home pain.

However, not to speak of malevolence: let us assume the utmost compatibility. What is pleasanter to a man than a wife after his own heart? What is sweeter, especially to a young man? But in the very pleasure lies near at hand the pain; pleasures do not come alone, but are attended by griefs and

p. 150

troubles. Olympic and Pythian victories and all pleasures are apt to be won by great pains. Honours, prizes, delights, which God has given to men, depend necessarily on great toils and exertions. For my part, if I had another body which was as much trouble to me as I am to myself, I could not live, so great is the trouble I give myself for the sake of health, the acquisition of a livelihood, and for fame, respectability, glory and a good reputation. What then, if I acquired another body which was as much trouble? Is it not clear that a wife, if she is to his mind, gives her husband no less cause for love and pain than he does to himself, for the health of two bodies, the acquisition of two livelihoods, and for respectability and honour? Suppose children are born: then all is full of anxiety, and the youthful spring goes out of the mind, and the countenance is no longer the same.

50. Life is like a day-long watch, and the length of life is like one day, as it were, on which having seen the light we pass on our trust to the next generation.

51. The whole of life is wonderfully open to complaint, my friend; it has nothing remarkable, great or noble, but all is petty, feeble, brief-lasting, and mingled with sorrows.

52. It is not possible to rearrange one's (past) life, like pieces on a draught-board.

53. Those who work and save and suffer and lay money by enjoy the sort of pleasure one can imagine. But when they take away from it and use it, they suffer pain as if tearing off their own flesh.

53a. There are some who do not live the present life, but prepare with great diligence as if they were going to live another life, not the present one. Meanwhile time, being neglected, deserts them.

54. There is a story that a man seeing another man earning much money begged him to lend him a sum at interest. The other refused; and being of a mistrustful nature, unwilling to help anyone, he carried it off and hid it somewhere. Another man, observing him, filched it. Later, the man who had hidden it returning, could not find it; and being very grieved at the disaster—especially that he had not lent to the man who had

p. 151

asked him, because then it would have been safe and would have earned increment—he went to see the man who had asked for a loan, and bewailed his misfortune, saying that he had done wrong and was sorry not to have granted his request but to have refused it, as his money was completely lost. The other man told him to hide a stone in the same place, and think of his money as his and not lost: 'For even when you had it you completely failed to use it; so that now too you can think you have lost nothing.' For when a person has not used and will not use anything, it makes no difference to him either whether he has it or not. For when God does not wish to give a man complete good fortune—when he has given him material wealth but made him poor in right thinking—in taking away one he has deprived him of both.

55. To hesitate where there is no place for hesitation.

56. He is cowardly who is bold in speech concerning absent and future dangers, and hurries on in resolve, but shrinks back when the fact is upon him.

57. 'Illness is a holiday for cowards', 1 for they do not march into action.

58. Whoever, when going against his neighbour with the intention of harming him, is afraid lest by failing to achieve his wishes he may get what he does not wish, is wiser. For his fear means hesitation, and his hesitation means an interval in which often his mind is deflected from his purpose. There can be no reversal of a thing that has happened: it is possible only for what is in the future not to happen. Whoever thinks he will illtreat his neighbours and not suffer himself is unwise. Hopes are not altogether a good thing; such hopes have flung down many into intolerable disaster, and what they thought to inflict on their neighbours, they have suffered themselves for all to see. Prudence in another man can be judged correctly by no one more than he who fortifies his soul against immediate pleasures and can conquer himself. But whoever wishes to gratify his soul immediately, wishes the worse instead of the better.

59. Whoever has not desired or touched the base and the

p. 152

bad, is not self-restrained; for there is nothing over which he has gained the mastery and proved himself well-behaved.

60. The first thing, I believe, for mankind is education. For whenever anyone does the beginning of anything correctly, it is likely that the end also will be right. As one sows, so can one expect to reap. And if in a young body one sows a noble education, this lives and flourishes through the whole of his life, and neither rain nor drought destroys it.

61. Nothing is worse for mankind than anarchy. Hence our forefathers instilled obedience into their children, so that when grown up they might not be overcome by any great change (of fortune).

62. One's character must necessarily grow like that with which one spends the greater part of the day.

63. When they understand the arrangement, they listen.

(From 'On Concord'; context unknown).

64. New friendships are close, but old ones are closer.

65. Many who have friends do not know it, but choose as companions admirers of their wealth and flatterers of their good fortune.

66. The care of old age is like the care of children.

(Words from 'On Concord')

67. Not to be seen.

67a. Manhood.

68. Bivouacking (for 'sleeping').

69. Starting-place (metaphor from games, for 'beginning').

70. Manageable (metaphor from driving horses).

71. Deceptions.

(From 'The Statesman')

72. Disobedience to the government.

73. When anyone has 'breakfasted away' his own or his friends’ property. . . .

74. One who readily contributes (his share).

p. 153

75. Doubling and halving.

76. Do not be called a tippler, and appear to neglect your affairs under the influence of wine.

From an unspecified writing

77. To spend the most costly commodity, time.

(From 'On the Interpretation of Dreams')

78. Cuttle-fish (signifies escape).

79. (Cicero: Antiphon's explanations of many trivial dreams are artificial, not natural).

80. (ib.: Examples of Antiphon's interpretations of dreams: an Olympic competitor dreams that he is driving a four-horse chariot; the interpreter says 'You will win', but Antiphon says 'You will lose, because four have run before you'. Another competitor dreams that he is an eagle; this is thought to mean victory, but Antiphon says 'You will lose', because the eagle pursues other birds and so comes after).

81. (Seneca: Junius Otho published four books on 'Specious Pleas', 1 which were sometimes ascribed to Antiphon because there was so much about dreams in them).

81a. (Melampus on Twitchings: If the right eye twitches, this according to Phêmonoê, the Egyptians and Antiphon, means that one will overcome one's enemies. If the upper eyelid twitches, this means gain; according to Antiphon, health and success, but in a slave, treachery; for a widow, a journey).

82-117. (Fragments, mostly single words, which may come from the Sophist or the Orator).

118. (Title: On Farming': probably 'Antiphon' here should read 'Androtion').


145:1 Valueless. See Companion, pp. 396-7.

151:1 A proverb.

153:1 Colores, a technical term in rhetoric: Quintilian, IV. ii. 88.

Next: 88. Critias of Athens