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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The chreia (χρεία or chria) was, in antiquity and the Byzantine Empire, both a genre of literature and one of the progymnasmata.


A chreia was a brief, useful ("χρεία" means useful) anecdote about a particular character. That is, a chreia was shorter than a narration—often as short as a single sentence—but unlike a maxim, it was attributed to a character. Usually it conformed to one of a few patterns, the most common being "On seeing..." (ιδών or cum vidisset), "On being asked..." (ἐρωτηθείς or interrogatus), and "He said..." (ἔφη or dixit).

As a literary genre the chreia was a subject of collection. Scholars such as Plutarch or Seneca kept their own private collections of chreiai. Published collections were also available. The chreia is primarily known, however, for its role in education. Students were introduced to simple chreiai almost as soon as they could read. Later they practiced the complex grammar of Greek by putting these chreiai through changes of voice and tense. As one of the last stages in their preparation for rhetoric—this is where chreiai serve as one of the progymnasmata—they would elaborate the theme of a chreiai into a formal eight-paragraph essay. The student would praise, paraphrase, explain, contrast, compare, provide an example, make a judgment, and, in conclusion, exhort the reader.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Chreia" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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