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Page history last edited by Megan Motlagh 14 years, 7 months ago


Contributed by Megan Motlagh

Acropolis at night.



Chreia is but one facet of the progymnasmata, or exercises that prepare a student of rhetoric for his or her own effective speeches. Originating in Athens, it is an “exercise in which students amplify a short narrative, usually taken from history, that points up a moral or teaches a lesson.” [1] Chreia is not the same as a fable with a moral at the end, it is simply (or not so simply) used to put upon a pedestal some lesson that has been presented based on one’s actions. The ultimate goal of a young rhetorician utilizing chreia would be to craft an intricate intensification of said narrative in order to demonstrate mastery of memory and study. Beyond this goal, a masterful speaker could weave elaborate additions into the simplest of narratives with which to sway even the most hardened of audiences. Many times, the chreia would evolve from a statement provided from someone famous, and the rhetorician built upon that saying by implementing methods he or she had learned from the chreia. Hermogenes, a Greek philosopher, and Aphthonius, a Greek sophist and rhetorician, “both supplied a list of instructions for amplifying on a simple account of a historical event or speech.” [1]


The list is as follows: [1]


  • Begin with praise of a famous speaker or doer of deeds.
  • Provide an explanation or paraphrase of the famous saying or action.
  • Supply a reason for the saying or doing.
  • Compare and contrast the famous saying or doing to some other speech or event.
  • Add an example and support the saying or doing with testimony.
  • Conclude with a brief epilogue.


The Porch of the Caryatids.

Chreia is a flexible rhetorical exercise that allows for ease of change according to the setting and environment in which the rhetorician is speaking.  It is also used in literary works, where the exercise is meant to sharpen wit and parody figureheads.[2] In this way, chreia is used frequently in "sharp responses to powerful figures," which enables the speaker to comment truthfully in an "incisive and disarming manner." [3]




From Plato's Republic:


"How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does lovemaking suit with old age, Sophocles, —are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many."[4]


See also:





1. Crowley, Sharon. Ancient rhetorics for contemporary students. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004. Print.

2. McClure, Laura. "Subversive Laughter: The Sayings of Courtesans in Book 13 of Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae." American Journal of Philology (2003): 259-94.

3. Blanchard, W. Scott. "Patrician Sages and the Humanist Cynic: Francesco Filelfo and the Ethics of World Citizenship." Renaissance Quarterly (2007): 1107-169.

4. Plato. Republic. Boston: Hackett Company, 2004. Print.

Comments (1)

Jennifer Forsthoefel said

at 9:20 pm on Sep 28, 2009

This is great! We should link our pages together, as I am also discussing an element of the Progymnasmata, the Encomium. It is interesting to think of the ways in which these exercises assisted students in becoming acclimated to the dominant modes of speak they were training for at the time: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic. After consulting the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, I found a quote by O'Rourke that you might find useful: "Judicial or forensic speaking was served by refutation, confirmation, and commonplace; deliberative speaking by fable, narrative, chreia, proverb, thesis, and legislation; and demonstrative or epideictic speaking by praise, blame, personification, comparison, and description." So perhaps connecting how chreia connects with deliberative oratory would be helpful in seeing its overall purpose in the Progymnasmata. Just a thought! Jennifer Forsthoefel

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