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Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric
George A. Kennedy
Publication Date
March 2003


The progymnasmata were fundamental to the teaching of prose composition and elementary rhetoric in European schools from the Hellenistic period to early modern times. George A. Kennedy, one of the world’s leading scholars of ancient rhetoric, provides an English translation of four Greek treatises written during the time of the Roman Empire but studied throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods—works attributed to Theon, Hermogenes, Aphthonius, and Nicolaus. Also included are translations of the fragments of Sopatros’s treatise as well as John of Sardis’s commentary on these exercises. Several of these works have never before been translated into English and are made accessible to the general reader for the first time.

The curriculum described in these works provided the basic training in oral and written expression but also inculcated cultural values and an understanding of the conventional literary forms—fable, narrative, chreia, ecphrasis, comparison, and so on—that were the building blocks of the epics, dramas, histories, and lyric poetry characteristic of the Greco-Roman period. The habits of thinking and writing learned in schools using the progymnasmata molded not only the secular literature of the Greeks and Romans but also the writings of the early Christians through the patristic period.

George A. Kennedy is Paddison Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Adjunct Professor of Speech Communication at Colorado State University. He served as President of both the American Philological Association and the International Society for the History of Rhetoric and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of The Art of Persuasion in Greece, The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World, Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors, and A New History of Classical Rhetoric (all from Princeton University Press); Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (University of North Carolina Press); Aristotle “On Rhetoric” and Comparative Rhetoric (Oxford University Press); and Invention and Method: Two Rhetorical Treatises from the Hermogenic Corpus (Society of Biblical Literature).

“All those interested in the writing and early reading of New Testament documents are indebted to George Kennedy. These four ancient progymanasta set out the beginning rules for discourse that any literate person of that time would have brought to the task. Included are excellent introductions and footnotes for adequate insight into these instructions.”
—Thomas H. Olbricht, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religion, Pepperdine University

“Professor Kennedy, equipped with a rare command of ancient rhetoric, provides us here with a dossier of theoretical Greek treatises on the progymnasmata, put precisely and crisply into English. He thereby gives broad access to the world of the intermediate ancient rhetorical curriculum, so important for the formation of mentality and discourse in the Roman world, Byzantium, and even pre-modern Europe. Students from a variety of disciplines will profit greatly from his efforts.”
—Robert J. Penella, Professor of Classics, Fordham University

“We predict that the publication of George Kennedy’s translation of the progymnasmata will mark the opening of a floodgate of studies that mine these resources to understand the ancient poetics of rhetorical composition that informed both pagan and Christian writers of late antiquity....Thanks to both Professor Kennedy and to the Society of Biblical Literature for making these texts accessible to the general reader.”
Review of Biblical Literature