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The Rhetoric of Visibility and Invisibility in Antiphon 5, On the Murder of Herodes

Peter O'Connell

I intend to investigate a central element of Antiphon’s rhetorical strategy in On the Murder of Herodes: the vocabulary of visibility and invisibility.  The speaker, who has been accused of murdering Herodes on a stormy night after a drinking party, uses phaneros and phainomai and aphanēs and aphanizō to refer to the alleged crime, the alleged evidence, and the arguments of himself and his opponents.  As a result, he blurs the distinction between evidence, argument, and speech, and he implies through his words that the prosecution has constructed their entire case based on speculation unsupported by witness testimonies or visual evidence.  Most modern scholarship on On the Murder of Herodes focuses on legal procedure, the speaker’s arguments, and the question of his guilt (Schindel 1979, Gagarin 1989).  I pursue another approach, looking at how Antiphon’s client seeks to influence the jurors through vocabulary.  He draws a consistent verbal parallel between the lack of visual evidence at the crime scene and the uncertainty of his opponents’ argument, which he contrasts with his own argument’s alleged transparency.  My work reflects the growing scholarly concern with visual language and visualization in Athenian legal oratory (e.g. De Bakker 2012, 395).

In the narrative of On the Murder of Herodes, the speaker emphasizes the lack of visual evidence for the fate of Herodes.  He presents it as a disappearing-act, claiming that Herodes was visible [phaneros] while leaving the party and not coming back, but the next day was invisible [aphanēs] (Ant. 5.23).  The speaker goes on to use similar vocabulary to suggest that invisibility is at the heart of the prosecution’s case.  With forms of aphanēs, aphanizō, emphanēs, and phainomai, he describes the alleged murder, the lack of evidence that a murder even occurred, the prosecution’s execution of a slave witness, and their failed attempt to conceal an allegedly contradictory letter (24-27, 29, 36-38, 45, 56).  In contrast to the invisibility characterizing both the evidence and the prosecution’s strategy, the speaker emphasizes the transparency of his own case, again using aphanizō to note that he did not make the slave or the free witness invisible, even though he could have (38, 52).

The rhetoric of visibility and invisibility reaches its climax in chapter 59, when the speaker contrasts each side’s arguments: “For I am demonstrating that your plot against me is visible [phaneran], while you are trying to destroy me through invisible speech [en aphanei logōi].”  This use of aphanēs is novel.  Up until this point, the speaker has used it literally for things that cannot be seen: Herodes’ body, traces of the murder, the executed slave.  Now, the speaker applies it to the prosecution’s entire argument.  The use is perfectly logical: a logos which relies on things that cannot be seen must itself be aphanēs.  Furthermore, since he has emphasized throughout the speech that his opponent is relying on invisible evidence, he can claim that he is demonstrating a visible plot, even though he relies purely on supposition.  Near the end of the speech, the speaker makes a similar argument without using the language of visibility and invisibility, suggesting that his case relies on erga and his opponent’s only on logoi.

 At the end of my presentation, I will briefly consider other legal speeches which use the vocabulary of visibility and invisibility in similar ways to Antiphon 5, including Lysias 7 and Demosthenes 29.  I will argue that this was a common element of rhetorical strategies, especially in speeches that directly address the presence or absence of eyewitness testimony.  By recognizing the rhetorical importance of the vocabulary of visibility and invisibility, we are able to gain an insight into the art of persuasion that ancient handbooks, concerned primarily with formal argumentation and speech classification, do not address. 

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Forms of Argument in Dicanic and Epideictic Speech

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