Chreiai – An Important and Ignored Term

The term “chreiai” is ignored and grossly underdeveloped in our professional literature.

Chreiai is a term that describes memorable statements or useful sayings that speakers use as topics that they can expand into rhetorical presentations.

I found this definition from Emory University website.  You can access the site here.

chreia: A chreia (pl. chreiai) is a brief statement or action aptly attributed to a specific person or something analogous to a person. If a chreia features a brief statement, that statement may be a thesis. There are three types of chreiai: sayings chreiai, action chreiai, and mixed chreiai. A chreia may be expanded, elaborated, or abbreviated.

In his book, The Gnostic Discoveries (Harper Collins, 2005), Marvin Meyer states:

Chreiai continued to be used in the Middle Ages and beyond by students of rhetoric and grammar, but eventually among Christian rhetoricians chreiai lost much of their Cynic cleverness and wit and became domesticated.  They turned into the serious statements of those engaged in the business of Christian theology and ethics, where there may be little room for cleverness and wit” (p. 60).

Not so fast!  I think the examples he uses on the same page are pretty witty.  I reproduce these here:

“Marcus Porcius Cato, when asked why he was studying Greek literature after his eightieth year, said, ‘Not that I may die learned but that I may not die unlearned.'”

“The Pythagorean philosopher Theano, when asked by someone how long it takes after having sex with a man for a woman to be pure to go to the Thesmophoria (the festival celebrated in honor of Demeter and Kore), said, ‘If it is with her own husband, at once, but if with someone else’s, never.'”

Meyer notes that even the words of wisdom offered by Jesus in Christian texts qualify as chreiai.

I am surprised how buried this term has been.  Even our fellow blogger, Randy Mayeux, who went through seminary, then graduate training in rhetoric, and then in the ministry for twenty years, had never come across this term.

Yet, I find it descriptive, and perhaps useful as we look at clever sayings in contemporary books.

What about you?  Does this interest you?

Let’s talk about it really soon!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *