Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
Previous Chapter

Book 3 - Chapter 7

Next Chapter
Of panegyric or laudatory eloquence; not wholly distinct from practical discussion, § 1, 2. An orator does not always speak on doubtful points, 3, 4. Panegyric sometimes requires proof and defense, and very frequently amplification, 5, 6. Praise of the gods, 7-9. Praise of men more varied, 10, 11. Men extolled for personal endowments and fortunate circumstances, 12-14. For mental qualifications, 15, 16. For memorials which they leave of themselves, 17, 18. In censure the ease is reversed, 19-21. On praise of the living, 22. It makes a difference where a panegyric is delivered, 23, 24. Advantage may be taken by the orator of the proximity of certain virtues to certain vices, 25. Praise of cities, places, public works, 26, 27. What position most prevailed in this department of oratory, 28 .

1. I SHALL commence with that species of oratory which is devoted to praise and censure. This species Aristotle, and Theophrastus who follows him, seem to have excluded altogether from the practical department of speaking and to have considered that its only object is to please the audience, an object which is indeed intimated by its name epideictic from ἐπιδείκνυμι, "to display." 2. But the usage of the Romans has given it a place in civil transactions. Funeral orations are often a duty attached to some public office and are frequently assigned to the magistrates by a decree of the senate; and to commend or censure a witness is not without effect on the result of trials. It is lawful, also, to produce panegyrists on behalf of accused persons; and the written compositions published against Cicero's competitors, against Lucius Piso, Clodius, and Curio, are full of invective, and yet were received as opinions in the senate. 3. But I do not deny that some discourses of this kind have been composed merely for ostentation, as those in praise of the gods and of the heroes of former times. This is a fact by which a question noticed above is solved and by which it is shown that those were mistaken who thought that an orator would never speak on any but doubtful subjects. 4. Are the praises of Jupiter Capitolinus, a perpetual subject at the sacred contests, doubtful? Or are they not treated in oratorical style?

But as panegyric employed for practical purposes requires proof, so that which is composed for display calls sometimes for some semblance of proof. 5. The orator who says that Romulus was the son of Mars and was nursed by a she-wolf would offer in proof of his celestial origin the arguments that, being thrown into a running stream, he could not be drowned; that he had such success in all his undertakings; that it is not incredible that he was sprung from the god who presides over war; and that the people of those times had no doubt that he was even received into heaven. 6. But some particulars in such subjects will be treated as if they required defense; for example, in a panegyric on Hercules, the orator would perhaps apologize for his change of dress with the queen of Lydia, and the tasks, as we are told, imposed upon him. But the peculiar business of panegyric is to amplify and embellish its subjects.

This kind of eloquence is devoted chiefly to gods or men, though it is sometimes employed about animals and things inanimate. 7. In praising the gods, we shall, in the first place, express a general veneration for the majesty of their nature and shall then eulogize the peculiar power of each and such of their inventions as have conferred benefit on mankind. 8. In regard to Jupiter, for instance, his power in ruling all things is to be extolled; in regard to Mars, his supremacy in war; in regard to Neptune, his command of the sea. In respect to inventions, we extol, in praising Minerva, that of the arts; in praising Mercury, that of letters; in praising Apollo, that of medicine; in praising Ceres, that of corn; in praising Bacchus, that of wine. Whatever exploits, also, antiquity has recorded as performed by them, are to receive their encomium. Parentage, too, is a subject of panegyric in regard to the gods, as when any one is a son of Jupiter; antiquity, as to those who were sprung from Chaos; and offspring, as Apollo and Diana are an honor to Latona. 9. We may make it a subject of praise to some that they were born immortal, and to others, that they attained immortality by their merits, a kind of glory which the piety of our own emperor has made an honor to the present age.

10. The praise of men is more varied. First of all, it is distinguished with respect to time, that which was before them, that in which they themselves lived, and in regard to those who are dead, that also which followed their death. Antecedent to the birth of a man will be his country, parents, and ancestors, to whom we may refer in two ways, for it will be honorable to them either to have equalled the nobility of their forefathers or to have ennobled a humble origin by their achievements. 11. Other subjects for eulogy may also sometimes be found in the time that preceded a man's birth, such as occurrences that denoted his future eminence by prophetic indications or auguries; for example, the oracles are said to have foretold that the son of Thetis would be greater than his father. 12. The praises of a man personally should be derived from the qualities of his mind, body, or external circumstances. The merits of corporeal and accidental advantages are of less weight than those of the mind and may be treated in many ways. Sometimes we celebrate beauty and strength with honor of words, as Homer extols them in his Agamemnon and Achilles. Sometimes comparative weakness may contribute much to our admiration, as when Homer says that Tydeus was small of stature, yet a warrior. 13. Fortune, too, gives dignity, as in kings and princes, for in their condition, there is the ampler field for displaying merit, and among people of other conditions, the less resources a person has, the greater honor he acquires by making a praiseworthy use of them. All advantages, indeed, which are external to us and which have fallen to us accidentally, are not subjects of praise to a man merely because he possessed them, but only in case he employed them to good purpose. 14. For wealth, power, and influence, as they offer most opportunities for good or evil, afford the surest test of our morals, since we are sure to be either better for them or worse.

15. Praise of the good qualities of the mind is always just, but more than one way may be pursued in the treatment of it. Sometimes it is more honorable to follow the progress of a person's life and the order of his actions, so that his natural genius, shown in his early years, may be first commended, then his advancement in learning, and then his course of conduct including not only what he did, but what he said. Sometimes it will be better to divide our praises among the several kinds of virtues—fortitude, justice, temperance, and others—and to assign to each the honor of that which has been done under its influence. 16. Which of these two methods will be the more eligible for us, we shall have to consider according to our subject, keeping in mind, however, that the celebration of those deeds is most pleasing to the audience which the object of our praise is said to have been the first to do, or to have done alone, or with the aid of but few supporters, whatever else he may have effected beyond hope or expectation, and especially what he has done for the good of others rather than for his own.

17. Of the time which follows the death of persons, it is not always in our power to treat, not only because we sometimes praise them while they are still living, but because few occasions offer on which divine honors, public decrees, or statues erected at the expense of the state can be celebrated. 18. Among such subjects for eulogy, I would reckon monuments of genius, which may be admired through all ages, for some, like Menander, have obtained more justice from the judgment of posterity than from that of their contemporaries. Children reflect glory upon their parents, cities on their founders, laws on those who have made them, arts on their inventors; institutions also on their authors, as it was appointed by Numa, for instance, that we should worship the gods, and by Publicola that the consuls should lower the fasces before the people.

19. The same method will be observed in censure, but so as to set things in a different light, for meanness of origin has been a dishonor to many, and nobility itself has rendered others more conspicuous and more odious for their vices. To some, as is said to have been the case with Paris, mischief which it was foretold they should cause has produced dislike; on others, as Thersites and Irus, deformity of person or misfortune has thrown contempt. In regard to others, good qualities corrupted by vices have rendered them hateful; thus we find Nireus represented by the poets as cowardly, and Pleisthenes as debauched. 20. Of the mind, too, there are as many vices as virtues, and both, as in panegyric, may be treated in two ways. On some men ignominy has been thrown after death, as on Maelius, whose house was levelled with the ground, and Marcus Manlius, whose praenomen was not allowed to be borne by his posterity. 21. Of the vicious, also, we hate even the parents. To founders of cities, it is an opprobrium to have drawn together a people noxious to those around them, as was the case with the original author of the Jewish superstition, so the laws of the Gracchi brought odium on their name. Any example of vice given to posterity disgraces its author, as that of the obscenity which a Persian is said to have first ventured to practice with a woman of Samos. 22. With respect to the living, also, the judgments formed of them by others are proofs of their character, and the honor or dishonor shown to them proves the orator's eulogy or censure to be just.

23. But Aristotle thinks it of importance to the orator to consider the place in which anything is to be commended or censured, for it makes a great difference what the manners of the audience are and what opinions are publicly entertained among them, as they will be most willing to believe that the virtues which they approve are in him who is eulogized, or that the vices which they hate are in him whom we censure. Thus the judgment formed by the orator as to the effect of his speech, even before the delivery of it, will be pretty certain. 24. Some praise of his audience, too, should always be mingled with his remarks (for it makes them favorably disposed towards him) and, whenever possible, should be so introduced as to strengthen his cause. A panegyric on literary studies will be received with less honor at Sparta than at Athens; a panegyric on patience and fortitude with greater. Among some people it is honorable to live by plunder; among others to respect the laws. Frugality would perhaps have been an object of hatred with the Sybarites; luxury would have been the greatest of crimes among the ancient Romans. 25. Similar diversity is found in individuals. A judge is most favorable to a pleader when he thinks that his sentiments coincide with his own. Aristotle also directs (a precept which Cornelius Celsus has since carried almost to excess) that, as there is a certain proximity of virtues and vices, we should sometimes avail ourselves of words that approach each other in sense, so as, for instance, to call a person brave instead of rash, liberal instead of prodigal, frugal instead of avaricious; or, on the contrary, the vice may be put for the virtue. This is an artifice, however, which a true orator, that is, a good man, will never adopt, unless he happen to be led to it by a notion promoting the public good.

26. Cities are eulogized in the same way as persons, for their founder is to be considered as their parent, and antiquity confers much dignity on their inhabitants, as we see in regard to people who are said to be sprung from the soil of their country. In their transactions, there are the same virtues and vices as in the conduct of individuals. Some have peculiar advantages to be noticed, as in their situation or defenses. Citizens may be an honor to them, as children to parents.

27. Encomiums may also be bestowed on public works, in respect to which magnificence, utility, beauty, and the architect of them are commonly considered—magnificence, as in temples; utility, as in walls; beauty and the architect, in both. Panegyrics on places are also found, as that on Sicily in Cicero, in which we regard, in like manner, beauty and utility—beauty in maritime regions, plains, and pleasant spots; utility, in respect to healthfulness or fertility of soil. There is a kind of general praise, too, for honorable sayings or actions. 28. There is praise, indeed, for things of every kind, for eulogies have been written on sleep and death, and by physicians on certain sorts of food.

While I do not admit, therefore, that this laudatory department of oratory relates only to questions concerning what is honorable, I think, at the same time, that it is chiefly comprised under quality. Certainly all three positions may enter into this kind of composition, and Cicero has observed that Caius Caesar has availed himself of them in his invective on Cato. But the whole of panegyrical oratory bears some resemblance to deliberative because, for the most part, that which is recommended in the one is praised in the other.

Previous Chapter
Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:7/23/06
Next Chapter