Short Paper 1: The Encomium

The encomium is one way that we can try to understand the sophists’ way of understanding rhetoric as a way of creating or constituting social reality. Sometimes the sophists’ creation of a shared fantasy is described as a “deception,” in which the speaker misleads the audience into believing false information. Other scholars have claimed that what the sophists did was not “deception,” but rather that they “[placed] all possible representations of reality on equal epistemological footing,” creating the opportunity to compare different kinds of knowledge. (2001, 58-59).

Why did Helen even need to be rescued in the Encomium? Because it was a popular and misogynistic myth among the Greeks that Helen had been the ‘cause’ of the Trojan war. They attributed the start of the war specifically to the fact that Helen, wife to Menelaus, had been taken by Paris of Troy immediately after the Trojans and Greeks had signed a peace treaty.

The Encomium of Helen “rescues” Helen from this blame, but it does so in a way is itself deeply misogynistic, that is, in a way that also reduces her freedom or agency. By Gorgias’ account, Helen is a passive object who cannot be made to assume responsibility for a path she could not herself have chosen. Helen is redeemed, in his eyes, because she can be made a non-agent; she cannot be responsible for her actions because her only option was to acquiesce to more powerful forces.

“either by will of fate and decision of the gods and vote of Necessity did she do what she did,  or by force reduced, or by words seduced, or by love possessed.”

The encomium of Helen is both a rescue of Helen and a rescue of rhetoric. If the speech can rescue Helen, it shows something about the way that words can create a shared social reality, how rhetoric can move people and constitute a new common sense.

 

Assignment Instructions

For this assignment, students should compose a 2-page long encomium that performs a rescue of a topic that has been disparaged or ignored and that deserves a new or fresh take. Encomiums can range from the serious to the comedic; they can seek to shed light on serious conditions of social inequality or injustice or, alternatively, they can give a boost to a celebrity, job, or hobby that is usually ridiculed as unserious or eccentric. I have provided examples of each I encourage students to research their encomia, which should include a bibliography or works cited of 3-5 sources. If students are seeking a template for how to organize their ideas, please consider the materials provided below.

  1. Select your topic on the basis of its legitimately unfair public treatment or its relative inconspicuousness.
  2. Establish the popular reasons why this topic has been scrutinized, how it has been judged, and why such judgments were rendered.
  3. Finally, systematically refute these reasons by placing your subject in the best possible light.

 

***Observations and Advice***

  1.  Be sure to provide sufficient information to justify the fact that the topic has been “unfairly disparaged”  (underrated, minimized, trivialized, belittled, undervalued). Just because it’s your favorite (movie, restaurant, band) does not mean it’s been treated unfairly. Similarly, “everyone knows that X is bad” does not provide adequate grounding for celebrating the topic. This is where you may need additional evidence. This completes only half of what the encomium is: proving that the topic has been disparaged, and then rescuing it.
  2. Evidence can be used (a) to show that the topic has been unfairly treated and (b) to show what is redeeming or worthy of reconsideration. I’ve also gotten questions about a few topics that are too specific, such that there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support it. For example, if you’re rescuing an underused hashtag, there may not be a lot out there. The solution in such cases is to broaden the topic as appropriate. Instead of rescuing one film that did poorly at the box office, rescue films that do poorly at the box office. That opens a range of examples and evidence.
  3. The assignment asks for “credible” evidence, which may seem like an ambiguous term. Credible means that it comes from a source that has some authority on the subject. It means that you can consider a wide range of sources, including newspapers, magazines, news organizations, widely circulated blogs, academic sources, advertisements, speeches, even social media. If you’d like to cite a reddit thread or a tweet with a LOT of likes that makes your point, be my guest. For the purposes of this assignment, credible means that shouldn’t be the main or only evidence that you provide in the paper.
  4. Be careful not to interpret “encomium” as “satire.” Instead of truly rescuing a topic, some encomiums from previous semesters only pretended to rescue a topic while, in fact, roasting (or insulting) it.  Unfortunately, the absence of a rescue (i.e. if it is only a “rescue” in scare quotes or sarcastically) means that it is not an encomium. An encomium is different than satire because it sets out reasons that something has been disparaged or ‘beat up’ and then systematically rescues this person, object, or idea from this bad reputation. This is the gist of the Encomium of Helen as well as the examples considered in class/the assignment document, which rescue people or ideas that have gotten bad press and deserve a second look (immigrant refugees, heelys, etc.). An encomium works if the speaker’s/writer’s reasons for rescuing the topic convincingly address the arguments against it.  With satire, the speaker takes on a disingenuous role that is meant to mock or insult the person, object, or idea represented. A satire works if the audience is in on the speaker’s/writier’s ruse and can successfully understand the speech or writing as a criticism of the topic.
  5. As mentioned above, a key problem with the encomium speech is that the “rescue” doesn’t match the “reputation” described. This common issue describes an imbalance in the speech. This imbalance can happen in at least two ways.
    1. The blame can be so egregious or overwhelming that a rescue isn’t possible. This is when the “negative” part of the speech outweighs its “positive” redemption. Someone may pick a topic for which a bad reputation has been rightly earned but the “rescue” simply doesn’t address the reputation or tries to present new information that does not seek to change the reader’s perspective on what we already know. For example, a celebrity who gained an early advantage because they are wealthy cannot be redeemed by claiming they are “good at performing” because the rescue doesn’t match up with the accusation.
    2. The wish to rescue can be so overwhelming that it is difficult to find negative aspects of the topic. The rescue may be about someone or something that the author really likes but then the “blame” may be nonexistent or imagined. This is the “fanny pack” problem: many folks might really, really like fanny packs and argue that they’re coming ‘back in style’ or that they are unfairly disparaged. But there must be evidence that the fanny pack is or was unpopular — which may be hard to come by. There might not be sufficient evidence that they have been disparaged or the author may just presume that they have a bad reputation. Ultimately, you also have to prove that a negative opinion about the object or item exists.
  6. As a final guideline, there are topics we should refuse to rescue, especially when the “rescue” is made for the sake of provocation or entails a justification of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, violence, or other offensive premises (e.g. the ‘rescue’ of the glass ceiling). Submissions seeking to rescue such principles will receive a failing grade. Students may reach out to Prof. Hallsby directly if you have any further questions regarding the earned grade for this assignment if the submitted paper falls into this category.
Topics Cut-Off Jeans, or Jorts Worst Restaurant in Town
Black Friday Intro: The Cut-off look is unfairly disparaged, and I’m going to seek to rescue it. Maybe there’s a practical reason for cut-off sleeves (exercise/laundry). Intro: I’m going to rescue (Restaurant) even though it has been ridiculed a lot.
The Cost of the latest iPhone Main Point 1: People who wear it don’t have an accurate sense of how they look. Main Point 1: People say the food is bad. But actually, we should focus on how affordable the food is. It’s certainly not the most expensive.
Heelys Main Point 2: People should wear things that give themselves confidence in their body image. Main Point 2: People who say that the food is poorly cooked should be more vocal about how they want their meals prepared!
Lime Bikes/scooters In sum, stop wearing shorts and don’t mock the jorts! Face it, you LIKE complaining about (Restaurant)!
Family stickers on cars
Socks and sandals
Crocs
Gamestop

Encomium Activity 1: Encomium Topic Brainstorm

You may copy and paste this blank worksheet into a separate document for yourselves if you would like to retain the notes from this exercise for yourself.

Generate Topics: Here is a list of all the topics from this class.

Narrow Your Topic: Some topics are better than others. An unclear topic is one that has a number of different meanings, occurs in a number of different contexts, and that might grip our attention for one of many reasons. A vague topic specifies an area of interest, but remains too broad in scope for a five-to-seven minute speech. A superior topic is specific, meaning that it refers to a particular object, idea, person, or event.

  • Unclear:
  • Vague:
  • Specific:

Main and Supporting Arguments:

  • Main Argument
    • Supporting Argument 1:
    • Supporting Argument 2:

Evidence for your Claims:

  • Evidence for Supporting Argument:
  • Evidence for Supporting Argument:

 

Encomium Activity 2: Name, Explain, Prove, Conclude.

For this activity, we will break into small groups to generate topics for the encomium paper and provide feedback that will help narrow the topic and develop new claims. My hope is that it starts you on the path to a well-developed topic.

  1. Begin by creating a list of topics generated by the group. Perhaps you have already decided on a topic. Perhaps you need an opportunity to idea-test something that you’ve been working with but aren’t sure about. Perhaps you don’t have a sense of what you want to write about. Start with the topics that folks have already decided upon, then brainstorm other topics with the group.
  2. Go through the narrowing process: is the topic too broad or too narrow? In class, we talked about “fashion” as being a topic that was too broad and “an under-noticed release by a favorite artist on SoundCloud” as too narrow. Ultimately, each essay will have to find reasons why the topic has received an unfairly negative reputation and then redeem your topic from this criticism.
  3.  Separate the thesis from the supporting arguments. How would you phrase an encomium thesis for each of the topics?  What are the supporting claims? Think about the research-heavy arguments of the essay in the following way (but not necessarily this order):
    1. What are the arguments or attitudes against the topic? What evidence is there that this opinion exists? Why does this/their opinion matter?
    2. What are the corresponding positive arguments? Does each of the claims that stands in favor of the topic match up with one of the arguments or attitudes against it? How does the positive argument overcome the negative claim against it?
  4. Brainstorm evidence for arguments a and b. Who are opinion leaders on this topic? What are authoritative sources? Why are these sources the most respected, widely accepted, or authoritative on this topic? Can you explain this relevance when you cite this source?
  5. Take some time to organize your claims
  • Name it: what is the supporting argument?
  • Explain it: describe its significance or connection to the larger thesis.
  • Prove it: cite your key evidence
  • Conclude it: what’s the connection between the evidence and thesis, summarize the ‘take-away’

Overview on Topical Organization of Speeches/Essays

How to organize an Encomium main point about Jorts, or jean-shorts.

  1. Name it: Despite their reputation, jorts are an environmentally friendly option.
  2. Explain it: Jorts extend the lifespan of worn jeans by giving them a second life.
  3. Prove it: The past two years, I have not had to buy or throw away any shorts.
  4. Conclude it: Jorts are a long-lasting option that don’t end up in the landfill.

Stasis Theory

  1. The facts of the case (conjecture) What do we know and how do we know it?
  2. The meaning of the issue (definition) Can we agree on the topic?
  3. The seriousness of the issue (quality) So what, who cares?
  4. The plan of action (policy). What do we do next? How do we do it?

Speech in Defense

  1. Proem (preface or preamble), exordium (introduction), and argument (thesis).
  2. Narratio, upon which all opposed sides likely agree.
  3. Divisio, about the ideas which sets you apart.
  4. Proof, the evidence.
  5. Refutatio, a reply to the accuser or the likely opponent.

Some Protocols for editing: (what steps should I take to turn in a “clean” draft?)

  1. Read the manuscript aloud for errors.
  2. Read the manuscript aloud for time (presenting).
  3. Determine sections for cutting and unnecessary language.
  4. Assess whether the different sections are balanced .

Topic/Organization Example

Generate Topic Ideas: Vaccination, Medicine, Popular and public responses to infectious diseases, historical events related to medical discoveries.

Narrow Your Topic:

  • Unclear: Vaccinations
  • Vague: The History of Cholera
  • Specific: The Great Stinks of 1880 and 1858

Main and Supporting Arguments:

  • Main Argument: The Great Stink of 1880 in Paris and the Great Stink of 1858 in London have the reputation of, well being smelly and unpleasant times. But they also coincided with important developments in the history of medicine and popular culture.
    • Supporting Argument 1: For example, the Stinks coincided with a turning point in the history of medicine when people ceased to believe that diseases were transmitted by smell and instead began to understand that it was transmitted by germs.
    • Supporting Argument 2: Another reason why the Great Stink was important is that it was also part of the way that perfume became popularized in the modern era. With great need comes great demand!

Evidence for your Claims:

  • Evidence for Supporting Argument 1: According to historian David S. Barnes, the “Great Stink” of Paris occurred at a time when the science of medicine was changing, but popular opinion had yet to change with it. People still believed that infectious disease was transmitted through smell, as they had during the medieval “plague” or “black death”.
  • Evidence for Supporting Argument 2: Additionally, although there is no proven cause/effect relationship between the mass availability of perfume and the great stink of 1880, Eugénie Briot explains that the production and distribution of perfumes in France expanded dramatically in the last two decades of the 19th century.

 

Now, Name it, Explain it, Prove it, and Conclude it:

Supporting Argument 1:

  • Name it: (from above) The Stinks coincided with a turning point in the history of medicine when people ceased to believe that diseases were transmitted by smell and instead began to understand that it was transmitted by germs.
  • Explain it: Whereas pre-enlightenment understandings of disease explained their in terms of “putrid odors” or “decaying smells,” the development of germ theory throughout the 1900s posited that organisms caused infection, creating new courses of treatment.
  • Prove it: (from above) According to historian David S. Barnes, the “Great Stink” of Paris occurred at a time when the science of medicine was changing, but popular opinion had yet to change with it. People still believed that infectious disease was transmitted through smell, as they had during the medieval “plague” or “black death”.
  • Conclude it: Even though the Stinks, well, stunk, they still are important for the way that they mark an important transformation in the history of medical knowledge.

Supporting Argument 2:

  • Name it: (from above) Another reason why the Great Stink was important is that it was also part of the way that perfume became popularized in the modern era. With great need comes great demand!
  • Explain it: Paris is historically significant for originating modern perfumery, which is often thought to be a marker of elevated status or class, when in fact it also had a very practical role in creating a breathable space around the wearer.
  • Prove it (from above) Although there is no proven cause/effect relationship between the mass availability of perfume and the great stink of 1880, Eugénie Briot explains that the production and distribution of perfumes in France expanded dramatically in the last two decades of the 19th century.
  • Conclude it: Today, we may wonder why someone’s perfume or cologne is so strong. But back in the 1880s, these strong, musty smells kept the big Stink at bay.


Topic/Organization Worksheet (blank)

You may copy and paste this blank worksheet into a separate document for yourselves if you would like to retain the notes from this exercise for yourself.

Generate Topics: Here is a list of all the topics from this class/group.

  1. __________________
  2. __________________
  3. __________________
  4. __________________
  5. __________________
  6. __________________
  7. __________________

Narrow Your Topic: Some topics are better than others. An unclear topic is one that has a number of different meanings, occurs in a number of different contexts, and that might grip our attention for one of many reasons. A vague topic specifies an area of interest, but remains too broad in scope for a five-to-seven minute speech. A superior topic is specific, meaning that it refers to a particular object, idea, person, or event.

  • Unclear:
  • Vague:
  • Specific:

Main and Supporting Arguments:

  • Main Argument
    • Supporting Argument 1:
    • Supporting Argument 2:

Evidence for your Claims:

  • Evidence for Supporting Argument:
  • Evidence for Supporting Argument:

Name it, Explain it, Prove it, Conclude it:

  • Name it:
  • Explain it:
  • Prove it:
  • Conclude it:

Encomium Activity 3: Workshop for Short Paper 1

About this activity: Today we will collaboratively ‘grade’ two examples of encomia to think about how to edit and improve the speeches/essays you have started to write. We will also break into groups so that you might share your developed ideas with others in the class.

How is the Encomium Graded?

The rubric includes the following grading criteria. You should use the criteria for the introduction, organization, and examples to guide your break-out discussion. The criteria below are graded on the following scale (2 = Excellent/Exceptionally Clear; 1.6 = Satisfactory/Clear; 1.2 = Unsatisfactory/Unclear; 0 = content missing)

  • Introduction: The introduction contains a clear attention getting device, thesis, purpose, and preview statement. The thesis specifically offers a “rescue” of the topic at hand.
  • Organization: The topic sentences of the body paragraphs clearly relate to the thesis and reflect the mission of the encomium to “rescue” a disparaged topic.
  • Examples: The essay offers well-cited examples in their rescue of the concept(s), people, or object(s) defined in the essay. These examples also support the “rescue” of the central topic, or otherwise establish that the topic has been unfairly disparaged.
  • Clarity of Writing: The essay has a clear ‘flow’ from beginning to end, is clearly proofread and contains minimal typographical or grammatical errors.

The criterion below is graded on the following scale: (1 = excellent; 0.8 = satisfactory; 0.6 = unsatisfactory; 0 = document is unreadable)

  • Formatting: Essay is easy to follow visually, properly formatted according to standard assignment guidelines (Calibri or Times New Roman; 11.5 or 12pt font, double spaced), and does not exceed three pages (not including citations).

The criteria below is graded on the following scale: (1 = full marks; 0.6 = missing citations; 0 = no citations).

  • Citations: The essay contains 3-5 properly formatted and credible citations that appear in-text and at the end of the document in a works cited page. The works cited page does not count toward students’ overall word/page count.

 

Encomium Sample 1 (for class evaluation purposes)

Athens is a small town known for some great things: the music, the downtown scene, the culture, and the history.  But what is something that Athens is really known for?  Their food; the local restaurants that people come from all over to eat and experience.  One of these amazing restaurants that is overlooked is the delicious Chinese restaurant, Happy China. People need to stop going to these overrated and boring restaurants in Athens. It’s time people experienced Happy China’s buffet because their low prices, their atmosphere, and their service all get a C- rating on Yelp.

The prices are low cost but there is SO much food. First of all, a meal is only $4.99 there.. That means you can go through the buffet 10 times and still only pay $4.99 for your entire meal.  Sure you may not fit into your pants when you walk out, but you will  be full for days. There are even 4 different serving bars, 2 for hot foods, 1 for cold food, and 1 for dessert.  The chicken and egg rolls may upset your stomach/make you nauseous but that is completely normal, you just need a few practice visits to the restaurant.

As many of you know Athens really is known for their 5star and diverse restaurants.  But people still need to give these 2 star restaurants a chance, they have so much to offer too.. sure their food, atmosphere, and service may not be up to par but they do serve food. Happy China is the closest thing Athens has to real-authentic Chinese cuisine, despite it’s low quality food, atmosphere, and service it is NOT to be avoided.  It’s located on Broad Street, so next time you’re downtown don’t go to those restaurants everyone’s always talking about, go to Happy China!

Encomium Sample 2 (for class evaluation purposes)

While libraries have been around for many years, in today’s society they are extremely under-appreciated, and are not given the praise they deserve. Public libraries have provided everyone from kids to adults with resources for a long time, however, many of these magnificent sources of knowledge are dying out because people are forgetting how useful they truly are. Since the creation of the internet, libraries have received unfair treatment because people would rather search something up on Google and hope they have accessed a credible source, than go to their local library and have a guaranteed credible source. Libraries have always been a place you could rely on to find resources for school papers, but they also have other resources that can be fun for everyone too. Libraries are underrated because people do not take advantage of the movies for rent, the equipment for rent, and the impact they have on our historical record.

I believe that libraries are treated unfairly, because they have so many amazing resources that people disregard simply because they are viewed as old fashioned. Libraries are viewed as being for old people because the younger generations have the internet, and they feel like libraries are inefficient and useless. People do not see a need for libraries because they have cell phones and laptops that have access to the internet. Because kids today have access to the internet, they feel like libraries no longer have a real purpose. Young people today are taught that they have access to all the information in the world, and because of that they feel that libraries are now unnecessary (Jackson, Peter). In the same vein, many people feel that because they have all of the information they could possibly need on the internet it is inefficient to do research in libraries because it is a waste of time to look through all of the books in libraries. Most people also feel that libraries are useless now because a lot of information of important findings and events are now stored online, and because they are stored online, we no longer need to keep a physical record of that information anymore.

There are also many reasons why libraries are important and underappreciated. There are many reasons that libraries are incredible resources that are undervalued, and reasons why more people should be taking advantage of all that they have to offer.  Libraries contain a multitude of valuable resources, with credible information that can be used for many things, from research papers to broaden your perspective of the world. When going to the library there is no need to worry that the source you are gathering information from was written by an author, who did not research well. Every book in libraries went through revision to be checked to make sure it was created appropriately, and this is why more people in schools need to take more advantage of the libraries. Another reason libraries should be more appreciated is because they have more than just books. There are a lot of different things you can rent in libraries from movies to equipment like VHS players and slide projectors (Bowen, Mercury). These resources are even more forgotten than the books that libraries are known for. Renting movies can be a great economic choice for people who do not have the money to pay for all of the different streaming platforms you need to have today, just to see some older movies. I also think that there is not enough emphasis on what libraries do for maintaining our records of the past. Many people miss out on all of the other amazing resources that libraries have that aren’t books, like movies and equipment.

I believe that libraries deserve more credit for all of the resources they have, and the service of maintaining our record of history by just having the large resources of information about the past that it contains. Libraries deserve better, and more people need to realize how useful they are.

 

Sample Encomium

Attention-Getting Device: In 1942, FDR marred the United States’ reputation by beginning an internment program for Japanese Americans, allegedly as a “protective measure.” On November 18, 2015, Roanoake mayor David Bowers argued that “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.” Bower is not alone. He and others have noted that refugees pose a terroristic threat – inviting the enemy into our own hopes.

The attention getting device offers an opportunity to include a citation. 

Thesis: What you’re putting into the essay. But in spite of the negative publicity that migrants and refugees have received in the United States, I will argue that these people deserve to be rescued – from political violence and from the violence of language.

Purpose: What your audience should get out of the essay. By the end of this essay, I hope my audience will reconsider how they talk about ‘refugees,’ and begin to approach this important topic with compassion rather than fear.

Preview: In this essay, I will address two misconceptions that will “rescue” the emigrating refugee from the unfair reputation that they have received: first, I will address the false belief that refugees are or may be terrorists, and second, that the incorrect assumption that refugees are “swarms” of people who threaten America’s borders.

Main Point 1: Refugees from other nations are very unlikely to be terrorists.

  • Evidence that shows people describing refugees as terrorists, threat, etc.
  • Evidence that shows why these descriptions are false, exaggerated, etc.

Main Point 2: Characterizing refugees as “swarms” makes hatred toward minoritized migrants in the United States more likely

  • Evidence that shows people describing refugees as “swarms” alongside rhetoric that describes how we need to secure our borders provokes public violence.
  • Evidence that shows how this hurts, and does not help, the United States’ relationship with other nations.

[These main points would be developed in greater detail in a fully-written-out encomium essay, and would also be supported by external evidence cited in the works cited/bibliography.]

Review: In this essay, I have addressed two misconceptions: first, that refugees are or may be terrorists, and second, that characterizing refugees as “swarms” helps us to secure our borders.

Purpose: I have done so in the hopes of quelling irrational fears about refugees, and to urge an alternative way of thinking about these people in need.

Thesis: As I have argued, these people deserve to be rescued – from the violence of the Middle East and from the violence of Americans’ language.

AGD: As for David Bowers, on November 20th, 2015 he apologized for his earlier remarks, saying that he did not anticipate the international attention that his comments would bring. But Bowers’ apology is not enough. What we need is fewer apologies and more compassion – as well as a willingness to see refugees for what they are: people.

Like the introduction, the conclusion is an opportunity for 1-2 citations supporting your argument.

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Reading Rhetorical Theory by Atilla Hallsby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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