Eulogy Examples and Definition

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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From the Greek word, "praise," a eulogy is a formal expression of praise for someone who has recently died. Although eulogies are traditionally regarded as a form of epideictic rhetoric, on occasion they may also serve a deliberative function. 

Examples of a Eulogy

"It is hard to eulogize any man--to capture in words, not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person: their private joys and sorrows, the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul." (President Barack Obama, speech at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela, December 10, 2013)

Ted Kennedy's Eulogy for His Brother Robert

"My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

"Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

"As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'" (Edward Kennedy, service for Robert Kennedy, June 8, 1968)

Deliberative Eulogies

"In their discussion of generic hybrids, [K.M.] Jamieson and [K.K.] Campbell ([Quarterly Journal of Speech,] 1982) focused on the introduction of deliberative appeals in a ceremonial eulogy--a deliberative eulogy. Such hybrids, they suggested, are most common in the cases of well-known public figures but are not necessarily restricted to these cases. When a small child falls victim to gang violence, the priest or minister may use the occasion of the funeral eulogy to encourage public policy changes designed to stem the tide of urban decay. Eulogies also may be fused with other genres." (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage, 2001)

Dr. King's Eulogy for the Victims of the Birmingham Church Bombing

"This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.

"These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. . . .

"And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream. . . ."
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his eulogy for the young victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Sep. 18, 1963)

Using Humor: John Cleese's Eulogy for Graham Chapman

"Graham Chapman, the co-author of the Parrot Sketch, is no more.

"He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He's kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky. And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability for kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now so suddenly be spirited away at the age of only 48, before he'd achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun.

"Well, I feel that I should say: nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries.

"And the reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn't, if I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him but mindless good taste." (John Cleese, Dec. 6, 1989)

Jack Handey's Eulogy for Himself

"We are gathered here, way far in the future, for the funeral of Jack Handey, the world’s oldest man. He died suddenly in bed, according to his wife, Miss France.

"No one is really sure how old Jack was, but some think he may have been born as long ago as the twentieth century. He passed away after a long, courageous battle with honky-tonkin’ and alley-cattin’. . .

"As hard as it is to believe, he never sold a single painting during his lifetime, or even painted one. Some of the greatest advances in architecture, medicine, and theatre were not opposed by him, and he did little to sabotage them. . . .

"Generous even with his organs, he has asked that his eyes be donated to a blind person. Also his glasses. His skeleton, equipped with a spring that will suddenly propel it to a full standing position, will be used to educate kindergartners. . . .

"So let us celebrate his death, and not mourn. However, those who appear to be a little too happy will be asked to leave." (Jack Handey, "How I Want to Be Remembered." The New Yorker, March 31, 2008)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Eulogy Examples and Definition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Eulogy Examples and Definition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Eulogy Examples and Definition." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).