Longinus is the first romantic critic. He is a pioneer in the field of literary appreciations. “On the Sublime” is the first and a unique treatise on style. His prescriptions for sublimity are universal.
He asks quite different questions about literature from those asked by Plato and Aristotle. His vision is large. He constantly views poetry in relation to the author and the time of the author. He makes use of both the historical and thought provoking comments.
His mind is free from prejudice. A great deal of his work is original and illuminating and is of permanent or universal significance. He attaches importance to emotion, imagination and beauty of words. He thus becomes a pioneer in the field of aesthetic appreciation. He finds the permanent and universal qualities in the works of Homer. According to him, the function of literature is not didactic, but aesthetic. That is why Scott-. james calls him the first romantic critic, but Atkins calls him an exponent if real classic spirit.
He is a romantic critic because he believes in the romantic function of literature and discards the moral function of literature. But he joins romanticism with classicism. On the one side, there is importance for emotion, on the other hand, there is importance for grandeur. “He is subjective rather than objective. He is an enthusiast rather than analyst. He is better fitted to fire the young than to convince the sceptical. He speaks rather of transport or inspiration than of purgation.
Longinus is the most modern of the ancient critics. Horace was very much influenced by Longinus. He classified certain important matters like the moderns. He talks sense. After Aristotle, he is the greatest critic among the Greeks. He represents the lastrorrfanticism and classicism. He gave an effective theory of literature. He drew upon a number of literatures. Style for him was the life and blood, the very spirit of the work and the personality of its author. He was the first to assert that “style” is the man.
He is the first European critic who gave particular prominence to creative faculty of man which the romantic poets call imagination. He unified inspiration and perspiration.
“On the Sublime” is a classic gift of Longinus. It is a fragmentary treatise. It is not yet known who Longinus really was. It is written in Greek and is addressed to a Roman.
It has gone to a number of translations. Nevertheless, it is a bright essay on style.
According to Longinus, the purpose of the greatest writers has been to introduce, to delight and to persuade. But their greatness lies in sublimity. Sublimity is the echo of a great soul, of a lofy mind; it is not merely an excellence in language. It is the note that rings from a great mind. It lies in intensity—”on a certain distinction and consummation of excellence in expression.” A work of genius must aim at ecstasy. In Indian terms, it is the combination of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram (the true, the good and the beautiful) that makes a work sublime.
Longinus discovers five main sources of the sublime—grandeur of thought, capacity for strong emotion, appropriate use of figures of speech, nobility of diction and dignified and elaborated composition. Without grandeur of thought the writer cannot soar to great heights. That is why servilities do not create sublimity. Great accents fall from the lips of those whose thoughts have always been deep and full of majesty. The truly eloquent must be free from low and ignoble thoughts. Sublimity can be acquired by imitating and emulating the example of the previous greatness. Only noble thoughts can lead to noble ideas which will ultimately lead to the noble deeds. Works of Homer and Milton are full of sublimity because their thoughts are sublime and style is grand.
Sublime thought can be attained by strong emotions—emotions such as fear, grief, pity are far removed from the sublime. A writer who indulges in avoiding such inferior type of emotions falls close to the standard of the sublime.
Figures of speech are the artistic aids to sublimity. The chief figures are the rhetorical questions, hyperbatons, apostrophe, and peripherisis. The figures of speech should be carefully used.
Diction includes choice and arrangement of words as well as the use of figures of speech. Verbal magic has its own effect. Diction relates to style. Style is the wise and systematic selection of the most important elements, events or passions into a single whole. The use of questions and answers often makes the speeches more effective and impressive. Low and indignified works tend to disfigure sublimity.
A work of art should be harmonious and complete. For this, it should have a dignified and elaborate composition. It should have sufficient length. Here Longinus has perhaps Aristotle in his mind. Aristotle also says that the plot should have a beginning, a middle and an end. By arrangement and composition Aristotle means verbal order which is usually called rhythm. Words must be harmoniously set, for the resulting harmony is a natural instrument. Not only of persuasion and pleasure but also of lofty emotion.
Such a harmonious combination of words appeals to the soul and enables the reader to share in the emotions of the author. At last, Longinus warns against extreme conciseness of expression : it cramps and cripples the thought.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. The-first romantic critic; a pioneer in literary appreciation; the first critic to emphasize the importance of style so elaborately; asked new
and fresh questions about literature; makes both historical and thought-provoking comments.
2. Original and illuminating, permanent and universal. According to him, the function of literature is not moral but aesthetic.
3. Scott-James calls him the first romantic critic and Atkins calls him an exponent of real classic spirit. In fact, he makes a happy compromise between the romantic and classical approaches.
4. A romantic because of his aestheticism, emphasis on strong emotion, subjectivity, beauty; a classicist because of his emphasis on grandeur.
5. He gave a theory of the Sublime.