George Saintsbury (essay date 1900)

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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 particular question is, until some entirely new documents turn up, likely to be couched in something like the following form:—

  1. The positive evidence for the authorship of Longinus is very weak, consisting in MS. attributions, the oldest of which2 is irresolute in form, while it certainly does not date earlier than the tenth century.
  2. There is absolutely no evidence against the authorship of Longinus, only a set of presumptions, most of which are sheer opinion, and carry no weight except as such. Moreover, no plausible competitor has even been hinted at. I hope it is not illiberal to say that the suggestion of Plutarch, which was made by Vaucher, and has met with some favour, carries with it irresistible evidence that the persons who make it know little about criticism. No two things could possibly be more different than the amiable ethical knack of the author of the Moralia, and the intense literary gift of the author of the Peri Hypsos.

Another of the "Academic questions" connected with the book, however, is of more literary importance, and that is its proper designation in the modern languages. There has been a consensus of the best authorities of late years, even though they may not agree on other points, that "The Sublime" is a far from happy translation of hypsos. Not only has "Sublime" in the modern languages, and especially in English, a signification too much specialised, but the specialisation is partly in the wrong direction. No one, for instance, who uses English correctly, however great his enthusiasm for the magnificent Sapphic ode which Longinus has had the well-deserved good fortune to preserve to us, would call it exactly sublime,3 there being, in the English connotation of that word, an element of calmness, or at any rate (for a storm may be sublime) of mastery, which is absent here. And so in other cases; "Sublime" being more especially unfortunate in bringing out (what no doubt remains to some extent in any case) the inadequateness and tautology of the attempts to define the sources of hypsos. Hall, the seventeenth-century translator, avoided these difficulties by a simple rendering, "the height of eloquence," which is more than literally exact, though it is...

(This entire section contains 8346 words.)

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neither elegant nor handy. Nor is there perhaps any single word that is not open to almost as many objections as Sublime itself. So that (and again this is the common conclusion) it is well to keep it, with a very careful preliminary explanation that the Longinian Sublime is not sublimity in its narrower sense, but all that quality, or combination of qualities, which createsenthusiasm in literature, all that gives consummateness to it, all that deserves the highest critical encomium either in prose or poetry.

Few persons, however, whom the gods have made critical will care to spend much time in limine over the authorship, the date,4 the title, and the other beggarly elements in respect to this astonishing treatise. Incomplete as it is—and its incompleteness is as evident as that of the Poetics, and probably not much less substantial—difficult as are some of its terms, deprived as we are in some cases of the power of appreciating its citations fully, through our ignorance of their context, puzzled as we may even be now and then by that radical difference in taste and view-point, that "great gulf fixed," which sometimes, though only sometimes, does interpose itself between modern and ancient,—no student of criticism, hardly one would think any fairly educated and intelligent man, can read a dozen lines of the book without finding himself in a new world, as he compares it with even the best of his earlier critical masters. He is in the presence of a man who has accidentally far greater advantages of field than Aristotle, essentially far more powerful genius, and an intenser appreciation of literature, than Dionysius or Quintilian. And probably the first thought—not of the student, who will be prepared for it, but of the fairly educated man who knows something of Pope and Boileau and the rest of them—will be, "How on earth did this book come to be quoted as an authority by a school like that of the 'classical' critics of the seventeenth-eighteenth century, whose every principle almost, whose general opinions certainly, it seems to have been designedly written to crush, conclude, and quell?" Of this more hereafter. Let us begin, as in former important cases, by a short abstract of the actual contents of the book.

The author commences by addressing a young friend or pupil, a certain Postumius (Terentianus or Florentianus?), on the inefficiency of the Treatise on the Sublime by a certain Cacilius5 In endeavouring to provide something more satisfactory, especially as to the sources of Sublimity, he premises little more in the shape of definition than that it is "a certain consummateness and eminence" of words, completing this with the remark (the first epoch-making one of the treatise) that the effect of such things is "not persuasion but transport," not the result of skill, pains, and arrangement, but something which, "opportunely out-flung," carries everything before it. But can it be taught? Is it not innate? The doubt implies a fallacy. Nature is necessary, but it must be guided and helped by art. Then comes a gap, a specially annoying one, since the farther shore lands us in the midst of an unfavourable criticism of a passage supposed to come from the lost Orithyia of/Eschylus, which is succeeded by, or grouped with, other specimens of the false sublime, bombast, tumidity, and theparenthurson.6 Next we pass to "frigidity," a term which Longinus uses with a slightly different connotation from Aristotle's, applying it chiefly to what he thinks undue flings and quips and conceits. These particular strictures are, in Chapter V., generalised off into a brief but admirable censure of the quest for mere novelty, of that "horror of the obvious" which bad taste at all times has taken for a virtue. To cure this and other faults, there is nothing for it but to make for the true Sublime, hard as it may be. For (again a memorable and epoch-making saying) "the judgment of words is the latest begotten fruit of many an attempt."7

The first canon of sublimity is not unlike the famous Quod Semper, &c. If a thing does not transport at all, it is certainly not Sublime. If its transporting power fails with repetition, with submission to different but still competent judges, it is not sublime. When men different in habits, lives, aims, ages, speech, agree about it, then no mistake is possible.

The sources of Sublimity are next defined as five in number: Command of strong and manly thought; Vehement and enthusiastic passion—these are congenital; Skilfulness with Figures; Nobility of phrase; Dignified and elevated ordonnance.8 These, after a rebuke of some length to Cecilius for omitting Passion, he proceeds to discuss seriatim.… [What] he now calls "great-naturedness," holds the first place in value as in order, and examples of it, and of the failure to reach it, are given from many writers, Homer and "the Legislator of the Jews" being specially praised. This laudation leads to one of the best known and most interesting passages of the whole book, a short criticism and comparison of the Iliad and the Odyssey, whereon, as on other things in this abstract, more hereafter. The interest certainly does not sink with the quotation from Sappho, whether we agree or not (again vide post) that the source of its charm is "the selection and composition of her details." Other typical passages are then cited and criticised.

We next come to Amplification,—almost the first evidence in the treatise, and not a fatal one, of the numbing power of "Figures." Longinus takes occasion by it for many illuminative animadversions, not merely on Homer, but on Plato, Herodotus, Demosthenes, and Thucydides, whom (it is very satisfactory to observe) he includes among those who have "sublimity." This handling of Figures, professedly eclectic, is fertile in such animadversions in regard to others besides Amplification—Hyperbata, Polyptota, Antimetathesis, and others still—with especial attention to Periphrasis, to his praise of which the eighteenth century perhaps attended without due attention to his cautions.

Then comes another of the flashes of light. Dismissing the figures, he turns to diction in itself, and has a wonderful passage on it, culminating in the dictum, "For beautiful words are in deed and in fact the very light of the spirit,"—the Declaration of Independence and the "Let there be light" at once of Literary Criticism.

Here the Enemy seems to have thought that he was getting too good, for another and greater gap occurs, and when we are allowed to read again, we are back among the Figures and dealing with Metaphor—the criticism of examples, however, being still illuminative. It leads him, moreover, to another of his nugget-grounds, the discussion on "Faultlessness," which introduces some especially valuable parallels—Apollonius and Homer, Bacchylides and Pindar, Ion and Sophocles, Hyperides and Demosthenes, Lysias and Plato. Then we pass to the figure Hyperbole after a gap, and then to ordonnance and arrangement, with a passage, valuable but, like all similar passages in the ancient critics, difficult, on rhythm. After this a section on …—"littleness," "triviality"—leads abruptly to the close, which is not the close, and which, after some extremely interesting remarks on the ethical and other conditions of the time, ends with an unfulfilled promise of treating the subject of the Passions. The loss of this is perhaps more to be regretted than the loss of any other single tractate of the kind in antiquity. It might have been, and possibly was, only a freshening up of the usual rhetorical commonplaces about the "colours of good and evil," and the probable disposition of the hearer or reader. But it might also, and from Longinus's handling of the other stock subject of the Figures it is much more likely to, have been something mainly, if not wholly, new: in fact, something that to this day we have not got—an analysis of the direct appeals of literature to the primary emotions of the soul.

In considering this inestimable book, it is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of these early words of it to which attention has been drawn above. The yoke of "persuasion" has at last been broken from the neck of the critic. He does not consider literature as something which will help a man to carry an assembly with him, to persuade a jury, to gain a declamation prize. He does indeed still mention the listener rather than the reader; but that is partly tradition, partly a consequence of the still existing prevalence of recitation or reading aloud. Further, it is sufficiently evident that the critic has come to regard literature as a whole, and is not distracted by supposed requirements of "invention" on the part of the poet, of "persuasion" on the part of the orator, and so forth. He looks at the true and only test of literary greatness—the "transport," the absorption of the reader. And he sees as no one, so far as we know, saw before him (except Dionysius for a moment and "in a glass darkly"), as Dante was the only man after him to see for a millennium and much more, that the beautiful words, the "mots rayonnants," are at least a main means whereby this effect is produced. Instead of style and its criticism being dismissed, or admitted at best with impatience as something fortikon, we have that gravest and truest judgment of the latter as the latest-born offspring of many a painful endeavour. Far is it indeed from him to stick to the word only: his remarks on novelty, his peroration (not intended as such, but so coming to us), and many other things, are proof of that. But in the main his criticism is of the pure asthetic kind, and of the best of that kind. It will not delay us too much to examine it a little more in detail.

The opening passage as to Cacilius, though it has tempted some into perilous hypothetic reconstructions of that critic's possible teaching, really comes to little more than this—that Longinus, like most of us, was not exactly satisfied with another man's handling of his favourite subject. And, curiously enough, the only specific fault that he here finds—namely, that his predecessor, while illustrating the nature of the Sublime amply, neglected to discuss the means of reaching it—rather recoils on himself. For there can be little doubt that the weakest part of the Peri Hypsos is its discussion of "sources." But the great phrase, already more than once referred to, as to transport or ecstasy, not persuasion, lifts us at once—itself transports us—into a region entirely different from that of all preceding Rhetorics, without at the same time giving any reason to fear loss of touch with the common ground and common-sense. For nothing can be saner than the handling, in the second chapter, of that aporia concerning nature and art, genius and painstaking, which has not infrequently been the cause of anything but sane writing.

After the gap, however, we come to one of the passages recently glanced at, and mentioned or to be mentioned so often elsewhere, which warn us as to difference of view. The passage, supposed to be, as we said, Æschylean and from the Orithyia, is no doubt at rather more than "concert-pitch." It is Marlowe rather than Shakespeare; yet Shakespeare himself has come near to it in Lear and elsewhere, and one line at least—

mian pareiras plektamen kheimarron

is a really splendid piece of metre and phrase, worthy, high-pitched as it is, of the author of the Oresteia and the Prometheus at his very best. So, too, the much-enduring Gorgias would hardly have received very severe reprehension from any but the extremest precisians of modern criticism, at its most starched time, for calling vultures "living tombs." But the horror of the Greeks on the one hand for anything extravagant, bizarre, out of measure, on the other for the slightest approach in serious work to the unbecoming, the unpleasantly suggestive, makes Longinus here a very little prudish. And his general remarks are excellent, especially in reference to to parenthurson, which I have ventured to interpret, not quite in accordance with the general rendering, "the poking in of the thyrsus at the wrong time," the affectation of Bacchanalian fury where no fury need be.

But we still have the same warning in the chapter on Frigidity, coupled with another—that, perhaps, as sometimes happens, Longinus' sense of humour was not quite equal to his sense of sublimity, and yet another—that the historic sense, so late developed everywhere, was, perhaps, not very strong in him. We, at least, should give Timwus the benefit of a doubt, as to the presence of a certain not inexcusable irony in the comparison (in which, for instance, neither Swift nor Carlyle would have hesitated to indulge) of the times taken by Alexander to conquer Asia and by Isocrates to write the Panegyric. On the other hand, he seems to forget the date of Timwus when he finds … the paltrily funny, in the historian's connection of the Athenian Hermocopide and their punishment by Hermocrates, the son of Hermon. There is no reason why Timwus should not have been quite serious, though in the third century after Christ, and even in the first, the allusion might seem either a tasteless freethinking jest or a silly piece of superstition.

But by far the most interesting thing in this context is Longinus' irreconcilable objection to a fanciful metaphor which, as it happens most oddly, was, with a very slight variation, an equal pet of the Greeks of the great age and of our own Elizabethans. Every reader of the latter knows the phrase, "to look babies in the eyes" of the beloved—that is to say, to keep the face so close to hers that the little reflections of the gazer in the pupils of her eyes are discernible. The Greek term for these little images, and the pupils that mirrored them, was slightly different—it was … maidens. And as, from the famous quarrel scene in Homer downwards, the eyes were always, in Greek literature, the seat of modesty or of impudence, the combination suggested, not merely to Timwus but even to Xenophon, a play of words, "more modest than the maidens in their eyes," or conversely, as where Timwus, speaking of the lawless lust of Agathocles, says that he must have had "harlots" …, not "maidens" …, in his eyes. And Longinus is even more angry or sad with Xenophon than with Timwus, as expecting more propriety from him.

But whether we agree with him in detail or not, the inestimable passage, on the mere quest and craze for novelty, which follows, more than reconciles us, as well as the other great saying in cap. vi. as to the "late-born" character of the judgment of style, and that in the next as to the canon of Sublimity being the effect produced unaltered in altered circumstances and cases. When we read these things we feel that literary criticism is at last fully constituted,—that it wants nothing more save greater variety, quantity, and continuance of literary creation, upon which to exercise itself.

No nervous check or chill need be caused by the tolerably certain fact that more than one hole may be picked in the subsequent classification of the sources9 of hypsos. These attempts at an over-methodical classification (it has been said before) are always full of snares and pitfalls to the critic. Especially do they tempt him to the sin of arguing in a circle. It cannot be denied that in every one of the five divisions (except, perhaps, the valuable vindication of the quality of Passion) there is some treacherous word or other, which is a mere synonym of "sublime." Thus in the first we have hadrepobolon, mastery of the hadron, a curious word, the nearest equivalent of which in English is, perhaps, "stout" or "full-bodied," as we apply these terms to wine; in the fourth…, "noble," which is only "sublime" in disguise; and in the fifth axioma kai diarsis, of which much the same may be said.

Any suggestion, however, of paralogism which might arise from this and be confirmed by the curious introduction in the third of the Figures, as if they were machines for automatic sublime-coining, must be dispelled by the remarks on Passion of the right kind as tending to sublimity, and by the special stress laid on the primary necessity of megalophrosune, whereof hypsos itself is the mere apekhjma or echo. Unfortunately here, as so often, the gap comes just in the most important place.

When the cloud lifts, however, we find ourselves in one of the most interesting passages of the whole, the selection of "sublime" passages from Homer. A little superfluous matter about Homer's "impiety" (the old, the respectable, Platonic mistake) occurs; but it matters not, especially in face of the two praises of the "Let there be light" of the Jewish legislator, "no chance comer," and of the great en de phei kai olesson of Ajax, the mere juxtaposition of which once more shows what a critic we have got in our hands.

Not quite such a great one perhaps have we—yet one in the circumstances equally fascinating—in the contrasted remarks on the Odyssey. Longinus is not himself impious; he is no Separatist (he is indeed far too good a critic to be that). But he will have the Romance of Ulysses to be "old age, though the old age of Homer." "When a great nature is a little gone under, philomythia is characteristic of its decline." Evidently, he thinks, the Odyssey was Homer's second subject, not his first. He is "a setting sun as mighty as ever, but less intense": he is more unequal: he takes to the fabulous and the incredible. The Wine of Circe, the foodless voyage of Ulysses, the killing of the suitors—nay, the very attention paid to Character and Manners—tell the tale of decadence.

He is wrong, undoubtedly wrong—we may swear it boldly by those who fell in Lyonnesse, and in the palace of Atli, and under the echoes of the horn of Roland. The Odyssey is not less than the Iliad; it is different. But we can hardly quarrel with him for being wrong, because his error is so instructive, so interesting. We see in it first (even side by side with not a little innovation) that clinging to the great doctrines of old, to the skirts of Aristotle and of Plato, which is so often found in noble minds and so seldom in base ones. And we see, moreover, that far as he had advanced—near as he was to an actual peep over the verge of the old world and into the new—he was still a Greek himself at heart, with the foibles and limitations—no despicable foibles and limitations—of the race. Here is the instinctive unreasoning terror of the unknown Romance; the dislike of the vague and the fabulous; even that curious craze about Character being in some way inferior to Action, which we have seen before. By the time of Longinus—if he lived in the third century certainly, if he lived in the first probably—the romance did exist. But it was looked upon askance; it had no regular literary rank; and a sort of resentment was apparently felt at its daring to claim equality with the epic. Now the Odyssey is the first, and not far from the greatest, of romances. It has the Romantic Unity in the endurance and triumph of its hero. It has the Romantic Passion in the episodes of Circe and Calypso and others: above all, it has the great Romantic breadth, the free sweep of scene and subject, the variety, the contrast of fact and fancy, the sparkle and hurry and throb. But these things, to men trained in the admiration of the other Unity, the other Passion, the more formal, regulated, limited, measured detail and incident of the usual tragedy and the usual epic—were at best unfamiliar innovations, and at worst horrible and daring impieties. Longinus will not go this length: he cannot help seeing the beauty of the Odyssey. But he must reconcile his principles to his feelings by inventing a theory of decadence, for which, to speak frankly, there is no critical justification at all.

One may almost equally disagree with the special criticism which serves as setting to the great jewel among the quotations of the treatise, the so-called "Ode to Anactoria." The charm of this wonderful piece consists, according to Longinus, in the skill with which Sappho chooses the accompanying emotions of "erotic mania."10 To which one may answer, "Hardly so," but in the skill with which she expresses those emotions which she selects, and in the wonderful adaptation of the metre to the expression, in the mastery of the picture of the most favoured lover, drawing close and closer to the beloved to catch the sweet speech,11 and the laughter full of desire. In saying this we should have the support of the Longinus of other parts of the treatise against the Longinus of this. Yet here, too, he is illuminative; here, too, the "noble error" of the Aristotelian conception of poetry distinguishes and acquits him.

With the remarks on … "amplification," as it is traditionally but by no means satisfactorily rendered, another phase of the critical disease of antiquity (which is no doubt balanced by other diseases in the modern critical body) may be thought to appear. Both in the definition of this figure and in the description of its method we may, not too suspiciously, detect evidences of that excessive technicality which gave to Rhetoric itself the exclusive title of techne. Auxesis, it seems, comes in when the business, or the point at issue, admits at its various stages of divers fresh starts and rests, of one great phrase being wheeled upon the stage after another, continually introduced in regular ascent. This, it seems, can be done either by means of … handling of topoi or commonplaces," or by deinōsis, which may perhaps be best rendered tour de force, or by cunning successive disposition … of facts or feelings. For, says he, there are ten thousand kinds of auxesis.

The first description of the method will recall to all comparative students of literature the manner of Burke, though it is not exactly identical with that manner; but the instances of means, besides being admittedly inadequate, savour, with their technicalities of terminology, much too strongly of the cut-and-dried manual. The third article, on a reasonable interpretation of epoikonomia, really includes all that need be said. But one sees here, as later, that even Longinus had not quite outgrown the notion that the teacher of Rhetoric was bound to present his student with a sort of handlist of "tips" and dodges—with the kind of Cabbala wherewith the old-fashioned crammer used to supply his pupils for inscription on wristband or finger-nail. Yet he hastens to give a sign of grace by avowing his dissatisfaction with the usual Rhetorical view, and by distinguishing auxesis and the Sublime itself, in a manner which brings the former still nearer to Burke's "winding into a subject like a serpent," and which might have been more edifying still if one of the usual gaps did not occur. Part, at least, of the lost matter must have been occupied with a contrast or comparison between the methods of Plato and Demosthenes, the end of which we have, and which passes into one between Demosthenes and Cicero. "If we Greeks may be allowed to have an opinion," says Longinus, with demure humility, "Demosthenes shall be compared to a flash of thunder and lightning, Cicero to an ordinary terrestrial conflagration," which is very handsome to Cicero.

Then he returns to Plato, and rightly insists that much of his splendour is derived from imitation, or at least from emulation, of that very Homer whom he so often attacks. The great writers of the past are to be constantly before us, and we are not to be deterred from "letting ourselves go" by any mistaken sense of inferiority, or any dread of posterity's verdict.

Then comes a digression of extreme importance on the subject of… "images." One of the points in which a history of the kind here attempted may prove to be of most service, lies in the opportunity it affords of keeping the changes of certain terms, commonly used in criticism, more clearly before the mind than has always been done. And of these, none requires more care than "Images" and "Imagination." At the first reading, the mere use of such a word as phantasiai may seem to make all over-scrupulousness unnecessary, though if we remember that even Fancy is not quite Imagination, the danger may be lessened. At any rate, it is nearly certain that no ancient writer, and no modern critic before a very recent period (Shakespeare uses it rightly, but then he was Shakespeare and not a critic), attached our full sense to the term. To Aristotle phantasia is merely … a "weakened sensation," a copy furnished by memory from sensation itself. Even animals have it. No idea of Invention seems to have mingled with it, or only of such invention as the artist's is when he faithfully represents natural objects. Of the Imagination, which is in our minds when we call Shelley an imaginative poet, and Pope not one, Sir Edward Burne Jones an imaginative painter, and any contemporary whom it may be least invidious to name not one, there does not seem to have been a trace even in the enthusiastic mind of Longinus, though he expressly includes Enthusiasm—nay, Passion—in his notion of it. You think you see what you say, and you make your hearers see it. Good; but Crabbe does that constantly, and one would hardly, save in the rarest cases, call Crabbe imaginative. In short, öáíôáóßáé here are vivid illustrations drawn from nature—Orestes' hallucination of the Eumenides, Euripides' picture of Phaethon, that in the Seven of the slaying of the bull over the black-bound shield, and many others. No doubt he glances at the fabulous and incredible, the actually "imagined"; but he seems, as in the case of the Odyssey, to be a little doubtful of these even in poetry, while in oratory he bars them altogether. You must at one and the same time reason and illustrate—again the very method of Burke.

In the rest of the illustrations of the use of Figures—for the central part of the treatise expressly disclaims being a formal discussion of these idols—the positive literary criticisms scattered in them—the actual "reviewing"—will give most of the interest. The great Oath of Demosthenes, "By those who fell at Marathon!" with its possible suggestion by a passage of Eupolis, supplies a whole chapter and part of another. And now we find the curious expression (showing how even Longinus was juggled by terms) that Figures "fight on the side of the Sublime, and in turn draw a wonderful reinforcement from it," wherein a mighty if vague reality like the Sublime, and mere shadows (though neatly cut-out shadows) like the Figures, are most quaintly yoked together.

Though still harassed by gaps, we find plenty of good pasture in the remarks, the handling of Periphrasis being especially attractive. For the eighteenth century—the time which honoured Longinus most in theory, and went against him most in practice—undoubtedly took part of his advice as to this figure. It had no doubt that Periphrasis contributed to the Sublime, was hypselopoion: unluckily it paid less attention to his subsequent caution, that it is a risky affair, and that it smells of triviality.12 In fact, it is extremely noticeable that in the examples of Periphrasis which he praises we should hardly apply that name to it, but should call it "Allusion" or "Metaphor," while the examples that he condemns are actually of the character of Armstrong's "gelid cistern" and Delille's "game which Palamede invented."

At no time perhaps has the tricksy, if not (as one is almost driven to suspect) deliberately malignant, mutilator played such a trick as in abstracting four leaves from the MS. between caps. xxx. and xxxi. Here Longinus has begun to speak of diction generally; here he has made that admirable descant on "beautiful words" which, though almost all the book deserves to be written in letters of gold, would tempt one to indulge here in precious stones, so as to mimic, in jacinth and sapphire and chrysoprase, the effect which it celebrates. When we are permitted another glimpse we are back in particular criticism, interesting but less valuable save indirectly, and in criticisms, too, of Cacilius, criticisms which we could do without. No great good can ever come of inquiries, at least general inquiries, into the permissible number and the permissible strength of Metaphors. Once more we may fall back on the Master, though perhaps rather in opposition to some of the Master's dicta in this very field. "As the intelligent man shall decide" is the decision here, and the intelligent man will never decide till the case is before him. One bad metaphor is too much: twenty good ones are not too many. Nor is "the multitudinous seas incarnadine" an "excess," though no doubt there have been bad critics who thought so.

Longinus himself, though he had not had the happiness to read Macbeth, was clearly not far out of agreement with the concluding sentiment of the last paragraph, and he makes this certain by the disquisition on Faultlessness which follows. As a general question this is probably, for the present time at any rate, past argument, not so much because the possibility of a "faultless" great poem is denied, as because under the leaden rule of the best modern criticism—leaden not from dulness but from adaptability—few things are recognised as "faults" in se and per se. A pun may be a gross fault in one place and a grace beyond the reach of art in another: an aposiopesis may be either a proof of clumsy inequality to the situation or a stroke of genius. But the declaration of Longinus that he is not on the side of Faultlessness is of infinitely greater importance than any such declaration from an equally great critic ("Where is he? Show him to me," as Rabelais would say) could possess to-day. The general Greek theory undoubtedly did make for excessive severity to faultfulness, just as our general theory makes perhaps for undue leniency to it. That Longinus could withstand this tendency—could point out the faults of the faultless—was a very great thing.

As always, too, his individual remarks frequently give us, not merely the satisfaction of agreement, but that of piquant difference or curiosity. We may agree with him about Bacchylides and Pindar—though, by the way, the man who had the taste and the courage to admire a girl … as possessing that yellow ivory tint of skin which lights so magnificently13—was certainly one to dare to challenge convention with what its lilies-androses standard must have thought a "fault." But we cannot help astonishment at being told that both Pindar and Sophocles "often have their light quenched without any obvious reason, and stumble in the most unfortunate manner." For those of us who are less, as well as those who are more, enthusiastic about Sophocles would probably agree in asking, "Where does he 'go out in snuff,' where does he 'fall prostrate' in this fashion?" Surely all the faults cannot be in the lost plays! We want a rather fuller text of Hyperides than we possess to enable us quite to appreciate the justice of the comparison of him with Demosthenes, but that justice is striking even on what we have. On the other hand, we are rather thrown out by the contrast of Plato and Lysias—it may be owing to the same cause. Even if the comparison were one of style only, we should think it odd to make one between Burke and Berkeley, though the Sublime and Beautiful would help us a little here.

But all this is a digression,14 and the author seems to have returned to his Metaphors (in a gap where the demon has interfered with less malice than usual), and to Hyperboles, under the head of which we get a useful touch of contempt for Isocrates. We are in deeper and more living waters when we come to the handling, alas! too brief (though nothing seems here to be lost), of ordonnance, "composition," selection and arrangement of words. Here is yet another of those great law-making phrases which are the charter of a new criticism. "Harmony is to men not only physically connected with persuasion and pleasure, but a wonderful instrument of magniloquence and passion." It may be difficult for us, with our very slight knowledge (it would, perhaps, be wiser to say almost absolute ignorance) of Greek pronunciation, to appreciate his illustrations here in detail. But we can appreciate the principle of them exactly, and apply that principle, in any language of which we do know the pronunciation, with perfect ease and the completest success. The silly critics (they exist at the present day) who pooh-pooh, as niceties and fiddle-faddle, the order of words, the application of rhythmical tests to prose, and the like, are answered here beforehand with convincing force by a critic whom no one can possibly charge with preferring sound to sense.

This refers to prose, but the following chapter carries out the same principle as to poetry with equal acuteness. Longinus, great as his name is, probably is but little in the hands of those who object (sometimes almost with foam at the mouth) to the practice of analysing the mere harmonic effect of poetry. But it is pleasant to think of these passages when one reads the outcries, nor is the pleasantness rendered less pleasant by the subsequent cautions against that over-rhythmical fashion of writing which falls to the level of mere dance-music.

The caution against over-conciseness and over-prolixity is rather more of a matter of course, and the strictures on the microtis, occasionally to be found in Herodotus, like some in the earlier parts of the treatise, sometimes elude us, as is the case with similar verbal criticisms even in languages with which we are colloquially familiar.

And then there is the curious Conclusion which, as we have said, is no conclusion at all, as it would seem, and which yet has an unmistakable air of "peroration, with [much] circumstance," on the everlasting question, "Why is the Sublime so rare in our time?" In that day, as in this, we learn (the fact being, as in King Charles II.'s fish-experiment, taken for granted), divers explanations, chiefly political, were given for the fact. Democracy was a good nurse of greatness: aristocracy was not. But Longinus did not agree. It was money-getting and money-seeking, pleasure-loving and pleasure-hunting, he thought. Plain living and high thinking must be returned to if the Heights were to be once more scaled. A noble conclusion, if perhaps only a generous fallacy. Had Longinus had our illegitimate prerogative-postrogative of experience, he would have known that the blowing of the wind of the spirit admits of no such explanations as these. Ages of Liberty and Ages of Servitude, Ages of Luxury and Ages of Simplicity, Ages of Faith and Ages of Freethought—all give us the Sublime if the right man is there: none will give it us if he is not. But our critic had not the full premisses before him, and we could not expect the adequate conclusion.

Yet how great a book have we here! Of the partly otiose disputes about its date and origin and authorship one or two things are worth recalling, though for other purposes than those of the disputants. Let it be remembered that it is not quoted, or even referred to, by a single writer of antiquity.15 There is absolutely no evidence for it, except its own internal character, before the date of its oldest manuscript, which is assigned to the tenth century. Even if, assuming it to be the work of Longinus, we suppose it to have been part of one of the works which are ascribed to him (a possible assumption, see note), there is still the absence of quotation, still the absence even of reference to views so clearly formulated, so eloquently enforced, and in some ways so remarkably different from those of the usual Greek and Roman rhetorician. That the book can be of very late date—much later, that is to say, than that of Longinus himself—is almost impossible. One of its features, the lack of any reference to even a single writer later than the first century, has indeed been relied upon to prove that it is not later itself than that date. This is inconclusive for that purpose. But it makes every succeeding century less and less probable, while the style, though in some respects peculiar, is not in the least Byzantine.

This detachment from any particular age—nay, more, this vita fallens, this unrecognised existence of a book so remarkable—stands in no merely fanciful relation to the characteristics of the book itself. It abides alone in thought as well as in history. That it is a genuine, if a late, production of the classical or semi-classical age we cannot reasonably doubt, for a multitude of reasons, small in themselves but strong in a bundle,—its style, its diction, its limitations of material, and even occasionally of literary view, its standards, all sorts of little touches like the remark about Cicero, and so forth. Yet it has, in the most important points, almost more difference from than resemblance to the views of classical critics generally. The much greater antiquity of Aristotle may be thought to make comparison with him infructuous, if not unfair. But we have seen already how far Longinus is from Dionysius, how much further from Plutarch; and we shall see in the next Book how far he is from Quintilian. Let us look where we will, to critics by profession or to critics by chance, to the Alexandrians as far as we know them, to the professional writers on Rhetoric, to Aristophanes earlier and Lucian later, always we see Longinus apart—among them by dispensation and time, but not of them by tone, by tendency, by temper.

For though he himself was almost certainly unconscious of it, and might even have denied the fact with some warmth if it had been put to him, Longinus has marked out grounds of criticism very far from those of the ancient period generally, further still from those which were occupied by any critic (except Dante) of the Middle Ages and the Classical revival, and close to, if not in all cases overlapping the territory of, the modern Romantic criticism itself. As we have seen, the ancient critic was wont either to neglect the effect of a work of art altogether, and to judge it by its supposed agreement with certain antecedent requirements, or else, if effects were considered at all, to consider them from the merely practical point of view, as in the supposed persuasive effect of Rhetoric, or from the ethical, as in the purging, the elevating, and so forth, assigned to Tragedy, and to Poetry generally. Longinus has changed all this. It is the enjoyment, the transport, the carrying away of the reader or auditor, that, whether expressedly or not, is always at bottom the chief consideration with him. He has not lowered the ethical standard one jot, but he has silently refused to give it precedence of the aesthetic; he is in no way for lawlessness, but he makes it clear, again and again, that mere compliance with law, mere fulfilment of the requirements of the stop-watch and the hundredth-of-an-inch rule, will not suffice. Aristotle had been forced, equally by his system and his sense, to admit that pleasure was an end—perhaps the end—of art; but he blenches and swerves from the consequences. Longinus faces them and follows them out.

In his attention to rhythm, especially of prose, Longinus is much less unique, for this point (as we have seen and shall see) was never neglected by the best ancient critics. But there is again something particularly distinguishing in his attempt to trace the sources of the literary pleasure in specimen passages. The ancient tendency is, though not universally, yet too generally, the other way, to select specimen passages merely as illustrations of general rules.

And this brings us to his greatest claim of all—that is to say, his attitude towards his subject as a whole. Although he nowhere says as much in so many words, no one can read his book with attention—above all, no one can read it again and again critically—without seeing that to him literature was not a schedule of forms, departments, kinds, with candidates presenting themselves for the critic to admit them to one or the other, on and during their good behaviour; but a body of matter to be examined according to its fruits, according to its provision of the literary pleasure. When it has been examined it is still for the critic to explain and justify (according to those unwritten laws which govern him) his decision that this was good, this not so good, this bad,—to point out the reasons of success and failure, to arrange the symptoms, classify the methods, and so forth. Where Longinus fell short it was almost always because ancient literature had not provided him with enough material of certain kinds, not because he ruled these kinds out a priori. Longinus was no Rymer. We could submit even Shakespeare to him with very little fear, and be perfectly certain that he would not, with Rapin, pronounce Dantes Aligerus wanting in fire.16 Nay, with a sufficient body of material to set before him, we could trust him with very much more dangerous cases than Shakespeare and Dantes Aligerus.

Yet, as we have said, he stands alone. We must skip fifteen hundred years and come to Coleridge before we meet any critic entirely of his class, yet free from some of his limitations. The hand of the author of the Peri Hypsos is not subdued, but raised to what he deals in. And his work remains towering among all other work of the class, the work of a critic at once Promethean and Epimethean in his kind, learning by the mistakes of all that had gone before, and presaging, with instinctive genius, much that was not to come for centuries after.


1 The most elaborate discussion of the whole matter still is that of Vaucher (Geneva, 1854). The editions I myself use are those of Toup (Oxford, 1778); Egger (Paris, 1837), a particularly handy little volume, with the fragments; and Prof. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge, 1899), with translation and full editorial apparatus. Those who do not read the Greek lose much: but they will find a good (though somewhat too free) translation, with an excellent introduction by Mr Andrew Lang, in the work of Mr H. L. Havell (London, 1890).

2Dionysiou e Longinous of the Paris MS. 2036. (Others even have íùíýìïõ.) Robortello intentionally or unintentionally dropped the e [or], thereby putting students off the scent.

3 Blair saw this, but, with the ill-luck of his century, regarded the work as merely "elegant."

4 Longinus (? 213-273) represents the middle of the third century. Nobody puts it later than this, and nobody earlier than the first.

5 A Sicilian rhetor, probably of Calacte, said by Suidas to have been of Greek, or at any rate non-Roman, birth, and a Jew in religion. Dionysius knew him, and he lived in the time of Augustus. There was another (confused by Suidas) in that of Hadrain. This may be our C.

6 A phrase of the rhetor Theodorus, meaning "the thyrsus poked in at the wrong time," "enthusiasm out of place."

7Logon krisis pollis esti peiras teleutalon epigenema. Dionysius (v. supra, pp. 130, 131) had said as much in sense, but less magisterially in phrase. I have translated logon in its narrowest equivalent, instead of "style" or "literature," which it doubtless also means, in order to bring out the antithesis better. I have small doubt that Longinus meant, here as elsewhere, to fling back the old contempt of the opposition of "words" and "things."

8 This word, which has the stamp of Dryden, is often preferable to "composition."

9 It may, however, be plausibly argued that the circle is more apparent than real, resulting from a kind of ambiguity in the word pegai. If Longinus had slightly altered his expression, so as to make it something of this kind, "There are five points [or ways, or aspects] in which hypsos may be attained, thought, feeling, 'figure,' diction, and composition," he would be much less vulnerable. And, after all, this is probably what he meant.

10 Literal.

11 Fond and foolish fancy as it may be, there seems to me something miraculous in the mere juxtaposition of plesion and adu—the silent adoring lover, jealous, as it were, of the very air robbing him of a portion of the sweetness.

12 … [This] means literally "perishable," "apt to go off," to get stale or flat.

13 Simonides had used the word literally of the nightingale, and there are those who hold that Bacchylides merely meant to compliment the lady's voice. But let us think more nobly of him.

14 I must be allowed to say that it contains one of the most ambitious and successful passages of Longinus as an original writer—the vindication of Nature's command to man to admire the magnificent—in cap. xxxv. It is a temptation to quote it.

15 "John of Sicily" (Walz, vi. 225), who in the thirteenth century cites the lost philologoi homiliai almost as if he was citing the Peri Hypsous, is certainly no exception. The undated Byzantine (Cramer, Aneed. Oxon., iii. 159, quoted by Professor Roberts after Usener), who couples logginou kriseis with those of Dionysius, may come nearer, as may the anonymous scholiast on Hermogenes (Walz, vii. 963), who cites the druiliai on to stomphōdes, "mouthing."

16 Sir Thomas Pope Blount, Characters and Censures of the most Considerable Poets. London, 1694. P. 58. "Rapin tells us that Dantes Aligerus wants fire, and that he has not heat enough."

W. Rhys Roberts (essay date 1928)

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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 Roman, Greek, and Jewish affinities appear to point that way. Suppose that the last chapter (chapter 44) alone was before us, as a newly discovered fragment, in modern print (with no palaeographical indication of date). Could we take that famous lament for perished liberty, eloquence, and genius to have been written so late as the third century? In the first century the topic of such degeneracy, and its causes, was a commonplace among Roman authors: we think of Tacitus (Dialogus de Oratoribus), the two Plinys, Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria and the lost De Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae), Petronius, and Seneca the philosopher. We notice that, in this chapter, "Longinus" (it is convenient so to call him; and I shall do so throughout) speaks of "the world's peace" …, and we recall the "Pax Romana," and a sentence close to the beginning of Tacitus' Histories: "postquam bellatum apud Actium atque omnem potentiam ad unum conferri pacis interfuit, magna illa ingenia cessere." What, by the way, is the nearest equivalent in any Roman author for hetes oikoumenos eirene, a greater phrase (and a greater idea) than "Pax Romana"?

The striking comparison, in the essay, between Demosthenes and Cicero unites with certain Latinisms to make it likely that the author, notwithstanding his modest disclaimer in chapter 12, had some direct knowledge of the Latin language and literature. Consequently the "philosopher" who starts the discussion in chapter 44 may conceivably be a Roman, and of the first century. Apropos of my edition, the late Professor Robinson Ellis in the Classical Review (xiii. 294) pointed out a double parallelism between the Sublime chapter 13, sections 3 and 4, and the Astronomica (book ii, lines 8-10 and 57, 58) of Manilius, who was probably writing between A.D. 9 and A.D. 14. Professor Ellis assumed that here either Manilius must be copying the Sublime or the Sublime Manilius. The latter alternative seems possible, but my own feeling, rather, is that both were drawing from some common source (Greek or Latin) now lost: the modern student is always in danger of forgetting the great losses there have surely been of Greek critical works belonging to the century before and the century after Christ. Still, I now incline, in this difficult problem of dating, to think (for reasons to be given in a moment) that the essay does belong to the earlier, rather than the later, half of the first century, and to somewhere about the year 40 A.D. But I want your help and criticism throughout.

Of the Greek affinities of the essay little need at this point be said: after all, it is written in Greek and shows a remarkable familiarity with the whole course of Greek literature. But, as bearing on its date, it is important to observe that, at its very start, a Greek author of the Augustan period is named and attacked: Caecilius of Calacte. The pugnacity, and pertinacity, with which "Longinus" assails Caecilius's book on hypsos ("sublimity") makes it seem probable that he was writing not much more than a generation after its appearance—not so long after as the time of Plutarch, who makes but passing references to Caecilius, and certainly not so long after as the third century.

To pass from the Roman and Greek to the Jewish side,—to the surpassingly sublime illustration drawn from the beginning of the Book of Genesis. The passage, in chapter 9, is: "Similarly, the legislator of the Jews, no ordinary man, having formed and expressed a worthy conception of the power of the Godhead, writes at the very beginning of his Laws, 'God said'—what? 'Let there be light, and there was light; let there be earth, and there was earth."'

First of all, is this passage of "Longinus" genuine? In my edition I maintained that it is and gave my reasons. During the year 1915 the German scholar Konrat Ziegler, in an able and vigorous paper published in Hermes, attacked my views, singling me out no doubt because I had made the fullest recent statement of a case which has never lacked defenders. I did not see the article at the time; I was busy in other ways, patriai tempore iniquo. But a pleasant thing happened. The reply—to me a convincing one—came from Germany itself two years later,—in 1917 and in the same classical journal. Hermann Mutschmann,3 a no less able and vigorous scholar than Ziegler and one better known for special work on "Longinus," dealt with the attack in a long article which still holds the field. To review fully the arguments on the two sides I have no space in half-an-hour's paper. I will select a small but interesting point of language passed over by Mutschmann, and then give my own present views on this issue of authenticity and on the general question of date.

Professor Ziegler will have it, indeed, that exephenen, which I have translated by "expressed," here means "revealed" in that very special sense of "revealed" which you would expect from a Jewish or Christian interpolator. But surely Jew or Christian would have employed the (for him) most significant … "to draw the veil from sacred mysteries"; Ziegler himself uses the German word "offenbaren" …, but this only serves to remind us that "Offenbarung" is the accepted German title of the New Testament book which we often call (as in the Greek) "the Apocalypse." Alokalupim occurs twenty-six times in the New Testament, ekphaino never. In the Septuagint ekphaino is found thirteen times, alokalupim over a hundred times. So that an argument on which Ziegler lays much stress seems rather to turn against himself. Further, the general diction of the section (short as it is) can be shown to tally with the rest of the essay: Ekphaino itself occurs in the first chapter, in the passive voice and in the somewhat colourless sense "appear from," "emerge from"; and the section contains also the characteristic expressions … ("similarly"), … ("extraordinary"), … ("at the very beginning"), and the still more characteristic rhetorical question,—"'God said'—what?",—which tells, assuredly, not of a devout Jewish or Christian believer but of an enthusiastic literary guide and teacher who is resolved to arrest attention even though some solemnity may be lost. The inexactitude of the citation, and a certain rhythmical and symmetrical turn which the great fiat has (perhaps unconsciously) received, leave the same impression on the mind, and also suggest a quotation made from memory.

It is with the relation of the whole passage to the difficult question of date that we are now specially concerned. My own view of the date (on which I want your criticism) is briefly this. Thirty years ago I maintained, on internal evidence (the external being, in my opinion, no better than Byzantine guesswork, since it describes the author either as "Dionysius (not Cassius) Longinus," or "Dionysius or Longinus," or "An Anonymous Writer"),—I maintained that the essay belongs to the first century, not to the third. Now I would go further and suggest that it was written in the earlier half, rather than the later half, of the first century, and probably during the twenty years from 30 A.D. to 50 A.D.,—say 40 A.D. I would bring it nearer in time to Philo than to Plutarch. I have no positive proof to offer; I shall only urge that, alike on the Jewish, Greek, and Roman sides, the period 30-50 A.D. seems highly probable. Let us seize on any known dates we can and make the most of them, especially if they are near the birth of Christ, slightly before or slightly after. The author is replying (as I think, within a generation or so) to Caecilius. Caecilius was a contemporary of Dionysius of Halicarnassus whom we know to have been living at Rome in the year 8 B.C. (the year of Horace's death) and who was probably still living there at and beyond the birth of Christ. With Dionysius, "Longinus" has in common an extensive critical terminology; with Caecilius, whom he opposes vehemently, he at any rate shares an interest in the Jewish race—we have it on the authority of Suidas that Caecilius was in religion a Jew. "Longinus" is connected with the East in yet another way. In chapter 3 we read: "A third, and closely allied, defect in outbursts of passion is that which Theodorus used to call parenthyrsos. By this is meant unseasonable and empty passion, where no passion is required; or immoderate, where moderation is needed." Modern scholars assume (in my opinion, rightly) that this Theodorus is the eminent rhetorician Theodorus of Gadara who taught in Rhodes and Rome. In my edition4 I suggested that the imperfect ekalei ("used to call") implies that "Longinus" had been a pupil of Theodorus. This view is also taken by Ziegler and Mutschmann. It is important as providing another clue by which we may hope approximately to date the essay. Quintilian (iii. 1, 17) tells us that Tiberius Caesar, during his retirement in Rhodes, was a diligent hearer of Theodorus. This retirement of Tiberius lasted from B.C. 6 to A.D. 2. It seems to me also possible that Theodorus was not only a Syrian but a Jew (a Jew passing under a Gentile name, like many another Jew in ancient and modern times), and that "Longinus" had heard from him not only about the "dragging-in of the thyrsus" (a verbal coinage suggested no doubt to Theodorus by Euripides' Bacchae, so famous in the East and so well known to "Longinus," as his essay proves), but about the legislator of the Jews and his great written opening now reproduced from memory. It is true that Theodorus liked to be called a "Rhodian" rather than a "Gadarene"; but the man who dubbed the young Tiberius "a lump of clay kneaded with blood" had, surely, courage and independence enough to quote Genesis in his lectures if he knew it; and at Gadara, where Jewish as well as Greek influences had long been felt, he would be likely to know it, even if he were no more than a Syrian cousin of the Jews.

However, I do not in the least insist on this detail nor on the possibility that "Longinus" may owe his knowledge of the quotation not to Theodorus but to the book he criticizes,—that by the Judaizer Caecilius. Word about the greatest opening perhaps in all literature may have come from sources altogether unknown to us. Is it not the case that the Jews are surprisingly to the fore even in the scanty Greek literature which to-day survives from the age of Augustus or slightly later? Please recall the dates of Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Philo: these rather than Josephus, whose floruit comes somewhat later. Diodorus probably wrote his History soon after 8 B.C., and in it he speaks of Moses' claim that his Laws came to him from the God called "Jehovah." Strabo's life extended from (about) B.C. 54 to A.D. 24. In the 16th Book of his Geography, Strabo expresses, in set terms and at some length, his admiration for the work accomplished by Moses, and says of the theocracy which Moses had instituted that it was "no ordinary one," the same two Greek words which "Longinus" has applied to Moses himself.

Take, again, Philo and his date. Philo (who would be born about 20 B.C.) came from Alexandria to Rome, on his celebrated embassy to Caligula, in or near the year 40 A.D.: a date only slightly earlier than the newly-discovered Letter sent by Claudius to Alexandria. That Letter, and Philo's embassy, are enough to show that Alexandria, and the Jews of Alexandria, were much in the mind of Rome (and "Longinus" is writing to a Roman) about this time; and not simply Alexandrian Jews, nor simply turbulent Jews. Some of the widely-dispersed Jews were beginning to hold important posts in the Roman imperial system as financiers, administrators, soldiers, secretaries, and teachers, showing no doubt the same intellectual gifts that they have so often shown in modern times and places; and as to the width of the dispersion, Josephus (Ant. Iud. xiv. 7, 2) reports Strabo to have said that "it is not easy to find a spot in the inhabited world which has not admitted this race and is not controlled by it." (Think of it: in New York to-day there are 1,750,000 Jews,—nearly one-third of the total population!)

Aloof as the Jews in some ways were and are, is it likely (apart altogether from what the word "proselyte" teaches us as to the active Jewish propaganda in the century before, and the earlier part of the century after, Christ's birth),—is it in itself likely that, when spread across the world, the Jews should not, as occasion offered, dwell on the great things of their faith to congenial souls, and that a Greek writer like "Longinus" (I take him, subject to your criticism, to have been a Greek, and not simply a Roman or Jew writing in Greek, like Marcus Aurelius, or Philo Judaeus) should record, incidentally, what he had somehow heard? For want of time, I must pass over the verbal coincidences between Philo and "Longinus," which seem to point to a growing contact in word and thought between Greek and Jewish authors; one of them so striking that it might almost have been written by "Longinus's" "philosopher" in chapter 44. But notice this. Philo, in his puritan sermons on Old Testament texts, occasionally quotes Homer: why should not a contemporary Greek author, once only in a short essay, refer to Genesis if the quotation were apposite? And it is apposite, supremely apposite. In the context, "Longinus" has condemned the human frailties of Homer's Olympian gods, and then turns with relief to a Homeric passage in which the divine nature is (he says) represented "as it really is—pure and great and undefiled." It is at this point that he mentions (with true literary and religious instinct) Moses' high conception of "the Godhead," using the same expression … as Strabo uses in his 16th book. The great idea and its simple setting have, alike, impressed him. The whole chapter deals with greatness of mind and soul, and near its beginning he has observed that a "bare idea" can be more sublime than words, instancing the silence of Ajax among the Shades.

Ziegler (whose doubts and difficulties I have kept in mind while stating my own position) seems to me to take altogether too narrow a view of this Greek "classical man" of (let us say) 40 A.D., when he supposes that he would have shrunk from quoting Moses side by side with Homer. That "Longinus" was a "classical man," we know; no one could have offered better tests of truly "classical" excellence than he has done in his seventh chapter. But the special virtue of these tests is that they are as applicable to one great literature as to another. We must not conceive of "Longinus" as a Greek rhetorician in any narrow and invidious sense; he refers to Isocrates, the idol of the rhetoricians, with some disdain. He is a philosopher and a man of letters; he is a great literary critic (do we, by the way, find in any Greek writer a nearer equivalent for the words "literary criticism" than in the sixth chapter of our essay, where we are told that "literary criticism … is the last and crowning fruit of long experience"?); and (more than all this) he is a man of his own day who has also the good fortune to be endowed with a true historical sense. In thinking of him, we simply must not speak as if Alexander and Alexandria, and Stoicism (half religion, half philosophy, with Greek, Roman, and Semitic elements; Zeno was a Semite), and the later Platonism had never been. We must not forget, either, that the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament had existed, in its earlier part at least, for two or three centuries, and that the interactions between it and Alexandrian Greek literature may have been more far-reaching than we know; did not so sober a scholar as the late Dr. Leaf5 go so far as to suggest that, through some channel or other, Callimachus knew Isaiah's paean over the fall of Babylon, "How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning!"?

And if we turn to Rome, why should not the Roman Terentianus (the addressee of the book; I wish you could identify him from some inscription new or old) have hailed, in a Greek essay, the great words of Moses with even more surprise and admiration than he would greet the comparison between Demosthenes and Cicero, a comparison which Ziegler describes, in error, as a "favourite theme." It was not so among the Greek literary critics; "Longinus," in this as in other ways, is exceptional. On the evidence of the essay itself, Terentianus would seem to have been an apt and high-minded pupil (past or present) of the author's, at whose somewhat mannered style he may sometimes have smiled, remembering that "Longinus" had (he mentions it in his book) written more than once on the subject of word-arrangement and was much given to that verbal heightening and recasting which belongs to his conception of hypsos, but not forgetting either that he loved, and could make his pupils love, the greater aspects of literature,—the noble thought, character, and feeling enshrined in it. When this literary letter (this classical essay in criticism) was written to him, Terentianus was clearly a man of some standing; the adjective hratistos by which he is once addressed suggests that he was of official rank. In the Acts of the Apostles we remember that the two Roman procurators Felix and Festus are addressed as kratiste Phelix and kratiste Phēste—"your Excellency" almost. When, from (about 61 A.D. to 63 A.D., St. Paul "dwelt two whole years" in a hired lodging of his own at Rome, those that "came in unto him" would come mainly from the poorer quarters of the city. But, in the course of the first century, there faces us also what has recently been called "that most obscure problem regarding the penetration of Christianity during the first century among the aristocracy of Rome";6 and I would ask whether that penetration had not been made less difficult because, here and there, men like Terentianus had previously been led to welcome truth even when presented in the Old Testament of the Jews? Be this as it may: if, looking alike to the period and to the man as he is seen in his book, we decide to place "Longinus" about 40 A.D., that will bring him into the earliest years of St. Paul's great career as a convert to Christianity. St. Paul's native town of Tarsus had been a seat of Stoic teaching at least as early as 130 B.C.; and I have lately (in the Loeb Series) offered some reasons for thinking that Plutarch's Demetrius of Tarsus may have written the extant tract on Style, and that, not more than twenty years after St. Paul's death at Rome, this Demetrius was (as a member of Agricola's personal staff) teaching Greek at York, the years about 80 A.D. being thus the birth-years of Classical Education in Great Britain: to be followed later by the great things we owe, through the influence of Christianity and of men like Dean Colet, to such foundations as St. Paul's Schools for Boys and Girls.7 All this is, of course, highly problematical; but, for "Longinus," can anyone think of a more likely period than round about 40 A.D.? And can anyone, further, throw fresh light on the date from such details as (1) the nanoi in chapter 44; (2) the hemartemenas kolossos in chapter 36; (3) or the reference to Mt. Etna in chapter 35? As to the last point: it is sometimes thought that, if "Longinus" had been writing later than the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., he would have mentioned that volcano rather than Etna. But did not Etna remain (even in its more tranquil days) the typical volcano, in the Christian era as well as in the earlier centuries, and in Latin literature as well as in Greek? Still, if the essay should be discovered among the charred remains at Herculaneum, we shall have no manner of doubt that its date is not later than 79 A.D.

By way of conclusion, I will propose (without developing) two problems suggested by the main theme of the essay itself. "Longinus" loses no time in defining "the Sublime" as "a certain distinction and excellence of style"; and in chapter nine he describes it, in two resounding words, as … "the reverberation of magnanimity," "the far-heard echo of a great soul." Throughout he connects it with greatness, ringing the changes on megas, megathos, megathopoiemn, megathunein, megalegoria, megalothuia, megalopsukhia; greatness and beauty (rather than littleness and baseness) he seeks for everywhere, alike in the world of nature and of man. The style itself we might well describe as "the great style"; avoiding "grand," with its suggestion of "grandiose." But the question I wish to ask is: how much farther back than Caecilius and "Longinus" can anyone trace, in Greek or Latin, the history of the terms hypsos and hypselos? A difficult question, when so much Greek critical literature has been lost between Aristotle and Dionysius,8 and when "sublimis" and "sublimitas" do not come into Cicero's prose vocabulary. And, leaping from Cicero right onward to Chaucer, can you tell me whether the "heigh style," in the Prologe of the Clerkes Tale of Oxenford harks back in some way to øçëüò, and how? Here I think I see a clue.

My final problem may seem a bathos, but it stands in close relation to hypsos, and it possesses much literary and lexicographical interest, in Greek and English. What is the meaning of e bathous at the beginning of the second chapter, where we read, "First of all, we must raise the question whether there is hypsous tis e bathous tekhne? Is bathos the opposite of hypos, or is it an alternative expression ((profundity")? The revised Liddell and Scott renders here by the English word "bathos"; but it quotes no Greek parallel, from the essay or elsewhere. Do you know of any? I know of none, and I believe that Mr. George Loane (now, or formerly, a Master at St. Paul's School, and also a member, I see, of this Association) may be right when, in his excellent Handbook of Literary Terms, he writes, "Bathos.—This is a sudden descent from the sublime, in description … The tern was first used by Pope, as the antithesis of the Greek hypsos,9 height, sublimity; bathos means depth, but was never used by the Greeks in this literary sense." The reference here is of course to the satire attributed to the joint efforts of Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot, Martinus Scriblerus peri bathous: Or, of the Art of Sinking in Poetry, a title suggested by the De Sublimitate. The literary insight of Pope (whose six lines on "Longinus," in the Essay on Criticism, are still the best appreciation of him that has ever been penned), and the fact that the "sinkings" of style are much in "Longinus's" mind and mouth, keep me from speaking quite as positively as Mr. Loane. But I should much like to be fortified by a Greek parallel. Anticlimax we must, I fear, give up as an ancient Greek word: must we also surrender to Alexander Pope bathos in the sense of "bathos"?

In the discussion,10 I shall hope to have the benefit of my fellow-members' opinions on the various points of language I have raised, and on the broader questions of the date of the essay and of the genuineness of its citation from Genesis. In my present view of his date, "Longinus" (the earliest of comparative, or international, Greek critics) belongs to a period of marked fusion in the world's intellectual and spiritual history, and has in him something that is characteristic of each of three great races: the Greek, the Roman, the Jewish. This it is that makes and will always make him (unidentified though he may remain) a unique and outstanding figure in the domain of literature.


1 A paper read to the Classical Association at its Annual General Meeting held in London, January 9th-11th, 1928.

2 As to the mention of the … [term] in Conrad Gesner's Bibliotheca Universalis, published in 1545, nine years before Robortello's editio princeps.

3 The writer of the paper has since heard that in July, 1918, Professor Hermann Mutschmann fell, fighting pro patria.

4 Roberts' edition of Longinus on the Sublime, p. 9, where the suggestion was more tentative, in 1899, than it would be in 1928.

5 Walter Leaf, Little Poems from the Greek, pp. 92-94.

6 Cf. W. M. Ramsay, Journal of Roman Studies XVI (1926), 210.

7 The Classical Association met, this year, in St. Paul's School for Girls.

8 Here Poseidonius might help us greatly, but there are risks in what we may call … "the dragging-in of Poseidonius."

9 Or hupsos, as Dean Swift transliterates it.

10 Part was taken in the discussion by Dr. J. W. Mackail (Chairman), Canon G. C. Richards, Professor J. Wight Duff, Professor R. S. Conway (President of the Association), Mr. A. 0. Prickard, and Professor Wilhelm Kroll of Breslau. The last-named supported Professor Roberts's views, as against those of Professor Ziegler.

J. W. H. Atkins (essay date 1934)

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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 by any ancient writer; and when in 1554 Robortello first presented the work to modern readers it was as a volume previously unknown, which he attributed to a rhetorician named Dionysius Longinus. From the date of that first edition to the beginning of the nineteenth century this ascription was generally accepted. The tradition arose that the work was a production of Longinus (A.D. 213-72), that famous minister of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who had been put to death by Aurelian on account of insurrection; and in regarding this picturesque figure as the author of the work all the scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both in England and France, were in agreement. In assuming this position, however, they had either tacitly ignored or glossed over the fact that the Longinus in question had been named not Dionysius but Cassius Longinus; and it was left for the closer scrutiny of the extant MSS. in the nineteenth century to challenge the assumption and to present fresh considerations bearing on the question of authorship.

Of the MSS.2 (eleven in number) the oldest and incomparably the best is the Paris MS. 2036. It belongs to the tenth century, whereas the rest all date from the fifteenth or sixteenth century; and since in all probability it is the original from which the other MSS. were copied, its value in general is of the first importance. On the question of authorship, however, its evidence is curiously perplexing. In the table of contents of the MS. the treatise is ascribed to Dionysius or Longinus; whereas in the superscription of the treatise itself the two names are given as one, with a considerable space between them. So that the choice may be said to lie between Dionysius or Longinus or Dionysius Longinus. And in the later Paris MS. 985 these statements are merely repeated in identical form. Nor is further information forthcoming from the other MSS. In the Vatican MS. 285, for instance, the inscription once again runs "Dionysius or Longinus", while in the Florence MS. the work is simply ascribed to an anonymous writer. This much therefore becomes clear: that from the point of view of evidence the earliest MS. is the only one that counts, the others merely copying or commenting on statements previously made. As for the significance of the statements contained in the original Paris MS. all that can be said is that their conflicting character wholly discounts their value and suggests that they are almost certainly conjectures on the part of the copyist. Faced with the task of copying an anonymous work he ventured to suggest alternatively what seemed to be likely authors. And to him the name of Dionysius of Halicarnassus would naturally suggest itself in view of the author's claim to have written on "the arrangement of words";3 whereas Longinus was also doubtless familiar as an interesting historical figure who had won some reputation in the field of rhetoric. Neither, however, for reasons to be stated later, can have been the author; while the third name to appear, that of Dionysius Longinus, may well have been the result of the scribal omission of "or" … unless indeed it stand for some otherwise unknown writer, in which case the conflicting testimony of the table of contents has to be taken into account. Altogether then it must be confessed that the evidence of the MSS. does not take us far; it is most probably conjectural, and confused conjecture at that.

For safer ground on which to discuss the genesis of the treatise we must turn to the work itself; though it may at once be said that no further positive information as to the authorship will be forthcoming. At the same time some idea of the approximate date may reasonably be formed; and in the first place the evidence all points, consistently and fairly conclusively, to a date of writing prior to the traditional date, which was that of the third century A.D. It is not without its significance, to begin with, that while the treatise has references to all sorts of writers from Homer down to rhetoricians of the Augustan age, there is no mention whatsoever of any writer later than the early part of the first century A.D. The presence of these Augustan references, it is true, gives positive assurance as to the late appearance of the work in Greek literary history. It cannot have been earlier than the first century A.D.; and with this the evidence of its style and vocabulary, in some ways akin to those of Plutarch in his early work, is in general accord. But what is one to say about the absence of references later than the first century A.D.? In connexion with a writer of the third century it could only be described as, to say the least, surprising. But when the writer in question is one, as the author undoubtedly is, whose range in literature is otherwise catholic and whose immediate interests are betrayed by the fire and urgency of his writing, then the omission seems capable of no rational explanation, and we are forced to question seriously the hypothesis of a third-century author. There is here at least a case for accepting the traditional date with some amount of reserve. Nor are we reassured when we refer to what is known of rhetorical activities in the third century. There is of course the outstanding figure of Cassius Longinus,4 in whose work, the Philological Discourses, some coincidences of doctrine with the present treatise have latterly been traced. But apart from this there is nothing to show that Longinus was the author, while there is much to suggest a negative conclusion. Thus the absence of the work from the accredited list of Longinus's writings; the absence, too, from the same list, of works definitely claimed by the author of the treatise;5 or again, the marked differences in style, terminology, and literary judgments between the known work of Longinus and the present treatise; all these are serious obstacles to the acceptance of Longinian authorship. The truth indeed would seem to be that the surprise affected by the historian Gibbon was only too well founded, when in reflecting on the age in which Longinus lived, "an age which produced scarce any other writer worthy of the attention of posterity, when real learning was almost extinct, (and) Philosophy sunk down to the quibbles of Grammarians and the tricks of mountebanks", he proceeded to express his amazement that "at such a period, in the heart of Syria, and at the court of an Eastern monarch, Longinus should (have) produced a work worthy of the best and freest days at Athens".6 But this antecedent improbability applies with equal force to other rhetoricians of the period, when sophistry was engaging the attention of all, and when the study of rhetoric had fallen somewhat from its former high estate. It is in short upon the hypothesis of Longinian authorship that the ascription of the work to the third century mainly rests; and in the absence of more substantial evidence in favour of Longinus there is little to be said for regarding the work as a third-century production.

Results of a more positive kind are obtained when we assume, and assume naturally enough, that the limitation of references in the body of the work to first-century and earlier authors was simply due to the fact that the work was written in the course of that century. That this is no idle assumption is suggested in the first place by the purpose and nature of the work. It was a treatise written confessedly7 to correct the errors of an essay on the same subject by Caecilius, the friend of Dionysius of Halicarnassus; and from the vital and forceful character of the treatment we are led to infer that it represents more probably a first-century polemic than a detached and academic utterance of some later writer to whom Caecilius was merely an influence of the distant past. And in this view we are encouraged by the reference in the text to Theodorus of Gadara,8 couched as it is in terms suggesting discipleship on the part of the writer; and further, by the attitude adopted by our author, in which it is not altogether fanciful to see the hostility of a follower of Theodorus for one who belonged to the rival school of Apollodorus. The quarrel between the two schools lasted throughout the first century A.D. and was representative of two distinct tendencies in rhetorical work. And since our author confessedly aims at a freer, less doctrinaire treatment, as opposed to the more rigid system of classifications and rules, it is difficult not to see here the workings of first-century influences and the adoption by the writer of the Theodoran point of view. But however this may be, and at least it is not improbable, there can be little doubt as to the nature of the interests reflected in the work; and that they are characteristic of the first century A.D. and no other is seen from a comparison of the matters treated with the questions raised by the main body of critics belonging to that century. Thus, to begin with, there are two definite references in the text to contemporary oratory, one alluding in withering terms to those "fine fellows",9 the orators of the day, the other declaring that the pursuit of novelty in expression was the prevailing craze of the author's own age.10 The inevitable result of such a fashion, so the author explained, was to give rise to improprieties of style such as bombast, puerility, misplaced emotion and the like;11 and from what he says of the high-flown manner, the learned trifling, the unseasonable and empty passion, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what he had in mind were the excesses of the Asiatics and the Atticists, more especially as Hegesias, the first of the Asiatics, is mentioned in connexion with one of these faults. But these are precisely the abuses censured by most of the first-century critics, by Dionysius and Caecilius, the elder Seneca, Persius and Tacitus, each in his own way. And if, unlike most of the other critics, our author does not draw his illustrations from contemporary performers, that was because he was concerned primarily with Greek and Greek authors and thus ignored with one exception all Latin writers. Still more convincing in its implications is the inquiry made at the end of the treatise12 into the causes of the decline of eloquence; for here undoubtedly is a question that was agitating the minds of all first-century critics alike. Similar speculations have already been traced in the writings of the two Senecas, Petronius, Tacitus, and Velleius Paterculus; and to these discussions later contributions were to be made by Quintilian and the younger Pliny. The matter was thus obviously a burning question of the time; it excited no curiosity after the close of the first century A.D., if we may judge from later writings. So that this much seems certain, that the environment amidst which our treatise was written was that of Rome in the first century A.D., and that the author wrote with contemporary interests and problems in mind. Nor is this all, for his treatment of this question has much in common with that of Tacitus in his Dialogue. Like Tacitus, for instance, our author takes into account political factors; and in reply to the theory that great oratory had vanished with the loss of democratic freedom, he enlarges, as Tacitus had done, on the advantages enjoyed by those who lived under a beneficent Imperial government.13 In both cases, it would seem, the argument was inspired by the prosperity and peace which returned under Imperial rule, probably under Vespasian and Titus; while in the discussion itself it is not unlikely that we have an echo of a controversy of the time. In the reign of Vespasian, for instance, the praise of Republican institutions had become fashionable among a certain group of philosophers who claimed to see in the decay of oratory a confirmation of their theories; and this is the position that both Tacitus and our author assailed. Their conclusions differed somewhat, but they had one object in common; and in this connexion it is not without its significance that the case for the opposition in our treatise is put into the mouth of a philosopher. Altogether, then, it must be conceded that the evidence for a first-century authorship is strong. There is nothing in the work to confute the theory, while further details might be quoted in its support. Indeed most scholars nowadays agree in accepting this position; and if a more exact date is to be hazarded, the work might reasonably be regarded as contemporaneous with Tacitus's Dialogue, and thus assigned to some such date as c. A.D. 80. Who the author was, on the other hand, must remain uncertain; though many conjectures have in the past been made, including among others the names of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch. But Dionysius is ruled out by considerations of date and by the attack on Caecilius; while with all his merits as a critic his work lacks the unique qualities of the present treatise. And as for Plutarch, the evidence is so weak and unconvincing that the theory of his authorship is no longer seriously maintained.14 Hence the work is best described as the production of an anonymous writer of the latter half of the first century A.D., probably one of those Greeks who migrated to Rome under Augustus or one of his successors. And if nowadays the traditional authorship with some difference is usually retained and the work assigned to one "Longinus", this at least is convenient owing to the long association of the name of Longinus with the work; while in addition there is this to be said, that the name "Longinus" will do as well as any other to stand for the unknown.

With this then as our conception of the genesis of the work On the Sublime, we turn now to consider the nature of its achievement and its value as a contribution to the critical literature of antiquity. Of the original treatise it must first be said that only an imperfect copy has come down. Frequent and sometimes extensive gaps occur in the MSS. amounting, it has been calculated, to more than one-third of the whole; so that what we have is a part only of the actual work, and that in a mutilated form that in places lacks coherence. At the same time sufficient has been preserved to make plain the broad outline and the intention of the author; and while much that was valuable has undoubtedly perished, there is still an abundance of good things in the treatise as it stands, enough to warrant its inclusion among the choicest pieces of criticism that have reached posterity. Concerning the immediate occasion of the work something has already been said. "Longinus", we gather, had embarked on the task in view of what he regarded as the inadequacy of Caecilius's essay on the same theme. The earlier teacher, he complained, had failed to deal with the essential aspects of his subject, and at the same time had not been sufficiently practical in his treatment.15 He had for instance omitted to treat of emotion, one of the primary causes of "the sublime";16 and while incidentally he had dealt with such details as the number of metaphors permitted in a given passage,17 he had also betrayed a preference for the faultless Lysias, as compared with the less correct but more gifted Plato.18 But while the defects of an earlier text-book apparently supplied the immediate occasion for "Longinus's" treatise, it is also quite possible that the real inspiration may have been due to another and a more general cause. Written at a time when efforts were being made to attain distinction of style at all costs, efforts which resulted in all kinds of improprieties, the grandiose, the discordant, and the bizarre, the work of "Longinus" can scarcely have been independent of such conditions, a treatise written as it were in vacuo. And indeed, if we may judge from the nature of the work itself, this was precisely the situation he was endeavouring to meet. That his subject … is not "the sublime" in the narrow modern sense of the term is a truth that becomes evident from the most cursory reading. In his survey, for instance, are included not only the "sublime" Pindar and Aeschylus but also Herodotus and Thucydides, in connexion with whom the term would be simply unmeaning. The fact therefore is that "sublimity" in its modern sense is not wide enough to cover his treatment. What he has in mind is rather "elevation", all that raises style above the ordinary and gives to it distinction in its widest and truest sense;19 and sound ideas on this subject were what the age most needed, as was shown by the efforts of Tacitus directed to the same end. Hence the work has all the appearance of a treatise written to meet a pressing need of the time; and a proper apprehension of this fact gives to the reading of the text a fuller and deeper meaning.

As regards its structure and general treatment the work may be said to have much to commend it in spite of what seems at first sight its somewhat formless arrangement. Like so many of the critical writings that appeared at the time, the treatise in the first place is addressed to one who was certainly a friend, and possibly a pupil, one Terentianus, in all probability a cultured Roman, of whose identity however nothing is definitely known. Apart from this conventional detail, however, the structure is mainly determined by the object in view, and in spite of omissions it must be described as well planned and adequate. First comes an introduction (cc. 1-6) leading up to the central theme by a discussion of those vices of style which constituted in contemporary oratory a false "sublime"; a topic to which the author reverts later in cc. 41-3. This is followed by a section (cc. 7-40) representing the main substance of the treatise, in which are specified the five sources whence springs true distinction of style, as well as the details of the treatment necessary for its attainment. The five sources are said to be: (1) grandeur of conception, treated in cc. 8-15; (2) intensity of emotion, the consideration of which is reserved for a separate work; and both of these, as the author points out, are largely the fruit of natural genius. Then follows some account of the remaining sources due primarily to art: (3) the appropriate use of Figures, dealt with in cc. 16-29; (4) nobility of diction, in cc. 30-8; (5) dignity and elevation of word-order, in cc. 39-40. And the work is brought to a close by a discussion of the causes of the decay of eloquence (c. 44), a return to the opening theme which rounds off the treatment and suggests the motive that has been animating the author throughout. The general plan is therefore obvious. The central theme is treated on comprehensive lines, embodying an approach to the subject from both the psychological and the technical points of view; while something of the usual rhetorical procedure is also adopted in treating first of subject-matter (inventio) and its arrangement (dispositio) under the head of "grandeur of conception", and then of the choice and arrangement of words (elocutio, compositio) in subsequent sections. At the same time the treatment is never rigidly systematic; though the author, in his care to avoid the mistake of Caecilius, never fails to indicate how the qualities he advocates may in practice be attained. Throughout the work, moreover, an easy conversational tone is maintained, rising at times to an appropriate eloquence. And by means of an abundance of illustrative quotations, by his shrewd and convincing analysis of literary qualities, the author succeeds in calling attention to some of the fundamental principles underlying all good writing, while commending them to his readers by the freshness and charm of his style.

In attempting now to form some estimate of the teaching of "Longinus", it is as well to recall once again what we conceive to be the purpose of the work; that it was no abstract or detached inquiry into a rare yet valuable literary quality, but rather a definite and practical effort to grapple with those excesses of style which were notoriously prevalent among first-century orators and writers, and which formed the staple of discussion among the critics of the age. That the author achieves more than this will be readily conceded. In pointing out a better way in matters of style he directs attention to not a few of the great simple truths of literature, and at the same time throws new light on critical standards and methods. These things, it must be confessed, form the glory of the work; they are what has given it its value in the eyes of posterity. But nevertheless, viewed historically, the treatise is first and foremost an attempt at solving a contemporary problem; and since it is only when it is regarded as such that its meaning becomes fully intelligible, some consideration must first be given to that aspect of the author's achievement.

In the first place there can be little doubt as to the nature of the indictment he brings against the orators and men of letters of his time. Without being laboured it is fairly comprehensive, embracing most of the characteristic vices; and if the evils are alluded to somewhat lightly rather than dealt with in detail, that is because Terentianus, to whom he was writing, would be familiar with the condition of things. Thus he re-calls the bombastic manner of the Asiatics, high-flown and turgid,20 the "puerility" of the Atticists, which "beginning in learned trifling ends in frigidity";21 or again, the impassioned style used out of season,22 the indulgence in strange and absurd conceits,23 the over-rhythmical style suggestive of dance music,24 undue conciseness and undue prolixity,25 as well as the use of sordid or vulgar words lacking in dignity26—all of which were characteristic of first-century innovators and were the features of style decried by all contemporary critics. By way of comment on these improprieties "Longinus" is content with but few though pertinent remarks. Like Horace he is conscious of that human weakness which urges men in avoiding one fault to fall into the opposite extreme.27 And the prevailing bombast he ascribes in part to that particular cause: to the effort on the part of writers to escape the charge of being trite or colourless. Then, too, he explains that all such excesses really arose out of the quest for novelty, then a popular craze, but in itself no bad thing.28 "Our merits and our defects", he adds, "spring from much the same sources"; and in this sympathetic attitude, this unwillingness to condemn outright the lawless innovations of the time, may be found a suggestive parallel with the position taken up by Tacitus on this same question.

Upon this negative side of his subject, however, "Longinus" does not linger unduly. His aim is constructive and positive; what he sets out to do is to represent in its true light that excellence in expression for which so many of his contemporaries were blindly and unsuccessfully groping. And he describes forthwith his conception of the real object of their mistaken quest as a certain distinction or elevation [hypos] of style present in all the earlier masterpieces, whether in prose or verse, that quality which indeed gave to them their supreme and lasting value.29 Thus at the outset does "Longinus" establish himself firmly on the standards of the classical Greeks, and this position he maintains throughout the work. In the meantime, however, he has a word or two to add concerning the special excellence he has in mind. And in the first place he explains that the effect of this quality is not mere persuasion or pleasure, but transport …; that is to say, it works like a charm carrying irresistibly away all hearers (or readers).30 And further, he adds, its effect is as immediate as it is subtle; it does not come as the result of a painful observance of the rhetorician's rules.31 This brings him then to the question as to how this charm or "distinction" of style was in general to be come by; whether for instance it was acquired by the light of nature or whether it was the result of following the precepts of art. In reply he reiterates what Horace and others had said, namely, that both Nature and Art were equally necessary;32 but from the trouble he takes to establish his point it is clear that here he is indulging in no idle pronouncement. Thus he quotes the opinion of some that such skill was inborn, and came not by teaching; that indeed genius itself shrivelled up at the touch of the rules.33 And here it cannot be doubted that he is quoting those of his contemporaries who justified their excesses by the workings of that "divine frenzy" (plena deo) of which Gallio was wont to prate;34 those, in short, who wrote "without the guidance of knowledge … and at the whim of mere impulse and ignorant audacity".35 Hence to such he replies that while Nature works freely in matters of expression, she does not work haphazard or wholly without system; but that she herself creates the system which Art merely brings to light.36 To Art, therefore, "Longinus" attaches a two-fold function. In the first place it provides a safeguard against undue licence, and in the second, it makes plain to men Nature's methods of expression. "Fine writing", says "Longinus",37 "needs the curb as well as the spur"; and in this saying is happily summed up his conception of the importance of Art.

These preliminaries completed, "Longinus" now comes to grips with what is his real subject; and he proceeds with many a digression to suggest how this "distinction" of style may be in general attained. In the first place he insists on the need for grandeur of conception. y.; since thoughts that are lofty and awe-inspiring find their natural expression in exalted phrase. Such loftiness of thought, he grants, is normally a gift of nature rather than a quality acquired; and he quotes in this connexion an earlier dictum of his own, that "great utterance is the echo of greatness of soul" …38—one of those pronouncements of which we could wish for more. At the same time he maintains that this nobility of soul may in some measure also be cultivated by nourishing the mind on thoughts that are elevating, and impregnating them, as it were, with lofty inspiration. In any case loftiness of utterance, he adds, can never be inspired by mean or ignoble thoughts; and he proceeds to illustrate his point by examples taken from Homer and elsewhere. But while this elevation of style is primarily inspired by exalted thought, whether innate or cultivated, "Longinus" further intimates that such grandeur of conception and the consequent largeness of utterance might also be attained by submitting to the spell of the great masters …, and capturing from them something of their greatness;39 a doctrine, it might be added, that has been subject to misrepresentation in the past. That "Longinus" has here in mind a process of the spirit, rather than a mere formal imitation or emulation of their methods, is made plain by the context. For there he explains that men catch fire from the spirit of others, just as the Pythian priestess was moved to deliver her oracles by virtue of the divine vapour which arose out of the rocky floor of her chamber at Delphi. And so, adds "Longinus", it is with men; they are inspired by the effluences … that flow from such masters as Homer, and thus uplifted, they share in the afflatus of genius.40 Nor is the process, he declares, one of mere plagiarism; for the effect is like that produced by impressions made of beautiful forms of statuary which fire men to emulation. And here he would seem to have in mind that enthusiastic form of imitation which Dionysius of Halicarnassus had previously described as "an activity of the soul inspired by the spectacle of the seemingly beautiful".41 In any event the "imitation" he here advocates is worlds apart from the formal copying usually associated with that term; it is different, too, from Horace's rather loftier conception which stood for an assimilation of ancient methods with a view to producing something new. To "Longinus" the operation is one that aimed at capturing something of the ancient spirit, something of that vital creative force which had gone to the making of the earlier masterpieces; and its effect he describes as that of illumination, guiding the mind in some mysterious way to the lofty standards of the ideal.42 Here then is something new in the critical outlook; a recognition of that imaginative stimulus derived from great creative genius, as well as an interpretation of "imitation" that raised it to a higher plane. And it is such theorising as this that constitutes the greatness of "Longinus". Of the remaining methods of attaining grandeur of conception and through it distinction of style, as mentioned by "Longinus", there is rather less to say, though they are by no means unimportant. They relate for the most part to the treatment of material, and are concerned with the ways of rendering subject-matter effective. Thus the desired effect, it is stated, may be obtained by the choice and combination of significant details so as to present an organic whole;43 a process which is illustrated from Sappho and Homer. It may also result from "amplification",44 that is, from an accumulation of all the different aspects of a given subject, which by their very profusion suggest overwhelming strength and magnitude; a feature seen in the work of Demosthenes and Cicero. And lastly there is the use of vivid and compelling images which infuse vehemence and passion into the spoken or written word;45 an effect that is illustrated from Homer, Euripides, and others.

Such then is "Longinus's" analysis of the part played by grandeur of conception in giving distinction to style: and in view of the penetration displayed in that analysis it is all the more to be regretted that his ideas on what he regards as another prime factor, namely, vehement and inspired passion, have unfortunately been lost. Beyond asserting that nothing conduces more to loftiness of tone than genuine emotion in writing, "Longinus" does not deal with the topic. And whereas at the end of the present work he states his intention of devoting a separate treatise to the subject, of the outcome of this intention nothing is known. In proceeding then with his exposition of the methods of attaining the desired excellence of style, "Longinus" now turns to a consideration of those artistic devices which contribute to that end; and in the first place he deals with the use of Figures, selecting for treatment those which more especially were adapted for his purpose. Here at first sight he seems to be reverting to the usual rhetorical routine which comprised instruction in the choice and arrangement of words, and then in what was known as stylistic ornament, including the Figures. But while in his treatment there is much that is conventional, there are also signs of independent thinking, and of discrimination in the handling of his various details. It is not without its significance, for instance, that he reverses the usual order of treatment and devotes his attention primarily to a consideration of the Figures. This may possibly be accounted for by the fact that he,46 as well as Dionysius, had already written on "the arrangement of words", so that a further detailed treatment of the subject was unnecessary; though other reasons may also have weighed with him, reasons to which reference will be made later.47 What at any rate is certain is that he devotes nearly one-third of the work as it stands (cc. 16-29) to a consideration of the Figures; and it is therefore not strange to find that to them he attaches considerable value as a means of giving "distinction" to style.

From the first he makes it plain that to him Figures are no arbitrary devices invented by rhetoricians for mechanical application; but rather a natural means of giving to style an element of fine surprise, something rooted in genuine emotion, responsive to the artistic sense of man, and thus capable of explanation in terms of human nature. This idea, by the way, is implicit throughout his teaching; and he begins by showing how natural and intimate are the relations between Figures and "distinction" of style, the one assisting and being in turn assisted by the other.48 Thus he explains that while Figures are instrumental in giving excellence to style, there is nothing on the other hand that renders Figures more effective than a style that is already in some degree "elevated". In the use of Figures, he points out, there is normally a suggestion of artifice which excites mistrust in the minds of the hearers (or readers), often rendering them hostile to the effects intended. And in countering this suspicion there is no surer antidote than elevation of style, which by its very qualities casts a veil over artifice, just as dim lights are extinguished in the radiance of the sun. As he acutely adds, "a Figure is most effective when the fact that it is a Figure is happily concealed";49 and this function, he maintains, is best performed by a setting that is the result of splendour or "distinction" of style.

When he turns to consider more particularly the effects of Figures, it will be noticed that he makes no attempt to deal with the Figures as a whole. As has been already said, he discusses only those that give elevation to style; and he is content to illustrate the general principles of their workings together with some of their effects, selecting for that purpose examples taken from Demosthenes, Thucydides, Homer and the rest. Among the more familiar of the Figures treated are the rhetorical question, Asyndeton or the omission of conjunctions, Hyperbaton or inversion, and Periphrasis; and his main contention throughout is that Figures properly treated are a valuable means of giving emotional quality to style, thus supplementing by devices of art the animation or ardour which normally results from the genuine emotion of the speaker (or writer). In the first place, for instance, he illustrates from a passage of Demosthenes his effective use of question and answer; and then goes on to explain how by the rapid play of question and answer, anticipating as it were the questions of his hearers, Demosthenes has simulated a natural outburst of passion and given to his statement a vigour and a fire which would have been lacking in a plain straightforward assertion.50 And similar effects are said to result from the use of Asyndeton, when words are poured forth without connecting links, as for example in the passage taken from Xenophon: "Locking their shields, they thrust, fought, slew, fell".51 Here, it is explained, the broken but rapid expression suggests an agitation of spirit which checks the utterance and yet at the same time drives it on; an effect, it is noted, of which Homer made use. But this device, it is added, may also be combined with others such as Anaphora (or repetition of words), when the effect is heightened, as in the phrase: "by his manner, his looks, his voice, etc.".52 The essence of such breaks and repetitions is said to be the suggestion of an impassioned disorder and emphasis that strike the minds of the hearers (or readers) as with a swift succession of blows, while betokening a disturbance of soul on the part of the speaker. And for the better appreciation of these effects "Longinus" advises that such passages be turned into the style characteristic of Isocrates and his school, that is, with all the connectives restored and the repetitions removed. It would then be seen that, with order and smoothness attained, all the force and impetuosity of the passages had vanished. For, added "Longinus" in his illuminating fashion, just as runners were impeded by bands that cramped their movement, so impassioned utterance was fettered by such things as connectives which deprived it of its freedom and rapidity of expression.53

Much the same in their effects were said to be the Figures known as Hyperbata (or inversions), which consisted of departures from the normal order in both expression and idea; a sure and certain sign of utterance made under stress of great emotion. For, as "Longinus" proceeds to point out,54 men moved by passion are wont to express themselves in disjointed fashion, skipping from subject to subject, indulging in irrelevancies, rapidly turning now this way now that, thus setting at defiance by their unexpected movements the recognised laws of normal and logical speech. Of this he gives an example from Herodotus; while to Thucydides he attributes the greatest skill and boldness in the use of such transitions. Demosthenes, too, he describes as abounding most of all writers in the use of this Figure, even though he employs it in a less daring manner than did Thucydides. And then in his comment on the effects of this Figure in composition "Longinus" supplies a practical and striking illustration of the very qualities with which he is dealing. Thus Demosthenes, he states, "will often leave in suspense the thought which he has begun to express, and meanwhile he will heap, into a position seemingly alien and unnatural, one thing upon another parenthetically and from any external source whatsoever, throwing his hearer into alarm lest the whole structure of his words should fall to pieces, and compelling him in anxious sympathy to share the peril of the speaker; and then unexpectedly, after a long interval, he adds the long-awaited conclusion at the right place, namely the end, and produces a far greater effect by this very use, so bold and hazardous, of Hyperbaton".55 Here, then, may be detected something of the breathless vehemence, the studied disorder, and the air of unpremeditation characteristic of impassioned utterance, but largely due in this instance to the employment of one of the Figures. It is in short an example of artistic expression reproducing the effects of natural expression; a principle emphasised by "Longinus" in his statement that "art is perfect when it seems to be nature, and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her".56

Among the other Figures treated by "Longinus" are the Apostrophe or adjuration, the Figures embodying changes of syntax, and lastly Periphrasis; all of which are said to be instrumental in heightening the expression. The use of the Apostrophe in the first place he illustrates from the work of Demosthenes. He explains how that orator, in defending his policy which had brought disaster at Chaeronea, reverts to past history, and in recalling the policy which had prevailed at Marathon, swears by those earlier champions as though they were gods; thus raising the argument to the emotional plane and carrying away his hearers by the very force of his passion.57 Then, too, he points out the enlivening effects of variations of syntax; the use of the plural for the singular, or the singular for the plural, or again, the representation of things past as though they were present. The first he illustrates by the sentence, "a countless host … were clamouring"; and here he suggests that the plural verb …, besides being more sonorous, also conveys more effectively the sense of multitude contained in the word "host".58 The second he illustrates by Demosthenes's phrase, "all Peloponnesus was at variance"; and here he maintains that the excellence arises from the effective way in which the sense of oneness is brought out by the singular verb.59 And again, the representation of things past as present he commends as giving vividness to a narrative; "your story", he explains,60 "is then no longer a narration but an actuality". Of greater interest, however, are his remarks on Periphrasis with which he concludes his treatment of Figures. That Periphrasis has a heightening effect on expression he states as a generally recognised fact.61 By its very magniloquence, provided it is free from bombastic or discordant elements, it adds to expression a richer note and more tuneful rhythms, thus affording assistance to one who is endeavouring to set forth some lofty thought. And "Longinus" likens its effects to those musical accompaniments which help to bring out the charm of a melody. On the other hand he adds that its use is attended with considerable risk and needs much care; for otherwise it falls flat and is apt to degenerate into a trivial and cumbrous form of expression62—a truth that was subsequently to be borne out by certain aspects of English poetry in the eighteenth century.

From what has now been said of the nature and scope of "Longinus's" treatment of the Figures it becomes clear that unlike most of the contemporary rhetoricians he attempts no mere enumeration of their different varieties, but aims rather at establishing the general idea of their function and at illustrating his teaching by some selected examples. Moreover, by way of inculcating a more intelligent use of such devices, he explains where possible the psychological basis on which they rested; while more than once he lays stress on the need for their proper handling. Nor does he confine himself to caveats of merely a general kind. His exposition throughout is characterised by warnings of which the injunction as to Periphrasis is but one example. Thus he insists that Figures are not to be used indiscriminately. "The place, the manner, the circumstances, and the motive",63 he explains, must all be taken into account; and in particular, the device of Repetition or accumulation must only be used where the occasion or subject invites inflation, redundance, exaggeration or passion.64 Then, too, he points out that in employing a Figure the orator (or writer) should exercise sobriety and judgment; "in the midst of the riot of the imagination", as he puts it, "restraint is necessary".65 Again, he adds that the exhibition of passion is most effective when it seems to be unstudied on the part of the speaker and to arise naturally out of the occasion itself.66 Such remarks as these are not without their significance in a treatise of the first century A.D. That they are designed to combat the prevailing faults of contemporary orators and writers would perhaps be generally conceded; but they also seem to do more than this. They seem also to account in part for the prominence given by "Longinus" to the discussion of Figures in his work. It is, in short, as if in his opinion it was the perverted ingenuity bound up with the abuse of Figures that lay at the root of the stylistic improprieties of the time, and that therefore called most urgently for serious consideration.

However this may be, at the same time it is clear that questions relating to the Figures do not occupy the whole attention of our author. And in developing further his main thesis he proceeds to discuss yet another factor that contributes to "distinction" of style, namely, words themselves. Of this discussion on diction, unfortunately, only a mutilated section has come down, no less than four leaves of the MS. having been lost; though what remains is characterised by the same discerning treatment as before. In the first place he is content to remind his readers of the importance of a suitable choice of both ordinary and striking words in the formation of an impressive style. He does not labour the point unnecessarily; but by means of a brief comment on what after all was a commonplace to his generation he presents the ancient doctrine in a new and memorable light. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, for one, had previously remarked on the innate beauty of words; he had discussed them mainly in terms of form and sound-quality, apart from their meaning. "Longinus", however, now insists on their magic as a means of expression, a beauty intimately bound up with the thought itself. And he declares that what gives to literature its enduring charm, whether it be the quality of grandeur, or beauty, or mellowness, or force, is in the last resort this verbal magic, which "invests dead things with a sort of living voice". "Beautiful words", he adds,67 "are in truth the very light (or illumination) of thought" …; and it may safely be said that nowhere in the work does "Longinus" approach more nearly to the mysteries of art than in this suggestive and striking pronouncement of his.

Of the rest of his fragmentary remarks on diction there is this to be said, that while scarcely maintaining the high level of his opening comment they invariably touch on points of importance to his contemporaries, and this, rather than an exhaustive treatment, is his aim throughout. Thus he issues a warning against the indiscriminate use of stately words; to employ magnificent diction, he states, in connexion with trivial matters would be about as effective as to put on a child a man's tragic mask.68 On the other hand he has a word of approval for homely and racy expressions in the proper place; and he quotes by way of illustration a sentence from Theopompus to the effect that "Philip had a way of stomaching things" …—a somewhat daring expression which Caecilius had previously condemned.69 To "Longinus", however, the term "stomaching" seemed preferable to a more elegant word, and this on account of its familiarity and force. Such words, he conceded, were dangerously near vulgarity; but from that they were saved by their very expressiveness. Passing then to another aspect of diction, presumably a topic of current debate, he next deals with the use of metaphor; and here again he gives evidence of a singular breadth of outlook and of a penetrating insight into the elements of art, none too common in any age. That metaphors were a valuable factor in giving "distinction" to style he takes more or less for granted; and he proceeds as before to confute a doctrine which Caecilius had seemingly countenanced, to the effect that the number of metaphors permissible in any given passage should be limited to two or at the most three.70 Behind this rule, he is aware, lay the authority of Aristotle and Theophrastus, who had advocated the use of not more than two at a time, and had further advised the employment of such saving clauses as "as it were" or "if one may venture the expression". Such disparaging phrases, he conceded, often moderated the audacity of risky metaphors, thus rendering them acceptable; though this device he regards as not the most effective, while to the mechanical limitation of their number he takes strong exception. With the insight of genius he brushes aside all rules, and, declaring that in this matter Demosthenes was the guide, he boldly asserts that the passion which gives rise to metaphors will not only determine their number but will also provide the necessary palliatives as well. Thus impassioned utterance, he explains, demands the use of these striking turns, often in a sustained series; so that there can be no fixed limit to the number used. Then, too, a reader stirred does not stop to count or weigh up metaphors; carried away by emotion he needs no other palliative. And in this way, it is implied, does passion help metaphor and metaphor passion; the relation between the two being of a natural and fundamental kind. And lastly concerning hyperboles he has also a word to say, though for the most part his remarks merely reiterate principles already laid down. That hyperboles should spring naturally from great emotion which renders plausible and acceptable the most daring use, that moreover they are most effective when their art is concealed, and that a hyperbole overdone results in bathos, all these are ideas that are implied in his earlier discussion; and the true working of the device he illustrates by examples taken from Thucydides and Herodotus.71

This brings him then to his last source of "distinction" in style, namely, the arrangement of words; and this section, for reasons already given, he treats in summary fashion. Hence, for the most part, he is content to generalise on the effects of a harmonious setting of words. He points out, for instance, that the resultant harmony is a natural instrument not only of persuasion and pleasure but of lofty emotion as well; and he further describes it as something that appeals to the soul of man, awakening in him a host of sensations, and enabling him to share in the emotion of the speaker (or writer).72 Foremost among the rhythms that make for grandeur of utterance is said to be the dactylic, upon which, as "Longinus" reminds his readers, that most beautiful of metres, the hexameter, is built. On the other hand, weak and broken rhythms made up of pyrrhics, trochees, and the like, are instrumental solely in lowering the dignity of a passage.73 But so, adds "Longinus", does also writing in which the rhythm is too pronounced; for there it is the quality of the rhythm rather than the meaning of the words that engages the attention, and the effect is said to be not unlike that of dance-music to which hearers were wont to keep time with their feet.74 That "Longinus" has here in mind those degrading tricks of contemporary orators mentioned by Tacitus75 can scarcely be doubted. And in his further warning against undue conciseness of expression76 may be found another topical allusion. Extreme conciseness, as he points out, cramps and cripples the thought; whereas brevity in the true sense is effective because of its economy and directness.

With the conclusion of this analysis "Longinus" may be said to have completed his task, that of pointing out to his generation the foundations of a noble style. And the speculations that follow on the causes that had led to the decline of literary excellence in his day are of the nature of an appendix; an expression of views on a subject arising naturally out of his main theme. For this purpose he adopts the dialogue form, ascribing to a contemporary philosopher some of the current arguments, to which he in turn replies. The main argument advanced by the philosopher, somewhat tentatively it is true, is the orthodox political one, namely, that democracy was the foster-mother of genius, and that literature had accordingly flourished under the earlier democratic régine and had declined with the passing of those conditions.77 In support of this view it was urged that the freedom of the individual under a democracy was what really counted. It gave scope to the imagination, filled men with high hopes, inspired them to public activities and to competition for the many prizes open under popular government; all of which was claimed to have fostered literary achievement. On the other hand it was the loss of freedom under Imperial rule that was said to account for the subsequent decline. Nurtured on doctrines of servitude and forbidden all liberty of speech, men were described as no better than slaves, with faculties stunted like those of the Pygmies; and such servitude, it was added, even though of the most benevolent kind …, was undoubtedly fatal to all forms of literary activity.78 Here then was Cicero's theory, with some modification it is true, and with also the saving clause as to the beneficence of Imperial rule. To this "Longinus" replies by approaching the problem from another angle. To him the causes of the decline were ethical rather than political; a conviction quite in keeping with his former pronouncement that "great utterance" was but the counterpart of "greatness of soul". And he proceeds to enlarge on the moral evils of his day; the love of money and pleasure with its degrading effects, the insolence and shamelessness that followed in its train, the loss of all sense of the ideal and spiritual, and the consequent atrophy of man's immortal soul.79 These in his opinion were the causes of the decay of literature; and he can suggest no remedy, save an enlightened autocracy which should exercise over men the control they lacked.

Such then in broad outline is the scheme of the treatise On the Sublime; and before passing on to a consideration of other aspects of the work some estimate may now be formed of the success with which the author has achieved his main purpose, that of pointing out to a distracted age the principles underlying true charm and "distinction" of style. That he has shed new light on the much-vexed question becomes evident from a comparison with the efforts made by Dionysius, Tacitus, and Demetrius in much the same field. Not that their efforts were wanting in merit; on the contrary, as has been shown, they betrayed keen insight into certain aspects of the problem, and were helpful and suggestive in a high degree. Compared however with the teachings of "Longinus" those efforts seem incomplete, tentative, and to some extent conventional; whereas "Longinus" as if by some stroke of genius has contrived to grasp the problem in its entirety, and has gone unerringly to the heart of the matter. Thus greatness of utterance, he points out, is rooted in personality. It is a fruit of the spirit, of the whole nature of man; and as such, it requires above all the play of the imagination as well as the exercise of genuine emotion, both of which are to be communicated to the hearer (or reader). "What comes from the heart goes to the heart"; this in reality is the basis on which he builds, and it represents perhaps the most valuable part of his teaching on style. In addition to this he considers the need for a knowledge of art to enable the speaker (or writer) to make a conscious and rational use of his powers. And here while retaining the old rhetorical terminology he breathes into the system a new life-giving spirit. Thus he deals with principles rather than with rules; and interpreting technique in terms of emotion he makes plain the "why" and the "wherefore" of each rhetorical device. The Figures, for instance, are to him no mechanical tricks but a natural means of appealing to human emotions; and as such, they require for their use a sense of fitness and psychological tact. This is the principle that runs through his teaching; and in this demand, together with the importance he attaches to the imaginative and emotional aspects of style, lay the substance of his message for his generation. That the instruction was what the age most needed can scarcely be doubted; and equally certain is it that its fundamental doctrines are those which no age can safely ignore.

So far then we have been considering the primary object of the work, and the skill shown by the author in handling his main theme. And this much may at once with confidence be said, that, were there nothing more to add concerning his achievement, our author's claim to eminence as a critic would still rank very high, on account of the originality and penetration shown in his analysis of the contemporary problem. As it is, however, there is much besides that commands attention.

Digressions, explanations, illustrations, and the like, incidentally supply further relevant passages in which fresh light is thrown on such matters as critical standards, critical methods and judgments. And as a consequence another aspect of the treatment may be said to emerge. The treatise, ostensibly on style, widens considerably in scope and becomes one on literary criticism in the larger sense of the term. Nothing, for instance, is of more lasting value than the remarks of our author on the standards for forming judgment in literature. It is a subject on which he has not a little to say; and such judgment he describes as an arduous business, indeed, "the crowning fruit of ripe experience".…80 To some extent it would be true to say that his standard of taste is implied in what has already been said concerning "distinction" in style; so that for him the qualities of great utterance are likewise the qualities of great literature. Hence, as his first criterion of excellence in literature, he demands the presence of an imaginative and emotional appeal; the power, that is, of uplifting the soul of the reader and of filling him with joy and pride, by arousing in him noble thoughts and suggesting more than the words actually convey.81 And here, it will be noticed, the test is no longer that of mere pleasure or persuasion; nor is the appeal made to the emotions or the intellect alone. The effects are such as concern the whole nature of man; and they are essentially of a bracing and tonic quality. Along with this test however he combines another of equal importance, that requiring in great literature a permanence of appeal. "In general", he states,82 "you should regard that greatness in art to be noble and genuine which appeals to all men in all ages" …; an anticipation of the later statement due to St Vincent (d. 304)83 that the test of great literature was quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. To this general statement of his, it is true, "Longinus" makes one qualification. By "all men" he means "men of sense, well acquainted with literature"; so that the tribunal he has in mind is neither the connoisseur nor the masses, but educated mankind in all the ages. For the rest, however, he insists on this test of time in positive fashion; and also gives reasons for the faith that is in him. When men, he argues, differing in all possible respects, in their interests, their ways of life, their tastes, ages and languages, all agree notwithstanding in the views they hold on any particular subject, then the unanimity of a tribunal otherwise so discordant is surely undeniable proof of the justice of their verdict and of the value to be attached to works thus commended.84 And with the justice of this reasoning modern readers would readily agree; for to them the best practical test of what is literature and what is not is still this power of reading and re-reading a book with undiminished delight. The fact is that "Longinus" has here called attention to one of the basic truths of literature and literary criticism, namely, the inexhaustible vitality of all great art, and its power of communicating life right down through the ages. In all great literature there are latent correspondences with human nature which time alone can reveal; and it is by virtue of this fact that the test of time, this permanence of appeal, is on the whole the soundest criterion of what constitutes greatness in literature.

With the enunciation of these principles "Longinus" may be said in some measure to have broken new ground; and in what he has further to say on the formation of literary judgment there is also much that is of interest to modern readers. More than once, it is true, he reiterates his conception of posterity as the final arbiter in literary matters;85 a tribunal, he adds, "whose judgments no jealousy can dispute".86 But he has also something new to suggest when in his practical way he commends as touchstones the works of the great masters, and advises his readers in forming their judgments to consider how Homer or Plato or Demosthenes would have handled the theme.87 For such an application in concrete form of the qualities of great literature there is much to be said. It is judgment by classical standards at its simplest and best; and the method has since been familiarised by Matthew Arnold, who in a well-known passage recommended for adoption much the same procedure.88 Of greater importance, however, is our author's pronouncement on the value to be attached to "correctness" in estimating literary work, and the relative merits of a flawless mediocrity on the one hand, and of genuine greatness allied with some defects on the other. The question is one to which he devotes considerable attention; and the full significance of the discussion can only be appreciated in the light of contemporary conditions. That he was here debating an urgent question of the day seems highly probable, if we may judge from Caecilius's disparagement of Plato as compared with the faultless Lysias,89 Dionysius's reply in one of his Letters to the remonstrances of Gnaeus Pompeius on the same subject,90 or again the remarks subsequently made on the evils resulting from the craze for "correctness". By Quintilian,91 the younger Pliny,92 and others, references are made to this particular matter; and more especially to the crippling effects of over-niceness, the loss of sincerity, the dryness and tenuity produced by the excessive use of the file. And among the factors which contributed to the persistence of the doctrine there were the Atticists, preoccupied mainly with the avoidance of faults, and again, the coteries, engaged for the most part in the meticulous correction of the compositions of their friends.93 So that there would seem to have been in existence throughout the first century a marked tendency to give the primacy in literature to the quality of "correctness". And although Horace had declared for a more indulgent attitude to faults where excellence was also present,94 "Longinus" himself describes the matter as one that urgently called for a decision…95 In any case to this question he addresses himself with enthusiasm and zest, declaring without hesitation in favour of the work of genius, even though it be not flawless, as compared with work which, correct in all its details, never succeeds in rising to the loftiest heights. For one thing, he explains,96 great flights of necessity involve great risks from which on the other hand pedestrian natures are free; so that soaring genius is often found to lose her way while moderate talent travels safely.

Thus Homer, he points out, is occasionally found tripping; but is he for that reason inferior to Apollonius? Or is the neatness of Eratosthenes to be preferred to the inspiration of Archilochus, the lyric utterance of Bacchylides to that of Pindar, or the tragedies of Ion to those of Sophocles? In this impassioned way, with the help of rhetorical questions, does he excuse the lapses of genius. But he also does more than this when he advances definite reasons for his preference, explaining for instance that one touch of genius can redeem a multitude of faults, that unfailing accuracy savours somewhat of pettiness, that it is the fruit not of genius but of an observance of art, and that while such "correctness" is successful in escaping censure, it is greatness alone that compels admiration.97 The real gist of his argument, however, consists in the claim he makes that grandeur in literature appeals irresistibly to man, in a way that mere "correctness" can never do. Thus in man, he explains,98 there has been implanted a love for all that is great and more divine than himself. Even the universe itself cannot limit his thoughts which tend to range freely beyond the bounds of space. And this is why mankind is drawn to what is vast or great or beautiful in Nature, to the great waters of the Nile, the Danube or the Rhine, to the lightning flash of heaven or the fierce fires of Etna; even though in smaller streams and in flames of man's own kindling there is much that is good and of service to the race. Such objects however are wont to be regarded as commonplace, admiration being reserved for the greater phenomena of Nature. And so, argues "Longinus", it is with literature. It is loftiness and grandeur that carry men away, and supply (to use Bacon's phrase)99 that "more ample greatness" which affords satisfaction to something that lies deep in their nature. "Correctness" in a writer may indeed be described as a human virtue; but grandeur alone, adds "Longinus", can give to him something of the magnanimity of God.…100

Possessed of such views regarding the standards of literary judgments, it is not strange to find that "Longinus" in practice has also some illuminating comments to make on literature in the concrete; comments interesting, moreover, on account of the methods employed as well as for the light they throw on the writers concerned. His range in these matters is that of Greek literature, from Homer to the Alexandrians; and while he includes in his survey Greek poets and dramatists, orators and historians, he has also something to say on Cicero and Hebrew literature. What he has to offer in this kind, it is true, has certain obvious limitations. From the nature of his work his critical judgments are nearly all incidental in character, illustrative directly or indirectly of "distinction" in style; and they are therefore for the most part casual appreciations of certain aspects of the writers in question, not considered estimates of their performances as wholes. Yet within these limits his critical judgments are of outstanding quality. There had been nothing like them hitherto in the work of antiquity; and by their insight and penetration they succeed in bringing to light not a few of the finer literary qualities.

Nothing in the first place is more remarkable than the way in which he makes use of aesthetic tests in forming his judgments; as when for instance he brings to light the imaginative qualities of Homer, Sappho, and others. Of the workings of the poetic imagination—for this in modern parlance is what is implied in "grandeur of conception", the term used by "Longinus"—he gives numerous examples. Thus he quotes freely from Homer, supplying illustrations of the immensity of his ideas, his power of creating extra-natural worlds, or strange and exalted types of being, and of giving to these imaginary creations the force of reality. Typical Homeric passages to which he calls attention are those relating to the world-embracing stride of the steeds of Hera,101 the cosmic nature of the upheaval occasioned by the battle of the gods,102 the transcendent image of Poseidon under whose footsteps mountains and forests tremble,103 or again the divine heroism of Ajax praying for light, not safety, in the darkness of defeat.104 And as if these were not sufficient to make his point clear, he adds yet one other example, this time from the book of Genesis; the tremendous utterance of the Creator at the beginning of things: "Let there be light, and there was light".105 In each case it is the overwhelming imaginative appeal to which he calls the attention: while at the same time he does not fail to suggest the exhilarating emotional effects of such passages, which are said to be awe-inspiring in their grandeur, their beauty or terror. But similar imaginative effects are also said to result from the poet's treatment of the phenomena of life, when he selects only the most significant details, and by combining them into an organic whole, contrives to suggest a new and comprehensive vision of things. Here again the creative imagination is at work as the "realising" faculty, modifying, transforming, and producing awe-inspiring effects; and this is illustrated by "Longinus" first from Homer, and then from Sappho. In the first instance he quotes Homer's description of a storm, pointing out that a selection had been made of the most terrifying circumstances: the swift onrush of the waves lifted high and swollen by the tempest, the black overhanging clouds, the mad seas breaking and shrouding the ship in foam, the winds howling in the sails, and the sailors terror-stricken, conscious of the near approach of death.106 And in the second place he gives Sappho's Ode to Anactoria,107 possibly though not certainly in full, at the same time commenting on the choice of the most striking symptoms of the love passion, vehement, contradictory, and realistic, as "she glows, she chills, she raves, she reasons, now she is in tumult, now she is dying away". By way of further comment "Longinus" explains that in all things there exist by nature certain elements which constitute the essence of their being; and that it is by a happy organic combination of those elements that power and grandeur in literature are attained. To neither of these processes, it is true, does "Longinus" anywhere apply the term "imaginative"; though imagination [fantasia] in general he describes as concepts of the mind, significantly adding that in his day it was usually applied to vivid and realistic representations of things, resulting from strong emotion or passion.108 Yet no one can mistake his realisation of the workings of those "shaping fantasies" which, apprehending more than comes within the scope of cold reason, are yet able to give to "airy nothings" a seeming substance of reality; or again the effects of that synthesis of significant elements abstracted from life itself. Terminology and definition it was left for a modern age to elaborate; but the creative imagination was already active in Homer, Sappho, and the rest, and "Longinus" is the first to grasp the importance of that fact.

Less striking, though by no means devoid of interest, are his observations on the Odyssey which he discusses in its relation to the Iliad, to the disadvantage of the former. That he takes for granted the Homeric authorship of both poems is in itself significant; he at any rate is no separatist, whatever may have been the prevailing notion at the time. Between the two poems however he finds certain marked differences.109 Whereas the Iliad is said to be full of dramatic action and conflict, treated with energy and a never-failing greatness, and in a style impassioned, supple, and packed with images drawn from actual life, the Odyssey on the other hand is described as lacking in most of these qualities, consisting in the main of narrative from which much of the intensity had vanished, with numerous character sketches, and a host of foolish fables of the most trifling kind. Some of these broad differences had already been noted by Aristotle; as was also the suggestion that the Odyssey, as distinct from the Iliad, had elements in its composition that were akin to comedy. But in commenting on these differences "Longinus" has now a new theory to offer; namely, that the Odyssey was of later composition than the Iliad and that it was a product of Homer's genius when his powers were in decline. In support of this theory he reminds his readers that in the Odyssey the poet is concerned with episodes that were, so to speak, fragments left over from his treatment of the Trojan war in the Iliad; and that, moreover, in the Odyssey the poet seems to be completing his earlier story by a moving tribute to heroes previously celebrated. At the same time, the arguments on which he relies are mainly aesthetic in kind. They are, the loss of the earlier fire, the increase of characterisation, and the growing fondness for storytelling even of the most incredible kind. And all alike he regards as evidence of advancing years; though he is careful to add that in speaking of old age it is the old age of Homer that he is considering. With the majority of these inferences, however, readers of to-day would find some difficulty in agreeing. It might indeed be conceded that the less vigorous and intense manner of the Odyssey in some measure lends colour to the theory; but that character-drawing or the indulgence in fabling was a sign of waning powers would be, and indeed has been, stoutly denied. It is true that Aristotle had held characterisation to be of but secondary importance; and since character-drawing had figured in the New Comedy as a comparatively late development, these considerations may have led "Longinus" to regard this feature as a mark of decline, and, by a false analogy, a decline associated with the later stages of a poet's development. And similarly with the view he takes of the marvellous tales, that they were trifles, not concerned with the serious business of life, and therefore a sign of decadence; this also might be described as a representative view of antiquity. Yet in the light of later experience neither of these points can be seriously maintained. And indeed "Longinus" himself, in spite of his cavils, betrays his sense of the essential greatness of the Odyssey; its grandeur is said to be that of the setting sun, the fanciful fables are dreams, but the dreams of Zeus. The truth would therefore seem to be either that "Longinus" is here not greatly in advance of his age, or that he is indulging in a piece of special pleading. In any case his contention is not established, at least on the grounds adduced; though the discussion has incidentally this further interest of its own. As an attempt to view poetry in relation to its author it may be said to mark an advance in critical method; while it also affords an early if imperfect instance of that historical criticism which by means of an imaginative sympathy with the literature of the past was to yield valuable results in later ages.

More characteristic of "Longinus's" treatment and more successful in its results, however, was his use of the comparative method of criticism; of which indeed the foregoing discussion was in a sense an illustration. It was a method in which he had been anticipated by Cicero, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and others; but by no one was it turned to better account or employed with a fuller sense of its various possibilities. Of his reference to Hebrew literature something has already been said. It was an attempt to reinforce his argument by means of a wider outlook suggesting the universal nature of the phenomenon he was discussing; and the passage which takes cognisance of a literature outside the Graeco-Roman tradition, has since been hailed as the beginning of the comparative study of literature. More commonly, however, his purpose in employing the method is to bring out by means of contrast the salient characteristics of this or that writer; though in some instances he aims also at deciding their respective values, owing possibly to the controversies which persisted concerning the merits of such writers as Demosthenes and Plato. At any rate there can be no doubt about the efficacy of the method in his hands, whether he is dealing with orators of different countries, orators belonging to one and the same age, or with poets of the classical and post-classical eras. In each case he contrives to throw into relief some particular quality or qualities with a clearness and a force that no unaided comment could have done. And this is seen for instance in his comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero. By this time Demosthenes's grandeur of utterance had become to some extent a commonplace of criticism; but "Longinus" refines on that estimate by calling attention to the different effects of the eloquence of Cicero and Demosthenes. Both writers are described as "consuming fires"; but whereas Cicero succeeds by the profusion, the sustained and cumulative character of his efforts, Demosthenes on the other hand is said to excel in vehemence, swiftness, and intensity. The one is likened to an ever-windening conflagration devouring everything in its path and growing by what it feeds on; the other to a thunderbolt or lightning flash, sudden and irresistible.110 "One could sooner face with unflinching eyes a descending thunderbolt", adds "Longinus" elsewhere, "than meet with steady gaze his bursts of passion in their swift succession."111 Then, too, there is the comparison drawn between Demosthenes and Hyperides which is instrumental in bringing out other aspects of Demosthenes's genius, more particularly his limitations.112 Thus Hyperides is said to be endowed with all the graces; he is capable of simplicity, elegance, and wit, he has variety and charm, and he touches all the stops save those of the highest emotional quality. In comparison, Demosthenes is held to be wanting in most of these qualities; his tone never varies, he is always on the heights; he lacks ease and charm, while his attempts at a lighter vein are apt to result in the ludicrous. Yet in the highest reaches he is said to be unapproachable; and by virtue of this quality, as opposed to mere versatility, he is declared to be the supreme orator. Or again, there is the comparative estimate formed of classical Greek and Alexandrian poets,113 which brings to light unmistakably the essential points of difference between the two schools. Thus the flawless elegance of such Alexandrian poets as Apollonius and Eratosthenes is contrasted with the more exalted but less "correct" utterances of Homer and Sophocles. And the point is emphasised elsewhere when in a comparison of parallel passages, both descriptions of a storm, taken from Homer and Aratus, Homer's naturalness is contrasted with the artificiality of Aratus, who, according to "Longinus", succeeds in being neat and trivial instead of impressive.114

These then were some of the judgments passed by "Longinus" on earlier literature; and among them was included much that was memorable in his achievement in this field. At the same time there were in his work other pronouncements on many of the great writers; and of these his remarks on Plato are not the least interesting, being doubtless an echo of that controversy already mentioned, in which Caecilius, Dionysius, and Gnaeus Pompeius had each played a part. Hence the unusual vigour of "Longinus's" reply to Caecilius whom he charges with gross prejudice and critical blindness, adding that Caecilius was animated with a hatred for Plato even greater than his love for Lysias.115 And in the same downright fashion he submits his own view that Plato was altogether superior to Lysias, whether merits or faults were the criterion. That he indulged in cheap effects occasionally, that he sometimes fell into excess in figurative writing, making use of harsh metaphors and an inflated style;116 these things are conceded by "Longinus". But for the rest, he stoutly maintains the overwhelming distinction of Plato's style, the stately dignity of his movement, less fiery and vehement than that of Demosthenes, yet with the noiseless grandeur of a vast sea,117 his Homeric reminiscences,118 the tuneful harmonics of his periphrases;119 in short, he is one of the great masters recommended by "Longinus" as touchstones for forming judgments as to literary value. In addition, scattered throughout his work are comments on writers such as Herodotus, Xenophon, Timaeus, and Theopompus, most of whom are quoted to illustrate some lapse of taste. And more significant still are the appreciations of Greek dramatists, which while probably representing the established judgments of antiquity, are valuable also as indicating "Longinus's" own preferences and tastes. Thus Aeschylus is praised for his magnificence, but is censured for occasional bombast and turgidity.120 Sophocles is ranked among the greatest by virtue of his Oedipus Rex;121 though the extant plays do not support the censure of faultiness implied by "Longinus" when he compares him with Ion.122 And again, Euripides is commended for his artistry rather than his ideas; his use of compelling images, the tragic nature of his vivid descriptions, and his supreme skill in scenes of madness and love, are all duly noted.123

From what has now been said of "Longinus's" literary judgments something may be gathered of his work as a judicial critic, his standards, his methods, the range and quality of his pronouncements. That he approached his task unhampered by rules and with a mind disinterested and free from prejudice, this much at least will be readily conceded. Nor can it be denied that his estimates are singularly just. They coincide in a great measure with the considered verdicts of posterity; and where necessary he is not sparing in his censures, the weakness as well as the strength of the greatest being brought to light. Everywhere, in short, he shows a keen eye for essentials; he discriminates clearly between fine shades and effects; and his verdicts are always free from dogmatism and pedantry. Yet more important than all this are those judgments that aim not at assessing, but at interpreting, literary values; those appreciations of his that enlighten and stimulate, and enable us to read with quickened intelligence. Of these the illuminating commentary on Homer provides perhaps the best example. It is the chapter (c. IX) described by Gibbon as "one of the finest monuments of antiquity"; and in it "Longinus" not only lays bare his own spiritual experiences, the appeal made by Homer to his imagination and emotions, but he does so in such a way and with such enthusiasm that he succeeds in communicating his feelings to his readers. This is none other than criticism of the highest kind; "the praise, the infectious praise, of the greatest literature", according to the modern formula. From mere impressionism it differs in that it is based on sound psychological grounds; it is the fruit of conscious analysis and a delicate imaginative sympathy with this or that piece of art. And in this form of criticism "Longinus" was something of a pioneer; for although Dionysius before him had entered the same field his efforts were mainly confined to technical points. There are, in short, many respects in which "Longinus" stands high as a judicial critic; and not least is the fact that he takes account of three separate literatures. Yet more significant still is his anticipation of modern criticism, in those interpretations of his which lead to a more intimate understanding of ancient art, and reveal in the clearest light his appreciation of the essence of literature.

Such then in their main details are the contents of this work On the Sublime—the dissertation on style, and the literary appreciations with which the essay is illuminated—and it now remains to attempt some estimate of the contribution as a whole, as well as of the place it occupies in the critical development. Of "Longinus's" indebtedness to his predecessors in the first place there can be no question. Many of his remarks are of the nature of commonplaces familiar to his contemporaries; while other suggestions or ideas are occasionally drawn from earlier writers. Thus the conception of literary criticism as "the crowning fruit of ripe experience" was already present in the Grammar of Dionysius Thrax, where it figures as the final and noblest function of the grammatical discipline; and the notion almost certainly was common property at the time. The quod semper principle, again, the danger in avoiding one fault of falling into another, the limitations of mere "correctness", and the fact that Homer occasionally nodded: all these were ideas familiar to Horace and probably to others, and in one form or another were utilised by "Longinus". Then, too, the secrets of verbal felicity had to some extent been explored by Horace and Dionysius of Halicarnassus; from Caecilius it is not improbable that he drew his reference to Genesis, as well as the idea of his comparison between Demosthenes and Cicero; while to Tacitus, or to Tacitus's sources, he may also have been indebted for some of his views as to the causes of the decline of contemporary style. All this and more may freely be granted; and yet nothing emerges more clearly than the originality of his treatment, the new outlook he affords on literary questions, and the permanent and universal value of many of his utterances.

In some measure these facts have already been suggested: in his new sense of literary values, the fresh life he breathes into rhetorical discussions, the importance he attaches to such things as the imagination, the emotions, the beauty of words, and not least, the aesthetic appreciation of literature. But over and above all these are other suggestions on literature in general, which not only represented something new at the time but are also full of meaning for later ages. Highly significant for one thing is his attitude to style, and the nature of the remedy he proposes for the contemporary chaos and licence. Faced with the same problem, Quintilian, as we shall see, was recommending a return to a sort of modified classicism; whereas Tacitus, alive to new influences at work, which possibly demanded some modification of earlier standards, was for developing the latent possibilities of the prevailing discord in style, while discarding its obvious abuses. With neither of these prescriptions, however, is "Longinus" wholly satisfied. The orthodox Ciceronianism he possibly regarded as limited and mechanical; while Tacitus's tentative proposals for the recognition of new methods may have seemed to him vague and even dangerous. At all events what he advocates is a return to the standards, and above all the spirit, of the classical Greeks; his governing doctrine being that despite all changes in political and social life there exist certain unchanging principles of all good writing, principles that are best revealed by an interpretation of the spirit of the ancient masterpieces. To his contemporaries this teaching should have come as a reminder of the true essence of classicism, a doctrine that was positive, well founded, and of universal application. And since his principles are firmly rooted in human nature, they are not without their significance for later ages.

Equally original and suggestive, however, are his views regarding literature in the wider sense of the term; for here again he stands alone in the keenness of his vision, his penetrating insight into the nature and function of the literary art. That he conceived it to be no mere craft but a thing of the spirit is shown throughout by the character of his treatment. Thus to him a poet was great, not by reason of his technique, but in virtue of his imagination, his gift of feeling, and his power of conveying those qualities to others. And this conception, which is essentially modern, had not hitherto been formulated by any critic. Then, too, from the same standpoint he asserts that the ultimate causes of decline in literature are of a spiritual kind; the loss of the sense of the ideal and visionary, and the consequent deadening of man's immortal part. Others before him had referred to the growing materialism of the age; but "Longinus's" statement is couched in more specific terms and in accordance with his animating theory. Great literature and little minds, he seems to say, go ill together. And in many other ways does he foster the same outlook in literature, by directing attention from the technical to the more elusive side of art. Thus he hints in more than one place that formal rules may be disregarded at the bidding of a higher law: an important aesthetic truth which was to be rediscovered by modern critics. Elsewhere he points out the inevitable and organic relation existing between thought and expression;124 or again, the atmosphere of infinite suggestion bound up with all great literature;125 while he also establishes once for all the survival value attached to great art. Nor is he less suggestive in his remarks on the function of literature. Of the earlier didactic conception he gives not a hint; and what is perhaps more surprising, he disregards entirely the stock theories of "pleasure" and "persuasion". What he sees in literature is a great aesthetic force, appealing irresistibly to the whole nature of man, uplifting, bracing, and stimulating, while nourishing something that lies deep in his nature. With Aristotle he perceives that literature works mainly through the emotions, and that its process in effect is one of a cathartic kind—though he nowhere alludes to that theory. But in addition he also brings to light something not covered by Aristotelian theory; the wider view attained by means of the imagination, the more comprehensive and more stimulating catharsis which embraced the whole of the higher nature of man. And in this larger conception of the aesthetic function he approaches more nearly to modern ideas than did any of his predecessors.

It therefore becomes clear that in "Longinus" we have a great original critic, one who, propounding the truths of art as he sees them, succeeds in opening men's eyes to new aspects of literature. Nor is his manner any less original than his matter; for in his subjectivity, his enthusiasm, his lively and personal style, may be noted features which for the most part were wanting in earlier critical work. It is not too much to say, paradoxical as it may sound, that from no other of the ancient critical writings does the author emerge more clearly than from this work, the authorship of which is unknown. And this is partly the result of the sincerity and ardour of the thought, the generosity of the judgments, and the modesty with which the author puts forward his opinions. Of his acute sensibilities and his catholic taste something has already been said; but along with these there went also a certain directness of vision and an instinct for seeking first principles in his various discussions. That he is not altogether exempt from laboured refinements may be conceded; while in one place he seems to give countenance to the allegorical interpretation of Homer.126 Nevertheless in the work as a whole there is surprisingly little dead matter; on the other hand much that is vital, expressed in memorable fashion. Nor is his style an unworthy medium of his thought, lacking though it may be in Attic purity of speech. Reminiscent in some ways of Plato's manner, and rich with metaphors, compounds, and poetical expressions, it has at the same time a peculiar intensity of its own; and this was due partly to striking epigrams and picturesque similes, partly also to long periods brought in each instance to a triumphant close.

As for the place he occupies in the critical development this much at least is obvious, that in an age of confused standards he advocated in unique fashion a return to the ideals of Greek classical art. The doctrine as such was no new thing: it had been put forward by Cicero, Horace, Dionysius and others. But whereas their teaching had been partial, with technical and formal tendencies, a classicism in short which was to become still narrower in later ages, "Longinus" alone succeeded in recapturing the spirit of the ancient art, and in laying bare by his analysis the unchanging principles of that art. This, when all is said, must be regarded as his great achievement, that with a clearer perception of the influence of changing conditions than his predecessors had possessed, he still maintained the permanent validity of those principles where literature was concerned. It is therefore as an exponent of the genuine classical spirit that he is perhaps best described; and not, as he has been called, the first romantic critic.127 Throughout his discussion, it has been noted, he is concerned mainly with ancient Greek models, while his theory is solely based on the conception of art as the product of principles deduced from the practice of the past. Nor is this reverence for tradition the only classical element in his constitution. He is classical also in the balance he maintains between genius and unimpassioned hard work, in his sense of the need for fitness, selection, and a fine adjustment of means to ends; while in addition, a "romantic" critic would not have been blind to the "romance" in the Odyssey. So that it is as one of the last of classical critics that he figures primarily in ancient critical history. But while this is true, it is true also that he anticipates much that is modern in critical work. And this is shown by his concern with the essence rather than with the form of literature, his understanding of the part played by the imagination and the feelings in creative work, his efforts at literary interpretation and appreciation, his widening outlook and the variety of his judicial methods; features which were to reappear only after the lapse of centuries. The fact is that in him were combined faculties that were characteristic of the greatest of his predecessors. Like Aristotle, for instance, he based his theories on existing Greek literature; he likewise aimed at a rational explanation of literary phenomena; and his methods of theorising are analytic, inductive, psychological, and historical. On the other hand, he is spiritually the antithesis of Aristotle; for nothing could be farther removed from the cold intellectualism of Aristotle than the impassioned and suggestive teaching of "Longinus". And in this respect he is reminiscent of Plato, for whom he betrays everywhere the warmest admiration. Platonic affinities, in short, are seen in his use of the imaginative reason as well as in his idealism and enthusiasms; and these are among the things that make the work what it is, one of the great masterpieces. Hence his claim to rank with the greatest of ancient critics, whose work he may be said to have supplemented to a marked degree. In one respect indeed he may be fairly regarded as unique; in the quality of his criticism both theoretical and applied. And for the rest he must be numbered among the seminal minds of all time. Conspicuous for his suggestiveness and for the number of aesthetic truths he revealed or made familiar, he stands as a reminder of some of the essentials of literature, and as a lasting and stimulating force in the field of literary taste.

Of the subsequent history of the work there is this to be said, that its influence, despite its value, was comparatively slight. Rediscovered at the Renascence, it remained for a century or more a close preserve of scholars,128 until Boileau's popular translation of 1674 introduced it to a wider sphere and led to its recognition as a work of the first importance, worthy of being ranked in the contemporary estimate with the works of Aristotle, Horace, and Quintilian. After this the treatise was edited and translated with increasing frequency throughout the eighteenth century; and both in England and abroad it became familiar to men of letters. Yet even so, its true significance was far from being realised; owing partly to the looseness of Boileau's translation, partly also to its unfamiliar style and the many difficulties of interpretation presented by the text. Some acquaintance with the work was shown by most English critics from Dryden onwards; Dennis, derisively dubbed "Sir Longinus", being regarded as its chief exponent. But its influence was nevertheless limited to minor, if not negligible, points. It gave for instance a new impetus to the attack on those "ultra-Crepidarians", who deemed criticism to consist in the mere detection of faults; and in this way it strengthened the hands of those who held that the true critic was concerned with beauties rather than with defects. It also led to fresh emphasis being laid on emotion as the basis of poetry, and on the aesthetic values of charm and power as opposed to regularity and "correctness". These things, along with the new critical terms "bathos" and "the sublime", were practically the sole results of acquaintance with the ancient masterpiece; and it is not without its significance that both additions to critical terminology were based on misunderstandings. Whatever "Longinus" may have meant by the terms he originally employed it was certainly not the meanings read into them by Pope, Burke, and others. With him the word [bathos],129 for instance, did not stand for a ludicrous descent from the sublime to the commonplace; nor did [hypos] carry with it the suggestion of obscurity and infinity. Such then was the limited appreciation accorded to "Longinus" at the height of his popularity in the eighteenth century; and it is only within the last generation or so that his real merits have received anything like due recognition. Nowadays the supreme qualities of the work are no longer in question. Ranking in antiquity with the greatest critical achievements, it "remains towering among all other works of its class"; and for sheer originality and power it has not been surpassed. The story of its fortunes, it must be confessed, is one of the most curious; there are but few instances in literary history of merit being so long and so persistently ignored. And this has been facilitated perhaps by the tendency to view the treatise in isolation; a work, as it has been described, "abiding alone in thought and history". Yet its true meaning would seem to emerge only when viewed against its historical background; and in that same setting its manifold excellences are also most clearly seen. There are things in its pages that can never grow old; while its freshness and light will continue to charm all ages. All beautiful things, it has been said, belong to the same age; and the work of "Longinus" is in a sense contemporaneous with that of Plato and Aristotle and Coleridge.


1Text and Translation: Longinus, On the Sublime, by W. Rhys Roberts, Cambridge, 1899; by W. Hamilton Fyfe (Loeb Cl. Lib.), 1927.

Translation: by H. L. Havell, London, 1890; extracts in Saintsbury, Loci Critici, pp. 41-53, London, 1903; also in J. D. Denniston, Greek Literary Criticism, pp. 165-95, London, 1924.

2 For a full discussion of the MSS, and authorship see W. Rhys Roberts, Longinus, On the Sublime, Intro. pp. 3ff.

3 c. 39, ad init.

4 See W. Rhys Roberts, op. cit. pp. 245-6.

5 c. 39, 1.

6 E. Gibbon, Journal (Sept. 11, 1762).

7 c. 1, 1.

8 c. 3, 5.

9 c. 15, 8.

10 c. 5, 1.

11 cc. 3-4.

12 c. 44.

13 c. 44, 10, passim. See also pp. 183, 193 supra.

14 See W. Rhys Roberts, op. cit. p. 17.

15 c. 1, 1.

16 c. 8, 1.

17 c. 32, 1.

18 c. 32, 8.

19 It is not without its interest to note that both Wordsworth and De Quincey were clear as to the true significance of the treatise. Thus Wordsworth is surprised that its theme should ever have been mistaken…

20 c. 3, 1-3.

21 c. 3, 4.

22 c. 3, 5.

23 c. 4.

24 c. 41.

25 c. 42.

26 c. 43.

27 c. 3, 3.

28 c. 5, 1.

29 c. 1, 3.

30 c. 1, 4.


32 c. 2.

33 c. 2, 1.

34 Seneca, Suas. 111, 7.

35 c. 2, 2.

36 See p. 263 infra.

37 c. 2, 2.

38 c. 9, 2.

39 c. 13, 2.

40 c. 13, 2.

41 See p. 112 supra.

42 c. 13, 1. Dryden interpreted this passage correctly in his Preface to Troilus and Cressida when he stated that "those great men whom we propose to ourselves as patterns of our imitation, serve us as a torch, which is lifted up before us, to enlighten our passage and often elevate our thoughts as high as the conception we have of our author's genius" (Ker, Essays of Dryden, 1, 206).

43 c. 10.

44 cc. 11-12.

45 c. 15.

46 c. 39, ad init.

47 See p. 229 infra.

48 c. 17.

49 c. 17, 1.

50 c. 18.

51 c. 19, 1.

52 c. 20, 1.

53 c. 21, 2.

54 c. 22, 1.

55 c. 22, 4 (tr. W. R. R.).

56 c. 22, 1.

57 c. 16.

58 c. 23, 2.

59 c. 24, 1.

60 c. 25.

61 c. 28.

62 c. 29.

63 c. 16, 3.

64 c. 23, 4.

65 c. 16, 4.

66 c. 18, 2.

67 c. 30, 1.

68 c. 30, 2.

69 c, 31, 1.

70 c. 32, 1.

71 c. 38.

72 c. 39, 1 ff.

73 c. 41.


75 See p. 188 supra.

76 c. 42.

77 c. 44, 2.

78 c. 44, 5.

79 c. 44, 6-8.

80 c. 6.

81 c. 7, 2-3.

82 c. 7, 4.

83 See Sikes, Greek View of Poetry, p. 237.

84 c. 7, 4.

85 c. 14, 3.

86 c. 36, 2.

87 c. 14, 1.

88Essays in Criticism (Second Series), p. 16.

89 c. 32, 8.

90 See pp. 110, 124 supra.

91Inst. Orat. VIII, Pr. 23 ff.

92Letters, passim.

93 See A. Guillemin, "Sociétés de gens de lettres all temps de Pline" (Rev. d'Études latines, 1927, vol. V, pp. 261-92).

94 See p. 90 supra.

95 c. 33, 1.

96 c. 33.

97 cc. 33, 35, passim.

98 c. 35.

99Advancement of Learning, ed. W. Aldis Wright, p. 101.

100 c. 36, 1.

101 c. 9, 5.

102 c. 9, 6.

103 c. 9, 8.

104 c. 9, 10.

105 c. 9, 9.

106 c. 10, 5.

107 c. 10, 2.

108 c. 15, 1.

109 c. 9, 11 ff.

110 c. 12, 4-5.

111 c. 34, 4 (tr. W. R. R.).

112 c. 34.

113 c. 33, 4-5.

114 c. 10, 6.

115 c. 32, 8.

116 c. 32, 7.

117 c. 12, 3.

118 c. 13, 3.

119 c. 28, 1.

120 c. 3, 1.

121 c. 33, 5.

122 Cf. Demetrius, On Style, [sect.] 114, where a Sophoclean line is quoted to illustrate "frigidity" and magniloquence; also Plutarch's How to study Poetry (de aud. poet.), 45, II, where Sophocles is charged with unevenness.… Such censures were commonplaces of Graeco-Roman criticism and were possibly due to occasional lapses from his usual dignity arising out of his attempts at parodying Aeschylus (see W. Rhys Roberts, Class. Rev. vol. XL, p. 115).

123 cc. 15, 40.

124 c. 30, 1.

125 c. 7, 3.

126 c. 9, 7.

127 See R. A. Scott-James, The Making of Literature, c. VIII.

128 See W. Rhys Roberts, Longinus on the Sublime, pp. 247 ff., and A. Rosenberg, Longinus in England bis zum Ende des 18 Jahrhunderts, Berl. Diss. 1917.

129 c. 2, 1; see E. D. T. Jenkins, Class. Rev. XLV (1930), p. 174 for a discussion of this term.

Samuel H. Monk (essay date 1935)

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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 possible to see it as the eighteenth century habitually saw it. We shall never entirely escape its influence as we progress through the century, for certain ideas implicit in it become fundamental in eighteenth-century theories and criticism, and the tendency of the writer of the period to seek support from the ancients will keep the name of Longinus alive until well after 1800.

Since this is true, a summary, however brief, of Peri Hupsous becomes necessary. The best edition and translation is that of Mr. W. Rhys Roberts, but to become familiar with the Longinian vocabulary of our period, it seems best to quote from the translation of William Smith, which appeared in 1739 and reached its fifth edition in 1800.1 This was the standard translation during the period in which Longinus attained his greatest fame and influence.

Of course Longinus did not invent the rhetorical conception of the sublime style; it is older than his essay.2 Although Aristotle did not draw a very clear distinction between the styles, his conception of language as pragmatic and dialectical or emotional implied styles suitable to each function. The idea that rhetoric is an instrument of emotional transport was dominant among the ancients, and the grand style, the purpose of which was to move, was an integral part of their rhetoric.

The three styles, familiar in the treatises on rhetoric of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, did not make their appearance until Roman times. They arose out of the threefold definition of the function of oratory—docere, conciliare, mover e—set forth in Cicero's De Oratore and Orator. Once Cicero had made this division, a style which was the tertium quid between the plain and the grand (the pragmatic and the emotional) inevitably came into being. The Ciceronian categories are gravis (grandis, vehemens), medius, and subtilis (tenuis), the great, the middle, and the plain. The important fact for us is that from its inception the grand style had as its purpose the awakening of emotion in the audience, for, as we shall see, this is the point of departure for the earliest eighteenth-century discussions of sublimity.

Other ancients wrote on the various styles. Demetrius finds that there are four sorts of style—the plain, the elevated, the elegant, and the forcible. The elevated is ornate, and is therefore diametrically opposed to the plain, with which it can never be united. Three ingredients, thought, diction, and appropriate composition, go to make up elevation.3 Dionysius of Halicarnassus uses the more customary tripartite division into the austere, the smooth (or florid), and the harmoniously blended. Of the austere, which corresponds to the great style, he says that it is rugged, and even frequently harsh. It uses stately rhythms and long words in order to effect its end, which is "to suggest nature rather than art, and to stir emotion rather than to reflect character."4 These ideas might have been developed to interesting conclusions, but Dionyslus is intent on discussing the best order of words, and therefore rests content with a brief treatment of the grand style. Quintilian, in the third chapter of his eighth book, while discussing ornament (the principal element in the grand style) definitely connects the idea of sublimity with the ornate and the pathetic.5

It is evident that Longinus is well within the tradition of ancient rhetoric when he treats the sublime style as emotive in purpose and as capable of being expressed both in ornamental and in simple language. The subject that he wrote on was an old question in rhetoric, and he might easily have repeated the old formulae and illustrated the old figures that were conventionally regarded as being conductive to sublimity; he might have done this and no more. But he was at the same time rhetorician and critic, and as a critic he saw more deeply into the nature of art than did most of his fellows. His critical intuitions found their way into his treatise, where they lay dormant until they became in a later age and among a modern race, an influence in criticism and asthetic theory.

Nevertheless, his treatment of the subject is primarily rhetorical; the essay is a discussion of style, and only incidentally does Longinus allow his deeper perceptions to find expression. He states that his intention is to show how the sublime in writing and in discourse (i.e., in literature and in oratory) may be attained, and in so doing it is natural and proper that he should devote much space to an analysis of the various figures of speech which were so important in ancient rhetoric. Fortunately, much of what he says on this subject need not delay us, for, however interested the eighteenth century may have been in rhetoric, it had nothing new to offer on the subject. The numerous treatises on oratory and rhetoric are almost without exception no more than summaries of Cicero, with Longinus and Quintilian thrown in, the whole perhaps plagiarized from the work of some Frenchman. With this static rhetoric we are in no way concerned. The abiding interest of Longinus for the eighteenth century, and consequently for us, lay in his conception of the sublime that underlies sublimity of style and that is an expression of a quality of mind and of experience. To write on the sublime style is to write on rhetoric; to write on sublimity is to write on aesthetic. The sublime style is a means to an end; sublimity is an end in itself. It is the latent asthetic aspect of Peri Hupsous that was Longinus's contribution to eighteenth-century thought, and it is with that aspect that this chapter deals.

The author begins by stating that "the Sublime is a certain eminence or perfection of language,"6 but he hastens to described the effect of the sublime, which "not only persuades, but even throws an audience into transport.… In most cases it is wholly in our power, either to resist or yield to persuasion. But the Sublime, endued with strength irresistible, strikes home, and triumphs over every hearer."7 The test of the sublime is in its effect. "For the mind is naturally elevated by the true Sublime and so sensibly affected with its lively strokes, that it swells in transport and an inward pride, as if what was only heard had been the product of its own invention."8 This idea is important because it emphasizes the relation between the sublime and emotion; it transcends the realm of rhetoric and begins that analysis of the effect of sublime objects on the mind which is to lead later to an aesthetic concept of sublimity.

Energy enters into the Longinian sublime. "That… is grand and lofty,9 which the more we consider, the greater ideas we conceive of it; whose force we cannot possibly withstand; which immediately sinks deep, and makes such impressions on the mind as cannot be easily worn out or effaced." There follows a statement which must have been welcome to the neo-classicists, for it brought the sublime into close relationship with their own theory of art: "In a word, you may pronounce that sublime, beautiful and genuine, which always pleases, and takes equally with all sorts of men."10 Here is the quod ubique, quod semper of classical and neo-classical art.

Assuming that a natural ability to speak well must be a source of all sublime writing and discourse, Longinus enumerates five qualities that go to the creation of the sublime.

The first and most excellent of these is a boldness and grandeur in the Thoughts.… The second is call'd the Pathetic, or the power of raising the passions to a violent and even enthusiastic degree; and these two being genuine constituents of the Sublime, are the gifts of nature, whereas the other sorts depend in some measure upon art.11

These are the gift of nature, and cannot be attained through the technique of rhetoric. And it was on these two sources that the eighteenth century was to fix its attention. The emphasis on great thought led Longinus and his followers into a consideration of the mind that creates a work of art; the emphasis on emotion, in the hands of English critics, developed into a study of the effect of a work on the perceiving mind.

The three remaining sources—"Figures of sentiment and language,"—"a noble and graceful manner of Expression," and "The Structure or composition of all the periods, in all possible dignity and grandeur"12—are rhetorical, and as such are of minor interest historically, although, as we shall see, the tradition of a sublime style survived for many centuries, and even long after sublimity came to be a matter of major importance. But once the sublime was isolated as a quality of art, having its source in the mind of the artist and arousing an intense emotion in the mind of the reader or spectator, emphasis naturally tended to center on the first two sources, which were considered to be independent of and even to transcend artistic skill.

The question of the pathetic receives little attention, since Longinus had devoted to it a separate essay, now lost. Although he admits that the grand and the pathetic do not include each other, since many passions are "vastly different from grandeur, and are in themselves of a low degree; as lamentation, sorrow, fear," and although he declares that many grand and lofty objects and ideas raise no passion whatever, he none the less avers that "nothing so much raises discourse, as a fine Pathos seasonably applied. It animates a whole performance with uncommon life and spirit, and gives mere words the force (as it were) of inspiration."13

These hints form the nucleus of much that was written and thought in the eighteenth century as to the relation of the sublime to the pathetic. Although Longinus does not consider emotion as absolutely necessary to sublimity, he nevertheless habitually associates the two, since the orator's task was to persuade by affecting the emotions of his audience as well as by convincing their reason. The presence of emotion in art is the point of departure for the eighteenth-century sublime, and indeed the study of art as the evoker of emotion is perhaps even more characteristic of the asthetic thought of the period than the study of the rules. The importance of Longinus's purely conventional and rhetorical ideas on the relation between the sublime and the pathetic becomes increasingly evident as the quantity of aesthetic speculation increases. The traditional view of the sublime as the strongly emotive quality of art, the sanction of a great Greek's authority for such a view, and the generally heterodox tastes of the British public and critics easily served to stretch the boundaries of the sublime far beyond the point which strictly neo-classic theory permitted. Longinus was to become the patron saint of much that is unclassical and unneoclassical, and eventually of much that is romantic, in eighteenth-century England.

A very few more of Longinus's remarks need be quoted, but these are of importance. A propos of elevation of thought, he declares: "the Sublime is an image reflected from the inward greatness of the soul. Hence it comes to pass, that a naked thought without words challenges admiration, and strikes by its grandeur."14 The silence of Ajax in the eleventh book of the Odyssey is given as an example of this kind of sublimity, an example that is repeated ad nauseum in the eighteenth century. Once again we notice the emphasis on the creative mind and its thoughts rather than on technique and style; this idea was to help Boileau formulate his theory of the difference between le sublime and le style sublime.15 It is in this connection that Longinus points out the sublimity of the Mosaic account of the creation.

In speaking of amplification—one of the rhetorical devices of the sublime style—Longinus expresses again, and very clearly, his conviction that sublimity in the last analysis is to be found in content rather than in the mode of expression.

But the orator must never forget this maxim, that in things however amplified there cannot be perfection, without a sentiment which is truly sublime, unless when we are to move compassion, or to make things appear vile and contemptible. But in all other methods of Amplification, if you take away the sublime meaning, you separate as it were the soul from the body.… Suiblimity consists in loftiness, and Amplification in number; whence the former is often visible in one single thought; the other cannot be discerned, but in a series and chain of thoughts rising one upon another.16

The implication here is that there is a real distinction to be drawn between content and style, "the soul and body" of art. We shall see how this conception fares at the hands of Boileau.

Two utterances extremely important for the eighteenth-century were the praise of an erring and irregular genius as opposed to a mediocrity that attains correctness by merely following rules, and the recognition of sublimity in nature. Of the first, Longinus says:

I readily allow, that writers of a lofty and tow'ring genius are by no means pure and correct, since whatever is neat and accurate throughout, must be exceedingly liable to flatness. In the Sublime, as in great affluence of fortune, some minuter articles will unavoidably escape observation.… And for this reason I give it as my real opinion, that the great and noble flights, tho' they cannot every where boast an equality of perfection, yet they ought to carry off the prize, by the sole merit of their own intrinsic grandeur.17

These statements helped to support the method of criticism that weighed beauties against faults.18 Horace had expressed the same idea less vividly in Ars Poetica, 11. 347-365, and the combined influence of the two critics was sufficient to inculcate the idea that great beauties can atone for small faults. Thus the emphasis of all the better critics of the eighteenth century falls on the discovery of beauties rather than the condemning of irregularities, and in England at any rate criticism by rules early began to fall into disrepute, and criticism by taste to come into vogue, for had not Longinus himself shown that true genius transcends the rules?

Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;
From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,
Which, without passing thro' the judgment,
The heart, and all its ends at once attains.19

Addison, for example, obviously represents this method of criticism. His critique of Paradise Lost, despite the strong Aristotelian influence, is written throughout in the beauties-and-faults manner. Almost with the exactness of an accountant, he records Milton's beauties and his faults, credit and debit, and finally strikes a balance that leaves the poet rich in reputation. In Spectator 291, he speaks with displeasure of those critics who judge by "a few general rules extracted out of the French authors," and proceeds:

A true Critick ought to dwell rather upon Excellencies than Imperfections, to discover the concealed Beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their Observation.…

And that Longinus is not far from his mind when he makes this statement is shown by his subsequent apology for the fact that he must point out some of Milton's faults:

I must also observe with Longinis, that the Productions of a great Genius, with many Lapses and Inadvertencies, are infinitely preferable to the works of an inferior kind of Author, which are scrupulously exact and conformable to all the rules of correct writing.20

It was this idea of Longinus that was to become the basis of so much liberal critical thought in eighteenth-century England. The theory of original genius as developed by Young and Duff, the decline in the power of the rules and the rise of a realization of the validity of the individual impression, and the association of the sublime with these ideas—all of this is attributable in some degree to Longinus.

The other important idea is the discussion of sublimity in external nature, and the deduction, from man's ability to enjoy and to be moved by natural grandeur, of an innate greatness in human nature that instinctively responds to greatness in the external world. We shall see in a later chapter that at the time when Longinus was introduced into England by Boileau, there was little enthusiasm for natural sublimities, and there can be little doubt that Peri Hupsous played a small part in increasing the chorus of praise that the eighteenth century came to sing in honor of the wilder aspects of the external world. The passage in question is much too long to be quoted in full, but a summary will doubtless suffice to recall it to mind.

Man, says Longinus, was not created to be "a grov'ling and ungenerous animal," but was placed in this world to pursue glory. For this purpose nature planted in his soul an invincible love of grandeur, and a desire to emulate whatever seems to approach nearer to divinity than himself. "Hence it is, that the whole universe is not sufficient, for the extensive reach and piercing speculation of the human understanding. It passes the bounds of the material world, and launches forth at pleasure into endless space." Nature impels us to admire not a small river "that ministers to our necessities," but the Nile, the Ister, and the Rhine; likewise the sun and the stars "surprise" us, and Aetna in eruption commands our wonder.21

This summary has intentionally emphasized certain thoughts out of proportion to the amount of space that they occupy in Peri Hupsous. The greater part of the essay is concerned with style and the tricks of rhetoric. But from our point of view the ideas here quoted have importance. They form the starting point for the development of the eighteenth-century sublime. Much was read into them—doubtless much more than Longinus meant—and much was taken from them, and some of them were to survive throughout our period.

The story of Longinus in England, his neglect in the seventeenth century, and his sudden rise to fame in the eighteenth, is known in a general way to most students of the criticism of that period. Rosenberg has demonstrated the enormous popularity of the Greek critic in the eighteenth century, and has taken a backward glance at the criticism of the seventeenth century;22 but he has not made it his business to consider the history of the word sublimity before Boileau's translation in 1674 started the sublime on its long career as an aesthetic concept. We shall do so briefly, since the results are almost purely negative.

The first edition of Longinus appeared in 1554 at Basle. Franciscus Robertello was the editor. This was followed in the next year by the edition of Paulus Manutius, published at Venice. The third and last edition of the sixteenth century was that of Franciscus Portus, published at Geneva in 1569. In 1572 there appeared the first translation from the Greek—the Latin version of Pagano, published at Venice.23 One would expect to find in England during the last half of the sixteenth century some traces of the interest that was being manifested in Longinus by Continental humanists, but one looks for them in vain.

Of course the three styles of Latin thetoric had been known and practiced throughout the middle ages. This is no occasion for a disquisition on medieval rhetoric, and we need not multiply illustrations. A poet so learned as Chaucer certainly knew his rhetoric. It will be recalled that he wrote of the "heigh style."24 The use of the word high in this metaphorical sense might seem to suggest the Greek hupsos, but there can hardly be any connection with Longinus. There is no doubt that Chaucer means no more than the ornate, rhetorical style, "your termes, your colours, and your figures," the genus grande of the Romans.25 Spenser uses sublime only once and then in the sense of "proud."26 He too knew the "lofty style,"27 but there is no hint that he or his circle had any interest in the conception of the sublime as Longinus discusses it.

The earliest example of the use of sublime in connection with style listed in the N.E.D. is from A. Day's English Secretorie, 1586. He says:

We do find three sorts [sc, of the style of epistles] … to have bene generally commended. Sublime, the highest and stateliest maner, and loftiest deliverance of any thing that may be, expressing the heroical and mighty actions of Kings.

This shows clearly enough the use of the Latin term sublimitas to express the same idea that lies behind Chaucer's "heigh style" and Spenser's "lofty style." A new term has been applied to an old idea, but a conception of the sublime is as yet unborn. Apparently Longinus was of no importance to the sixteenth-century critics and poets. Mr. Gregory Smith is able to dismiss his influence in one short sentence: "From Longinus little or nothing has been borrowed."28 There is no mention of his name in this period, or indeed for many years to come.

In 1612, appeared the second Latin translation of Peri Hupsos, by Gabriel de Petra. Rosenberg regards this version as the first real advance in the growth of Longinus's reputation. But it was not until 1636 that Gerard Langbaine translated the treatise into Latin and brought out at Oxford the first version made by an Englishman and printed at an English press. Although we have no evidence of the growth of interest in Longinus in the years preceding 1636, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Langbaine's translation was evoked by some sort of demand for a new Latin rendering of the treatise; but the critical writings of this period are still devoid of Longinian influence. Clark declares: "None of the Elizabethan or Jacobean critics (not even Ben Jonson) mention his [Longinus's] name or show any trace of his influence."29 My own investigations have given me no reason to modify this statement.

In 1652 there appeared the first translation of Longinus into English; it was made by John Hall, and was entitled, Peri Hupsons, or Dionysius Longinus of the Height of Eloquence rendred out of the originall by J. H. Esq. Hall is the earliest of the moderns to show that he understood Longinus's purpose. In the dedication, he formulates for the first time in English the idea of the sublime.

It must therefore have somewhat I cannot tell how divine in it, for it depends not of the single amassing or embroidery of words, there must be in it, excellent knowledge of Man, deep and studied acquaintance with the passions, a man must not onely know very perfectly the agitation of his own mind, but be sure and conversant in those of others.… And yet all this, without somewhat which I cannot expresse, is but the smallest part that goes to the building up of such a prodigy, there must be somewhat Ethereal, somewhat above man, much of a soul separate, that must animate all this, and breath [sic] into it a fire to make it both warm and shine.30

Hall is decidedly on the way to stating a conception of the sublime similar to that formulated later by Boileau, but he does not get beyond this fumbling and groping definition, and his words seem not to have provoked speculation on the subject.

One might reasonably hope to find a noticeable increase in reference to Longinus from this time. Ninety-eight years had passed since the editio princeps had been printed; in the meantime several editions had appeared, and both a Latin and an English translation were in existence. But the time had not yet come for Longinus to gain the ear of the critical world, and we find his name mentioned seldom.31 Milton himself, with all of his interest in the ancients, seems not to have felt Longinus's charm. In his essay "Of Education," he mentions Longinus as one of the teachers of "a graceful and ornate rhetoric," but that is all.32 It is a strange paradox that the most sublime of English poets should not have caught from Longinus the suggestion of the sublime as the expression of ultimate values in art, beyond the reach of rhetoric and her handmaidens, the rules, He did not; and it was left to the propounders of an adolescent aesthetic in the next century to find in John Milton's poems, not a "graceful and ornate rhetoric," but the supreme illustration of whatever particular type of the sublime they advocated.

This seems to have been the state of Longinus and the sublime in England until after 1674. He was known, but was not often quoted, and he had not yet become an authority.33Sublime was known and used as an adjective, signifying physical or metaphorical height, and the lofty or sublime style continued purely in the realm of rhetoric. The substantive sublime in its aesthetic connotation had not yet come into use. Our own investigations bear out Rosenberg's statement that between 1612 and 1674 Longinus and all that Longinus was later to stand for meant little enough.34

In his Dictionary (1755), Johnson defines the substantive sublime as "the grand or lofty style," and adds, "The sublime is a Gallicism, but now naturalized." In this sentence he epitomizes the history of that phase of criticism which we are discussing. The sublime came to England from France in Boileau's translation of Longinus (1674)—came with a certain accretion of asthetic concepts that it had gathered from Boileau's Preface. It will be recalled that John Hall had translated Peri Hupsous as "the Height of Eloquence"; likewise Pulteney, the second translator of the treatise into English, adopted the title, A Treatise of the Loftiness or Elegancy of Speech, even though he translated not from the Greek but from Boileau's version. It was an anonymous translator who, in 1698, first translated hupsos by the Latin and Romance derivative, sublime,35 although, as we shall see, the word was by that time established in critical usage.36

Boileau's translation was the turning point of Longinus's reputation in England and France. By the end of the century the two English translations referred to above had appeared, and as the next chapter will show, the sublime had become a subject of speculation. There is no reason to labor the proof of Longinus's subsequent popularity in England. Rosenberg has treated the subject at length, but it needs no dissertation come from Germany to convince even a casual reader of the criticism of the period that Longinus was a presence not to be put by.

The bibliographical evidence of his vogue is interesting. Two editions of the Greek text were brought out during the eighteenth century, and were many times reprinted. The one was by J. Hudson, published at Oxford in 1710, the other was that of Z. Pearce (London, 1724). Rosenberg gives the following list of the years in which editions of Peri Hupsous were printed: 1710, 1718, 1724, 1730, 1732, 1733, 1743, 1751, 1752, 1762, 1763, 1773, 1778, 1789.37 This is an extraordinary number especially when we remember that Welsted's and Smith's translations appeared in 1712 and 1739, respectively; the first was reprinted with the translator's complete works in 1789, and the second reached its fourth edition in 1770.38 Moreover, Boileau's version went through eighteen editions in France, copies of which surely reached England, and there were three translations of Boileau's translation in the editions of his complete works which were englished in 1711-13, 1736, and 1752.39 It should not be overlooked that most of this interest in Longinus is concentrated in the first half of the century.40 Only five of the fourteen printings mentioned by Rosenberg appeared after 1752; the third edition of Smith's version is dated 1752, along with the last complete edition of the translation of Boileau's works. In France, after 1747, Boileau's translation had only two editions.

This remarkable interest in Longinus is symbolic of the power that he exercised over the minds of eighteenth-century Englishmen. Pope's eulogy in the Essay on Criticism, 1711, in which Longinus is praised as being "himself the great Sublime he draws" (a cliche echoed from Boileau),41 is an expression of contemporary as well as personal opinion. Rosenberg's dissertation mentions fifty-nine authors who show a knowledge of Longinus, and the list is far from being complete. Early in the century the author of Peri Hupsous had become the delight of the critics, as well as of the wits and would-be critics. As early as 1679, for that matter, in A True Widow, Shadwell had satirized the sublime as a cant phrase. Young Maggot, the conventional "Inns-of-Court Man who neglects his law and runs mad after wit," says of a play:

I saw it Scene by Scene … it breaks well, the Protasis good, the Catastasis excellent; there's no Episode, but the Catastrophe is admirable; I lent him [the author] that, and the Love Parts, and the Songs. There are a great many Sublimes, that are very Poetical.42

Young Maggot reminds us of that member of the Club which is described in the second Spectator, who belonged to the Inner Temple, and knew more of Aristotle and Longinus than of Littleton and Coke.

In 1712, Steele could refer to the distinction between the true and the false sublime quite as if Boileau's ideas were then general property;43 and in the same year Welsted published his translation, and in the Remarks which accompanied it, linked the names of Shakespeare and Milton to the increasingly popular word sublime, an early example of how Longinus served to supply reasons to justify tastes that were natural to Englishmen.44

Keen satire on the critical terms popular with the wits is found in James Ralph's The Touchstone, 1728. He says:

These Gentlemen [criticasters], at the Expense of much Labour and Birch, are whipp'd at School into bad Translations, false Latin and dull Themes; from thence they run the Gantlope through all the pedantick Forms of an University-Education; There they grow familiar with the Title-Pages of Antient and modern Authors, and will talk of Aristotle, Longinus, Horace, Scaliger, Rapin, Bossu, Dacier, as freely, as if bosom Acquaintance. Their Mouths are fill'd with the Fable, the Moral, Catastrophe, Unity, Probability, Poetick Justice, true Sublime, Bombast, Simplicity, Magnificance, and all the critical Jargon, which is learn'd in a quarter of an Hour, and serves to talk of one's whole Life after.45

The sublime was evidently frequently mentioned at the coffee houses, since Pope felt safe in using Peri Hupsous as the medium for his attack on the dunces preparatory to the publication of the Dunciad. The delicious parody of Longinus, Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry, 1728, presupposes a familiarity with the treatise on the part of the town, and bears out other pieces of evidence that indicate that Longinus had come into his own.46

Swift had his fling at the sham critics in his On Poetry: a Rhapsody, 1733. He advises the youth who is bent on becoming a man of letters despite his native dullness to take up criticism, not poetry. The passage is too long to quote in full, but "our modern critic's jargon" is set forth in detail. The Dean concludes:

A forward Critick often dupes us
With sham Quotations Peri Hupsous:
And if we have not read Longinus,
Will magisterially out-shine us.
Then lest with Greek he over-run ye,
Procure the Book for Love or Money,
Translated from Boileau 's Translation,
And quote Quotation on Quotation.47

Longinus had evidently become the victim of a cult, and as the object of a constant lip-service he must have become a bore to the serious men of letters. Charles Lamotte was able to speak of him, in 1730, as one "whose Authority will be thought unexceptionable,"48 and when any critic attains such fame he is a legitimate object of satire.

Though Longinus probably reached the height of his fame at about 1738, he nevertheless had to face no sudden decline in popularity and prominence. The interest in sublimity which emanated from his treatise kept his name alive, even after the sublime had grown into a concept far different from that found in Peri Hupsous. Rosenberg has given an incomplete, but a competent, account of Longinus's reputation. Longinus's name was on every one's tongue, and his influence in unexpected places. For example, Turnbull called in Longinus when he wrote on the theory of painting in 1740; Hurd in 1751, considered Longinus, together with Bouhours and Addison, "the most eminent, at least the most popular" of critics, and he found Longinus the "most instructive" of the three.49 Longinus's voice was heard in the liberal criticism of Young and Duff, in whose discussions of original genius the Greek becomes a true enemy of the rules, and an ardent advocate of the licenses that inspired and untutored genius takes.50 Smith's translation and Pearce's edition were used as school books in 1766;51 young and earnest Mr. Gibbon read through Peri Hupsous in the autumn of 1762, and found it "valuable," "worthy of the best and freest days of Athens," pleasing, and astonishing.52 As late as 1774 Mrs. Elizabeth Carter read Longinus because she "thought one must read Longinus," but gained little pleasure from following the fashion.53 John Lanson thought that he could take a knowledge of Longinus for granted when he delivered his lectures to the students of Trinity College, Dublin, and a few years later the general interest in Longinus justified the publication of Greene's dull commentary on Peri Hupsous.54 John Ogilvie declared in 1774 that Longinus has preoccupied the province of the sublime, and that he is universally read and admired by readers of even the smallest classical knowledge.55

Such general and widespread fame, however, did not keep asthetic speculation subservient to Longinus. It was rather as a critic than as a guide to aesthetic that Longinus was powerful. Speculation soon outgrew Peri Hupsous, which indeed is the point of departure rather than the guiding influence of theories of the sublime, especially after the middle of the century. Silvain had early complained that the Greek critic did not give a clear idea of the sublime,56 and a similar dissatisfaction was felt by all the more important theorizers. Burke simply did not discuss Longinus; Blair and Beattie complained of the dominatingly rhetorical character of Peri Hupsous;57 and these are typical cases. Occasionally, as in the case of Stack,58 Longinus found his defenders. As late as the first decade of the nineteenth century, so advanced a thinker as Richard Payne Knight could quote Longinus against Burke, as though he considered the Greek a weightier authority.59 But despite the popularity of Longinus, and despite the reputation of Peri Hupsous among critics, speculation grew more and more purely asthetic, and, so far as the sublime is concerned, Longinus's influence decreased as the century drew to a close. In 1829 it was possible for James Mill to speak with contempt of a work that had been one of the chief influences on the critical thought of the eighteenth century, and that was the source of the sort of speculation in which Mill himself was indulging when he condemned Longinus.60

It is not difficult to explain the fact that Longinus rose to so lofty a position in the eighteenth century, after his neglect during the preceding age. Hans Hecht, reviewing Rosenberg's dissertation, offers as a reason the ease with which Peri Hupsous could be employed in the interest of either side in the controversy of the Ancients and the Moderns, and the fact that Longinus offered a reputable authority for a love of such irregular writers as Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser.61

Longinus did ride into fame on the crest of the controversary between the Ancients and the Moderns, as we shall see in the next chapter. He became an ally of either party, used now to defend the ancients, now to champion original and untutored genius. He is moderate, urbane, and eloquent, and his moderation discouraged dogmatism, his eloquence stirred enthusiasm, and he was sufficiently liberal in his opinions to appeal to eighteenth-century modernism. His high seriousness, his moral point of view, his insistance that the great poet is the good man, would be understood and valued in an age whose esthetic had not yet divorced itself from the ethical point of view. In the last section of his treatise, Longinus accounts for the decline of genius in his age on the grounds that liberty no longer existed, and that only in a state of freedom can great art be produced—an opinion that would naturally commend itself to the English in an age when they complacently contrasted their own constitutional monarchy with the despotism that prevailed on the Continent, and when they prided themselves on the prevalence of individual liberty in the body politic. Moreover, Longinus's essay must have seemed a complement to the more analytical criticism of Aristotle and Horace, and must have been welcome, as Gibbon suggested, because of its impressioniatic and interpretive quality.

Finally, it may be said that Longinus was not needed in the seventeenth century, and that he had. a very definite function to fulfil in the early years of the eighteenth century. An age that produced poets so different as Ben Jonson and Donne, Herrick and Crashaw, Carew and Herbert, Milton and Cowley, surely had no need for a theoretical defence of individualism in art. But when, shortly after the Restoration, the reaction against the decadent Donne tradition set in, and when, England after her experiment in political liberty, settled down to enjoy a comfortable and urbane enlightenment under a constitutional monarchy, the tendency was to regiment taste and the art of poetry under the rules which sought to control in the interest of neo-classicism.

But the English genius was never comfortable in the borrowed garments cut to the pattern of the rules. Despite the stand made by various poets and critics in their defence, clarity and correctness were exotic growths on English soil. There was an instinctive and uneasy feeling that the true destiny of English letters lay with Shakespeare and not with Horace and Boileau, and even when, say from 1660 to 1740, the ideas of neo-classicism were dominant, it is dangerous for the student to generalize as to the tastes and theories of the age. Of course no age is unanimous in its tastes, and romanticism and classicism of one variety or another always exist side by side. The study of eighteenth-century criticism is in fact the study of the increasingly rapid disintegration of the neo-classical standards, and the re-emerging of a freer, more individualistic, and consequently more native theory of art. Longinus is not the cause of this disintegration, but it is none the less true that during the century Peri Hupsous was a sort of locus classicus for that type of critical thought which sought to combat and destroy the rules.

The case of Samuel Cobb is indicative of the process which united Longinus with those spirits who wished to justify the conception that the greatest art can be produced only by native genius expressing itself after its own manner, rather than in the tradition of Horace and Boileau. His was not a voice crying in the wilderness; he was no lone romanticist foretelling the advent of a Byron, but he was representative of the protest against the overemphasis of the rules, a protest that became vocal very early indeed, that, in fact, was never silent. And his use of Longinus is typical of the practice of those modifiers of the neo-classical tradition who contributed to its transformation as the century drew to a close. His language and ideas are very closely akin to those of Young more than fifty years later.

To study to be correct, he says in his A Discourse on Criticism, and the Liberty of Writing, 1707, "enervates the Vigour of the Mind, slackens the Spirits, and cramps the Genius of a Free Writer. He who creeps by the Shore, may shelter himself from a Storm, but is likely to make few Discoveries: …" The rules are "leading strings" to be laid aside by a mature genius in the interest of the expression of "a free generous, and manly Spirit." He concludes: "Let a Man follow the Talent that Nature has furnish'd him with, and his own Observation has improv'd, we may hope to see Inventions in all Arts, which may dispute Superiority with the best of the Athenian and Roman Excellencies."62

These statements are made on the authority of Longinus, and in protest against "a slavish Bigotry to the Ancients." In principle there is little here that Pope and Addison would not have agreed with; their own statements on the subject differ only in degree of emphasis. The importance of Cobb's Discourse for us is that it offers concrete evidence as to the promptness with which the ideas of Longinus were assimilated, and the ease with which they joined in the protest of the liberal criticism against a type of literature in essence foreign to the national tradition. Longinus came into favor because he could fill a need; he alone of the ancients could be used to support the idea of "the liberty of writing."

But the Longinus who is of value for this study is really the creation of Boileau, who called Peri Hupsous to the attention of his contemporaries, and who initiated speculation on the nature of the sublime in his Preface and in his Reflexions. The sublime that came into existence in 1674 was the offspring of two minds so startlingly unlike as those of the Greek critic and the author of L 'Art Poetique. To that sublime we turn in the following chapter.


1Dionysius Longinus on the Sublime, translated from the Greek, by William Smith, D.D. The Fourth Edition Corrected and Improved. London, 1770.

2 See G. L. Hendrickson, "The Origin and Meaning of the Ancient Characters of Style," American Journal of Philology, XXVI (1905), 249-290, to which I am indebted, as well as to the introduction to W. Rhys Roberts' edition of Demetrius, On Style (London, 1927). For a brief discussion of the whole matter see C. S. Baldwin's Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic (New York, 1924), pp. 56-58.

3On Style, pp. 323-325.

4 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Literary Composition, ed. W. Rhys Roberts (London, 1910), pp. 211-213.

5 Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, tr. H. E. Butler (London and New York, 1922), Loeb Classical Library, 111, 211, 213, and 215.

6On the Sublime, p. 3.

7Ibid., pp. 3, 4.

8Ibid., p. 21.

9 Observe the synonyms that Smith uses for sublime.

10On the Sublime, pp. 21, 22.

11Ibid., pp. 23, 24.—Perhaps it is necessary to call attention to the fact that in all eighteenth-century critical writings the term pathetic is used in its generic sense of "producing an effect upon the emotions," not necessarily the tender emotions. In his Cyclopedia, 1727, Ephraim Chambers defines the word as "something that relates to the passions; and particularly that is proper to awake, or excite them." Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum, 1721, gives a similar definition, and adds that "pathetick Musick" is "very moving, expressive, passionate, capable of exciting pity, compassion, anger, or the like passions." This definition shows the broad application of the term. Parnell, in his Essay on the Different Stiles of Poetry (London, 1713), p. 21, distinguishes two sorts of pathetic:

Here all the Passions, for their greater sway,
In all the Pow'r of Words themselves array;
And hence the soft Pathetick gently charms,
And hence the Bolder fills the Breast with

Johnson does not record the modern specialized meaning of the term, but shortly after the publication of the Dictionary Owen Ruffhead defines it as "a term usually confined to such ideas, as raise in us an emotion of pity." Life of Pope (London, 1769), p. 339.

12Ibid., pp. 24, 25.

13Ibid., 25-27.

14Ibid., pp. 28, 29.

15 See Chapter 11.

16On the Sublime, pp. 62 and 63.

17Ibid., pp. 136, 137; and 138.

18 For helpful discussions of Longinus as a liberalizing factor in eighteenth-century critical thought see A. F. Clark, Boileau and the French Classical Critics in England (Paris, 1925), pp. 391-393; and H. G. Paul, John Dennis. His Life and Criticism (New York, 1911), pp. 124, 125.

19 A. Pope, "An Essay on Criticism," I, 152-157. Works, 11, 43. For the relation of Pope to Longinus, see Austen Warren, Pope as a Critic and Humanist (1929), pp. 11-13.

20The Spectator, ed. H. Morley (London, 1891), II, 298 and 299. See also Number 592.

21On the Sublime, pp. 145-147.—

Mighty rivers, the heavenly bodies, and volcanoes played a part in eighteenth-century sublimities. They awakened admiration and wonder in the breasts of man and woman before the century ended. In view of this fact it is worth noticing that when the sublime was given to England it was already associated with the external world, as well as with literature and with rhetoric. Especially interesting, in the light of Kant's theory, is the idea that the human understanding seeks to transcend the material world and to grasp infinity, and that the appreciation of sublimity is a token of the spiritual greatness of man. Is it not this idea which Kant expresses in his more technical language and which is, of course modified by his own philosophical system? At any rate the sublime at its very inception points inward to the mind and soul of man, and the eighteenth century will modify after its own fashion this rhetorical passage in which deep is said to cry unto deep.

22 A. Rosenberg, Longinus in England bis zur Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (Weimar and Berlin, 1917).

23 For information as to the early editions of Longinus, I am indebted to Rosenberg's dissertation, pp. 1-19, and to Roberts' Longinus on the Sublime (Cambridge, 1899), App. D, pp. 247-261.

24Canterbury Tales, E, 18, 41, 1148.

25 For an excellent description and discussion of the three styles of discourse inherited by the middle ages from ancient rhetoric, see C. S. Baldwin's Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (New York, 1928), pp. 67-72. "The third, or great style," says Mr. Baldwin, "whether it be elegant or not, has for its distinguishing quality the force of emotional appeal" (p. 70). Thus in preaching and in oratory, the ancient sublime style survived. In poetic it became more concerned with questions of ornate forn. For rhetoric in Chaucer's poetry, see Baldwin, pp. 284-301, and J. M. Manly's Chaucer and the Rhetoricians, Warton Lecture on Poetry, XVII (London, 1926), passim.

26Faerie Queene, V, VIII, 30, 4.

27Ruines of Rome, XXV, 13, 14.

28 Gregory Smith, Elizabethan Critical Essays (Oxford, 1904), 1, lxxiv. See also D. L. Clark, Rhetoric and Poetry in the Renaissance (New York, 1922), pp. 62 and 67, where the same conclusion is reached.

29Boileau and the French Classical Critics in England, p. 368.

30 See the Dedication to the Lord Commissioner Whitelock.

31 Thomas Blount quotes from Hall's version, and refers to Longinus occasionally. See The Academy of Eloquence (London, 1653), pp. 47 and 65. But his own Glossographia (1656), and Phillips's A New World of English Words (1658), define sublime simply as "height."

32The Prose Works of John Milton, ed. J. A. St. John (London, 1848), III, 473, 474.

33 Rosenberg (p. 7) points out Davenant's borrowing from Longinus the statement that Homer's gods are like men (Preface to Gondibert, 1650, Spingarn, II, 2), but it is a matter of no importance here.

34Longinus in England, p. 7.

35 The translations in question are: A Treatise of the Loftiness or Elegancy of Speech. Written originally in Greek by Longinus; and now translated out of the French by Mr. J P. London, 1680; and An Essay on Sublime: Translated from the Greek of Dionysius Longinus Cassius the Rhetorician. Compared with the French of Sieur Despreaux Boileau. Oxford, 1698.

36 For the history of hupsos see Roberts, pp. 209, 210. The word has a variety of meanings, even in Longinus's essay. Roberts gives "elevation," "dignity," "grandeur," "eloquence" as the most important variations. The Latin words used to translate Peri Hupsous have been de grandi sive sublimi orationis genere, de sublimi genere dicendi, de sublimitate. The French naturally adopted the Latin word, which in turn, through Boileau's influence, drove out the native English loftiness or height.

37 Rosenberg, p. 9.

38 W. T. Lowndes, The Bibliographer's Manual of English Literature (London, 1865), III, I, 1395.

39Boileau and the French Classical Critics in England, p. 370.

40 Two other translations are lost to us. One was by Edmund Smith, whose life Dr. Johnson wrote; the other was by the Rev. Mr. McCarthy of Dublin. For a discussion of these versions, see Rosenberg, pp. 12-15.

41 Boileau, (Euvres Compltes, ed. A. Ch. Gidel (Paris, 1873), III, 437.

42Works of Thomas Shadwell (London, 1720), III, 122. The passage is quoted in the N.E.D.

43Spectator, 350, April 11, 1712.

44The Works of Dionysius Longinus on the Sublime, etc., tr. Leonard Welsted (London, 1712), pp. 145; 146; 147; 151; 154; 156; 160.

45 [James Ralph], The Touchstone, etc. (London, 1728), p. 161.

46 In his unpublished dissertation, Alexander Pope's Art of Sinking in Poetry (Princeton, 1932) Dr. Archibald Hart has made a thorough study of Pope's satire. He points out the close relation of Peri Bathous to Boileau's translation of Longinus.

47 [Jonathan Swift], On Poetry: A Rhapsody (London, 1733), p. 16.—Satire on the use of the sublime as a cant term of the pseudo-critic continued at least into the 1750's. The word is a favorite with Dick Minim, the honest dullard of Johnson's creation, who established his fame as a critic by becoming an echo of coffee-house critiques. "Sometimes he is sunk in despair, and perceives false delicacy gaining ground, and sometimes brightens his countenance with a gleam of hope and predicts the revival of the true sublime." Idler, 61, Works (Oxford, 1825), IV, 330.

48 Charles Lamotte, An Essay upon Poetry and Painting (London, 1730), p. 7.

49 George Turnbull, A Treatise on Ancient Painting (London, 1740), pp. 76; 83; 84:etc.—Q. Horatii Flacci, Epistola ad Augustum, ed. Richard Hurd (London, 1751), pp. 99 and 101.

50 [Edward Young], Conjectures on Original Composition (London, 1759). [W. Duff], An Essay on Original Genius (London, 1769).

51 "A Catalogue of the School Books Now in General Use," A Complete Catalogue of Modern Books (London, 1766), pp. 91 and 92.

52 Edward Gibbon, Journal, ed. D. M. Low (London, 1929), pp. 138, 139; 142. Gibbon has indicated clearly one reason for Longinus's success with the eighteenth-century mind. He says that hitherto he had known but two methods of criticizing a book—to analyze its beauties and to exclaim. "Longinus," he says, "has shown me a third. He tells me his own feelings upon reading it; and tells them with such energy, that he communicates them" (p. 155).

53 Elizabeth Carter, Letters to Mrs. Montagu, ed. Rev. Montagu Pennington (London, 1817), II, 273.

54 John Lanson, Lectures Concerning Oratory, Second Edition (Dublin, 1759), p. 59. [Richard Burnaby Greene], Critical Essays (London, 1770). Greene did not express a new or a singular idea when he said that Longinus was "the best of the ancients" (p. ii).

55 John Ogilvie, Philosophical and Critical Observations on the Nature, Character, and Various Specimens of Composition (London, 1774), II, 161.

56 Silvain, Traite du Sublime (Paris, 1732), p. 2.

57 Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (London, 1783), 1, 59.—James Beattie, "Illustrations on Sublimity," Dissertations Moral and Critical (London, 1783), p. 605.

58 Richard Stack, "An Essay on Sublimity of Writing," Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1787), I, 19-26.

59 Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, The Second Edition (London, 1805), p. 376.

60 James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (London, 1829), II, 192.

61Beiblatt zur Anglia, XXXI (1920), 163.

62 Samuel Cobb, Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1710), The Third Edition. The pages of the Discourse are not numbered.

Elder Olson (essay date 1942)

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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 the originality displayed in the treatise; and while these preoccupations have in their turn produced eloquence and insight, as well as some excellent outlines and précis, they have as often led to the neglect and, in Saintsbury's case at least, even to the deprecation of the dialectical apparatus which underlies the work.4

Yet Longinus, if, indeed, he was the author of this treatise, exhibits on every page a concern with problems which could scarcely have arisen in a random discussion wherein literary enthusiasm was the solitary guiding principle of the critic; and even to grant, as numerous commentators have done, that the work presents clearly marked divisions, amid the ruins of which some fragments of an argument may still be discerned, is to offer insufficient explanation of the portions of the manuscript which are still extant. The eleven manuscripts of the work have been the object of much learned scrutiny from a philological point of view, but even in the collect they scarcely present, by the methods of consideration possible to grammarians, anything like an adequate representation of the whole treatise. As a consequence two courses, the pursuit of both of which has been sufficiently exemplified, have been open to the scholar operating on purely grammatical principles: either the lacunae might be made the subject of learned lamentation, in the absence of further manuscripts, or the text as we have it might be called in question on the basis of philological arguments of varying direction and cogency. To the literary historian yet another course is open: the topics with which Longinus is concerned may be treated as the conventional topics of Greek and Roman writers on rhetorical theory, and questions of their order and even of the manner of their discussion may be answered in terms of the practice of earlier, and not infrequently even of later, rhetoricians.5 The objection to both the grammatical and the historical solutions is properly, not that either approach is inferior or that distinguished efforts have been wanting in either, but that, in terms of what Longinus himself says, as I have suggested, many questions of importance remain unanswerable. The first page of the treatise, for example, presents to us an author who is pre-eminently concerned with method, for the criticism of Caecilius rests upon methodological grounds and the major preoccupation evinced by the introductory remarks is with the precepts according to which a technical treatise must be constructed. Again, the discussion of whether an art of sublimity is possible6 becomes transformed, if we regard it as a matter of convention, into a servile and meaningless imitation of other and more philosophic inquiries; and, in like manner, topics of discussion throughout the treatise become unimportant and ineffectual, sometimes indeed wholly unintelligible, efforts to conform to a literary tradition. To such a place of unimportance, thus, we should have to consign the criticism of the Odyssey, the discussion of faultlessness versus faulty grandeur, the chapters on pettiness, and the discussion of literary decadence which closes the portion of the work which we have; and, similarly, numerous minor passages would become intrusions into a work which, in the judgment of many critics and scholars, would have been better without them. In the general disregard, then, of the logical schematism of the work, the Peri Hypsous has become an aggregation of fragments, important chiefly for the extraordinary "insights" which they contain; and those passages wherein the power of insight seems to have failed, or wherein the author does not make his judgments intelligible, may be dismissed—by the author's own canon as expressed in sections xxxiii-xxxv—as faults which cannot dim the grandeur of the whole.

In opposition to these methods of consideration and as a possibly convenient auxiliary to them in the problems which they pose, a third approach might be suggested. While the treatise is doubtless of striking philological and historical interest, it is, nonetheless, as Longinus himself points out, a treatise on a certain kind of literary art, that is, it is a practical treatise expounding certain means as conducive to a certain end; as a consequence, unless the citation of means is to be regarded as purely arbitrary and dogmatic, the treatise might be exhibited as a reasoned structure, that is, as an argument, and considered wholly in that light.

The treatment of the work purely as a reasoned structure would turn, it goes without saying, on questions at most only equivocally connected with those ordering other methods. Indeed, it would be proper to lay down at once a series of postulates governing the procedure. In the first place, we may assume that any argument whatsoever—provided, of course, that it is strictly argument—comes about through the necessity of resolving some question and that the argument proper terminates, as having achieved its end, when that question is really or apparently resolved. Second, since the resolution of a question is the end of argument, it is clear that the question must be expounded solely from the text as from the only proper clue to the meaning and that the argument itself must be regarded at all times as the means by which, previous knowledge mediating, the end is achieved. In the third place, since in any extended inquiry a problem contains a series of subproblems, the argument must be divided according to these in its primary divisions, and into further subdivisions if these have subsidiaries. In the fourth place, we may assume that every device—distinction, definition, example, analogy, quotation, etc.—is used deliberately and that the use of every such device is to be explained in terms of the necessity of the end and to be noted as a sign of what the author considers to be demonstration. Finally, the order of the text as a whole is to be explained in terms of demonstration as the author conceives it, that is, in terms of his method. It may be objected to such a proposal that the resultant analysis would depend wholly on the assumption that Longinus had indeed constructed the treatise with this particular end in view. The objection must, of course, be accepted; but the grounds of its acceptance would make it clear that it is acceptable not as an objection but as a general comment concerning any mode of consideration and interpretation of a work whatsoever. Any mode of grammatical analysis must depend on the assumption that the work in question was composed according to grammatical principles; any mode of historical consideration must rest, likewise, either on the assumption that the writer was to an extent shaped by his times and his admirations, consciously or unconsciously, or on the assumption that some relation, however tenuous, is traceable between the writer as a historical entity and certain other historical entities. Similarly, it is true, the philosophical analysis of the work must be based on some assumption appropriate to the mode of consideration, since no method proceeds ex nihilo; but it must be added that it can scarcely be dangerous or groundless to assume that philosophic works would be ordered to a philosophic end or that this treatise in particular is composed upon principles which alone—if we except sheer accident—could have given it the character which it is universally conceded to possess.

The treatise On the sublime is an inquiry into the methods by which a certain quality of literary composition may be achieved. The question which it seeks primarily to answer, thus, is a question which neither Plato nor Aristotle nor the "scholastic" rhetoricians of Greece and Rome would have indicated as a principal question even in the study of literature. For Plato, rhetoric and poetics are arts which are occupied with the construction of semblances of the truth; and since the semblance is most perfect when its maker is one who knows what the truth is, the ultimate questions of poetic and rhetoric transcend the limitations of these arts and fall under dialectic, for they must involve knowledge—a problem which is properly to be treated by the dialectician alone. Thus in the Ion the true poet, and in the Phaedrus the true rhetorician, is ultimately he who knows, i.e., the dialectician; and those who are rhetoricians and poets merely, like Lysias and Ion, are men in possession merely of the elements of their arts and, in sharper statement, indeed possess no art whatsoever. The question posed by Longinus is, therefore, for Plato, at best an elementary one; for Aristotle, on the other hand, it would have been an impossible one, since Aristotle's method entails a distinction between rhetoric and poetics and involves, even within these, a specialized treatment dependent upon a distinction into kinds. In such a method the question which Longinus poses as the primary question of his art consequently would not have been answerable as a generality; even in specific treatment, on the other hand, it would not have served as the subject matter even of an opusculum and in its reduction to the Aristotelian method would have been relegated, perhaps, only to the discussion of appropriate and impressive stylistic in the third book of the Rhetoric. Lastly, for the "scholastic" rhetoricians of Greece and Rome, the question of sublimity is posed never as an end but as a question relevant to the various means—more specifically, to the different kinds of styles—of rhetoric; and, while for these rhetoricians the question would have been one of greater importance than for Plato or Aristotle, it would have been, nonetheless, specifically a rhetorical problem, and its solution would have consisted in the enumeration of stylistic devices—chiefly the "figures" of rhetoric—which are constitutive of the elevated style. Whereas Plato draws a distinction between literary kinds and transcends it, whereas Aristotle discriminates among kinds of works and uses this discrimination as a principle of his treatment of them, and whereas the scholastic rhetoricians find their primary distinctions among rhetorical ends rather than among kinds of means, Longinus obliterates ultimately all such distinctions of kinds and end and makes the focal point of his inquiry a certain quality discriminated from among other qualities of composition. A treatise so ordered is distinct in method from these other treatments; and the statements which are employed in the prosecution of that method cannot be compared directly, without a precarious shift of meanings, to the statements which arise out of such variously opposed treatments as those of Plato, Aristotle, and, let us say, the author of the Ad Herennium.

The criticism of Caecilius with which the treatise opens is significant of Longinus' awareness of the problems which a literary treatise, as a practical work, would involve. The criticism turns on two main issues: first, the earlier treatise had been too low and had failed especially in the omission of vital points; second, it had failed to give readers sufficient assistance in accordance with the proper first aim of every writer. While the generality of the statement of these censures allows a certain latitude of interpretation, the exemplification of Caecilius' errors, together with the positive precepts immediately laid down for a technical treatise—a treatise stating the various means to a practical end—perhaps makes the import of the criticism sufficiently clear. There are two main rules, Longinus tells us, for a practical treatise, the first dealing with the end aimed at, the second with the means toward that end: first, the end must be made evident, and, second, specific means to its achievement must be indicated; and it is a mark of Longinus' concern with the practical that the first question, which is a theoretical one, should be adjudged less important in the present treatise than the second, which is a practical one. By both these precepts, Caecilius has utterly failed: with respect to the first, he has sought to define the sublime by the mere collection of instances of sublimity; this is useless, either for a theoretical or for a practical inquiry, inasmuch as in the first consideration it does not provide a definition of sublimity and so affords no knowledge, and, in the second consideration, it does not afford such knowledge of the end as will permit the enumeration of the various means directed toward it. Sublimity is known instantially to all men of education and taste; and to write after the manner of Caecilius, thus, "as though we did not know," is to fail to construct an art of the sublime. With respect to the second precept, Caecilius, we are told, "unaccountably passed over" the indication of the means. Hence the earlier treatise has neither theoretical nor practical value.

Even from these earliest remarks, the ordering of the treatise, i.e., the principal division of its problems, can be seen clearly. Any art approached in this fashion must have three primary problems: clarification of the end aimed at, enumeration of the means to this end, and demonstration that the means are actually conducive to the proposed end. Since art involves purpose, the end must be known in some manner to the artist, or else his operations will be only vaguely purposive, if purposive at all; since any art affords instruments to its end and since not all instruments are appropriate to a given end, the appropriate means must be designated; and, since the efficacy of the art depends upon whether the instruments are actually efficient of the end, the connection of means and end must be demonstrated. The consideration of the end is clearly prior in a practical inquiry, since the means are determined by it; and we know the means when we know the causes of the end, so that what in a theoretical inquiry would be the causes would become in a practical inquiry the means; and to know the means as causes, third, of a given end is to know that the means are indeed efficacious of that end. The main body of Longinus' discussion, therefore, turns on these three problems: from the end of section ii to section vii he treats of the end of the practical inquiry, i.e., of sublimity and its opposites, together with the causes of all these; from section viii to the lacuna occurring in section ix, he deals with the demonstration of the means as conducive to sublimity; and the remainder of the work is given over to a discussion of the means and the divers problems which they entail.

Before these questions can be asked or answered, however, certain preliminary problems must be solved. Longinus has already treated, in his first paragraph, of the rules by which a technical treatise must be regulated; he must now ask, also, whether an art of the subject matter he proposes is in fact possible. To ask whether an art is possible is to pose two fundamental problems: it is, first, to ask whether the object produced by the art has existence (and Longinus is concerned with this question from sec. i. 3 to sec. ii) and, second, to ask whether there are modes of artificial production of that object (and this question occupies the extant whole of sec. ii). The object to be produced must first of all be something which can exist, for there could obviously be no production of what cannot exist; and in this proof of the existence of the object Longinus finds it necessary only to select from among admittedly existent psychological phenomena. These phenomena have as their immediate cause literary works; but it will be necessary to distinguish these from the phenomena caused by rhetoric, or the art of the sublime will not itself be distinct from rhetoric and, indeed, would be subsumed by it as a part under a whole, thereby precipitating the inquiry into an enumeration of the usual rhetorical devices. Consequently, to avert this danger, Longinus distinguishes his proposed art from rhetoric,7 with which it might be so easily confused, and in his distinction he introduces the triad of terms—author, work, and audience—which constitute the fundamental framework of his argument. With respect to the author, sublimity is that which has constituted the greatest poets and prose writers in their high place and given them their fame; with respect to the audience, the effect of sublimity is transport … and not persuasion …; and the former differs from the latter in that it is stronger than persuasion or the incidental pleasure attendant on persuasion, for the audience is powerless to resist [transport], although [persuasion] may be resisted; and, finally, with respect to the work, the excellences of rhetoric are contextual, that is, they emerge from the whole and are temporal, whereas the virtue of sublimity is that it emerges from the part and is instantaneous. Since there are psychological phenomena answering to this description, as, according to Longinus, all men of education and taste are aware, since there are productions of the kind described, and since there are men who are designated as the greatest writers, it is evident that sublimity has been proved to exist.

Next it is necessary to show that modes of artificial production exist by which sublimity may be generated, inasmuch as not every existent object is the product of art. Since Longinus assumes that man can produce literary works which have the quality of sublimity and that hence the quality exists, the argument8 reduces to two questions which form the center of a dispute as to whether sublimity is produced, since produced it clearly is, by nature or by art and to a third question as to whether in any case its modes of acquisition are teachable. The import of these problems is clear: the first objection, that genius is innate, i.e., natural, and that the natural is spoiled by art, is countered by the statement that nature itself is systematic; were this not so, the present art would be impossible, since art must be an improvement upon nature; there are no arts of doing badly what nature can do well. The second objection, that nature is sufficient, elicits Longinus' response that even in genius it is insufficient, since genius falls into faults, exemplified fully in the later discussion, if left to itself without the controls of science; were this not so, again there would be no possibility of an art of the sublime, since there would be only a natural basis of sublimity and since there are no arts for doing what nature does adequately and infallibly. But, says Longinus, nature is to art as good fortune is to good counsel; and as good fortune is annulled where good counsel is wanting, so is genius annulled by lack of art. The third objection, that production of the sublime is unteachable, is removed by an argument which turns on the very possibility of making the judgments which led to the first two objections: if those who argue against the possibility of an art of the sublime can make such objections, then, since these statements concerning sublimity themselves fall under art and not under nature, they serve to substantiate the existence of the art, and, since they are preceptual, the production of sublimity is teachable. Hence, by all considerations, there is possible an art of the sublime.

Since an art of sublimity is possible, Longinus now takes up the problems of the art itself; and the fundamental triad of terms signifying author, work, and audience makes possible an argument of considerable clarity and power. In the order of composition the genius (author) composes a work which has a certain literary quality of sublimity (work) and which effects [transport] in hearers or readers (audience); the order of inquiry into the technique of composition, however, is the reverse of this; for we begin with a sensation in ourselves, as audience, which we recognize to be [transport]. Inquiring into the cause of this sensation, we find it to be a certain quality of sublimity in the work; but, while this is perhaps explicative of our sensation, we can at this stage say nothing concerning the manner in which a work must be composed. Consequently, we must inquire beyond the work into the faculties of the author which permitted its composition; and when we have achieved a statement of these, we have only to ask how these may be acquired or cultivated to answer the question of how the sublimity of a work may be achieved or the ecstasy of an audience effected. The manner in which the terms of the triad may be employed is clear: the dialectic moves in the one direction or in the other across the triad, using a reaction of the audience to define a fault or virtue of a work, a quality of the work to illustrate a faculty of the author; and what warrants this motion, primarily, is that our sensibility distinguishes [transport] from any other effect of discourse upon us and that we know ourselves to be moved to ecstasy by a literary work produced by a human agent. To argue in this manner, Longinus is well aware, is ultimately to analogize author, work, and reader; but the legitimacy of the procedure can hardly be called in doubt, particularly when we recall that the statements in the work which have gained most general assent—such statements as "the effect of sublimity is not persuasion but transport"9 and "sublimity is the ring of a great soul"10—constitute the very foundations of the argument. So analogizing, however, Longinus has made it impossible to discuss separately the various literary kinds; there can be here no theory of tragedy, of comedy, epic, or comic-epic and no theory of rhetoric, since sublimity may be found in all these and in philosophic and historical literature as well and since it results from the nature of neither one nor another of these kinds of literary production but from the faculties of the agent who produced these. So analogizing, too, it is impossible to escape the consequence that the foundations of the art must be stated in psychological terms; this, however, scarcely affords a foothold for objection, since it means merely that Longinus, in answering the question of how the sublime is produced, has chosen to answer it in terms of human character and faculties rather than in terms of the characteristics of a literary work or of the literary devices which must be employed. We may deny the analogy constituted by the triad, we may demand an answer in other terms; but the argument of the treatise itself could be called in question only if we insist on affixing other significances to the terms which Longinus employs or on asserting that the study of literature involves totally different questions.

The text resumes, after a lacuna amounting to two pages of the Paris MS 2036, in the midst of a discussion of the faults into which unassisted genius may fall. Fragmentary as the whole treatise is, however, one perhaps need not despair of the intelligibility of the work; a careful consideration of the direction and method of argument and of the assumptions involved in the critical judgments affords excellent ground for some restoration of the lacunae, at least to the extent of reconstructing the argument. In the case of this—the first—lacuna, the missing argument can be reconstructed by an analysis of the most immediate problems of Longinus, and the reconstruction is supported by the resumption of the text itself. The argument has begun, let us remember, with an inquiry into [transport], a term falling under the audience-term of the triad; and the term itself has been defined, since a mere selection was intended, only by reference to a term in some way its opposite, persuasion, this term being taken also in the sense of an affection of the audience. This treatment by opposites is characteristic of the method of the entire treatise; sublimity itself is defined, at one stage, by contrast with opposite qualities of style, and the causes of sublimity are contrasted with the causes of these opposites; truth is held up against fiction, impeccability against sublimity, and the treatise closes, in fact, with an analysis of the mean style which parallels the analysis of the sublime and with an inquiry into the degeneration of contemporary writers. It is clear, therefore, that Longinus must have argued, from effects upon an audience contrary to that of [transport], toward qualities of style contrary to that of sublimity, since, indeed, we find him discussing, after the lacuna, exactly such qualities of style; and since the warrant for the existence of sublimity depended upon the audience's sensibility of a certain kind of passion, viz., [transport], it is clear that, if the treatise is consistent, the existence of the opposite qualities must have rested upon the same basis. For there are no topical terms (i.e., terms central to the discussion) which do not fall under one or another term of the triad of author, audience, and work; and since explication of qualities of style in terms of the author would be impossible, inasmuch as the argument has not yet reached that stage of development, and since explication of qualities in terms of kinds of works would likewise be impossible, inasmuch as no discrimination of kinds has been made—for, as we remarked, sublimity is a term predicable of any kind of work—therefore explication must have been made in terms of diverse effects upon the audience. And this is shown, furthermore, by the fact that the discussion, when it resumes, presupposes such discrimination of effects. On the grounds of these four arguments, then, such discrimination must have been made.

If this is so, we may attempt to reconstruct the discrimination; and this may be done either by considering the procedure of the previous argument or by asking what the resumption of argument presupposes. First, in the former manner, we may note that since the discrimination is of effects upon the audience and since one known effect is that of [transport], which is defined as an irresistible moving of the souls of the audience, and since the other effects are the opposites of these, the opposites must therefore have in common the general characteristic of nonmovement in that special respect; and since [transport] is literally a being-put-out-of-place so that, as Longinus later remarks, the audience is as one with the speaker, it follows that the opposite effects will differ specifically in that they are different kinds of movement away from that unity with the speaker. How they differ specifically may be discerned from examination of the text when it resumes.11 Longinus is discussing three vices of style, two of which arise from certain relations of the passion of the speaker to the subject matter of the work, one of which arises from a lack of relation of his passion to the subject matter. Given a subject matter which lends itself to sublimity, the passion of the speaker may exceed the subject, and so the style will be turgid; or fall below it, and so the style will be frigid; or be unrelated to it, i.e., inappropriate to it, and so parenthyrsus results. If the classification of vices of style is on this principle, it is exhaustive; and there seems, consequently, no reason to suppose that parts of the classification are missing. The different opposites of [transport], therefore, would be effects upon an audience corresponding to each of these stylistic vices. In one sense, then, they are various kinds of indifference to the speaker; but they will be diversely attended, as special kinds of boredom, by risibility, mere contempt, and the confusion resulting from a display of unintelligible emotion.

It must be noted that Longinus has now moved in his discussion to a treatment of stylistic qualities; yet, from the resumption of the text at section iii, his discussion of them is still in terms of sensibilities of the audience, and properly so: at this stage qualities of style can be discussed only through their effects, that is, either by naming the effect as contempt, risibility, etc., or by providing examples of stylistic viciousness which indicate the intended effect by actually inducing it in the cultivated and sensible reader. The author enters into the discussion not as one possessed or not possessed of the sources of sublimity but as one who aimed at sublimity and in some way missed in each case; and his introduction depends upon the necessity for illustrating his failure—a failure in art, in the strictest sense, since the intention of sublimity is actually present—to achieve that unification of author and audience which is [transport]. The audience must feel what he feels—hence the statement of stylistic vices, in terms of passion as related to subject, becomes at this stage the only possible statement. When the vices of style are made clear in this manner, their cause can be stated, although not as yet with respect to the causes of sublimity, since sublimity itself has not yet been defined; and so Longinus remarks, in section v, that the general cause of these vices is a craving for intellectual novelties. The reason why no other vices of style have been treated becomes clear when we recognize that this is an exhaustive division, given a sublime subject; other vices would fall outside an art of the sublime, as not resulting from an intention of sublimity; but these may be confused with sublimity itself because, as he remarks, they are "thus intimately mingled with it," since sublimity is aimed at.12

Longinus has treated the opposites of sublimity in order to exhibit what constitutes failure in the art and what is to be avoided; and he has treated these vices before he has dealt with sublimity itself because sublimity is more readily located, as a kind of mean between these various extremes which are more easily apparent to sensibility—the latter being still his chief point of reference—than would be sublimity. Now, following his precedent treatment he turns in section vi to a discussion of sublimity itself. For him sublimity permits neither of definition by example (as his criticism of the "instances of the sublime" provided by Caecilius would indicate) nor, on the other hand, of a purely theoretical statement; this is a practical problem, and hence discourse will not serve as a substitute for experience, for "judgment of style is the last and ripest fruit of much experience."13 Now, if mere experience, on the one hand, or mere theoretical discussion, on the other, cannot provide knowledge of the sublime, there is a third way by which such knowledge may be achieved; and that is by means of an amalgamation of the two into touchstones for the sublime. Hence Longinus enumerates the signs or notes by which we may know whether or not a given work has true sublimity; drawing an analogy between true and false greatness in general, Longinus is enabled, first of all, to state his criteria in terms of proper and improper admiration and, proceeding thence, to adumbrate the sublime in terms of the character of admiration which it excites. The soul is elevated by sublimity to joy and exultation;14 the reader feels an identification with the author, for the soul feels "as though itself had produced what it hears";15 hence what does not elevate at all would not even be false sublimity, and that which elevates only temporarily and has a diminishing force forever after is false sublimity, while that which has a permanent force and which provides a perpetual nourishment for the soul is the sublime itself. Hence it is that transport which is impossible to resist and which establishes itself firmly in the memory and which always leaves material for fresh reflection. Since the sublime would have these characteristics, the most certain attestation of sublimity would be the discovery of its universal appreciation; thus the consensus gentium constitutes, for Longinus, an unquestionable test, since it abstracts from any possibility of individual error.16

The provision of these touchstones makes possible the recognition of individual works as instances of the sublime, on the one hand, and a knowledge of the nature of the sublime, on the other. Hence, since we now know what the sublime is, in something other than a merely instantial mode, we may know what its causes or sources are, and so state its nature causally. Thus Longinus, in section viii, passes to a consideration of the sources of sublimity, to their enumeration and demonstration as exhaustive and discrete; and in so doing he completes his fundamental triad of terms by now stating sublimity in terms of characteristics of the author—that is, in terms of what the author must be in order to produce sublimity. That this is the case is clear; for Longinus is careful to use predicates which are strictly predicable only of a human subject: "having power of expression,"17 "empowered with great (full-bodied) conception,"18 "having passion,"19 etc.; and his treatment of them, moreover, is precisely as human characteristics, for his preliminary classification of them is according to whether they are innate or acquired.20

The manner of derivation of the five sources is not explicit in the treatise; consequently, the enumeration of the sources has not infrequently been called in question, and sometimes, even, their importance for the treatise has been minimized. Saintsbury remarks:

No nervous check or chill need be caused by the tolerably certain fact that more than one hole may be picked in the subsequent classification of the sources of [hypos]. These attempts at an over-methodical classification (it has been said before) are always full of snares and pitfalls to the critic. Especially do they tempt him to the sin of arguing in a circle. It cannot be denied that in every one of the five divisions (except, perhaps, the valuable vindication of the quality of Passion) there is some treacherous word or other, which is a mere synonym of "sublime." Thus in the first we have … mastery of the hadron, a curious word, the nearest equivalent of which in English is, perhaps, "stout" or "full-bodied," as we apply these terms to wine; in the fourth gennaia, "noble," which is only "sublime" in disguise; and in the fifth axioma kai diarsis, of which much the same may be said.21

If we may overlook in this statement what is merely dogmatic—as, for example, the curious carping that an art or method of achieving sublimity is somehow at fault for being methodical—we may concentrate on the principal issue of the objection, i.e., whether there is any circularity of argument. Longinus has been asking the causes of sublimity here, as in section v he discussed the causes of failures in sublimity. Since the fundamental triad of terms must be in alignment with a term signifying the subject matter which is sublime, the basis for an enumeration of five sources, and of only five, is fairly obvious. Sublimity of subject matter is not achieved by art, or there would be a fundamental tetrad rather than triad; since, given a sublime subject, an author must first conceive it, secondly feel concerning it if it is excitative of passion, and thirdly express it, it is clear immediately that the sources would, at first sight, involve conception, passion, and expression. But the third factor is complex: since expression deals with words, words can be considered either as signs, simple or combined, or merely as sounds. If we consider words as signs in combination, we can regard them nonsyntactically, as constitutive of such modes of discourse as question, prayer, oath, etc. (in which case we have figures of thought, since such modes are prior to and independent of any syntactical consideration), or we may regard them syntactically, as constituted of certain grammatical elements (in which case we have figures of language, such as asyndeton, hyperbaton, polyptota, etc.); and Longinus groups these two under the head of Figures, as his third source of the sublime. On the other hand, words may be regarded as simple, and here again there are two possibilities; all grammatical distinctions being dropped out, the problem is reduced to the imposition of signs for things and their qualities; and the imposition may be strict, i.e., literally stand for the thing, when the problem reduces to a choice of synonyms, or it may involve a comparison when the matter is one of a choice of tropes and metaphors. These problems are problems strictly of diction for Longinus, and their solution establishes the fourth source of the sublime. Finally, words may be regarded as sounds constitutive of rhythms and harmony; and he so treats of them under the head of sunthesis.

If, indeed, there is a circularity here, the whole argument collapses; but Saintsbury's charge of paralogism falls a little oddly on our ears. It is difficult to see how an argument from effect to cause could involve a circularity, even though apparently synonymous adjectives be applied to both cause and effect; for example, there is nothing wrong with the statement that it takes a human being as cause to produce a human being as effect. In an alternative statement, we might simply say that Longinus' derivation of the sources depends upon the possibility of identifying the human faculties which make a literary work of a certain quality possible; and though for Longinus the soul of the great writer reflects the sublime subject and the work reflects the soul and the mind of the audience ultimately reflects the work, the similarities which the analogical argument discloses, and upon which, indeed, it depends, are not to be confused with such circularity as would vitiate syllogistic procedure.

The insistence of Longinus, in section viii, that Caecilius is in error in his enumeration of the … sources of sublimity, suggests, since the attack has a rational basis, that he regarded his own statement of them as defensible; and the nature of its defense may be reconstructed, perhaps, despite the length of the lacuna in section ix, without exceeding the evidences of that defense which the extant portions provide. The latter portion of viii, for example, indicates through the objections posed to Caecilius the general character of the dialectic which would be used to establish any one of the five sources as actually distinct means conducive to sublimity. If Caecilius has omitted passion, Longinus argues, it is either because he has identified passion with sublimity or because he has not thought it conducive to sublimity. In the first case, he is in error because, if passion is inseparable from sublimity, then what is passionate must also always be sublime, and conversely; but both this consequence and its converse can be seen to be false, as well from an examination of works as from an examination of the faculties of orators.22 In the second case, Caccilius is in error because "nothing attains the heights of eloquence so certainly as genuine passion in the right place."23 The argument establishing the existence of any one source, thus, would turn on whether the "source" in question was distinct from any other and whether in fact it was a source at all. It is probable, therefore, that, since such questions have been raised, they will be answered; and undoubtedly the missing section in ix must have been devoted, in great part at least, to the settling of just these questions with respect to the remaining sources. The extant portion of section ix before the lacuna bears out this hypothesis: for Longinus proceeds to argue in it, first, that great conception is distinct from any of the linguistic sources, since "without any utterance a notion, unclothed and unsupported, often moves our wonder, because the very thought is great"24—the example of Ajax' silence entering in as proof of this proposition—and, second, that greatness of conception is actually conducive to sublimity because "great words issue, and it cannot be otherwise, from those whose thoughts are weighty",25 and the text is interrupted as Longinus is apparently proving this proposition also by example, in all likelihood the speech of Alexander to Parmenio which is reported in Arrian.26 The third question which would be pertinent to each source—whether it permits of acquisition, since otherwise it could not fall under art—has likewise its answer in this section: even though, as Longinus has already remarked, great conception and passion are primarily natural, means for their development and cultivation may be indicated.27

In a similar manner, the missing portion must have treated of the remaining sources; and the character of the argument may be outlined. Once great conception and passion have been shown to be sources, Longinus has completed his treatment of those topics which would be common to all arts; the remaining discussion enters as resulting from the means. Since the treatise is concerned only with literary sublimity—although, as Longinus frequently remarks,28 the hypsos, in a wider sense, may be found in any of the other arts, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, etc.—and since conception and passion are independent of words,29 it is necessary to consider how sublimity is achieved through the use of words, peculiarly; and, as we have seen, Longinus accomplishes this by considering words in connection with thought, the figures of thought resulting; next, by dropping out thought and considering words in relation to one another, the figures of language so resulting; next, by considering isolated words in their application to things, so that the problems of word choice emerge for solution; and, finally, by considering the word as a collocation of syllables, thus opening the questions of rhythm, and as an aggregation of letters, thus raising the problem of harmony, both rhythm and harmony being parts of the problem of synthesis or compositio. The power of expression, Longinus says, must be presupposed;30 it is natural and does not fall under art; the latter three sources are not a substitute for it but grow out of it as special determinations of the exercise of that power. This presupposition made, however, it is impossible to attack Longinus' treatment of the verbal sources; since they arise from a consideration of the ways in which words may be employed, there must be a separate verbal faculty for each such employment; in the case of Figures, mere use of figures does not constitute sublimity,31 although a proper use of them is conducive to that end, so that a consideration of figures falls clearly within the art, but as a means; hence it falls among the sources, but it is a source distinct—on the one hand— from great conception and passion because these are primarily natural, whereas skill with figures is acquired, and because these are independent of words, whereas skill with figures is not, and—on the other hand—from diction and synthesis, although both of these involve words and are acquired faculties, because, as we have seen, different aspects of words are the object of each; and Longinus defends these distinctions by pointing out again and again32 that works fall short of the sublime or achieve it by failures or successes in one of these respects or another and that authors who are skilful or inept in certain respects are not necessarily so in all. These matters are ascertainable by sensibility alone: "it is mere folly to raise problems over things which are so fully admitted, for experience is proof sufficient," but he does not therefore refrain from argument.33

The resumption of the text34 reveals Longinus in the midst of a development of the means by which greatness of conception, as the first source of the sublime, may be achieved; and the first means, from various indications of the context, is by the direction of the author's mind toward great objects, so that, if true greatness be truly and completely ascertained, a commensurate greatness of conception must needs follow. The various indications of which I speak may be briefly stated. First, that this section falls within the means would be arguable, even if the problems of the treatise and their manner of treatment were less evident than they are, from Longinus' statement (x. 1) that we may pass on to consider any "further means"; and, second, that all this is relevant to greatness of conception may be seen from the close of xv, in which he remarks that that topic may now be considered as closed. If this section is relative to megalophues (or hadrepabolon) then, the quotations here must be taken, not as striking instances of hyperbole or other verbal devices, but as examples of noetic magnificence; it is the conception, here, which interests the critic and not the words. His first treatment of conception is in terms of the gods as its object; his second in terms of heroes; and conception is evidently subjected to two criteria: the first, truth; the second, completeness. Thus Homer is praised for his conceptions of Strife, of the horses of the gods, of theomachies, of Poseidon, and of Ares, in so far as he realizes the loftiness of deity, i.e., the truth about the gods; he is blamed, however, when the gods are conceived as in any way less than they actually are, as, for example, when "he presents to us woundings of the gods, their factions, revenges, tears, bonds, sufferings.… "; for then "he has made the gods men."35 On similar grounds Hesiod is condemned and Moses is praised;36 and the assignment of the Odyssey to a lower place than that of the Iliad depends precisely on these considerations as well; and what we have here is no "instinctive, unreasoning terror" of the Greek at the "unknown Romance," as Saintsbury phrases it,37 for the objection is not that these are myths but that they are myths which could not possibly be true of their subjects. The criticism which appears in this section has been frequently censured; but the censure is hardly justifiable on logical grounds. Longinus is saying that if you wish to nature your soul to great conceptions you must contemplate great objects—gods, heroes, the majesty of nature, etc.—and that your conception will not be great if you fail to conceive the greatness of your object, i.e., if you fail to form a true and complete conception; for a true and complete conception of a great subject would necessarily be great. Thus the "dreams of Zeus" which occur in the Odyssey—"the stories of the wine-skin, of the companions turned by Circe into swine," and the many marvelous episodes of a similar nature—might well be the fantasies of the gods, they are certainly excellent literature; but they are hardly true and complete conceptions either of gods or of heroes, and they are therefore hardly sublime. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are by Homer and are marks of his transcendent genius; but the former is "a throng of images all drawn from the truth," while the latter is "a wandering among the shallows of the fabulous and incredible."38

Next, according to Longinus (sec. x), "since with all things are associated certain elements, constituents which are essentially inherent in the substance of each," the writer who would gain greatness of conception must select and integrate these essentials. The meaning of this statement becomes clear if we consider the context. Greatness of conception is cultivated by the true apprehension of great objects, as we have seen; but, given a sublime subject matter of which the author has conceived, not all of its aspects are equally responsible for its sublimity, and hence it is the business of the writer to select those aspects which are most responsible and to integrate them in such fashion as that in which they are integrated in the object itself. Thus, for example, a storm is terrible, and hence sublime, inspiring fear and awe; however, not all its characteristics inspire these feelings, but only such as relate to its power and danger; hence the writer must choose those most relative and unite them in such manner, in his mind, that they are not scattered conceptions but "the form and features of that peril."39 The integration must be present because it is the integration of the characteristics in the object itself which inspired such feelings as were peculiar to it; without such unification, the various conceptions would not induce a feeling comparable to that caused by the object. The Ode to Anactoria is praised for such selection and collocation; considering still the conception as opposed to the diction, Longinus remarks that the subject matter—"love-madness"—has been well treated, since Sappho has chosen to speak of those effects, physical as well as intellectual, which are the essential symptoms of love frenzy.40 On the other hand, Aristeas of Proconnesus is blamed for the evident and just reason that the details of seafaring which he enumerates are hardly those by virtue of which the sea itself is sublime—seasickness, which forms the climax of his description, scarcely gives the impression of sublimity; and though Aristeas has talked around that painful subject by saying that the sailors' "inward parts, even, are tossed terribly to and fro," the trick is purely a verbal one, and so the description is more embroidery than sublimity.41 Similarly, Aratus, in saying that "only a tiny plank keeps off bitter destruction," is not sublime42 because he is merely verbalizing also; in all cases of sailing, a few planks keep off death, but there is no terror here because those planks are generally sufficient; the sea itself is not a source of terror at all times, but only when it rages; and so the device of Aratus constitutes an attempt to rhetoricize, to falsify a quite normal situation. One must understand Longinus as still speaking of conception; on that ground, the passage is bad; on a purely verbal ground he might have considered it excellent.

Again, the writer may achieve sublimity by the accumulation of vast detail, with the assurance that this multiplicity of detail will tend to give any subject importance and also to bring out whatever effects would be caused by that subject itself. The second mode—the mode of selection and integration—is conducive to sublimity in that the writer seeks those aspects upon which the effect of the subject depends; in this, the third mode, the effect depends, in so far as it is mere amplification, strictly upon number; as Longinus remarks, amplification always implies quantity and abundance. We may adumbrate a subject either by stating its essential characteristics or by enumerating at large its characteristics both essential and accidental; for in fact the thing itself so presents itself to us, as a mixture of the essential and accidental. It matters not how we effect this quantitative expansion, Longinus tells us; there are numberless varieties of amplification; we may either work through the topics or commonplaces or exaggerate (in the sense of forming a conception which exceeds the thing or fact or event) or emphasize, or do any one of ten thousand things; in any case, the writer must dwell upon the subject with accumulation and insistence, building always toward sublimity. If the subject contemplated is in truth a great subject, sublimity will be reached in this manner; if not, a merely rhetorical amplification will result; and Longinus is careful here, as throughout the treatise, to discriminate between a device in its merely rhetorical use and the same device as a means of achieving sublimity; he finds it necessary, indeed, to redefine amplification, lest it be thought synonymous with the sublime itself and lest, consequently, the art of the sublime be collapsed into an art of rhetorical amplification. Like other modes of achieving sublimity, amplification is only conducive to sublimity, not identical with it; nor is Longinus so incautious as to omit a demonstration of this point. The comparatively brief lacuna which occurs at this place in the text interrupts both the demonstration and the exposition of its significance; but here, for once, the main lines of the discussion are not destroyed. When the text resumes,43 Longinus is discussing, clearly enough, the proprieties of diffuseness (which would be achieved by amplification) and intensity.

So far, in his treatment of megalophues, Longinus has considered the author as contemplating the great subject in order to formulate great conceptions; and, as we have seen, he has shown that the author may attempt either to formulate a conception commensurate with the sublime subject or to select and integrate those characteristics upon which its sublimity depends or to enumerate at large until the multiplicity of conceived detail approximates the real fulness of the thing. Following section xii, however, he suggests two other modes by which greatness of conception may be achieved. First, if the sublime authors, e.g., Homer, Plato, Demosthenes, etc., have attained sublimity by greatness of conception, so that their thoughts were commensurate with great subjects, it follows that, if an author can make his thoughts commensurate with their thoughts, he likewise will achieve greatness of conception; thus, greatness of thought can be attained by the imitation of great authors.44 Longinus is not speaking of the reproduction exclusively of tricks of style; he says explicitly, "Therefore even we, when we are working out a theme which requires lofty speech and greatness of thought" must call to mind the performances of great authors;45 and the analogy of this sort of literary inspiration to the Pythian vapors makes his meaning completely clear; if we are not able to achieve greatness of thought by contemplating the thing itself, we may contemplate instead those authors whose thoughts were stretched to its stature, as "even those not too highly susceptible to the god are possessed by the greatness which was in others."46 And he gives the author touchstones again, formulating them in terms of the fundamental triad of author, work, and audience: in composing, the author is to consider Homer and the great ones as composing in his place, knowing them as he does through the medium of their works; in judging his work, he must regard them as his audience, and, further, he must ask how the ages to come will esteem his composition.47

Second, if we neither contemplate the object directly nor contemplate it through the contemplations of others, we may invent, we may imagine;48 where our knowledge is partial and incomplete, we may piece out what is missing by imagination, and the examples which Longinus uses seem intended to illustrate invention out of whole cloth, as in the case of the sane Euripides imagining madness,49 or of detail only, as in the ride of Phaethon in Iphigenia in Tauris.50 According to Longinus, there is a difference between the application of imagination in poetry and in rhetoric, the latter being limited by what is known to be true and what is thought to be probable. This much done, Longinus remarks that his treatment of the "sublime effects which belong to great thoughts, and which are produced by the greatness of man's soul, and secondarily by imitation or by imagination" has been adequate.

Longinus now51 passes on to a discussion of the Figures, postponing his treatment of passion for reasons which will be indicated later in this essay. As he remarks, there are infinite kinds of Figures; dividing them into Figures of Thought and Figures of Language, he mentions in the former class adjuration (or apostrophe or oath), questions and interrogations, in the latter class, asyndeton, hyperbaton, polyptota (including all departures from the normal usage of case, tense, gender, person, and number), and periphrasis. Figures by themselves, Longinus tells us repeatedly, do not constitute sublimity; thus any merely rhetorical definitions of the Figures are insufficient to indicate their use toward effecting sublimity, since such definitions are only recipes for the construction of the Figures themselves, without consideration of the context of their use; consequently, in his treatment of the Figures, Longinus is careful always to include some statement of the literary circumstances in which they would effect sublimity and of those in which they would not. Adjuration or apostrophe, for example, is an oath, discourse involving a solemn appeal to something sacred to witness that a statement is true or that a contract is binding; the rhetoricians tell us merely to swear by those names which are most sacred; "but," says Longinus, "it is not the mere swearing by a name which is great; place, manner, occasion, purpose are all essential";52 and the rhetoricians have failed in their prescriptions because they have treated these variables of place, manner, occasion, and purpose as constants. Thus, though both Demosthenes and Eupolis swore by Marathon, so that in a sense their oath is the same, the apostrophe of the latter is merely that, whereas the apostrophe of the former is at once an assurance resting upon oaths, a demonstration, an example, a eulogy, and an exhortation.53 His point, of course, is extremely well taken; indeed, any other statement would have been irrelevant or insufficient, since the sources stand related to sublimity as means to end.

While a formula of the constitution of a Figure is necessary therefore, so that the orator may know what it is and hence be able to construct it at will, he must also know what effect it produces; consequently, throughout his treatment of the Figures, Longinus states the effect of each Figure, so that we may know whether it is conducive to the proper end. Questions and interrogations, thus, "reproduce the spontaneity of passion" and give intensity and vehemence and conviction to the discourse, "drawing the hearer off until he thinks that each point in the inquiry has been raised and put into words without preparation, and so it imposes upon him."54

Asyndeton, wherein "the words drop unconnected and are, so to speak, poured forth almost too fast for the speaker himself," gives "the impression of a struggle, where the meaning is at once checked and hurried on."55 Similarly, hyperbaton "is the surest impress of vehement passion"; the hearer fears that a failure of both syntax and logic is imminent, and, since this is a sign of vehement passion, he is persuaded that the discourse is an instance of vehement passion.56 And thus Longinus treats also of the other Figures. The principal determinant throughout is the tendency of the audience to reason from the consequent; and, although Longinus never makes such explicit reference to the tendency as Aristotle (Poetics xxiv), all the instances which he mentions are plainly arguments from signs.

Concerning the choice of words, next, Longinus clearly lays a basis for selection. Certain words are noble and beautiful, while others are inferior;57 a similar distinction, as he remarks particularly in xxxv, may be made among things and also among thoughts. Thus the primary determinant in the choice of words is the necessity of maintaining a correspondence between these hierarchies; and, while the choice of grand words is necessary for noble composition, the words must be accurate as well; and, like Quintilian, he likens the choice of a grand word for a thing of lesser stature to the fastening of a large tragic mask upon a little child.58 An unfortunate lacuna occurs at this place, apparently just as Longinus was about to say that in poetry, however, which like fiction is less bound by probability than rhetoric or history, these restrictions do not always apply. Doubtless he proceeded to treat of the various possible permutations of the central terms of his discussion here; if we take only two elements—words and things—then two principles emerge; since the hierarchies, verbal and real, must correspond and since the effect is to be one of greatness, one must use the grand word as well as the right word, and the choice of diction thus becomes merely a choice of objects of discourse. But this solution of the problem of word choice—one common enough in the history of rhetoric—is too simple for Longinus; it will do as a preliminary consideration, but one must also take into account the element of thought; and since it is possible that a low conception may be entertained of a great thing and conversely, several consequences emerge; in tragedy, for instance, Longinus would have been likely to argue, since the effect is to be one of grandeur, the characters are lofty, and their thoughts must consequently be lofty, even where the object of thought is common or mean; hence, too, their discourse must be lofty—even bombast is admissible in tragedy, he has said earlier, provided it does not degenerate into tasteless rant. On the other hand, vulgar words, as he is remarking when the text resumes,59 may be preferable to ornamental language, may be used with an effect which is not vulgar when sheer accuracy and credibility are concerned.

Longinus' treatment of metaphor, trope, and simile under word choice, unconventional as it is, is consequent upon his careful separation of the sources. Since all grammatical collocations would fall under the Figures, word choice deals with the selection of names for things, thought being an intermediary term: now words either stand for things strictly and literally or they do not, in which case they are either metaphors, paraboles, similes, or hyperboles. The differences obtaining between these (although they are in a sense akin) may be seen by an examination of the schematism which has developed them. On the one hand, Longinus clearly ranks words and things; on the other, within this hierarchy, words must either stand for what they strictly mean, and hence for what is like or different, or not. Hyperbole, thus, results, as he says,60 when words exaggerate the thing in terms either of excess or of defect by likening it to what is more than it or less than it; the other tropes result when, although a comparison is involved, inasmuch as something is likened to what it is not, it is strict, i.e., is not of a greater to a less or of a less to a greater; and the distinctions between these are apparently that metaphor is absolute comparison, inasmuch as the name of the thing is actually substituted, whereas parabolai and eikoes are not, these differing in turn from each other in that the former is in terms of difference, the latter in terms of likeness. Were the differences stated in grammatical terms—that is, in terms of the grammatical particles employed in the case of simile, for example—simile, parabole, and hyperbole would have fallen under the Figures and would have been statable merely as formulas in consequence of this; but to state the problem as one of signification, as here, is to permit the choice of words to depend on the imposition of names and to introduce again the variable factors of place, manner, occasion, and purpose—which again would appear as constants in a merely rhetorical formulation—as determinatives of the choice of diction. And in the problem of word selection, as elsewhere, Longinus is insistent that metaphor, simile, parabole, and hyperbole are always means, never ends; the device must be dependent upon the use, never the use upon the device; to provide mere recipes for the formulation of rhetorical devices, without clear indication of the variable literary circumstances in which they would be appropriate, is, in effect, to constitute them as ends not means, so that the work becomes not a final unity but an aggregation of ends; and since, for Longinus, the use is always statable in terms of the audience—a certain effect of [transport] in the hearers—the unity of a work is properly stated not in terms of the work itself or of exclusively literary formulations but in terms of the unity of effect upon those reading or hearing. Consequently, Longinus remarks that there are no literary regulations as such governing the use of such devices as metaphor;61 the proper determinant is the passion of the author, since whatever numbers and kinds of metaphors would appear appropriate to him in his passion would also appear appropriate to an audience to which that passion has been communicated; and Longinus is scornful, consequently, of the apparent decision of Caecilius that the number of metaphors to be applied to a single object should not exceed two or three.62

The treatment of synthesis,63 finally, offers but little difficulty. In his first mention of this source of sublimity,64 Longinus had remarked that synthesis included all the others; however, in his actual treatment of the source, it appears solely as a topic dealing with the arrangement of words into harmony and rhythm. While at first sight there seems to be a contradiction here, the contradiction is readily resolved from an examination of the contexts of the discussions. Snythesis—the arrangement of words—presupposes thought, passion, the Figures, and the choice of words, and in a mere enumeration of the sources would be stated, therefore, as the consummation of all of them, as inclusive of all of them in the sense that any literary work may be ultimately regarded as a certain arrangement of words. If, on the other hand, one deals with the sources as means, expounding what is proper to each source, then synthesis appears only as the arrangement, rhythmic and harmonic, of words which have already been selected as a consequence of all the other artistic operations.

Longinus' argument concerning the importance of synthesis is a simple analogy; words considered merely as sound and incorporated into harmony and rhythm are to musical tones similarly incorporated as the effect of the former to the effect of the latter; then, if we recall what is superadded to words by their significance and recall also how tremendous is the effect of music, we may gauge adequately the effect of the arrangement of words. Hence, section xl points out that synthesis is the ultimate collocation, in which all the sources meet.

The remainder of the extant treatise is given over, first, to a consideration of how literary works fall short of sublimity65 and, second, to a consideration of the causes of the lack of sublimity among the authors of Longinus' time.66 The first topic need scarcely be discussed; as Longinus remarks, "there is no present need to enumerate by their kinds the means of producing pettiness; when we have once shown what things make writings noble and sublime, it is clear that in most cases their opposites will make them low and uncouth"; and Longinus proceeds to treat them in reverse order to that of the sources of sublimity, going no further, however, than the choice of words. The second consideration enters into the topic importantly; if the times constrain the artist to the point where he cannot operate, then rhetorical tuition is useless; hence the artist must be demonstrated to be a free and independent agent. And, as he shows, in any failure of art it is the artist and not his tine which is at fault, so that art remains a permanent possibility. At this point the extant treatise concludes, with a broken transition to the topic of the passions.

Unfortunate as the loss of the remaining discussion is, it cannot and need not be accepted as a permanent mutilation of the text. Since, as this essay has doubtless made clear, passion is one of the important determinants as well as a source in itself of literary operation, it follows that there must be some specification of the conception of passion if the Peri Hypsous is to appear as an intelligible technical treatise. And further, although we have no part of the promised treatise on the passions, we have in the text ample reference and comment on the subject of the passions from which Longinus' treatment of passion might be reconstructed, in sufficient part to render the technique of Peri Hypsous operable at least, although perhaps not sufficiently to permit a reconstruction of his entire theory of psychology.

Happily we have in section xx a definition of passion; it is a rush and commotion of the soul,67 its contrary, calm, is a rest, a stasis of the soul,68 and, although Longinus explicitly says that "passions are many, nay countless, past the power of man to reckon,"69 so that an attempt to achieve their complete enumeration would clearly be useless, the text nevertheless furnishes us not only with many examples of the passions but with some indication of their causation and determination, their course, their symptoms, and their ordering. Pity, joy, fear, grief, pride, wonder, awe, hate, disgust, love, reverence, inspiration, madness, persuasion, ecstasy, suspicion, anger, indignation, jealousy, patience, shame, laughter, weeping, and envy constitute a partial list, and one more than adequate for our purposes; and Longinus' comments concerning those which are directly mentioned by him make it evident that, first of all, every passion has a cause—a cause which is its object. Since passion is a motion of the soul, then either the soul itself is the cause of motion or something external to the soul; but it is clear from Longinus' statements that something external to the soul is the cause, as peril of fear, safety of confidence, the gods of awe and reverence, the mean and vicious of disgust, etc. And it is clear, further, that passion admits of degree, since Longinus speaks frequently of vehement passion and since such statements constitute an admission of the possibility of degree. Further, it is clear that not every passion has the same object, since Longinus remarks that certain things excite terror, certain things disgust, and that not every object excites passion in the same degree, since he says also that one thing may be more terrible than another. It follows, therefore, that the object is by nature determinative both of the kind and of the degree of the passion which it excites. Hence, as he says, passions are infinite in number, since the objects are causative of unique effects. His remark concerning laughter, that "it is a passion, a passion which has its root in pleasure,"70 provides the determination of the degree of passion; for, if pleasure is a root of passion, then pain must be a root also; and it follows from what has been discovered so far that every object is capable of inducing passion in so far as it is capable of inducing a motion of the soul attended either by pleasure or by pain and that the degree of passion which it induces would be proportional to the amount of attendant pain or pleasure. It would not be difficult, once this much is known, to construct definitions of at least the more familiar emotions, since the extant text provides ample illustration of Longinus' method of framing definitions; but perhaps this will be unnecessary if we remark that each such definition would state that the passion in question is an agitation of the soul, accompanied by pleasure or pain, and slight or great in proportion to that pleasure or pain, attended by such and such symptoms, the moving cause being something which in such and such a fashion is capable of inflicting pain or inducing pleasure.

Further, Longinus clearly ranks objects as high, common, or low; now, since it is possible that any object is capable of inducing passion and since passion is determined in kind and degree by the object, it follows that passions themselves must be capable of similar classification to that of objects; hence as high, common, or low; and this is borne out by his statement in section viii that wretchedness, annoyance, and fear are passions of a mean order. They are such because they cannot properly be caused by the highest objects; what is itself good in the highest degree must naturally cause, in the highest degree, those passions which are highest; for example, love, reverence, and awe are passions which are properly excited in us to the highest degree by the gods; but disgust, pity, or annoyance they could not properly cause.

It is clear, furthermore, that for Longinus the soul has both an active and a passive principle, since the soul is capable of thought and since thought cannot here be passion, for if it were passion, it could not be reckoned as a distinct source of sublimity. And this is clear also from his statement that men have the power to be good and to think elevated thoughts;71 for this would be impossible if the soul were passive only, and, indeed, it would be impossible for the soul to initiate any action whatsoever; hence, on the same grounds, an active principle of the soul is implied by the very possibility of an art of anything. If, then, there is this active principle, then either it governs the passive, or the passive governs it, or they govern reciprocally, or both are ruled together by some other thing. But this last is impossible; for if the active is governed by something further, there is no active principle; but we have seen that there is. Now passion can be known to be unseasonable or excessive or defective, while thought can be known to be false; and in whatever principle the criterion rests there must also be governance; but passion cannot know anything. It follows, then, that the active principle must be the ruling principle. Hence reason must rule appetite and passion, and, when it so rules with all propriety, virtue results. But in such cases as those in which passion and appetite gain the upper hand and either become dislocated from their proper objects or become excessive or defective, in these vice or madness must result.

The gods are passionless;72 heroes are distinguished from common men in that they suffer a passion different either in kind or in degree from that which common men undergo, for the heroic passions have higher objects; thus the anger of Ajax arises from no common cause and exhibits itself in no common fashion, and similarly the fear of an Ajax is not of death but of a death which is unheroic.73 Sublimity of passion, then, must be of this heroic order; but its evocation is ultimately dependent upon thought, noble passion resulting where thought itself is noble, and ignoble passion where thought is mean. The noble mind, if not passionless like the divine, is at least free of the meaner passions because it is averted from the objects which call these forth.

So much for the reconstruction of Longinus' theory of the passions; it remains to observe the consequences of such a theory for the Longinian art of the sublime. The method would now appear to be perfect and complete. Certain things are by nature sublime; by nature man is capable of recognizing them as sublime and of loving them with an eternal and invincible love, for nature determined man to be no low and ignoble animal; admitted into the universe in part as spectator, in part as participant, and driven by his love into rivalry and competition with the supremacy of the marvelous, the great, and the beautiful, he fulfils the function which these in a manner appoint him; and, although human understanding is limited and wonder results when marvels surpass human thought, in a sense also the mind grows beyond its ordinary bounds, so that "for the speculation and thought which are within the scope of human endeavor, not all the universe is sufficient."74 The nobility of man's thought, then, finds its warrant in these sublimities, and thought itself is the warrant of all else; for it determines passion, and thought and passion together, in literary endeavor, determine the use of all literary devices and guarantee their success.

Consequently, the artist must himself be sublime in soul if he is to reflect the sublime; if he is led by the love of pleasure or the love of money, he becomes little and ignoble. Like a corrupted judge he mistakes his own interest for what is good and noble, he admires his mortal parts and neglects to improve the immortal, and he becomes eventually the prisoner of his passions.75 And the ignoble man, the slave, cannot produce what is admirable; "the true Orator must have no low ungenerous spirit, for it is not possible that those who think small thoughts fit for slaves, and practise them in all their daily life, should put out anything to deserve wonder and immortality."76 But "great words issue, and it cannot be otherwise, from those whose thoughts are weighty";77 and literary greatness is to be estimated not by mere freedom from fault but by the greatness of the spirit reflected in the words as in a mirror. Art thus in a sense is a double discipline, being both moral and aesthetic; but its literary function is ultimately only to provide some suitable medium which the spirit of the writer transcends and illuminates. So the spirit of the writer be sublime and the mirror of words present an adequate image, hearers who are properly prepared cannot fail to be stirred, for words carry "the passion which is present to the speaker into the souls of the bystanders, bringing them into partnership with himself';78 and the admiration of men for what is truly great is "as it were, a law of nature," failing only when men have sunk beneath their natural state or have not reached their proper development.79

The topic of the passions is not treated with the other sources because the passions are not, like them, open to voluntary acquisition; they are per se passive movements of the soul, hence cannot be initiated by the soul itself; but in the properly controlled spirit they are mastered by reason; and it is only then that, moving among higher objects which contemplation has discovered and provided, they form an important factor in sublimity. Passion alone, Longinus tells us, is not enough to effect sublimity, for not all passion is sublime; indeed, the soul wherein passion reigns deteriorates from its nobility. But, although reason must master passion for sublimity to obtain, the acquisition of that mastery is not an aesthetic, but an ethical, problem; there is no skill of the passions; and in so far as there are quasi-literary means for their control, the means must be found in elevated thought.

It should appear from this discussion that the term "sublimity" can scarcely be taken as referring to a mere elevation of diction, for to take it in this sense is to regard a literary work as a mere arrangement of words and to collapse all the sources of sublimity into those which are merely verbal, and perhaps all of these, even, into synthesis alone. The treatise of Longinus affords every evidence that he sought to avoid such a reduction and that hence the word should not be taken in its merely stylistic sense but should receive its definition in terms of that communication of nobility which is made possible by the perfection of the human soul and of art, and which receives its answer in the wonder and admiration of all men.


1 [It is intended to print from time to time in Modern philology a series of papers dealing, from fresh points of view, with the history of the basic disciplines which have influenced literary study in modern times. The present paper is in some sense a sequel to the essay on "Literary criticism and the concept of imitation in antiquity," by Richard McKeon, which appeared in August, 1936 (XXXIV, 1-35); it will be followed, in an early number, by a similar reappraisal of Scaliger.—EDITOR.]

2Studies in poetry and criticism (London, 1905).

3Literary criticism in antiquity (Cambridge, 1934), II, 210 ff.

4 George Saintsbury, A history of criticism and literary taste in Europe (New York, 1902), 1, 159, 161-62.

5 Mr. Atkins' explication seems to me to be chiefly of this sort.

6 Sec. ii. For this essay I have chiefly used the text and Latin translation of Benjamin Weiske (Leipzig, 1809) and the text and English translation of W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge, 1899). Most of the translated phrases which occur in the essay have been taken, however, from the translation of A. 0. Prickard (Oxford, 1926). Since this essay does not depend upon genetic questions, such as that of the authorship of the treatise. I have chosen to refer to the author simply as "Longinus," whatever his actual name may have been.

7 i. 3-4.

8 ii.

9 ii. 4.

10 ix. 2.

11 iii.

12 v.

13 vi.

14 vii. 2.


16 vii. 4.

17 viii. 1.




21History of criticism, 1, 161-62.

22 viii. 2-3.

23 viii. 4.

24 ix. 2.

25 ix. 3.

26Exp. Alex. ii. 25. 2.

27 ix. 1.

28 E.g., xvii. 3; xxxix. 3.

29 Viii-ix.

30 Viii. 1.

31 xvii. 1.

32 See, e.g., x. 4, 5, 6; xvi. 2-3.

33 xxxix. 3.

34 ix. 4-5.

35 ix. 7.

36 ix. 5, 9.

37History of criticism, 1, 163.

38 ix. 13.

39 x. 6.

40 x. 1-3.

41 X. 4.

42 x. 5.

43 xii. 3.

44 xiii. 2.

45 xiv. 1.

46 xiii. 2.

47 xiv.

48 xv.

49 xv. 2-3.

50 xv. 4.

51 xvi.

52 xvi. 3.


54 xviii

55 xix.

56 xxii.

57 xxx.

58 Cf. Quintilian vi. i. 36.

59 xxxi.

60 xxxviii. 6.

61 xxxii. 4.

62 xxxii. 8.

63 xxxix.

64 viii.

65 xli-xliii.

66 xliv.

67 xx. 2.



70 xxxviii. 6.

71 xliv.

72 ix. 8.

73 ix. 10.

74 xxxv. 3.

75 xliv. 5.

76 ix. 3.


78 xxxix. 3.

79 xxxv.

Paul H. Fry (essay date 1983)

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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 distinctionse.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 distinguish even between his own five "causes" of the sublime, the two that are inborn (the power of forming great thoughts and the ability to feel passion) and the three that can be learned (use of figures, use of diction, and word order). It is imprecision of this sort that augurs poorly, in Wimsatt and Brooks's Short History, for the future of author-oriented criticism.1 As far as Longinus is concerned, according to Wimsatt, a verbal work is only an accidental spark of contact between two souls, like a piece of loose wiring.

Elder Olson agrees with this last view, in effect, but he feels that the spark is a happy occasion. As he puts it, the Longinian sublime is "the communication of nobility."2 Apart from this point, Olson's view of Longinus is almost entirely in disagreement with Wimsatt's. He tries to make Longinus a kind of Aristotle, with the result that in his hands On the Sublime becomes so coherent that even the contents of the massive lacunae can be inferred.3 Olson neatly determines that the "great thoughts" are the province of the author, the strong passions belong to the audience, and the three rhetorical categories refer the work to its own composition, to the author's choice of words, and to the affective quality of the words as sounds, respectively.

I think it inadvisable to attempt the rehabilitation of an obviously intuitive writer by stressing the well-ordered complexity of his ideas. Olson saw something he liked in Longinus but had to distort his author's way of proceeding enormously in order to bring it out. Wimsatt saw nothing he liked, but he saw the way Longinus's mind worked very clearly. He saw that Longinus is always talking about the same thing no matter how various the headings he devises may seem. I should like to make use of Olson's sympathy and Wimsatt's insight in order to show that the tendency of Longinus to slide from category to category and to leave large areas of overlap between his terms is in fact a highly desirable approach to theory, and one that is preferable to the formalism of Aristotle.

As theorists, both Olson and Wimsatt are primarily concerned, in their different ways, with structure: Olson to establish generic structures within which works can be identified, Wimsatt to define structure as an intrinsic quality of the works themselves.4 This common concern brings both of them, but especially Olson, closer to Aristotle than to Longinus. Longinus takes a Chicagoan view of the accidental or intermediary function of language, but he takes a decidedly anti-Chicagoan, agnostic view of the conceptual structures, if there are any, that exist apart from words. As Wimsatt points out unsympathetically, text and soul seem to be analogous in Longinus;5 neither has any definite shape or identity because each tends so easily to merge with other texts and other souls. Here too Longinus can be shown, however, to have taken a wise course. For him the question that has plagued Aristotle and his descendants never arises, the question as to whether structures are extrinsic or intrinsic to embodied works. The main question for Longinus is whether the knowledge that passes through discourse is finally to be understood in structural terms at all.

I do not wish to speculate, here or later, about the degree to which the argument of Longinus as I will interpret it is self-conscious, or cognizant of the implications that I will find in it. The Peri Hupsous is a series of fragments written by an unknown author; I will not deny that I take advantage of the vagueness that both characterizes and surrounds this work in order to build a poetics out of its hints and obliquities that can preside over the rest of this book. I will say, though, that I have paid more attention to the continuity of detail in the text than any commentator before me, and that I have not ignored or deliberately slanted any of it. To summarize what follows, then: I will concentrate on Wimsatt's observation that the difference between text and soul is very slight in Longinus. His hupsos, which means "height," or, in context, "elevated language," must be understood both as elevation and as language, difficult as it is to do so. His thinking can be viewed in two different but closely related ways. Either it is a theory of the interaction of consciousness with a phenomental world that is perceived almost as another consciousness, or else it is a theory of the fluidity with which utterances can move from one consciousness to another. The quality that gets transmitted can be understood either as language or as spirit but it cannot be divided into language and spirit, language and thought, or language and reference. Once these distinctions are set aside, it will become apparent that it is much the same, though never wholly the same, whether one speaks of nature or art, author or audience; or whether one speaks—to return to the distinction that emerged at the end of the last chapter—of unconsciously or consciously imposed form.6 Thus I will show Longinus to have accommodated, without by any means cathartically "resolving," the difficulty concerning the place and function of form that disturbs the argument of the Poetics.


In comparing Longinus and Aristotle it would be most appropriate, perhaps, to align the rhetoric handbook called Peri Hupsous with Aristotle's Rhetoric, especially because in the Rhetoric Aristotle allows more vividness and energy to the oratorical performer (1413b-14a) than he allows to the players in the Poetics. Speechmaking in the Rhetoric requires pathos and spectacle before all things, whereas dramatic imitation uses these aids as sparingly as possible. However, although in some ways the Rhetoric resembles the treatise of Longinus more closely than the Poetics does, the Peri Hupsous itself can be as readily considered a poetics as a rhetoric. Longinus maintains no distinction between modes of utterance, at least not in a systematic way. At the outset he speaks of his topic as a special quality that belongs to "the very greatest poets and prose writers."7 On two occasions later he does discriminate between poetry and prose (15.8, 30.2), but at these moments of greater specificity he has evidently remembered suddenly that he is supposed to be a rhetor—which would imply, of course, that oratory must be a special discipline.8 If it be granted, though, that the Peri Hupsous is both a rhetoric and a poetics, in this respect being yet another reflection of Longinus's failure, or unwillingness, to make distinctions, then the Poetics will not appear to be an inappropriate text for comparison after all.

Longinus intermittently discusses tragedy. He twice mentions Oedipus the King, once apparently to concur with Aristotle that it is supreme among tragedies (33.5) and once again to quote it, to quote as an instance of the sublime a central passage of the sort that Aristotle never considers:

   Weddings, weddings,
You bred me and again released my seed,
Made fathers, brothers, children, blood of kin,
Brides, wives, mothers—all
The deeds most horrid ever seen in men.
[23.3; trans. Russell]

Longinus cites this passage as an example of troping singular objects with plural endings. That is what it is; it stresses the multiplicity of horrors that befall Oedipus as if to remind Aristotle that misfortunes rarely come singly: they are not "one." There is nothing in Longinus about tragic structure,9 but still, on the strength of this passage alone, he inspires confidence in his ability to get at what is tragic in general, irrespective of what may be tragic in genre. In Aristotle, art, which is a movement external to the thing moved, traces a curve of order; in Longinus, as his plunge into the midst of the Oedipus would signify, "disorder goes with emotion, which is a disturbance and movement of the mind" (20.2; ataxia de to pathos, epei phora psuches kai sunkinesis estin). If the mind moves at all, if it transports or is transported, its movement is disordered and traces a disorder.

Longinus is not quite the rhapsodist that his cooler readers have made him out to be but he certainly lacks the Peripatetic neutrality of voice. His own consciousness of this difference is plain in his one citation of Aristotle, whom he makes to say, with Theophrastus, "that there are ways of softening bold metaphors—namely by saying 'as if, … Apology, they say, is a remedy for audacity." "I accept this doctrine," Longinus continues, "but …" (32.3).10 No one can either be or give the impression of being inspired who thus says "as if." Si vis meflere: he who expresses emotion must not just move but be, if not always witlessly possessed, at least greatly moved in his turn. Thus in moments of emotion the writer has "no chance to delay," as the onrush of what he says will have "outstripped its creator" (27.2, 1). Although Longinus is capable of sarcasm concerning the affectation of madness (see 15.8), this is not because madness or a state like it is extravagant but rather because its affectation in the wrong place is not extravagant. It is one form, "the pseudo-bacchanalian" form, of the false sublime (3.5). To be transported we must first have our feet on the ground; we cannot be duly and unflaggingly inspired, after the perfunctory suggestion of Aristotle, "by a strain of madness" (ch. 17).

Although he willingly turns to the tragic literature of the Attic period for his examples of the sublime, Longinus appears to have little use for "the trappings of the stage" (7.1).11 His distaste for the excitements of performance seems even more extreme than Aristotle's and may at first confirm one's fear that the "sublime" (as Boileau translated hupsos, following Latin translations) will prove to be nothing but a fancy word for sublimation. Here, ostensibly, is the closest agreement between Longinus and the Poetics, to the effect, namely, that characterization, or the mere portrayal of "manners" (ethe), is inferior to, is indeed inessential to, the highest kind of expression. Narratives of manners, says Longinus, are the pastimes of old age: In the Odyssey the dotard Homer returns to the mere imitation of character which, as Aristotle had said, is also natural to childhood. (Whatever one may think of this judgment of the Odyssey, one should notice that at least it safeguards Longinus from emulating Aristotle's attempt to isolate a single course of action in that poem.)

For Longinus, as for Plato, greatness is steadfast, perhaps even inflexible; it eludes the many-talented Hyperides, for example, and appears instead in Demosthenes, who "has no sense of character" (34.3). Character in Longinus cannot be as freely varied as it is even in Aristotle. Slaves and women are permitted to speak by Aristotle as long as they speak in character, whereas in Longinus the drunkards of Herodotus (one who could arguably be released, as a historian, from the precept of poetic heightening) are censured for having spoken at all, even though, or rather because, they spoke in character (4.6-7). Longinus evidently feels, with Plato, that an ignoble taste for ventriloquism estranges the soul from the singleness of purpose it should cultivate. Even though Longinus easily violates this viewpoint in both taste and practice, it remains the most rigid, least thoughtfully integrated, and, I would say, least original feature of his thinking. That this view of character is what unfortunately leads to the facile indictment of his contemporaries in the last chapter is a disquieting aspect of Longinus's approach to art. It authorizes the Superman at certain moments; but in general, as I will try to show later, the sublime threatens more than it consoles autocracy of all kinds.

Not only is Longinus uninterested in the symmetries of dialogue and conflict that are made available by the imitation of character, but he also disdains, again in company with Plato, the group of emotions that carries drama forward. "Emotions, such as pity, grief, and fear" (8.2), he says, are "divorced from sublimity and [have] a low effect." These are just the emotions that determine the tragic structure in Aristotle. Again, though, this judgment is probably connected with Longinus's dislike of the ventriloquistic part of dramatic composition. His "fear" (phobos, as in Aristotle) refers only to cowardice, for example the cowardice, one may conjecture, of the suppliant Lykaon in the Iliad, which draws forth the famous response of Achilles: "Come friend, face your death, you too" (book 21; trans. Fitzgerald). But the fear involved in this exchange is not only dramatic; it is not only Lykaon's fear. There is fear for any listener in the reply of Achilles, and fear even for Achilles himself, perhaps, in having come to fathom the apathy of his own clearsightedness.12 In a nondramatic setting, where emotions like fear can become ontologically charged rather than merely pragmatic, they could probably be restored, with the approval of Longinus, to the circle of emotions "without number" (22.1) that do readily supplement the sublime. But in rejecting pity and fear Longinus still does tellingly reverse the judgment of Aristotle. "In ordinary life," writes Longinus, "nothing is truly great which it is great to despise: wealth, honour, reputation, absolute power" (7.1). These are the "trappings" of status upon which the interest of the drama, considered as a representation of society, must solely depend. For a king who is not allowed to have developed a real personality, these possessions make up the whole of what is lost in the moment of tragic reversal.

As Longinus almost certainly did not know the Poetics, it is remarkable how precisely he inverted Aristotle's values.13 But to what end? Would it not seem again that Longinus, even more than Aristotle, is bent on doing away with the last contingencies of human life in criticism? I would say decidedly not. It is most important to qualify and delimit his distaste for the material things that have enslaved his sottish contemporaries and that the dramatization of despotism relies upon. Longinus describes the domestic atmosphere of the Odyssey, to take up a case in point, as a "realistic" one (9.15); that is, it is made up of biologoumena, the stuff of daily life that every theory of criticism until 1800 or thereabouts may be said to have banished from the precincts of all but the lowest genres. Now, this stuff cannot be what is missing in Longinus's earlier complaint that in the Odyssey "the mythical element [muthikon] predominates over the realistic [praktikon]" (9.14). Admittedly, it is not the details of reality but the Aristotelian "probable" that is in question here, a factor that I took to be purely intellectual in the last chapter. But in the case of Longinus there is, in the praktikos, a bias toward actual experience.

It is difficult to agree with Longinus that myth outweighs reality in the Odyssey. Instead we would want to say that the poem quite amazingly holds the mythical and the realistic in balance. The all-too-human gullibility of Polyphemus and the fireside knitting of Calypso are "natural" (for that is perhaps a better word than "realistic") whereas the massacre of the female domestics, on the other hand, is savage on a scale that is plausible only in myth. Perhaps, though, for Longinus, this interdependence of the real and the fantastic is just the problem. Homer's realism, he may feel, is not in good faith because it is not made interesting for itself or its determination of the action but only for its meretricious connection with the mood of folktale. If this is what Longinus means, it will not redeem his judgment of the Odyssey, but it will provide us with some reassurance that, for him, reality is indeed the basis of the sublime. And this basis is crucial, as I shall argue everywhere in the present book; without it the sublime is merely the quaint remnant from the rhetoric of ahistorical aestheticism that its critics suppose it to be. Longinus does not care for moonshine; he dislikes the fabulous in Homer because one cannot discover it either in "real life" (3.2) or in any religion that truly inspires awe, like that of "the lawgiver of the Jews"—"no ordinary man" (9.9), says Longinus, but certainly, he must suppose, a real one.


The sublime is "grounded," then. There is a necessary connection between sublimity and the earth, or more necessary in any case than the connection between art and nature in Aristotle. The Longinian sublime is also more closely connected with the earth than the Kantian sublime, which is the opposite of the beautiful precisely in not being given but only implied as an absence by the natural world. What makes this connection possible in Longinus is the absence of radical dualism from his thinking. The effect of his penchant for sliding categories is to promote mergers.14 There are mergers between genres, as we have seen, and there is also the merger of gods and men. This occurs in a passage that is mildly critical of Homer for having promoted the merger himself, but I think that too much has been made of Longinus's Platonic piety in this instance.15 Homer exalts even while he demeans: In the Iliad he has made "the men of the Trojan war gods, and the gods men" (6.7). It is quite a different matter to have blended superstition and folkways in the Odyssey; in the Iliad the stakes of existence, and its conditions, are fought for at the height of human potential, which is figured forth in the attacks of Diomedes and Achilles on the gods and in the appearance of the unarmed Achilles, under the aegis of Athena, that fells twelve Trojans with heart failure. This height (hupsos) of human strength merges in turn with the voice of the poet, whose Iliad was composed "at the height of his powers" and at a "consistent level of elevation" (9.13).

It is this last sort of fusion, in which the person inspired takes on the qualities of what inspired him, that is most often noted both by sympathetic and by hostile readers of Longinus. The commentator in turn is inspired. The sublime, understood as the "echo of a noble mind" (9.2), is transmitted from the text to the voice of its author to the voice of the commentator, who can stand, as a result, in the place of the author: "Filled with joy and pride, we come to believe we have created what we have only heard" (7.2). As it is effected rhetorically by Longinus, this identification may remind one of the fallacy of imitative form, with the important proviso that it is not formal. Thanks to the looseness of his categories, Longinus can subordinate the structure even of his own insights to the continuousness of experience. He does not deliberately constitute himself, or so he would imply, as one who is inspired—as the great sublime he draws. We are conscious of his rhetoric not as the imposition of a pattern but as a movement;16 first there is the interjection into his own text of some fragment, which is often broken up still further by misquotation; then Longinus reminds us of the force of heroism—or divinity—that is mirrored in authorship; and finally there comes an onnish of commentary, tumbling out, confused, in every way the record of experience, not of reflection (see 9.6-7, 10.3). The sublime in the theory and practice of Longinus is not infinite, though it may intimate boundlessness; it is always an experience in time, and thus restores to reading what formalization, which is necessarily spatial, has removed.

I have made no proper distinction, so far, between intention and accomplishment. I have spoken of "false" madness as though sincere madness were easy—and desirable—to single out, and then again I have spoken of sublimity and "rhetoric" in the style of Longinus as though there were no difference between them, or as though the difference did not matter. It does matter, but perhaps only when it is considered as success or failure in the representation of perceptiveness. All the least futile discussions of sincerity, from Johnson on Lycidas to Richards on The Chinese Classics to Lionel Trilling on Jane Austen, have touched only lightly on the question of hypocrisy and stressed, instead, a correlation that can be demonstrated, at least in part, between the occasion of an utterance and its manner. Thus in Longinus insincere madness is "untimely … emotion where none is in place" (3.5). If madness is appropriate to an occasion, however, one is then free to affect it in all sanity. If the real Erinyes should attack an orator where he stands as though he were Orestes, then even if he is calm at heart he may resort hypocritically to the figure called phantasia, or "visualization," which is said to betoken madness.

There is no necessary connection, therefore, between sincerity—considered as spontaneity—and the sublime. Even the noble Demosthenes could scarcely stand trial for sincerity in Longinus's reading of his rhetorical questions: "Emotion carries us away more easily when it seems to be generated by the occasion rather than deliberately assumed by the speaker.… The figure of question and answer arrests the hearer and cheats him into believing that all the points made were raised and are being put into words on the spur of the moment" (18.2). On the other hand, however—and this is a crucial distinction—at the affective end of the sublime experience sincerity is essential. For the reader or commentator it is not enough even to be persuaded, "for persuasion on the whole is something we can control" (1.4). If we are free to disregard the sublime, it is not the sublime. With respect not to one's reading but to one's reader, however, as the chain adds links, one is again freed, having taken the place of the author, to dissemble enthusiasm if need be.17

The very complexity of this issue, which is scarcely allowed to arise in the Poetics, must show that in Longinus there is no easy way to subsume art in nature or nature in art. There remains evidence in his own text, instead, of the conflict between the two which is just the conflict between design and compulsion that I discussed earlier. One reason why no clear relation can be established between art and nature is that for Longinus they are not easy to distinguish. He vacillates in his treatment of them but his vacillation is rigorous, I think, rather than weak-minded. For him the issue is at bottom a moral one, touching as it does on the question whether "we can develop our nature to some degree of greatness" (1.1)—the question, in other words, whether we can improve our nature by art. As a teacher justifying his own existence, he must part company with the widespread opinion, dating from Pindar, that greatness is solely "a natural product" (2.1), but he plainly feels that he must also stop short of the Sophists' notion that there are rules for all things given that all things are unknowable and must therefore be devised by artifice as need arises. The former view is typically that of the poets and the latter that of the rhetors, and Longinus, as usual, takes his stand between them.

Although his eventual assignment of two natural and three artificial causes to the sublime suggests that nature and art are fully separable, the discussion that leads up to this list is more complicated and—apparently—more confused. Of the "three points" (2.2) he makes to refute the contention that genius is artless, the second anticipates the later headings and the third is mostly cliche, but the first is significant: "Though nature is on the whole a law unto herself in matters of emotion and elevation, she is not a random force and does not work altogether without method." If this is so, nature is partly art and can receive from art, in that case, only a supplement of itself. The last sentence of the next paragraph (2.3) again undermines the standard contrast, this time not by merger but by dialectic: "The very fact that some things in literature depend on nature alone can itself be learned only from art." Whether by "art" here is meant criticism, or the reflective judgment, or the recognition of having failed to achieve nature by artificial means, is not wholly clear. What is clear, though, is that the sentence is reversible: "Art" and "nature" could change places, with "nature" now meaning "experience."18 This possible reversal would point to an exactly complementary moment in the learning process, and would suggest, in its very exactness, that nature and art are not casual aids to each other but two facets of an indivisible dynamic. The exemplary Demosthenes later illustrates this dyad more than once, showing, for example, that "sobriety is needed even under the influence of inspiration" (16.4).

A more interesting later outgrowth of this interaction of categories occurs near the end of Longinus's by and large conventional contrast between genius and mediocrity: "We may say that accuracy is admired in art and grandeur in nature, and it is by nature that man is endowed with the power of speech" (36.3). Thus, language belongs to man's natural course of development and is not an art implanted in man by fiat. The notion that man differs from the animals in possessing inborn art, the chief sign of which is his conversion of random sounds into the articulate sounds of speech, was perhaps the most crucial presupposition of Aristotle's formalism in the Poetics. Longinus's view is neither that art complements nature nor that it is nature but simply that it comes to us along with the rest of our inheritance. If this is so, art cannot be an activity we perform but must be instead an activity that takes place in us—like nature. Longinus cannot quite say, then, with the formalist tradition from Aristotle to the present, that art, "in cooperation with the conscious will" (Coleridge), defends the fortress of the self against the siege of nature. He appears to suggest, rather, that both art and nature come as strangers to hold their combat in a remote corner of what at first we may not even recognize as the self: "Do you not admire the way in which [Sappho] brings everything together—mind and body, hearing and tongue, eyes and skin? She seems to have lost them all, and to be looking for them as though they were external to her" (10.3). This difficult response to the so-called "Ode to Anactoria" is drawn forth in particular from Sappho's "My tongue is broken, a subtle fire runs under my skin."19


The "broken tongue" of Sappho could be an emblem of the Longinian sublime. Her alienation from herself resembles the sudden switch to apostrophe whereby Demosthenes "divides a single thought between two persons in his passion" (27.3) and thus parodies the course of the sublime from transmitter to receiver: "this shameless monster, who—you vile wretch!" Longinus says that Demosthenes is touched by genius because, unlike Hyperides, he "lacks fluency" (34.3). But it is not only this loose application of Sappho's trope that merits attention. There is also the more precise metaphor in which the broken tongue represents the lapse into incoherence, the disarticulation of syntax or "semiotic discontinuity," as Thomas Weiskel has called it, that is caused by certain figures of speech.20Polyptoton, the term that designates all repetitions of a word in different inflections, is also the general term that includes Demosthenes' change of person, and it is one of the figures that Longinus stresses most.

The sublime figures and tropes, which I shall now survey, are not quite sublime in themselves any more than art is quite nature, although, as we have seen, neither of these paired sets of terms constitutes a clear dichotomy. Just as Sappho's broken tongue is not itself her speech—neither her allegedly inarticulate stammerings nor the well-formed "sapphics" that record them—so in turn speech itself is not the sublime.21 If the sublime were indeed a property of words themselves, it could be quantified with respect to their combinations. It might prove, for example, to be some "principle of equivalence" like that of Jakobson and would in any case certainly appear as a function of structure. In other words it would be part of the matrix of continuous, orderly composition by which, according to Longinus, the orator effects "persuasion." But "persuasion" in Longinus is just the opposite of "transport," which is caused by the sublime (1.4). Persuasion is an affect that we are free to resist. It arises from the "ability to order and arrange material" and takes its effect, such as it is, "when we see the whole context" (1.4). The sublime, on the other hand, is what we cannot resist. It is not surprising that we can stand aloof from persuasion. It is more surprising that we can be persuaded at all, except by the most translucent of styles, because carefully organized discourse forms a latticework that seems to resist us; it proclaims its autonomy far more than its authority. In recognition of these characteristics, the New Criticism affirms the autonomy of the work of art. The sublime, on the other hand, as Longinus's descriptive terms for it will show, is that which forces its way through an opening it has widened in the latticework of persuasion. It has no other way of appearing; as Kant also showed, its occasion is natural, but it cannot appear in or through nature without a prior appeal to a formulation of the mind—an inner discourse—that arises in response to nature. Thus it is not a quality of words, but it does depend on their close proximity.

Just so in criticism, I would venture to add, the sublime will not appear in formal discussion as such, but it cannot appear without the context of a formal discussion. The sublime is "what is left to the imagination"; it is not the words in the text or a paraphrase of them but it is still prompted by them. Where the text has left words out or transposed or delayed them, the imagination must supply them. I shall try to demonstrate that this familiar exercise of multiple choice has all the attributes that Longinus and his successors call sublime. Far from cloaking itself in a nimbus of ineffability, the sublime is closely related to interpretation itself. "It is only through inevitable omissions," writes Wolfgang Iser, "that a story gains its dynamism."22 These omissions are the reader's share. The sublime (to continue to call it that for the time being) is potential in any interpretation that does not suppose that it can either leave a text as it found it or else exhaust it by assigning it a form. The sublime that is closest to interpretation responds to a text by augmenting it. What Longinus calls auxesis, or "amplification," is not the sublime, he says, because, like persuasion, it is determined finally by quantity; but it is still close to the sublime, close enough to call for a fine discrimination. "Sublimity depends on elevation, whereas amplification involves extension; sublimity exists often in a single thought, amplification cannot exist without a certain … superfluity" (12.1).

Amplification, about which there will be more to say in another place, is not a "broken" figure. One of the few exceptions to the criterion of fragmentation in Longinus's survey of figures, it remains close to the sublime because it overloads "persuasive" composition as much as the sublime disrupts it. A more typical figure that generates the sublime is asyndeton, which presents words or phrases "without connection" (19.1). There is nothing deliberative or slow, nothing spondaic, as it were, in the wide spacing of this figure; rather it rushes by in order to get beyond an impasse which is passed along, in the process, to the reader's effort of reconstruction: "Disconnected and yet hurried phrases convey the impression of an agitation which obstructs the reader and drives him on. Such is the effect of Homer's asyndeta" (ibid.). The passage Longinus has quoted just before this observation marks a crisis of speech in the Odyssey which is also a crisis for the status of speech as a means of persuasion. The breathless Eurylochus returns to tell Odysseus that Circe has turned their comrades into "squealing," inarticulate swine, "though [their] minds were still unchanged" (book 10; trans. Fitzgerald). Panic-stricken as he is, Eurylochus is unable to imitate in his asyndetic speech the well-knit construction of what he saw: "We went as you told us, noble Odysseus, up the woods, / We saw a beautiful palace built in the glades" (ibid.; trans. Russell, 19.2). As befits its ambiguity for men, Circe's palace is both persuasive and sublime, a contexture in a "glade" or gap; but in its outward structure it is like the figure that constrasts with asyndeton in Longinus, polysyndeton, which creates "smoothness by conjunctions" between phrases (21.2) and thus undermines the "harsh character of the emotion" (21.1) one would find in the same phrases written without conjunctions.

Another figure conducive to the sublime is hyperbaton, which is an arrangement of words that differs from the "normal sequence" (22.1). This figure creates gaps not in syntax but in expectation, whether by delay or by prematurity. From the standpoint of the author, however, hyperbaton is fully unified, not in the arrangement of its parts but with respect to the ground of thought or feeling from which it arises. More than any other figure, hyperbaton implies spontaneity and brings the problematic terms art and nature into their closest possible conjunction: "Hyperbaton is the means by which … imitation approaches the effect of nature" (22.1). Again, ars est celare artem. Yet, working under this concealment, the art of hyperbaton actually disrupts the nature it pretends to resemble: Thucydides and Demosthenes "show ingenuity in separating by transpositions even things which are by nature completely unified and indivisible" (22.3). Thus it is not the figure of speech itself that the sublime thunderbolt gaps (as one gaps a sparkplug) but rather the natural ground of the figure. Hyperbaton opens abysses, vacancies. If we recall the full play of the word arthra in Aristotle, which according to usage means both the presence and the absence of jointure, we may also grasp the significance for Longinus not only of Sappho's broken tongue but also of the antifeminist trope, quoted from Plato's Timaeus, that labels "the seat of the desires 'the woman's quarters"' (32.5). The sublime thus can be further understood as a condition of desire, an intimation of presence transmitted not only through a figural rift but also through a "cleft in the ground" (13.2; the phrase appears in an important passage that will occupy us below).

The topics of Longinus's quotations nearly always reflect, in some way, the rhetorical devices they are chosen to illustrate.23 This is to some extent a consequence of the "representative" form that Pope was inspired—partly by Longinus—to illustrate in his Essay on Criticism. But in the case of Longinus the pattern of representative form is so continuous that it seems, irrespective of purpose, to be a necessity of expression. Evidently Longinus is drawn as much to a certain view of nature as to a certain group of tropes and figures. As hyperbaton reveals, nature itself is noble, impassioned, and broken. We noticed before that Longinus, unlike Aristotle, stresses the plurality of Oedipus's misfortunes; he assumes that the heart of tragic experience is the moment of dismemberment, not resolution, and he expects that that moment will be represented in language that risks inarticulateness. The language that prepares for tragedy's bloody sowing will likewise be scattered abroad; hyperbaton, asyndeton, and polyptoton are all present in the passage about careening flight that Longinus quotes from Euripides' lost Phaethon:

"Steer towards the seven Pleiads."
The boy listened so far, then seized the reins,
Whipped up the winged team, and let them
To heaven's expanse they flew.
His father rode behind on Sirius,
Giving the boy advice: "That's your way,
Turn here, turn there."

Equally characteristic are the passages that describe in nature the wound they illustrate in syntax. Under the heading of "ordinary words" and how to use them, Longinus indulges in an outburst of rapid-fire quotation: "'Cleomenes in his madness cut his own flesh into little pieces with a knife till he sliced himself to death.' 'Pythes continued fighting on the ship until he was cut into joints [i.e., steaks]"' (31.2). The effect of slicing is just the same in hyperbaton as Demosthenes uses it: "Now, for our affairs are on the razor's edge, men of lonia …" (22.1).

Nothing could have a more overtly rhetorical effect than the violence in these "ordinary words." At present among critics there is a tendency to discredit the discipline of "rhetoric" as it has been traditionally practiced because it is so difficult to imagine a "pure" employment of language that would not be rhetorical.24 If to some degree nature is revealed as art by the ubiquity of rhetoric, it is equally true, however, that in the absence of a zero-degree or full transparency in language, art disappears back into nature simply for the reason that the province of art has no discernible boundaries. One wonders whether Longinus, whose technical categories so readily dissolve, might not agree with this recent view. Is there an Ordinary Language (idiotismos; 31.1) whose idioms are not cut to pieces by use? What is the "normal sequence" that the artifice of hyperbaton disrupts?


Although for the most part Longinus's observations about the need of art to conceal art are commonplace, there is one moment at which he seems to become fully attentive to Horace's maxim. In preparing to assert, inter alia, that hyperbaton approaches nature most nearly of all the figures, Longinus declares that "figures are natural allies of sublimity" (17.1). "Allies," here, is a precise metaphor. Longinus is about to describe with surprising, almost digressive, amplitude the adversary relation between the orator and the prince or judge who listens to him. What the orator must avoid, says Longinus, is the danger of making the figural gaps, or "fallacies," of his oration look like subterfuges; he must not "raise the suspicion of a trap, a deep design." For Longinus, again, the irregularity of figures reflects the violence in nature, and now he seems to perceive that with a provenance thus shocking figuration itself will appear to be an evil that must be concealed. And certainly, for all his complaisance, the orator is indeed an aggressor.25 Except in epideictic oratory, which Longinus does not discuss, the orator is always trying to prevail over opposition while frequently pretending not to be hostile. If his eloquence fails, the violence of nature, of his nature, and of the nature of his speech, will have a colorful outlet indeed: "Such a person [as "tyrants, kings, governors …"] immediately becomes angry if he is led astray like a foolish child by some orator's figures. He takes the fallacy as indicating contempt for himself. He becomes like a wild animal" (italics mine).

Here a complication arises. Although there is violence in all figures, evidently it is not the studied figures but the ones that are most wildly irregular that will seem the most natural and hence irritate the hearer as little as possible. The inkhorn techniques, on the other hand, the ones that are conducive to the unity of composition and are therefore not sublime, bring on a violent reaction—the reaction, say, of Wordsworth to "poetic diction" or of Whitman to "the beauty disease" ("Poetry To-day in America"). The force of figures that are themselves broken by violence goes unnoticed but does so only because it has overwhelmed and disarmed opposition without the knowledge of the opponent. "Amazement and wonder exert invincible power and force and get the better of every hearer" (1.4). The sublime stuns the hearer, spends its aggression in so doing and becomes, once it has entered the hearer, the appreciative condition known as "transport" (ecstasis). This process is parallel to, and I think more generally useful in criticism than, the process of catharsis in Aristotle.

The Longinian catharsis is a conversion of power into light, and in this Longinus differs from later theorists of the sublime. The difference between hupsos and the sublime of Edmund Burke is not so great as it is sometimes said to be,26 but there is, in tendency at least, one important distinction to be stressed. Burke's sublime wears many guises but in general it inclines toward mist and obscurity, whereas the sublime of Longinus begins in darkness but then bursts forth into clarity and illumination: "'God said'—now what?—'Let there be light,' and there was light' (9.9). The illustration that comes next makes the pattern clear while showing what the triumph of light in the sublime is like. The "sheer brilliance" (17.2) of the sublime speaker may be a cruel light but it is also honest; without sublimation it shows even death for what it is: "Darkness falls suddenly. Thickest night blinds the Greek army. Ajax is bewildered. 'O Father Zeus,' he cries,"

'Deliver the sons of the Achacans out of the
Make the sky clear, and let us see;
In the light—kill us.'

It is as if, through the premature expiation of having asked to be killed by his "Father," Ajax is hoping that in coming to light prior to its manifestation as force, the oedipal situation need never develop.27 The wished-for moment will be violent, certainly, but at least the suppliant will have deferred to authority, just as the orator must defer to the ruler who will become "a wild animal" if he suspects that he is being mocked by the evasions of figure. In each of these three instances the coming-to-light is a purification of aggression: of divine omnipotence heretofore without an outlet, of blind rage in battle, and of rhetorical guile, respectively. It is a blazing forth that is apt to be followed by a general diffusion of force once pressure has been released by the cleft in the ground. Power becomes light in an allegory of acculturation.

Longinus's famous list of natural analogies for the sublime includes the brilliant light that issues from "the craters of Etna, whose eruptions bring up rocks and whole hills out of the depths, and sometimes pour forth rivers of earth-born, spontaneous fire" (35.4). It also includes the force of the ocean, which elsewhere has the might of a god, as when Poseidon causes Hades to quake in the underworld "for fear the earth-shaker … might break through the ground" (9.6). In every analogy Longinus can think of, some force breaks through a natural barrier, just as the sublime breaks through the contexture of figures. But what Poseidon threatens in this last instance is in fact such a powerful rupture that even Longinus wishes to channel it. The threat of "the whole universe overthrown and broken up" makes Homer's battle of the gods "blasphemous and indecent unless it is interpreted allegorically" (9.7). "Much better," says Longinus in the next paragraph, are the passages in which the gods, like the orator or like his judge bemused in a state of transport, are no longer hostile. Even then, in an episode Longinus prefers to the battle of the gods, the image of the gap appears once more, this time constructively, with the coming of Poseidon: "The sea parted in joy, and the horses flew onward" (9.8). The effect of these two passages about Poseidon when they are read in sequence exactly parallels the progress of the sublime from the broken ground of chaos toward the benign channeling of its force. Longinus's next two examples, to confirm the pattern, are the one given from Moses, in which "now what?" makes a gap in the quotation, and the one from Homer's speech of Ajax, who longs for the incisiveness—"kill us"—of the light that pierces darkness.

In keeping with this same pattern, the effect of Demosthenes' oratory is at first violent and then less so. Longinus quotes the passage beginning "The aggressor would do many things" (20.1), and then shows how Demosthenes responds in kind: "The orator is doing here exactly what the bully does—hitting the jury in the mind with blow after blow" (20.2). By the end of the paragraph, which concerns the mixture of a regular, recurrent figure, anaphora, with an irregular one, asyndeton, Demosthenes has somewhat diffused his force: "His order becomes disorderly, and his disorder in turn acquires a certain order" (20.3). Demosthenes, who has "divine gifts, it is almost blasphemous to call them human" (34.4), always subjects the hearer to an "abrupt sublimity" (12.4) which has the effect of being "catapulted out" (21.2) from the gap or opening we have been keeping in view. The effect he has on his audience is twice compared with thunder and lightning (12.4, 34.4). This simile as Longinus uses it is not at all novel in ancient literature, even with reference to Demosthenes, but in Longinus it becomes a motif and recalls the crucial preliminary definition of the sublime: "Sublimity … tears everything up [panta diaphorese] like a whirlwind [1.4; Prickard: "lightning flash"; Roberts: "scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt"]." When Aristotle expresses his fear that if one part of a tragedy is moved from its place "the whole will be disjointed," he uses the word diapheresthai. Once again, then, Longinus can be seen to have planted his unstable compound in the very midst of the Aristotelian order.


It is not clear whether Longinus's "good friend" the philospher in the final chapter is an opponent putting a wrongheaded argument or simply Longinus himself varying his delivery, good orator that he is, by putting one of two equally valid arguments in another voice. I incline to the second possibility, in part because to suppose that the two speakers are one will bring into consideration a special effect of the Longinian sublime, namely, the identification of the listener with the speaker, which I shall now discuss from various standpoints. Whatever the diagnostic merits of the friend's case (which will be found in Tacitus and many others), the rhetoric of his closing comment provides the essential background for the sublime: "I understand that the cages in which dwarfs or Pygmies are kept not only prevent the growth of the prisoners but cripple them.… One might describe all slavery, even the most justified, as a cage for the soul, a universal prison" (44.5).

Although this speaker does retain a conception of "justified" slavery (meaning only justified imprisonment, perhaps), we can still infer from his remarks a state of culture in which, despite the overthrow of democracy by despotism, the institution of slavery could be subject to criticism as it never really was in the thought of Plato or Aristotle. For them, each person, even if he is not officially a slave, must understand his station in the social and moral order to be fixed within justifiable restraints. Especially in Plato, this narrowness (adherence to one vocation, for example) is good for the soul and best suits its natural, uncorrupted wish for conformance with the Good. Hence Plato cannot share the rather complex opinion without which the idea of the sublime cannot be entertained, the opinion of Longinus that the soul by nature craves freedom whether its constraint is justified or not. Supposing that there is merit in this opinion, either man is an entity divided against itself or else his soul is a visitant from without, longing for escape from an oppressive host. Either of these views makes a sublime object of man himself: no longer a whole or a unity, man is divided by a fault through which what is sensed as alien and senses him as alien comes and goes.

There is unquestionably an element of the uncanny in the sublime, a quality which has been convincingly evoked by Freud as the sudden appearance of oneself as another.28 It is by his sense of the uncanny, arguably, that Longinus's ascription of sublimity to speeches favoring the oppression of aliens is dictated. In light of these remarks, here is a long passage in which it is hard to decide, as one reads, who is the slave, who the governor, and who the liberator, or to decide which of these is the host, at the present moment, of the sublime in transit:

It is when it [visualization] is closely involved with factual arguments that it enslaves the hearer as well as persuading him. "Suppose you heard a shout this very moment outside the court, and someone said that the prison had been broken open and the prisoners had escaped—no one, young or old, would be so casual as not to give what help he could. And if someone then came forward and said 'This is the man who let them out,' our friend would never get a hearing; it would be the end of him." There is a similar instance in Hyperides' defense of himself when he was on trial for the proposal to liberate the slaves which he put forward after the defeat. "It was not the proposer," he said, "who drew up this decree: it was the battle of Chaeronea." (15.9-10)

The first emphasis falls upon fact—ironically, perhaps, because the facts will be very difficult to pin down. It is visualization" (phantasia) that "enslaves" the hearer, that much is clear, but we do not know whether this device works for or against the facts. Neither do we know, as yet, why the sublime is said to be an enslavement of the hearer that cooperates with rational persuasion, when hitherto in the Peri Hupsous transport and persuasion have been treated as alternatives that are practically synonymous with rebellion and conformity, respectively.

All these questions are answered, but in a very surprising way, in a later passage: "We are diverted from the demonstration [of fact] to the astonishment caused by the visualization which by its very brilliance conceals the factual aspect. This is a natural reaction: when two things are joined together, the stronger attracts to itself the force of the weaker." In short, might makes right, but only when might is subversive. Whatever the opinion of Demosthenes concerning slavery and whatever sympathy his idolator Longinus may have for it, the force of the sublime as Longinus records it covertly transfers power from the oppressor to the oppressed. The "enslaved" hearer, in the first place, is the citizen who has custody of the prisoners; or, if he is a first-century reader of Demosthenes, he is a slave by virtue of the despotism he lives under. (Longinus's interlocutor Terentianus was possibly a Roman senator in prospect,29 but he would nonetheless merely have been one of the emperor's "flatterers in the grand manner" [44.3].) Furthermore, in the first quotation, a voice from "outside the court" penetrates it with tidings of escaping prisoners, and the prison in turn is said to have been "broken open." Liberator, prisoners, messenger: these in turn burst through some barrier and thereby prove themselves, and not the possessors of temporal power, to have carried out the movement of the sublime exactly.

The situation of Hyperides, who is not elsewhere considered to be sublime (see 34.1-4), is equally complex. He was once a liberator and is now on trial for his temerity, an outcome which in the previous citation Demosthenes declares to be impossible (so great is his respect for lawless force). Thus enslaved, Hyperides would appear to have transmitted his power to the slaves he released, and yet he is now speaking with sublime effect on his own behalf because the power of yet another has been transmitted to him: It was not me, he says, but the disruption caused by the battle which did this thing.

All the confusion in this long passage arises, then, from the unexpected discovery on the part of each speaker in turn, including Longinus, of the self in the other. If perhaps in some cases it is the other way around, if it is the self that seems to have been invaded, that is because the sense of demoniacal possession Freud speaks of in this context is sure to appear where there are political passions. It is the rule of "transport" in the sublime, as this passage also shows repeatedly, that to have power one must be enslaved, possessed by another. As an instance of this intimation of Hegel's master-slave dialectic in operation, one may cite the subversion of Edmund Burke's politics by his aesthetics. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, the established throne and all the other "fixed forms" of government, especially the pitiable queen, exactly conform with Burke's condescending notion of the Beautiful in the Enquiry, whereas the mob in full cry on 6 October is much closer to his notion of the awesome Sublime. Cattle are nothing much, he says in the Enquiry, but the wild ass in Job who knows no master is sublime.30 What then, in the Reflections, of the "thousands of great cattle reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak," who commendably "chew the cud and are silent"?31

By "visualization," Longinus means that in phantasy, as hearers, we subvert our own identities. We conjure up presences that usurp our places. The hearer neither sees Demosthenes nor remains conscious of his own freedom but sees instead the hitherto unknown liberator of the slaves and becomes himself a slave to what he sees. He discovers himself to be Oedipus as surely as the Aristotelian audience does not. But in this discovery there is strength. If the sublime is a possession that is distinguished by a coming-to-light, and thus casts out the uncanny almost in the instant of evoking it, its effect may be "amazement" (12.5) and clarity all at once, an epiphanic moment of presence that quickly becomes self-presence. When what is absent stands before one, even takes possession of one's consciousness, first there is a recoil, as from an invader, and then there is a surge of empathy, as in the "momentary checking of the vital powers and … consequent stronger outflow of them" that accompanies the sublime in Kant's Critique of Judgment.32

Common and nowadays somewhat ineffective rhetorical devices for this making present in Longinus are the sudden switch from past to present tense in narrative (25) and the sudden apostrophe to the hearer (26.1-2). We can still be affected, though, by the skillful use of a third device, conjuration. Demosthenes' oath, "By those who risked their lives at Marathon" (16.2), is remarkably glossed by Longinus: "He was suddenly inspired to give voice to the oath by the heroes of Greece." Demosthenes does not call up the past, then; past voices call through him, thus enacting the course of the sublime from speaker to speaker. The finest event of this kind in Longinus is "the appearance of Achilles to the departing fleet over his tomb" (15.7). The heroic past, which is in a sense the whole text of the Iliad and the other cyclic poems, stands above a gap in the ground whence it has come, still alive with, or revived by, the charge for posterity it carries. The past in the person of Achilles haunts the puny survivors whose victory has been won and who are now launched, a "departing fleet," upon the historic decline Longinus laments in his final chapter. "Greatness of mind wanes," he says there (44.8)—unless it should return to possess the living.


The sublime is chthonic, "earth-born" like the volcano, yet it is also divine—or else it is the human euhemeristically exalted. It appears at the horizons of perceptual experience that are left out of the Poetics. Hence Longinus's touchstones frequently bring extreme conceptions of matter and spirit together. He quotes, for example, the Homeric account of the rebellious giants, who themselves are heavy and dull and make heavy work of their climb into the sky: "Ossa on Olympus they sought to heap; and on Ossa / Pelion with its shaking forest"—shaking like the beard of a giant—"to make a path to heaven—" (8.2). In their lumpishness these giants must use the arithmetical auxesis rather than the true hupsos or megethos (greatness) to serve their purpose. At the same time, however, their instinct cannot be taken lightly if it enables them to forge a "path" toward their goal: "And they would have finished their work …" This coincidence of the animal and the divine is repeated, not so much in the next Homeric passage itself—"So long is the stride of the gods' thundering horses,"—as in Longinus's response to it: "If the horses of the gods took two more strides like that, they would find there was not enough room in the world" (9.5).

The oxymoron of measureless substance is exemplified for Longinus by the ocean. He himself takes its measure, thinking perhaps of a strait or bay that becomes a lake at low tide, in the course of assigning an inferior place to the Odyssey: "We see greatness on the ebb," he says, glancing forward again to the waning of greatness in his last chapter: "It is as though the Ocean were withdrawing into itself and flowing quietly in its own bed" (9.13). When a vast, possibly boundless expanse becomes a self-contained structure, it stops flowing out of itself. It no longer influences in the way the ghost of Achilles, representing Homer, can influence, not to say inundate, a departing fleet. There is no "outpouring" (ibid.) from the Odyssey that can affect us. In a passage that wholly anticipates Kant, Longinus identifies the sublime as something illimitable in the mind, something that must overflow and appear in contrast with the finite objects in nature: "The universe therefore is not wide enough for the range of human speculation and intellect. Our thoughts often travel beyond the boundaries of our surroundings. If anyone wants to know what we were born for, let him look … above all [at] the Ocean" (35.3-4). Just as boundlessness and measure are closely interdependent, so also, it will be recalled, art and nature, words and thought, are nonidentical word pairs that are nonetheless inseparable. Freedom, to repeat the essential homily concerning the sublime, needs its obverse in confinement. We could not identify the "abundant, uncontrolled flood" of Archilochus if it were not a "bursting forth of the divine spirit" from "under the rule of law" (33.5).

The sublime, again, is neither a great mind, precisely, nor the words of a great mind but rather "the echo of a noble mind" (9.2).33 If we are to take this turn of phrase seriously, the sublime must then be the reverberation, or resonance, of words. That characterization may bring it a shade too close to language, however, too close to uttered language, that is, and for this reason Longinus's ensuing sentences seem to counteract the sense of the word echo: "This is why a mere idea, without verbal expression, is sometimes admired for its nobility—just as Ajax's silence in the Vision of the Dead is grand and indeed more sublime than any words could have been."34

The distinction between silence and the echo in this passage is as crucial as it is subtle. Again Longinus has turned to a crisis of communication in the Odyssey. An attempt to open a path between heroic ghosts and present needs, the crisis begins when Odysseus invites the sublime by making a wound in the earth. "With my drawn blade/I spaded up the votive pit," he recalls, all for the purpose of speaking with Tiresias, "the prince of those with gift of speech" (book 11). All the women and men who are allowed to approach after Tiresias has spoken his fill are echoes of the seer, reverse echoes, as it were, which confirm the authenticity of his prophecies with the accuracy of their recollections. The eloquent silence of Ajax, which is balanced as a motif by the vagueness of Tiresias's forecast beyond the moment of planting the oar, is made possible by the eloquence of Tiresias on all prior topics, without the exhaustion of which Ajax could not have approached the pit.35 Furthermore, the silence of Ajax is itself pregnant with speech, as even the snubbed Odysseus realizes: "Who knows if in that darkness he might still / have spoken, and I answered?" The silence of Ajax, in short, is wholly dependent on words—on Odysseus's present narrative, on the speech Odysseus made to Ajax rehearsing the old grievance, and on our own feeling that even in that moment of growing darkness, which recalls Ajax's darkling petition for death quoted earlier by Longinus, the suicide could have said much.36

The sublime echo thus wavers between the aftersound of words and their negation. It is as difficult to locate precisely as the ghost of Ajax disappearing into Erebus. The "voice of the dead" in such moments is not really a voice; rather it is the speaker's memory short-circuited so that it seems as though the dead were now saying what the speaker has always known them to have said when alive. Even if the "dead" should in fact be living persons, the effect of astonishment brought about in the speaker by means of visualization, brokenness of figure, and his accession to "divine gifts" makes the speaker seem merely a mouthpiece for what is remote from his ordinary sphere. "'The dead writers are remote from us,"' wrote Eliot, "'because we know so much more than they did.' Precisely, and they are that which we know."37 In the experience of the sublime they are not remote, however, but so vividly present that they take possession of consciousness.

The controversy that surrounds the theory of influence today has in part to do with the question of whether influence occurs in the form of words or thought, echo or silence. The early Humanists thought that it is the words of the past that either intimidate or educate us. Edward Young thought that the spirit of the past can liberate our own genius if we disregard the words. Harold Bloom imagines a powerful presence from the past, at once word and spirit, which will dominate the new speaker unless he contrives to sap its strength. Longinus can be helpful in ascertaining how far the idea of influence can be carried beyond the discussion of buried allusion, but more importantly he can show how far beyond this point it needs to be carried. If nonverbal thought is necessarily at least "colored" by reading, that coloring is not washable. It must be seen as a dye: "The choice of correct and magnificant words … makes … a kind of lustre bloom upon our words as upon beautiful statues … it is indeed true that beautiful words are the light that illuminates thought" (30.1-2). Allusion, then, which can be defined as words taken from their place in history, colors the whole mind. This is a far subtler view than the notion of words as the "dress" of thought, but it is also more troublesome when it comes to assessing originality. When it is difficult to discriminate between words and thought, it becomes more difficult to know how great a portion of what is spoken belongs properly to the speaker.

In that case more than ever, the speaker must fight for his share of credit as an originator or "author."38 This is the point at which he ceases to be the "hearer" and assumes, in his turn, the role of orator. Whatever it is that reaches the hearer, and perhaps echo will have proved as good a word as any for it, he is at first stunned but then he reacts, and in so doing he passes into the speaker's role.39 The aggression of the original speaker is met with counteraggression on the part of the listener. One such listener is Longinus, who cannot praise his literary ancestor Plato without some word of qualification. There is a measure of tension in his reverence for Plato from which his reverence for Demosthenes, for example, is wholly free. On several occasions Longinus taxes Plato with abuses of style. The "otherwise divine Plato" (4.6) too often exhibits the vice of frigidity, and he is also given to such needless and dull embellishments as periphrasis (29.1) and surplus metaphors (32.2). In these belittling gestures, which have the effect of pointing to something petty in Plato's nature, the reader will recognize one reflex of the anxiety of influence in the theory of Harold Bloom. It is hard not to conclude that Demosthenes is praised more unreservedly than Plato is because he is less important. Demosthenes commanded only one register of the sublime, and his style does not exert any direct influence on the sinuous and chameleonic style of Longinus himself. By far the more powerful influence upon Longinus is Plato, whose style and whose thinking—his concept of nobility, his dislike of the theater—figure with great prominence in the Peri Hupsous.

There is an additional charge to be whispered against Plato. With Xenophon, says Longinus, Plato was "trained in Socrates' school" (4.4); or again, late in the passage toward which the present analysis is tending, Plato "diverted to himself countless rills from the Homeric spring" (13.3). In short, Plato can be charged with unoriginality as well as pettiness. Longinus is aware that his readiness to find fault is a fault—"I myself cited not a few mistakes in Homer and other great writers" (33.4)—but he goes on to argue, notoriously from the standpoint of his detractors, that the faults he finds in others are sure proofs of their genius; and in that case his own fault would prove that he himself is at least not insipid. Even in this gesture of restitution toward genius, however, there is a trace of malice. Take Caecilius, he continues, author of the treatise on the sublime against which he has pitched his present essay: consider what Caecilius says against Plato. Apparently Longinus is about to defend Plato. But then, with a devious stratagem common both in oratory and in neoclassical wit, Longinus faithfully repeats the indictment made by Caecilius: "Loving Lysias more deeply than he loves himself'—possibly the talk of philia here is meant to recall the Phaedrus—"[Caecilius] yet hates Plato with an even greater intensity.… In preferring Lysias to Plato he thinks he is preferring a faultless and pure writer to one who makes many mistakes" (32.8). Plato is ever so faintly damned, then, both by contrast with Lysias—for Longinus will not glorify mistakes until the next chapter—and also by comparison with him. In repeating the invidious comparison of Caecilius, Longinus himself causes Plato to appear merely as a competitor, and an unsuccessful one at that, for superiority in phrasemaking.

Longinus's attitude toward Plato is not in itself terribly significant. I have lingered over it to show further that captiousness of some kind belongs properly to the dynamics of the sublime (a point to which I shall return), and to suggest that this inevitably critical moment does raise an epistemological question: Is the sublime firmly enough situated in the nature of things to survive criticism? It is the first premise of Longinus that the sublime is objectively verifiable. What he says to establish this point has a Johnsonian ring: "Reckon those things which please everybody all the time as genuinely and finely sublime" (7.4). Here Longinus differs from Kant, whom he anticipates in so many other respects, and rejoins the eighteenth-century "empiricist" writers, from Addison to Burke and Kames, who found the sublime indisputably to be present in certain works of art and natural objects.

At least, this is partly so. Coleridge, a Kantian whose Biographia attacks the premises of empiricism, still struggles whenever possible, more clearly so in other writings, to establish an objective ground of judgment,40 and Longinus, no matter what he says, must undertake the same struggle. Although, again, nature plays a vital role in the production of the sublime for Longinus, it is not clear that nature, which "is not a random force and does not work altogether without method," can be very safely distinguished from art. It is not easy to decide whether the sublime passes from object to subject as a volcanic echo or from subject to subject as an oratorical echo. Coleridge, in the well-known anecdote of the lady he heard calling a waterfall "pretty," himself knew, absolutely, that it was "sublime." But the anecdote at least partly bears witness against itself because Coleridge's knowledge, absolute or otherwise, would not have been possible without information given by reading and by the oral tradition of the educated.41

The Longinian sublime cannot be located in words or things with confidence for similar reasons. His conviction that the sublime pleases all at all times must be undermined, furthermore, by the prevalence of the instinct he notices in himself and his predecessors, like Caecilius, for faultfinding. If the sublime is the most exalting experience one can have that is not purely religious, and if it must therefore be spontaneously desired by the soul (we can reasonably expect that Longinus would want to take a Platonic view of the question), then why do we act so aggressively toward it? Why do we decry its pretenders and even express doubts about the illustrations of it that we bring forward ourselves? It may be replied that vigilance is needed to protect the fane of the sublime from false priests who go about "poking the thyrsus in at the wrong place" (3.5; my adaptation of the term parenthyrsus). Yet it is troubling that such vigilance leaves so little intact. The Odyssey, the battle of the gods in the Iliad, Plato—all but the safely peripheral Demosthenes, peripheral both in style and in politics, are quite badly mauled. As Longinus himself would say, they are "dissected": "We have to ask ourselves whether any particular example does not give a show of grandeur which, for all its accidental trappings, will, when dissected, prove vain and hollow" (7.1).

It appears from this metaphor that the aggression of the hearer is an imitative aggression, corresponding as it does to the tearing apart that marks the appearance of the sublime itself. Although it takes place in a different mood, perhaps, the rending of the sublime still anticipates interpretation, the dissection that Wordsworth called murder. The listener's response to the sublime resists its assault. At first the listener is possessed, and then he bestirs himself to expel the alien voice, which ceases to possess him in the process and becomes his property instead: "It is our nature to be elevated and exalted by true sublimity, Filled with joy and pride, we come to believe we have created what we only heard" (7.2).42

After these last observations have been made, the dramatization of mimesis that follows will almost interpret itself:

Many are possessed by a spirit not their own. It is like what we are told of the Pythia at Delphi: she is in contact with the tripod near the cleft in the ground which (they say) exhales a divine vapour, and she is thereupon made pregnant by the supernatural power and prophesies as one inspired. Similarly, the genius of the ancients acts as a kind of oracular cavern, and effluences flow from it into the minds of their imitators.… Plato could not have put such a brilliant finish on his philosophical doctrines or so often risen to poetical subjects and poetical language, if he had not tried, and tried wholeheartedly, to compete for the prize against Homer.… As Hesiod says, "this strife is good for men[.]" Truly it is a noble contest and prize of honour, and one well worth winning, in which to be defeated by one's elders is itself no disgrace.

We can apply this to ourselves.


Possession, which is divine, comes from a cleft in the ground that represents the natural origin of the sublime. The priestess is then the "author" of the sublime, and we who receive her prophecies are hearers-turned-authors or hearers-turned-interpreters. After the Delphic comparison Longinus changes the subject a little, revealing from that point forward the aggression in the relationship between speaker and listener.


Nearly all commentators suppose that there is a drastic narrowing of the Aristotelian mimesis in Longinus and other late Greek and Latin writers. Verbal imitation has replaced ideal representation, symptomizing the overthrow of true philosophy by the "Alexandrian" logomachy. But in the case of Longinus this judgment is unduly harsh.43 In his treatise the spirit is not suppressed, leaving only the gaunt body of philosophy in view; rather spirit and letter are nearly interchangeable, and each very adequately embraces the mimesis of Aristotle. The common distinction we make between mimesis, alluding to Plato and Aristotle, and imitatio, alluding chiefly to Quintilian, Longinus, and the rise of Humanism, is a good deal more radical than it should be. Pope's lines on Virgil are perhaps closest to the equipoise of Longinus: "When t'examine every part he came, / Nature and Homer were, he found, the same" (Essay on Criticism, I, 134-35). The "nature" that Pope has in mind is the phusis, or "rules," of Aristotle, but the "nature" of Longinus, had he written this couplet, would have been more dynamic.

One way in which Longinus does maintain a slight functional separation between nature and art is in speaking, as he routinely does, of "mere" words. These are what the false sublime is made of: it looks sublime, but in the long run, for "the man of sense and literary experience …, it fails to dispose his mind to greatness or to leave him with more to reflect upon than was contained in the mere words" (7.3). Only the implications of the word more can save Longinus from saying, here, that the sublime itself is merely a matter of words. It is not solely because this conclusion would trivialize the sublime that Longinus is fortunate to have evaded it; he also escapes having to admit that as a "text-book" (1.1) his treatise must be a failure. And indeed it is a failure in that genre. Because by his own demonstration there is no trope or figure that is not subject to abuse, then truly, though Longinus has argued to the contrary (2.1), the sublime cannot be taught as a rhetoric. This he does later admit in an unguarded moment: "Evils often come from the same source as blessings; and so, since beauty of style, sublimity, and charm all conduce to successful writing, they are also causes and principles not only of success but of failure" (5).

If the sublime is not a rhetoric, and I think Longinus knows it is not, it cannot be identified with any structure. This article of belief must be kept in mind in turning to a number of passages that seem to undermine it by identifying the sublime with order and resolution. The first of these describes the Iliad during Longinus's contrast of that poem with the Odyssey. The Iliad, he says, has a "consistent level of elevation which never admit[s] of any falling off (9.13). What is perplexing about this statement is that elsewhere Longinus has insisted that the sublime appears in disruptive fragments of less brilliant surrounding compositions. If "persuasion" is achieved by observing the Horatian decorum (see 1.4), the "transport" of the sublime must be a breach of decorum. There are several ways of resolving this anomaly. First, it could be said that a whole text, seamless in itself, would become sublime if it disrupted other texts. The reader of the Iliad, especially if he or she is a poet, might find that as a whole it overwhelms his or her own inspiration. It could also be said that for the Iliad to have unified the story of Troy is a feat that surpasses ordinary powers of composition. Thus the composition of the Iliad is an extreme instance of making the plural singular, which will always result, as Longinus says elsewhere, in "surprise" (24.2).

A third rationale for Longinus's suddenly holistic phrasing, briefly stated, might be this: When he speaks of sustained elevation he is not actually touching upon questions of structure or even of unity. He is speaking, rather, of a device that more closely resembles the blows of Demosthenes' bully, the device, namely, of repetition. This is the most satisfactory explanation for Longinus's praise of the Iliad because it can also be applied to his other totalizing figures. This I shall do in a moment, having first resisted the temptation to gloss over the anomalous passages prematurely. For they are anomalous. Recalling Aristotle, for example, Longinus claims that periodic structure in a sentence can be sublime: "The beauty of the body depends on the way the limbs are joined together, each one when severed from the others having nothing remarkable about it, but the whole forming a perfect unity" (40.1). He pursues this train of thought pertinaciously: "Similarly, great thoughts which lack connexion are themselves wasted and waste the total sublime effect" (sundiaphorei kai to hupsos). Because it is not evident how more than one great thought can appear in, or even be discussed with respect to, the structure of a single sentence, Longinus's notion of the "total sublime effect" continues, in this context, to be unintelligible. Perhaps he is affirming what is crucial, again, in any theory of the sublime that has subtlety: the principle that sublime moments need a formal context of some sort and cannot take their course in a vacuum.

If this is so, it remains only to characterize the interstices of the "great thoughts." It is not clear from this passage alone whether sublimities should come at us in a steady stream, creating, e.g., the Iliad's "consistent level of elevation," or whether they should be indirectly but no less surely connected by decent intervals of decorum. Longinus himself begins to resolve this question, and to show how the sublime can indeed appear in formal composition, a few sentences later in this same discussion of periodicity. Having quoted a passage from a lost play of Euripides about Dirce being haled up and down by a bull, a passage that is as agitated as its subject ("it writhed and twisted round"), Longinus remarks that "the word-harmony is not hurried and does not run smoothly" (40.4). He means that clusters like perix helixas and petran drun slow one down in pronouncing them. For this reason "the words are propped up by one another and rest on the intervals between them; set wide apart like that, they give the impression of solid strength." Like Antony bestriding the world, they are colossal. It is in this manner, then, that Longinus can praise unifying effects in style without contradicting himself. Apparently neither sustained elevation nor periodicity is to be considered smooth or even fluent. The sublime elements of composition are like the stone slabs of an entryway before the invention of the keystone; up to a point, the strength of the arch is proportionate to the width of its base. Thus even in passages in which a sustained effect is aimed for, the composition should be, as Longinus puts it in the next section, "rough at the joins" (41.3; skleroteta episundedemena).

Longinus more than once resorts to architectural metaphors—rather surprisingly, it has been pointed out, considering that the Greeks did not rank architecture among the fine arts.44 Having in general insisted on the need for a "cleft" through which the sublime can pass, Longinus at one point seems to change his mind. In a discussion of gathering details for a sublime effect, he says that good writers "have taken only the very best pieces [i.e., stones], polished them up and fitted them together. They have inserted nothing inflated, undignified or pedantic. Such things ruin the whole effect, because they produce, as it were, gaps and crevices" (10.7). But again there is really no contradiction. An architecture in which wedges of foreign matter (wood, perhaps, or roughcast) leave actual "chinks and crannies" in a wall would be much cruder than the rough architecture of the sublime needs to be or can be.45 It would be ludicrous architecture, like the wall with its chink that separates Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The opening of the sublime must be well-knit to a certain degree in order to resist what will tear through it.46

After this review it can be asserted with some confidence that Longinus's fifth "source" of sublimity, which is "dignified and elevated word-arrangement" (8.1; sunthesis), is not out of keeping with the other four, at least three of which stress division and passion rather than composition and composure. But the exact nature of the linguistic "joins" under this fifth heading remains difficult to determine. Much depends, in any theory of form, on whether connecting links are thought to be interstices, like the cushion of air that keeps colliding bodies from touching in the physical world, or joints, like helical or chain structures. Whichever of these models may seem more accurate, there can be no question of a third, of the blending or ooze that is implied in the Goethean concept of "organic form." There is nothing liquid or even porous about those linguistic signs which are not themselves the sublime but remain necessarily its vehicle. A sign cannot merge with its neighbors without losing the syntagmatic features—the differences—that make it intelligible. This observation may be an instance of what the German hermeneuticians condemn as Modernisierung, but it still provides a convenient way of loosening the strong grip that the word sunthesis appears to exert upon the disruptive potential of the sublime. Even the evidence of the Peri Hupsous itself makes it clear, in any case, that sunthesis is not synthesis. Longinus's sunthesis is actually a somewhat limited technical term meaning the order in which words are written down; it is quite closely equivalent, that is, to the modern word syntagmatics.

Although the semantic possibilities of imitative form are not to be overlooked in studying word arrangement (one thinks of the poetic line in Virgil), the primary concern of Longinus in this regard is with rhythm.47 This being so, the word composition that is used in most translations of the section on sunthesis is especially misleading. Rhythm may be syncopated but it cannot form an are or return on itself. It is essentially repetitious, "the ticking of a watch made softer," as Yeats put it,48 and thus has very little to do with the techne of the classical formalists. Longinus himself tips the balance between variation and repetition clearly toward the latter by devoting a section (20) to the sublime effects of asyndeton combined with anaphora. He stresses the need for variety "to save the sentence from monotony and a stationary effect" (20.2), but much more significantly he recommends that anaphora be used with asyndeton, which is percussive in effect, rather than, e.g., with hyperbaton, which would involve an unexpected deviance from norms of recurrence. At this point, furthermore, he expatiates on the bullying of Demosthenes, "hitting the jury in the mind with blow after blow" (20.3). It may be observed in addition concerning this point that Longinus later contrasts the "wonderful spell of harmony" cast by the "varied sounds of the lyre"—the mild spell of "persuasion," that is, or of the beautiful—with the Phrygian pulsation of the flute, which inspires one mood, though by no means the only one, of the sublime (39.2-3).

In short, repetition is more important than variety if one's purpose is to stun the auditor. Again we come to an aspect of the sublime that we may prefer to wish away. Mesmerism, demagoguery, Madison Avenue, ecstatic dancing, and the "meditation" on a name or a sacred mantra—all undertake to "enslave" the hearer, to bring about the identification of an audience with some transcendently authoritative voice by means of repetition.49 But Longinus is able to show that repetition has more acceptable uses. A mature taste in the discrimination of sublimities, for example, comes from experiences that take place "many times over" (7.3). From this standpoint taste can be defined, very plausibly, as a superior force of habit, an informed, at least partly voluntary self-hypnosis. Repetition also provides a way, finally, of revealing what the sublime is and what it is not. Partly owing to the element of sameness in repetition, the sublime is one—and largely indivisible—but no version of the sublime is ever unified, anywhere in the Peri Hupsous, as an increment of structure or of harmony.


Some difference remains, however, between the repetitious sublime and the sublimity that takes effect with a single blow. Verbal composition is mainly a process of accretion, "building up" (39.3), a process that is equivalent to what Longinus describes, on the figural level of composition, as auxesis, or amplification. There are enough passages assigning repetition rather than singleness to the sublime to warrant the suggestion that Longinus anticipates Kant's distinction between the "dynamic" and the "mathematical" sublime,50 which latter heading denotes the effect of being staggered by the sheer volume of something: too much information, too many anxieties, mountains too high, and so on. The addition of this category completes my discussion of the rhetoric, the conditions, and the modes of the Longinian sublime. Using the mathematical sublime as a point of departure, I shall now discuss some of the implications of the sublime, with an eye toward showing why I think it is preferable to the identification of form as an end in view for contemporary criticism.

The mathematical sublime has been analyzed by Thomas Weiskel, and more recently by Neil Hertz, as a frustrating buildup or sedimentation that finally causes the sensation of "blockage," the "checking of vital powers" noted by Kant. Hertz admires Weiskel's thesis but argues that Weiskel identifies the blocking agent in Kant—the Reason (Vernunft), which implicitly rebukes the Imagination (Einbildungskraft) for failing to reduce the overload to proportion—too hastily and arbitrarily with the Father in the "family romance" of Freud.51 Weiskel cuts his way through the blockage of his own knotty problem, in other words, simply in order to have got through it. Passed on from commentator to commentator, each time with a new qualification, the mathematical sublime renews itself according to the pattern described earlier: possession, resistance, response. Hertz's solution—not to cut through the blockage but to learn to live with it until its familiar presence ceases to frustrate—is designed to put an end to the game, but that may not be possible. It is too likely that one's orientation in the chain of audition along which the sublime is passed is, as Weiskel says, irreducibly oedipal. Any forfeit of that orientation would then simply become a promise that one will not mind being overwhelmed.

There is another topic in Freud, however, that brings one closer to the way it feels to cope with the mathematical sublime from day to day. This topic is the "mastery of repetition" that Freud supposes to be a constructive displacement of the death instinct.52 At least one phase of the sublime, the initial phase that all the eighteenth-century theorists agreed in calling awe-struck or frightened, is loaded with intimations of mortality. Freud described the favorite topics of the obsessional neurotic as those "upon which all mankind are uncertain,"53 including the afterlife and the reliability of memory. The neurotic's repeated efforts to break through to conclusions about these topics, efforts which transfer to waking life the unpleasant doing and undoing that everyone performs during a feverish doze, are futile attempts at auxesis. Replete with its "great thoughts," on the other hand, the sublime can become a working through that makes the neurotic compulsion purposeful. The sublime reveals its power of sublimation even in what it does to the signals of repetition itself: a dripping faucet becomes the sound of waves, a metronome softens into meter, and the dullest monotony becomes "The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves."

The issue of repetition dominates even Longinus's passing remarks about metaphor. A structurally oriented poetics is likely to make metaphor, whether Aristotle's "transference of an alien name" or Jakobson's "poetic function," the microcosm of its largest concerns. Both in the Poetics and in the Rhetoric Aristotle showed how metaphor is the most important trope in the repertory of the artist because the "eye for resemblances" that it requires is what is also needed to connect the beginning with the end of a composition. On the other hand, Longinus, whose poetics is disruptive, evinces no interest in the structural properties of metaphor.54 What does interest him is the traditional question among the rhetors concerning the relation between metaphor and repetition:55 How often should the trope be repeated in elaborating a single topos? The answer Longinus gives is that there should be no limit as long as the result of any repetition is the pathos, or mesmerism, that erases one's memory of repetition and "never allow[s] the hearer to count the metaphors because he too shares the speaker's enthusiasm" (32.4). It is not metaphors themselves, then, but their repetition that achieves the sense of identity—empathetic rather than semantic identity—that can be managed only by the "transference of alien names" from the standpoint of structural analysis. Because the temporality of tropes and figures is unrelieved in Longinus, the vertical structure even of metaphor collapses into sequence.56 He says nothing about the synonymy and identity that are enforced by radical metaphor in formalist thinking.

Repetition in the mathematical sublime can function as a homeopathic cure and thus resembles one widely sanctioned interpretation of catharsis in Aristotle. Like the frenzied music mentioned as a katharsis in the Politics (1341b-42a) and as a form of repetition by Longinus in his section on rhythm, repetition in excess precipitates the hearer toward a state of calm. Such is the outcome, Longinus thinks, of the onslaught of metaphors describing the "bodily tabernacle" in the Timaeus: "Finally," writes Longinus, at once quoting the passage and describing the effect of it on the reader, "when the end is at hand, the soul's 'ship's cables' are 'loosed,' and she herself 'set free."' This extended metaphor seems to invite death, and in that respect it can be compared with both homeopathic medicine (more poison) and homeopathic catharsis (more suffering). But the therapy of repetition does not depend on the suspension of life that is required by the unified structure of catharsis. Rather it comes about in keeping with the ordinary footfall of time, which is metric, rhythmic, and anaphoric. The dynamic sublime, a single thunderbolt, has somewhat different purposes, but in the mathematical sublime there is reassurance in knowing that "Hectors and Sarpedons came forth" and kept on doing so (23.3), and there is likewise a sense of being "renewed" by the Ciceronian discourse that is "repeatedly fed with fresh fuel" (12.5).


I have tried to show in my analysis of the Poetics that the crisis—the "recognition scene"—of a unified structure exposes the function of the double, or projected self, at the crossroads of choice; sexual or otherwise, this choice is always equivalent to the "ambiguity" of the New Critics. The crisis that comes with the sublime, on the other hand, exposes the function of the double in the prefiguration of death; confronting the uncanny, the listener tries to wrest authority from what seems to be a former self. Just as Addison and Burke associate the Beautiful, which is soft, smooth, round, and well-formed with sex, generation, and the plenitude of earthly existence, so they and most other theorists incline to associate the sublime with darkness, solitude, the unknown, and the "checking of vital powers." The sublime seems always to have been viewed as a trial confrontation with death. Whereas the theme of the Beautiful is the destiny of others as it appears manifest in their forms (their shapeliness in life, their roles in drama), the theme of the sublime is the destiny of ourselves, which we confront in the act of trying to win an authentic self from the forms that stand in our way. When the contrast between these old rivals for aesthetic attention is put thus provocatively, awarding all sanity, vital health, and humanity to the Beautiful—which is the flesh of formalism—then anyone who is not merely morbid and still prefers the sublime as an objective for interpretation has a lot of explaining to do. The worst that can be said about the sublime is now said: In bringing the death instinct rather than the pleasure principle close to the surface of aesthetic experience, it is necessary for the sublime to risk the irresponsible and exhibitionistic courtship of danger. To this effect Longinus praises a Homeric passage about mariners in a storm: "He has in effect stamped the special character of the danger on the diction: 'they are being carried away from under death"' (10.7). However, the immediate danger attendant upon the sublime is not death, but ridicule. With the slightest overemphasis the sublime becomes the ridiculous: ham-handed, humorless, and provincial. This risk may be unavoidable unless the sublime is transformed into another, quieter quality, one that I think Longinus himself has anticipated.

The false sublime gets puffed up and loses control. The danger of visionary speech (the dynamic sublime) is Icarean, the risk of a great fall, as when "the writer's soul … shares the danger" with Phaethon (15.4) or when the listener must share "the speaker's peril" during the suspension of meaning in hyperbaton (22.4). The danger of interpretive speech (the mathematical sublime) is Daedalian, the temptation "to go too far" in the proliferation of tropes (32.7), to lose the sublime in confusion rather than achieving it by sustained attention. The mathematical sublime must turn out to have been pregnant and not dropsical (3.3). All its amplifications may be nothing but "puffy and false tumours" (3.4). These dangers, which once more show the close proximity of words and nature, have to do in general with bodily malfunction and monstrosity.57 Expressions may be "incomplete and abortive" (14.3), constipated, as when the "bowels" of the too-literary mariners of Aristeas "heave in pain" (10.4), or dwarfed, hardened beneath the surface like chancres, by the pettiness of conception that dwarfs reality: vultures that are tombs for men (3.2), a book that compresses the conquest of Asia (4.2), and the forced synecdoche crossed with homonymity (in the word kore) that traps a maiden in an eyeball (4.4). The failure of the mathematical sublime, then, which is the failure of interpretation, results in monsters, grotesqueries, and misbirths of the study.58

Dangers of visionary speech, however, are not so easily dispelled, nor are they quite so clearly deserving as targets for satire. A transitional instance between the two kinds of sublimity, an instance of euphemism, runs a more complex risk: "The goddess struck the Scythians who plundered the temple with a feminine disease" (28.4), by which is meant, presumably, impotence.59 We could classify this misfortune as a bodily disorder that is related merely to the collapse of the mathematical sublime, for there are certainly as many Scythians as Hectors and Sarpedons. There is a key difference, however: for a prior offense, a rape, the Scythians are now cast as victims of authority instead of hapless authors. The danger now becomes ethical, in other words, and returns us to the issue of enslavement. Originary power endangers audiences just insofar as it realizes itself. If Icarus falls, no one notices; that, I take it, is what Brueghel meant and Auden emphasized:

           the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure.

But if Phaethon, having risen against the order of things and having succeeded in driving the sun, should survive, or transmit his blinding success as a legacy, we would then find ourselves at the mercy of a petulant and spoiled youth. "Persuasion" is a democratic, tolerant discourse that leaves the hearer free to choose whether to be persuaded. It may be a novel, a book of self-help, a primer in economics, a discourse on Method; in the marketplace the ploughman listens attentively and casts his vote. "Transport," on the other hand, as we have seen, whether it drives the hearer across the sky or drives him mad, casts him into slavery, robbing him even of his proper self.

It is "natural," as Longinus says, that "'when two things are joined together, the stronger attracts to itself the force of the weaker" (15.11). The sublime seems too readily to belong in Plato's utopia; the integrity of the unenslaved individual counts for very little in either case. We cannot pretend that the concluding remarks of the Peri Hupsous as we have it are not in the main the sort of diatribe against the herd instinct that betrays a longing for tyranny. Longinus offers himself the chance to blame the disappearance of the sublime on the defeat of democracy but he refuses the offer—and is right, by his own lights, to do so. Always excepting Demosthenes, the oratory of "persuasion" that best suits the forum of democracy is not in any sense sublime. It is not certain, in fact, whether even persuasion is dependent on one political climate more than another: "In our age there are minds which are strikingly persuasive and practical, shrewd, versatile, and well endowed with the ability to write agreeably" (44.1). The more insidious enemy of the sublime, materialism, likewise flourishes regardless of most political changes; "most," that is, however, because the possibility of founding an austere tyranny, a reign of philosopherkings or perhaps a theocracy, is the greatest temptation of those who are capable of "great thoughts."60 Hence, again, there appears to be a bond of sympathy between tyranny and the sublime.

I think, however, that this sympathy exists in appearance only. In the course of its attack on materialism the argument of Longinus is almost undermined by a reversal of the values attached to certain metaphors. This reversal is inevitable and ultimately robs the austere tyrant of his authority, leading to the democratization of the sublime that I wish to propose. In Longinus's last chapter the tropes associated with materialism gradually begin to imply that materialism is an epidemic so far-flung that it must itself be accounted sublime. The grosser passions fight an "unlimited war," wealth and the lust for it are "measureless and uncontrolled," and we are "slaves" to the love of pleasure (44.6-7). The rout of the sublime being sublime, then, Longinus is almost prepared to acquiesce in things as they are, to let the inundation come in whatever form: "Perhaps people like us are better as subjects than given our freedom. Greed would flood the world in woe, if it were really released and let out of its cage, to prey on its neighbors" (44.10). The Longinian sublime is certainly a tyrant but it is not always, as we might have supposed, a celestial dictator, a sky-god or Platonic Houyhnhnm; it is not surprising, when one considers the intimacy between mind and nature that is revealed elsewhere in the text, that the tyrant is sometimes our own instinctual life. A Yahoo tyrant, at least nominally the oppressed rather than the oppressor, it is demagogic, revolting, universally in charge, so much so that it must be softened and coaxed into epicurean channels, sublimated like our "private parts," which nature "concealed as well as she could": "and as Xenophon says, [she] made the channels of those organs as remote as possible, so as not to spoil the beauty of the creature as a whole" (43.5). The term beautykallos—is no doubt a vague one here but it may serve to remind us that if the "creature" in question were sublime, or conducive to the sublime, all its gaps might be visible. It should be clear, in any case, that the sublime extends the lower as well as the upper reaches of the Poetics.


The bridge between the sublime, thus revealed in its role as a negative force, and the beautiful, a tender-hearted experience that could not in itself entail the possibility of being critical, is the mathematical sublime, or sublime of interpretation. The most elementary temptation of any antiformalist interpreter is to identify with all the darkest visionaries and to find dark values exclusively, with Melville in The Encantadas, on the only side of the tortoise he or she can see. But the interpretive sublime is on neither side. It exists as an alternative to alternation and reveals the lack of opposition in false dichotomies. The discovery of hidden meanings is no more adequate as an exclusive end of criticism than the summary of overt ones.61 Derivative myth-criticism, "Freudian interpretation," and most of the merely rancorous modes of demystification oversimplify in this way. At the end of the last chapter I suggested that any criticism necessarily goes astray in some measure because it can never estimate the distance between the architectonic purpose and the instinctual purposiveness of its object—or of its own subjectivity. The "effect" of literature, the sublime or uncanny effect which sets it apart (but not categorically apart) from the relatively featureless discourse of practical exchange, does not appear squarely within either form or the negation of form but in the signs of estrangement, the gaps, between formal design and the form of its attempted negation. Neither of these forms completely occludes or represses the other; each harbors an unsubdued strength that deforms the other in ways that cannot be scientifically reduced any more than psychology can fully discriminate or arbitrate between will and instinct in the mind.

So the sublime is not identical with the unconscious, and its appearance is not properly to be described as sublimation, although that plays its role. Undoubtedly we have grown too familiar with our fictions about the fictions of the unconscious, with all their pathos and economy—so familiar, indeed, that the whole psycho-analytic romance may turn out to have sublimated whatever it is that is still wholly unconscious. The sufficiency of the oedipal explanation is undergoing attack from every direction—humanist, feminist, Marxist, deconstructionist—because too obviously it cuts the Gordian knot of interpretation. As Hertz argues, the oedipal explanation breaks through the mathematical sublime arbitrarily. I am not quite sure; in my view the oedipal explanation seems arbitrary because it over-determines the language of desire, desire which is not for one thing, arguably, but for the sheer sensation of presence. But the oedipal explanation is still, if I may so put it, a valid allegory. Roughly the same objection can be made, followed by a roughly comparable defense, concerning the closely related explanations called "bourgeois ideology," langue, and the "precursor"—concerning any explanation, in short, that seems unequivocally to insist that poets are written, not writers.

Antithetical factors are not interpretive ends in themselves any more than the factors conducive to formal unity were before them. Systematically approached, antithetical factors will soon constitute an antithetical formalism. There is undoubted value in a science of this sort, which will certainly find ways of making whole dimensions of art visible for the first time, but I do not see how this or any other quickly exhausted way of processing literature—for that is what it is—can be heralded as the future task of criticism and recommended specifically as an antidote to interpretation.62 It is under the banner of science, and not as a hindrance to science, that the interpretation industry has come to monopolize criticism in the last forty years. Interpretation has supplanted both judgment and taxonomy in scholarship; this triumph has been a recent one, not because interpretation had never been done before but because for the most part until this century it had seemed a simple job that could be done silently. It may be noted that the interpretation industry has always dominated theology, and always will dominate it, because where it really matters interpretation has never seemed easy. Interpretation is inevitable; it is thought itself, and it will seem exhaustible, not when it is supplanted by science, but only when it is itself mistaken for science.

The New Critics used to ask the philological historians how they could confidently classify ideas, terms, and texts without reading them attentively, without a due concern for nuance and irony. It seemed a good and fair question, and the answer came as too much interpretation—to the point of "blockage"—with that sort of concern. But ridicule and self-exhaustion alike have now done their work, and very few more new books with titles like "Ordered Flux" are likely to appear. The new blockage is more likely to consist of general rhetorics, revisionary histories, and narratologies, entitling us to ask, in behalf of interpretation, the same old question: How can the new anatomies proceed with confidence if they do not read attentively, openly, and to some extent unsystematically? The science of the greatest modern anatomist, Northrop Frye, has passed inevitably into eclipse, but rival sciences alone are churlish enough to scorn the grace of his interpretations.

The function of the sublime is to keep interpretation from closure. It persists between forms, as close to one as to another; it should be remarked in this regard that the most sophisticated operative terms of formalism, from Aristotle's "recognition"—duly interpreted—to Skhlovsky's "defamiliarization" and Sigurd Burckhardt's "disturbing element,"63 point clearly toward what I mean by the sublime. A valuable instance of the necessary interaction between forms and the sublime appears in Longinus's reading of Sappho's "ode" to Anactoria. Self-convicted of fragmentation, her tongue "broken" by passion, Sappho "brings everything together," as Longinus says (10.3) with commanding metrical skill. If this were all, the topic of interpretation would still be "ordered flux," but Longinus has merely set interpretation in motion by suggesting an equipoise of motive. One would have to continue—to point out, for example, the consecrating excitement of love-anguish in contrast with an encroaching ennui that is intimated in the very composure and elegance of these sapphics, thus questioning the presupposition we have as readers that form is comfort. One would have to show, always inconclusively, how passion and control infect and finally disfigure each other in the course of their endless give-and-take of values.

The effect of a well-conducted interpretation along these lines, drawn out more and more finely in a dialectic that never quite repeats itself, is the effect of the mathematical sublime. But we still have not faced the imputation of tyranny in our victimage by the victim Sappho. Rumors of tyranny have followed the concept of the sublime ever since they were first prompted by the typical metaphors of Longinus himself. Perhaps it can be shown at least that they have been greatly exaggerated. Tyranny exists without legitimate authority but it still requires that some authority, however specious, be invoked for it. The sublime by contrast is unauthorized, as we have seen, a phantom of possession that is always in retreat from one site to another. Although the sublime never falsifies its nature (quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus) and thus evades the charge of fickleness leveled by Plato against both poets and democracies, yet at the same time it never regiments response; it always surprises and elevates, as Longinus says. Its tonic effect is not subject to conventionalization and it also lacks the monotonous insistence of obsession. Not at all necessarily suggestive of spectacular gloom but of the happy absence, rather, of inhibition, it is best seen, on reflection, as a grace beyond the reach of art.

In an article called "'A Grace Beyond the Reach of Art,"' which is meant to supplement his book on the sublime, Samuel Holt Monk demonstrates that Pope's phrase is less directly indebted to Longinus than to a flourishing and longstanding concept of "grace" per se.64Charis, venustas, gratia, je ne sais quoi, sprezzatura.—roughly synonymous with all these terms, grace was very nearly equivalent in seventeenth-century poetics to sublimity in the century succeeding Boileau's translation of Longinus (1674).65 (Hazlitt's gusto may offer itself as a nineteenth-century equivalent, while indeterminacy and free-play are somewhat unsatisfactory candidates for our own.) The very real difference between the two terms was that grace in the aesthetic milieu of the Restoration suggested nothing gothic, ponderous, or frightening. It encompassed the baroque fillip, the shining of a countenance, the unexpected twist of a period, or the simplicity of an epigram. Its effect, says Monk, was "sudden and surprising," like that of the sublime, and in its time it was, like the sublime, "a repository for the irregular and irrational elements in art,"66 but apart from these parallels it was a very different quality, a carelessness in elegance (like Pyrrha's hair in Horace) rather than a breach of decorum.

Monk says ("Grace Beyond the Reach of Art," p. 134) that Lysias was the stock example of grace in literature, an example taken by seventeenth-century writers from Longinus's probable contemporary Demetrius (see On Style, 3, 128). When one considers what Longinus says about Lysias, one comes to suspect that he may be extending the terms hupsos and megethos to incorporate the charis discussed at length by Demetrius (127-42) and also in passing by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It is important not only that Longinus compares Plato with Lysias while pretending not to, showing thereby that grace, whatever Plato may lack, is certainly what Demosthenes lacks. What is more telling is the fact that the concept of grace would rationalize the presence in Longinus's canon of Sappho's ode, a poem that many scholars, most notably Saintsbury, have refused to call sublime.67 When Demetrius affirms that "one cannot sufficiently admire [the charm: epicharitos] in the divine Sappho,"68 Longinus would certainly applaud the precision of his sentiment. All things considered, he would not demur unduly, I think, if one were to introduce grace into the domain of the sublime.

A modern essay that is splendidly Longinian, provided that one is willing to extend the meaning of hupsos in this manner, is "Language as Gesture" by R. P. Blackmur, whose examples, especially those taken from the plastic arts, have a quality resembling "grace." Blackmur reminds one of Longinus both in his virtuoso, paronomasiac style and also in his way of choosing and then sympathetically fusing his commentary with his examples. He concludes "Language as Gesture" with a tribute to Shakespearean gesture that could be a translation of Longinus: the power of implication in Shakespeare "must overwhelm us even though we realize as we consent to it, that we have made it ourselves."69


I suggested [elsewhere] that the tradition deriving from Aristotle has tended to constitute itself as the only tradition. In recommending a different perspective I have tried (a victim, perhaps, of some obscure law of recoil) to recover nearly the whole field for Longinus, including much to which he never explicitly laid claim: a theory of representation, a rigorous understanding of the interplay among nature, feeling, and language, and a grasp of aesthetic qualities beyond the so-called sublime—the Burkean trombone—extending even to amplification, charm, and delicacy. For the moment I have not pressed these conclusions into a theory of interpretation, but in rough terms the orientation of such a theory will be obvious. Even though the theory itself should remain as evasive as the sublime, in practice it amounts to this: whenever possible, the interpreter should delay the semantic closure that is urged upon him by his or her own will to form and that of the text. The enterprise of interpretation is best honored by those who do not agree to go no further, to get no closer, to honor tenuous symmetries. Having arrived at a liminal understanding of form (both as the determination of consciousness and as unconscious determination70) by feeling along its edges like someone who is blind, the interpreter begins, at that point of exhaustion, to interpret.

The Sophoclean Oedipus disregarded by Aristotle but nonetheless present in the Poetics realizes that, as Longinus says, his misfortunes are plural. Because of his resolution to become a scapegoat he sacrifices the "external trappings" of his governorship—as helmsman and tyrannos—to the interior form of his family romance, scattering the symbols of his far-seeing guardianship on the ground in order to make the character beneath his role visible for the first time. In Longinus all of this seems a preliminary matter; it is a model for the structure of disruption that tells us very little in itself, "catharsis" notwithstanding, about the way the experience reaches the spectator. A fuller and subtler moment in the Oedipus story is commemorated by Longinus, just before he cites the apparition of Achilles over his tomb, as "Sophocles' account of Oedipus dying and giving himself burial to the accompaniment of a sign from heaven" (15.7).

In the messenger's speech recording this event, there are "clefts" in the sky, in the earth, and in knowledge, all of which regions at this moment, especially as Oedipus views them, are nearly indistinguishable. Although each region is sundered, there is still no point of division between them:

Then very quickly we saw him do reverence
To earth and to the powers of air,
With one address to both.
        But in what manner
Oedipus perished, no one of mortal men
Could tell but Theseus. It was not lightning,
Bearing its fire from God, that took him off;
No hurricane was blowing.
But some attendant from the train of Heaven
Came for him; or else the underworld
Opened in love the unlit door of earth.71

Longinus recognizes his affinity with a seer who can bring mind and nature so close together that one sudden obeisance will do for both. A sweep as unconfined as this cannot be imagined without some loss of categorical nicety. Theseus, like Horatio and so many others to come, survives to interpret the experience, reconstructing in his own person the monarchical form of Oedipus while passing on the family form to Hippolytus. Like Longinus, Theseus will aspire to the mathematical sublime; he will be concerned with the quality of life in society after the dynamic sublime has been buried. Leaving the sacred ground, he carries the vision of Oedipus into a community that is preserved, in all its necessary forms, by taking that vision to heart in order not to relive it. The power of Oedipus is now explanatory, descriptive, and perhaps lacking in magnificance, but in being recalled by the voice of Theseus it is made to return from its antisocial isolation. To follow and confirm that return is the whole art, or nature, of interpretation.


1 For these arguments, see William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism: A Short History, 2 vols. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978), 1, 97-111.

2 Olson, "The Argument of Longinus' On the Sublime," in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, ed. R. S. Crane (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1954), p. 259.

3 See "ibid.," p. 233. Should there be any doubt of Aristotle's influence on Olson's allegedly "pluralistic" interpretation, Olson's assertion that the sublime "is a kind of mean" between vices of style ("ibid.," p. 242) will indicate what I mean.

4 For the differences between these views as assessed by the participants, see R. S. Crane, "The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks," in Critics and Criticism, ed. Crane, pp. 83-107; Wimsatt, "The Chicago Critics: The Fallacy of Neoclassic Species," in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1967), pp. 41-65; Elder Olson, "The Dialectical Foundations of Critical Pluralism," TQ 9 (1966), 202-30. Under the tutelage of Richard McKeon, the Chicagoans tended to read Aristotle as though the distinction between language and concept, or referent, were the keystone of his system. See especially McKeon, "Aristotle's Conception of Language and the Arts of Language," Critics and Criticism, pp. 173-231.

5Literary Criticism, 1, 101.

6 Thomas Weiskel points to "the confusion of nature and art, author and work, which will become the trademark of the Longinian or affective sublime" (The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1976], p. 12).

7"Longinus" on Sublimity, trans. D. A. Russell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), to be cited by section number and marginal number, 1.3. For translations I have also consulted Longinus on the Sublime, trans. A. 0. Prickard (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), and On the Sublime, trans. W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1899). 1 have used the Greek edition and commentary of D. A. Russell, "Longinus" on the Sublime (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964). Although the identity of the author is unknown, I follow the nearly universal convention of calling him "Longinus." It is interesting to note that a leading Longinus scholar, G. M. A. Grube, has returned to the belief, or at least leans toward it, that our author was indeed the third-century Cassius Longinus celebrated by Boileau and Gibbon (The Greek and Roman Critics [London: Methuen, 1965], p. 341).

8 The most extreme instance of debunking based on this error is Walter Allen, Jr., "The Terentianus of the Peri Hupsous," American Journal of Philology 62 (1941), 51-64.

9 Neil Hertz describes the "oedipal moment" itself, insofar as Oedipus's recognition can be identified with resolution, as the "sublime of conflict and structure" ("The Notion of Blockage in the Literature of the Sublime," in Psychoanalysis and the Question of the Text, ed. Geoffrey H. Hartman [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1978], p. 76).

10 The fact that Longinus almost certainly found this remark in Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria, 8, 3, 37) makes his assignment of it to the Peripatetics yet more significant.

11 So Roberts. Russell settles for "external trappings" even though the word is prostragodoumenon.

12 Grube has also argued (Greek and Roman Critics, p. 344) that Longinus must have in mind the emotions of characters, not audiences. Aristotle himself says, however (Rhetoric 1408a), that pity, grief, and fear are "low emotions" in oratory. On this point see also Allen Tate, "Longinus and the 'New Criticism,"' in The Man of Letters in the Modern World (New York: Meridian, 1955), p. 188.

13 I mean only the structural values of the Poetics. In the Nicomachean Ethics (1124a) there is a portrait of the "magnanimous man" which closely anticipates the sublime individual in Longinus.

14 I do not think that Longinus's distinctions are completely empty. I would agree, for instance, with Russell's excellent summary ("Longinus" on the Sublime, p. 126) of the difference between figures (schemata) and tropoi, which is, to put it negatively, that if a figure fails the result is a solecism whereas if a trope fails the result is a barbarism. Deconstruction is not the only current school of thought, in any case, which professes a disregard for generic and other such distinctions. See the persuasive article by John Bayley, "Against a New Formalism," Crit Q 10 (1968), 60-71.

15 See, e.g., Russell, "Longinus" on the Sublime, p. 91, and G. M. A. Grube, "Notes on the Peri Hupsous," American Journal of Philology 78 (1957), pp. 365-66.

16 Olson's "Argument" notwithstanding, I would agree with Neil Hertz that one cannot keep a fixed pattern or structure of the text clearly in mind ("Lecture de Longin," Poetique 4 [1973], p. 292).

17 Readers familiar with Jacques Lacan's "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter'" (YES 48 [1972], 38-72) will recognize in this chain of dissimulation and enthrallment, which is so much more complex than the Horation Si vis me flere, the ring of pursuit as Lacan understands it in Poe's story—and in the psychoanalytic transference.

18 On this point see Tate, "Longinus and the 'New Criticism,"' p. 183.

19 Hertz's reading of Longinus's response to Sappho differs from mine in stressing compositional qualities; I do not agree with his assertion that "La doctrine de l'unite organique a rarement et presentee avec autant de ferveur" ("Lecture de Longin," p. 295).

20Romantic Sublime, p. 17. Weiskel feels on the whole, however, with Hertz, that Longinus is committed to "organic continuity" (ibid., p. 21). Wimsatt is nearly alone among the commentators in having remarked that Longinus's figures "tend to have to do with abnormalities of syntax and peculiarities of structure" (Literary Criticism, 1, 103).

21 Allen Tate is the most extreme proponent of the notion that the sublime is a quality of words ("Longinus and the 'New Criticism,"' p. 177). See also Elizabeth Nitchie, "Longinus and the Theory of Poetic Imitation in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," SP 23 (1935), p. 586. Boileau in the "Preface" to his 1674 translation of Longinus insisted persuasively that the sublime is not wholly a question of style (The Continental Model: Selected French Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Scott El ledge and Donald Schier [Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1970], p. 272).

22 Iser, The Implied Reader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974), p. 280.

23 See Hertz, "Lecture de Longin," p. 292.

24 See Geoffrey Hartman on the impossible ideal of "purity" in language in Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), esp. pp. 115-57.

25 As Weiskel says (Romantic Sublime, p. 5), the sublime "is always cloaked in metaphors of aggression."

26 D. A. Russell is especially concerned to deny the similarities between Burke and Longinus. See, e.g., the introduction to his translation, "Longinus" on Sublimity, p. xvi.

27 Hertz ("Lecture de Longin," p. 299) discusses the oedipal situation that appears in this and many more of Longinus's quotations, including the passage on Phaethon's flight cited above.

28 Freud, "The 'Uncanny,"' in On Creativity and the Unconscious, ed. Benjamin Nelson (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), p. 156n. I return to this issue in chapter 5 (p. 175).

29 Allen, "Terentianus of the Peri Hupsous," pp. 52-53.

30 Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, ed. James T. Boulton (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), p. 66.

31 Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: J. M. Dent, 1960), p. 82.

32 Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. J. H. Bernard (New York: Hafner, 1972), p. 83.

33 Perhaps the only commentator who approaches this distinction carefully is George Saintsbury in his eccentric but interesting essay on Longinus in A History of Criticism and Literary Taste, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1900), I, 162.

34 Russell cautions us that grammatically the silence of Ajax is only an analogy and not an example ("Longinus" on Sublimity, p. 9n.), but I am not sure it matters which way we take it.

35 On the elaborateness of the frame composition in Homer, which encodes information in specular pairs of the kind I have stressed in this passage, see Cedric Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958), esp. p. 294-84.

36 A. C. Bradley describes nocturnal silence as "a peace … that may make the face of death sublime" ("The Sublime," in Oxford Lectures on Poetry [London: Macmillan & Co., 1955], p. 49).

37 Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," in The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1964), p. 52.

38 Not all hearers do so, clearly, but the response which does not in itself become an "influence" becomes, however idiosyncratic and interesting, a terminal mutation. Every significant reader is in some sense also a writer. See the text of Longinus at 7.4.

39 Harold Bloom's theory of influence presides over these next few pages in roughly the form of development, lacking the tropes and defenses, that appeared in The Anxiety of Influence (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1975). Also in this context Weiskel writes admirably as follows (Romantic Sublime, p. 32): "To consider the problem of originality is to find the two kinds of sublimation, poet's and reader's, compounded or superimposed."

40 I refer especially to the second of three newspaper essays that are usually entitled "On Genial Criticism": see "On the Principles of Sound Criticism: Essay Second," in Miscellanies Aesthetic and Literary, ed. T. Ashe (London: George Bell, 1885), pp. 10-14.

41 There are several versions of this anecdote. All of them are conveniently reviewed by C. D. Thorpe, "Coleridge on the Sublime," in Wordsworth and Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1939), pp. 193-94. See also Bradley, "The Sublime," p. 37.

42 Quintilian's well-known anticipation of this passage (Institutio Oratoria, 8, 2, 21) is a sarcastic joke at the expense of those who pride themselves on deciphering obscure passages. The relevance of this joke for anyone listening, say, to the priestess at Delphi, should be clear.

43 As Grube writes (Greek and Roman Critics, p. 347), "Clearly Longinus uses mimesis in the broadest, not the restricted rhetorical sense."

44 See Prickard, Longinus on the Sublime, p. xvi.

45 On the complexities of this passage, see Russell, "Longinus" on the Sublime, p. 106. Some scholars have suggested emending psugmata (gaps) to psegmata (dust, chippings).

46 Hertz argues ("Notion of Blockage," p. 70) that a theoretical concern with "blockage" arises only after the decline of Longinus's influence. I think that this concern is already present in Longinus and can be found in certain phrasings of Addison (especially Spectator 412) more apparently than in any author in the decades just preceding Kant.

47 Wimsatt (Literary Criticism, 1, 109) goes so far as to equate sunthesis with rhythm.

48 Yeats, "The Symbolism of Poetry," in Essays and Introductions (New York: MacMillan, 1961), p. 159.

49 As I understand it, the meaning of Kierkegaard's allegory, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology, is that repetition, for the reasons here outlined, is a means of finding grace. It is, in any case, as Valery explained, an enemy of our rational wish to process art as information (see "The Idea of Art," in Aesthetics, ed. Harold Osborne [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978], p. 28).

50 Kant, Critique of Judgment, pp. 86-106. The mathematical sublime is what Thomas Weiskel calls the "hermeneutical sublime," anticipating what I have said earlier in the present essay about the sublime in interpretation (see Romantic Sublime, esp. p. 28).

51 Hertz, "Notion of Blockage," p. 74. See also p. 76 and Hertz, "Lecture de Longin," p. 304. It seems to me that in order to project an adequate dynamic into the structure of the Kantian sublime, Weiskel has had to draw imagination and reason dangerously close to their English meanings, so that imagination swells into the glorious faculty of Wordsworth, significantly an "unfathered vapour from the abyss," and reason shrinks from the radiant proportions Kant awards it to the old patriarchal bogey that the Romantics attributed to the Augustans.

52 Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), pp. 8-13, 30.

53 Freud, "Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" ("The Rat Man"), in Three Case Histories, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1976), p. 88.

54 It has been speculated that there is a lost section on metaphor; that may be, but I would prefer, of course, to think not. See T. R. Henn, Longinus and English Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1934), p. 65.

55 Jakobson would see metaphor as a basis for repetition in that the "poetic function" is an imposition of equivalence on signs ("Linguistics and Poetics," in The Structuralists from Marx to Levi-Strauss, ed. Richard DeGeorge and Fernande DeGeorge [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1972], p. 95).

56 The definitive discussion of the absence of simultaneity from the functioning of tropes is that of Paul de Man, "The Rhetoric of Temporality," in Interpretation, ed. Charles Singleton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 173-209.

57 What all the faults have in common, says Grube, is "swellings" ("Notes on the Peri Hupsous," p. 364).

58 The use of the topoi of malformation in satire has been treated theoretically by Michael Seidel, Satiric Inheritance, Rabelais to Sterne (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1979), esp. pp. 3-59.

59 I would not have guessed it, frankly, but see the conjecture of Russell, "Longinus" on the Sublime, p. 148.

60 For a modern discussion of the politics of sublimity, see Iris Murdoch, "The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited," YR 49 (1959-60), 247-71. For the fullest discussion of Longinus's closing remarks, see Charles P. Segal, "Hupsos and the Problem of Cultural Decline," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 64 (1959), 121 ff.

61 Errors of this sort are well discussed by Martin Price, "Form and Discontent," NLH 4 (1972-73), 383.

62 See Jonathan Culler, "Beyond Interpretation: The Prospects of Contemporary Criticism," CL 28 (1976), 244-56.

63 See Skhlovsky, "Art and Technique," in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1965), pp. 3-57, and Burckhardt, Shakespearean Meanings (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1968), 285-313. Weiskel (Romantic Sublime, p. 19) speaks well in this context of Wordsworth's "great program of defamiliarization."

64 Monk, "' A Grac e Beyon d the Reac h of Art," 'JHI 5 (1944), 131-50.

65 Or somewhat more than a century. Although Burke ignored Longinus and Hugh Blair abused him, his influence is still reflected, according to Monk, as late as 1787 (The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England [Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1960], p. 25).

66 Monk, "A Grace Beyond the Reach of Art," pp. 132, 150.

67 Saintsbury, History of Criticism, I, 154.

68Demetrius on Style, ed. W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1902), p. 131.

69 Blackmur, "Language as Gesture," in Language as Gesture: Essays in Poetry (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1974), p. 24.

70 I do not know of a fully developed argument that anticipates what I have been suggesting about the two "forms" and their relations; M. H. Abrams has written interestingly, however, in discussing John Keble, of a "conflict of motives" between composition and repression (Mirror and the Lamp [New York: Norton, 1958], p. 146).

71Oedipus at Colonus, trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Sophocles I, ed. David Grene (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 150.


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Further Reading