I first learned about encomia in my class on Plato's Phaedrus. At the beginning of the Phaedrus, Phaedrus delivers Lysias' encomium of the unsmitten pederast and Socrates responds with two encomia of his own: one on the same subject and one on the value of love tempered by philosophy. One of the general theories on the strange form of the Phaedrus, an oddly organize text on rhetorical strategy, is that it provides a proof to the sophists that Plato's philosophy can beat them at their won game before going on to analyze rhetorical strategy . At the end of the text, it makes fun of Isocrates, who ran a school that was the main rival of the Academy and taught rhetoric.
Gorgias' encomium uses a lot of the same tropes one might expect from a sophist: careful word choice, puns, meta-discourse on speech, and simple but manipulative language. Although the text we have is somewhat corrupt, the reader can sense the precision of his repetition and the strategy behind the work. The characterization of sophists in Plato seems very accurate.
- This etymology comes from Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary. Interestingly enough, ὁ κομμός is a lamentation.
- All of this information comes from my memory of this class. If my professor happens to read this, I hope he forgives any mistakes I might make in my representation.