This is a survey of some of the problems surrounding imperial panegyric. It includes discussions of both the theory and practice of imperial praise. The evidence is derived from readings of Cicero, Quintilian, Pliny, the Panegyrici Latini, Menander Rhetor, and Julian the Apostate. Of particular interest is insincere speech that would be appreciated as insincere. What sort of hermeneutic process is best suited to texts that are politically consequential and yet relatively disconnected from any obligation to offer a faithful representation of concrete reality?
We first look at epideictic as a genre. The next topic is imperial praise and its situation “beyond belief” as well as the self-positioning of a political subject who delivers such praise. This leads to a meditation on the exculpatory fictions that these speakers might tell themselves about their act. A cynical philosophy of Caesarism, its arbitrariness, and its constructedness abets these fictions. Julian the Apostate receives the most attention: he wrote about Caesars, he delivered extant panegyrics, and he is also the man addressed by still another panegyric. And in the end we find ourselves to be in a position to appreciate the way that power feeds off of insincerity and grows stronger in its presence.