Key Features of Thesis, the 11th Progymnasmata Exercise, Explained

Thesis is language admitting logical examination but without persons or any circumstances at all being specified. Thesis is also called argument and it is the 11th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercisesOpens in new window.

Thesis is said to be “admitting logical examination,” not because the other exercises are considered as lacking reasoning, but because this particular exercise is exclusively concerned with rational investigation and has no other attribute, since, if a particular circumstance is added, the result is a complete hypothesis.

Thus, thesis is different from hypothesisOpens in new window; for the former is devoid of circumstance of specific identification whereas the latter is constructed on the foundation of a circumstance.

For example, “Whether one should marry” is a thesis—here we inquire about the thing in the abstract, not necessarily asking if some particular person should marry or anything of such, but only asking if the thing (i.e., marriage) is good or not. However, if we want to imagine, for instance, that someone who has three sons has rejected them and, after dismissing a wife who is no longer of child–bearing age, considers whether to marry another, then it becomes an hypothesis.

Quite a number of theses are concerned with nature; for example, “whether the universe is spherical,” or any other such theological question; some are political, for example, “whether the city should be walled?” Those engaged in philosophical study relate to the division of natural questions.

Difference Between Thesis and Common–place

Thesis shares similarity with common–placeOpens in new window, for amplification of the subject occurs there too. However, thesis differs from common–place; because:

  1. in the latter, the subject about which the speeches are based is agreed upon, whereas, in the former, it is debatable; thus, in thesis, we cannot be prevented from attacking even what we praised.
  2. Likewise, in common–place we were able to incite a vote of judges, but here we are only able to undertake an evaluation as advice and without penalty ensuing from the judges.
  3. Furthermore, in common–place the person involved is supposed to have done wrong, while in thesis there is only a question about something without any specified circumstances.

Thesis is one of the exercises undertaken only as a part of something else; for it is not likely that thesis would be a whole (speech) since it is devoid of an identifiable circumstance and is, in itself, less than a complete hypotheses, unless one should call it a whole because of including all the parts of a speech.

Division into Headings

As there are three genres of rhetorical speech: deliberativeOpens in new window, judicialOpens in new window and panegyrical (epideictic)Opens in new window. Thesis clearly belongs to the deliberative genre, but it is also technically divided into the panegyrical headings.

Speaking of headings, some have relatively come up with different headings, of which some are called “final,” and others have attributed novel names to them. However, it is imperative to know that all of these nomenclatures given as headings by some are mere enthymemes, providing something useful to the subject; for example, what they call “according to nature,” or “law,” or “custom,” or “holy duty” in regard to the dead or in regard to the fatherland. All these identify the kind of headings they have invented.

Peradventure we propose that the subject is whether one should marry. If we were to begin with this and inquire to marry on the basis of nature or custom or law, or if it is a holy duty for the fatherland or our ancestors, what are we asking except what benefits would come from marriage, which would be enthymemes of one of the encomiastic headings?

If, on the other hand, we inquire who were the inventors and first users, what are we doing other than speaking the enthymemes which we shall adopt in place of origin. Thus, they seem to me to do rightly who divide thesis by the encomiastic headings, in order that the exercise may belong to the deliberative species but use the material and division of panegyric; for in complete deliberative hypotheses, whether exhorting or dissuading, we are accustomed to support our argument with praises and blames. Thus here too those making division in this way are nevertheless laudable.

Thesis is the first progymnasma to include antithesis and solution (lysis) of the question. Consider the following,

“A Thesis: Whether One Should Marry”

Let one who seeks to honor everything in brief praise marriage; for it came forth from heaven, or rather it filled heaven with gods and created a father of them, from whom the name “father” is given. By having given birth to gods, marriage removed them from the need to guard against mortal nature. Then, coming on the earth, it brings reproduction to all the rest, and having produced creatures that do not know how to survive death, it contrived continuance of their race by successive generations.

And first of all, marriage raises men to bravery; for since it knows how to get children and wives, for whom war is fought, it gives men strength by means of its gifts. Then, it makes them just as well as brave; for marriage makes men both just and brave because it endows them with children, for whose sake men feel fear and do just things. And surely it makes them wise as well, in that it stirs them to take thought for their dearest ones.

Paradoxically, marriage knows how to bring about self-control, and self-control has been co-mingled with desire for the pleasures (of sexual intercourse); by putting a legal limit on the pleasures, self-control provides pleasure to lawful action, and what in itself is a subject of accusation is admired when joined with marriage. If, then, marriage produces gods, and after them each of the generations in turn, and creates brave and just men and makes them wise and temperate, how should one not admire marriage as much as possible?

(Antithesis) “Yes,” he says, “but marriage is a cause of misfortunes.”

(Solution) You seem to me to be attacking fortune, not marriage. Fortune, not marriage, occasions the things that men suffer when they fare badly, and what marriage gives men is not a gift of fortune. As a result, marriage is more to be admired for its fine features than to be attacked for the evils fortune provides. But even if we should attribute to marriage the worst experiences of human beings, why should one refrain the more from marriage?

Difficulties that belong to actions do not bring about avoidance of action. Let me examine skills one by one to see what it is you really object to. Thunderbolts trouble farmers and hailstorms cause them loss; but farmers whose land has been struck by a thunderbolt do not abandon the land; they continue farming even if some damage comes from heaven. Again, men meet with misfortunes when sailing the seas, and storms befall them and wreck their ships; but they do not stop sailing because of what they have suffered in turn; they attribute misfortune to chance and await the profit that comes from the sea.

Moreover, battles and wars destroy the bodies of antagonists, and yet men do not avoid battles because they may fall while fighting; because fighters are admired, they are content to risk death and disguise the present danger for the sake of the attendant good.

One should not avoid what has much good in it because of some negative features but bear up under evils for the sake of the good things. Thus, it is not logical to conclude that, while farmers and sailors, and soldiers as well, bear troubles that come upon them for the sake of benefits that come with these difficulties, marriage, in contrast, should be dishonored because marriage brings some annoyance.

(Antithes) “Yes,” he says, “but marriage has made women widows and children orphans.”

(Solution) These are the evils of death, and nature knows the experience, but you seem to me to be blaming marriage because it does not make humans into gods, and to accuse marriage because it did not include mortal suffering for the gods. Why, please tell me, do you attack marriage for what is death’s business?

Why do you attribute to weddings things that nature knows? Grant that he will die who was born to die. But if human beings die because they have been born, and when they die bereave the spouse and make an orphan of a son, why do you say that marriage brought about what was only the result of nature?

On the contrary, I think that marriage corrects orphanhood and widowhood. Someone’s father dies and thus a child is an orphan; but (the mother’s next) marriage brings another father for the orphans, and the suffering does not come from marriage but is disguised by marriage, and marriage is the obliteration of bereavement, not its cause. Then, nature brought widowhood from death, but marriage changed it with wedding songs; one whom death made a widow marriage has given a husband to live with, as though standing guard over its gift.

The things it brought at first, it gave back again when they were taken away; thus marriage knows how to abolish bereavement, not how to bring it. And surely, though a father is deprived of children by their death, by marriage he secures others, and he becomes a father for a second time who was not allowed to be one the first time. Why then do you change the fine features of marriage into a charge against marriage? You seem to me not to be trying to attack but to be bringing praise to the wedding song; for by forcing us to enumerate the pleasures of wedding songs, you have become an admirer, not an accuser of marriage; and you force us to marvel at critics of marriage, and you make accusations against marriage a catalogue of its benefits.

(Antithesis) “Yes,” he says, “but marriage is wearisome.”

(Solution) What knows how to end weariness better than marriage does? Whatever wearies is removed by wedding songs and there is relief to everyone in coming into intercourse with a wife. How great it is for a man to go to bed with a woman! With what joy is a child expected, and when expected then appears, and having appeared he addresses his father and advances to the practice of a skill and works together with his father, haranguing the people in the assembly and caring for his father in old age and becoming everything he should be!

(Epilogue) It is not possible to describe in a word what marriage knows how to bring about. Marriage is a mighty thing, both producing gods and allowing mortals to seem to be gods by cleverly teaching how to survive. It teaches justice to those who practice it, and spurs them on to consider self-control and bestows those pleasures that are not obviously to be blamed. Thus, it has been established among all that marriage should be most highly valued.

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

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  • References
    • Aphthonius 10—16; Nicolaus 29—35; Schouler, La tradition hellénique, 1:86—97.

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