Epideictic or praise and blame rhetoric is one of the three branches, or "species" (eidē), of rhetoric as outlined in Aristotle's Rhetoric. This is rhetoric of ceremony, commemoration, declamation, demonstration, on the one hand, and of play,entertainment, display,including self-display. It is also the rhetoric used at festivals, the Olympic games, state visits and other formal events like openings, closings, anniversaries as well as at births, deaths, marriages. Its major subject is praise and blame, according to Aristotle in the limited space he provides for it in the Art of Rhetoric (Freese translation). This rhetoric deals with goodness, excellence, nobility, shame, honor, dishonor, beauty, and matters of virtue and vice. The virtues or the "components" of virtue according to Aristotle, were "justice, courage, self-control, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, practical and speculative wisdom" or "reason". Vice was the "contrary" of virtue. ,
In his book Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity, Jeffrey Walker claims that epideictic rhetoric predates the rhetoric of courts and politics, the study of which began in the fourth or fifth century BC with the Sophists. The other two kinds of public speech were deliberative or political speech, and forensic,judicial, or legal speech. Epideictic rhetoric or style is according to Aristotle most appropriate for material that is written or read. In the Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle stated that "The epideictic style is especially suited to written compositions;. for its function is reading" .(423)
How to Employ Topics of Praise and Blame
According to Aristotle’s conception of epideixis, “the present is the most important; for all speakers praise or blame in regard to existing qualities, but they often make use of other things, both reminding [the audience] of the past and projecting the course of the future” (Rhet. 1358b). Epideixis is Aristotle’s least favored and clearly-defined topic. Now considered to be the stuff of ceremonies with its exhortations, panegyrics, encomia, funeral orations and displays of oratorical prowess, epideictic rhetoric appears to most to be discourse less about depth and more attuned to style without substance. Still, the Art of Rhetoric is cited as an example of epideictic work. (Lockwood, 1996) And,Lockwood, also in the book Reader's Figure , describes how readers are figured by their readings, and how readers figure their readings, and that readers can accept the readers' account, and forget their own account of their present and past, and that the rhetor's account is produced by language.
For centuries, epideictic oratory was a contested term, for it is clearly present in both forensic and deliberative forms, but it is difficult to clarify when it appears as a dominant discursive form. According to Chaim Perelmen and Lucy Olbrechts-Tyteca, “The speaker engaged in epideictic discourse is very close to being an educator. Since what he is going to say does not arouse controversy, since no immediate practical interest is ever involved, and there is no question of attacking or defending, but simply of promoting values that are shared in the community . . .” (52). Some of the defining terms for epideictic discourse include declamation, demonstration, praise or blame of the personal, and pleasing or inspiring to an audience.
Lawrence W. Rosenfield contends that epideictic practice surpasses mere praise and blame, and it is more than a showy display of rhetorical skill: “Epideictic’s understanding calls upon us to join with our community in giving thought to what we witness, and such thoughtful beholding in commemoration constitutes memorializing” (133). Epideictic rhetoric also calls for witnessing events, acknowledging temporality and contingency (140). However, as Rosenfield suspects, it is an uncommon form of discourse because of the rarity of “its necessary constituents — openness of mind, felt reverence for reality, enthusiasm for life, the ability to congeal significant experiences in memorable language . . .” (150).
The famed philologist, the later Ernst Curtius provides an account of its history and many examples of it in the much acclaimed European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Praise and blame was "reduced" to praise by Aristotle he wrote in the 1953 English edition, and recently another author called it a "blameless genre". During the Middle Ages it became a "school subject" as the sites for political activity diminished in the West, and as the centuries went on the word "praise" came to mean that which was written. During this period literature or more specifically histories, biographies, autobiographies, geographies were called praise(s). He and Lockwood seem to say that what was in the past called rhetoric was later called literature. Curtius believed that misinterpretations of medieval literature occur because so much of it is epideictic, and the epideictic is so "foreign" to us today.