Definition of Encomium

Encomium is speaking or writing highly praising someone or something. In grammar, encomium is a noun used in formal language, while its plural is encomia. It is praise written to admire something or somebody.

Etymologically, it has been derived from a Greek term, enkomion that means to praise somebody or something. The Latin term used for this is laudation.

Examples of Encomium in Literature

Example #1

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton

This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

These are the first two stanzas of John Milton’s popular ode “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” This is a classic example of encomium as the first two lines show how the poet feels about the month and the day with the third verse clarifying the names and the last three praising Christ and the Holy Ghost. The second stanza is all praise for the Light, Majesty, Form, and Trinal Unity, showing that the poet is an expert in using encomium.

Example #2

A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687 by John Dryden

From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
Arise ye more than dead.
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And music’s pow’r obey.
From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.

These lines occur in the poem of John Dryden. The praise of Heaven and harmony go side by side with the nature that the poet says it is all due to Heavenly harmony. This praise of Heaven shows the use of encomium done appropriately.

Example #3

Ode to Duty by William Wordsworth

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!

Although William Wordsworth always praises nature, he is all praise for Duty in this Ode in which he terms it “Stern Daughter” and that too of the “Voice of God.” The use of the apostrophe in the very second line shows how Wordsworth praises Duty and considers it a personified figure having life and emotions of its own. This great commendation for Duty is a suitable example of encomium.

Example #4

From “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King

“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Despite having political and social connotations, this speech of Martin Luther King shows that he constantly harps on the strings of freedom as if this slogan, voice, or melody needs to be freed. The praise for freedom has transformed this simple passage into a great piece of encomium.

Example #5

 From Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

 Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you.

This passage occurs in Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in which the boy, Crow, talks to the narrator, explaining to him the difference between him and his fate, arriving at the conclusion that he himself is the fate. If he is all convinced about himself, he can win in life. This a very good example of encomium as he praises his inner strength to convince the narrator that he can do everything.

Functions of Encomium

 Although simple praise also works, encomium is specifically literary praise that the poets and writers write to commend somebody for his exploits and achievements. In a religious sense, it invokes devotion from the devotes as the first two odes show, while in the political sense, it intends to rally the public around an abstract idea such as the speech of Martin Luther King shows. Yet, it has its specific quality; it sings in the praise of something or somebody in a way that it demonstrates the dedication and devotion of the writer or the speaker.