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date: 23 October 2018


The word enkōmion is probably derived from kōmos, ‘revel’, though some ancient writers preferred to connect it with kōmē, ‘village’: there was a similar dispute about the origin of kōmōidia. It denotes praise or congratulation. Some poems of Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides were classified as enkōmia by Alexandrian scholars (see lyric poetry). Prose enkōmia begin to appear in the 5th cent. They are not always a serious substitute for poetry, but more jeux d'esprit. Gorgias (1) describes his Helen as his paignion (jeu d'esprit), and the sophist Polycrates (2) is credited with paradoxical pieces on salt and mice. This tradition persisted; good later examples are Lucian's Fly and Synesius' Baldness. A well-defined rhetorical structure developed early, exemplified by the praises of Eros in Plato's Symposium (esp. Agathon's speech), Isocrates' obituary of Evagoras, and Xenophon (1)'s Agesilaus. Family and birth come first, then achievements and virtues, some or all of the four cardinal virtues forming the usual framework. This pattern proved adaptable to e.g. the praise of cities; it also influenced the development of biography (see biography, greek; biography, roman). Theory too began in the 4th cent. The Rhetorica ad Alexandrum (see anaximenes (2)) emphasizes the need to exaggerate good points and play down bad, while Aristotle speculates on the nature of praise and the praiseworthy (goods of the soul, rather than those of the body, or external goods), and appears to regard enkōmia as a response to actions and epainos (‘praise’) to character (Eth. Nic. Eth. End. 1101b, Eudemian Ethics 1219b). For later theory, see epideictic. Verse encomia continued to be produced, from Theocritus 16 (To Ptolemy), down to Claudian's poems on Honorius and Stilicho. Prose versions however were more common, an ubiquitous feature of public life throughout Roman and Byzantine times. In the rhetorical schools, encomium, though viable as a complete speech, was commonly included in the course of progymnasmata, where instruction was given on how to praise men, cities, institutions, animals, and various natural phenomena. Libanius' set of models, for example, comprises Diomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, Thersites (a favourite paradoxical subject), and Demosthenes, but also Justice, Farming, An Ox, and Palm-Tree and Apple-Tree. The opposite of encomium is psogos, ‘blame’, which uses the same rhetorical structure, but says bad things instead of good about each stage of its victim's life. See invective.


For bibliog., see epideictic (note esp. L. Pernot, La rhétorique de l’éloge…).Google PreviewWorldCat Also relevant are works on progymnasmata (note Theon, ed. M. Patillon and G. Bolognesi (2002), lxxiv–lxxx;Google PreviewWorldCat

G. A. Kennedy, Progymnasmata 2003),Google PreviewWorldCat and studies of biography (note A. Dihle, Studien zur griechischen Biographie (1956)).Google PreviewWorldCat On paradoxical encomia, A. S. Pease, CPh 21 (1926), 27–42Google PreviewWorldCat remains a classic article.

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