Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ἐνκομίον or encomium

ἐνκομίον (enkomion) or encomium is the eighth of the ancient progymnasmata and is, according to Hermogenes,
"an exposition of the good qualities of a person or thing." (Hermogenes, 14, Kennedy).
This is a very broad definition, but an encomium is merely a speech of praise about a person.  The progymnasmatists expand greatly on this topic, providing several areas or topics one can use to praise a person. For example,  there are external goods such as place of birth, occurrences at birth, nurture, upbringing, education. Goods of the body (health, strength, etc.).  Then there are internal goods such as goods of the mind (intellect, wisdom), virtues (justice, bravery).  Then there are actions and deeds (to which I would also add speech).  Finally, there is the manner of death and what happened after death.  The student, taking these topics, can pick and choose from them which would be most flattering to his or her subject.

About manner of birth, Hermogenes says,
"You will mention also any marvelous occurrences at birth, for example, from dreams or signs or things like that." (Hermogenes, 15, Kennedy).
 Reading the birth narratives of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke read like an encomium of Jesus.  Especially in regard to Hermogenes' last comment, the birth of Jesus was surrounded by numerous "dreams or signs or things like that."  From Matthew, Jesus birth is preceded by a miraculous star in heaven.  Dreams are given to Joseph.  The baby is born of a virgin.  From Luke's gospel, angels appear, visions are given to Mary.  The baby is born of a virgin.  All of these things are commonplaces for the birth of an important individual.

The genealogies also function as part of the encomium.  In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is given a royal lineage with many impressive figures. 

We get nothing from Matthew about Jesus' nurture upbringing, or education.  But, in Luke, we get one scene that pertains to Jesus' education.  There is the short episode in Luke chapter two about Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12.  We are told that those who heard Jesus speak "were amazed at his understanding and his answers." (Luke 2:47).  This verse serves to fill in the education portion of the encomium of Jesus.  It does not give the means of Jesus' education, but the outcome, namely that Jesus at the age of 12 was able to amaze the experts in the Temple.

The rest of the gospels fill out the encomium, dealing with Jesus' actions, deeds, and speech, finally ending with his death and what happened after his death.

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