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On The

By Longinus

Reporter: Kate Angela Cuevas And Connie Nachon

Longinus is the conventional name of the author of the
treatiseOn the Sublime, a work which focuses on the
effect of good writing.
Longinus, sometimes referred to asPseudoLonginusbecause his real name is unknown, was a
Greek teacher ofrhetoricor a literary critic who may
have lived in the 1st or 3rd century AD.
He is known only forOn the Sublime.
Longinus was greatly influenced by the large amount of
traveling he completed in his youth. He journeyed to
countless cities such as Athens, Rome and Alexandria.
While on these trips, he attended lectures about
philosophy, undoubtedly shaping his own beliefs. One of
Longinus favorite philosophers wasPlato.

On the Sublime as a Treatise

On the Sublime is a critical document of
great world and significance.
It is both a treatise onaesthetica and
literary criticism.
It is written in an epistolary form and the
final part, possibly dealing with public
speaking, has been lost.
The treatise is dedicated to Posthumius
Terentianus, a cultured Roman and public
figure, though little else is known of him.

Itis a compendium of literary exemplars,

with about 50 authors spanning 1,000
years mentioned or quoted along with the
expected examples from Homerand other
figures of Greek culture, and even a
passage fromthe Book of Genesis.
It is an interesting combination of
philosophical speculation about the
elevating, moving powers of poetry and
oratory and of practical suggestions about
the grammatical constructions and figures
of speech that contribute to the
effectiveness of great or sublime writing.

What Is Sublime?
Sublimity is the note which rings from a great mind.
Thus it is that, without any utterance, a notion,
unclothed and unsupported, often moves our wonder,
because the very thought is great (Chp. 9)
Longinus defined sublime in literature as loftiness
and excellence in language that uplifts the reader
and makes him or her react as the writer desires.
Sublimity may arise from a few words that cast light
on a whole subject, or it may be the result of the
expansion and development of an idea; the treatise
suggests that the former method is generally the
more powerful. (Amplification VS Sublimity Chp. 1114)

What Is Sublime?
The aim of a great work of art is to transport the
reader out of himself. It is has a capacity to move
the reader to divine joy.
A great work of art does not only please or instruct,
but it also moves, transports, elevates. It pleases
all and it pleases all the time.
Longinus believed that Nothing is poetry unless
it transports.
According to him, a work of art become excellent,
only when it has power to sublimate and by
sublimity, Longinus means elevation or
loftiness or a certain distinction and
excellence in composition.

Three Pitfalls To Avoid

On The Quest For
Sublimity/Faults of

1. Tumidity/Bombast/Turgidity
It tries to "transcend the limits of the
sublime" through false elevation and
overblown language.
A work xcessively enhanced in style or
It is a fault because according to Longinus,
all swellings which are hollow and unreal
are bad, and very possibly work round to
the opposite condition (Chp. 3)

2. Puerility
The most ignoble fault
It is the fault Longinus associates with
pedants or a person who unduly
emphasizes minor details
It is a pedantic conceit, which overdoes
itself and becomes frigid at the last
This is passion out of place and
unmeaning, where there is no call for
passion, or unrestrained where restraint is

3. Frigidity/Parenthyrsus
Parenthyrsus is the expression of false, empty, or
out-of-place passion or sentimentality of the lowestcommon-denominator sort.
Longinus identified this as the source of those "ugly
and parasitical growths in literature, the "pursuit of
novelty in the expression of ideas.
an able author in other respects, and not always
wanting in greatness of style ; learned, acute, but
extremely critical of the faults of others, while
insensible to his own; often sinking into mere
childishness from an incessant desire to start new

Characters of a Sublime Literature


pleases immediately.
pleases all.
please all the time in all places.
pleases forever.

Thus it appeals at a universal range.

True and False Sublime

Longinus made a distinction between false and
the true sublime.
Longinus said that the false sublime is
characterised first, by timidity or bombast of
Secondly, the false sublime is characterised by
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 validitythoughts
common to man of all ages and centuries
in a language which instinctively uplifts our
The true sublime uplifts our soul.It arise
from lofty ideas clothed in lofty
language. It gives us joy and exalts our
spirit. The more we read, the more we enjoy
it. Everytime, it suggest new ideas and

Chapter 5
All these undignified faults spring up in
literature from a single cause, the craving for
intellectual novelties, on which, above all else,
our own generation goes wild. It would almost
be true to say that the sources of all the good
in us are also the sources of all the bad. Thus
beauties of expression, and all which is
sublime, I will add, all which is agreeable,
contribute to success in our writing ; and yet
every one of these becomes a principle and a
foundation, as of success, so of its

Chapter 5
Much the same is to be said of changes
of construction, hyperboles, plurals for
singulars ; we will show in the sequel
the danger which seems to attend each.
Therefore it is necessary at once to raise
the question directly, and to show how it
is possible for us to escape the vices
thus intimately mingled with the

Five Elements of
the Sublime
(Chapter 8)

a. Natural Capacities of the Author

1. the power of forming great
conceptions or the grandeur of
2. "vehement and inspired
passion or capacity for strong

b. Rhetorical Skills
1. the due formation of figures or
appropriate use of figures of speech
2. noble diction or suitable diction
on metaphors
3. dignified and elevated
composition or majestic structure
of the whole work

1. Grandeur of Thought
Grandeur of thought is the first essential element
because noble and lofty thought find their natural
expression in lofty language.
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 and servile ideas and habits, to produce
anything that is admirable and worthy of an
immortal life. It is only natural that great accents
should fall from the lips of those whose thoughts
have always been deep and full of majesty."
Stately thoughts belong to the loftiest minds.

How to Obtain it?

Feed your soul on the works of the great
masters like Homer, Plato or Demosthenes, and
capture from them some of their own greatness
What Longinus has in mind is not mere
imitation or borrowing, but that "men catch fire
from the spirit of others.
The process is called illumination, guiding the
mind in some mysterious way to the lofty
standards of the ideal

2. Capacity for Strong

Longinus asserts that nothing contributes more to
loftiness of tone in writing than genuine emotion.
At one place, for instance, he says, "Iwould
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. "
Longinus believes that only an artist who is
intoxicated by passion and imagination can
transfer the same passion in his reader.This way
he can arouse in them an emotional transport.

3. Appropriate Use of
Figures of Speech
Longinus considered this as a very important
element to sublimity and so devotes nearly 1/3 of
his work to it.
The grandeur of any figure "will depend on its
being employed in the rightplaceand the
rightmanner,on the right occasion,and with the
It strengthens the sublime, and the sublime
supports it. We need the figures only "when the
nature of the theme makes it allowable to amplify,
to multiply or to speak in the tones of exaggeration
or passion; to overlay every sentence with
ornament is very pedantic.

When the figure is unrelated to passion, it creates

a suspicion of dishonesty and is divorced from
The chief figures that make for sublimity are the
theoretical question,asyndeton,
In brief, the use of figures must be psychological
intimately connected with thought and emotion,
and not merely mechanical.
Proper use of figure of speech appeal to our
passion. In this connection he says,A figure is
more effective when the fat that it is a figure is
happily concealed and it is concealed by
spendeor of style.

4. Nobility of Diction
Being a great rhetorician Longinus gives great
importance to diction, which includes proper
arrangement of words and use of metaphors as
ornament of language.
Diction should differ as occasion differs. All
characters should not speak the same 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
seductive 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.

It is they that breathe voice into dead things. They are

'the very light of ought'a radiance that illumines the
innermost recesses of the writer's mind.
But'it should be noted that imposing language is not
suitable for every occasion. When the object is trivial, to
invest it with grand and stately words would have the
same effect as putting a full-sized tragic mask on the
head of a little child.'
This necessitates the use of common words which, when
in elegant, make up for it by their raciness and
Among these ornaments of speech Longinus considers
metaphor and hyperbole.
Proper use of metaphor and hyperbole produces
sublimity more effectively than other figure.

5. Dignity of Composition
Finally, Longinus came to the fifth and final source of
sublimity. This is the combination of all the four
source or the dignified composition.
It should be one that blends thought, emotion,
figures, and words themselvesthe preceeding four
elements of sublimityinto a harmonious whole.
It emphasized on the dignity composition that is the
proper arrangement of word. It combines thought,
emotion, figures and words into an organic whole.
According to him, Sublimity means a certain
destination and excellence in composition. And them
he warns that great thought which lack composition
and themselves wasted and wasted the total sublime

Such an arrangement has not only a natural

power of persuasion and of giving pleasure but
also the marvellous power of exalting the soul
and swaying the heart of men. It makes the
hearer or reader share the emotion of the
But if the elements of grandeur be separated
from one another, the sublimity is scattered and
made to vanish but when organised into a
compact system and still further encircled in a
chain of harmony they gain a living voice by
being merely rounded into a period.

A harmonious composition alone

sometimes makes up for the deficiency
of the other elements.
A proper rhythm is one of the elements
in this harmony.
Negatively, deformity and not grandeur
is the result if the composition is either
extremely concise or unduly prolix.
The one cripples the thought and the
other overextends it.

Measurement of Sublime
Longinus gave the three criteria to measure
sublimity of a work.
1. It is good to imagine how home would have aid
the same things or how Plato or Demosthenes
would have invested with sublimity in a work..
2. If Homer and Demosthenes would have been
alive, how would they react against it? Their
feelings about the work is a measurement.
3. The last measurement for any work to be
sublime is : How will posterity take it?

Effects of the Sublime

Loss of rationality
Alienation leading to identification with the
relative process of the artist
Deep emotion mixed in pleasure and
An example of sublime (which the author
quotes in the work) is a poem bySappho,
the so-calledOde to Jealousy, defined as a
"Sublime ode". A writer's goal is not so
much to express empty feelings, but to
arouse emotion in his audience.