On the Sublime/Notes on Longinus

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On the Sublime  (1890)  by Longinus, translated by Herbert Lord Havell
Notes on Longinus


I. 2. 10. There seems to be an antithesis implied in πολιτικοῑς 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, διεφόρησεν, though all editors seem to have adopted the correction διεφόρησεν, on account, I suppose, of σκηπτού. To illumine a large subject, a? 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]

III. 2. 17. φορβειάς 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" (C 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 τοῑς 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.

9. 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]

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

18. 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 Arimaspi.

X. 7. 2. τὰς ἐξοχὰς ἀριστίνδην ἐκκαθήραντες. ἀριστίνδην ἐκκαθήραντες appears to be a condensed phrase for ἀριστίνδην ἐκλέξαντες καὶ 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.

3. Partly with the help of Toup, we may emend this corrupt passage as follows: λυμαίνεται γὰρ ταῦτα τὸ ὅλον, ὡσανεὶ ψήγματᾳ ἢ ἀραιώματα, τὰ ἐμποιοῦντα μέγεθος τῇ πρὸς ἄλληλα σχέσει συντετειχισμένα. τὸ ὅλον here = "omnino." To explain the process of corruption, τά 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 may be 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. ἐν αὐτῷ; the sense seems clearly to require ἐν αὑτῷ.

XIV. 3. 16. μὴ … ὑπερήμερον. Most of the editors insert οὐ before φθέξαιτο, 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]

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 πανουργεῖσι in translating, as it seems to me to have evidently crept in from above (p. 33, l. 25). ἡ τοῦ πανουργεν τέχνη], "the art of playing the villain," is surely, in Longinus's own words, δεινὸν καὶ ἔκφυλον, " a startling novelty " of language.

12. 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 ἐρώτησις 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 libra 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 bad his eye on the splendid lines in Pindar's First Pythian: 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

  1. Comp. for the metaphor Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit, B 8. "Wie vor einem Blitz erleuchteten sich uns alle Folgen dieses herrlichen Gedankens."
  2. The notion of yellowness, as associated with grass, is made intelligible by a passage in Longus, i. 17. 19. χλωρότερον τὸ πρόσωπον ἦν πὀας θερινῆς.
  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.