The term progymnasmata (“preliminary/preparatory exercises”) refers to a series of compositional exercises that taught students in antiquity how to write and deliver declamations (speeches). The exercises educated students in the use of various elements of effective rhetoric, including “μῦθος (*fable), διήγημα (*narrative), χρεία (anecdotal apophthegm), γνώμη (maxim…), ἀνασκευή and κατασκευή (refutation and confirmation), κοινὸς τόπος (commonplace…), ἠθοποιΐα (speech written in character), ἔκφρασις (description…), θέσις (general question), [and] νόμου εἰσφορά (introduction of a law)” (Russell 2003, 1253). Each series contained a set of increasingly difficult exercises that were completed in writing and then read out loud.

There is secondary evidence for progymnasmata from a number of ancient authors, but modern scholars most frequently cite the surviving handbooks of Aelius Theon, Hermogenes, Aphthonius (the Sophist), Nicolaus of Myra (aka Nicolaus the Sophist or Pseudo-Nicolaus), and Libanius.

Although these five authors evidence significant overlap in the exercises included, they also demonstrate that there was no established pattern for the progymnasmatic curriculum. The handbooks do not all contain the same types of exercises, and even when they do, the exercises are frequently presented in a different order (see the table in Kennedy 2003, xiii).

With all that as background, we are ready to discuss how to cite the progymnasmata clearly and accurately.

1. SBL Press prefers to cite an author’s entire handbook as a single work with the title Progymnasmata, which should be abbreviated Prog.

2. We also recommend citing the exercise in question by number, that is, the place of the exercise in the entire handbook. For example, because chreia is the fourth section in Nicolaus’s handbook, it has been assigned the number 4. A reference to the chreia section would thus be:

Nicolaus, Prog. 4

Because Aphthonius discusses chreia third, a reference to the chreia section in his handbook would be:

Aphthonius, Prog. 3

We discourage the practice of citing an exercise by name rather than by number (e.g., Theon, Progymnasmata On Fable).

3. The standard numbering for the five handbooks mentioned above can be found in these editions and translations.

Theon: Spengel 1853–1856, 2:59–130 (text); Patillon and Bolognesi 1997 (text); Kennedy 2003, 1–72 (translation) (but see below)

Hermogenes: Rabe 1913, 1–27 (text); Kennedy 2003, 73–88 (translation)

Aphthonius: Rabe 1926 (text); Kennedy 2003, 89–127 (translation)

Nicolaus: Felten 1913 (text); Kennedy 2003, 129–72 (translation)

Libanius; Foerster 1915 (text); Gibson 2008 (text and translation)

4. When citing both a handbook and the corresponding section of a critical edition, add the citation of the edition after the handbook citation in the usual manner:

Theon, Prog. 4 (Spengel 2:73,28–74,15)

This citation points to the fable exercise in Theon’s handbook (4 per Kennedy; see next) and more specifically to line 28 of page 73 through line 15 of page 74 in volume 2 of Spengel’s Rhetores Graeci (1853–1856).

5. There are two further complications with the progymnasmata of which scholars should be aware. First, there is disagreement on the correct order of the exercises for Theon, as shown in the following comparison of Kennedy’s and Spengel’s orders of exercises:

Kennedy Spengel
1 Preface 1
2 On the Education of the Young 2
3 On Chreia 5
4 On Fable 3
5 On Narrative 4
6 On Topos 7
7 On Ecphrasis 11
8 On Prosopopoeia 10
9 On Encomion and Invective 8
10 On Syncrisis 9
11 On Thesis 12
12 On Law 13
13 Reading Aloud and Its Object
14 Listening to What Is Read
15 Paraphrase
16 Elaboration
17 Contradiction, or Counter-Statement

Because of this variation, anyone citing Theon’s handbook should indicate which numbering scheme is being used (Kennedy’s is generally preferred).

Second, Libanius’s handbook is far longer and more complex than the others, which requires modification of the citation system. Unlike the other authors, Libanius includes multiple exercises for each type of exercise: three on fable, forty-one on narration, four on anecdote, and so on. Further, some of the individual exercises are divided into sections, which introduces an additional layer of complexity.

To ensure clarity and accuracy, we recommend that citations follow the same style as the other handbooks but add additional numbering to specify which exercise in a given group of exercises is in view, as well as which section in a particular exercise.

So, for example, Libanius’s groups of exercises are numbered as follows (numbers in parentheses indicate total exercises in the group):

  1. Fable (3)
  2. Narration (41)
  3. Anecdote (4)
  4. Maxim (3)
  5. Refutation and Confirmation (2 + 3)
  6. Common Topics (5)
  7. Encomium and Invective (9 + 8)
  8. Comparison (5)
  9. Speech in Character (27)
  10. Description (30)
  11. Thesis (3)
  12. Introduction of a Law (1)

Further, each of the three exercises on fable includes multiple sections:




Thus one could cite various parts of the fable exercises in Libanius as follows:

Libanius, Prog. 1 (a reference to all three exercises in the fable group)

Libanius, Prog. 1.2 (a reference to the second exercise in the fable group)

Libanius, Prog. 1.2.2 (a reference to the second section of the second exercise in the fable group)

For those who wish to learn more about these five progymnasmatic handbooks, see two volumes in SBL Press’s WGRW series: Kennedy 2003 and Gibson 2008.


Felten, Joseph, ed. 1913. Nicolai Progymnasmata. Leipzig: Teubner.

Foerster, Richard, ed. 1915. Progymnasmata, Argumenta orationum Demosthenicarum. Vol. 8 of Libanii Opera. Leipzig: Teubner.

Gibson, Craig A. 2008. Libanius’s Progymnasmata: Model Exercises in Greek Prose Composition and Rhetoric. WGRW 27. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Kennedy, George A. 2003. Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. WGRW 10. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Patillon, Michel, and Giancarlo Bolognesi, eds. 1997. Aelius Théon: Progymnasmata. Edition Budé. Paris: Belles Lettres.

Rabe, Hugo, ed. 1913. Hermogenis Opera. Leipzig: Teubner.

———. 1926. Aphthonii Progymnasmata. Leipzig: Teubner.

Russell, Donald A. 2003. Progymnasmata. Page 1253 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spengel, Leonhard von. 1853–1856. Rhetores Graeci. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner.

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