“Longinus,” On the Sublime - Notes


Standard Edition
Dionysio Longino, Libellus de sublimate, ed. D. A. Russell. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.

Standard English Translations
Longinus on the Sublime, trans. W. Rhys Roberts. 1899; Cambridge University Press, 1935.
“Longinus” on the Sublime, trans. D. A. Russell. Oxford University Press, 1964.

This outline is based on the headings added by the British classicist D. A. Russell in his translation, “Longinus” on the Sublime (1964). As Russell states, the source manuscript contains seven lacunae (in the form of missing pages) which comprise about a third of the text; these lacunae are indicated in the outline.

I. Preface (chps. 1-2)

A. Definition of sublimity (1)
B. Is there an art (tekhnê) of sublimity? (2)
[lacuna of about two pages]

II. Four Faults Incident to the Effort to Achieve Sublimity (3-5)

A. Turgidity
B. Puerility
C. False Emotion
D. Frigidity

III. Some Marks of True Sublimity (6-7)

IV. Five Sources of Sublimity (8-43)

A. The power to conceive great thoughts (9-15)

1. Introduction (9.1-9.4)
[lacuna of about six pages]
2. Successful and unsuccessful ways of representing supernatural beings and of exciting awe (9.5-9.10)
3. comparison between The Iliad and The Odyssey (9.11-9.15)
4. selection and organization of material (10)
5. amplification (auxêsis) (11-12)
[lacauna of about two pages]
6. comparison between Plato and Demosthanes (12.3-13.1)
7. imitation of earlier writers (13.2-14)
8. visualization (phantasia) (15-15)

[B. Emotion. Although announced earlier, this discussion does not appear.]
C. Figures (16-29)

1. introduction: example of the proper use of figures (16-16)
2. the relation between figures and sublimity (17)
3. rhetorical questions (18)
[lacauna of about two pages]
4. asyndeton (19)
5. asyndeton combined with anaphora (20)
6. polysyndeton (21)
7. hyperbaton (22)
8. changes of case, tense, person, number, gender; plural for singular & singular for plural (23-24)
9. vivid present tense (25)
10. imaginary second person (26)
11. lapses into direct speech (27)
12. periphrasis (28)
13. conclusion of the section on figures (29)

D. Diction (30.1-38.6)

1. general remarks (30)
[lacuna of about four pages]
2. use of everyday words (31)
3. metaphors (32)
4. digression: genius versus mediocrity (32.8-36.4)
5. similies (37)
[lacuna of about two pages]
6. hyperbole (38)

E. Dignified word arrangement, or composition (39-43)

1. general remarks (39.1)
2. effect of rhythm (39.2-39.4)
3. effect of period structure (40)
4. features destructive of sublimity (41-43)

a. bad and affected rhythm (41.1-41.2)
b. the “chopped up” style (41.3)
c. excessive brevity (42)
d. undignified vocabulary (43-43.5)
5. conclusion (43.6)

V. Appendix: Causes of the Decline of Literature (44-44)



The English translation of the title relies on the traditional Latin title, De sublimate, which is a translation of the Greek Peri hupsous. The Greek word hupsos literally means “height” and was used metaphorically to mean “summit” and “crown.” According to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, the earliest use of hupsous to characterize a quality of language is that of Metrodorus, a third-century philosopher (300-400 years before the composition of De sublimate).