Longinus fl. c. First Century
Roman critic. Also known as Dionysius Longinus, Cassius Longinus, and pseudo-Longinus.
Despite its relative anonymity prior to its rediscovery in 1554, Longinus' treatise Peri Hypsos [On the Sublime] strongly influenced the English and European literary landscape from John Dryden onwards. It served as a touchstone for English Neoclassical critics, and its emphasis on the emotive element of poetry and on the author as the focus of poetical meaning resonated with such Romantic writers as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. On the Sublime is now considered one of the most important works of ancient literary theory.
When On the Sublime was first published in its original Greek by Franciscus Robortello in 1554, the volume-previously unknown to modern scholars-was attributed to Dionysius Longinus, a prolific rhetorician and critic of the third century. Longinus served as prime minister to Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, and was put to death after a failed insurrection against Aurelian. The attribution of the manuscript held until 1808, when a version of the treatise at the Vatican was shown to refer to the author as 'Dionysius or Longinus.' On the Sublime was later attributed to Cassius Longinus, a third-century critic; however, because the treatise was not listed among his accredited writings, and because the treatise differs fundamentally from his other writings with regard to style, terminology, and literary judgment, this attribution seems likewise without basis. Literary historians now believe that textual evidence-the lack of references to writers later than the early part of the first century, and the treatment of contemporary authors and schools that flourished during that time-supports the attribution of the text to a first-century Roman critic whose name cannot be determined. Most translators and commentators, then, have adhered to the convention of referring to the unknown author of On the Sublime simply as "Longinus."
The only work attributed to Longinus is On the Sublime, a treatise designed as a pedagogical corrective to a (now lost) essay by Caecilius. Longinus confronts a pupil named Postumius with a treatment of the role of emotion, which, he claims, Caecilius had omitted from his study. Longinus thus focuses on the human condition generally rather than merely on literary genres and explores the worth of writing in terms of its elevating the soul of the audience-that is, its sublimity. According to Longinus, the sublime issues from five sources: grandeur of thought, inspired passion, effective use of stylistic figures, noble diction and phrasing, and elevated composition. For Longinus, rhetorical techniques become instruments for the author to convey his own sublimity, so that great writing results not only from honed skill but from a cultivated sublimity of the soul attending the innate ability to have elevated ideas and strong passions.
Eleven manuscripts of On the Sublime are extant, all of which are imperfect tenth-, fifteenth-, and sixteenth-century copies that contain lacunae, or gaps, amounting to approximately one-third of the original text. The oldest and most complete manuscript, known as Paris MS 2036, has traditionally been considered the authoritative (though incomplete) version, and was used for the first modern publication of the Greek treatise by Robortello. Two other versions of the Greek text were published in Italy before Pagano published its first translation into Latin in 1572. A Latin edition also appeared at Oxford in 1636, marking the text's introduction in England, followed by its first English translation by John Hall in 1652. However, not until Nicolas Boileau's translation of On the Sublime into French in 1674, and the subsequent non-literal translation of his edition into English by John Pulteney (1680) and Leonard Welsted (1712), did Longinus gain widespread acceptance by the larger literary community.
There is no mention of On the Sublime in any ancient text still extant, and it was largely unknown prior to its rediscovery during the Italian Renaissance. Following Boileau's popular translation of 1674, however, the treatise became a standard object of study for literary critics from Dryden onwards. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Neoclassical critics, primarily in England, frequently cited the text. Its influence is evident in such works as Edmund Burke's Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, and extends to such critics as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Burke, Joseph Addison, Coleridge, and Alexander Pope. Despite its relative anonymity prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, modern critics have found On the Sublime to prefigure their own literary perspectives and to be as relevant and insightful as other standard ancient texts by Aristotle, Horace, and Quintilian.
Principal English Translations
Dionysius Longinus on the Sublime [translated by William Smith] 1739
Longinus on the Sublime [translated by W. Rhys Roberts] 1899
Longinus on the Sublime [translated by A. O. Prickard] 1906
"Longinus" on Sublimity [translated by D. A. Russell] 1965
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SOURCE: "Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, Lucian, Longinus," in A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe: From the Earliest Texts to the Present Day, William Blackwood and Sons, 1900, pp. 152-72.
[In the following excerpt, Saintsbury discusses elements of the sublime and comments on Longinus's literary and historico-critical importance.]
… It does not fall within the plan of this work to examine at any length the recently much-debated question whether the treatise Peri Hypsos is, as after its first publication by Robortello in 1554 it was for nearly three centuries unquestioningly taken to be, the work of the rhetorician Longinus, who was Queen Zenobia's Prime Minister, and was put to death by Aurelian. It has been the mania of the nineteenth century to prove that everybody's work was written by somebody else, and it will not be the most useless task of the twentieth to betake itself to more profitable inquiries. References which will enable any one who cares to investigate the matter are given in a note.1 Here it may be sufficient to say two things. The first is, that these questions appertain for settlement, less to the technical expert than to the intelligent judex, the half-juryman, half-judge, who is generally acquainted with the rules of logic and the laws of evidence. The second is, that the verdict of the majority of such judices on this...
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SOURCE: "Longinus on the Sublime: Some Historical and Literary Problems," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3, July, 1928, pp. 209-19.
[In the following essay, Roberts uses linguistic evidence to argue that, contrary to the claims of many scholars, De Sublimitate was written in the first rather than the third century A.D.]
As long ago as the year 1899 the Cambridge University Press published for me an edition of "Longinus."1 At the moment I am correcting the proof-sheets of a small volume on Greek Rhetoric and Literary Criticism for an American Series. It would be a great help if you would allow me to confer with you on some of the many problems presented by the De Sublimitate.
You will not disappoint me by failing (as too often happens) to join, young and old, in the discussion at the close. I still remember gratefully a valuable piece of information2 I had, on a posteard in September 1901, from a boy, Donald S. Robertson, who was then (I believe) at Westminster School, where the Sublime was being read as a holiday task or treat. That postcard is here to-day as one of two exhibits, the other being the sumptuous Bodoni edition of "Longinus."
More than ever, I am convinced that the essay—this seems the nearest English equivalent for hypomnema—belongs not to the third century of our era but to the first. Its...
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SOURCE: "The New Critical Outlook and Methods: 'Longinus'," in Literary Criticism in Antiquity: A Sketch of Its Development, Peter Smith, 1961, pp. 210-53.
[In the essay that follows, originally written in 1934, Atkins considers the question of the authorship of On the Sublime and its immediate instructive purpose, evaluating its achievement in terms of its "definite and practical effort to grapple with those excesses of style which were notoriously prevalent among first-century orators and writers."]
With the revived interest in critical matters which had become evident during the latter half of the first century A.D., yet another and an important work must also be associated, namely, the Greek treatise of "Longinus", best known perhaps under the title of On the Sublime … though it may at once be said that the work in all probability was not due to Longinus, nor does it deal with what we understand by "the sublime".1 As with the works of Tacitus and Demetrius, here also there are difficulties of date and authorship to be faced before linking up the treatise with this stage of the critical development; and puzzling as are many of the questions relating to the genesis of literary works, there are few that are more complicated than those bound up with the present treatise. To the solution of those questions antiquity has little or nothing to offer. There is no mention of the work...
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SOURCE: "Longinus and the Longinian Tradition in England," in The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England, The University of Michigan Press, 1960, pp. 10-28.
[In this essay, originally written in 1935, Monk discusses the rhetorical style and aesthetic claims of On the Sublime and briefly discusses its influence on the writings of eighteenth-century English authors.]
Any historical discussion of the sublime must take into account the fountain-head of all ideas on that subject—the pseudo-Longinian treatise, Peri Hupsous, known for over two centuries as Longinus, On the Sublime. In a sense, the study of the eighteenth-century sublime is the study of the Longinian tradition in England, although, as may be supposed, the student will be led far away from the Greek critic's views. Only by stretching the meaning of the term out of all conscience can Longinus's treatise be considered an essay on asthetic, but it is none the less true that it was in On the Sublime that the eighteenth century found ideas that motivated many of its children, important and unimportant, to attempt an analysis of the sources and the effects of sublimity, and it was out of the interest in this analysis that there began to emerge, early in the century, a concept that was truly, if rudimentarily, asthetic. Therefore, it becomes of some importance to look again at the treatise, and if...
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SOURCE: "The Argument of Longinus on the Sublime," in Modern Philology, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, February, 1942, pp. 225-58.
[In this essay, Olson analyzes the structures of the various arguments that lead up to On the Sublime's conclusions and, from this, concludes that Longinus intended sublimity to be bound up with the communication of spiritual nobility rather than with mere stylistic manipulation.]
The brief and fragmentary treatise [Peri Hypsous] presents the spectacle, not too uncommon in literature, of a major critical document which has gained assent—in this case almost universal assent—to its statements while the arguments which developed and guaranteed those statements have gone nearly unexamined.1 Since its publication at Basel by Robortello in 1554, and more particularly since Boileau's translation a hundred and twenty years later, the treatise has been frequently edited and translated, admired and eulogized, cited and discussed; but the quality of sensibility for which it has been chiefly esteemed, and which has won for it innumerable and illustrious admirers, seems unfortunately to have discouraged logical analysis. Twentieth-century commentators on the work, from Churton Collins2 to Mr. J. W. H. Atkins,3 seem to have written with Gibbon's famous remark in mind and consequently to have been occupied chiefly with the insight, the enthusiasm, and...
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SOURCE: "Longinus at Colonus: The Grounding of Sublimity," in The Reach of Criticism: Method and Perception in Literary Theory, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 47-80.
[Below, Fry uses Sophocles's Oedipus as a touchstone to compare Longinus and Aristotle. He concludes that the former discards fundamental distinctions—e.g., language and spirit—that are fundamental and problematic in the Poetics of the latter.]
The capacity to be able to act theoretically is defined for us by the fact that in attending to something it is possible to forget one's own purposes.… Theoria is a true sharing, not something active, but something passive (pathos), namely being totally involved in and carried away by what one sees [Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method]
In undertaking to show the relevance of Longinus to the concerns of criticism at the present time, it may be useful to begin by considering opinions of his treatise that are recorded by two modern theorists of criticism. W. K. Wimsatt thinks that On the Sublime is incoherent in every way, that Longinus is incapable of distinguishing clearly among author, text, and audience and incapable likewise of distinguishing between such pairs of terms as nature and art or thought and language. The result of these confusions is, according to Wimsatt, that Longinus cannot sufficiently...
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Weinberg, Bernard. "Translations and Commentaries of Longinus, On the Sublime, to 1600: A Bibliography." Modern Philology 47, No. 3 (Feb. 1950): 145-51.
Chronological list (through 1600) of Latin commentaries and translations and Greek texts and vernacular translations.
Abrams, M. H. "Longinus and the Longinians." In The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, pp. 72-78. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Considers Longinus's On the Sublime as an influential precursor to nineteenth-century romantic theory.
Baldwin, Charles Sears. "The Literary Criticism of Rhetoric." In Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic, Interpreted from Representative Works, pp. 102-31. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1959.
Considers De Compositione Verborum of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and De Sublimitate of Longinus as complementary approaches to the classical conception of rhetoric.
Brody, Jules. "Longinus Rediscovered." In Boileau and Longinus, pp. 9-35. Geneve: Librairie E. Droz, 1958.
Surveys the editions of Longinus published in Renaissance Italy and seventeenth-century France, and discusses the reception of On the Sublime by Nicolas Boileau.
Collins, John Churton. "Longinus and...
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