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LONGINUS: ON THE SUBLIME
FIVE PRINCIPAL SOURCES OF SUBLIMITY IN LITERATURE
By the word ‘sublime’ Longinus ,means elevation or loftiness – all that raises style above the ordinary, and gives it distinction in its widest and truest sense. So sublimity is a certain distinction and excellence in composition. Longinus says that, both nature and art contribute to sublimity in literature. Art is perfect when it seems to be nature, and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her. The five principal source s of the sublime are as under : Grandeur of Thought Nobody can produce a sublime work unless his thoughts are sublime. Sublimity is the echo of greatness of soul. It is impossible for those whose whole lives are full of mean ideas and habits, to produce anything that is admirable and worthy of an immortal life. It is natural that great accents should fall from the lips of those whose thoughts have always been deep and full of majesty. Therefore, he who would attain distinction of style must feel his soul on the works of the great masters, as Homer, Plato and Demosthenes, and capture from them some of their own greatness. This reflects the classicism of Longinus. Capacity for Strong Emotion The second source of the sublime is forceful and inspired passion. Longinus asserts that nothing contributes to loftiness of tone in writing than genuine emotion. At one place, for instance, he says, “I would confidently affirm that nothing makes so much for grandeur, as true emotion in the right place, for it inspires the words as it were, with a wild gust of mad enthusiasm and fills them with divine frenzy”. But the emotions have to be true emotions and in the right place. Appropriate Use of Figures The third source of attaining excellence of style is the use of figures of speech which he considers very important, and so devotes nearly one third of his work to it. He shows discrimination and originality of thinking in his treatment of the subject. Figures of speech should not be used mechanically; rather they must be rooted in genuine emotion. Used naturally, they impart elevation to style, and are themselves made more effective by an elevated style. The grandeur of any figure will depend on its being employed in the right place and the right manner, on the right occasion, and with the right motive. It strengthens the sublime, and the sublime supports it. Nobility of Diction The fourth source of the sublime is diction which includes choice and arrangement of words and the use of metaphors and ornamental language. The discussion of diction is incomplete because four leaves of this part of the book are unfortunately lost. Nevertheless, words, when suitable and striking, he says, have a moving and tempting effect upon the reader and are the first things in a style to lend it grandeur, beauty and mellowness, dignity, force, power and a sort of glittering charm.
Dignity of Composition The fifth source of the sublime is the dignity of composition, that is, a dignified composition or the arrangement of words. It should blend thought, emotion, and figures and words themselves —the preceding four elements of sublimity – into a harmonious whole. A harmonious composition alone sometimes makes up for the deficiency of the other elements. Such an arrangement has not only a natural power of persuasion and of giving pleasure but also the marvelous power of exalting the soul and moving the heart of men. Making a distinction between the false and the true sublime, Longinus says that the false sublime is characterized first, by timidity or bombast of language, which is as great an evil as swellings in the body. Secondly, the false sublime is characterized by triviality, which is a parade and pomp of language. Thirdly, the false sublime results when there is a cheap display of passion, when it is not justified by the occasion, and so is wearisome. True sublime, on the other hand, pleases all and pleases always, for it expresses thoughts of universal validity – thoughts common to man of all ages and centuries – in a language which instinctively uplifts our souls.
Written and Composed By: Prof. A.R. Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education Cell Phone: 03339971417
LONGINUS: ON THE SUBLIME LONGINUS AS A CRITIC CONTRINBUTION OF LONGINUS
Longinus is the first romantic critic. He is a pioneer in the field of literary appreciation. “On the Sublime” is the first and a unique treatise on style. His prescriptions for sublimity are universal. He asks quite different questions about literature from those asked by Plato and Aristotle. His vision is broad. He constantly views poetry in relation to the author and the time of the author. He makes use of both the historical and thought provoking comments. His mind is free from prejudice. A great deal of his work is original and illuminating and is of permanent or universal significance. He attaches importance to emotion, imagination and beauty of words. He is a romantic critic because he believes in the romantic function of literature and discards the moral function of literature. But he joins romanticism with classicism. On the one side, there is importance for grandeur. He is subjective rather than objective. He is an enthusiast rather than analyst. He is better fitted to fire the young than to convince the skeptical. Longinus is the most modern of the ancient critics. Horace was very much influenced by Longinus. He classified certain important matters like the moderns. He talks sense. After Aristotle, he is the greatest critic among the Greeks. He represented the last romanticism and classicism. He gave an effective theory of literature. He drew upon a number of literatures. Style for him was the life and blood, the very spirit of the work and the personality of its author. He was the first to assert that “Style” is the man. “On the Sublime” is a classic gift of Longinus. It is a fragmentary treatise. It is not yet known who Longinus really was. It is a bright essay on style. According to Longinus, the purpose of the greatest writers has been to introduce, to delight and to persuade. But their greatness lies in sublimity. Sublimity is the echo of a great soul, of a lofty mind; it is not merely an excellence in language. It is the note that rings from a great mind. A work of a genius must aim at ecstasy. In Indian terms, it is the combination of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram (the true, the good and the beautiful) that makes a work sublime. Longinus discovers five main sources of the sublime – grandeur of thought, capacity for strong emotion, appropriate use of figures of speech, nobility of diction and dignified and elaborate composition. Without grandeur of thought the writer cannot rise to great heights. Only noble thoughts can lead to noble deeds. Sublime thoughts can be attained by strong emotions. A writer who indulges in avoiding inferior types of emotions falls close to the standard of the sublime. Figures of speech are the artistic aids to sublimity. The chief figures are the rhetoric questions, hyperbaton, apostrophe and periphrasis. The figures of speech should be carefully used. Verbal magic has its own effect. Diction relates to style. Style is the wise and systematic selection of the most important elements, events or passions into a single whole. The use of questions and answers makes the speeches more effective and impressive.
A work of art should be harmonious and complete. For this, it should have a dignified and elaborate composition. It should have sufficient length. Words must be harmoniously set, for the resulting harmony is a natural instrument, not only of persuasion and pleasure but also of lofty emotion. Such a harmonious combination of words appeals to the soul and enables the reader to share in the emotions of the author. At least, Longinus warns against extreme conciseness of expression because it cramps and cripples the thought.
Science only tells us what is possible, not what is right.
Every one minute you spend worrying about failing is Just one minute that you have failed to prepare for success. Resolve to live until you die. Prof. A.R. Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education Cell Phone: 03339971417
LONGINUS: ON THE SUBLIME LONGINUS AS A ROMANTIC CRITIC
Scott-James calls Longinus “The first romantic critic” because of his insistence on passion, ecstasy, transport, imagination, intensity and exaltation. These are the romantic traits found in criticism of Longinus. In the words of Prof. Saintsbury, “Longinus has marked out grounds of criticism very far from those of the ancient period. Before Longinus the Greek and Roman critics judged a work of art in accordance with the set rules, or considered it either from the pragmatic or the ethical stand-point. Longinus used all these standards. He judged a work more by its essence than by its form. He gave his theory of sublimity and insisted that the reader or hearer should be carried away, transported and moved to ecstasy by the grandeur and the passion of the work We should be cautious of observing that he was not thorough romantic critic. He tempers romanticism with what is sanest in classicism. Scott-James says that classicism was touched with romance, but not darkened. He knew that emotion and passion should be guided by some rules. He says that mere grandeur is exposed to danger when left without the control of reason and the ballast of scientific method. In this way it can be said that he is the first romantic critic who maintained his affiliations with classicism. Prof. Scott-James also says, “Though he was the first to raise the base upon which romanticism rests, he turned and tempered them with what is the sanest in classicism. Though he was the first great critic to proclaim the efficacy of inspiration, he did not think that beauty comes like wind from heaven to fill the sails of the poet’s ship and drive it without effort across the sea. Longinus is a romantic critic in some other ways too. He opposed the classical view that not more than two metaphors at a time should be used in a work, especially because he was gifted with a genuine romantic temper. He was a romantic critic as Rhys Roberts says, “He is subjective rather than objective. He is an enthusiast rather than an analyst. He is better fitted to fire the young than to convince the maturely skeptical. He speaks rather of transport or inspiration, than of purgation or universal. Prof. Atkins disagrees with Scott-James, and says that it is as an exponent of the genuine classical spirit that Longinus is perhaps best described, and not, as he has been called, the first romantic critic. The classical qualities of Longinus as a critic are quite obvious. He shows a great reverence for the ancient Greek models, for tradition, and advocates this imitation. He does not believe that a genius is a low unto himself.. He stands for fitness, correctness, selection and balance. He is blind to the “romance” in Homer’s Odyssey. He believes in rules and regulations. He stands for the use of a refined and cultivated poetic style. But, it is true that he anticipates much that is modern in critical works. And this is shown by his concern with the sense rather than with the form of literature. He is indeed the most modern of the ancient critics. His chief claim to modernity rests on his conception of inspiration and ecstasy. In fact the fusion of the romantic, the classical and the modern strains in Longinus is the real key to his greatness, originality and relevance. He has an appeal to the romanticists as well as classicists and also some extent to the moderns. He was first to assert that “Style is the man”.
LONGINUS: ON THE SUBLIME SUBLIMITY IS THE ECHO OF A NOBLE MIND
Longinus says, “Great utterance is the echo of greatness of the soul”. It is impossible that those whose thoughts are trivial and servile should flash out anything wonderful and worthy of immortality. Great literature is thus the creation of instinctive genius. Thoughts that are lofty and awe-inspiring find their natural expression in exalted phrase. Such loftiness of thought is normally a gift of nature rather than an acquired quality. But art can help in putting a curb on the wild tendencies of nature. Longinus says, “Fine writing needs the spur as well as curb”. Both nature and art are, therefore, necessary for the creation of the Sublime in literature. Great thoughts spring from great souls. The truly eloquent must be free from low and mean thoughts. Men with mean and servile ideas cannot produce immortal literature. It is only great minds that produce great literature. So the first source of the sublime is that of grasping great thoughts. Sublimity is the image of the soul. A thought, even when it is not uttered, is at times sublime. Such is the silence of Ajax in Odyssey. But, what does actually the sublime consists of? Longinus tries to answer the question at the very outset of his treatise: “The Sublime consists in certain loftiness and of language, and it is by this and this only that the greatest poets and prose writers have won pre-eminence and lasting fame”. And he goes on: “Work of a genius does not aim at persuasion, but ecstasy of lifting the reader above himself. Its wonder, wherever and whenever appears, startles us; it prevails where the persuasive or agreeable may fail; for persuasion depends mainly on ourselves, but there is no fighting against the sovereignty of genius. It imposes its irresistible will upon us all. Where there is only skill in invention and laborious arrangement of matter a whole treatise, let alone a sentence or two, will scarcely avail to throw light on a subject. But the Sublime at the critical moment shoots forth and tears the whole thing to pieces and like a thunder bolt, and in a flash reveals the entire author’s power”. R.A. Scott-James says, “We have the first perfectly definite statement of doctrine , here, which Joubert could not make more precise when he said: “ Nothing is poetry unless it transports”; which Sir Thomas Browne was to translate into the language of sentiment when he exclaimed, “I love to lose myself in a mystery to pursue my reason to an O Altitude! And which De Quincy was to nail down in his distinction between the literature of knowledge and the literature of power – ‘The function of the first is to teach; the function of the second is to move” the sublime effect of literature, for Longinus, attained, not by argument, but by revelation. Its appeal is not through the reason, but what we should call imagination. Its effect on the mind is immediate, like a flash of light upon the eyes”.
The function of literature, before Longinus, if it was poetry, was to instruct or to delight or to do both and, if it was prose, to persuade the reader. Longinus found this three word formula wanting. He discovered that the masterpieces of Greek classical literature – epics of Homer, the lyrics of Sappho and Pinder were great for a different reason altogether – their sublimity. So instruction or delight or persuasion, therefore is not the test of ecstasy caused by an irresistible magic of speech. If he is spellbound by what the writer says, the work has the quality of the Sublime.