On the Sublime

by Longinus

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What factors destroy sublime effects in On the Sublime?

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If this treatise is about sublimity and how to achieve it, Longinus arguably spends at least as much time talking about the various pitfalls that there are for the writer who strives to achieve sublime literature. Longinus argues, with reference to a few classical authors and with examples from their work, that one of the dangers of trying to write sublime literature is that authors are so desperate to avoid being criticised as boring or weak that they go too far to the opposite extreme and end up creating writing that is characterised by "tasteless tumidity":

...all who aim at elevation are so anxioius to escape the reproach of being weak and dry that they are carried, as by some strange law of nature, into the opposite extreme.

As a result, paradoxically, they try too hard to achieve sublimity and end up drifting into the "tawdry and affected." In addition, Longinus argues that a chief enemy of sublimity is "unseasonable and empty passion" which cause the author to fall into "displays of emotions which are not caused by the nature of the subject." These two elements, misguided passion, and trying too hard, are two of the key ways in which sublimity is destroyed according to Longinus and his criticism of classical writing of his time.

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