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Hiding in the Light: Longinus, Boileau, and the Sublime

Thursday Lecture Series, Hide and Seek

dateMarch 29, 2012 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

The current view in Classics, that the Longinian sublime is not a rhetorical style but a special effect, owes everything to Boileau’s reading of Longinus, in particular the famous fiat lux example (Gen.1:3), which entered into world literature as one of the most talked about instances of sublimity. There are numerous difficulties with the current view. First, how can it be squared with the equation of sublimity with rhetoric that is found elsewhere in On the Sublime? Second, Boileau’s own reading is based on a tendentious mistranslation of Longinus, which led to a bitter polemic with two of his contemporaries. Was Boileau possibly blinded by the excess of brilliance in the example, and by Longinus’ own rhetoric? A closer examination of the passage, its surroundings, and Boileau’s role in the Quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns can suggest a better insight into the manifestly hidden mechanisms of the sublime in Longinus and elsewhere.