Elevating Literature: Longinus On The Sublime


Literature has the power to move the soul, spark imagination, and transport us to different realms. Throughout history, there have been countless discussions and debates on what makes a piece of writing truly exceptional. One of the most notable figures in this realm is the ancient literary critic Longinus, who explored the concept of The Sublime. In this comprehensive article, we delve into Longinus’s ideas on The Sublime and its significance in the world of literature.

Longinus: A Brief Overview

Gaius Cassius Longinus, better known simply as Longinus, was a Greek literary critic and philosopher who lived in the 3rd century AD. While little is known about his life, his impact on literary theory is profound. Longinus’s most famous work is “On the Sublime,” which explores the nature of greatness in writing and the qualities that elevate a piece of literature to the realm of the sublime.

Defining The Sublime

At the heart of Longinus’s theory is the concept of The Sublime. Unlike the merely beautiful or well-crafted, the sublime transcends the ordinary and reaches extraordinary heights. Longinus believed that The Sublime evokes a sense of awe, grandeur, and even terror in the reader. It is the quality that stirs the soul and leaves a lasting impression.

Characteristics of The Sublime

Longinus identified several key characteristics that contribute to The Sublime in literature:

  1. Elevation: The Sublime lifts the reader out of the ordinary and into the realm of the extraordinary.
  2. Vehemence: It evokes powerful emotions and creates a sense of urgency in the reader.
  3. Imagery: Vivid and striking imagery is essential to creating a sense of The Sublime.
  4. Figurative Language: Metaphors, similes, and other forms of figurative language enhance the sublime quality of a piece of writing.
  5. Passion: The Sublime is marked by intense passion and conviction that resonates with the reader.

Examples of The Sublime in Literature

Longinus drew on examples from Greek and Roman literature to illustrate his theory of The Sublime. Some of the most famous examples include:

  • Homer’s vivid descriptions of battle scenes in the “Iliad”
  • Virgil’s depiction of the underworld in the “Aeneid”
  • Shakespeare’s powerful soliloquies in “Hamlet”
  • Milton’s epic portrayal of Satan in “Paradise Lost”

These works exemplify The Sublime through their use of vivid imagery, emotional depth, and grandeur of expression.

The Influence of Longinus

Longinus’s ideas on The Sublime have had a lasting impact on literary criticism and theory. His emphasis on the power of language to evoke emotion and transcend the ordinary has resonated with writers and critics throughout history. Authors from the Romantic poets to modernists like T.S. Eliot have drawn on Longinus’s ideas in their own work.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What is the difference between the beautiful and the sublime in literature?

A1: The beautiful in literature is aesthetically pleasing and well-crafted, while the sublime transcends the ordinary and evokes a sense of awe and grandeur.

Q2: How can writers incorporate the sublime into their work?

A2: Writers can use vivid imagery, powerful language, and intense emotion to create a sense of the sublime in their writing.

Q3: Can the sublime be subjective?

A3: While there are certain qualities that are traditionally associated with the sublime, individual readers may experience it differently based on their own perceptions and experiences.

Q4: Are there modern examples of the sublime in literature?

A4: Yes, contemporary authors such as Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and Arundhati Roy have been praised for their use of the sublime in their work.

Q5: How does Longinus’s concept of the sublime compare to later literary theories?

A5: While Longinus’s ideas were groundbreaking in their time, they have been built upon and expanded by later critics such as Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant.

In conclusion, Longinus’s exploration of The Sublime remains a seminal work in the field of literary criticism. By examining the qualities that elevate writing to the sublime, Longinus has provided a framework for understanding the power of literature to inspire, provoke, and elevate the human spirit.


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