Definition of Eulogy

A eulogy is a commemorative speech or piece of writing in praise of someone who has recently died, or someone who is leaving, such as a retiree. Eulogies are a common part of funeral services around the world, and can also be found in retirement celebrations or farewell parties.

The word eulogy comes from the Classical Greek word εὐλογία (eulogia), which means “praise.”

Difference Between Eulogy, Elegy, and Obituary

The definition of eulogy is very similar to that of an elegy, in that both are written in remembrance of a lost loved one or friend. However, elegies are different in that they are written in the form of a poem, and usually are focused more on mourning and lamentation. A eulogy may very well be mournful as well, but can often include more memories and anecdotes to portray the person who is gone. Eulogies also focus more on praise than sadness. Also, there is the key difference that some eulogy examples are given for people who are still alive but are leaving a certain job or place.

Eulogies and obituaries are also quite similar in that they detail the trajectory of a person’s life or career. However, an obituary is a published biography and always are written for recently deceased people, while eulogies are generally presented as a speech and, as stated above, are not necessarily about deceased people.

Common Examples of Eulogy

There are many famous examples of eulogies that have been presented by and for famous people. Here are some excerpts from famous eulogy examples:

A glory has departed and the sun that warmed and brightened our lives has set, and we shiver in the cold and dark. Yet he would not have us feel this way. After all, that glory that we saw for all these years, that man with divine fire, changed us also–and such as we are, we have been molded by him during these years; and out of that divine fire many of us also took a small spark which strengthened and made us work to some extent on the lines that he fashioned. And so if we praise him, our words seem rather small, and if we praise him, to some extent we also praise ourselves. Great men and eminent men have monuments in bronze and marble set up for them, but this man of divine fire managed in his lifetime to become enshrined in millions and millions of hearts so that all of us became somewhat of the stuff that he was made of, though to an infinitely lesser degree. He spread out in this way all over India, not just in palaces, or in select places or in assemblies, but in every hamlet and hut of the lowly and those who suffer. He lives in the hearts of millions and he will live for immemorial ages.

—Jawaharlal Nehru’s eulogy for Mahatma Gandhi (1948)

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

—President Reagan’s eulogy for the Challenger Space shuttle crew (1986)

Significance of Eulogy in Literature

Eulogizing someone who is gone is often an important part of the grieving process. Authors may choose to include an example of eulogy if a character has died in the work of literature. Like those who give eulogies in the real world, characters who eulogize other characters may choose either to present a complete biography of a person’s life, to retell memories, or to highlight important parts of the person’s life in connection with the speaker’s experience.

Examples of Eulogy in Literature

Example #1

ANTONY: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

(Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)

Mark Antony’s monologue is perhaps the most famous example of a eulogy in all of literature. And yet, it does not, at first, seem like a typical eulogy. Antony’s words are full of sarcasm and verbal irony, as he seems to be praising Caesar’s killer Brutus. Instead, Antony is saying that Brutus is to be blamed entirely and Caesar did, in fact have wonderful qualities such as “faithful and just to me” and “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.”

Example #2

“‘And of all this,’ she went on mournfully, ‘of all his promise, and of all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart, nothing remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—’
“‘We shall always remember him,’ I said hastily.
“‘No!’ she cried. ‘It is impossible that all this should be lost—that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them, too—I could not perhaps understand—but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.’
“‘His words will remain,’ I said.”

(Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad)

In the above excerpt, the character Kurtz has been dead for a year and Marlow struggles to provide a proper eulogy for him when meeting with Kurtz’s fiancé (The Intended, as she’s called in the novel). Having known the true darkness of Kurtz’s experience in the Congo, Marlow lets The Intended eulogize him herself.

Example #3

A little tufty-haired man in plain black robes had got to his feet and stood now in front of Dumbledore’s body. Harry could not hear what he was saying. Odd words floated back to them over the hundreds of heads. “Nobility of spirit”…“intellectual contribution”…“greatness of heart” . . . It did not mean very much. It had little to do with Dumbledore as Harry had known him. He suddenly remembered Dumbledore’s idea of a few words, “nitwit,” “oddment,” “blubber,” and “tweak,” and again had to suppress a grin….What was the matter with him?

(Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling)

One of the most beloved characters in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series dies in the sixth installment. In an interesting example of eulogy, Harry Potter does not care to listen to anyone else’s words about his mentor Albus Dumbledore. Indeed, in this case, the eulogy falls flat to Harry because no words— “Nobility of spirit”…“intellectual contribution”…“greatness of heart”—could truly represent what kind of person Dumbledore was.

Test Your Knowledge of Eulogy

1. Which of the following statements is the best eulogy definition?
A. A published biography of a recently deceased person.
B. A speech made in praise of someone gone or about to leave.
C. A mournful poem in remembrance of a dead loved one.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following statements is true?
A. Eulogies are delivered only for recently deceased people.
B. Eulogies only occur in writing.
C. Eulogies usually focus on praise of an individual.

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Which of the following quotes is an example of eulogy?
A. Charles Spencer, speaking about Princess Diana: “All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity, a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a truly British girl who transcended nationality, someone with a natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.”
B. William Faulkner, speaking about Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
C. James Reston, speaking about Richard Nixon: “He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.”

Answer to Question #3 Show

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