Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Murder in Sophistopolis: Paradox and Probability in the First Tetralogy

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Murder in Sophistopolis: Paradox and Probability in the First Tetralogy

Article excerpt


The First Tetralogy is a set of two prosecution and two defense speeches in a fictitious murder trial presented in a manner that mimics the procedure of Athenian homicide trials, known as dikai phonou. (1) The arrangement of the speeches in a dike phonou (sing.), and in the Tetrologies, is prosecution, defense, second prosecution, second defense, all given before the verdict was read. The First Tetralogy was one of three Tetralogies traditionally attributed to Antiphon. They are arguably the oldest Greek forensic speeches still in existence (Usher, 1999, p. 6).

In this essay I argue that the First Tetralogy uses paradox to challenge some of the conventions of fifth century Attic forensic argumentation. While some scholars have viewed the First Tetralogy as a set of model speeches (Usher, 1999, pp. 1-6), following Gagarin (2002, pp. 105-106) I view them as flights of forensic fancy intended to test the limits of courtroom argumentation. Set in that half-real, half-imagined space for entertaining and ostentatiously clever intellectual experimentation that Innes (1991) and Russell (1984) called "Sophistopolis," (2) the First Tetralogy tests the limits of legal doxa through paradox in much the same manner that philosophers and sophists like Heraclitus, Zeno and Gorgias tested the limits of doxa about the cosmos.

Because it is generally agreed that a major intellectual theme of the First Tetralogy is argument from eikos (a.k.a "probability"), a staple term of early rhetorical theory, (3) this essay will also consider the relationship between eikos arguments and the paradoxes of the First Tetralogy. Gagarin reads one of the purposes of the First Tetralogy as being "not only to explore probability [eikos] arguments, but to consider the reasons for such arguments and their validity relative to other arguments" (2002, p. 113). The paradoxes of the First Tetralogy so consistently involve eikos argumentation that it seems that eikos argumentation itself is the real defendant in the trial.


Scholars have long puzzled over the questions of who wrote the Tetralogies, when, and why. Concerning the question of authorship: The Tetralogies are traditionally attributed to Antiphon of the deme Rhamnus (b. circa 480, d. 411), who was praised by Thucydides as a man of great ability and identified as a member of the Four Hundred who briefly took power in Athens in 411 B.C.E. (4) In addition to the Tetralogies, three speeches composed for actual trials--The Murder of Herodes, On the Choreutes, and Against the Stepmother--and fragments of several philosophical works--On Truth, On Concord, and Politicus--are also attributed to Antiphon of Rhamnus. The presence of some legal terms from the Ionian dialect of Greek (Dover, 1950, pp. 57-58; Gagarin, 2002, p. 59), together with logical and stylistic inconsistencies between the Tetralogies and the actual court speeches, have led some to question whether the author of the Tetralogies was the same Antiphon who composed the court speeches. (5) The issue of authorship is further complicated by the question of whether a single Antiphon composed both forensic speeches and philosophical treatises, or whether there were two men named Antiphon, one a speech writer and the other a sophist/philosopher. (6)

Concerning the composition date of the Tetralogies: although there are those who point out a number of legal and political references in the Tetralogies consistent with a fourth century composition date (Sealy, 1984, p.77)--a position that obviously entails that Antiphon was not the author--most scholars accept that the Tetralogies were composed sometime in the fifth century. (7) Gagarin (1997) argues that, while most of Antiphon's works were probably composed toward the end of his life, the Tetralogies were written in the 430's (pp. 4-5; also see Dover, 1950, p. …

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