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Nothing is known with certainty about Longinus (lohn-JI-nuhs). He most likely lived in the first century c.e. and wrote Peri Hypsous (first century c.e.; On the Sublime, 1739) during the reign of Nero (r. 54-68). A substantial part of Longinus’s On the Sublime has been lost. Still, the treatise, Platonic in its rhetoric and Aristotelian in its logic, is perhaps the finest example of literary criticism produced in antiquity. The author is writing to rebut the literary views of Caecilius of Caleacte and, by discussing a parallel set of authors, both demolishes those views and explains to those in public life how to move the souls of their hearers through language. Longinus bases his aesthetic theory on his sense of human dignity, which he places in the faculty of speech and in the human responses to grand natural phenomena—such as volcanoes and oceans—and their authentic artistic evocations.


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Longinus seems to have had no influence in antiquity, as he is nowhere cited. After the translation into French by Nicolas Boileau in 1674, Longinus enjoyed a great vogue in Europe, which reached its zenith in the eighteenth century, when his terminology, insight, and viewpoint became such a part and parcel of both critics and their readers that in the nineteenth century he was simply subsumed. His influence continued to operate in this beneath-the-surface way in the twentieth century.


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Arieti, James A., and John M. Crossett, eds. and trans. On the Sublime. Vol. 21 in Texts and Studies in Religion. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985. Gives a line-by-line commentary on the work and its critics. Includes bibliography.

Benediktson, D. Thomas. Literature and the Visual Arts in Ancient Greece and Rome. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

Blamires, Harry. A History of Literary Criticism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Summarizes the place of On the Sublime in the development of critical ideas; explains relevant issues. Notes and bibliography.

Kennedy, George A., ed. Classical Criticism. Vol. 1 in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. The section covering On the Sublime summarizes its content, its significance, and relevant questions. Notes, bibliography, and index.

Longinus. On the Sublime. Translated with commentary by James A. Arieti and John M. Crosset. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985.

Roberts, W. Rhys, ed. Longinus: “On the Sublime.” New York: AMS Press, 1979. This definitive textual, critical, and historical study by an eminent nineteenth century classical scholar forms the basis for subsequent studies of Longinus. Includes introduction, facsimiles, appendices, notes, indices, and bibliography of seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century scholarship.

Wimsatt, William K., and Cleanth Brooks. Classical and Neo-Classical Criticism. Vol. 1 in Literary Criticism: A Short History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. The analysis of On the Sublime in chapter 6 is especially useful for the student, as it distinguishes between the “sublime” of Longinus and that of Immanuel Kant.

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