LONGINUS: ON THE SUBLIME
FIVE PRINCIPAL SOURCES OF SUBLIMITY IN LITERATURE
By the word ‘sublime’ Longinus, means elevation or loftiness – all that raises style above the ordinary, and gives it distinction in its widest and truest sense. So sublimity is a certain distinction and excellence in composition. Longinus says that, both nature and art contribute to sublimity in literature. Art is perfect when it seems to be nature, and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her. The five principal sources of the sublime are as under:
Grandeur of Thought
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 ideas and habits, to produce anything that is admirable and worthy of an immortal life. It is natural that great accents should fall from the lips of those whose thoughts have always been deep and full of majesty. Therefore, he who would attain distinction of style must feel his soul on the works of the great masters, as Homer, Plato and Demosthenes, and capture from them some of their own greatness. This reflects the classicism of Longinus.
Capacity for Strong Emotion
The second source of the sublime is forceful and inspired passion. Longinus asserts that nothing contributes to loftiness of tone in writing than genuine emotion. At one place, for instance, he says, “I would 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”. But the emotions have to be true emotions and in the right place.
Appropriate Use of Figures
The third source of attaining excellence of style is the use of figures of speech which he considers very important, and so devotes nearly one third of his work to it. He shows discrimination and originality of thinking in his treatment of the subject. Figures of speech should not be used mechanically; rather they must be rooted in genuine emotion. Used naturally, they impart elevation to style, and are themselves made more effective by an elevated style.
The grandeur of any figure will depend on its being employed in the right place and the right manner, on the right occasion, and with the right motive. It strengthens the sublime, and the sublime supports it.
Nobility of Diction
The fourth source of the sublime is diction which includes choice and arrangement of words and the use of metaphors and ornamental 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 tempting 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.
Dignity of Composition
The fifth source of the sublime is the dignity of composition, that is, a dignified composition or the arrangement of words. It should blend thought, emotion, and figures and words themselves —the preceding four elements of sublimity – into a harmonious whole.
A harmonious composition alone sometimes makes up for the deficiency of the other elements. Such an arrangement has not only a natural power of persuasion and of giving pleasure but also the marvelous power of exalting the soul and moving the heart of men. Making a distinction between the false and the true sublime, Longinus says that the false sublime is characterized first, by timidity or bombast of language, which is as great an evil as swellings in the body. Secondly, the false sublime is characterized by triviality, which is a parade and pomp of language. 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...
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