Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Progymnasmata

Greek and Roman education culminated with training in either Rhetoric or Philosophy, although students overwhelmingly chose rhetoric.  Yet, before one entered into training for rhetoric, one received training in the progymnasmata, or preliminary exercises.

There are four extant progymnasmata from the Hellenistic period that are available to the modern scholar: Theon (first century C. E.), Ps-Hermogenes (third/fourth century C. E.), Apthonius the Sophist (fourth century C. E.), and Nicolaus the Sophist (fifth century C. E.).

There were 14 exercises ordered slightly differently by the different authors.  They are:

Mythos, Fable
Diegema, Diegesis, Narrative, Narration
Chreia, Anecdote
Gnome, Maxim
Anaskeue, Refutation
Kataskeue, Confirmation
Topos, Koinos Topos, Topic, Commonplace
Enkomion, Encomium
Psogos, Invective
Synkrisis, Comparison
Ethopoieia, Prosopopoeia, Characterization, Personification
Ekphrasis, Description
Thesis, Thesis, Proposition
Nomos, Law

One can see how these exercises become the building blocks for prose composition. Seeing how these pieces of a larger whole were taught can yield insight into specific biblical texts.  For example, I have shared at another time how the practice of syncrisis sheds light on the Stephen episode in Acts. 

You can find these four progymnasmata in translation in George A. Kennedy, Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric, (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003).

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