For Services Rendered: the Meaning of chreia in Inscriptions and Literature

William C. West

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The phrase chreias parechein means "render service."  This is the epigraphical formulation in the official language of decrees, attested on stone at least by the 3rd century. The noun chreia comes from chraô, "use, make use of", but early examples show that a basic meaning is "need" (Pindar, Nem. 8.42; Soph., O. T. 84). The epigraphical formula orients  the usage toward benefits arising from the actions of individuals; hence it is readily adapted to eunoia, explaining the attitude ("good will") which makes it possible to render service. The phrase often extends to the commendation of an honorand for his good will. We begin to see the transition from need to use to service in the language of philosophy: Plato, Gorg. 480a, the chreia of rhetoric; Republic 371e, selling the chreia of strength; Symp. 204c, chreian echein tois anthropois, "be of use to men". Socrates' question to Diotima, "what use is Eros to men?", initiates a discussion leading to the clarification that Eros is desire of having ta agatha always. This shows that the use of something can easily be understood as doing something that results in service. Similarly of  22 examples of chreia in the Demosthenic corpus all except one are of need or use; but there is one example (Against Nausimachos [Or.] 38.26) where the term is used with leitourgein and clearly means "service" (chreia têi polei). Oratory promotes the creation of a formal language which will support a ready grasp of abstract ideas by an audience of listeners, and this perhaps shows why official language employed the term with the meaning of service.

"Service" is clearly established as a meaning of chreia by the inscriptions, in which the usual formula is chreias parechein. It appears in this sense in two passages in Polybius (1.16.8 and 3.97.4). By the time of Polybius, then, official language has made its influence felt in literature.

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