Calculated Insults: The Rhetorical Use of Invective by Latin Authors of the Imperial Age and Late Antiquity

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation investigates the role of the rhetorical sub-genre of invective or vituperatio in the speeches and writings of four major Latin authors: Apuleius, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Jerome. Building on the work of Severin Koster, Ilona Opelt, Anthony Corbeill, and others, it situates invective in the Latin oratorical tradition described in the ancient rhetorical handbooks, particularly Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria.

Following a discussion of the definition of oratorical invective, the dissertation uses speech act theory to identify five main purposes that invective could serve in ancient oratory: social distancing, redirection of hostility or blame, polarization of a conflict, creation of plausibility, and the explanation of an event or situation. Each of these five functions is illustrated initially through a brief examination of one Ciceronian speech. The dissertation then proceeds to trace the history of Latin invective chronologically, examining first the evidence for the survival of invective in the early imperial period, and then turning to the Apologia of Apuleius, several anti-heretical and moral treatises by Tertullian, and the De Mortibus Persecutorum and Divinae Institutiones of Lactantius. The dissertation concludes with an exploration of Jerome’s use of invective against his theological opponents in the context of his theological and literary project.

The dissertation demonstrates the substantial continuity of the use of invective in the Latin rhetorical tradition over five centuries. The five main functions of invective are identified and discussed in a wide variety of texts, and are offered as a hermeneutic tool for a greater understanding of Latin texts, both imperial and patristic, in which artful insulting speech is used.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12072012-173545

Author Daniel Gregory Perett
Advisor Hildegund Muller
Contributor Olivia Remie Constable, Committee Member
Contributor Hildegund Muller, Committee Chair
Contributor Thomas Noble, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Medieval Studies
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2012-11-19

Submission Date 2012-12-07
  • United States of America

  • Cicero

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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