Longinus (lahn-JI-nuhs) wrote in Greek, had a broad knowledge of literature, nursed an antipathy to conventional rhetoric-oriented modes of criticism, and addressed his essay On the Sublime to a Roman citizen named Postumius Terentianus. His essay challenged and used as a point of departure an identically titled essay by one Caecilius of Calacte, a Sicilian rhetorician of the first century b.c.e. Apart from wisps of biographical information to be inferred from the text itself, such as his having written two treatises on synthesis (which are not extant), there is not much more, if anything, that one can say with certainty about Longinus.
Longinus’s real identity is difficult to establish. The earliest manuscript includes in the title of the work the name “Dionysius Longinus” and, in a list of contents, the cryptic addition “Dionysius or Longinus.” The author commonly known as Longinus could be Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a prolific rhetorician who lived in Rome after 30 b.c.e., or Cassius Longinus, an Athenian rhetorician of philosophical inclination who was a friend, or at least an acquaintance, of the philosopher Plotinus (c. 204-270 c.e.). Cassius Longinus went on to teach at Palmyra and Zenobia and was executed in 273 as an enemy of Rome. That the author was probably neither of these individuals but a rhetorician of the first century is the argument of scholars who assume that the work’s style is different from that of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and is alien to the style of the third century. These scholars maintain that the work itself reflects temporal proximity to Caecilius of Calacte. The argument is far from convincing, but, until the identity of the author is indisputably established, the name Longinus will be used.
Longinus was little known and received scant attention during the Middle Ages. The earliest extant manuscript of On the Sublime was produced in the tenth century. It...
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