LONGINUS THE LATIN CRITIC

Posted by JOTTINGS ON LITERATURE | 2:50 AM | , , | 0 comments »

Longinus, the most famous Latin literary critic, is known widely for his theory of “the Sublime”. Cassius Longinus of Palmyra as he is widely known lived in the third century. He is credited to be the author of the famous Greek treaties on Greek literary criticism, On the Sublime. His views are radically different from that of Plato and Aristotle.
Longinus’s views are said to be the first ‘affective” theory of literature. He did not accept the views of Plato that poetry is harmful to society as it takes people away from reality. He did not accept the view that the objective of poetry is instruction either. He agreed with Aristotle that poetry is beneficial to society and it can purify the emotions of the people. Just as Aristotle, Longinus also believed that giving pleasure is the objective of poetry. He focused his attention on studying how imaginative literature produce pleasure in the minds of the readers and the spectators.
According to Longinus the power of poetry to move the readers is the most important quality of poetry. The ability of poetry to move the readers is instantaneous and valuable in itself. The reader himself can find out whether he has been ‘affected’ by what he has read. All that the person has to do is to examine his thoughts and feelings. If he finds himself moved the work is good. If the poetry fails to move the reader it is not worth reading. It is the grandeur and nobility that gives pleasure to the reader. Longinus refers to these qualities as “sublime”.
It may be said that Longinus is the first to look upon the reader’s response as important. However, it calls for great experience on the part of the reader. Without experience a reader cannot assess the feelings produced in him by the poem. Experience alone equips the reader with the ability to examine and appreciate the elements that constitute sublimity. A great work excites the readers again and again. Longinus is the first to examine the relationships between the author, the work and the reader. Longinus believed that the right emotion in the right place constitutes grandeur.
According to Longinus, an author can produce great literature only if he employs the various figures of speech in the right places, the nobility of diction. He says, “The purpose of literature is to see how ecstasy is achieved by showing which elements best conduce to the effect.”

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