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Diagesis--let's discuss!

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So, I haven't taken the class that this forum refers to, but classical pedagogy seemed like the best place to put this question. Not long ago, I was introduced for the first time to the word "diagesis" (I think I was familiar with the concept before). I've never heard this word used in the discussion of classical pedagogy, but it seems as vital as mimesis, especially since they are paired in Plato's Republic. Since I've never heard this word before, I'm guessing it will be as new to most of us as it was to me, but I'd love to talk about it, especially with anyone who is familiar with it. If not--if it's as new to others as to me--do you think it it worth as exploring as a neglected aspect of classical pedagogy, or is it less about pedagogy and more about something else? Anyone want to read the following article and start thinking about this with me?



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So, I'm kind of bumping this one up. Since there were no takers, I'm guessing it is as new to most of you as it is to me. And of course, I misspelled it--it's diegesis, not diagesis.

Still hoping, though, that someone might like to explore this with me, I'm going to quote the first paragraph.


Diegesis (“narrative,” “narration”) and mimesis (“imitation,” “representation,” “enactment”) are a pair of Greek terms first brought together for proto-narratological purposes in a passage from Plato’s Republic (3.392c–398b). Contrary to what has become standard modern usage (section 3 below), diegesis there denotes narrative in the wider generic sense of discourse that communicates information keyed to a temporal framework (events “past, present, or future,” Republic 392d). It is subdivided at the level of discursive style or presentation (lexis) into a tripartite typology: 1) haple diegesis, “plain” or “unmixed” diegesis, i.e. narrative in the voice of the poet (or other authorial “storyteller,” muthologos, 392d); 2) diegesis dia mimeseos, narrative “by means of mimesis,” i.e. direct speech (including drama, Republic 394b–c) in the voices of individual characters in a story; and 3) diegesis di’ amphoteron, i.e. compound narrative which combines or mixes both the previous two types, as in Homeric epic, for example. From this Platonic beginning, the terms have had a long and sometimes tangled history of usage, right up to the present day, as a pair of critical categories.

Classical educators, how can you resist the enticement of such a beginning as that? 😉

Okay, I know it's thick. But because of my interest in narration (ala Charlotte Mason), this really caught my attention when it was shared with me. I hear all the time that the two pedagogical methods of classical education are mimesis and Socratic teaching. I really want to explore how this idea of diegesis, which is tied closely to mimesis fits into this. Is there a pedagogy here? Is this another word for Socratic teaching? (I don't think that's quite it.) If you read the article, you'll find that this is also linked to the discussion of myth...

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I am unaware of the source you cite here, but and I couldn't find any direct references to diegesis in my generic rhetoric resources (Sloane's Encyclopedia, Halsall's Dictionary of Literary Terms, or Silva Rhetoricae). However, the exercise in narration in the Progymnasmata is similar to diegesis. Both Aphthonius and Hermogenes make the following comparison (I'm using Hermogenes' description found in Kennedy's Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric😞

"A narrative (diegema) differs from a narration (diegesis) as a piece of poetry (poiema) differs from a poetical work (poiesis). A poiema and a diagema are concerned with one thing, a poiesis and a diegesis with many; for example, the Iliad is a poiesis and the Odyssey is a poiesis, while the "Making of the Shield" (Iliad 18) and "Descent into the Underworld" (Odyssey 11) and "Killing the Suitors" (Odyssey 22) are poiemata. Again, the History of Herodotus is a diegesis, as is that of Thucydides, but the story of Arion (Herodotus 1.23) or of Alcmeon (Thucydides 2.102) is a diagema" (75).

Thus, it appears the narration (diegesis) is a whole, made up of narrative (diegema) parts. The narrative exercises in the Progymnasmata would thus train students in the parts of narrative that could be combined into larger narrations (dramatic, historical, or political; to use Aphthonius' division). For more complicated varieties of narration, I can copy and send the entry on "narrative" from A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z, which includes a complete technical exposition.

Pedagogically, it seems, narration is quite different from socratic teaching, since narration does not engage in dialogue in media res, despite its reproduction of direct speech and dialogue. The closest identification of narration and socratic teaching would be Plato's dialogues, which are written after the fact (narration) as dialogues containing a great amount of dialectic method on display (questions--maieutics; and refutation--elenchus).

I'm ignorant of Charlotte Mason's explanation of narration, but from within the Platonic method, I'd say that narration would dovetail with dialectic pedagogically. We see this in his dialogues, and it occurs in different orders. In Gorgias there is an opening question, which is developed through dialectical exchanges with five separate characters, but predominantly through Socrates and Callicles. At the end, after much frustration, Socrates resorts to a myth in order to establish ethical force to his unaccepted (at least by Callicles) refutation. In Phaedrus, however, a speech initiates the dialogue and culminates in a lengthy speech that includes a myth, which then gets explained and applied in a subsequent dialectic discussion between Socrates and Phaedrus. The narratives (not narrations) serve to illustrate and support the arguments and ideas, but they can precede or follow in order. As an interesting additional point, it is my belief that Phaedrus, as a dialogue, presents itself as an example of the method the dialogue sets forth, and thus serves as an example for imitation.

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