“The truth of history has been much corrupted by these encomiastic
essays; for many circumstances were recorded in them which never existed.”
Cicero, On Oratory and Orators (55 B.C.)
An encomium is, literally, a speech delivered in the course of a feast, and those who make speeches to feasting men are naturally inclined to praise the occasion of the feast. For if the occasion is not praiseworthy, the feasters are fools. A speech delivered at a wedding normally stresses the joys of matrimony and the most amiable qualities of both bridegroom and bride. A speech delivered at a birthday party normally flatters the guest of honor, and seeks to reassure him that he is fortunate to be so far advanced in years. A certain amount of good-natured ribbing may be tolerated, but everyone understands that, on festive occasions, strict objectivity and searching candor would be in the worst possible taste.
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