Thursday Lecture Series: Hide and Seek

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

Thursday, The Heyman Center

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.