Invective

Invective is an assaulting expression whose end is to isolate and publicly shame the [its] target
Invective is often employed in judicial and deliberative speeches with the aim of turning the audience against its target.

Definition and Examples of Invective

Invective is an assaulting expression whose end is to isolate and publicly denounce or shame the [its] target, whom must have acted contrary to the standards of ethical and societal preconceptions. In the Latin rhetorical tradition, vituperatioOpens in new window (trans. “invective”), belongs to the principal topics that make up the genus (gender) demonstrativumOpens in new window, or epideictic oratoryOpens in new window.

Ancient rhetorical manuals, particularly, Cicero'sOpens in new window De InventioneOpens in new window (2.177 – 8), and Rhetorica ad HerenniumOpens in new window (3.10 – 15), shed a brief light on this genus. The latter presents a more extensive treatment of the three broad categories which can be used to shame the chosen target (culprit), namely:

This kind of verbal assaultOpens in new window, conducted through an open recounting of the target’s faults and organized according to these loci, was often employed in judicialOpens in new window and deliberative speeches with the aim of turning the audience against its target. Invective was thus an ingredient in forensicOpens in new window and deliberative oratoryOpens in new window and not an end in itself (Powell 2006). — (A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, as edited by William Dominik, Jon Hall)

Classic Examples
  • “A knave, a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave… and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch…”
    — (Williams Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear)
  • “A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”
    — (King James I, Counterblast to Tobacco)

In sum, invective is the opposite of EncomiumOpens in new window (a form of speech revealing the greatness of virtuous actions and other good qualities.), and it shares the same number of subjects as the encomium: persons, things, times, places, animals, and also plants.

Further Readings:
Rhetorica ad Herennium (3.10 – 15); Cicero | De Inventione (2.177 – 8).