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Is literature which, having regard to the customs and convictions of a given society, sets out to denigrate a named individual. Such denigration or abuse follows well‐articulated rhetorical guidelines. The target is attacked on the grounds of birth, upbringing, ‘banausic’ occupation (see artisans and craftsmen; labour), moral defects such as avarice, corruption, profligacy, pleasure‐seeking, sexual perversion, gluttony, or drunkenness (see alcoholism), physical shortcomings (see deformity), eccentricities of dress, ill fortune, offensiveness to the gods, and so on. These same categories of abuse are found irrespective of the genre in which the invective is couched. This might be a senatorial or forensic speech, iambic poem, political pamphlet, curse‐poem (see curses), or epigram. Outstanding examples of invectives delivered in the public arena are Demosthenes' (2) speech On the Crown and Cicero's Against Piso and second Philippic.

The primary object of invective was to persuade the audience that one's accusations were true. Plausibility was thus more important than veracity. At the same time, invective aimed to give pleasure to the listeners. Cicero and Demosthenes both attest the enjoyment which derived from seeing others abused. The same factor underlies the personal attacks of Old Comedy (see comedy (greek), old), political lampoons, and the very existence of iambic poetry, which was grounded in vituperation poetry. Despite the existence of legislation against defamation in Greece and Rome, invective flourished in both cultures.

Subjects: Classical Studies — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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