Composition: how can we do better?


Composition: arranging of words to from sentences, paragraphs, verses, etc.; the art or practice of writing. (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 4th edition)

Writing in any language is by no means an easy task. To take words and convey ideas, all whilst navigating a dizzying sea of communal, national, and global norms is something that many brave souls undertake, yet few succeed in.

Today, I would like to propose that there exists a theory of composition that can transcend many (but not all) norms. Its name is: Progymnasmata. The Ancient Greeks invented it as a way of tying their oratory skills into their writing skills, and though complex in one sense, it greatly outperforms many other forms of writing theories across the board and across the nations of this world.

So what is this theory based on, and to what end does one apply it?

Progymnasmata was based on the idea that there are a set of “tools” that all writers (and orators) should master, and that these tools are best learned one at a time. This compositional theory was meant to be taught AFTER students had mastered the art of grammar (spelling and basic sentence structure), while being taught alongside of logic, character studies, and other scholastic subjects. And, while I cannot answer for everyone, I have found that I apply this theory when I wish to throughly present an argument in such a way that it convinces even those who are initially opposed to the idea.

Below you shall see the fourteen “exercises” through which one must progress (no skipping steps!) in order to throughly master this art of composition. Along with those exercises I have listed the primary composition skill(s) one is expected to master during each exercise. (Click on the image to view a larger picture).

Progymnasmata Outline

To give credit where credit is due: I am pulling most of this information from two sources: Memoria Press’s lesson series and Silvia Rhetorica’s explanation of various components. After all, in order to learn something well, we must start somewhere.


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