Breaking Down the Maxim
Maxim (or gnômê, the 4th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercisesOpens in new window) is a summary statement, in declarative sentences, urging something good or dissuading something evil.
Maxims differ from each other. Some are protreptic, some apotreptic, some declarative, some are simple, some compound, some credible, some true, and some hyperbolic.
For it is inappropriate for the leader of many to sleep all through the night.
The following is a brief account of a Protreptic Maxim:
|“One Fleeing Poverty, Cyrnus, Must Throw Himself Into The Yawning Sea And Down Steep Crags” (Theognis 175)|
(Praise) By fashioning advice (paraenesis) in place of myths, Theognis prevented his poetry from being attacked. Although seeing that (other) poets thought highly of telling myths, he collected inverse recommendations for the right way to live, avoiding myths himself but at the same time preserving the charm of verse while introducing the profit of advice. And one might praise Theognis for many things, but especially for his wise remarks about poverty.
(Peraphrase) And what does he say? Let one living with poverty be content to fall (off a cliff), since it is better to cut life short than to make the sun a witness of shame. This is his wise statement, and it is easy to see how beautifully it is said.
(Cause) For one who lives in poverty, first, when among boys, does not practice virtue, and when coming among adults he will do all the most objectional things: going on an embassy he will betray his country for money in the assembly he will speak for silver, and when called to sit as a juror he will give his votes for a bribe.
(Contrary) Not such are those freed from poverty: when boys, they practice the noblest things, and when coming among adults they do everything splendidly, sponsoring choruses at festivals and paying assessments in war time.
(Comparison) Just as those held by a dreadful bond are hindered by it from acting, in the same way those living in poverty are constrained from freedom of speech.
(Example) Consider Irus, who had been born as one of the Ithacans but did not share the same security with the other citizens; rather, his lack of means was so great that his name was changed by poverty; for having originally been called Arnaius, his name was changed to Iros, deriving his surname from acting as a servant. But what need to mention Irus? When Odysseus, ruler of Ithaca feigned poverty on his return to his own land, he shared the evils of poverty, had things thrown at him in his own house, and was maltreated by the servant girls. Such is poverty, and hard to bear even when it is only apparent.
(Testimony) Therefore, I have to admire Euripides who said that it is a bad thing to be in want, and that it is impossible for nobility to counteract poverty.
(Epilogue) So how is it possible to admire Theognis enough when he said such wise things about poverty?
—An excerpt from: Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric edited by George Alexander Kennedy
Differentiation from Chreia and Reminiscense
Although Maxim shares the same headings with chreia (as, praise, peraphrase, cause, opposite, comparison, example, testimony of the ancients, short epilogue), it has some obvious differentiation:
Furthermore, a chreia may include reference to some circumstance, while a maxim consists in a number of words, for while furnishing an enthymematic demonstration of the subject, at the same time it proffers general advice. They also differ, in that a maxim typically teaches either the recommendation of good deeds or condemnation of vices, while a chreia may be cited for the sake of its charm only.
It is important that we observe the striking differences of a reminiscence from chreia and the maxim, since it shares a characteristic of recommendation with both. A reminiscence differs from the maxim in almost all the ways the chreia does; and from the chreia in the length of its statement; for a chreia is expressed in minimal words, while a reminiscence in its expression employs more words. This feature can be observed in Xenophon’s work titled Memorabilia.