Eric MacPhail’s Odious Praise: Rhetoric, Religion, and Social Thought offers a fascinating account of a particular species of epideictic oratory, a form of praise that is “odious” in the sense that it or its implications are not straightforwardly laudatory. The inaugural example of this form is the encomium written (allegedly) in praise of the legendary Egyptian king Busiris by the sophist Polycrates, a work we know of only through Isocrates’s own oration about the same king. In his Busiris, Isocrates denounces Polycrates’s encomium as morally and rhetorically confused, for it praises the king in such a way that he appears much worse than he would have had he been vituperated instead, thus casting odium not only on the subject of praise but also on the writer and the very art of praise itself. In Odious Praise, MacPhail traces the genealogy, purposes, and uses of this ironic and fluid...

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