On the Sublime

by Longinus

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What does Longinus believe is nature's role in creating sublime aesthetics?

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In comparison with the Romantics, who have shaped the idea of the sublime for English readers, Longinus has little to say about nature. His most extensive commentary on the aesthetics of nature comes in chapter 35 of On the Sublime, on which he writes of the grandeur of the natural world.

The role of nature in the aesthetics of sublimity is, according to Longinus, to keep humanity focused on what is immense and astounding, rather than what is merely useful. He points out that you can drink from or wash in a little stream, but your ideas of sublimity come from the vastness of rivers and oceans. A lamp is useful, whereas an erupting volcano is not, but it is the latter which shapes your concept of the sublime.

The most important way in which nature forms an idea of the sublime, therefore, is by providing a multitude of wonders such as stars, mountains, and oceans, far beyond the scale of everyday human life.

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