How does figurative language enhance "sublimity" in On the Sublime?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Longinus, in Section XV of his treatise, argues that figurative langauge, done well, can play a vital part in the creation of sublimity. This is a very interesting example of how Longinus argues that excellence in literature comes through a marriage of natural talent and genius and learnt skill, such as the ability to use figurative language well to describe something. Note what he says about images and their place in creating sublimity:

Images, moreover, contribute greatly... to dignity, elevation, and power as a pleader. [Images]... seek to stir the passions and the emotions.

Figurative language therefore can play a key role in creating the elevating impact that is the hallmark of sublimity in literature. Longinus is quick to qualify however that figurative language needs to be done well, in that if the comparisons are too "poetical and fabulous" they can have a "strange and alien air." However, as the numerous examples that Longinus give the reader demonstrate, figurative language, when carefully thought through, definitely has an important role in helping to achieve the state of sublimity.


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