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Title: On the Sublime
Author: Longinus, 1st cent.
Language: English
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         *       *       *       *       *


                  ON THE SUBLIME

             Translated into English by

                 H. L. HAVELL, B.A.
   Formerly Scholar of University College, Oxford

              with an Introduction by
                    ANDREW LANG

                 MACMILLAN AND CO.
                    and New York

               _All rights reserved_

         *       *       *       *       *


             S. H. BUTCHER, Esq., LL.D.

 Professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh
   Formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
         and of University College, Oxford

                    This Attempt
     to Present the Great Thoughts of Longinus
                 in an English Form

                    Is Dedicated

       in Acknowledgment of the Kind Support
  but for Which It Might Never Have Seen the Light
            and of the Benefits of That
        Instruction to Which It Largely Owes
    Whatever of Scholarly Quality It May Possess


The text which has been followed in the present Translation is that
of Jahn (Bonn, 1867), revised by Vahlen, and republished in 1884. In
several instances it has been found necessary to diverge from Vahlen’s
readings, such divergencies being duly pointed out in the Notes.

One word as to the aim and scope of the present Translation. My object
throughout has been to make Longinus speak in English, to preserve, as
far as lay in my power, the noble fire and lofty tone of the original.
How to effect this, without being betrayed into a loose paraphrase, was
an exceedingly difficult problem. The style of Longinus is in a high
degree original, occasionally running into strange eccentricities of
language; and no one who has not made the attempt can realise the
difficulty of giving anything like an adequate version of the more
elaborate passages. These considerations I submit to those to whom I
may seem at first sight to have handled my text too freely.

My best thanks are due to Dr. Butcher, Professor of Greek in the
University of Edinburgh, who from first to last has shown a lively
interest in the present undertaking which I can never sufficiently
acknowledge. He has read the Translation throughout, and acting on his
suggestions I have been able in numerous instances to bring my version
into a closer conformity with the original.

I have also to acknowledge the kindness of the distinguished writer who
has contributed the Introduction, and who, in spite of the heavy demands
on his time, has lent his powerful support to help on the work of one
who was personally unknown to him.

In conclusion, I may be allowed to express a hope that the present
attempt may contribute something to reawaken an interest in an unjustly
neglected classic.


The Treatise on the Sublime may be divided into six Parts, as follows:--

I.--cc. i, ii. The Work of Caecilius. Definition of the Sublime.
  Whether Sublimity falls within the rules of Art.

II.--cc. iii-v. [The beginning lost.] Vices of Style opposed to the
  Sublime: Affectation, Bombast, False Sentiment, Frigid Conceits.
  The cause of such defects.

III.--cc. vi, vii. The true Sublime, what it is, and how

IV.--cc. viii-xl. Five Sources of the Sublime (how Sublimity is related
  to Passion, c. viii, §§ 2-4).

  (i.) Grandeur of Thought, cc. ix-xv.

    _a._ As the natural outcome of nobility of soul. Examples (c. ix).

    _b._ Choice of the most striking circumstances. Sappho’s Ode (c. x).

    _c._ Amplification. Plato compared with Demosthenes, Demosthenes
      with Cicero (cc. xi-xiii).

    _d._ Imitation (cc. xiii, xiv).

    _e._ Imagery (c. xv).

  (ii.) Power of moving the Passions (omitted here, because dealt with
    in a separate work).

  (iii.) Figures of Speech (cc. xvi-xxix).

    _a._ The Figure of Adjuration (c. xvi). The Art to conceal Art
      (c. xvii).

    _b._ Rhetorical Question (c. xviii).

    _c._ Asyndeton (c. xix-xxi).

    _d._ Hyperbaton (c. xxii).

    _e._ Changes of Number, Person, Tense, etc. (cc. xxiii-xxvii).

    _f._ Periphrasis (cc. xxviii, xxix).

  (iv.) Graceful Expression (cc. xxx-xxxii and xxxvii, xxxviii).

    _a._ Choice of Words (c. xxx).

    _b._ Ornaments of Style (cc. xxxi, xxxii and xxxvii, xxxviii).

      (α) On the use of Familiar Words (c. xxxi).

      (β) Metaphors; accumulated; extract from the _Timaeus_; abuse
        of Metaphors; certain tasteless conceits blamed in Plato
        (c. xxxii).
        [Hence arises a digression (cc. xxxiii-xxxvi) on the spirit
        in which we should judge of the faults of great authors.
        Demosthenes compared with Hyperides, Lysias with Plato.
        Sublimity, however far from faultless, to be always preferred
        to a tame correctness.]

      (γ) Comparisons and Similes [lost] (c. xxxvii).

      (δ) Hyperbole (c. xxxviii).

  (v.) Dignity and Elevation of Structure (cc. xxxix, xl).

    _a._ Modulation of Syllables (c. xxxix).

    _b._ Composition (c. xl).

V.--cc. xli-xliii. Vices of Style destructive to Sublimity.

  (i.) Abuse of Rhythm           }

  (ii.) Broken and Jerky Clauses } (cc. xli, xlii).

  (iii.) Undue Prolixity         }

  (iv.) Improper Use of Familiar Words. Anti-climax. Example from
    Theopompus (c. xliii).

VI.--Why this age is so barren of great authors--whether the cause is
to be sought in a despotic form of government, or, as Longinus rather
thinks, in the prevailing corruption of manners, and in the sordid and
paltry views of life which almost universally prevail (c. xliv).



Boileau, in his introduction to his version of the ancient Treatise on
the Sublime, says that he is making no valueless present to his age. Not
valueless, to a generation which talks much about style and method in
literature, should be this new rendering of the noble fragment, long
attributed to Longinus, the Greek tutor and political adviser of
Zenobia. There is, indeed, a modern English version by Spurden,[1] but
that is now rare, and seldom comes into the market. Rare, too, is
Vaucher’s critical essay (1854), which is unlucky, as the French and
English books both contain valuable disquisitions on the age of the
author of the Treatise. This excellent work has had curious fortunes. It
is never quoted nor referred to by any extant classical writer, and,
among the many books attributed by Suidas to Longinus, it is not
mentioned. Decidedly the old world has left no more noble relic of
criticism. Yet the date of the book is obscure, and it did not come into
the hands of the learned in modern Europe till Robertelli and Manutius
each published editions in 1544. From that time the Treatise has often
been printed, edited, translated; but opinion still floats undecided
about its origin and period. Does it belong to the age of Augustus, or
to the age of Aurelian? Is the author the historical Longinus--the
friend of Plotinus, the tutor of Porphyry, the victim of Aurelian,--or
have we here a work by an unknown hand more than two centuries earlier?
Manuscripts and traditions are here of little service. The oldest
manuscript, that of Paris, is regarded as the parent of the rest. It is
a small quarto of 414 pages, whereof 335 are occupied by the “Problems”
of Aristotle. Several leaves have been lost, hence the fragmentary
character of the essay. The Paris MS. has an index, first mentioning the
“Problems,” and then ΔΙΟΝΥΣΙΟΥ Η ΛΟΓΓΙΝΟΥ ΠΕΡΙ ΥΨΟΥΣ, that is, “The
work of Dionysius, or of Longinus, about the Sublime.”

    [Footnote 1: Longmans, London, 1836.]

On this showing the transcriber of the MS. considered its authorship
dubious. Supposing that the author was Dionysius, which of the many
writers of that name was he? Again, if he was Longinus, how far does his
work tally with the characteristics ascribed to that late critic, and
peculiar to his age?

About this Longinus, while much is written, little is certainly known.
Was he a descendant of a freedman of one of the Cassii Longini, or of an
eastern family with a mixture of Greek and Roman blood? The author of
the Treatise avows himself a Greek, and apologises, as a Greek, for
attempting an estimate of Cicero. Longinus himself was the nephew and
heir of Fronto, a Syrian rhetorician of Emesa. Whether Longinus was born
there or not, and when he was born, are things uncertain. Porphyry, born
in 233 A.D., was his pupil: granting that Longinus was twenty years
Porphyry’s senior, he must have come into the world about 213 A.D. He
travelled much, studied in many cities, and was the friend of the mystic
Neoplatonists, Plotinus and Ammonius. The former called him “a
philologist, not a philosopher.” Porphyry shows us Longinus at a supper
where the plagiarisms of Greek writers are discussed--a topic dear to
trivial or spiteful mediocrity. He is best known by his death. As the
Greek secretary of Zenobia he inspired a haughty answer from the queen
to Aurelian, who therefore put him to death. Many rhetorical and
philosophic treatises are ascribed to him, whereof only fragments
survive. Did he write the Treatise on the Sublime? Modern students
prefer to believe that the famous essay is, if not by Plutarch, as some
hold, at least by some author of his age, the age of the early Caesars.

The arguments for depriving Longinus, Zenobia’s tutor, of the credit of
the Treatise lie on the surface, and may be briefly stated. He addresses
his work as a letter to a friend, probably a Roman pupil, Terentianus,
with whom he has been reading a work on the Sublime by Caecilius. Now
Caecilius, a voluminous critic, certainly lived not later than Plutarch,
who speaks of him with a sneer. It is unlikely then that an author, two
centuries later, would make the old book of Caecilius the starting-point
of his own. He would probably have selected some recent or even
contemporary rhetorician. Once more, the writer of the Treatise of the
Sublime quotes no authors later than the Augustan period. Had he lived
as late as the historical Longinus he would surely have sought examples
of bad style, if not of good, from the works of the Silver Age. Perhaps
he would hardly have resisted the malicious pleasure of censuring the
failures among whom he lived. On the other hand, if he cites no late
author, no classical author cites him, in spite of the excellence of his
book. But we can hardly draw the inference that he was of late date from
this purely negative evidence.

Again, he describes, in a very interesting and earnest manner, the
characteristics of his own period (Translation, pp. 82-86). Why, he is
asked, has genius become so rare? There are many clever men, but scarce
any highly exalted and wide-reaching genius. Has eloquence died with
liberty? “We have learned the lesson of a benignant despotism, and have
never tasted freedom.” The author answers that it is easy and
characteristic of men to blame the present times. Genius may have been
corrupted, not by a world-wide peace, but by love of gain and pleasure,
passions so strong that “I fear, for such men as we are it is better to
serve than to be free. If our appetites were let loose altogether
against our neighbours, they would be like wild beasts uncaged, and
bring a deluge of calamity on the whole civilised world.” Melancholy
words, and appropriate to our own age, when cleverness is almost
universal, and genius rare indeed, and the choice between liberty and
servitude hard to make, were the choice within our power.

But these words assuredly apply closely to the peaceful period of
Augustus, when Virgil and Horace “praising their tyrant sang,” not to
the confused age of the historical Longinus. Much has been said of the
allusion to “the Lawgiver of the Jews” as “no ordinary person,” but that
remark might have been made by a heathen acquainted with the Septuagint,
at either of the disputed dates. On the other hand, our author (Section
XIII) quotes the critical ideas of “Ammonius and his school,” as to the
debt of Plato to Homer. Now the historical Longinus was a friend of the
Neoplatonist teacher (not writer), Ammonius Saccas. If we could be sure
that the Ammonius of the Treatise was this Ammonius, the question would
be settled in favour of the late date. Our author would be that Longinus
who inspired Zenobia to resist Aurelian, and who perished under his
revenge. But Ammonius is not a very uncommon name, and we have no reason
to suppose that the Neoplatonist Ammonius busied himself with the
literary criticism of Homer and Plato. There was, among others, an
Egyptian Ammonius, the tutor of Plutarch.

These are the mass of the arguments on both sides. M. Egger sums them up
thus: “After carefully examining the tradition of the MSS., and the one
very late testimony in favour of Longinus, I hesitated for long as to
the date of this precious work. In 1854 M. Vaucher[2] inclined me to
believe that Plutarch was the author.[3] All seems to concur towards the
opinion that, if not Plutarch, at least one of his contemporaries wrote
the most original Greek essay in its kind since the _Rhetoric_ and
_Poetic_ of Aristotle.”[4]

    [Footnote 2: _Etude Critique sur la traité du Sublime et les ecrits
    de Longin._ Geneva.]

    [Footnote 3: See also M. Naudet, _Journal des Savants_, Mars 1838,
    and M. Egger, in the same Journal, May 1884.]

    [Footnote 4: Egger, _Histoire de la Critique chez les Grecs_,
    p. 426. Paris, 1887.]

We may, on the whole, agree that the nobility of the author’s thought,
his habit of quoting nothing more recent than the Augustan age, and his
description of his own time, which seems so pertinent to that epoch,
mark him as its child rather than as a great critic lost among the
_somnia Pythagorea_ of the Neoplatonists. On the other hand, if the
author be a man of high heart and courage, as he seems, so was that
martyr of independence, Longinus. Not without scruple, then, can we
deprive Zenobia’s tutor of the glory attached so long to his name.

Whatever its date, and whoever its author may be, the Treatise is
fragmentary. The lost parts may very probably contain the secret of its
period and authorship. The writer, at the request of his friend,
Terentianus, and dissatisfied with the essay of Caecilius, sets about
examining the nature of the Sublime in poetry and oratory. To the latter
he assigns, as is natural, much more literary importance than we do, in
an age when there is so little oratory of literary merit, and so much
popular rant. The subject of sublimity must naturally have attracted a
writer whose own moral nature was pure and lofty, who was inclined to
discover in moral qualities the true foundation of the highest literary
merit. Even in his opening words he strikes the keynote of his own
disposition, where he approves the saying that “the points in which we
resemble the divine nature are benevolence and love of truth.” Earlier
or later born, he must have lived in the midst of literary activity,
curious, eager, occupied with petty questions and petty quarrels,
concerned, as men in the best times are not very greatly concerned, with
questions of technique and detail. Cut off from politics, people found
in composition a field for their activity. We can readily fancy what
literature becomes when not only its born children, but the minor
busybodies whose natural place is politics, excluded from these, pour
into the study of letters. Love of notoriety, vague activity, fantastic
indolence, we may be sure, were working their will in the sacred close
of the Muses. There were literary sets, jealousies, recitations of new
poems; there was a world of amateurs, if there were no papers and
paragraphs. To this world the author speaks like a voice from the older
and graver age of Greece. If he lived late, we can imagine that he did
not quote contemporaries, not because he did not know them, but because
he estimated them correctly. He may have suffered, as we suffer, from
critics who, of all the world’s literature, know only “the last thing
out,” and who take that as a standard for the past, to them unfamiliar,
and for the hidden future. As we are told that excellence is not of the
great past, but of the present, not in the classical masters, but in
modern Muscovites, Portuguese, or American young women, so the author of
the Treatise may have been troubled by Asiatic eloquence, now long
forgotten, by names of which not a shadow survives. He, on the other
hand, has a right to be heard because he has practised a long
familiarity with what is old and good. His mind has ever been in contact
with masterpieces, as the mind of a critic should be, as the mind of a
reviewer seldom is, for the reviewer has to hurry up and down inspecting
new literary adventurers. Not among their experiments will he find a
touchstone of excellence, a test of greatness, and that test will seldom
be applied to contemporary performances. What is the test, after all, of
the Sublime, by which our author means the truly great, the best and
most passionate thoughts, nature’s high and rare inspirations, expressed
in the best chosen words? He replies that “a just judgment of style is
the final fruit of long experience.” “Much has he travelled in the
realms of gold.”

The word “style” has become a weariness to think upon; so much is said,
so much is printed about the art of expression, about methods, tricks,
and turns; so many people, without any long experience, set up to be
judges of style, on the strength of having admired two or three modern
and often rather fantastic writers. About our author, however, we know
that his experience has been long, and of the best, that he does not
speak from a hasty acquaintance with a few contemporary _précieux_ and
_précieuses_. The bad writing of his time he traces, as much of our own
may be traced, to “the pursuit of novelty in thought,” or rather in
expression. “It is this that has turned the brain of nearly all our
learned world to-day.” “Gardons nous d’écrire trop bien,” he might have
said, “c’est la pire manière qu’il y’ait d’écrire.”[5]

    [Footnote 5: M. Anatole France.]

The Sublime, with which he concerns himself, is “a certain loftiness and
excellence of language,” which “takes the reader out of himself.... The
Sublime, acting with an imperious and irresistible force, sways every
reader whether he will or no.” In its own sphere the Sublime does what
“natural magic” does in the poetical rendering of nature, and perhaps in
the same scarcely-to-be-analysed fashion. Whether this art can be taught
or not is a question which the author treats with modesty. Then, as now,
people were denying (and not unjustly) that this art can be taught by
rule. The author does not go so far as to say that Criticism, “unlike
Justice, does little evil, and little good; that is, _if_ to entertain
for a moment delicate and curious minds is to do little good.” He does
not rate his business so low as that. He admits that the inspiration
comes from genius, from nature. But “an author can only learn from art
when he is to abandon himself to the direction of his genius.” Nature
must “burst out with a kind of fine madness and divine inspiration.” The
madness must be _fine_. How can art aid it to this end? By knowledge of,
by sympathy and emulation with, “the great poets and prose writers of
the past.” By these we may be inspired, as the Pythoness by Apollo. From
the genius of the past “an effluence breathes upon us.” The writer is
not to imitate, but to keep before him the perfection of what has been
done by the greatest poets. He is to look on them as beacons; he is to
keep them as exemplars or ideals. He is to place them as judges of his
work. “How would Homer, how would Demosthenes, have been affected by
what I have written?” This is practical counsel, and even the most
florid modern author, after polishing a paragraph, may tear it up when
he has asked himself, “What would Addison have said about this eloquence
of mine, or Sainte Beuve, or Mr. Matthew Arnold?” In this way what we
call inspiration, that is the performance of the heated mind, perhaps
working at its best, perhaps overstraining itself, and overstating its
idea, might really be regulated. But they are few who consider so
closely, fewer perhaps they who have the heart to cut out their own fine
or refined things. Again, our author suggests another criterion. We are,
as in Lamb’s phrase, “to write for antiquity,” with the souls of poets
dead and gone for our judges. But we are also to write for the future,
asking with what feelings posterity will read us--if it reads us at all.
This is a good discipline. We know by practice what will hit some
contemporary tastes; we know the measure of smartness, say, or the
delicate flippancy, or the sentence with “a dying fall.” But one should
also know that these are fancies of the hour--these and the touch of
archaism, and the spinster-like and artificial precision, which seem to
be points in some styles of the moment. Such reflections as our author
bids us make, with a little self-respect added, may render our work less
popular and effective, and certainly are not likely to carry it down to
remote posterity. But all such reflections, and action in accordance
with what they teach, are elements of literary self-respect. It is hard
to be conscientious, especially hard for him who writes much, and of
necessity, and for bread. But conscience is never to be obeyed with
ease, though the ease grows with the obedience. The book attributed to
Longinus will not have missed its mark if it reminds us that, in
literature at least, for conscience there is yet a place, possibly even
a reward, though that is unessential. By virtue of reasonings like
these, and by insisting that nobility of style is, as it were, the bloom
on nobility of soul, the Treatise on the Sublime becomes a tonic work,
wholesome to be read by young authors and old. “It is natural in us to
feel our souls lifted up by the true Sublime, and, conceiving a sort of
generous exultation, to be filled with joy and pride, as though we had
ourselves originated the ideas which we read.” Here speaks his natural
disinterested greatness the author himself is here sublime, and teaches
by example as well as precept, for few things are purer than a pure and
ardent admiration. The critic is even confident enough to expect to find
his own nobility in others, believing that what is truly Sublime “will
always please, and please all readers.” And in this universal acceptance
by the populace and the literate, by critics and creators, by young and
old, he finds the true external canon of sublimity. The verdict lies not
with contemporaries, but with the large public, not with the little set
of dilettanti, but must be spoken by all. Such verdicts assign the crown
to Shakespeare and Molière, to Homer and Cervantes; we should not
clamorously anticipate this favourable judgment for Bryant or Emerson,
nor for the greatest of our own contemporaries. Boileau so much
misconceived these lofty ideas that he regarded “Longinus’s” judgment as
solely that “of good sense,” and held that, in his time, “nothing was
good or bad till he had spoken.” But there is far more than good sense,
there is high poetic imagination and moral greatness, in the criticism
of our author, who certainly would have rejected Boileau’s compliment
when he selects Longinus as a literary dictator.

Indeed we almost grudge our author’s choice of a subject. He who wrote
that “it was not in nature’s plan for us, her children, to be base and
ignoble; no, she brought us into life as into some great field of
contest,” should have had another field of contest than literary
criticism. It is almost a pity that we have to doubt the tradition,
according to which our author was Longinus, and, being but a
rhetorician, greatly dared and bravely died. Taking literature for his
theme, he wanders away into grammar, into considerations of tropes and
figures, plurals and singulars, trumpery mechanical pedantries, as we
think now, to whom grammar is no longer, as of old, “a new invented
game.” Moreover, he has to give examples of the faults opposed to
sublimity, he has to dive into and search the bathos, to dally over
examples of the bombastic, the over-wrought, the puerile. These faults
are not the sins of “minds generous and aspiring,” and we have them with
us always. The additions to Boileau’s preface (Paris, 1772) contain
abundance of examples of faults from Voiture, Mascaron, Bossuet,
selected by M. de St. Marc, who no doubt found abundance of
entertainment in the chastising of these obvious affectations. It hardly
seems the proper work for an author like him who wrote the Treatise on
the Sublime. But it is tempting, even now, to give contemporary
instances of skill in the Art of Sinking--modern cases of bombast,
triviality, false rhetoric. “Speaking generally, it would seem that
bombast is one of the hardest things to avoid in writing,” says an
author who himself avoids it so well. Bombast is the voice of sham
passion, the shadow of an insincere attitude. “Even the wretched phantom
who still bore the imperial title stooped to pay this ignominious
blackmail,” cries bombast in Macaulay’s _Lord Clive_. The picture of a
phantom who is not only a phantom but wretched, stooping to pay
blackmail which is not only blackmail but ignominious, may divert the
reader and remind him that the faults of the past are the faults of the
present. Again, “The desolate islands along the sea-coast, overgrown by
noxious vegetation, and swarming with deer and tigers”--do, what does
any one suppose, perform what forlorn part in the economy of the world?
Why, they “supply the cultivated districts with abundance of salt.” It
is as comic as--

  “And thou Dalhousie, thou great God of War,
  Lieutenant-Colonel to the Earl of Mar.”

Bombast “transcends the Sublime,” and falls on the other side. Our
author gives more examples of puerility. “Slips of this sort are made by
those who, aiming at brilliancy, polish, and especially attractiveness,
are landed in paltriness and silly affectation.” Some modern instances
we had chosen; the field of choice is large and richly fertile in those
blossoms. But the reader may be left to twine a garland of them for
himself; to select from contemporaries were invidious, and might provoke
retaliation. When our author censures Timaeus for saying that Alexander
took less time to annex Asia than Isocrates spent in writing an oration,
to bid the Greeks attack Persia, we know what he would have thought of
Macaulay’s antithesis. He blames Xenophon for a poor pun, and Plato,
less justly, for mere figurative badinage. It would be an easy task to
ransack contemporaries, even great contemporaries, for similar failings,
for pomposity, for the florid, for sentences like processions of
intoxicated torch-bearers, for pedantic display of cheap erudition, for
misplaced flippancy, for nice derangement of epitaphs wherein no
adjective is used which is appropriate. With a library of cultivated
American novelists and uncultivated English romancers at hand, with our
own voluminous essays, and the essays and histories and “art criticisms”
of our neighbours to draw from, no student need lack examples of what is
wrong. He who writes, reflecting on his own innumerable sins, can but
beat his breast, cry _Mea Culpa_, and resist the temptation to beat the
breasts of his coevals. There are not many authors, there have never
been many, who did not need to turn over the treatise of the Sublime by
day and night.[6]

    [Footnote 6: The examples of bombast used to be drawn as late as
    Spurden’s translation (1836), from Lee, from _Troilus and Cressida_,
    and _The Taming of the Shrew_. Cowley and Crashaw furnished
    instances of conceits; Waller, Young, and Hayley of frigidity;
    and Darwin of affectation.
        “What beaux and beauties crowd the gaudy groves,
        And woo and win their _vegetable loves_”--
    a phrase adopted--“vapid vegetable loves”--by the Laureate in
    “The Talking Oak.”]

As a literary critic of Homer our author is most interesting even in his
errors. He compares the poet of the _Odyssey_ to the sunset: the _Iliad_
is noonday work, the _Odyssey_ is touched with the glow of evening--the
softness and the shadows. “Old age naturally leans,” like childhood,
“towards the fabulous.” The tide has flowed back, and left dim bulks of
things on the long shadowy sands. Yet he makes an exception, oddly
enough, in favour of the story of the Cyclops, which really is the most
fabulous and crude of the fairy tales in the first and greatest of
romances. The Slaying of the Wooers, that admirable fight, worthy of a
saga, he thinks too improbable, and one of the “trifles into which
second childhood is apt to be betrayed.” He fancies that the aged Homer
had “lost his power of depicting the passions”; in fact, he is hardly a
competent or sympathetic critic of the _Odyssey_. Perhaps he had lived
among Romans till he lost his sense of humour; perhaps he never had any
to lose. On the other hand, he preserved for us that inestimable and not
to be translated fragment of Sappho--φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θεοῖσιν.

It is curious to find him contrasting Apollonius Rhodius as faultless,
with Homer as great but faulty. The “faultlessness” of Apollonius is not
his merit, for he is often tedious, and he has little skill in
selection; moreover, he is deliberately antiquarian, if not pedantic.
His true merit is in his original and, as we think, modern telling of a
love tale--pure, passionate, and tender, the first in known literature.
Medea is often sublime, and always touching. But it is not on these
merits that our author lingers; he loves only the highest literature,
and, though he finds spots on the sun and faults in Homer, he condones
them as oversights passed in the poet’s “contempt of little things.”

Such for us to-day are the lessons of Longinus. He traces dignity and
fire of style to dignity and fire of soul. He detects and denounces the
very faults of which, in each other, all writers are conscious, and
which he brings home to ourselves. He proclaims the essential merits of
conviction, and of selection. He sets before us the noblest examples of
the past, most welcome in a straining age which tries already to live in
the future. He admonishes and he inspires. He knows the “marvellous
power and enthralling charm of appropriate and striking words” without
dropping into mere word-tasting. “Beautiful words are the very light of
thought,” he says, but does not maunder about the “colour” of words, in
the style of the decadence. And then he “leaves this generation to its
fate,” and calmly turns himself to the work that lies nearest his hand.

To us he is as much a moral as a literary teacher. We admire that Roman
greatness of soul in a Greek, and the character of this unknown man, who
carried the soul of a poet, the heart of a hero under the gown of a
professor. He was one of those whom books cannot debilitate, nor a life
of study incapacitate for the study of life.

  A. L.


The treatise of Caecilius on the Sublime, when, as you remember, my dear
Terentian, we examined it together, seemed to us to be beneath the
dignity of the whole subject, to fail entirely in seizing the salient
points, and to offer little profit (which should be the principal aim of
every writer) for the trouble of its perusal. There are two things
essential to a technical treatise: the first is to define the subject;
the second (I mean second in order, as it is by much the first in
importance) to point out how and by what methods we may become masters
of it ourselves. And yet Caecilius, while wasting his efforts in a
thousand illustrations of the nature of the Sublime, as though here we
were quite in the dark, somehow passes by as immaterial the question how
we might be able to exalt our own genius to a certain degree of progress
in sublimity. However, perhaps it would be fairer to commend this
writer’s intelligence and zeal in themselves, instead of blaming him for
his omissions.

And since you have bidden me also to put together, if only for your
entertainment, a few notes on the subject of the Sublime, let me see if
there is anything in my speculations which promises advantage to men of
affairs. In you, dear friend--such is my confidence in your abilities,
and such the part which becomes you--I look for a sympathising and
discerning[1] critic of the several parts of my treatise. For that was a
just remark of his who pronounced that the points in which we resemble
the divine nature are benevolence and love of truth.

    [Footnote 1: Reading φιλοφρονέστατα καὶ ἀληθέστατα.]

As I am addressing a person so accomplished in literature, I need only
state, without enlarging further on the matter, that the Sublime,
wherever it occurs, consists in a certain loftiness and excellence of
language, and that it is by this, and this only, that the greatest poets
and prose-writers have gained eminence, and won themselves a lasting
place in the Temple of Fame.

A lofty passage does not convince the reason of the reader, but takes
him out of himself. That which is admirable ever confounds our judgment,
and eclipses that which is merely reasonable or agreeable. To believe or
not is usually in our own power; but the Sublime, acting with an
imperious and irresistible force, sways every reader whether he will or
no. Skill in invention, lucid arrangement and disposition of facts, are
appreciated not by one passage, or by two, but gradually manifest
themselves in the general structure of a work; but a sublime thought, if
happily timed, illumines[2] an entire subject with the vividness of a
lightning-flash, and exhibits the whole power of the orator in a moment
of time. Your own experience, I am sure, my dearest Terentian, would
enable you to illustrate these and similar points of doctrine.

    [Footnote 2: Reading διεφώτισεν.]


The first question which presents itself for solution is whether there
is any art which can teach sublimity or loftiness in writing. For some
hold generally that there is mere delusion in attempting to reduce such
subjects to technical rules. “The Sublime,” they tell us, “is born in a
man, and not to be acquired by instruction; genius is the only master
who can teach it. The vigorous products of nature” (such is their view)
“are weakened and in every respect debased, when robbed of their flesh
and blood by frigid technicalities.”

But I maintain that the truth can be shown to stand otherwise in this
matter. Let us look at the case in this way; Nature in her loftier and
more passionate moods, while detesting all appearance of restraint, is
not wont to show herself utterly wayward and reckless; and though in all
cases the vital informing principle is derived from her, yet to
determine the right degree and the right moment, and to contribute the
precision of practice and experience, is the peculiar province of
scientific method. The great passions, when left to their own blind and
rash impulses without the control of reason, are in the same danger as a
ship let drive at random without ballast. Often they need the spur, but
sometimes also the curb.

The remark of Demosthenes with regard to human life in general,--that
the greatest of all blessings is to be fortunate, but next to that and
equal in importance is to be well advised,--for good fortune is utterly
ruined by the absence of good counsel,--may be applied to literature, if
we substitute genius for fortune, and art for counsel. Then, again (and
this is the most important point of all), a writer can only learn from
art when he is to abandon himself to the direction of his genius.[1]

    [Footnote 1: Literally, “But the most important point of all is that
    the actual fact that there are some parts of literature which are in
    the power of natural genius alone, must be learnt from no other
    source than from art.”]

These are the considerations which I submit to the unfavourable critic
of such useful studies. Perhaps they may induce him to alter his opinion
as to the vanity and idleness of our present investigations.


  ... “And let them check the stove’s long tongues of fire:
  For if I see one tenant of the hearth,
  I’ll thrust within one curling torrent flame,
  And bring that roof in ashes to the ground:
  But now not yet is sung my noble lay.”[1]

Such phrases cease to be tragic, and become burlesque,--I mean phrases
like “curling torrent flames” and “vomiting to heaven,” and representing
Boreas as a piper, and so on. Such expressions, and such images, produce
an effect of confusion and obscurity, not of energy; and if each
separately be examined under the light of criticism, what seemed
terrible gradually sinks into absurdity. Since then, even in tragedy,
where the natural dignity of the subject makes a swelling diction
allowable, we cannot pardon a tasteless grandiloquence, how much more
incongruous must it seem in sober prose!

    [Footnote 1: Aeschylus in his lost _Oreithyia_.]

Hence we laugh at those fine words of Gorgias of Leontini, such as
“Xerxes the Persian Zeus” and “vultures, those living tombs,” and at
certain conceits of Callisthenes which are high-flown rather than
sublime, and at some in Cleitarchus more ludicrous still--a writer whose
frothy style tempts us to travesty Sophocles and say, “He blows a little
pipe, and blows it ill.” The same faults may be observed in Amphicrates
and Hegesias and Matris, who in their frequent moments (as they think)
of inspiration, instead of playing the genius are simply playing the

Speaking generally, it would seem that bombast is one of the hardest
things to avoid in writing. For all those writers who are ambitious of a
lofty style, through dread of being convicted of feebleness and poverty
of language, slide by a natural gradation into the opposite extreme.
“Who fails in great endeavour, nobly fails,” is their creed.

Now bulk, when hollow and affected, is always objectionable, whether in
material bodies or in writings, and in danger of producing on us an
impression of littleness: “nothing,” it is said, “is drier than a man
with the dropsy.”

The characteristic, then, of bombast is that it transcends the Sublime:
but there is another fault diametrically opposed to grandeur: this is
called puerility, and it is the failing of feeble and narrow
minds,--indeed, the most ignoble of all vices in writing. By puerility
we mean a pedantic habit of mind, which by over-elaboration ends in
frigidity. Slips of this sort are made by those who, aiming at
brilliancy, polish, and especially attractiveness, are landed in
paltriness and silly affectation.

Closely associated with this is a third sort of vice, in dealing with
the passions, which Theodorus used to call false sentiment, meaning by
that an ill-timed and empty display of emotion, where no emotion is
called for, or of greater emotion than the situation warrants. Thus we
often see an author hurried by the tumult of his mind into tedious
displays of mere personal feeling which has no connection with the
subject. Yet how justly ridiculous must an author appear, whose most
violent transports leave his readers quite cold! However, I will dismiss
this subject, as I intend to devote a separate work to the treatment of
the pathetic in writing.


The last of the faults which I mentioned is frequently observed in
Timaeus--I mean the fault of frigidity. In other respects he is an able
writer, and sometimes not unsuccessful in the loftier style; a man of
wide knowledge, and full of ingenuity; a most bitter critic of the
failings of others--but unhappily blind to his own. In his eagerness to
be always striking out new thoughts he frequently falls into the most
childish absurdities.

I will only instance one or two passages, as most of them have been
pointed out by Caecilius. Wishing to say something very fine about
Alexander the Great he speaks of him as a man “who annexed the whole of
Asia in fewer years than Isocrates spent in writing his panegyric
oration in which he urges the Greeks to make war on Persia.” How strange
is the comparison of the “great Emathian conqueror” with an Athenian
rhetorician! By this mode of reasoning it is plain that the Spartans
were very inferior to Isocrates in courage, since it took them thirty
years to conquer Messene, while he finished the composition of this
harangue in ten.

Observe, too, his language on the Athenians taken in Sicily. “They paid
the penalty for their impious outrage on Hermes in mutilating his
statues; and the chief agent in their destruction was one who was
descended on his father’s side from the injured deity--Hermocrates, son
of Hermon.” I wonder, my dearest Terentian, how he omitted to say of the
tyrant Dionysius that for his impiety towards Zeus and Herakles he was
deprived of his power by Dion and Herakleides.

Yet why speak of Timaeus, when even men like Xenophon and Plato--the
very demi-gods of literature--though they had sat at the feet of
Socrates, sometimes forgot themselves in the pursuit of such paltry
conceits. The former, in his account of the Spartan Polity, has these
words: “Their voice you would no more hear than if they were of marble,
their gaze is as immovable as if they were cast in bronze; you would
deem them more modest than the very maidens in their eyes.”[1] To speak
of the pupils of the eye as “modest maidens” was a piece of absurdity
becoming Amphicrates[2] rather than Xenophon. And then what a strange
delusion to suppose that modesty is always without exception expressed
in the eye! whereas it is commonly said that there is nothing by which
an impudent fellow betrays his character so much as by the expression of
his eyes. Thus Achilles addresses Agamemnon in the _Iliad_ as “drunkard,
with eye of dog.”[3]

    [Footnote 1: _Xen. de Rep. Laced._ 3, 5.]

    [Footnote 2: C. iii. sect. 2.]

    [Footnote 3: _Il._ i. 225.]

Timaeus, however, with that want of judgment which characterises
plagiarists, could not leave to Xenophon the possession of even this
piece of frigidity. In relating how Agathocles carried off his cousin,
who was wedded to another man, from the festival of the unveiling, he
asks, “Who could have done such a deed, unless he had harlots instead of
maidens in his eyes?”

And Plato himself, elsewhere so supreme a master of style, meaning to
describe certain recording tablets, says, “They shall write, and deposit
in the temples memorials of cypress wood”;[4] and again, “Then
concerning walls, Megillus, I give my vote with Sparta that we should
let them lie asleep within the ground, and not awaken them.”[5]

    [Footnote 4: _Plat. de Legg._ v. 741, C.]

    [Footnote 5: _Ib._ vi. 778, D.]

And Herodotus falls pretty much under the same censure, when he speaks
of beautiful women as “tortures to the eye,”[6] though here there is
some excuse, as the speakers in this passage are drunken barbarians.
Still, even from dramatic motives, such errors in taste should not be
permitted to deface the pages of an immortal work.

    [Footnote 6: v. 18.]


Now all these glaring improprieties of language may be traced to one
common root--the pursuit of novelty in thought. It is this that has
turned the brain of nearly all the learned world of to-day. Human
blessings and human ills commonly flow from the same source: and, to
apply this principle to literature, those ornaments of style, those
sublime and delightful images, which contribute to success, are the
foundation and the origin, not only of excellence, but also of failure.
It is thus with the figures called transitions, and hyperboles, and the
use of plurals for singulars. I shall show presently the dangers which
they seem to involve. Our next task, therefore, must be to propose and
to settle the question how we may avoid the faults of style related to


Our best hope of doing this will be first of all to grasp some definite
theory and criterion of the true Sublime. Nevertheless this is a hard
matter; for a just judgment of style is the final fruit of long
experience; still, I believe that the way I shall indicate will enable
us to distinguish between the true and false Sublime, so far as it can
be done by rule.


It is proper to observe that in human life nothing is truly great which
is despised by all elevated minds. For example, no man of sense can
regard wealth, honour, glory, and power, or any of those things which
are surrounded by a great external parade of pomp and circumstance, as
the highest blessings, seeing that merely to despise such things is a
blessing of no common order: certainly those who possess them are
admired much less than those who, having the opportunity to acquire
them, through greatness of soul neglect it. Now let us apply this
principle to the Sublime in poetry or in prose; let us ask in all cases,
is it merely a specious sublimity? is this gorgeous exterior a mere
false and clumsy pageant, which if laid open will be found to conceal
nothing but emptiness? for if so, a noble mind will scorn instead of
admiring it.

It is natural to us to feel our souls lifted up by the true Sublime, and
conceiving a sort of generous exultation to be filled with joy and
pride, as though we had ourselves originated the ideas which we read.

If then any work, on being repeatedly submitted to the judgment of an
acute and cultivated critic, fails to dispose his mind to lofty ideas;
if the thoughts which it suggests do not extend beyond what is actually
expressed; and if, the longer you read it, the less you think of
it,--there can be here no true sublimity, when the effect is not
sustained beyond the mere act of perusal. But when a passage is pregnant
in suggestion, when it is hard, nay impossible, to distract the
attention from it, and when it takes a strong and lasting hold on the
memory, then we may be sure that we have lighted on the true Sublime.

In general we may regard those words as truly noble and sublime which
always please and please all readers. For when the same book always
produces the same impression on all who read it, whatever be the
difference in their pursuits, their manner of life, their aspirations,
their ages, or their language, such a harmony of opposites gives
irresistible authority to their favourable verdict.


I shall now proceed to enumerate the five principal sources, as we may
call them, from which almost all sublimity is derived, assuming, of
course, the preliminary gift on which all these five sources depend,
namely, command of language. The first and the most important is
(1) grandeur of thought, as I have pointed out elsewhere in my work on
Xenophon. The second is (2) a vigorous and spirited treatment of the
passions. These two conditions of sublimity depend mainly on natural
endowments, whereas those which follow derive assistance from Art. The
third is (3) a certain artifice in the employment of figures, which are
of two kinds, figures of thought and figures of speech. The fourth is
(4) dignified expression, which is sub-divided into (_a_) the proper
choice of words, and (_b_) the use of metaphors and other ornaments
of diction. The fifth cause of sublimity, which embraces all those
preceding, is (5) majesty and elevation of structure. Let us consider
what is involved in each of these five forms separately.

I must first, however, remark that some of these five divisions are
omitted by Caecilius; for instance, he says nothing about the passions.

Now if he made this omission from a belief that the Sublime and the
Pathetic are one and the same thing, holding them to be always
coexistent and interdependent, he is in error. Some passions are found
which, so far from being lofty, are actually low, such as pity, grief,
fear; and conversely, sublimity is often not in the least affecting, as
we may see (among innumerable other instances) in those bold expressions
of our great poet on the sons of Aloëus--

                    “Highly they raged
  To pile huge Ossa on the Olympian peak,
  And Pelion with all his waving trees
  On Ossa’s crest to raise, and climb the sky;”

and the yet more tremendous climax--

  “And now had they accomplished it.”

And in orators, in all passages dealing with panegyric, and in all the
more imposing and declamatory places, dignity and sublimity play an
indispensable part; but pathos is mostly absent. Hence the most pathetic
orators have usually but little skill in panegyric, and conversely those
who are powerful in panegyric generally fail in pathos.

If, on the other hand, Caecilius supposed that pathos never contributes
to sublimity, and this is why he thought it alien to the subject, he is
entirely deceived. For I would confidently pronounce that nothing is so
conducive to sublimity as an appropriate display of genuine passion,
which bursts out with a kind of “fine madness” and divine inspiration,
and falls on our ears like the voice of a god.


I have already said that of all these five conditions of the Sublime the
most important is the first, that is, a certain lofty cast of mind.
Therefore, although this is a faculty rather natural than acquired,
nevertheless it will be well for us in this instance also to train up
our souls to sublimity, and make them as it were ever big with noble

How, it may be asked, is this to be done? I have hinted elsewhere in my
writings that sublimity is, so to say, the image of greatness of soul.
Hence a thought in its naked simplicity, even though unuttered, is
sometimes admirable by the sheer force of its sublimity; for instance,
the silence of Ajax in the eleventh _Odyssey_[1] is great, and grander
than anything he could have said.

    [Footnote 1: _Od._ xi. 543.]

It is absolutely essential, then, first of all to settle the question
whence this grandeur of conception arises; and the answer is that true
eloquence can be found only in those whose spirit is generous and
aspiring. For those whose whole lives are wasted in paltry and illiberal
thoughts and habits cannot possibly produce any work worthy of the
lasting reverence of mankind. It is only natural that their words should
be full of sublimity whose thoughts are full of majesty.

Hence sublime thoughts belong properly to the loftiest minds. Such was
the reply of Alexander to his general Parmenio, when the latter had
observed, “Were I Alexander, I should have been satisfied”; “And I, were
I Parmenio”...

The distance between heaven and earth[1]--a measure, one might say, not
less appropriate to Homer’s genius than to the stature of his discord.

    [Footnote 1: _Il._ iv. 442.]

How different is that touch of Hesiod’s in his description of sorrow--if
the _Shield_ is really one of his works: “rheum from her nostrils
flowed”[2]--an image not terrible, but disgusting. Now consider how
Homer gives dignity to his divine persons--

  “As far as lies his airy ken, who sits
  On some tall crag, and scans the wine-dark sea:
  So far extends the heavenly coursers’ stride.”[3]

He measures their speed by the extent of the whole world--a grand
comparison, which might reasonably lead us to remark that if the divine
steeds were to take two such leaps in succession, they would find no
room in the world for another.

    [Footnote 2: _Scut. Herc._ 267.]

    [Footnote 3: _Il._ v. 770.]

Sublime also are the images in the “Battle of the Gods”--

                      “A trumpet sound
  Rang through the air, and shook the Olympian height;
  Then terror seized the monarch of the dead,
  And springing from his throne he cried aloud
  With fearful voice, lest the earth, rent asunder
  By Neptune’s mighty arm, forthwith reveal
  To mortal and immortal eyes those halls
  So drear and dank, which e’en the gods abhor.”[4]

Earth rent from its foundations! Tartarus itself laid bare! The whole
world torn asunder and turned upside down! Why, my dear friend, this is
a perfect hurly-burly, in which the whole universe, heaven and hell,
mortals and immortals, share the conflict and the peril.

    [Footnote 4: _Il._ xxi. 388; xx. 61.]

A terrible picture, certainly, but (unless perhaps it is to be taken
allegorically) downright impious, and overstepping the bounds of
decency. It seems to me that the strange medley of wounds, quarrels,
revenges, tears, bonds, and other woes which makes up the Homeric
tradition of the gods was designed by its author to degrade his deities,
as far as possible, into men, and exalt his men into deities--or rather,
his gods are worse off than his human characters, since we, when we are
unhappy, have a haven from ills in death, while the gods, according to
him, not only live for ever, but live for ever in misery.

Far to be preferred to this description of the Battle of the Gods are
those passages which exhibit the divine nature in its true light, as
something spotless, great, and pure, as, for instance, a passage which
has often been handled by my predecessors, the lines on Poseidon:--

  “Mountain and wood and solitary peak,
  The ships Achaian, and the towers of Troy,
  Trembled beneath the god’s immortal feet.
  Over the waves he rode, and round him played,
  Lured from the deeps, the ocean’s monstrous brood,
  With uncouth gambols welcoming their lord:
  The charmèd billows parted: on they flew.”[5]

    [Footnote 5: _Il._ xiii. 18; xx. 60; xiii. 19, 27.]

And thus also the lawgiver of the Jews, no ordinary man, having formed
an adequate conception of the Supreme Being, gave it adequate expression
in the opening words of his “Laws”: “God said”--what?--“let there be
light, and there was light: let there be land, and there was.”

I trust you will not think me tedious if I quote yet one more passage
from our great poet (referring this time to human characters) in
illustration of the manner in which he leads us with him to heroic
heights. A sudden and baffling darkness as of night has overspread the
ranks of his warring Greeks. Then Ajax in sore perplexity cries aloud--

                “Almighty Sire,
  Only from darkness save Achaia’s sons;
  No more I ask, but give us back the day;
  Grant but our sight, and slay us, if thou wilt.”[6]

The feelings are just what we should look for in Ajax. He does not, you
observe, ask for his life--such a request would have been unworthy of
his heroic soul--but finding himself paralysed by darkness, and
prohibited from employing his valour in any noble action, he chafes
because his arms are idle, and prays for a speedy return of light. “At
least,” he thinks, “I shall find a warrior’s grave, even though Zeus
himself should fight against me.”

    [Footnote 6: _Il._ xvii. 645.]

In such passages the mind of the poet is swept along in the whirlwind of
the struggle, and, in his own words, he

      “Like the fierce war-god, raves, or wasting fire
  Through the deep thickets on a mountain-side;
  His lips drop foam.”[7]

    [Footnote 7: _Il._ xv. 605.]

But there is another and a very interesting aspect of Homer’s mind. When
we turn to the _Odyssey_ we find occasion to observe that a great
poetical genius in the decline of power which comes with old age
naturally leans towards the fabulous. For it is evident that this work
was composed after the _Iliad_, in proof of which we may mention, among
many other indications, the introduction in the _Odyssey_ of the sequel
to the story of his heroes’ adventures at Troy, as so many additional
episodes in the Trojan war, and especially the tribute of sorrow and
mourning which is paid in that poem to departed heroes, as if in
fulfilment of some previous design. The _Odyssey_ is, in fact, a sort of
epilogue to the _Iliad_--

  “There warrior Ajax lies, Achilles there,
  And there Patroclus, godlike counsellor;
  There lies my own dear son.”[8]

    [Footnote 8: _Od._ iii. 109.]

And for the same reason, I imagine, whereas in the _Iliad_, which was
written when his genius was in its prime, the whole structure of the
poem is founded on action and struggle, in the _Odyssey_ he generally
prefers the narrative style, which is proper to old age. Hence Homer in
his _Odyssey_ may be compared to the setting sun: he is still as great
as ever, but he has lost his fervent heat. The strain is now pitched to
a lower key than in the “Tale of Troy divine”: we begin to miss that
high and equable sublimity which never flags or sinks, that continuous
current of moving incidents, those rapid transitions, that force of
eloquence, that opulence of imagery which is ever true to Nature. Like
the sea when it retires upon itself and leaves its shores waste and
bare, henceforth the tide of sublimity begins to ebb, and draws us away
into the dim region of myth and legend.

In saying this I am not forgetting the fine storm-pieces in the
_Odyssey_, the story of the Cyclops,[9] and other striking passages. It
is Homer grown old I am discussing, but still it is Homer. Yet in every
one of these passages the mythical predominates over the real.

My purpose in making this digression was, as I said, to point out into
what trifles the second childhood of genius is too apt to be betrayed;
such, I mean, as the bag in which the winds are confined,[10] the
tale of Odysseus’s comrades being changed by Circe into swine[11]
(“whimpering porkers” Zoïlus called them), and how Zeus was fed like
a nestling by the doves,[12] and how Odysseus passed ten nights on the
shipwreck without food,[13] and the improbable incidents in the slaying
of the suitors.[14] When Homer nods like this, we must be content to say
that he dreams as Zeus might dream.

    [Footnote 9: _Od._ ix. 182.]

    [Footnote 10: _Od._ x. 17.]

    [Footnote 11: _Od._ x. 237.]

    [Footnote 12: _Od._ xii. 62.]

    [Footnote 13: _Od._ xii. 447.]

    [Footnote 14: _Od._ xxii. _passim_.]

Another reason for these remarks on the _Odyssey_ is that I wished to
make you understand that great poets and prose-writers, after they have
lost their power of depicting the passions, turn naturally to the
delineation of character. Such, for instance, is the lifelike and
characteristic picture of the palace of Odysseus, which may be called a
sort of comedy of manners.


Let us now consider whether there is anything further which conduces to
the Sublime in writing. It is a law of Nature that in all things there
are certain constituent parts, coexistent with their substance. It
necessarily follows, therefore, that one cause of sublimity is the
choice of the most striking circumstances involved in whatever we are
describing, and, further, the power of afterwards combining them into
one animate whole. The reader is attracted partly by the selection of
the incidents, partly by the skill which has welded them together. For
instance, Sappho, in dealing with the passionate manifestations
attending on the frenzy of lovers, always chooses her strokes from the
signs which she has observed to be actually exhibited in such cases. But
her peculiar excellence lies in the felicity with which she chooses and
unites together the most striking and powerful features.

  “I deem that man divinely blest
  Who sits, and, gazing on thy face,
  Hears thee discourse with eloquent lips,
      And marks thy lovely smile.
  This, this it is that made my heart
  So wildly flutter in my breast;
  Whene’er I look on thee, my voice
      Falters, and faints, and fails;
  My tongue’s benumbed; a subtle fire
  Through all my body inly steals;
  Mine eyes in darkness reel and swim;
      Strange murmurs drown my ears;
  With dewy damps my limbs are chilled;
  An icy shiver shakes my frame;
  Paler than ashes grows my cheek;
      And Death seems nigh at hand.”

Is it not wonderful how at the same moment soul, body, ears, tongue,
eyes, colour, all fail her, and are lost to her as completely as if they
were not her own? Observe too how her sensations contradict one
another--she freezes, she burns, she raves, she reasons, and all at the
same instant. And this description is designed to show that she is
assailed, not by any particular emotion, but by a tumult of different
emotions. All these tokens belong to the passion of love; but it is in
the choice, as I said, of the most striking features, and in the
combination of them into one picture, that the perfection of this Ode of
Sappho’s lies. Similarly Homer in his descriptions of tempests always
picks out the most terrific circumstances.

The poet of the “Arimaspeia” intended the following lines to be grand--

  “Herein I find a wonder passing strange,
    That men should make their dwelling on the deep,
  Who far from land essaying bold to range
    With anxious heart their toilsome vigils keep;
    Their eyes are fixed on heaven’s starry steep;
  The ravening billows hunger for their lives;
    And oft each shivering wretch, constrained to weep,
  With suppliant hands to move heaven’s pity strives,
  While many a direful qualm his very vitals rives.”

All must see that there is more of ornament than of terror in the
description. Now let us turn to Homer.

One passage will suffice to show the contrast.

  “On them he leaped, as leaps a raging wave,
  Child of the winds, under the darkening clouds,
  On a swift ship, and buries her in foam;
  Then cracks the sail beneath the roaring blast,
  And quakes the breathless seamen’s shuddering heart
  In terror dire: death lours on every wave.”[1]

    [Footnote 1: _Il._ xv. 624.]

Aratus has tried to give a new turn to this last thought--

  “But one frail timber shields them from their doom,”[2]--

banishing by this feeble piece of subtlety all the terror from his
description; setting limits, moreover, to the peril described by saying
“shields them”; for so long as it shields them it matters not whether
the “timber” be “frail” or stout. But Homer does not set any fixed limit
to the danger, but gives us a vivid picture of men a thousand times on
the brink of destruction, every wave threatening them with instant
death. Moreover, by his bold and forcible combination of prepositions of
opposite meaning he tortures his language to imitate the agony of the
scene, the constraint which is put on the words accurately reflecting
the anxiety of the sailors’ minds, and the diction being stamped, as it
were, with the peculiar terror of the situation.

    [Footnote 2: _Phaenomena_, 299.]

Similarly Archilochus in his description of the shipwreck, and similarly
Demosthenes when he describes how the news came of the taking of
Elatea[3]--“It was evening,” etc. Each of these authors fastidiously
rejects whatever is not essential to the subject, and in putting
together the most vivid features is careful to guard against the
interposition of anything frivolous, unbecoming, or tiresome. Such
blemishes mar the general effect, and give a patched and gaping
appearance to the edifice of sublimity, which ought to be built up in a
solid and uniform structure.

    [Footnote 3: _De Cor._ 169.]


Closely associated with the part of our subject we have just treated of
is that excellence of writing which is called amplification, when a
writer or pleader, whose theme admits of many successive starting-points
and pauses, brings on one impressive point after another in a continuous
and ascending scale.

Now whether this is employed in the treatment of a commonplace, or in
the way of exaggeration, whether to place arguments or facts in a strong
light, or in the disposition of actions, or of passions--for
amplification takes a hundred different shapes--in all cases the orator
must be cautioned that none of these methods is complete without the aid
of sublimity,--unless, indeed, it be our object to excite pity, or to
depreciate an opponent’s argument. In all other uses of amplification,
if you subtract the element of sublimity you will take as it were the
soul from the body. No sooner is the support of sublimity removed than
the whole becomes lifeless, nerveless, and dull.

There is a difference, however, between the rules I am now giving and
those just mentioned. Then I was speaking of the delineation and
co-ordination of the principal circumstances. My next task, therefore,
must be briefly to define this difference, and with it the general
distinction between amplification and sublimity. Our whole discourse
will thus gain in clearness.


I must first remark that I am not satisfied with the definition of
amplification generally given by authorities on rhetoric. They explain
it to be a form of language which invests the subject with a certain
grandeur. Yes, but this definition may be applied indifferently to
sublimity, pathos, and the use of figurative language, since all these
invest the discourse with some sort of grandeur. The difference seems to
me to lie in this, that sublimity gives elevation to a subject, while
amplification gives extension as well. Thus the sublime is often
conveyed in a single thought,[1] but amplification can only subsist with
a certain prolixity and diffusiveness.

    [Footnote 1: Comp. i. 4. 26.]

The most general definition of amplification would explain it to consist
in the gathering together of all the constituent parts and topics of a
subject, emphasising the argument by repeated insistence, herein
differing from proof, that whereas the object of proof is logical
demonstration, ...

Plato, like the sea, pours forth his riches in a copious and expansive

Hence the style of the orator, who is the greater master of our
emotions, is often, as it were, red-hot and ablaze with passion, whereas
Plato, whose strength lay in a sort of weighty and sober magnificence,
though never frigid, does not rival the thunders of Demosthenes.

And, if a Greek may be allowed to express an opinion on the subject of
Latin literature, I think the same difference may be discerned in the
grandeur of Cicero as compared with that of his Grecian rival. The
sublimity of Demosthenes is generally sudden and abrupt: that of Cicero
is equally diffused. Demosthenes is vehement, rapid, vigorous, terrible;
he burns and sweeps away all before him; and hence we may liken him to a
whirlwind or a thunderbolt: Cicero is like a widespread conflagration,
which rolls over and feeds on all around it, whose fire is extensive and
burns long, breaking out successively in different places, and finding
its fuel now here, now there.

Such points, however, I resign to your more competent judgment.

To resume, then, the high-strung sublimity of Demosthenes is appropriate
to all cases where it is desired to exaggerate, or to rouse some
vehement emotion, and generally when we want to carry away our audience
with us. We must employ the diffusive style, on the other hand, when we
wish to overpower them with a flood of language. It is suitable, for
example, to familiar topics, and to perorations in most cases, and to
digressions, and to all descriptive and declamatory passages, and in
dealing with history or natural science, and in numerous other cases.


To return, however, to Plato: how grand he can be with all that gentle
and noiseless flow of eloquence you will be reminded by this
characteristic passage, which you have read in his _Republic_: “They,
therefore, who have no knowledge of wisdom and virtue, whose lives are
passed in feasting and similar joys, are borne downwards, as is but
natural, and in this region they wander all their lives; but they never
lifted up their eyes nor were borne upwards to the true world above, nor
ever tasted of pleasure abiding and unalloyed; but like beasts they ever
look downwards, and their heads are bent to the ground, or rather to the
table; they feed full their bellies and their lusts, and longing ever
more and more for such things they kick and gore one another with horns
and hoofs of iron, and slay one another in their insatiable desires.”[1]

    [Footnote 1: _Rep._ ix. 586, A.]

We may learn from this author, if we would but observe his example, that
there is yet another path besides those mentioned which leads to sublime
heights. What path do I mean? The emulous imitation of the great poets
and prose-writers of the past. On this mark, dear friend, let us keep
our eyes ever steadfastly fixed. Many gather the divine impulse from
another’s spirit, just as we are told that the Pythian priestess, when
she takes her seat on the tripod, where there is said to be a rent in
the ground breathing upwards a heavenly emanation, straightway conceives
from that source the godlike gift of prophecy, and utters her inspired
oracles; so likewise from the mighty genius of the great writers of
antiquity there is carried into the souls of their rivals, as from a
fount of inspiration, an effluence which breathes upon them until, even
though their natural temper be but cold, they share the sublime
enthusiasm of others.

Thus Homer’s name is associated with a numerous band of illustrious
disciples--not only Herodotus, but Stesichorus before him, and the great
Archilochus, and above all Plato, who from the great fountain-head of
Homer’s genius drew into himself innumerable tributary streams. Perhaps
it would have been necessary to illustrate this point, had not Ammonius
and his school already classified and noted down the various examples.

Now what I am speaking of is not plagiarism, but resembles the process
of copying from fair forms or statues or works of skilled labour. Nor in
my opinion would so many fair flowers of imagery have bloomed among the
philosophical dogmas of Plato, nor would he have risen so often to the
language and topics of poetry, had he not engaged heart and soul in a
contest for precedence with Homer, like a young champion entering the
lists against a veteran. It may be that he showed too ambitious a spirit
in venturing on such a duel; but nevertheless it was not without
advantage to him: “for strife like this,” as Hesiod says, “is good for
men.”[2] And where shall we find a more glorious arena or a nobler crown
than here, where even defeat at the hands of our predecessors is not

    [Footnote 2: _Opp._ 29.]


Therefore it is good for us also, when we are labouring on some subject
which demands a lofty and majestic style, to imagine to ourselves how
Homer might have expressed this or that, or how Plato or Demosthenes
would have clothed it with sublimity, or, in history, Thucydides. For by
our fixing an eye of rivalry on those high examples they will become
like beacons to guide us, and will perhaps lift up our souls to the
fulness of the stature we conceive.

And it would be still better should we try to realise this further
thought, How would Homer, had he been here, or how would Demosthenes,
have listened to what I have written, or how would they have been
affected by it? For what higher incentive to exertion could a writer
have than to imagine such judges or such an audience of his works, and
to give an account of his writings with heroes like these to criticise
and look on?

Yet more inspiring would be the thought, With what feelings will future
ages through all time read these my works? If this should awaken a fear
in any writer that he will not be intelligible to his contemporaries it
will necessarily follow that the conceptions of his mind will be crude,
maimed, and abortive, and lacking that ripe perfection which alone can
win the applause of ages to come.


The dignity, grandeur, and energy of a style largely depend on a proper
employment of images, a term which I prefer to that usually given.[1]
The term image in its most general acceptation includes every thought,
howsoever presented, which issues in speech. But the term is now
generally confined to those cases when he who is speaking, by reason of
the rapt and excited state of his feelings, imagines himself to see what
he is talking about, and produces a similar illusion in his hearers.

    [Footnote 1: εἰδωλοποιΐαι, “fictions of the imagination,” Hickie.]

Poets and orators both employ images, but with a very different object,
as you are well aware. The poetical image is designed to astound; the
oratorical image to give perspicuity. Both, however, seek to work on the

  “Mother, I pray thee, set not thou upon me
  Those maids with bloody face and serpent hair:
  See, see, they come, they’re here, they spring upon me!”[2]

And again--

  “Ah, ah, she’ll slay me! whither shall I fly?”[3]

The poet when he wrote like this saw the Erinyes with his own eyes, and
he almost compels his readers to see them too.

    [Footnote 2: Eur. _Orest._ 255.]

    [Footnote 3: _Iph. Taur._ 291.]

Euripides found his chief delight in the labour of giving tragic
expression to these two passions of madness and love, showing here a
real mastery which I cannot think he exhibited elsewhere. Still, he is
by no means diffident in venturing on other fields of the imagination.
His genius was far from being of the highest order, but by taking pains
he often raises himself to a tragic elevation. In his sublimer moments
he generally reminds us of Homer’s description of the lion--

  “With tail he lashes both his flanks and sides,
  And spurs himself to battle.”[4]

    [Footnote 4: _Il._ xx. 170.]

Take, for instance, that passage in which Helios, in handing the reins
to his son, says--

  “Drive on, but shun the burning Libyan tract;
  The hot dry air will let thine axle down:
  Toward the seven Pleiades keep thy steadfast way.”

And then--

  “This said, his son undaunted snatched the reins,
  Then smote the winged coursers’ sides: they bound
  Forth on the void and cavernous vault of air.
  His father mounts another steed, and rides
  With warning voice guiding his son. ‘Drive there!
  Turn, turn thy car this way.’”[5]

May we not say that the spirit of the poet mounts the chariot with his
hero, and accompanies the winged steeds in their perilous flight? Were
it not so,--had not his imagination soared side by side with them in
that celestial passage,--he would never have conceived so vivid an
image. Similar is that passage in his “Cassandra,” beginning

  “Ye Trojans, lovers of the steed.”[6]

    [Footnote 5: Eur. _Phaet._]

    [Footnote 6: Perhaps from the lost “Alexander” (Jahn).]

Aeschylus is especially bold in forming images suited to his heroic
themes: as when he says of his “Seven against Thebes”--

  “Seven mighty men, and valiant captains, slew
  Over an iron-bound shield a bull, then dipped
  Their fingers in the blood, and all invoked
  Ares, Enyo, and death-dealing Flight
  In witness of their oaths,”[7]

and describes how they all mutually pledged themselves without flinching
to die. Sometimes, however, his thoughts are unshapen, and as it were
rough-hewn and rugged. Not observing this, Euripides, from too blind a
rivalry, sometimes falls under the same censure.

    [Footnote 7: _Sept. c. Th._ 42.]

Aeschylus with a strange violence of language represents the palace of
Lycurgus as _possessed_ at the appearance of Dionysus--

  “The halls with rapture thrill, the roof’s inspired.”[8]

Here Euripides, in borrowing the image, softens its extravagance[9]--

  “And all the mountain felt the god.”[10]

    [Footnote 8: Aesch. _Lycurg._]

    [Footnote 9: Lit. “Giving it a different flavour,” as Arist. _Poet._
    ἡδυσμένῳ λόγῳ χώρις ἑκάστῳ τῶν εἰδῶν, ii. 10.]

    [Footnote 10: _Bacch._ 726.]

Sophocles has also shown himself a great master of the imagination in
the scene in which the dying Oedipus prepares himself for burial in the
midst of a tempest,[11] and where he tells how Achilles appeared to the
Greeks over his tomb just as they were putting out to sea on their
departure from Troy.[12] This last scene has also been delineated by
Simonides with a vividness which leaves him inferior to none. But it
would be an endless task to cite all possible examples.

    [Footnote 11: _Oed. Col._ 1586.]

    [Footnote 12: In his lost “Polyxena.”]

To return, then,[13] in poetry, as I observed, a certain mythical
exaggeration is allowable, transcending altogether mere logical
credence. But the chief beauties of an oratorical image are its energy
and reality. Such digressions become offensive and monstrous when the
language is cast in a poetical and fabulous mould, and runs into all
sorts of impossibilities. Thus much may be learnt from the great orators
of our own day, when they tell us in tragic tones that they see the
Furies[14]--good people, can’t they understand that when Orestes cries

  “Off, off, I say! I know thee who thou art,
  One of the fiends that haunt me: I feel thine arms
  About me cast, to drag me down to hell,”[15]

these are the hallucinations of a madman?

    [Footnote 13: § 2.]

    [Footnote 14: Comp. Petronius, _Satyricon_, ch. i. _passim_.]

    [Footnote 15: _Orest._ 264.]

Wherein, then, lies the force of an oratorical image? Doubtless in
adding energy and passion in a hundred different ways to a speech; but
especially in this, that when it is mingled with the practical,
argumentative parts of an oration, it does not merely convince the
hearer, but enthralls him. Such is the effect of those words of
Demosthenes:[16] “Supposing, now, at this moment a cry of alarm were
heard outside the assize courts, and the news came that the prison was
broken open and the prisoners escaped, is there any man here who is such
a trifler that he would not run to the rescue at the top of his speed?
But suppose some one came forward with the information that they had
been set at liberty by the defendant, what then? Why, he would be
lynched on the spot!”

    [Footnote 16: _c. Timocrat._ 208.]

Compare also the way in which Hyperides excused himself, when he was
proceeded against for bringing in a bill to liberate the slaves after
Chaeronea. “This measure,” he said, “was not drawn up by any orator, but
by the battle of Chaeronea.” This striking image, being thrown in by the
speaker in the midst of his proofs, enables him by one bold stroke to
carry all mere logical objection before him.

In all such cases our nature is drawn towards that which affects it most
powerfully: hence an image lures us away from an argument: judgment is
paralysed, matters of fact disappear from view, eclipsed by the superior
blaze. Nor is it surprising that we should be thus affected; for when
two forces are thus placed in juxtaposition, the stronger must always
absorb into itself the weaker.

On sublimity of thought, and the manner in which it arises from native
greatness of mind, from imitation, and from the employment of images,
this brief outline must suffice.[17]

    [Footnote 17: He passes over chs. x. xi.]


The subject which next claims our attention is that of figures of
speech. I have already observed that figures, judiciously employed, play
an important part in producing sublimity. It would be a tedious, or
rather an endless task, to deal with every detail of this subject here;
so in order to establish what I have laid down, I will just run over,
without further preface, a few of those figures which are most effective
in lending grandeur to language.

Demosthenes is defending his policy; his natural line of argument would
have been: “You did not do wrong, men of Athens, to take upon yourselves
the struggle for the liberties of Hellas. Of this you have home proofs.
_They_ did not wrong who fought at Marathon, at Salamis, and Plataea.”
Instead of this, in a sudden moment of supreme exaltation he bursts out
like some inspired prophet with that famous appeal to the mighty dead:
“Ye did not, could not have done wrong. I swear it by the men who faced
the foe at Marathon!”[1] He employs the figure of adjuration, to which I
will here give the name of Apostrophe. And what does he gain by it? He
exalts the Athenian ancestors to the rank of divinities, showing that we
ought to invoke those who have fallen for their country as gods; he
fills the hearts of his judges with the heroic pride of the old warriors
of Hellas; forsaking the beaten path of argument he rises to the
loftiest altitude of grandeur and passion, and commands assent by the
startling novelty of his appeal; he applies the healing charm of
eloquence, and thus “ministers to the mind diseased” of his countrymen,
until lifted by his brave words above their misfortunes they begin to
feel that the disaster of Chaeronea is no less glorious than the
victories of Marathon and Salamis. All this he effects by the use of one
figure, and so carries his hearers away with him.

    [Footnote 1: _De Cor._ 208.]

It is said that the germ of this adjuration is found in Eupolis--

  “By mine own fight, by Marathon, I say,
  Who makes my heart to ache shall rue the day!”[2]

But there is nothing grand in the mere employment of an oath. Its
grandeur will depend on its being employed in the right place and the
right manner, on the right occasion, and with the right motive. In
Eupolis the oath is nothing beyond an oath; and the Athenians to whom it
is addressed are still prosperous, and in need of no consolation.
Moreover, the poet does not, like Demosthenes, swear by the departed
heroes as deities, so as to engender in his audience a just conception
of their valour, but diverges from the champions to the battle--a mere
lifeless thing. But Demosthenes has so skilfully managed the oath that
in addressing his countrymen after the defeat of Chaeronea he takes out
of their minds all sense of disaster; and at the same time, while
proving that no mistake has been made, he holds up an example, confirms
his arguments by an oath, and makes his praise of the dead an incentive
to the living.

    [Footnote 2: In his (lost) “Demis.”]

And to rebut a possible objection which occurred to him--“Can you,
Demosthenes, whose policy ended in defeat, swear by a victory?”--the
orator proceeds to measure his language, choosing his very words so as
to give no handle to opponents, thus showing us that even in our most
inspired moments reason ought to hold the reins.[3] Let us mark his
words: “Those who _faced the foe_ at Marathon; those who _fought in the
sea-fights_ of Salamis and Artemisium; those who _stood in the ranks_ at
Plataea.” Note that he nowhere says “those who _conquered_,” artfully
suppressing any word which might hint at the successful issue of those
battles, which would have spoilt the parallel with Chaeronea. And for
the same reason he steals a march on his audience, adding immediately:
“All of whom, Aeschines,--not those who were successful only,--were
buried by the state at the public expense.”

    [Footnote 3: Lit. “That even in the midst of the revels of Bacchus
    we ought to remain sober.”]


There is one truth which my studies have led me to observe, which
perhaps it would be worth while to set down briefly here. It is this,
that by a natural law the Sublime, besides receiving an acquisition of
strength from figures, in its turn lends support in a remarkable manner
to them. To explain: the use of figures has a peculiar tendency to rouse
a suspicion of dishonesty, and to create an impression of treachery,
scheming, and false reasoning; especially if the person addressed be a
judge, who is master of the situation, and still more in the case of a
despot, a king, a military potentate, or any of those who sit in high
places.[1] If a man feels that this artful speaker is treating him like
a silly boy and trying to throw dust in his eyes, he at once grows
irritated, and thinking that such false reasoning implies a contempt of
his understanding, he perhaps flies into a rage and will not hear
another word; or even if he masters his resentment, still he is utterly
indisposed to yield to the persuasive power of eloquence. Hence it
follows that a figure is then most effectual when it appears in

    [Footnote 1: Reading with Cobet, καὶ πάντας τοὺς ἐν ὑπεροχαῖς.]

To allay, then, this distrust which attaches to the use of figures we
must call in the powerful aid of sublimity and passion. For art, once
associated with these great allies, will be overshadowed by their
grandeur and beauty, and pass beyond the reach of all suspicion. To
prove this I need only refer to the passage already quoted: “I swear it
by the men,” etc. It is the very brilliancy of the orator’s figure which
blinds us to the fact that it _is_ a figure. For as the fainter lustre
of the stars is put out of sight by the all-encompassing rays of the
sun, so when sublimity sheds its light all round the sophistries of
rhetoric they become invisible.

A similar illusion is produced by the painter’s art. When light and
shadow are represented in colour, though they lie on the same surface
side by side, it is the light which meets the eye first, and appears not
only more conspicuous but also much nearer. In the same manner passion
and grandeur of language, lying nearer to our souls by reason both of a
certain natural affinity and of their radiance, always strike our mental
eye before we become conscious of the figure, throwing its artificial
character into the shade and hiding it as it were in a veil.


The figures of question and interrogation[1] also possess a specific
quality which tends strongly to stir an audience and give energy to the
speaker’s words. “Or tell me, do you want to run about asking one
another, is there any news? what greater news could you have than that a
man of Macedon is making himself master of Hellas? Is Philip dead? Not
he. However, he is ill. But what is that to you? Even if anything
happens to him you will soon raise up another Philip.”[2] Or this
passage: “Shall we sail against Macedon? And where, asks one, shall we
effect a landing? The war itself will show us where Philip’s weak places
lie.”[2] Now if this had been put baldly it would have lost greatly in
force. As we see it, it is full of the quick alternation of question and
answer. The orator replies to himself as though he were meeting another
man’s objections. And this figure not only raises the tone of his words
but makes them more convincing.

    [Footnote 1: See Note.]

    [Footnote 2: _Phil._ i. 44.]

For an exhibition of feeling has then most effect on an audience when it
appears to flow naturally from the occasion, not to have been laboured
by the art of the speaker; and this device of questioning and replying
to himself reproduces the moment of passion. For as a sudden question
addressed to an individual will sometimes startle him into a reply which
is an unguarded expression of his genuine sentiments, so the figure of
question and interrogation blinds the judgment of an audience, and
deceives them into a belief that what is really the result of labour in
every detail has been struck out of the speaker by the inspiration of
the moment.

There is one passage in Herodotus which is generally credited with
extraordinary sublimity....


... The removal of connecting particles gives a quick rush and “torrent
rapture” to a passage, the writer appearing to be actually almost left
behind by his own words. There is an example in Xenophon: “Clashing
their shields together they pushed, they fought, they slew, they
fell.”[1] And the words of Eurylochus in the _Odyssey_--

  “We passed at thy command the woodland’s shade;
  We found a stately hall built in a mountain glade.”[2]

Words thus severed from one another without the intervention of stops
give a lively impression of one who through distress of mind at once
halts and hurries in his speech. And this is what Homer has expressed by
using the figure _Asyndeton_.

    [Footnote 1: Xen. _Hel._ iv. 3. 19.]

    [Footnote 2: _Od._ x. 251.]


But nothing is so conducive to energy as a combination of different
figures, when two or three uniting their resources mutually contribute
to the vigour, the cogency, and the beauty of a speech. So Demosthenes
in his speech against Meidias repeats the same words and breaks up his
sentences in one lively descriptive passage: “He who receives a blow is
hurt in many ways which he could not even describe to another, by
gesture, by look, by tone.”

Then, to vary the movement of his speech, and prevent it from standing
still (for stillness produces rest, but passion requires a certain
disorder of language, imitating the agitation and commotion of the
soul), he at once dashes off in another direction, breaking up his words
again, and repeating them in a different form, “by gesture, by look, by
tone--when insult, when hatred, is added to violence, when he is struck
with the fist, when he is struck as a slave!” By such means the orator
imitates the action of Meidias, dealing blow upon blow on the minds of
his judges. Immediately after like a hurricane he makes a fresh attack:
“When he is struck with the fist, when he is struck in the face; this is
what moves, this is what maddens a man, unless he is inured to outrage;
no one could describe all this so as to bring home to his hearers its
bitterness.”[1] You see how he preserves, by continual variation, the
intrinsic force of these repetitions and broken clauses, so that his
order seems irregular, and conversely his irregularity acquires a
certain measure of order.

    [Footnote 1: _Meid._ 72.]


Supposing we add the conjunctions, after the practice of Isocrates and
his school: “Moreover, I must not omit to mention that he who strikes a
blow may hurt in many ways, in the first place by gesture, in the second
place by look, in the third and last place by his tone.” If you compare
the words thus set down in logical sequence with the expressions of the
“Meidias,” you will see that the rapidity and rugged abruptness of
passion, when all is made regular by connecting links, will be smoothed
away, and the whole point and fire of the passage will at once

For as, if you were to bind two runners together, they will forthwith be
deprived of all liberty of movement, even so passion rebels against the
trammels of conjunctions and other particles, because they curb its free
rush and destroy the impression of mechanical impulse.


The figure hyperbaton belongs to the same class. By hyperbaton we mean a
transposition of words or thoughts from their usual order, bearing
unmistakably the characteristic stamp of violent mental agitation. In
real life we often see a man under the influence of rage, or fear, or
indignation, or beside himself with jealousy, or with some other out of
the interminable list of human passions, begin a sentence, and then
swerve aside into some inconsequent parenthesis, and then again double
back to his original statement, being borne with quick turns by his
distress, as though by a shifting wind, now this way, now that, and
playing a thousand capricious variations on his words, his thoughts, and
the natural order of his discourse. Now the figure hyperbaton is the
means which is employed by the best writers to imitate these signs of
natural emotion. For art is then perfect when it seems to be nature, and
nature, again, is most effective when pervaded by the unseen presence of
art. An illustration will be found in the speech of Dionysius of Phocaea
in Herodotus: “A hair’s breadth now decides our destiny, Ionians,
whether we shall live as freemen or as slaves--ay, as runaway slaves.
Now, therefore, if you choose to endure a little hardship, you will be
able at the cost of some present exertion to overcome your enemies.”[1]

    [Footnote 1: vi. 11.]

The regular sequence here would have been: “Ionians, now is the time for
you to endure a little hardship; for a hair’s breadth will now decide
our destiny.” But the Phocaean transposes the title “Ionians,” rushing
at once to the subject of alarm, as though in the terror of the moment
he had forgotten the usual address to his audience. Moreover, he inverts
the logical order of his thoughts, and instead of beginning with the
necessity for exertion, which is the point he wishes to urge upon them,
he first gives them the reason for that necessity in the words, “a
hair’s breadth now decides our destiny,” so that his words seem
unpremeditated, and forced upon him by the crisis.

Thucydides surpasses all other writers in the bold use of this figure,
even breaking up sentences which are by their nature absolutely one and
indivisible. But nowhere do we find it so unsparingly employed as in
Demosthenes, who though not so daring in his manner of using it as the
elder writer is very happy in giving to his speeches by frequent
transpositions the lively air of unstudied debate. Moreover, he drags,
as it were, his audience with him into the perils of a long inverted

He often begins to say something, then leaves the thought in suspense,
meanwhile thrusting in between, in a position apparently foreign and
unnatural, some extraneous matters, one upon another, and having thus
made his hearers fear lest the whole discourse should break down, and
forced them into eager sympathy with the danger of the speaker, when he
is nearly at the end of a period he adds just at the right moment,
_i.e._ when it is least expected, the point which they have been waiting
for so long. And thus by the very boldness and hazard of his inversions
he produces a much more astounding effect. I forbear to cite examples,
as they are too numerous to require it.


The juxtaposition of different cases, the enumeration of particulars,
and the use of contrast and climax, all, as you know, add much vigour,
and give beauty and great elevation and life to a style. The diction
also gains greatly in diversity and movement by changes of case, time,
person, number, and gender.

With regard to change of number: not only is the style improved by the
use of those words which, though singular in form, are found on
inspection to be plural in meaning, as in the lines--

  “A countless host dispersed along the sand
  With joyous cries the shoal of tunny hailed,”

but it is more worthy of observation that plurals for singulars
sometimes fall with a more impressive dignity, rousing the imagination
by the mere sense of vast number.

Such is the effect of those words of Oedipus in Sophocles--

              “Oh fatal, fatal ties!
  Ye gave us birth, and we being born ye sowed
  The self-same seed, and gave the world to view
  Sons, brothers, sires, domestic murder foul,
  Brides, mothers, wives.... Ay, ye laid bare
  The blackest, deepest place where Shame can dwell.”[1]

Here we have in either case but one person, first Oedipus, then Jocasta;
but the expansion of number into the plural gives an impression of
multiplied calamity. So in the following plurals--

  “There came forth Hectors, and there came Sarpedons.”

    [Footnote 1: _O. R._ 1403.]

And in those words of Plato’s (which we have already adduced elsewhere),
referring to the Athenians: “We have no Pelopses or Cadmuses or
Aegyptuses or Danauses, or any others out of all the mob of Hellenised
barbarians, dwelling among us; no, this is the land of pure Greeks, with
no mixture of foreign elements,”[2] etc. Such an accumulation of words
in the plural number necessarily gives greater pomp and sound to a
subject. But we must only have recourse to this device when the nature
of our theme makes it allowable to amplify, to multiply, or to speak in
the tones of exaggeration or passion. To overlay every sentence with
ornament[3] is very pedantic.

    [Footnote 2: _Menex._ 245, D.]

    [Footnote 3: Lit. “To hang bells everywhere,” a metaphor from
    the bells which were attached to horses’ trappings on festive


On the other hand, the contraction of plurals into singulars sometimes
creates an appearance of great dignity; as in that phrase of
Demosthenes: “Thereupon all Peloponnesus was divided.”[1] There is
another in Herodotus: “When Phrynichus brought a drama on the stage
entitled _The Taking of Miletus_, the whole theatre fell a
weeping”--instead of “all the spectators.” This knitting together of a
number of scattered particulars into one whole gives them an aspect of
corporate life. And the beauty of both uses lies, I think, in their
betokening emotion, by giving a sudden change of complexion to the
circumstances,--whether a word which is strictly singular is
unexpectedly changed into a plural,--or whether a number of isolated
units are combined by the use of a single sonorous word under one head.

    [Footnote 1: _De Cor._ 18.]


When past events are introduced as happening in present time the
narrative form is changed into a dramatic action. Such is that
description in Xenophon: “A man who has fallen, and is being trampled
under foot by Cyrus’s horse, strikes the belly of the animal with his
scimitar; the horse starts aside and unseats Cyrus, and he falls.”
Similarly in many passages of Thucydides.


Equally dramatic is the interchange of persons, often making a reader
fancy himself to be moving in the midst of the perils described--

  “Unwearied, thou wouldst deem, with toil unspent,
  They met in war; so furiously they fought.”[1]

and that line in Aratus--

  “Beware that month to tempt the surging sea.”[2]

    [Footnote 1: _Il._ xv. 697.]

    [Footnote 2: _Phaen._ 287.]

In the same way Herodotus: “Passing from the city of Elephantine you
will sail upwards until you reach a level plain. You cross this region,
and there entering another ship you will sail on for two days, and so
reach a great city, whose name is Meroe.”[3] Observe how he takes us, as
it were, by the hand, and leads us in spirit through these places,
making us no longer readers, but spectators. Such a direct personal
address always has the effect of placing the reader in the midst of the
scene of action.

    [Footnote 3: ii. 29.]

And by pointing your words to the individual reader, instead of to the
readers generally, as in the line

  “Thou had’st not known for whom Tydides fought,”[4]

and thus exciting him by an appeal to himself, you will rouse interest,
and fix attention, and make him a partaker in the action of the book.

    [Footnote 4: _Il._ v. 85.]


Sometimes, again, a writer in the midst of a narrative in the third
person suddenly steps aside and makes a transition to the first. It is a
kind of figure which strikes like a sudden outburst of passion. Thus
Hector in the _Iliad_

  “With mighty voice called to the men of Troy
  To storm the ships, and leave the bloody spoils:
  If any I behold with willing foot
  Shunning the ships, and lingering on the plain,
  That hour I will contrive his death.”[1]

The poet then takes upon himself the narrative part, as being his proper
business; but this abrupt threat he attributes, without a word of
warning, to the enraged Trojan chief. To have interposed any such words
as “Hector said so and so” would have had a frigid effect. As the lines
stand the writer is left behind by his own words, and the transition is
effected while he is preparing for it.

    [Footnote 1: _Il._ xv. 346.]

Accordingly the proper use of this figure is in dealing with some urgent
crisis which will not allow the writer to linger, but compels him to
make a rapid change from one person to another. So in Hecataeus: “Now
Ceyx took this in dudgeon, and straightway bade the children of Heracles
to depart. ‘Behold, I can give you no help; lest, therefore, ye perish
yourselves and bring hurt upon me also, get ye forth into some other

There is a different use of the change of persons in the speech of
Demosthenes against Aristogeiton, which places before us the quick turns
of violent emotion. “Is there none to be found among you,” he asks, “who
even feels indignation at the outrageous conduct of a loathsome and
shameless wretch who,--vilest of men, when you were debarred from
freedom of speech, not by barriers or by doors, which might indeed be
opened,”[2] etc. Thus in the midst of a half-expressed thought he makes
a quick change of front, and having almost in his anger torn one word
into two persons, “who, vilest of men,” etc., he then breaks off his
address to Aristogeiton, and seems to leave him, nevertheless, by the
passion of his utterance, rousing all the more the attention of the

    [Footnote 2: _c. Aristog._ i. 27.]

The same feature may be observed in a speech of Penelope’s--

  “Why com’st thou, Medon, from the wooers proud?
  Com’st thou to bid the handmaids of my lord
  To cease their tasks, and make for them good cheer?
  Ill fare their wooing, and their gathering here!
  Would God that here this hour they all might take
  Their last, their latest meal! Who day by day
  Make here your muster, to devour and waste
  The substance of my son: have ye not heard
  When children at your fathers’ knee the deeds
  And prowess of your king?”[3]

    [Footnote 3: _Od._ iv. 681.]


None, I suppose, would dispute the fact that periphrasis tends much to
sublimity. For, as in music the simple air is rendered more pleasing by
the addition of harmony, so in language periphrasis often sounds in
concord with a literal expression, adding much to the beauty of its
tone,--provided always that it is not inflated and harsh, but agreeably

To confirm this one passage from Plato will suffice--the opening words
of his Funeral Oration: “In deed these men have now received from us
their due, and that tribute paid they are now passing on their destined
journey, with the State speeding them all and his own friends speeding
each one of them on his way.”[1] Death, you see, he calls the “destined
journey”; to receive the rites of burial is to be publicly “sped on your
way” by the State. And these turns of language lend dignity in no common
measure to the thought. He takes the words in their naked simplicity and
handles them as a musician, investing them with melody,--harmonising
them, as it were,--by the use of periphrasis.

    [Footnote 1: _Menex._ 236, D.]

So Xenophon: “Labour you regard as the guide to a pleasant life, and you
have laid up in your souls the fairest and most soldier-like of all
gifts: in praise is your delight, more than in anything else.”[2] By
saying, instead of “you are ready to labour,” “you regard labour as the
guide to a pleasant life,” and by similarly expanding the rest of that
passage, he gives to his eulogy a much wider and loftier range of
sentiment. Let us add that inimitable phrase in Herodotus: “Those
Scythians who pillaged the temple were smitten from heaven by a female

    [Footnote 2: _Cyrop._ i. 5. 12.]


But this figure, more than any other, is very liable to abuse, and great
restraint is required in employing it. It soon begins to carry an
impression of feebleness, savours of vapid trifling, and arouses
disgust. Hence Plato, who is very bold and not always happy in his use
of figures, is much ridiculed for saying in his _Laws_ that “neither
gold nor silver wealth must be allowed to establish itself in our
State,”[1] suggesting, it is said, that if he had forbidden property in
oxen or sheep he would certainly have spoken of it as “bovine and ovine

    [Footnote 1: _De Legg._ vii. 801, B.]

Here we must quit this part of our subject, hoping, my dear friend
Terentian, that your learned curiosity will be satisfied with this short
excursion on the use of figures in their relation to the Sublime. All
those which I have mentioned help to render a style more energetic and
impassioned; and passion contributes as largely to sublimity as the
delineation of character to amusement.


But since the thoughts conveyed by words and the expression of those
thoughts are for the most part interwoven with one another, we will now
add some considerations which have hitherto been overlooked on the
subject of expression. To say that the choice of appropriate and
striking words has a marvellous power and an enthralling charm for the
reader, that this is the main object of pursuit with all orators and
writers, that it is this, and this alone, which causes the works of
literature to exhibit the glowing perfections of the finest statues,
their grandeur, their beauty, their mellowness, their dignity, their
energy, their power, and all their other graces, and that it is this
which endows the facts with a vocal soul; to say all this would, I fear,
be, to the initiated, an impertinence. Indeed, we may say with strict
truth that beautiful words are the very light of thought.

I do not mean to say that imposing language is appropriate to every
occasion. A trifling subject tricked out in grand and stately words
would have the same effect as a huge tragic mask placed on the head of a
little child. Only in poetry and ...


... There is a genuine ring in that line of Anacreon’s--

  “The Thracian filly I no longer heed.”

The same merit belongs to that original phrase in Theophrastus; to me,
at least, from the closeness of its analogy, it seems to have a peculiar
expressiveness, though Caecilius censures it, without telling us why.
“Philip,” says the historian, “showed a marvellous alacrity in _taking
doses of trouble_.”[1] We see from this that the most homely language is
sometimes far more vivid than the most ornamental, being recognised at
once as the language of common life, and gaining immediate currency by
its familiarity. In speaking, then, of Philip as “taking doses of
trouble,” Theopompus has laid hold on a phrase which describes with
peculiar vividness one who for the sake of advantage endured what was
base and sordid with patience and cheerfulness.

    [Footnote 1: See Note.]

The same may be observed of two passages in Herodotus: “Cleomenes having
lost his wits, cut his own flesh into pieces with a short sword, until
by gradually _mincing_ his whole body he destroyed himself”;[2] and
“Pythes continued fighting on his ship until he was entirely _hacked to
pieces_.”[3] Such terms come home at once to the vulgar reader, but
their own vulgarity is redeemed by their expressiveness.

    [Footnote 2: vi. 75.]

    [Footnote 3: vii. 181.]


Concerning the number of metaphors to be employed together Caecilius
seems to give his vote with those critics who make a law that not more
than two, or at the utmost three, should be combined in the same place.
The use, however, must be determined by the occasion. Those outbursts of
passion which drive onwards like a winter torrent draw with them as an
indispensable accessory whole masses of metaphor. It is thus in that
passage of Demosthenes (who here also is our safest guide):[1]

    [Footnote 1: See Note.]

“Those vile fawning wretches, each one of whom has lopped from his
country her fairest members, who have toasted away their liberty, first
to Philip, now to Alexander, who measure happiness by their belly and
their vilest appetites, who have overthrown the old landmarks and
standards of felicity among Greeks,--to be freemen, and to have no one
for a master.”[2] Here the number of the metaphors is obscured by the
orator’s indignation against the betrayers of his country.

    [Footnote 2: _De Cor._ 296.]

And to effect this Aristotle and Theophrastus recommend the softening of
harsh metaphors by the use of some such phrase as “So to say,” “As it
were,” “If I may be permitted the expression,” “If so bold a term is
allowable.” For thus to forestall criticism[3] mitigates, they assert,
the boldness of the metaphors.

    [Footnote 3: Reading ὑποτίμησις.]

And I will not deny that these have their use. Nevertheless I must
repeat the remark which I made in the case of figures,[4] and maintain
that there are native antidotes to the number and boldness of metaphors,
in well-timed displays of strong feeling, and in unaffected sublimity,
because these have an innate power by the dash of their movement of
sweeping along and carrying all else before them. Or should we not
rather say that they absolutely demand as indispensable the use of
daring metaphors, and will not allow the hearer to pause and criticise
the number of them, because he shares the passion of the speaker?

    [Footnote 4: Ch. xvii.]

In the treatment, again, of familiar topics and in descriptive passages
nothing gives such distinctness as a close and continuous series of
metaphors. It is by this means that Xenophon has so finely delineated
the anatomy of the human frame.[5] And there is a still more brilliant
and life-like picture in Plato.[6] The human head he calls a _citadel_;
the neck is an _isthmus_ set to divide it from the chest; to support it
beneath are the vertebrae, turning like _hinges_; pleasure he describes
as a _bait_ to tempt men to ill; the tongue is the _arbiter of tastes_.
The heart is at once the _knot_ of the veins and the _source_ of the
rapidly circulating blood, and is stationed in the _guard-room_ of the
body. The ramifying blood-vessels he calls _alleys_. “And casting
about,” he says, “for something to sustain the violent palpitation of
the heart when it is alarmed by the approach of danger or agitated by
passion, since at such times it is overheated, they (the gods) implanted
in us the lungs, which are so fashioned that being soft and bloodless,
and having cavities within, they act like a buffer, and when the heart
boils with inward passion by yielding to its throbbing save it from
injury.” He compares the seat of the desires to the _women’s quarters_,
the seat of the passions to the _men’s quarters_, in a house. The
spleen, again, is the _napkin_ of the internal organs, by whose
excretions it is saturated from time to time, and swells to a great size
with inward impurity. “After this,” he continues, “they shrouded the
whole with flesh, throwing it forward, like a cushion, as a barrier
against injuries from without.” The blood he terms the _pasture_ of the
flesh. “To assist the process of nutrition,” he goes on, “they divided
the body into ducts, cutting trenches like those in a garden, so that,
the body being a system of narrow conduits, the current of the veins
might flow as from a perennial fountain-head. And when the end is at
hand,” he says, “the soul is cast loose from her moorings like a ship,
and free to wander whither she will.”

    [Footnote 5: _Memorab._ i. 4, 5.]

    [Footnote 6: _Timaeus_, 69, D; 74, A; 65, C; 72, G; 74, B, D; 80, E;
    77, G; 78, E; 85, E.]

These, and a hundred similar fancies, follow one another in quick
succession. But those which I have pointed out are sufficient to
demonstrate how great is the natural power of figurative language, and
how largely metaphors conduce to sublimity, and to illustrate the
important part which they play in all impassioned and descriptive

That the use of figurative language, as of all other beauties of style,
has a constant tendency towards excess, is an obvious truth which I need
not dwell upon. It is chiefly on this account that even Plato comes in
for a large share of disparagement, because he is often carried away by
a sort of frenzy of language into an intemperate use of violent
metaphors and inflated allegory. “It is not easy to remark” (he says in
one place) “that a city ought to be blended like a bowl, in which the
mad wine boils when it is poured out, but being disciplined by another
and a sober god in that fair society produces a good and temperate
drink.”[7] Really, it is said, to speak of water as a “sober god,” and
of the process of mixing as a “discipline,” is to talk like a poet, and
no very _sober_ one either.

    [Footnote 7: _Legg._ vi. 773, G.]

It was such defects as these that the hostile critic[8] Caecilius made
his ground of attack, when he had the boldness in his essay “On the
Beauties of Lysias” to pronounce that writer superior in every respect
to Plato. Now Caecilius was doubly unqualified for a judge: he loved
Lysias better even than himself, and at the same time his hatred of
Plato and all his works is greater even than his love for Lysias.
Moreover, he is so blind a partisan that his very premises are open to
dispute. He vaunts Lysias as a faultless and immaculate writer, while
Plato is, according to him, full of blemishes. Now this is not the case:
far from it.

    [Footnote 8: Reading ὁ μισῶν αὐτόν, by a conjecture of the


But supposing now that we assume the existence of a really unblemished
and irreproachable writer. Is it not worth while to raise the whole
question whether in poetry and prose we should prefer sublimity
accompanied by some faults, or a style which never rising above moderate
excellence never stumbles and never requires correction? and again,
whether the first place in literature is justly to be assigned to the
more numerous, or the loftier excellences? For these are questions
proper to an inquiry on the Sublime, and urgently asking for settlement.

I know, then, that the largest intellects are far from being the most
exact. A mind always intent on correctness is apt to be dissipated in
trifles; but in great affluence of thought, as in vast material wealth,
there must needs be an occasional neglect of detail. And is it not
inevitably so? Is it not by risking nothing, by never aiming high, that
a writer of low or middling powers keeps generally clear of faults and
secure of blame? whereas the loftier walks of literature are by their
very loftiness perilous?

I am well aware, again, that there is a law by which in all human
productions the weak points catch the eye first, by which their faults
remain indelibly stamped on the memory, while their beauties quickly
fade away.

Yet, though I have myself noted not a few faulty passages in Homer and
in other authors of the highest rank, and though I am far from being
partial to their failings, nevertheless I would call them not so much
wilful blunders as oversights which were allowed to pass unregarded
through that contempt of little things, that “brave disorder,” which is
natural to an exalted genius; and I still think that the greater
excellences, though not everywhere equally sustained, ought always to be
voted to the first place in literature, if for no other reason, for the
mere grandeur of soul they evince. Let us take an instance: Apollonius
in his _Argonautica_ has given us a poem actually faultless; and in his
pastoral poetry Theocritus is eminently happy, except when he
occasionally attempts another style. And what then? Would you rather be
a Homer or an Apollonius?

Or take Eratosthenes and his _Erigone_; because that little work is
without a flaw, is he therefore a greater poet than Archilochus, with
all his disorderly profusion? greater than that impetuous, that
god-gifted genius, which chafed against the restraints of law? or in
lyric poetry would you choose to be a Bacchylides or a Pindar? in
tragedy a Sophocles or (save the mark!) an Io of Chios? Yet Io and
Bacchylides never stumble, their style is always neat, always pretty;
while Pindar and Sophocles sometimes move onwards with a wide blaze of
splendour, but often drop out of view in sudden and disastrous eclipse.
Nevertheless no one in his senses would deny that a single play of
Sophocles, the _Oedipus_, is of higher value than all the dramas of Io
put together.


If the number and not the loftiness of an author’s merits is to be our
standard of success, judged by this test we must admit that Hyperides is
a far superior orator to Demosthenes. For in Hyperides there is a richer
modulation, a greater variety of excellence. He is, we may say, in
everything second-best, like the champion of the _pentathlon_, who,
though in every contest he has to yield the prize to some other
combatant, is superior to the unpractised in all five.

Not only has he rivalled the success of Demosthenes in everything but
his manner of composition, but, as though that were not enough, he has
taken in all the excellences and graces of Lysias as well. He knows when
it is proper to speak with simplicity, and does not, like Demosthenes,
continue the same key throughout. His touches of character are racy and
sparkling, and full of a delicate flavour. Then how admirable is his
wit, how polished his raillery! How well-bred he is, how dexterous in
the use of irony! His jests are pointed, but without any of the
grossness and vulgarity of the old Attic comedy. He is skilled in making
light of an opponent’s argument, full of a well-aimed satire which
amuses while it stings; and through all this there runs a pervading, may
we not say, a matchless charm. He is most apt in moving compassion; his
mythical digressions show a fluent ease, and he is perfect in bending
his course and finding a way out of them without violence or effort.
Thus when he tells the story of Leto he is really almost a poet; and his
funeral oration shows a declamatory magnificence to which I hardly know
a parallel.

Demosthenes, on the other hand, has no touches of character, none of the
versatility, fluency, or declamatory skill of Hyperides. He is, in fact,
almost entirely destitute of all those excellences which I have just
enumerated. When he makes violent efforts to be humorous and witty, the
only laughter he arouses is against himself; and the nearer he tries to
get to the winning grace of Hyperides, the farther he recedes from it.
Had he, for instance, attempted such a task as the little speech in
defence of Phryne or Athenagoras, he would only have added to the
reputation of his rival.

Nevertheless all the beauties of Hyperides, however numerous, cannot
make him sublime. He never exhibits strong feeling, has little energy,
rouses no emotion; certainly he never kindles terror in the breast of
his readers. But Demosthenes followed a great master,[1] and drew his
consummate excellences, his high-pitched eloquence, his living passion,
his copiousness, his sagacity, his speed--that mastery and power which
can never be approached--from the highest of sources. These mighty,
these heaven-sent gifts (I dare not call them human), he made his own
both one and all. Therefore, I say, by the noble qualities which he does
possess he remains supreme above all rivals, and throws a cloud over his
failings, silencing by his thunders and blinding by his lightnings the
orators of all ages. Yes, it would be easier to meet the
lightning-stroke with steady eye than to gaze unmoved when his
impassioned eloquence is sending out flash after flash.

    [Footnote 1: _I.e._ Thucydides. See the passage of Dionysius quoted
    in the Note.]


But in the case of Plato and Lysias there is, as I said, a further
difference. Not only is Lysias vastly inferior to Plato in the degree of
his merits, but in their number as well; and at the same time he is as
far ahead of Plato in the number of his faults as he is behind in that
of his merits.

What truth, then, was it that was present to those mighty spirits of the
past, who, making whatever is greatest in writing their aim, thought it
beneath them to be exact in every detail? Among many others especially
this, that it was not in nature’s plan for us her chosen children to be
creatures base and ignoble,--no, she brought us into life, and into the
whole universe, as into some great field of contest, that we should be
at once spectators and ambitious rivals of her mighty deeds, and from
the first implanted in our souls an invincible yearning for all that is
great, all that is diviner than ourselves.

Therefore even the whole world is not wide enough for the soaring range
of human thought, but man’s mind often overleaps the very bounds of
space.[1] When we survey the whole circle of life, and see it abounding
everywhere in what is elegant, grand, and beautiful, we learn at once
what is the true end of man’s being.

    [Footnote 1: Comp. Lucretius on Epicurus: “Ergo vivida vis animi
    pervicit, et extra Processit longe flammantia moenia mundi,” etc.]

And this is why nature prompts us to admire, not the clearness and
usefulness of a little stream, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and
far beyond all the Ocean; not to turn our wandering eyes from the
heavenly fires, though often darkened, to the little flame kindled by
human hands, however pure and steady its light; not to think that tiny
lamp more wondrous than the caverns of Aetna, from whose raging depths
are hurled up stones and whole masses of rock, and torrents sometimes
come pouring from earth’s centre of pure and living fire.

To sum the whole: whatever is useful or needful lies easily within man’s
reach; but he keeps his homage for what is astounding.


How much more do these principles apply to the Sublime in literature,
where grandeur is never, as it sometimes is in nature, dissociated from
utility and advantage. Therefore all those who have achieved it, however
far from faultless, are still more than mortal. When a writer uses any
other resource he shows himself to be a man; but the Sublime lifts him
near to the great spirit of the Deity. He who makes no slips must be
satisfied with negative approbation, but he who is sublime commands
positive reverence.

Why need I add that each one of those great writers often redeems all
his errors by one grand and masterly stroke? But the strongest point of
all is that, if you were to pick out all the blunders of Homer,
Demosthenes, Plato, and all the greatest names in literature, and add
them together, they would be found to bear a very small, or rather an
infinitesimal proportion to the passages in which these supreme masters
have attained absolute perfection. Therefore it is that all posterity,
whose judgment envy herself cannot impeach, has brought and bestowed on
them the crown of glory, has guarded their fame until this day against
all attack, and is likely to preserve it

  “As long as lofty trees shall grow,
  And restless waters seaward flow.”

It has been urged by one writer that we should not prefer the huge
disproportioned Colossus to the Doryphorus of Polycletus. But (to give
one out of many possible answers) in art we admire exactness, in the
works of nature magnificence; and it is from nature that man derives the
faculty of speech. Whereas, then, in statuary we look for close
resemblance to humanity, in literature we require something which
transcends humanity.

Nevertheless (to reiterate the advice which we gave at the beginning of
this essay), since that success which consists in avoidance of error is
usually the gift of art, while high, though unequal excellence is the
attribute of genius, it is proper on all occasions to call in art as an
ally to nature. By the combined resources of these two we may hope to
achieve perfection.

Such are the conclusions which were forced upon me concerning the points
at issue; but every one may consult his own taste.


To return, however, from this long digression; closely allied to
metaphors are comparisons and similes, differing only in this * * *[1]

    [Footnote 1: The asterisks denote gaps in the original text.]


Such absurdities as, “Unless you carry your brains next to the ground in
your heels.”[1] Hence it is necessary to know where to draw the line;
for if ever it is overstepped the effect of the hyperbole is spoilt,
being in such cases relaxed by overstraining, and producing the very
opposite to the effect desired.

    [Footnote 1: Pseud. Dem. de Halon. 45.]

Isocrates, for instance, from an ambitious desire of lending everything
a strong rhetorical colouring, shows himself in quite a childish light.
Having in his Panegyrical Oration set himself to prove that the Athenian
state has surpassed that of Sparta in her services to Hellas, he starts
off at the very outset with these words: “Such is the power of language
that it can extenuate what is great, and lend greatness to what is
little, give freshness to what is antiquated, and describe what is
recent so that it seems to be of the past.”[2] Come, Isocrates (it might
be asked), is it thus that you are going to tamper with the facts about
Sparta and Athens? This flourish about the power of language is like a
signal hung out to warn his audience not to believe him.

    [Footnote 2: Paneg. 8.]

We may repeat here what we said about figures, and say that the
hyperbole is then most effective when it appears in disguise.[3] And
this effect is produced when a writer, impelled by strong feeling,
speaks in the accents of some tremendous crisis; as Thucydides does in
describing the massacre in Sicily. “The Syracusans,” he says, “went down
after them, and slew those especially who were in the river, and the
water was at once defiled, yet still they went on drinking it, though
mingled with mud and gore, most of them even fighting for it.”[4] The
drinking of mud and gore, and even the fighting for it, is made credible
by the awful horror of the scene described.

    [Footnote 3: xvii. 1.]

    [Footnote 4: Thuc. vii. 84.]

Similarly Herodotus on those who fell at Thermopylae: “Here as they
fought, those who still had them, with daggers, the rest with hands and
teeth, the barbarians buried them under their javelins.”[5] That they
fought with the teeth against heavy-armed assailants, and that they were
buried with javelins, are perhaps hard sayings, but not incredible, for
the reasons already explained. We can see that these circumstances have
not been dragged in to produce a hyperbole, but that the hyperbole has
grown naturally out of the circumstances.

    [Footnote 5: vii. 225.]

For, as I am never tired of explaining, in actions and passions verging
on frenzy there lies a kind of remission and palliation of any licence
of language. Hence some comic extravagances, however improbable, gain
credence by their humour, such as--

  “He had a farm, a little farm, where space severely pinches;
  ’Twas smaller than the last despatch from Sparta by some inches.”

For mirth is one of the passions, having its seat in pleasure. And
hyperboles may be employed either to increase or to lessen--since
exaggeration is common to both uses. Thus in extenuating an opponent’s
argument we try to make it seem smaller than it is.


We have still left, my dear sir, the fifth of those sources which we set
down at the outset as contributing to sublimity, that which consists in
the mere arrangement of words in a certain order. Having already
published two books dealing fully with this subject--so far at least as
our investigations had carried us--it will be sufficient for the purpose
of our present inquiry to add that harmony is an instrument which has a
natural power, not only to win and to delight, but also in a remarkable
degree to exalt the soul and sway the heart of man.

When we see that a flute kindles certain emotions in its hearers,
rendering them almost beside themselves and full of an orgiastic frenzy,
and that by starting some kind of rhythmical beat it compels him who
listens to move in time and assimilate his gestures to the tune, even
though he has no taste whatever for music; when we know that the sounds
of a harp, which in themselves have no meaning, by the change of key, by
the mutual relation of the notes, and their arrangement in symphony,
often lay a wonderful spell on an audience--

though these are mere shadows and spurious imitations of persuasion,
not, as I have said, genuine manifestations of human nature:--can we
doubt that composition (being a kind of harmony of that language which
nature has taught us, and which reaches, not our ears only, but our very
souls), when it raises changing forms of words, of thoughts, of actions,
of beauty, of melody, all of which are engrained in and akin to
ourselves, and when by the blending of its manifold tones it brings home
to the minds of those who stand by the feelings present to the speaker,
and ever disposes the hearer to sympathise with those feelings, adding
word to word, until it has raised a majestic and harmonious
structure:--can we wonder if all this enchants us, wherever we meet with
it, and filling us with the sense of pomp and dignity and sublimity, and
whatever else it embraces, gains a complete mastery over our minds? It
would be mere infatuation to join issue on truths so universally
acknowledged, and established by experience beyond dispute.[1]

    [Footnote 1: Reading ἀλλ᾽ ἔοικε μανίᾳ, and putting a full stop at

Now to give an instance: that is doubtless a sublime thought, indeed
wonderfully fine, which Demosthenes applies to his decree: τοῦτο τὸ
ψήφισμα τὸν τότε τῇ πόλει περιστάντα κίνδυνον παρελθεῖν ἐποίησεν ὥσπερ
νέφος, “This decree caused the danger which then hung round our city to
pass away like a cloud.” But the modulation is as perfect as the
sentiment itself is weighty. It is uttered wholly in the dactylic
measure, the noblest and most magnificent of all measures, and hence
forming the chief constituent in the finest metre we know, the heroic.
[And it is with great judgment that the words ὥσπερ νέφος are reserved
till the end.[2]] Supposing we transpose them from their proper place
and read, say τοῦτο τὸ ψήφισμα ὥσπερ νέφος ἐποίησε τὸν τότε κίνδυνον
παρελθεῖν--nay, let us merely cut off one syllable, reading ἐποίησε
παρελθεῖν ὡς νέφος--and you will understand how close is the unison
between harmony and sublimity. In the passage before us the words ὥσπερ
νέφος move first in a heavy measure, which is metrically equivalent to
four short syllables: but on removing one syllable, and reading ὡς
νέφος, the grandeur of movement is at once crippled by the abridgment.
So conversely if you lengthen into ὡσπερεὶ νέφος, the meaning is still
the same, but it does not strike the ear in the same manner, because by
lingering over the final syllables you at once dissipate and relax the
abrupt grandeur of the passage.

    [Footnote 2: There is a break here in the text; but the context
    indicates the sense of the words lost, which has accordingly been


There is another method very efficient in exalting a style. As the
different members of the body, none of which, if severed from its
connection, has any intrinsic excellence, unite by their mutual
combination to form a complete and perfect organism, so also the
elements of a fine passage, by whose separation from one another its
high quality is simultaneously dissipated and evaporates, when joined in
one organic whole, and still further compacted by the bond of harmony,
by the mere rounding of the period gain power of tone.

In fact, a clause may be said to derive its sublimity from the joint
contributions of a number of particulars. And further (as we have shown
at large elsewhere), many writers in prose and verse, though their
natural powers were not high, were perhaps even low, and though the
terms they employed were usually common and popular and conveying no
impression of refinement, by the mere harmony of their composition have
attained dignity and elevation, and avoided the appearance of meanness.
Such among many others are Philistus, Aristophanes occasionally,
Euripides almost always.

Thus when Heracles says, after the murder of his children,

  “I’m full of woes, I have no room for more,”[1]

the words are quite common, but they are made sublime by being cast in a
fine mould. By changing their position you will see that the poetical
quality of Euripides depends more on his arrangement than on his

    [Footnote 1: _H. F._ 1245.]

Compare his lines on Dirce dragged by the bull--

                  “Whatever crossed his path,
  Caught in his victim’s form, he seized, and dragging
  Oak, woman, rock, now here, now there, he flies.”[2]

The circumstance is noble in itself, but it gains in vigour because the
language is disposed so as not to hurry the movement, not running, as it
were, on wheels, because there is a distinct stress on each word, and
the time is delayed, advancing slowly to a pitch of stately sublimity.

    [Footnote 2: _Antiope_ (Nauck, 222).]


Nothing so much degrades the tone of a style as an effeminate and
hurried movement in the language, such as is produced by pyrrhics and
trochees and dichorees falling in time together into a regular dance
measure. Such abuse of rhythm is sure to savour of coxcombry and petty
affectation, and grows tiresome in the highest degree by a monotonous
sameness of tone.

But its worst effect is that, as those who listen to a ballad have their
attention distracted from its subject and can think of nothing but the
tune, so an over-rhythmical passage does not affect the hearer by the
meaning of its words, but merely by their cadence, so that sometimes,
knowing where the pause must come, they beat time with the speaker,
striking the expected close like dancers before the stop is reached.
Equally undignified is the splitting up of a sentence into a number of
little words and short syllables crowded too closely together and forced
into cohesion,--hammered, as it were, successively together,--after the
manner of mortice and tenon.[1]

    [Footnote 1: I must refer to Weiske’s Note, which I have followed,
    for the probable interpretation of this extraordinary passage.]


Sublimity is further diminished by cramping the diction. Deformity
instead of grandeur ensues from over-compression. Here I am not
referring to a judicious compactness of phrase, but to a style which is
dwarfed, and its force frittered away. To cut your words too short is to
prune away their sense, but to be concise is to be direct. On the other
hand, we know that a style becomes lifeless by over-extension, I mean by
being relaxed to an unseasonable length.


The use of mean words has also a strong tendency to degrade a lofty
passage. Thus in that description of the storm in Herodotus the matter
is admirable, but some of the words admitted are beneath the dignity of
the subject; such, perhaps, as “the seas having _seethed_” because the
ill-sounding phrase “having seethed” detracts much from its
impressiveness: or when he says “the wind wore away,” and “those who
clung round the wreck met with an unwelcome end.”[1] “Wore away” is
ignoble and vulgar, and “unwelcome” inadequate to the extent of the

    [Footnote 1: Hdt. vii. 188, 191, 13.]

Similarly Theopompus, after giving a fine picture of the Persian king’s
descent against Egypt, has exposed the whole to censure by certain
paltry expressions. “There was no city, no people of Asia, which did not
send an embassy to the king; no product of the earth, no work of art,
whether beautiful or precious, which was not among the gifts brought to
him. Many and costly were the hangings and robes, some purple, some
embroidered, some white; many the tents, of cloth of gold, furnished
with all things useful; many the tapestries and couches of great price.
Moreover, there was gold and silver plate richly wrought, goblets and
bowls, some of which might be seen studded with gems, and others besides
worked in relief with great skill and at vast expense. Besides these
there were suits of armour in number past computation, partly Greek,
partly foreign, endless trains of baggage animals and fat cattle for
slaughter, many bushels of spices, many panniers and sacks and sheets of
writing-paper; and all other necessaries in the same proportion. And
there was salt meat of all kinds of beasts in immense quantity, heaped
together to such a height as to show at a distance like mounds and hills
thrown up one against another.”

He runs off from the grander parts of his subject to the meaner, and
sinks where he ought to rise. Still worse, by his mixing up _panniers_
and _spices_ and _bags_ with his wonderful recital of that vast and busy
scene one would imagine that he was describing a kitchen. Let us suppose
that in that show of magnificence some one had taken a set of wretched
baskets and bags and placed them in the midst, among vessels of gold,
jewelled bowls, silver plate, and tents and goblets of gold; how
incongruous would have seemed the effect! Now just in the same way these
petty words, introduced out of season, stand out like deformities and
blots on the diction.

These details might have been given in one or two broad strokes, as when
he speaks of mounds being heaped together. So in dealing with the other
preparations he might have told us of “waggons and camels and a long
train of baggage animals loaded with all kinds of supplies for the
luxury and enjoyment of the table,” or have mentioned “piles of grain of
every species, and of all the choicest delicacies required by the art of
the cook or the taste of the epicure,” or (if he must needs be so very
precise) he might have spoken of “whatever dainties are supplied by
those who lay or those who dress the banquet.”

In our sublimer efforts we should never stoop to what is sordid and
despicable, unless very hard pressed by some urgent necessity. If we
would write becomingly, our utterance should be worthy of our theme. We
should take a lesson from nature, who when she planned the human frame
did not set our grosser parts, or the ducts for purging the body, in our
face, but as far as she could concealed them, “diverting,” as Xenophon
says, “those canals as far as possible from our senses,”[2] and thus
shunning in any part to mar the beauty of the whole creature.

    [Footnote 2: _Mem._ i. 4. 6.]

However, it is not incumbent on us to specify and enumerate whatever
diminishes a style. We have now pointed out the various means of giving
it nobility and loftiness. It is clear, then, that whatever is contrary
to these will generally degrade and deform it.


There is still another point which remains to be cleared up, my dear
Terentian, and on which I shall not hesitate to add some remarks, to
gratify your inquiring spirit. It relates to a question which was
recently put to me by a certain philosopher. “To me,” he said, “in
common, I may say, with many others, it is a matter of wonder that in
the present age, which produces many highly skilled in the arts Of
popular persuasion, many of keen and active powers, many especially rich
in every pleasing gift of language, the growth of highly exalted and
wide-reaching genius has with a few rare exceptions almost entirely
ceased. So universal is the dearth of eloquence which prevails
throughout the world.

“Must we really,” he asked, “give credit to that oft-repeated assertion
that democracy is the kind nurse of genius, and that high literary
excellence has flourished with her prime and faded with her decay?
Liberty, it is said, is all-powerful to feed the aspirations of high
intellects, to hold out hope, and keep alive the flame of mutual rivalry
and ambitious struggle for the highest place.

“Moreover, the prizes which are offered in every free state keep the
spirits of her foremost orators whetted by perpetual exercise;[1] they
are, as it were, ignited by friction, and naturally blaze forth freely
because they are surrounded by freedom. But we of to-day,” he continued,
“seem to have learnt in our childhood the lessons of a benignant
despotism, to have been cradled in her habits and customs from the time
when our minds were still tender, and never to have tasted the fairest
and most fruitful fountain of eloquence, I mean liberty. Hence we
develop nothing but a fine genius for flattery.

    [Footnote 1: Comp. Pericles in Thuc. ii., ἆθλα γὰρ οἷς κεῖται ἀρετῆς
    μέγιστα τοῖς δὲ καὶ ἄνδρες ἄριστα πολιτεύουσιν.]

“This is the reason why, though all other faculties are consistent with
the servile condition, no slave ever became an orator; because in him
there is a dumb spirit which will not be kept down: his soul is chained:
he is like one who has learnt to be ever expecting a blow. For, as Homer

            “’The day of slavery
  Takes half our manly worth away.’[2]

“As, then (if what I have heard is credible), the cages in which those
pigmies commonly called dwarfs are reared not only stop the growth of
the imprisoned creature, but absolutely make him smaller by compressing
every part of his body, so all despotism, however equitable, may be
defined as a cage of the soul and a general prison.”

    [Footnote 2: _Od._ xvii. 322.]

My answer was as follows: “My dear friend, it is so easy, and so
characteristic of human nature, always to find fault with the
present.[3] Consider, now, whether the corruption of genius is to be
attributed, not to a world-wide peace,[4] but rather to the war within
us which knows no limit, which engages all our desires, yes, and still
further to the bad passions which lay siege to us to-day, and make utter
havoc and spoil of our lives. Are we not enslaved, nay, are not our
careers completely shipwrecked, by love of gain, that fever which rages
unappeased in us all, and love of pleasure?--one the most debasing, the
other the most ignoble of the mind’s diseases.

    [Footnote 3: Comp. Byron, “The good old times,--all times when old
    are good.”]

    [Footnote 4: A euphemism for “a world-wide tyranny.”]

“When I consider it I can find no means by which we, who hold in such
high honour, or, to speak more correctly, who idolise boundless riches,
can close the door of our souls against those evil spirits which grow up
with them. For Wealth unmeasured and unbridled is dogged by
Extravagance: she sticks close to him, and treads in his footsteps: and
as soon as he opens the gates of cities or of houses she enters with him
and makes her abode with him. And after a time they build their nests
(to use a wise man’s words[5]) in that corner of life, and speedily set
about breeding, and beget Boastfulness, and Vanity, and Wantonness, no
base-born children, but their very own. And if these also, the offspring
of Wealth, be allowed to come to their prime, quickly they engender in
the soul those pitiless tyrants, Violence, and Lawlessness, and

    [Footnote 5: Plato, _Rep._ ix. 573, E.]

“Whenever a man takes to worshipping what is mortal and irrational[6] in
him, and neglects to cherish what is immortal, these are the inevitable
results. He never looks up again; he has lost all care for good report;
by slow degrees the ruin of his life goes on, until it is consummated
all round; all that is great in his soul fades, withers away, and is

    [Footnote 6: Reading κἀνόητα.]

“If a judge who passes sentence for a bribe can never more give a free
and sound decision on a point of justice or honour (for to him who takes
a bribe honour and justice must be measured by his own interests), how
can we of to-day expect, when the whole life of each one of us is
controlled by bribery, while we lie in wait for other men’s death and
plan how to get a place in their wills, when we buy gain, from whatever
source, each one of us, with our very souls in our slavish greed, how, I
say, can we expect, in the midst of such a moral pestilence, that there
is still left even one liberal and impartial critic, whose verdict will
not be biassed by avarice in judging of those great works which live on
through all time?

“Alas! I fear that for such men as we are it is better to serve than to
be free. If our appetites were let loose altogether against our
neighbours, they would be like wild beasts uncaged, and bring a deluge
of calamity on the whole civilised world.“

I ended by remarking generally that the genius of the present age is
wasted by that indifference which with a few exceptions runs through the
whole of life. If we ever shake off our apathy[7] and apply ourselves to
work, it is always with a view to pleasure or applause, not for that
solid advantage which is worthy to be striven for and held in honour.

    [Footnote 7: Comp. Thuc. vi. 26. 2, for this sense of ἀναλαμβάνειν.]

We had better then leave this generation to its fate, and turn to what
follows, which is the subject of the passions, to which we promised
early in this treatise to devote a separate work.[8] They play an
important part in literature generally, and especially in relation to
the Sublime.

    [Footnote 8: iii. 5.]


[Transcriber’s Note:
Citation format is as in the printed text. The last number in each
group appears to refer to clauses in the original Greek; there is no
correspondence with line numbers in the printed book.]

I. 2. 10.
There seems to be an antithesis implied in πολιτικοῖς τεθεωρηκέναι,
referring to the well-known distinction between the πρακτικὸς βίος and
the θεωρητικὸς βίος.

4. 27.
I have ventured to return to the original reading, διεφώτισεν, though
all editors seem to have adopted the correction διεφόρησεν, on account,
I suppose, of σκηπτοῦ. To _illumine_ a large subject, as a landscape is
lighted up at night by a flash of lightning, is surely a far more vivid
and intelligible expression than to _sweep away_ a subject.[1]

    [Footnote 1: Comp. for the metaphor Goethe, _Dichtung und Wahrheit_,
    B 8. “Wie vor einem Blitz erleuchteten sich uns alle Folgen dieses
    herrlichen Gedankens.”]

III. 2. 17.
φορβειᾶς δ᾽ ἄτερ, lit. “without a cheek-strap,” which was worn by
trumpeters to assist them in regulating their breath. The line is
contracted from two of Sophocles’s, and Longinus’s point is that the
extravagance of Cleitarchus is not that of a strong but ill-regulated
nature, but the ludicrous straining after grandeur of a writer at once
feeble and pretentious.

Ruhnken gives an extract from some inedited “versus politici” of
Tzetzes, in which are some amusing specimens of those felicities of
language Longinus is here laughing at. Stones are the “bones,” rivers
the “veins,” of the earth; the moon is “the sigma of the sky” (Ϲ the old
form of Σ); sailors, “the ants of ocean”; the strap of a pedlar’s pack,
“the girdle of his load”; pitch, “the ointment of doors,” and so on.

IV. 4. 4.
The play upon the double meaning of κόρα, (1) maiden, (2) pupil of the
eye, can hardly be kept in English. It is worthy of remark that our text
of Xenophon has ἐν τοῖς θαλάμοις, a perfectly natural expression. Such a
variation would seem to point to a very early corruption of ancient
manuscripts, or to extraordinary inaccuracy on the part of Longinus,
who, indeed, elsewhere displays great looseness of citation, confusing
together totally different passages.

ἰταμόν. I can make nothing of this word. Various corrections have been
suggested, but with little certainty.

5. 10.
ὡς φωρίου τινος ἐφαπτόμενος, literally, “as though he were laying hands
on a piece of stolen property.” The point seems to be, that plagiarists,
like other robbers, show no discrimination in their pilferings, seizing
what comes first to hand.

VIII. 1. 20.
ἐδάφους. I have avoided the rather harsh confusion of metaphor which
this word involves, taken in connection with πηγαί.

IX. 2. 13.
ἀπήχημα, properly an “echo,” a metaphor rather Greek than English.

X. 2. 13.
χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας, lit. “more wan than grass”--of the sickly yellow hue
which would appear on a dark Southern face under the influence of
violent emotion.[2]

    [Footnote 2: The notion of _yellowness_, as associated with grass,
    is made intelligible by a passage in Longus, i. 17. 19. χλωρότερον
    τὸ πρόσωπον ἦν πόας _θερινῆς_]

3. 6.
The words ἢ γάρ ... τέθνηκεν are omitted in the translation, being
corrupt, and giving no satisfactory sense. Ruhnken corrects, ἀλογιστεῖ,
φρονεῖ, προεῖται, ἢ π. ὀ. τ.

σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι Probably of sea-sickness; and so I
find Ruhnken took it, quoting Plutarch, _T._ ii. 831: ἐμοῦντος τοῦ
ἑτέρου, καὶ λέγοντος τὰ σπλάγχνα ἐκβάλλειν. An objection on the score of
_taste_ would be out of place in criticising the laureate of the

X. 7. 2.
τὰς ἐξοχὰς ἀριστίνδην ἐκκαθήραντες ἀριστίνδην ἐκκαθήραντες appears to be
a condensed phrase for ἀριστίνδην ἐκλέξαντες και ἐκκαθήραντες. “Having
chosen the most striking circumstances _par excellence_, and having
relieved them of all superfluity,” would perhaps give the literal
meaning. Longinus seems conscious of some strangeness in his language,
making a quasi-apology in ὡς ἂν εἴποι τις.

Partly with the help of Toup, we may emend this corrupt passage as
follows: λυμαίνεται γὰρ ταῦτα τὸ ὅλον, ὡσανεὶ ψήγματα ἢ ἀραιώματα, τὰ
ἐμποιοῦντα μέγεθος τῇ πρὸς ἄλληλα σχέσει συντετειχισμένα. τὸ ὅλον here =
“omnino.” To explain the process of corruption, τα would easily drop out
after the final -τα in ἀραιώματα; συνοικονομούμενα is simply a
corruption of συνοικοδομούμενα, which is itself a gloss on
συντετειχισμένα, having afterwards crept into the text; μέγεθος became
corrupted into μεγέθη through the error of some copyist, who wished to
make it agree with ἐμποιοῦντα. The whole maybe translated: “Such
[interpolations], like so many patches or rents, mar altogether the
effect of those details which, by being built up in an uninterrupted
series [τῇ πρὸς ἄλληλα σχ. συντετ.], produce sublimity in a work.”

XII. 4. 2.
αὐτῷ; the sense seems clearly to require ἐν αὑτῷ.

XIV. 3. 16.
μὴ ... ὑπερήμερον Most of the editors insert οὐ before φθέγξαιτο, thus
ruining the sense of this fine passage. Longinus has just said that a
writer should always work with an eye to posterity. If (he adds) he
thinks of nothing but the taste and judgment of his contemporaries, he
will have no chance of “leaving something so written that the world will
not willingly let it die.” A book, then, which is τοῦ ἰδίου βίου καὶ
χρόνου ὑπερήμερος, is a book which is in advance of its own times. Such
were the poems of Lucretius, of Milton, of Wordsworth.[3]

    [Footnote 3: Compare the “Geflügelte Worte” in the Vorspiel to
    Goethe’s _Faust_:
      Was glänzt, ist für den Augenblick geboren,
      Das Aechte bleibt der Nachwelt unverloren.]

XV. 5. 23.
ποκοειδεῖς καὶ ἀμαλάκτους, lit. “like raw, undressed wool.”

XVII. 1. 25.
I construct the infinit. with ὕποπτον, though the ordinary
interpretation joins τὸ διὰ σχημάτων πανουργεῖν: “proprium est _verborum
lenociniis_ suspicionem movere” (Weiske).

2. 8.
παραληφθεῖσα. This word has given much trouble; but is it not simply a
continuation of the metaphor implied in ἐπικουρία? παραλαμβάνειν τινα,
in the sense of calling in an ally, is a common enough use. This would
be clearer if we could read παραληφθεῖσι. I have omitted τοῦ πανουργεῖν
in translating, as it seems to me to have evidently crept in from above
(p. 33, l. 25). ἡ τοῦ πανουργεῖν τέχνη, “the art of playing the
villain,” is surely, in Longinus’s own words, δεινὸν καὶ ἔκφυλον, “a
startling novelty” of language.

τῷ φωτὶ αὐτῷ. The words may remind us of Shelley’s “Like a poet _hidden
in the light of thought_.”

XVIII. 1. 24.
The distinction between πεῦσις or πύσμα and ἐρότησις or ἐρώτημα is said
to be that ἐρώτησις is a simple question, which can be answered yes or
no; πεῦσις a fuller inquiry, requiring a fuller answer. _Aquila Romanus
in libro de figuris sententiarum et elocutionis_, § 12 (Weiske).

XXXI. 1. 11.
ἀναγκοφαγῆσαι, properly of the fixed diet of athletes, which seems to
have been excessive in quantity, and sometimes nauseous in quality. I do
not know what will be thought of my rendering here; it is certainly not
elegant, but it was necessary to provide some sort of equivalent to the
Greek. “Swallow,” which the other translators give, is quite inadequate.
We require a threefold combination--(1) To swallow (2) something nasty
(3) for the sake of prospective advantage.

XXXII. 1. 3.
The text is in great confusion here. Following a hint in Vahlin’s
critical note, I have transposed the words thus: ὁ καιρὸς δὲ τῆς χρείας
ὁρός‧ ἔνθα τὰ πάθη χειμάρρου δίκην ἐλαύνεται, καὶ τὴν πολυπλήθειαν αὐτῶν
ὡς ἀναγκαίαν ἐνταῦθα συνεφέλκεται‧ ὁ γὰρ Δ., ὁρὸς καὶ τῶν τοιούτων,
ἄνθρωποι, φησίν, κ.τ.λ.

8. 16.
Some words have probably been lost here. The sense of πλήν, and the
absence of antithesis to οὗτος μέν, point in this direction. The
original reading may have been something of this sort: πλὴν οὗτος μὲν
ὑπὸ φιλονέικίας _παρήγετο_‧ ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ θέματα τίθησιν ὁμολογούμενα,
the sense being that, though we may allow something to the partiality of
Caecilius, yet this does not excuse him from arguing on premises which
are unsound.

XXXIV. 4. 10.
ὁ δὲ ἔνθεν ἑλών, κ.τ.λ. Probably the darkest place in the whole
treatise. Toup cites a remarkable passage from Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, from which we may perhaps conclude that Longinus is
referring here to Thucydides, the traditional master of Demosthenes. _De
Thucyd._ § 53, Ῥητόρων δὲ Δημοσθενὴς μόνος Θουκυδίδου ζηλωτὸς ἐγένετο
κατὰ πολλά, καὶ προσέθηκε τοῖς πολιτικοῖς λόγοις, παρ᾽ ἐκείνου λαβών, ἃς
οὔτε Ἀντιφῶν, οὔτε Λυσίας, οὔτε Ἰσοκράτης, οἱ πρωτεύσαντες τῶν τότε
ῥητόρων, ἔσχον ἀρετάς, τὰ τάχη λέγω, καὶ τὰς συστροφάς, καὶ τοὺς τόνους,
καὶ τὸ στρυφνόν, καὶ τὴν ἐξεγείρουσαν τὰ πάθη δεινότητα. So close a
parallel can hardly be accidental.

XXXV. 4. 5.
Longinus probably had his eye on the splendid lines in Pindar’s _First

  τᾶς [Αἴτνας] ἐρεύγονται μὲν ἀπλάτου πυρὸς ἁγνόταται
  ἐκ μυχῶν παγαὶ, ποταμοὶ δ᾽
  ἁμέραισιν μὲν προχέοντι ῥόον καπνοῦ--
  αἴθων᾽‧ ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ὄρφναισιν πέτρας
  φοίνισσα κυλινδομένα φλὸξ ἐς βαθεῖ-
  αν φέρει πόντου πλάκα σὺν πατάγῳ ἁγνόταται αὐτοῦ μόνου,

which I find has also been pointed out by Toup, who remarks that
ἁγνόταται confirms the reading αὐτοῦ μόνου here, which has been
suspected without reason.

XXXVIII. 2. 7.
Comp. Plato, _Phaedrus_, 267, A: Τισίαν δὲ Γοργίαν τε ἐάσομεν εὕδειν,
οἵ πρὸ τῶν ἀληθῶν τὰ εἰκότα εἶδον ὡς τιμητέα μᾶλλον, τὰ τε αὖ σμικρὰ
μέγαλα καὶ τὰ μέγαλα σμικρὰ ποιοῦσι φαίνεσθαι διὰ ῥώμην λόγου, καινά τε
ἀρχαίως τά τ᾽ ἐναντία καινῶς, συντομίαν τε λόγων καὶ ἄπειρα μήκη περὶ
πάντων ἀνεῦρον.



AMMONIUS.--Alexandrian grammarian, carried on the school of Aristarchus
previously to the reign of Augustus. The allusion here is to a work on
the passages in which Plato has imitated Homer. (Suidas, _s.v._; Schol.
on Hom. Il. ix. 540, quoted by Jahn.)

AMPHIKRATES.--Author of a book _On Famous Men_, referred to by
Athenaeus, xiii. 576, G, and Diog. Laert. ii. 101. C. Muller, _Hist. Gr.
Fragm._ iv. p. 300, considers him to be the Athenian rhetorician who,
according to Plutarch (_Lucullus_, c. 22), retired to Seleucia, and
closed his life at the Court of Kleopatra, daughter of Mithridates
and wife of Tigranes (Pauly, _Real-Encyclopädie der classischen
Alterthumswissenschaft_). Plutarch tells a story illustrative of his
arrogance. Being asked by the Seleucians to open a school of rhetoric,
he replied, “A dish is not large enough for a dolphin” (ὡς οὐδὲ λεκάνη
δελφῖνα χωροίη), v. _Luculli_, c. 22, quoted by Pearce.

ARISTEAS.--A name involved in a mist of fable. According to Suidas he
was a contemporary of Kroesus, though Herodotus assigns to him a much
remoter antiquity. The latter authority describes him as visiting the
northern peoples of Europe and recording his travels in an epic poem,
a fragment of which is given here by Longinus. The passage before us
appears to be intended as the words of some Arimaspian, who, as
belonging to a remote inland race, expresses his astonishment that any
men could be found bold enough to commit themselves to the mercy of the
sea, and tries to describe the terror of human beings placed in such a
situation (Pearce ad. l.; Abicht on Hdt. iv. 12; Suidas, _s.v._)

BAKCHYLIDES, nephew and pupil of the great Simonides, flourished about
460 B.C. He followed his uncle to the Court of Hiero at Syracuse, and
enjoyed the patronage of that despot. After Hiero’s death he returned to
his home in Keos; but finding himself discontented with the mode of life
pursued in a free Greek community, for which his experiences at Hiero’s
Court may well have disqualified him, he retired to Peloponnesus, where
he died. His works comprise specimens of almost every kind of lyric
composition, as practised by the Greeks of his time. Horace is said to
have imitated him in his _Prophecy of Nereus_, c. I. xv. (Pauly, as
above). So far as we can judge from what remains of his works, he was
distinguished rather by elegance than by force. A considerable fragment
on the Blessings of Peace has been translated by Mr. J. A. Symonds in
his work on the Greek poets. He is made the subject of a very bitter
allusion by Pindar (Ol. ii. s. fin. c. Schol.) We may suppose that the
stern and lofty spirit of Pindar had little sympathy with the “tearful”
(Catullus, xxxviii.) strains of Simonides or his imitators.

CAECILIUS, a native of Kale Akte in Sicily, and hence known as Caecilius
Kalaktinus, lived in Rome at the time of Augustus. He is mentioned with
distinction as a learned Greek rhetorician and grammarian, and was the
author of numerous works, frequently referred to by Plutarch and other
later writers. He may be regarded as one of the most distinguished Greek
rhetoricians of his time. His works, all of which have perished,
comprised, among many others, commentaries on Antipho and Lysias;
several treatises on Demosthenes, among which is a dissertation on the
genuine and spurious speeches, and another comparing that orator with
Cicero; “On the Distinction between Athenian and Asiatic Eloquence”; and
the work on the Sublime, referred to by Longinus (Pauly). The criticism
of Longinus on the above work may be thus summed up: Caecilius is
censured (1) as failing to rise to the dignity of his subject; (2) as
missing the cardinal points; and (3) as failing in practical utility.
He wastes his energy in tedious attempts to define the Sublime, but does
not tell us how it is to be attained (I. i.) He is further blamed for
omitting to deal with the Pathetic (VIII. i. _sqq._) He allows only two
metaphors to be employed together in the same passage (XXXII. ii.) He
extols Lysias as a far greater writer than Plato (_ib._ viii.), and is a
bitter assailant of Plato’s style (_ib._) On the whole, he seems to have
been a cold and uninspired critic, finding his chief pleasure in minute
verbal details, and incapable of rising to an elevated and extensive
view of his subject.

ERATOSTHENES, a native of Cyrene, born in 275 B.C.; appointed by Ptolemy
III. Euergetes as the successor of Kallimachus in the post of librarian
in the great library of Alexandria. He was the teacher of Aristophanes
of Byzantium, and his fame as a man of learning is testified by the
various fanciful titles which were conferred on him, such as “The
Pentathlete,” “The second Plato,” etc. His great work was a treatise on
geography (Lübker).

GORGIAS of Leontini, according to some authorities a pupil of
Empedokles, came, when already advanced in years, as ambassador from his
native city to ask help against Syracuse (427 B.C.) Here he attracted
notice by a novel style of eloquence. Some time after he settled
permanently in Greece, wandering from city to city, and acquiring wealth
and fame by practising and teaching rhetoric. We find him last in
Larissa, where he died at the age of a hundred in 375 B.C. As a teacher
of eloquence Gorgias belongs to what is known as the Sicilian school,
in which he followed the steps of his predecessors, Korax and Tisias. At
the time when this school arose the Greek ear was still accustomed to
the rhythm and beat of poetry, and the whole rhetorical system of the
Gorgian school (compare the phrases γοργίεια σχήματα, γοργιάζειν) is
built on a poetical plan (Lübker, _Reallexikon des classischen
Alterthums_). Hermogenes, as quoted by Jahn, appears to classify him
among the “hollow pedants” (ὑπόξυλοι σοφισταί), “who,” he says, “talk
of vultures as ‘living tombs,’ to which they themselves would best be
committed, and indulge in many other such frigid conceits.” (With the
metaphor censured by Longinus compare Achilles Tatius, III. v. 50, ed.
Didot.) See also Plato, _Phaedrus_, 267, A.

HEGESIAS of Magnesia, rhetorician and historian, contemporary of Timaeus
(300 B.C.) He belongs to the period of the decline of Greek learning,
and Cicero treats him as the representative of the decline of taste. His
style was harsh and broken in character, and a parody on the Old Attic.
He wrote a life of Alexander the Great, of which Plutarch (_Alexander_,
c. 3) gives the following specimen: “On the day of Alexander’s birth the
temple of Artemis in Ephesus was burnt down, a coincidence which
occasions Hegesias to utter a conceit frigid enough to extinguish the
conflagration. ‘It was natural,’ he says, ‘that the temple should be
burnt down, as Artemis was engaged with bringing Alexander into the
world’” (Pauly, with the references).

HEKATAEUS of Miletus, the logographer; born in 549 B.C., died soon after
the battle of Plataea. He was the author of two works--(1) περίοδος γῆς;
and (2) γενεηλογίαι. The _Periodos_ deals in two books, first with
Europe, then with Asia and Libya. The quotation in the text is from his
genealogies (Lübker).

ION of Chios, poet, historian, and philosopher, highly distinguished
among his contemporaries, and mentioned by Strabo among the celebrated
men of the island. He won the tragic prize at Athens in 452 B.C., and
Aristophanes (_Peace_, 421 B.C.) speaks of him as already dead. He was
not less celebrated as an elegiac poet, and we still possess some
specimens of his elegies, which are characterised by an Anacreontic
spirit, a cheerful, joyous tone, and even by a certain degree of
inspiration. He wrote also Skolia, Hymns, and Epigrams, and was a
pretty voluminous writer in prose (Pauly). Compare the Scholiast on Ar.
_Peace_, 801.

KALLISTHENES of Olynthus, a near relative of Aristotle; born in 360, and
educated by the philosopher as fellow-pupil with Alexander, afterwards
the Great. He subsequently visited Athens, where he enjoyed the
friendship of Theophrastus, and devoted himself to history and natural
philosophy. He afterwards accompanied Alexander on his Asiatic
expedition, but soon became obnoxious to the tyrant on account of his
independent and manly bearing, which he carried even to the extreme of
rudeness and arrogance. He at last excited the enmity of Alexander to
such a degree that the latter took the opportunity afforded by the
conspiracy of Hermolaus, in which Kallisthenes was accused of
participating, to rid himself of his former school companion, whom he
caused to be put to death. He was the author of various historical and
scientific works. Of the latter two are mentioned--(1) _On the Nature of
the Eye_; (2) _On the Nature of Plants_. Among his historical works are
mentioned (1) the _Phocian War_ (read “Phocicum” for v. l. “Troikum” in
Cic. _Epp. ad Div._ v. 12); (2) a _History of Greece_ in ten books; (3)
τὰ Περσικά, apparently identical with the description of Alexander’s
march, of which we still possess fragments. As an historian he seems to
have displayed an undue love of recording signs and wonders. Polybius,
however (vi. 45), classes him among the best historical writers. His
style is said by Cicero (_de Or._ ii. 14) to approximate to the
rhetorical (Pauly).

KLEITARCHUS, a contemporary of Alexander, accompanied that monarch on
his Asiatic expedition, and wrote a history of the same in twelve books,
which must have included at least a short retrospect on the early
history of Asia. His talents are spoken of in high terms, but his credit
as an historian is held very light--“probatur ingenium, fides
infamatur,” Quint. x. 1, 74. Cicero also (_de Leg._ i. 2) ranks him
very low. That his credit as an historian was sacrificed to a childish
credulity and a foolish love of fable and adventure is sufficiently
testified by the pretty numerous fragments which still remain (Pauly).
Demetrius Phalereus, quoted by Pearce, quotes a grandiloquent
description of the wasp taken from Kleitarchus, “feeding on the
mountainside, her home the hollow oak.”

MATRIS, a native of Thebes, author of a panegyric on Herakles, whether
in verse or prose is uncertain. In one passage Athenaeus speaks of him
as an Athenian, but this must be a mistake. Toup restores a verse from
an allusion in Diodorus Siculus (i. 24), which, if genuine, would agree
well with the description given of him by Longinus: Ηρακλέα καλέεσκεν,
ὅτι κλέος ἔσχε διὰ Ἥραν (see Toup ad Long. III. ii.)

PHILISTUS of Syracuse, a relative of the elder Dionysius, whom he
assisted with his wealth in his attack on the liberty of that city, and
remained with him until 386 B.C., when he was banished by the jealous
suspicions of the tyrant. He retired to Epirus, where he remained until
Dionysius’s death. The younger Dionysius recalled him, wishing to employ
him in the character of supporter against Dion. By his instrumentality
it would seem that Dion and Plato were banished from Syracuse. He
commanded the fleet in the struggle between Dion and Dionysius, and lost
a battle, whereupon he was seized and put to death by the people. During
his banishment he wrote his historical work, τὰ Σικελικά, divided into
two parts and numbering eleven books. The first division embraced the
history of Sicily from the earliest times down to the capture of
Agrigentum (seven books), and the remaining four books dealt with the
life of Dionysius the elder. He afterwards added a supplement in two
books, giving an account of the younger Dionysius, which he did not,
however, complete. He is described as an imitator, though at a great
distance, of Thucydides, and hence was known as “the little Thucydides.”
As an historian he is deficient in conscientiousness and candour; he
appears as a partisan of Dionysius, and seeks to throw a veil over his
discreditable actions. Still he belongs to the most important of the
Greek historians (Lübker).

THEODORUS of Gadara, a rhetorician in the first century after Christ;
tutor of Tiberius, first in Rome, afterwards in Rhodes, from which
town he called himself a Rhodian, and where Tiberius during his exile
diligently attended his instruction. He was the author of various
grammatical and other works, but his fame chiefly rested on his
abilities as a teacher, in which capacity he seems to have had great
influence (Pauly). He was the author of that famous description of
Tiberius which is given by Suetonius (_Tib._ 57), πηλὸς αἵματι
πεφυραμένος, “A clod kneaded together with blood.”[1]

    [Footnote 1: A remarkable parallel, if not actually an imitation,
    occurs in Goethe’s _Faust_, “Du Spottgeburt von Dreck und Feuer.”]

THEOPOMPUS, a native of Chios; born 380 B.C. He came to Athens while
still a boy, and studied eloquence under Isokrates, who is said, in
comparing him with another pupil, Ephorus, to have made use of the image
which we find in Longinus, c. ii. “Theopompus,” he said, “needs the
curb, Ephorus the spur” (Suidas, quoted by Jahn ad v.) He appeared
with applause in various great cities as an advocate, but especially
distinguished himself in the contest of eloquence instituted by
Artemisia at the obsequies of her husband Mausolus, where he won the
prize. He afterwards devoted himself to historical composition. His
great work was a history of Greece, in which he takes up the thread of
Thucydides’s narrative, and carries it on uninterruptedly in twelve
books down to the battle of Knidus, seventeen years later. Here he broke
off, and began a new work entitled _The Philippics_, in fifty-eight
books. This work dealt with the history of Greece in the Macedonian
period, but was padded out to a preposterous bulk by all kinds of
digressions on mythological, historical, or social topics. Only a few
fragments remain. He earned an ill name among ancient critics by the
bitterness of his censures, his love of the marvellous, and the
inordinate length of his digressions. His style is by some critics
censured as feeble, and extolled by others as clear, nervous, and
elevated (Lübker and Pauly).

TIMAEUS, a native of Tauromenium in Sicily; born about 352 B.C. Being
driven out of Sicily by Agathokles, he lived a retired life for fifty
years in Athens, where he composed his History. Subsequently he returned
to Sicily, and died at the age of ninety-six in 256 B.C. His chief work
was a _History of Sicily_ from the earliest times down to the 129th
Olympiad. It numbered sixty-eight books, and consisted of two principal
divisions, whose limits cannot now be ascertained. In a separate work
he handled the campaigns of Pyrrhus, and also wrote _Olympionikae_,
probably dealing with chronological matters. Timaeus has been severely
criticised and harshly condemned by the ancients, especially by
Polybius, who denies him every faculty required by the historical writer
(xii. 3-15, 23-28). And though Cicero differs from this judgment, yet it
may be regarded as certain that Timaeus was better qualified for the
task of learned compilation than for historical research, and held no
distinguished place among the historians of Greece. His works have
perished, only a few fragments remaining (Lübker).

ZOILUS, a Greek rhetorician, native of Amphipolis in Macedonia, in the
time probably of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.), who is said by
Vitruvius to have crucified him for his abuse of Homer. He won the name
of Homeromastix, “the scourge of Homer,” and was also known as κύων
ῥητορικός, “the dog of rhetoric,” on account of his biting sarcasm;
and his name (as in the case of the English Dennis) came to be used to
signify in general a carping and malicious critic. Suidas mentions two
works of his, written with the object of injuring or destroying the fame
of Homer--(1) _Nine Books against Homer_; and (2) _Censures on Homer_

  [The facts contained in the above short notices are taken chiefly
  from Lübker’s _Reallexikon des classischen Alterthums_, and the
  very copious and elaborate _Real-Encyclopädie der classischen
  Alterthumswissenschaft_, edited by Pauly. I have here to acknowledge
  the kindness of Dr. Wollseiffen, Gymnasialdirektor in Crefeld, in
  placing at my disposal the library of the Crefeld Gymnasium, but for
  which these biographical notes, which were put together at the
  suggestion of Mr. Lang, could not have been compiled.
    CREFELD, _31st July 1890_.]


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Errata Noted by Transcriber:

Elementary errors such as καί for καὶ are not noted. The spellings
The spellings “Heracles” and “Herakles” each occur twice.

certain tasteless conceits blamed in Plato
  _so in original: “on Plato”?_

I.2 And since...
  _text shows chapter break in previous line, “writer’s ... instead”_

... the very maidens in their eyes.”[1]
  _close quote missing in text_

... χώρις ἑκάστῳ τῶν εἰδῶν
  _text reads_ ἑκάσιῳ  [_alternate citation form: 1449b_]

XXIII.4 And in those words ...
  _text shows chapter break in following line, “already ... to the”_

... a good and temperate drink.”[1]
  _close quote missing in text_

XXXIX.3 though these are mere shadows...
  _chapter break conjectural: no sentence-ends in English text_

  _any punctuation anomalies, including missing full stops after
  sentence-final parentheses, are as in the original_

to ask help against Syracuse (427 B.C.)
  _open parenthesis missing in text_

the capture of Agrigentum (seven books)
  _open parenthesis missing in text_

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