Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.28

George A. Kennedy (trans.), Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition Introductory to the Study of Rhetoric.   Fort Collins:  Chez l'auteur, 1999.  Pp. xii, 176.  $29.50.  

Reviewed by Dirk M. Schenkeveld, 23 Herman Heijermanslaan, 2106 ER HEEMSTEDE, NL (
Word count: 1767 words

Education of young boys and girls is a hotly debated issue in our time and will remain so in the future. Must teachers instill knowledge only or do they also have a task in preparing their pupils for social life, to put the dilemma very crudely? In this debate one often encounters surveys of education in previous centuries which run the risk of coming down to the view that the child as a living being with a mind of its own was not discovered before the second half of the nineteenth century. Before this period the child was treated as just an adult, though a young one. Consequently, the suggestion is given that there were no didactics geared to the young. To some degree this view is right. When we look for children's books in Antiquity, I do not know of any. Moreover, when they go to school, -- something we know about from the end of the Classical period onwards -- the teacher will first teach them reading and writing and then continue with lessons in grammar and poetry, especially Homer's epics. They read these, learn big parts by heart, are taught how to apply grammatical knowledge to the analysis of lines, and at the end of their training they also have a lot of factual knowledge about Homer's characters and mythical lore. Then many pupils go on to the classes of the rhetorician and here they start with making small compositions (progymnasmata). This course goes from simple tasks to more intricate compositions, whereafter comes the making of complete speeches, melétai or declamationes). In other words, the children are taught the literature of the adults. So far, the view mentioned above is right.

On the other hand, handbooks on rhetoric like Quintilian's Institutio, or treatises such as Plutarch's De audiendis poetis or Basilius' Ad iuvenes, are full of intelligent and wise remarks on the didactics of teaching and instructing young people. I take one example from Kennedy's fine translation of one of the oldest handbooks on Greek prose composition we have, the Progymnasmata of Aelius Theon (very probably first cent. A.D.). In this book, written for teachers, Theon first discusses the usefulness of the progymnasmata as a preparation for declamations and rhetoric in general and then dedicates several pages to pedagogical methods and the education of the young. At the end he says (p. 72.4-16 Spengel = p. 11.13-21 Kennedy's translation):

"The making of corrections (by the teacher) in the early stages of study is not aimed at the removal of all mistakes but at correction of a few of the most conspicuous in such a way that the young man may not be discouraged and lose hope about future progress. In this process, let the one making corrections explain why the mistake occurred and how it is possible to compose in a better way. It seems much more helpful to assign to the young to write on some of the problems already elaborated by the ancients -- for example, a topos or narration or ecphrasis or encomion or thesis or something of the sort -- and then to make them acquainted with these sources in order that they may acquire confidence if they have written similarly, and if not that they may have the ancients as correctors."

Theon does not conceal his view that the writings of the ancient authors of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. are admirable in almost all aspects. In this way the exercises "are open to the criticism that they tended to indoctrinate students in traditional values and inhibit individual creativity", Kennedy says in his introduction (p. v). He immediately adds: "a major feature of the exercises was stress on refutation and rebuttal. [...] If anything, the exercises may have tended to encourage the idea that there was an equal amount to be said on two sides of any issue, a skill practiced at a later stage of education in dialectical debate".

The progymnasmata, or preliminary exercises, prepare the pupils for full-blown exercises. They start with simple subjects and forms, such as the fable and the anecdote, and end with the thesis, a logical examination of a controversial topic, such as: "should one have children? Or "do gods exist?". It has been shown in a French PhD dissertation defended by Henri Fruteau at the University of Montpellier this year,1 that language and style of the first exercises are in agreement with the simplicity of their contents. Thus we find indications everywhere that in their didactics ancient pedagogues were vividly aware of teaching children, even when their goal was to train them to become like adults.

George Kennedy is well known as a scholar of ancient and later rhetoric. I do not need to list here the titles of his famous books. He also likes to translate the rhetorical handbooks he writes about. Thus we have his translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric (Oxford Univ. Press 1991), and two years ago he published in collaboration with Mervyn R. Dilts Two Greek Rhetorical Treatises from the Roman Empire (Leiden: Brill 1997) (see BMCR 1998-08-08). Now he has turned to the Greek progymnasmata and he is working on translating other late Greek rhetorical treatises. The translation under review here is a preliminary one, -- quite in keeping with their subject of preliminary exercises? -- and he invites readers to send their corrections, suggestions, and comments to his home address, for he expects that a revised version will be published.

This edition covers most of existing handbooks on this kind of exercises. In the sub-title are given the works covered,2 and in his introduction to each translation Kennedy indicates which edition he follows. Thus for Theon the Budé edition of Patillon (1997), for Hermogenes the Teubner edition of Rabe (1913) etc., but he also adds the relevant pages of the texts in Spengel's Rhetores graeci. For most texts Kennedy's translation is the first one in English, and if for no other reason it is very welcome.

As far as the translation is concerned,3 it runs smoothly and is both free of typing errors and faults against the Greek originals. This I am glad to say in view of the edition of Two Greek Rhetorical Treatises, where regrettably many errors and faulty translations are to be found.4

I propose a few corrections and have some queries:


p. 61.23 Sp. οἱ περὶ Ἀριστοτέλην means 'Aristotle', as is usual in later Greek.

p. 62.13 ff. The underlying view is Stoic and accordingly τῆς διανοίας ὑφ' ἑνὶ πράγματι μὴ καθ' ἕνα τρόπον κινουμένης does not mean 'thought on one subject is not stirred in only one way' but 'thought is not shaken by a single object in only one way'. Theon discusses paraphrasis here in a way that we would nowadays call intertextuality.

p. 72.14 (see the passage quoted above). I prefer to translate ἐντυγχάνειν here and Nicolaus p. 1.7 Felten by 'to read' instead of 'to get acquainted' or 'to familiarize'. See CR 52, 1992, 134 n. 30.

p. 80.30 ff. For the discussion on amphiboly and its Stoic background reference to C. Atherton, The Stoics on Ambiguity (Cambridge 1993) 184-8 is advisable.

p. 87. 14 ff. Theon expounds here another theory, now of speech acts, influenced by Stoic thought. See Patillon pp. lx-lxiv and my article in Mnemosyne 37, 1984, 291-353.


p. 4.21-5.2 Hermogenes distinguishes five figures of narrative, the first two both being called ἀποφαντικόν and then split up into ὀρθόν and ἐγκεκλιμένον. Kennedy translates 'direct discourse' and 'oblique (indirect) discourse', thus neglecting, I think, ἀποφαντικόν, which means something like 'declarative' as contrasting with the third figure of 'interrogative'. We have an echo here of Theon's theory of speech acts mentioned above.

p. 19.1 'since some good authorities ....'. For instance, Theon 112.21 Sp.

Anonymous prolegomenon to Aphthonius

p. 76.10 Prol. Syll. Rabe. The author explains the name as connected with ἀφθόνως εἴτουν πλουσίως. The word εἴτουν means 'that is to say', not 'and' (not in LSJ; see Sophocles, Greek Lexicon s.v.).

p. 76.21-2 In a discussion of the double meaning of σοφιστής the Anonymous gives as the second sense that of 'someone who engages in deceit and is devious and a false-reasoner', and exemplifies this usage by quoting from an unknown source σοφιστὰ κακίας, πῶς τὸ ἑξῆς ψ̔πεκράτησας. The verb is lacking from LSJ; Sophocles just says 'under' (sc. κρατέω). Kennedy's 'O sophist of evil, how you have undermined one thing after another' looks to me as a move to give some solution. In logical and grammatical writings τὸ ἑξῆς is often used for the grammatical sequence of words which is being disturbed by hyperbaton, and because of the explanation of 'false-reasoner' I think that '[...], how you have undermined (??, juggled with ??) what belongs together' comes closer to the original.

In his introduction (p. 68) Kennedy points to the Neo-Platonic system of organization of learning as the source for Prolegomena. See now also J. Mansfeld, Prolegomena. Questions to be settled before the study of an author, or a text (Leiden: Brill 1994), 52.


p. 3 Rabe. The definitions of 'chreia' in the handbooks are almost identical: Theon χρεία ἐστὶ σύντομος ἀπόφασις μετ' εὐστοχίας; Aphthonius χρ. ἐστὶν ἀπομνημόνευμα σύντομον εὐστόχως; Nicolaus χρ. δὲ ἐστι λόγος πρᾶξις εὔστοχος καὶ σύντομος, all having εὔστοχος or some such word, Hermogenes being the exception. Kennedy translates variously: 'indicating shrewdness', 'in a well-spoken way' and 'pointed', thus creating doubt about the term εὔστοχος. Fruteau has '[un mot ou une acte bref et] bien à propos', Patillon '(assertion) avisée'. 'To the point' seems a good translation.


p. 1.7-9 Felten. Kennedy 's translation goes wrong and should be redone as follows: 'wishing to train you to read the better treatments of the subject also, I have collected from various sources everything I believe beginners need to know and brought all this together in one book.' Nicolaus' compendium draws heavily on older books and he admits that he often will quote καὶ αὐταῖς οἷα εἰκὸς λέξεσιν, where οἷα εἰκός means 'as you may expect, of course', not 'probably'. He also asks his reader οὐ μὴν οὐδὲ καταφρονεῖν, εἰ εὑρίσκονταί τινα ἐν ἑτέροις, which means 'nor should you despise (me) if some (more) things will be found in other books'.

p. 26.8-18 on the distinction of maxims (gnômai). Comparison with e.g. Hermogenes 8.19-9.17 and Aphthonius 7 shows that Nicolaus has mixed up his categories, for he calls the Homeric line 'A man who is a counselor should not sleep all night' an example of a 'true maxim', whereas the two other authors classify it as 'apotreptic maxim', rightly.


1.   Les Progymnasmata de Nicolaos de Myra dans la tradition versicolore des exercices préparatoires de rhétorique. Fruteau is preparing a commercial edition.
2.   Writings by or attributed to Theon, Hermogenes, Aphthonius, Nicolaus, together with An Anonymous Prolegomenon to Aphthonius, Selections from the Commentary attributed to John of Sardis, and Fragments of the Progymnasmata of Sopatros translated into English, with Introductions and Notes.
3.   I have been unable to consult the new French translation of Hermogenes' handbook, published together with other works of H., by M. Patillon as L'Art rhétorique, Lausanne 1997.
4.   See my review in Mnemosyne (forthcoming).

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