On the Sublime by Longinus


An ancient Greek writer known by the treatise “On the Sublime” is often identified with the person Longinus. The idea of the sublime in literature and art is examined in this study. Below is a synopsis of its main points:

Definition of the Sublime: According to Longinus, the sublime is a feature of creative or literary works that uplifts the viewer and inspires feelings of transcendence, majesty, or awe. It transcends the commonplace and has an enduring impact on the spectator or reader.

The Significance of Inspiration: According to Longinus, artistic inspiration emerges at periods of real sublimity. It is an innate quality that results from a strong intellectual and emotional connection between the artist and the subject matter.

Methods for Attaining the Sublime: Longinus lists a number of methods that authors and artists might use in their creations in order to reach the sublime. These include the capacity to communicate a feeling of grandeur and loftiness, the utilization of stunning and vivid imagery, and passionate and emotive language.

The Emotional Impact: According to Longinus, an audience should experience intense emotions such as wonder, terror, or pleasure when they see the sublime. It ought to take the spectator or reader to a new level of experience.

Examples from Literature: Longinus uses passages from ancient literature to support his arguments all throughout the book. He quotes passages from the Bible in addition to writings by classical Greek and Roman writers like Homer and Plato.

Criticism of Previous Theories: Longinus argues that previous theories of rhetoric and aesthetics are overly formulaic and fall short of capturing the real meaning of the sublime.

A significant impact was made by “On the Sublime” on subsequent literary and aesthetic criticism. Its insights into the nature of excellence in literature and the arts have led to its study and admiration.

In conclusion, Longinus’ “On the Sublime” examines the idea of the sublime in literature and art, highlighting the significance of inspiration, emotional resonance, and particular methods for accomplishing this attribute. In the annals of literary and artistic critique, it is still a significant work.

Important Questions of “On the Sublime” by Longinus

Q. No. 1: What, according to Longinus in On the Sublime, is the test of excellence in literature?


According to Longinus, the essence of the sublime in writing is in the writer’s capacity to evoke powerful feelings and profound ideas via their words. To produce a work that is unique, rich of ideas, and effectively communicates them to the reader, these elements must be paired with noble diction and exquisite word choice.
According to Longinus, “great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, and dignified word arrangement” are all necessary components of literary brilliance. These factors work together to provide the reader with heightened sensitivity to the author’s argument and an increased emotional state. According to Longinus, “we may be certain that we have lighted on the true sublime when a passage is pregnant with suggestion, when it is difficult, if not impossible, to divert attention from it, and when it takes a strong and lasting hold on the memory.” Generally speaking, we may consider such phrases to be really noble and majestic, pleasing every reader every time. (Longinus seventh) The result of lofty ideas conveyed in elegant language that sticks in the mind is the sublime in literature.
According to Longinus, a work of literature is considered excellent if it can be elevated to the level of sublime. He delves further into his definition of this term, stating that sublime literature elevates the reader’s spirit via an undeniable effect on them. Observe how Longinus characterizes this effect:
Because the truly sublime uplifts our souls as though intuitively, it soars with pride and exalts itself as if it had created what it has heard.
As a result, the metaphor of flight is used to illustrate the influence that exceptional writing has on the reader. The ability of sublime literature to be reread again without losing its initial effect is Longinus’ second definition of it. Sophisticated writing, according to Longinus, must “please all and always,” as it embodies a timeless quality that will never lose its worth.

Q. No.2 What is false sublimity? Explain with reference to On the Sublime by Longinus.


After making a few preliminary observations and before outlining the origins of true sublimity, Longinus outlines the many traps that a writer might fall victim to while attempting to achieve sublimity in On the Sublime.
In order to separate the fake sublime from the actual sublime, Longinus initially names the species as “bombast.” This is ostentatious swelling that happens when anything is elevated over what is appropriate or natural for it, or when exaggerated rhetoric is used.
“Puerility” is the second kind of false sublime that Longinus discusses. In contrast to bombast, which exceeds the boundaries of the real sublime, puerility is the antithesis of grandeur and hence errs. Longinus claims that it is brought about by a fussy mental habit that seeks accuracy and refinement but ends up obsessing over trivial details.
According to Longinus, “Parenthyrsus,” or the outpouring of an inappropriate or meaningless outburst of passion in light of the situation, is the third false sublime. According to Longinus, the false sublime therefore belongs to the categories of faults stated above.
Any work that attempts to transport the reader via authentic, exalted language but falls short is considered false sublimity. As he compares the reader’s experience to a condition of flight, Longinus believes that any work that really reaches the state of sublimity may be clearly identified by its effect on the reader. A really beautiful piece of literature uplifts the reader’s spirit and is also meant to withstand many readings and the passage of time without ever losing its power to captivate.
Therefore, literature that attempts sublimity but falls short of its objective is false sublimity. Take note of what Longinus says on literature that falls into the category of falsely sublime:
If seen in the light of day, each one of them gradually descends from the dreadful into the disdainful; they are muddy in language and muddled in imagery rather than the result of intensity.
Because of this, Longinus expands on his description of literature as “not sublime but high-flown,” which aids in differentiating between writing that succeeds and writing that fails because the writer tries too hard or aims for sublimity but falls short of the mark, resulting in the use of pretentious language that does not elevate the reader.

Q.No.3 On the Sublime is a wonderful piece of comparative and practical criticism.” Elucidate.


Effective critique is characterized by the use of several instances to substantiate the author’s arguments. This is made abundantly obvious in the book by Longinus, who cites a variety of texts as examples of those that, in his opinion, have attained the stage of sublimity and those that, in his opinion, have not. He draws a comparison between The Iliad and The Odyssey, pointing out that Homer wrote the former at the “height of his inspiration” while the latter portrays Homer as an older writer “whose grandeur remains without its intensity.” This is one especially powerful passage. Observe how he characterizes this distinction:

He does not keep the same high tone throughout The Odyssey as he did in those Ilium verses. His sublimities are not as evenly maintained and free from the tendency to collapse; neither are there the same abundance of collected emotions nor the flexible, expressive language filled with real-life imagery.
This is just one illustration of the many literary examples Longinus uses to clarify his major ideas on sublimity and its attainment. This essay also outlines and elaborates on the five components that Longinus believes are required to attain sublimity. This critique may undoubtedly be classified as comparative and practical given the methodical and meticulous manner in which Longinus constructs his arguments and the many instances he provides to support them.

Q.No.4 In On the Sublime by Longinus, what is the difference between amplification and sublimity?


The central claim of Longinus’ “On the Sublime,” which sets him apart from the majority of classical commentators on the topic, is that “grandeur of thought,” which can only be produced by a writer with a “elevated cast of mind,” is what distinguishes a sublime passage or work. The idea that someone with such high moral standards and profound understanding of human nature is the only one capable of producing such grandiose thoughts is implied. As he states, the sublime’s purpose is to incite pleasure in the reader or audience member rather than to convince them, in contrast to rhetoric. He says that it is not enough to just grasp rhetorical figures, tropes, or other technical tactics.
In Section XI, he discusses the several forms of the rhetorical device of amplification, or “auxesis,” which includes exaggeration (also known as “hyperbole”), developing sentences to a climax (also known as “incrementum”), and more, before outlining its limitations when sublimity is absent:
“In terms of amplification, you may remove the sublimity component and essentially remove the soul from the body. As soon as sublimity is eliminated, the whole thing becomes uninteresting, fearful, and lifeless.
In the section that follows, he makes a clear contrast between the two that seems to support the former: One idea may often express the sublime, but amplification can only exist in prolixity and diffuseness. As an example, he cites the silence of Ajax as he turns away from Odysseus in Book XI of The Odyssey, which he claims is indicative of the sublime’s tendency to depict extreme situations that are beyond words. Alternatively, consider this passage from Sappho’s Ode 31: “This, this, is what made my heart So wildly flutter in my breast; Whenever I look on thee, my voice Fades and Fades and Fails.”
“On the Sublime” by Longinus defines sublimity as the ultimate result that authors aim for, mainly in terms of the reader’s reaction to the work as a blend of spiritual elevation and intense emotion. The linguistic strategy of amplification is used to achieve sublimity. It falls under the category of figures of speech and is one of the classic rhetorical devices taught by progymnasmata. In essence, amplification is the process of stacking layers of impact to produce intensity using as many words as feasible. Cicero is regarded as one of the greatest Latin writers who used this method with proficiency. It was a sign of Asianizing style in Greek.

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