On the Sublime

by Longinus

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Elucidate why "On the Sublime" is a wonderful piece of comparative and practical criticism.

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One of the hallmarks of good criticism is the use of a number of different examples to prove the points of the author. This is something that is clearly evident in this treatise, as Longinus refers to wide-ranging examples of texts that he considers to have achieved the state of sublimity and those that he uses as examples of texts that have fallen short of this goal. One section that is particularly strong is when he compares The Iliad and The Odyssey, refering to the way in which the former was written by Homer at the "height of his inspiration" whereas the latter reflects Homer as an older writer "whose grandeur remains without its intensity." Note how he describes this difference:

He does not in The Odyssey maintain so high a pitch as in those poems of Ilium. His sublimities are not evenly sustained and free from the liability to sink; there is not the same profusion of accumulated passions, nor the supple and oratorical style, packed with images drawn from real life.

This is just one example of the extensive use Longinus makes of different examples of literature to elucidate his main points about sublimity and how it is achieved. In addition, this essay clearly lists and develops the five essential ingredients that Longinus feels are necessary for sublimity to be achieved. Given the careful and systematic way in which Longinus builds his arguments and how he uses a number of examples to illustrate what he is saying, this is a piece of criticism that can definitely be described as comparative and practical.

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