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Page history last edited by Jennifer Forsthoefel 14 years, 8 months ago


by Jennifer Forsthoefel


“Praise is speech that makes clear the great virtue [of the subject praised]. There is thus need to show that actions have been of that sort. Encomium, in contrast, is concerned with deeds…The deeds are signs of the person’s habitual character, since we would praise even one who had not accomplished anything if we believed him to be the sort who could” (On Rhetoric 1367b).


Origin: Aristotle classified three forms of oratory in On Rhetoric: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic.


Epideictic oratory includes an audience that is plays the role of spectator rather than judge, with the focus mainly on the speaking ability of the orator.  Aristotle claims that epideictic oratory requires the most attention to style because it acts similarly to a written piece rather than extemporaneous speech.


 Epideictic oratory consists of several subgenres:


Epitaphios logos: a eulogy delivered in ancient Athens for those who has died in battle; the purpose of this oration was to glorify the state and the values and ideas championed by the state  


Panegyric: a festival oration, speeches given at ceremonial occasions and public festivals in Greek cities; included a praise for the festival itself and the god associated with it, praise for the king or city officials, praise for the city in which it was held, and praise for the contest that would take place during the festival


Encomium: Formal eulogy in prose or verse glorifying people, objects, ideas, or events before a special audience.  Encomiums generally discuss actual events deeds and accomplishments of a particular individual (Timmerman).



Pedagogical Use: Progymnasmata


This term refers to a series of graduated rhetorical exercises common to the school of Western and Eastern Europe from the Roman republic through the Renaissance. These exercises were conducted in preparation of the more difficult gymnasmata, also known as the declamations.  Each exercise built on the one before it, moving the student from imitation forms of writing to more a more creative merging of the concerns of audience, speaker, and subject. The progymnasmata moved from Mythos, or fable, which involved the retelling of folktale in simple, direct style, to Nomou eisphora, which means legislation, an exercise which asked the student to argue in support or refute of a particular law.                 


The following is a general list of the elements of the progymnasmata in translation (Gideon)                   

1. Fable                                        8. Encomium

2. Narrative                                   9. Vituperation

3. Chreia                                     10. Comparison

4. Proverb                                   11. Impersonation

5. Refutation                              12. Description

6. Confirmation                          13. Thesis or Theme

7. Commonplace                       14. Defend / Attack a Law 


Among this list of exercises is the encomium.


For this exercise, students were taught to praise an individual, simultaneously educating students on the cultural values prized by the society while teaching students a performative way to use these values. The objects of praise range from plants to persons, virtues to season to locales.


Highly practical and relevant for funeral eulogies, forensic addresses, and other discourse forms, the encomium gave a student the opportunity to discover and use the available means of cultural praise (O'Rourke).


Sample Encomium formula:

  1. Describe the stock a person comes from:
    • what people
    • what country
    • what ancestors
    • what parents
  2. Describe the person's upbringing
    • education
    • instruction in art
    • training in laws
  3. Describe the person's deeds, which should be described as the results of
    • his/her excellencies of mind (such as fortitude or prudence)
    • his/her excellencies of body (such as beauty, speed, or vigor)
    • his/her excellencies of fortune (as high position, power, wealth, friends)
  4. Make a favorable comparison to someone else to escalate your praise
  5. Conclude with an epilogue including either an exhortation to your hearers to emulate this person, or a prayer (Gideon).


Encomiums of Helen of Troy


By Gorgias:

Details several reasons why Helen cannot be blamed for her actions because yielding to Paris was unavoidable and inevitable.



By Isocrates:

Praises her actions on the basis that her actions saved the Greeks from being enslaved. The Trojan War united the Greeks to a degree that was not present prior to the conflict. There has been speculation that Isocrates did not mean this to be a genuine praise of Helen and thus, perhaps a less than authentic




Works Cited and Additional Resources


D’Angelo, Frank J. Composition in the Classical Tradition. New YorK: Longman, 1999.

Gideon, Gideon O. "Encomium" Silva Rhetorica. Department of Rhetoric. Bringham Young University. Web. 26 Sept, 2009.

Gideon, Gideon O. " Progymnasmata " Silva Rhetorica. Department of Rhetoric. Bringham Young University. Web. 26 Sept, 2009.

Kennedy, George A. Aristotle on Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Kennedy, George A. Progymnasmata: Greek textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003.

O'Rourke, Sean Patrick. "Progymnasmata." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition. 1996 ed. Print.

Poulakos, John. "Gorgias' and Isocrates' Use of the Encomium." Southern Speech Communication Journal 51.4 (01 June 1986): 300-07.

Timmerman, David M. "Epideictic Oratory." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition.1996 ed. Print.









Comments (1)

Megan Motlagh said

at 10:16 pm on Sep 28, 2009

The progymnasmata is one aspect of ancient rhetoric that provides invaluable information regarding the structure of speech. Chreia and encomium should definitely be linked within this website, and I believe doing so will provide a great foundation for others who may want to contribute later with other entries (confirmation, refutation, etc.). I'm very interested in encomium/panegyric, so it's wonderful to see and absorb your input regarding the encomium. Regarding the O'Rourke quote, I smiled when I saw it because I read in one of the resources I found that Quintillian doesn't lend much credence to deliberative speaking, which opened up an entirely new can of worms that was beyond the scope of what I wanted to research. It's a great over-arching quote!

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