Imitatio in the progymnasmata

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Rhetoric is a teaching tradition. The rhetorical exercises in the progymnasmata are the foundation for the teaching culture of rhetoric. The exercises combine theory and practice, but the surviving texts by Hermogenes, Aphthonius and Nicolaus do not tell us how the exercises were used in teaching.
In the preface to Theon’s progymnasmata 1.61-64 he gives a short description of his pedagogical methods, more fully developed in chapters 13-17: anagnôsis (reading aloud), akroasis (listening to a work read aloud), paraphrasis (paraphrase), exergasia (elaboration) and antirrhêsis (contradiction). These steps are similar to the pedagogical principles of imitatio described by Quintilian: lectio (reading aloud), praelectio (analysis of texts), memoria, paraphrasis, conversio (transliteration of models), recitatio and correctio (Institutio oratoria I.8-9, II.4. see Murphy Habit in Roman Writing instruction). Both Bonner and Clark mention imitation in connection with the progymnasmata, but they do not spell out the connection.
Imitation is basic to all the progymnasmata. The rhetorical exercises teach the good qualities of literature to the students, who are taught to imitate good models. More specifically the steps of Quintilian’s imitatio could be connected to specific progymnasmata. The lectio would have been appropriate when students read fables aloud, imitating different animals. They would then also have practiced listening, trying to discern the moral of the fable. The praelectio would fit the analysis of narratives, especially the close reading done in refutation and confirmation. Memoria would have been taught in fables, stories and the memorable sayings in chreiai and maxims. Paraphrasis is one of the topoi used in the chreiai and maxims. The paraphrase serves to put the quoted saying into the words of the student as a thesis for elaboration. The transformation from one form to another, conversio, fits both the fable and the chreia. A more advanced form of transformation is the move from outward description in the exercise description to the inward presentation of the object or person described in the ethopoeia. All the exercises were primarily written, but would also have been performed in the classroom, hence combining recitatio with subsequent correction by the teacher, correctio.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015
Event20th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, 2015 - Tübingen, Germany
Duration: 2015 Jul 282015 Jul 31
Conference number: 20


Conference20th Biennial Conference of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, 2015
Abbreviated titleISHR 2015

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Media and Communications


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