The Chreia and Ancient Rhetoric: Classroom Exercises

By Kerkeslager, Allen | Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Chreia and Ancient Rhetoric: Classroom Exercises


Kerkeslager, Allen, Journal of Biblical Literature


The Chreia and Ancient Rhetoric: Classroom Exercises, by Ronald F. Hock and Edward N. O'Neil. Writings from the Greco-Roman World 2. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002. Pp. xiv + 411. $49.95 (paper). TSBN 1589830180.

This book is the second of a projected three volumes containing introductions, texts, translations, and commentaiy dealing with the literary form known as the chreia. A chreia is a pithy saying introduced by a crisp description of the situation in which it was purportedly spoken by some well-known historical figure. Much of the current interest in this form can be traced directly to the important work of Hock and O'Neil almost two decades ago in the first volume of the trilogy (The Chreia in Ancient Rhetoric: The Progymnasmata [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986]). The intervening years have contributed to a depth and precision that is everywhere apparent in this second volume. This stellar example of the excellence that can be attained when two competent individuals work together will quickly become required reading for specialists interested in how the chreia was used in the educational curriculum from the Hellenistic through late medieval periods.

Chapter 1 (pp. 1-49) opens with a brief survey of Greco-Roman and Byzantine education that divides it into primary, secondary, and tertiary stages. It then explains the role of the chreia in primary education, which was typically that of a model for reading and writing. The remainder of the chapter provides a sequential treatment of twelve texts derived from papyri and ostraca that exemplify the actual use of the chreia in primary education.

Chapter 2 (pp. 51-77) begins with a summary of the use of the chreia in the secondary phase of education. Classroom exercises at this level included reformulating an initial version of the chreia according to all the Greek declensions so that students could learn grammar and morphology. The texts treated in the rest of the chapter include both actual student notes from classroom exercises and literary sources discussing the use of the chreia at this level of education.

Chapter 3 (pp. 79-359) concentrates on the use of the chreia in the tertiary phase of education. This phase, which began at about age fifteen, usually concentrated on rhetoric. By the early Byzantine period, popular chreiai were customarily used as model thesis statements that were explained and defended in compositional exercises that consisted of eight rigidly structured sections. The reasoning, contents, and sequence of these sections approximated the basic reasoning, contents, and sequence of arguments in standard types and elements of speeches known from the common rhetorical handbooks of antiquity. Most of the texts in this chapter are compositions elaborating various chreiai according to this rigid format, each of which demonstrates the persistence of this technique for training students in the skills needed to compose speeches.

The book includes a short preface, list of abbreviations, bibliography, and index of Greek words. The footnotes include a critical apparatus evaluating various witnesses and reconstructions of the texts, of which all but one (in Latin) are in Greek. The translations of the texts are usually defensible and have attempted to balance faithfulness to the original with clarity of English style. The introductions and commentary are also written in a clear style and the entire work has been impeccably edited.

The book is a commentary on a collection of disparate texts produced over a long period of time, not a monograph exploring and advancing a unifying thesis. Nevertheless, one conclusion that does emerge from reading this book is that in all three phases of a student's education in the Greco-Roman and Byzantine curriculum the chreia played a crucial role. Even though most of the texts in this volume date to after the first century and the comments and introductions in the book are more explicitly related to Byzantine education than to education in earlier periods, perceptive NT scholars will quickly recognize the significance of this conclusion for their field. …

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