Narrative

Breaking Down the Narrative

Narrative (Diêgêma [the 2nd exercise of the ProgymnasmataOpens in new window]) is expositionOpens in new window giving an account of things which has happened or as though they had happened.

Narrative (diêgêma) differs from narration (diêgêsis) as a piece of poetry (poiêma) differs from a poem (poiêsis). Some pedagoguesOpens in new window, while making the differentiation, opine that “narration (diêgêsis) is the exposition of the matters under debate in the law–courts in a way beneficial to the speaker; whereas narrative (diêgêma) is concerned with historical reports and past events.”

Other pedagogues have called narration the exposition of true events and narrative, of things as though they happened. However, a number of others, opine that narrative concerns a single event; and narration, a combination of many actions.

Assortment of Narratives

Narrative is of three kinds; the descriptive, the dramatic, and the mixed.

  1. Descriptive is everything that is said by one person alone narrating everything, as found in Pindar’s poems.
  2. Dramatic is everything that is said by the supposed characters rather than by the author, as in comic and tragic drama.
  3. Mixed is a combination of the descriptive and dramatic forms, as are the works of Homer and Herodotus and any others like these sorts, in some passages being appended by the author, in others by different characters.

Narratives are further divided into four forms; while a number of narratives takes mythological form, some are historical, others pragmatic—also called judicial—and a bunch of others fictitious.

The mythologicalOpens in new window narratives are not worthy of unquestioned belief; they have a suspicion of falsehood, like stories about the CyclopsOpens in new window and CentaurOpens in new window. The historical ones are concerned with ancient events that are believed to have happened; for example, such events that concern EpidamnusOpens in new window; pragmatic (or judicial) involves things said in public debates; and the fictitious concerns narratives in comedies and all those in other dramas.

Mythological narratives share with fablesOpens in new window the need to be persuasive, but they differ because fables are agreed to be false and fictional, while mythological narratives differ from others in being told as though they had happened and being capable of having happened or not having happened.

Likewise, fictitious narratives share with fables the fact that both have been made up, but they differ from each other in that fictitious narratives, even if they did not happen, could happen in nature, while fables neither happened nor could happen naturally.

Elements of Narrative

A narrative is made up of six elements; namely: person, action, place, time, cause, and manner.

  1. Person, for example, is the doer of something, the person of Demosthenes or of Meidias;
  2. Action refers to what is being done, for example, an attack on private property;
  3. Place, is where the action took place;
  4. Time is when the action took place, i.e., during a committee meeting;
  5. Cause is the reason the action was done, for example, breach of agreement;
  6. Manner refers to how the action was done, for example, by hands or use of explosives.
  7. However, some authors include a seventh element, the material, and separates it from the manner and attributing acting illegally and violently to manner and to material the use of knife, a stone, or perhaps a spear or something of like nature.
Prerequisite For Narratives

A good narration, according to some authors have five virtues; namely: brevity, clarity, persuasiveness, charm, and grandeur. Some rhetors believe that a good narrative should exhibit only persuasiveness; in their opinion, the other four are common and required of all speech.

However, in the opinion of the more veritable rhetors only three virtues were prescribed. These are: clarity, brevity, and persuasiveness. It can be admitted that it is rather difficult for some giving attention to brevity to also give due attention to clarity; for it is a common susceptibility to make the language unclear for brevity sake or in paying due attention to clarity, the language becomes inappropriately lengthy. Thus, it is imperative to be watchful and lookout whether the brevity is in consonance with clarity, neither omitting anything necessary nor including more than is necessary. The following narrative can be said to meet this prerequisite.

A Dramatic Narrative Concerning The Rose

Let anyone who admires the rose for its beauty consider Aphrodite’s wound. The goddess was in love with Adonis and Ares in turn was in love with her, and the goddess was to Adonis what Ares was to her: a god was in love with a goddess and a goddess was pursuing a mortal. The emotion was the same even if the species was different. Struck with jealousy, Ares wanted to do away with Adonis, thinking the death of Adonis would be the end of the love. Ares attacks Adonis. Learning what had been done, the goddess hurried to his rescue, and in her haste, falling on a rose, she stumbled among the thorns and pierces the bottom of her foot. The blood from the wound dripped on the rose and changed its color to the now familiar appearance; the rose, originally having been white, changed to the appearance it now has.

—An excerpt from: Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric edited by George Alexander Kennedy

Further Readings:
Kennedy, George Alexander, Progymnasmata: Greek Texbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Leiden, The Netherlands: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Selby, James “The Vertical Integration of Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata”
Selby, James “Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata as a Means to Preparing Innovative Communicators”
Selby, James “The Characterization Stage of Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata in Light of Hermogenes’ On Style: Exploring the Border between Contemporary and Ancient Classrooms”
Silver Rhetoricae: ProgymnasmataOpens in new window