The Advantages of a Well-Spoken Liar

Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, 1

“I would wish, men of the jury, that I might possess a power of speech and experience of events equal both to my misfortune and the events that occurred. But now I have experienced the latter beyond what is fitting and I lack more of the former than is advantageous. When it was necessary that I endure physical suffering because of the unjustified charge, experience didn’t help me at all; and since it is necessary now that I tell you want happened truthfully, my limited speaking ability undermines me. For many of those who are bad at speaking are disbelieved regarding the truth and they perish because of this, because they cannot make the true events clear. But many people who can speak well are credible by lying and save themselves in that way, because they lied! Therefore, whenever someone has no experience in speaking publicly, his challenge is more the words of his accusers than the events themselves and the truth of the matter.

I would, then, ask you, men, not what many of those who go to court ask for, to be heard, these men who don’t trust themselves and who believe something unjust about you beforehand—for it is right that a defendant will get a fair hearing among good men without asking for it since even the prosecution obtains this without asking—No, I need these things from you. If I make a mistake in my speech, pardon me and take it more as inexperience than a deliberate injustice. If I say something correctly, assume it spoken truly rather than cleverly. For it is not right that the one who does wrong in deed be saved through speech any more than it is that the one who has done rightly in deed perish through speech. For a word is a slip of the tongue, but a deed is an error in judgment. Someone in danger necessarily makes some mistakes. For he not only is forced to think about what has been said, but about what will happen, since all the things that may still happen are subject to chance for than to good planning. This is why someone in danger is out of sorts. For I also see people very familiar with talking in public speaking much worse about themselves whenever they are in danger. When they act without any danger, they speak more correctly.”

Ἐβουλόμην μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες, τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ λέγειν καὶ τὴν ἐμπειρίαν τῶν πραγμάτων ἐξ ἴσου μοι καθεστάναι τῇ τε συμφορᾷ καὶ τοῖς κακοῖς τοῖς γεγενημένοις· νῦν δὲ τοῦ μὲν πεπείραμαι πέρᾳ τοῦ προσήκοντος, τοῦ δὲ ἐνδεής εἰμι μᾶλλον τοῦ συμφέροντος. οὗ μὲν γάρ με ἔδει κακοπαθεῖν τῷ σώματι μετὰ τῆς αἰτίας τῆς οὐ προσηκούσης, ἐνταυθοῖ οὐδέν με ὠφέλησεν ἡ ἐμπειρία· οὗ δέ με δεῖ σωθῆναι μετὰ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰπόντα τὰ γενόμενα, ἐν τούτῳ με βλάπτει ἡ τοῦ λέγειν ἀδυνασία.πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἤδη τῶν οὐ δυναμένων λέγειν, ἄπιστοι γενόμενοι τοῖς ἀληθέσιν, αὐτοῖς τούτοις ἀπώλοντο, οὐ δυνάμενοι δηλῶσαι αὐτά· πολλοὶ δὲ τῶν λέγειν δυναμένων πιστοὶ γενόμενοι τῷ ψεύδεσθαι, τούτῳ ἐσώθησαν, διότι ἐψεύσαντο. ἀνάγκη οὖν, ὅταν τις ἄπειρος ᾖ τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι, ἐπὶ τοῖς τῶν κατηγόρων λόγοις εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἔργοις καὶ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ τῶν πραγμάτων.

Ἐγὼ οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες, αἰτήσομαι ὑμᾶς, οὐχ ἅπερ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀγωνιζομένων ἀκροᾶσθαι σφῶν αὐτῶν αἰτοῦνται, σφίσι μὲν αὐτοῖς ἀπιστοῦντες, ὑμῶν δὲ προκατεγνωκότες ἄδικόν τι—εἰκὸς γὰρ ἐν ἀνδράσι γε ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἄνευ τῆς αἰτήσεως τὴν ἀκρόασιν ὑπάρχειν τοῖς φεύγουσιν, οὗπερ καὶ οἱ διώκοντες ἔτυχον ἄνευ αἰτήσεως·—τάδε δὲ δέομαι ὑμῶν, τοῦτο μὲν ἐάν τι τῇ γλώσσῃ ἁμάρτω, συγγνώμην ἔχειν μοι, καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι ἀπειρίᾳ αὐτὸ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀδικίᾳ ἡμαρτῆσθαι, τοῦτο δὲ ἐάν τι ὀρθῶς εἴπω, ἀληθείᾳ μᾶλλον ἢ δεινότητι εἰρῆσθαι. οὐ γὰρ δίκαιον οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ἁμαρτόντα διὰ ῥήματα σωθῆναι, οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ὀρθῶς πράξαντα διὰ ῥήματα ἀπολέσθαι· τὸ μὲν γὰρ ῥῆμα τῆς γλώσσης ἁμάρτημά ἐστι, τὸ δ᾿ ἔργον τῆς γνώμης. ἀνάγκη δὲ κινδυνεύοντα περὶ αὑτῷ καί πού τι καὶ ἐξαμαρτεῖν. οὐ γὰρ μόνον τῶν λεγομένων ἀνάγκη ἐνθυμεῖσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἐσομένων· ἅπαντα γὰρ τὰ ἐν ἀδήλῳ ἔτ᾿ ὄντα ἐπὶ τῇ τύχῃ μᾶλλον ἀνάκειται ἢ τῇ προνοίᾳ. ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἔκπληξιν πολλὴν παρέχειν 7ἀνάγκη ἐστὶ τῷ κινδυνεύοντι. ὁρῶ γὰρ ἔγωγε καὶ τοὺς πάνυ ἐμπείρους τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι πολλῷ χεῖρον ἑαυτῶν λέγοντας, ὅταν ἔν τινι κινδύνῳ ὦσιν· ὅταν δ᾿ ἄνευ κινδύνων τι διαπράσσωνται, μᾶλλον ὀρθουμένους.


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Antiphon of Rhamnos–Good Man or Bad Man? Philostratus Doesn’t Know

From the Lives of the Sophists 498

“I don’t know if Anitphon of Rhamnos should be called a good man or a bad one. He may be called good for the following reasons: he was a general many times and was victorious for the most part, increasing the Athenian fleet with sixty fully-equipped triremes. He seemed to be the most capable of men at speaking and reasoning. For these reasons, he merits praise from me or any other. But he rightly appears a wicked man on these counts: He destroyed the democracy, he enslaved the Athenian people, he was a friend to the Spartans, at first secretly but later in the open, and he foisted upon the Athenian state the constitution of the Four-hundred Tyrants.”

᾿Αντιφῶντα δὲ τὸν ῾Ραμνούσιον οὐκ οἶδ’, εἴτε χρηστὸν δεῖ προσειπεῖν, εἴτε φαῦλον. χρηστὸς μὲν γὰρ προσειρήσθω διὰ τάδε· ἐστρατήγησε πλεῖστα, ἐνίκησε πλεῖστα, ἑξήκοντα τριήρεσι πεπληρωμέναις ηὔξησεν ᾿Αθηναίοις τὸ ναυτικόν, ἱκανώτατος ἀνθρώπων ἔδοξεν εἰπεῖν τε καὶ γνῶναι· διὰ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα ἐμοί τε ἐπαινετέος καὶ ἑτέρῳ. κακὸς δ’ ἂν εἰκότως διὰ τάδε φαίνοιτο· κατέλυσε τὴν δημοκρατίαν, ἐδού-λωσε τὸν ᾿Αθηναίων δῆμον, ἐλακώνισε κατ’ ἀρχὰς μὲν ἀφανῶς, ὕστερον δ’ ἐπιδήλως, τυράννων τετρακοσίων δῆμον ἐπαφῆκε τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίων πράγμασιν.

I don’t know, Philostratus, whether or not I should consider this opening a purely rhetorical question or not. On the one hand, you do well in the creation of your dichotomy, but on the other hand, the merits of the case seem to render this grammatical balance rather false and forced.  Perhaps add the teaching of Thucydides into the mix?

Antiphon, Fr. B53a (Stobaeus 3.16.20)

“Some people do not live their present life but prepare with great enthusiasm as if they will live another one, not this one. And meanwhile their remaining time is wasted.”


εἰσί τινες οἳ τὸν παρόντα μὲν βίον οὐ ζῶσιν, ἀλλὰ παρασκευάζονται πολλῆι σπουδῆι ὡς ἑτερόν τινα βιον βιωσόμενοι, οὐ τὸν παρόντα. καὶ ἐν τούτωι παραλειπόμενος ὁ χρόνος οἶχεται.