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Indignatio: Overview

One of a rhetor’s most powerful tools is pathopoeia, the appeal to the audience’s emotions and passions. Pathopoeia, the “general term for arousing passion or emotion” (Lanham 111), comes in as many forms as there are emotions to which the rhetor can appeal, but one of the most effective moves is to evoke the audience’s indignation toward a certain position. Indignatio is the term for evoking anger or indignation in an audience, with the goal of influencing their opinions and future actions, as if to say “Look at my opponent, isn’t he such a bastard!” (Lanham 90) Often combined with commiseratio (“Look at my opponent isn’t he such a bastard to US!”), the evocation of pity for the rhetor’s own position and shared suffering with the audience (Lanham 37), indignatio provides an effective pathetic means of influencing the audience. Indignatio, like most rhetorical moves, addresses an audience to achieve a desired reaction.

A special feature of indignatio, however is that it doesn’t function without a target to cause indignation toward. These three elements—a clear target, an audience the rhetor understands and commiserates with, and a specific desired reaction to the attack—make up any effective employment of the technique. Classically, indignatio was a part of a rhetor’s conclusion wherein he seeks to amplify his previous arguments. Today, however, indignatio is present in many parts of a rhetor’s argument, and often times the whole argument consists of and hinges on a rhetor’s use of indignatio. The following examples will show how modern rhetors use indignatio and will hopefully help the reader to recognize when a rhetor uses it in the future.

Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Print.

Categories: indignatio, overview
  1. annagilbert31
    December 6, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Yes, it seems that our culture doesn’t reserve “indignatio” for closing arguments. Rather, this device can permeate texts. Looking forward to your examples.

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