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Australian Wisdom and the Chreia Advantage: The Progymnasmata Path to Exceptional Writing Skills

Via Classica continues to develop our writing series - The Australian Progymnasmata. We have just released our third book in this series, Chreia and Proverb. At the root of this series is a belief that in learning to write, students should be exposed to truth, beauty, and wisdom (through reading and imitating great literature and learning about virtuous individuals), and through a mastery approach to learning (repetitive focus on the same aspect of writing) through exercises to guide students through various aspects of composition, offering a structured approach to honing their skills. In the third book (Chreia and Proverb), we draw inspiration from wise sayings of notable Australians such as St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Caroline Chisholm, as well as the wisdom found throughout Christendom - St. John Henry Newman and St. Teresa of Calcutta. 

As we continue our quest for the students to become exceptional writers, our latest book marks a shift in focus from fables and narratives to the art of persuasive language. In this exploration, we delve into the profound world of Chreia and proverbs, recognising their unique roles within the realm of wisdom literature. 


Understanding Proverbs and Chreia 

Proverbs, exemplified by those found in the Bible's Book of Proverbs, are concise, universally applicable statements offering general truths or advice rooted in moral and religious principles. They aim to guide us on ethical behaviour and spirituality, delivering wisdom in sayings such as "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." In contrast, a Chreia is a specific anecdotal statement attributed to historical or philosophical figures, illustrating their perspectives in particular circumstances. Through Chreia, we gain insights into individuals' wisdom, character, or philosophy, emphasising moral lessons or critical perspectives. 

One noteworthy Chreia comes from the philosopher Diogenes, who, when asked about the proper time for supper, responded, "If you are a rich man, whenever you please; and if you are a poor man, whenever you can." This brief yet poignant anecdote highlights the disparity between the wealthy and impoverished, urging reflection on others' circumstances. St. Thomas Aquinas, a profound philosopher and theologian, emphasised the value of true friendship, stating, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." This Chreia reflects his belief in the profound importance of sincere relationships and the shared bonds of love and respect. 

These brief anecdotes, characteristic of the Chreia, encapsulate profound wisdom and moral lessons, making them an effective tool in the art of rhetoric. 



Mastering Chreia and Proverb Composition 

We will work towards the mastery of Chreia and Proverbs composition, aiming to develop our rhetorical skills effectively. This involves mastering sequential essential steps, each meticulously designed to elevate a student’s ability to communicate effectively and persuasively. 

The first step (The Art of Praise) involves learning how to praise the sayer or doer, or praising the Chreia itself. This element sets the stage for acknowledging the source of the wisdom being conveyed, honouring its origins, and establishing credibility for the subsequent argument. Secondly, we will explore paraphrasing (The Art of Paraphrasing), ensuring a clear understanding of the central idea and message within the Chreia. Proficient Chreia composition necessitates the ability to succinctly and accurately convey the essence of the statement or action being examined. 

Thirdly, we will discuss the critical aspect of explaining the reasons behind the saying or doing (The Art of Analysing). Understanding the motivations or intentions behind an utterance or action allows for a deeper analysis and paves the way for a more persuasive argument. Fourthly, students will learn the important writing skill of contrast (The Art of Contrast). Contrast is a technique that adds depth and complexity to the Chreia by highlighting opposing viewpoints or actions. 

Fifthly, students will learn to compare (The Art of Comparison), enabling them to draw parallels or analogies that enrich the argument and show the intended meaning. To reinforce the meaning of the Chreia, we will examine the importance of providing a real-life example that encapsulates the message and lends weight to the argument. Furthermore, we will explore how to support the saying or action (The Art of Testimony and Credibility) with testimony from others, strengthening the argument by citing reputable sources or expert opinions. This step adds credibility and validity to the argument, enhancing its persuasive power. 

Finally, students will learn to craft a compelling epilogue or conclusion (The Art of Epilogue), summarising the key points and leaving a lasting impression on the audience. An effective conclusion is essential for reinforcing the argument and ensuring that the Chreia's impact endures. 

By mastering these steps and refining their ability to articulate, analyse, and persuade, students will develop proficiency in Chreia composition that will serve them on their journey to become great writers. Let us embark on this journey of rhetorical mastery together, honing the art of persuasion through the time-tested framework of Chreia and Proverb. 



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