‘Elsewhere,’ says Longinus, ’I have written as follows: Sublimity is the echo of a great soul.’
’Sublimity is the echo of a great soul.’—It was worth repeating too—was it not?
For it is not possible that men with mean and servile ideas and aims prevailing throughout their lives should produce anything that is admirable and worthy of immortality. Great accents we expect to fall from the lips of those whose thoughts are deep and grave.... Hear how magnificently Homer speaks of the higher powers: ’As far as a man seeth with his eyes into the haze of distance as he sitteth upon a cliff of outlook and gazeth over the wine-dark sea, even so far at a bound leap the neighing horses of the Gods.’
‘He makes’ [says Longinus] ’the vastness of the world the measure of their leap.’ Then, after a criticism of the Battle of the Gods (too long to be quoted here) he goes on:
Much superior to the passages respecting the Battle of the Gods are those which represent the divine nature as it really is—pure and great and undefiled; for example, what is said of Poseidon.
Her far-stretching ridges, her forest-trees,
quaked in dismay,
And her peaks, and the Trojans’ town, and the ships of Achaia’s
Beneath his immortal feet, as onward Poseidon strode.
Then over the surges he drave: leapt, sporting before the God,
Sea-beasts that uprose all round from the depths, for their king
And for rapture the sea was disparted, and onward the car-steeds
Then how does Longinus conclude? Why, very strangely—very strangely indeed, whether you take the treatise to be by that Longinus, the Rhetorician and Zenobia’s adviser, whom the Emperor Aurelian put to death, or prefer to believe it the work of an unknown hand in the first century. The treatise goes on:
Similarly, the legislator of the Jews [Moses], no ordinary man, having formed and expressed a worthy conception of the might of the Godhead, writes at the very beginning of his Laws, ’God said’—What? ’Let there be light, and there was light’
So here, Gentlemen, you have Plato, Aristotle, Longinus—all Greeks of separate states—men of eminence all three, and two of surpassing eminence, all three and each in his time and turn treating Homer reverently as Holy Writ and yet enjoying it liberally as poetry. For indeed the true Greek mind had no thought to separate poetry from religion, as to the true Greek mind reverence and liberty to enjoy, with the liberty of mind that helps to enjoy, were all tributes to the same divine thing. They had no professionals, no puritans, to hedge it off with a taboo: and so when the last and least of the three, Longinus, comes to our Holy Writ—the sublime poetry in which Christendom reads its God—his open mind at once recognises it as poetry and as sublime. ‘God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’ If Longinus could treat this as sublime poetry, why cannot we, who have translated and made it ours?