Encomion: The 9th Progymnasmata Exercise Explained

Encomion (enkômion, the 9th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercisesOpens in new window) is a language speaking well of some specified person or thing in a discursive way on the basis of acknowledged merits. Or as defined by TheonOpens in new window: “language revealing the greatness or virtuous actions and other good qualities belonging to a particular person.” In the first definition we had used the word “discursive” (diexodoikos) because encomions are extended in length and explore all excellences of the subject.

In encomion, it is appropriate that we celebrate persons and things, both occasions and places, dumb animals and plants as well: persons, like Thucydides or Demosthenes; things, like justice or self-control; occasions, like spring or summer; and places, like harbors and gardens; dumb animals, like a horse or ox; plants, like olive or vine. Collective as well as individual encomia may be given; collectively, like an encomion of all Athenians, individually, like an encomion of one Athenian.

The end of encomion is the honorable, as justice is the end of judicial and the advantageous of deliberative speech. It is particularly called encomion (enkômion) from the fact that people long ago used to make hymns to gods and speeches of praise of each other at a sort of village festival (kômos).

Template for Composition

Praise the person or thing for which the encomion is intended, for being merited in good deeds. After composing an exordium (introduction), follow these steps:

A.  Describe the stock the person comes from: B.  Describe the person′s upbringing
C.  Describe the person′s deeds, which should be described as the results of:

D.  Make a favorable comparison to someone else to escalate your praise.

E.  Conclude with an epilogue including either an exhortation to your hearers to emulate this person, or a prayer.

The Scope of Encomion

The scope of encomion is wide; it is not limited to a single form as with other earlier exercises in the progymnasmata. Its division sprouts into: speeches of arrival (epibatêrioi); wedding speeches (epithalamioi); funeral speeches (epitaphioi), and as well as addresses to officials (prosphônêtikoi) and hymns to gods and every other related speeches concerned with praises fall into the scope of the encomion.

All of these genres are distinct from one another; for example, a wedding speech or an address to an official or a praise of Apollo (sminthiakos) or any other appraisal speech at festivals, or a hymn to a god. It is essential to stress that each of these genres has its own divisions, which of course for obvious reasons, cannot be delved into in this rudimentary study. However, mentioning briefly, it is essential in the case of each of the hypotheses for its own heading to prevail; for example, in wedding oratories, praise of marriage, which is also known as “arguing a thesis” (thetikos); in a panathenaicus or any other speech of like nature, or whatever relates generically to feasting.

As have been mentioned earlier (in other exercises), rhetorical oration consists of three genres: the deliberative, the judicial, and the panegyrical. Encomion clearly belongs to the panegyrical genre. And as some progymnasmata are parts, and others parts and wholes; encomion fall under the same category with those of the parts and wholes, which sometimes, by themselves, elaborate an hypothesis and at some time constitutes parts of other hypotheses.

Encomion is treated as a whole whenever it is used to speak well of someone, and as a part whenever it’s used in the act of praising something in a deliberative speech, or during a prosecution when recommending the merit of a case and attacking that of an opponent. An example of the former is Isocrates’ Panegyricus, belonging to the deliberative species but constructed of encomiastic material; of the latter, Demosthenes’ On the Crown is a good example.

Further Readings:
Libanus, Progymnasmata, Encomium 4,1 (Gibson, Progymnasmata, 229ff.)
Theon, Progymnasmata, 109. 1–2.
Webb, “The Progymnasmata as Practice,” 301.
Silver Rhetoricae: EncomiumOpens in new window