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Looking Beyond Belief: Paradoxical Encomia and Visual Inquiry

Looking Beyond Belief: Paradoxical Encomia and Visual Inquiry

Chapter:
(p.89) Chapter 4 Looking Beyond Belief: Paradoxical Encomia and Visual Inquiry
Source:
Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw
Author(s):
Debra Hawhee
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226398204.003.0005

This chapter focuses on two interconnected exercises in the progymnasmata sequence where animals feature prominently, ekphrasis (description) and encomium (praise), especially mock or paradoxical encomia. The key texts here are Lucian’s On the Fly and Michael Psellos’s “bug set,” four previously untranslated encomia dating to the eleventh century, short pieces praising the tiniest of insects and written in the Lucianic vein. Psellos carries on that tradition while further dramatizing its probing sense of wonder by describing and lavishing praise on bedbugs, fleas, and lice. The chapter culls from these paradoxical encomia a theory of magnified rhetorical vision—a kind of amplification through magnification—that cultivates an urge to bring the tiniest of animals up close, before the eyes, to press the senses into the realm of wonder.

Keywords:   Lucian, Michael Psellos, ekphrasis, encomium, rhetorical vision, wonder, thauma

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