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The Rhetorical Exercises of Nikephoros Basilakes

The Rhetorical Exercises of Nikephoros Basilakes

Progymnasmata from Twelfth-Century Byzantium

Nikephoros Basilakes

Edited and translated by Jeffrey Beneker and Craig A. Gibson

ISBN 9780674660243

Publication date: 10/31/2016

Progymnasmata, preliminary exercises in the study of declamation, were the cornerstone of elite education from Hellenistic through Byzantine times. Using material from Greek literary, mythological, and historical traditions, students and writers composed examples ranging from simple fables to complex arguments about fictional laws. In the Byzantine period, the spectrum of source material expanded to include the Bible and Christian hagiography and theology.

This collection was written by Nikephoros Basilakes, imperial notary and teacher at the prestigious Patriarchal School in Constantinople during the twelfth century. In his texts, Basilakes made significant use of biblical themes, especially in character studies—known as ethopoeiae—featuring King David, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Peter. The Greek exercises presented here, translated into English for the first time, shed light on education under the Komnenian emperors and illuminate literary culture during one of the most important epochs in the long history of the Byzantine Empire.


  • [This translation] brilliantly captures Basilakes’s individual style as well as the intricacies of his rhetorical skills…The volume’s presentation is meticulous.

    —Sophia Xenophontos, Speculum


  • Jeffrey Beneker is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  • Craig A. Gibson is Professor of Classics and Collegiate Scholar at the University of Iowa.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 5-1/4 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press