Longinus, like Horace, takes a pragmatic position in his literary theory Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:53:21
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Longinus, like Horace, takes a pragmatic position in his literary theory. His central question is, what is good writing, and how may it be achieved? His first answer is that good writing partakes of what he calls the “sublime”. In the classical historical tradition, the sublime implies that man can, in emotions and in language; transcend the limits of the human condition. According to Longinus sublime is a blend of art and nature. Sublimity consists of excellence and distinction in expression. The effect of elevated language is not to persuade others but to entrance them. The effect of persuading the audience is on the artist’s hand. Irresistible force and mastery as well as the control of the hearer should be all in the poet’s sphere. In Longinus’ words “…a well timed stroke of sublimity scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and in a flash reveals the full power of the speaker.” An excellent work will uplift our soul. It feels as if the work of art is of our own creation.
Longinus first brings out the defects some poets tend to make when they write poetry. He advice poets to avoid such imperfections like tumidity Pompous style, puerility silly and parenthyrsus misplaces emotions. Tumidity means pomposity in style of writing. He accuses many poets like Gorgias, Callisthenes and Amphicrates for using high flown expressions and confused imagery such as ” Xerxes the Zeus of the Persians ” or “vultures, animated sepulchers” . Puerility is another flaw of poets. This makes the poets write in an ignoble way. There is another mistake some poets make which is parenthyrsus or false sentiment. Writers sometimes get carried away by plots and “outbursts of emotions which are not relevant to the matter in hand”.
Longinus goes on to identify five elements of the sublime:
1 “the power of forming great conceptions”;
2 “vehement and inspired passion”;
3 “the due formation of figures”;
4 “noble diction”;
5 “dignified and elevated composition.”
He recognizes great art by the presence of great ideas; great ideas, in turn, are conceived of by great men: “It is not possible that men with mean and servile ideas and aims prevailing throughout their lives should produce anything that is admirable and worthy of immortality. Great accents we expect to fall from the lips of those whose thoughts are deep and grave.” These great men capable of great ideas will also be capable of deep and sincere feeling which transcends the overemotional sentiments of parenthyrsus.
The “vehement and inspired passion” required for the sublime will, like great ideas, spring only from those without “mean and servile ideas.” The “due formation of figures” concerns those ways in which elevated thought and feeling may be best expressed: “a figure is at its best when the very fact that it is a figure escapes attention.” Noble language is that which transports the audience without distracting the audience: it is language which is transparent to the transcendent–to borrow one of Joseph Campbell”s favorite phrases. “Dignified and elevated composition” is that which forms important elements into a natural unity. As stated by Longinus good ideas are a mirror image of a good soul. If the mind is corrupted and unprincipled one can not create beautiful art. Such work will not be eternalized. For great ideas Longinus brings out extracts from Homer’s “Iliad”. “…the silence of Ajax in ‘the Calling Up of the Spirits ‘is grand, more sublime than any words. ”
Such good words will be immortalized for ever and Longinus also says he respect Homer for the heroism used in his epics. But he criticizes Homer for creating gods with human defects. Longinus also recognizes when a writer becomes mature in age he tends to lose the spirit of exuberance. In “Odyssey” Homer has a tendency to bring folks tales into his poetry. Longinus compares Homer’s late period to the setting sun. Longinus states that both Sappho and Homer used only what they need in a plot which bring out emotions that is important for their work. Longinus studies the devices enhanced by some poets. As worded by Longinus Demosthenes is compared to a thunderbolt, Cicero is like a wide spreading conflagration that rolls on to consume everything far and wide” and Plato “flows with such a noiseless stream, he none the less achieves grandeur.”
Longinus also gives some practical advice to new poets to reach the sublime of a work; he says it is good to keep in mind how the great poets like Homer, Thucydides and Plato had dignity in what they write. Also there should be some grandeur in what you write and power of persuasion. A poet should use imagery and must have the power of imagination. Like Euripides’ imagery in “Orestes” “Mother, I beseech you, do not set upon me those blood – boltered and snake like hags.” A poet should see the subject the feeling and make the audience see it the same way as you have imagined. Longinus wants the poets to bring out is rhetorical questions in a work. By putting across questions and answering them, the writer can create great emotions in the audiences mind. It should be quick and abrupt not pre meditated.
Another figure to reach sublimity is to use the Interchange of Singular and Plural which called Polyptoton. In Longinus’ own words he says “the use of plural in the place is singular has more resounding effect” he gives examples from Sophocles to give us a better idea of it, “O, marriages, marriages, it is you that begot me and gave me birth, and then brought to light again the same seed, and showed fathers, brothers and sons …” but the writer who is using this device should be very careful because it might have a great impact on literary composition.
In a work of art there should be a natural flow of ideas in a work of art this is called Hyperbaton or Inversion. Anger, fear, jealousy, will spoil the real flow of feelings .Art will only be perfect when it becomes a part of nature. By this way the writer can easily control the mind of the reader. According to Longinus periphrasis “often harmonizes with the direct expression of an inelegant, but pleasantly tempered.” This is very well illustrated by Plato at the beginning of his ‘Funeral Oration’ “we have done what gives them the tribute that is their due, and having gained this, they proceed along their appointed path…” and Xenophon “you regard toil as the guide to a life of pleasure “.
Longinus compares periphrasis to the sweetness of music. But the danger of it is, it quickly leaves the attraction and becomes empty. Diction is the most expensive in language. If you do not use the language effectively it will be like a child wearing a big tragic mask. Proper diction should consist of grandeur, beauty, mellowness, weight, force, power and any other worthy quality. Longinus feels using homely terms are far more expressive than elegant diction. Familiar language is extremely vivid mush the same to be said of Herodotus’ expressions “Cleomenes in his madness cut his own flesh in strips ” and “stomaching things ” may be quite vulgar but their expressiveness saves them from actually being vulgar.
There should be an appropriate number of metaphors at least two or more metaphors should be brought out in a paragraph. The most appropriate occasion is when emotions “come pouring our like a torrent”. He criticizes Plato for using many metaphors in “Laws”. “The timely expression of violent emotions, together with true sublimity, is the appropriate antidote for the number and boldness of metaphors “is Longinus advice on metaphors. The one who is keen on language and other devices is sure to make mistakes but the one with rich ideas is a little neglectful of poetic and structural just like a millionaire who is neglecting some of his property. He finds this fault in Homer and calls it superiority of flawed sublimity. These are few of Longinus’ recommendation to have sublimity in a work of art.
According to an internet source “Longinus seems to fit squarely into the critical school described by T.S. Eliot”s “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” He recommends, as a way to the sublime, “the imitation and emulation of previous great poets and writers” a move which puts him more clearly into alignment with the Aristotelian view of poetry as an object-in-itself than to the Platonic view of poetry–and any other “mimetic” art–as 3x removed from reality. He treats poetry as an agonistic process–anticipating Bloom”s anxiety of influence–speaking of Plato struggling “with Homer for the primacy.” The poet, in evaluating his work, should ask “How would Homer and the other greats have expressed this or that matter? What would they think of my work? How will succeeding ages view my work?

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