Longinus – On the Sublime

  • Sublimity is the location of the mean by defining the extremes (xiii)
  • Chapter 7 seems particularly important.  In this section Longinus discusses the relationship between rhetoric and moral worth and also notes that the sublime must stand the test of time.  Chapter 8 goes on to discuss how sublimity is caused: both from nature and from technique.
  • Longinus notes that he is interested in how “sublimity” can be useful “for men in political life” (6).  He goes on to note shortly thereafter that the function of rhetoric isn’t necessarily to persuade, but to drive the audience to ecstasy (I’m assuming that the “what is beyond nature” is synonymous with rhetoric or the hypernatural).
  • Longinus notes that “we can learn from no other source than technique what in speeches and writings depends wholly on nature” (14).  See question #1
  • Parenthyrson – the opposite of kairos
  • Longinus notes that there are many instances when the correct or sublime could have just as easily been the opposite: terrible.  So, how does this occur?  It has a lot (or everything) to do with “critical decision.”  So, what is this critical decision?
  • Longinus notes that “those sublimities are fine and true to nature which are satisfying throughout all time and to all men.  You see, whenever men of different behaviors, lives, emulations, ages, and speeches and writings all have one and the same opinion about something, then the agreed upon opinion, arising out of a discordant group, takes on the object of wonder an assuring strength which does not lend itself to debate” (44).
  • The 5 springs of sublimity:

o    Conception

o    Intense and enthusiastic emotion

o    Molding of figures (both figures of conception and figures of style – mimesis)

o    Style (I think mostly style)? (or “noble phrasing” and the selection of words and trope that elaborate on style) (48)

o    Arrangement – the way things are put together in worth and loftiness

  • “Sublimity is the resonance of greatness of mind” (52-3).
  • L. states there are two important things responsible for sublimity: 1) selecting from all that brings itself out to our attention what is just right; and 2) of setting it together so as to make a unity, a kind of body (65).  The first drives the audience by selection of points and the second by the “densification” of what has been selected.
  • Development – when in speeches points build upon each other with “force.”  (73)  This could come from relying on topoi or by building on the emotions (73-5).  Sublimity leads man to irrationality through effect.
  • “Sublimity lies in what has been made lofty, development in multiplicity” (75).
  • One can stretch to the sublime through mimesis or the imitation of great works.  This has a lot of convergence with the ancient theory of mimesis that Muckelbauer traces out in his article “Imitation and Invention in Antiquity.


1.     Longinus states “we can learn from no other source than technique what in speeches and writings depends wholly on nature” (14).  I take this to mean something like “rhetoric is the technique that we can use to discover the most “natural” – it is the thing that we can learn in order to achieve genius.  My question here is this: if Longinus noted that genius could be taught (but likely also existed in a natural state in some rhetors) why was his treaty (if it was) taken up by folks in the 18th century as a great treatise on aesthetic criticism.  Does the Romantic notion of authorial genius come later?  Am I creating a binary here that may not really be operating in the Enlightenment (and shortly therafter) era (between natural genius and learned natural genius)?

2.     I’m a bit confused about what counts as sublime (in Chapter 7 Longinus seems to imply that it is something that has stood the test of time in multiple different contexts) and “critical decision” as a faculty for judging work (from Chapter 6).  Put plainly, wouldn’t “critical decision” lead to an interrogation of the status quo so valued in chapter 7’s discussion of sublimity?

3.     Longinus notes that “conception” is a stream of sublimity but was already mentioned in the section on Xenophon.  Can we recap?  What is conception?  Is it just a “great thought”?


1.     Now what is “undergraduate wit”?  Is it not manifest that it is that collegian way of thinking which, by working overtime to please, terminates in false wit? (25)  Apparently Timeaeus from Plato’s dialogue is full of the false wit that Longinus is discussing.  What an undergraduate! (if you’re reading this and laughed at that joke, you are as dorky as I am!)

One Response to “Longinus – On the Sublime (partial)”

  1. Ali Asghar joyo

    Actually it is amalgam of classicism and romanticism,that’swhy it is fit for a good work.

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