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Longinus (literature)

    =='''Longinus the Man'''== Longinus (Λογγινος) is a conventional name applied to a Greek teacher of rhetoric or literary critic who may have lived in the first or third century CE. Longinus is known only for his treatise On the Sublime (Περι υψους) a work which focuses on the effect of good writing (Russell xlii)

    On the Sublime A Brief Summary'

    The treatise itself is dedicated to “Posthumius Terentianus” a cultured Roman and public figure though little else is known of him (Roberts 19)On the Sublime is a compendium of literary exemplars around 50 authors spanning 1000 years (Roberts 26) Along with the expected examples from Homer and other figures of Greek culture Longinus refers to a passage from Genesis which is quite unusual for the first century:
    A similar effect was achieved by the lawgiver of the Jews — no mean genius for he both understood and gave expression to the power of the divinity as it deserved — when he wrote at the very beginning of his laws and I quote his words  "God said" — what was it? — "'Let there be light' And there was 'Let there be earth' And there was"

    Longinus critically praises and blames these literary works as examples of good or bad styles of writing (Roberst 6). Longinus ultimately promotes an “elevation of style” (Roberts 11) and an essence of “simplicity” (Brody 91) To quote the famous author “the first and most important source of sublimity [1] the power of forming great conceptions” (Brody 54) The concept of the sublime is generally accepted to refer to a style of writing that elevates itself “above the ordinary” (“Longinus” 135) Finally Longinus sets out five sources of sublimity: “great thoughts strong emotions certain figures of thought and speech noble diction and dignified word arrangement” (“Longinus” 136)

    Moral Philosophy

    Given his positive reference to Genesis Longinus is assumed to be either a Hellenized Jew or readily familiar with such a culture (“Longinus” 135) As such Longinus emphasizes that to be a truly great writer authors must have “moral excellence” (Russell xlv) In fact critics speculate that Longinus avoided publication in the ancient world “either by modesty or by prudential motives” (Roberts 2). Moreover Longinus stresses that transgressive writers are not necessarily prideless fools even if they take literary risks that seem “bold lawless and original” (Russell xlviii) As for social subjectivity Longinus acknowledges that complete liberty promotes spirit and hope; according to Longinus “never did a slave become an orator” (Blair 972) On the other hand too much luxury and wealth leads to a decay in eloquence--eloquence being the goal of the sublime writer (Roberts 13)

    Concerns over Longinus and On the Sublime

    Ambiguity of the Author'

    The manuscript's contents page states Διονυσιου η Λογγινου ("by Dionysius or Longinus") an ascription by the medieval copyist that was misread as "by Dionysius Longinus" When the manuscript was being prepared for printed publication the work was initially attributed to Cassius Longinus (213 - 273 CE) Since the correct translation includes the possibility of an author named “Dionysius” some attribute the work to Dionysius of Halicarnassus a writer of the first century AD (Grube xviii) There remains the possibility that the work belongs to neither Cassius Longinus or Dionysius of Halicarnassus but rather some unknown author writing under the Roman empire likely of the first century
     Dionysius of Hallicarnassus This scholar wrote under Augustuspublishing a number of works (Russell xxiii) Dionysius is generally dismissed as the potential author of “On the Sublime since the writing officially attributed to this author differs from the work on the sublime in style and thought (Russell xxiv)
     Cassius Longinus Accredited with writing a number of literary works this disciple of Plotinus is “the most distinguished scholar of his day” (Grube xvii) Cassius receives his education at Alexandria and later becomes a teacher himself First teaching at Athens Cassius later moves to Asia Minor where he achieves the position of advisor to the queen of Palmyra Zenobia (Grube xvii-xviii) Cassius is a dubius possiblity for author of the treatise since it is notable that no literature later than the 1st century AD is mentioned and the work is now usually dated to the early first century AD.

    Misleading Translations and Lost Data

    Translators have been unable to clearly interpret the text including the title itself The "sublime" in the title has been translated in various ways to include senses of elevation and excellent style The word sublime argues Rhys Roberts is misleading since Longinus’ objective broadly concerns “the essentials of a noble and impressive style” than anything more narrow and specific (23) Moreover about one-third of the treatise is missing (Roberts 17); Longinus’ segment on similes for instance has only a few words remaining (Russell xxi) Matters are further complicated in realizing that ancient writers Longinus’ contemporaries do not quote or mention the treatise in any way (Roberts 2)

    Limitations of the Writing

    Despite Longinus’ critical acclaim his writing is far from perfect Longinus’ occasional enthusiasm becomes “carried away” and creates some confusion as to the meaning of his text (Grube xi) Furthermore eighteenth-century critic Edward Burnaby Greene finds Longinus at times to be “too refined” (163) Greene also claims that Longinus’ focus on hyperbolical descriptions is “particularly weak and misapplied” (146) Occasionally Longinus also falls into a sort of “tediousness” in treating his subjects (Roberts 34) The treatise is also limited in its concentration on spiritual transcendence and lack of focus on the way in which language structures and determines the feelings and thoughts of writers (“Longinus” 137) Finally Longinus’ treatise is difficult to explain in an academic setting given the difficulty of the text and lack of “practical rules of a teachable kind” (Russell xliii)

    Writing Style and Rhetoric

    Despite its faults the treatise remains critically successful because of its “noble tone” “apt precepts” “judicious attitude” and “historical interests” (Roberts 36) One of the reasons why it is so unlikely that known ancient critics wrote On the Sublime is because the treatise is composed so differently from any other literary work (Grube xx) Since Longinus’s rhetorical formula avoids dominating his work the literature remains “personal and fresh” unique in its originality (Grube x). Longinus rebels against the popular rhetoric of the time by implicitly attacking ancient theory in its focus on a detailed criticism of words metaphors and figures (Grube xvi) More explicitly in refusing to judge tropes as entities unto themselves Longinus promotes the appreciation of literary devices as they relate to passages as a whole (Grube xvi) Essentially Longinus rare for a critic of his time focuses more on “greatness of style” than “technical rules” (Roberts 33) Despite his criticism of ancient texts Longinus remains a “master of candor and good-nature” (Greene 40) Moreover the author invents striking images and metaphors writing almost lyrically at times (Grube xii) In general Longinus appreciates and makes use of, simple diction and bold images (Russell xli) A writer’s goal is, not so much to express empty feelings but to arouse emotion in his audience (Brody 39)


    In reading On the Sublime critics have determined that the infamous ancient philosopher and writer Plato is a “great hero” to Longinus (Russell xvii) Not only does Longinus come to Plato’s defense but he also attempts to raise his literary standing in opposition to current criticisms Another influence on the treatise can be found in Longinus’ rhetorical figures which draw from theories by a first century BCE writer Caecilius (Roberts 12)

    Historical Criticism and Use of On the Sublime

    10th Century'

     The original treatise before translation is printed in a medieval manuscript and is attributed to "Dionysius or "onginus" ("Longinus" 135)

    13th Century

     A Byzantine rhetorician makes obscure references to what may be Longinus’ text (Grube vii)

    16th Century

     The treatise was ignored by scholars until it was published by Francis Robortello in Basel in 1554 and Niccolò da Falgano in 1560 (“Longinus” 136) The original work is attributed to “Dionysius Longinus” and most European countries receive translations of the treatise (Roberts 1).

    17th Century

     Sublime effects become a desired end of much Baroque art and literature and the rediscovered work of "Longinus" goes through half a dozen editions in the 17th century It is Boileau's 1674 translation of the treatise into French that really starts its career in the history of criticism Despite its popularity some critics claim that the treatise was too “primitive” to be truly understood by a “too civilized” seventeenth-century audience (Brody 98)

    18th Century

     Longinus’ text reaches its height in popularity (Grube ix) In England critics including Dryden and Pope esteemed Longinus' principles of composition and balance second only to Aristotle's Poetics Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful owes a debt to Longinus' concept of the sublime and the category passes into the stock-in-trade of Romantic intellectual discourse for as "Longinus" said "The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport" a fitting sentiment for Romantic thinkers and writers who reach beyond logic to the wellsprings of the Sublime At the same time the Romantics gain some contempt for Longinus given his association with the “rules” of classical poets Such contempt is ironic given the widespread influence of Longinus on the shaping of eighteenth-century criticism (Russell xlv)

    19th Century

     Early in the century doubts arise to the authorship of the treatise Thanks to Italian scholar Amati Cassius Longinus is no longer assumed to be the writer of On the Sublime (Roberts 3). Simultaneously the critical popularity of Longinus’ work diminishes greatly; though the work is still in use by scholars it is rarely quoted (Grube viii) Despite the lack of public enthusiasm editions and translations of On the Sublime are published at the end of the century (Grube viii)

    20th Century

     Although the text is still little quoted it maintains its status apart from Aristotle’s Poetics as “the most delightful of all the critical works of classical antiquity” (Grube x-xi)

    Works Cited

    Blair H., “From Lectures on Rhetoric and Bells Lettres” from The Rhetorical Tradition 2nd Ed. Eds Bizzell P. & B. Herzberg Bedford Books 2001 950-979
    Brody Jules Boileau and Longinus Switzerland   Columbia University Press 1958
    Greene Edward Burnaby Critical Essays  1770 England  The Scolar Press 1973
    Grube GMA Longinus  On Great Writing (On the Sublime) New York   The Liberal Arts Press Inc 1957
    “Longinus first century CE” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism Ed. Vincent B. Leitch New York   Norton & Co. Inc 2001 135-154
    Roberts Rhys W. Longinus on the Sublime London   Carland Publishing Inc 1987
    Russell DA ‘Longinus ’ On the Sublime London   Oxford University Press 1964

    External link