Longinus, Dlonysius Cassius

, the author of an admired work “On the Sublime,” was a Grecian, and probably an Athenian, though some authors fancy him a Syrian. He was born in the third century. His father’s name is entirely unknown; by his mother Frontonis he was allied to Plutarch. We know nothing of the employment of his parents, their station in life, or the beginning of his education; but from a fragment of his it appears, that his youth was spent in travelling with them, which gave him an opportunity to increase his knowledge and improve his mind. Wherever men of learning were to be found, he was present, and lost no opportunity of forming a familiarity and intimacy with them. Ammonius and Origen, philosophers of great reputation in that age, were two of those whom he visited, and heard with the greatest attention. The travels of Longinus ended with his arrival at Athens, where he fixed his residence. Here he pursued the studies of humanity and philosophy with the greatest application. Here also he published hit “Treatise on the Sublime,” which raised his reputation to such a height, as no critic either before or since could ever reach. His contemporaries there had so great an opinion of his judgment and taste, that they appointed him sovereign judge of all authors; and every thing was received or rejected by the public according to the decision of Longinus.

His stay at Athens seems to have been of long continuance; and, whilst he taught there, he had, amongst others, the famous Porphyry for his pupil. The system of philosophy, which he adopted, was the academic; for whose founder (Plato) he had so great a veneration, that he celebrated the anniversary of his birth with the highest solemnity. But it was his lot to be drawn from the contemplative shades of Athens, to mix in more active scenes: to train up young princes to virtue and glory; to guide the busy and ambitious passions of the great to noble ends; to struggle for, and, at last, to die in, the cause of liberty. | Zenobia, queen of the East, prevailed upon him to undertake the education of her sons. He quickly gained an uncommon share in her esteem; and in his conversation she spent the vacant hours of her life, modelling her sentiments by his instructions, and steering herself by his counsels in the whole series of her conduct. Zenobia was at war with the emperor Aurelian, was defeated by him near Antioch, and was compelled to retire to her fortified capital, Palmyra. The emperor sent her a written summons to surrender; to which she returned an answer drawn up by Longinus, which raised his highest indignation. The emperor exerted every effort, and the Palmyrians were at length obliged to open their gates, and receive the conqueror. The queen and Longinus endeavoured to fly into Persia, but were overtaken and made prisoners as they were crossing the Euphrates. When the captive qoeen was brought before the emperor, her spirits sunk; she laid the blame of her conduct on her counsellors, and fixed the odium of the affronting letter on its true author. This was no sooner heard, than Aurelian, who was hero enough to conquer, but not to forgive, poured all his vengeance on the head of Longinus. He was carried away to immediate execution, amidst the generous condolence of those who knew his merit. He pitied Zenobia, and comforted his friends. He looked upon death as a blessing, since it rescued his body from slavery, and gave his soul the most desirable freedom. “This world,” said he, with his expiring breath, “is nothing but a prison; happy therefore he, who gets soonest out of it, and gains his liberty.” His death took place in the year 273.

The writings of Longinus were numerous, some on philosophical, but the greatest part on critical, subjects. Dr. Pearce has collected the titles of twenty-five treatises, none of which, except that on “the Sublime,” has escaped the depredations of time and the barbarians. On this mutilated and imperfect piece has the fame of Longinus been erected. The learned and judicious have bestowed extraordinary commendation upon it. Its general title is “The Golden Treatise.Pope is more than usually happy in characterizing Longinus

"Thee, great Longinus all the Nine inspire,

And fill their critic with a poet’s fire

An ardent ju<Jg, Who, zealous in his trust,

With warmth gives sentence, and is always just;


Whose own example strengthens all his laws,

And is himself the great Sublime he draws."

But this last line, so often quoted, forms the great objection which modern critics have advanced against this celebrated treatise, viz. his exemplifying rather than explaining the sublime. His taste and sensibility were exquisite, but his observations are too general, and his method too loose. The precision of the true philosophical critic, says Warton, is lost in the declamation of the florid rhetorician. Instead of shewing for what reason a sentiment or image is sublime, and discovering the secret power by which they affect a reader with pleasure, he is ever intent on producing something sublime himself. It has likewise been objected, that although he defines the sublime with precision, he frequently departs from his own rule, and includes whatever, in any composition, pleases highly. Some, therefore, of his instances of the sublime are mere elegancies, without the most distant relation to sublimity. His work, however, in other respects, is one of the most valuable relics of antiquity, and is admirably calculated to give excellent general ideas of beauty in writing. Brurker remarks that Longinus must have seen the Jewish scriptur.es, as he quotes a passage from the writings of Moses, as an example of the sublime (Gen. i. 3) “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.

The first edition of Longinus was that of Robertelli, printed at Basil, in 1554, 4to, with a preface by the printer, Oporinus. The best editions since, are those of Tollius, Utrecht, 1694, 4to, Gr. Lat. and French; of Hudson, Oxon. 1710, 1718, and 1730, 8vo; of Pearce, Lond. 1724, 4to and 8vo, often reprinted; and the very celebrated edition of Toup, Oxford, 1778, 4to and 8vo, which reflects the highest honour on the learning and judgment of that excellent scholar. There is an accurate Oxford edition of 1806, formed on the basis of Toup, in 8vo. 1


Preface to Smith’s English Translation. —Saxii Onomast. Warton’s Essay on Pope. Blair’s Lectures, &c.