You are here

Longinus' Architectural Metaphor at περὶ ὕψους 10.7: Problems and Solutions

James Arieti

Hampden-Sydney College

ἀλλὰ  τὰς ἐξοχάς ὼς <ἂν> εἴποι τις, ἀριστίνδην ἐκκαθήραντες ἐπισυνέθηκαν, οὐδὲν φλοιῶδες ἢ ἄσεμνον ἢ σχολικὸν ἐγκατατάτοντες διὰ μέσου λυμαίνεται γὰρ ταῦτα τὸ ὅλον ὡσανεὶ ψύγματα ἢ ἀραιώματα ἐμποιοῦντα μεγέθη  συνοικονομούμενα τῇ πρὸς ἄλληλα σχέσει συντετειχισμένα.

D.A. Russell closes the note in his commentary on Longinus 10.7 (Russell, 1964) with some words from David Ruhnken (1723–1798) that ought to make anyone fear to begin: locus vehementer vexatus, verumtamen posthac non amplius vexandus. Still, critics who write about 10.7 are forced, no matter what they do, to differ with Ruhnken, although those of us who think we have found the solution secretly echo his words.

The sentence that takes up 10.7 is notoriously hard to read, and, I argue, it was made so deliberately by the author. Once we see that Longinus is doing what he so often does—imitating in his own prose the vice or virtue of what he is discussing (Arieti and Crossett 1985; Porter 2015)—we can work out the relationship of the parts to the whole.

Longinus has just explained that great artists, like Archilochus and Demosthenes, can contract or expand, with no damage to the structure of their work either way. When they expand, they polish the conspicuous projections (ἐξοχάς: 10.7), like masons who smooth and polish stones before putting them into a wall. The crux-sentence then opens with an explanatory continuation of what preceded; the subject is ταῦτα, which has for its antecedents three terms, the literary vices of φλοιῶδες (bombast or swelling), ἄσεμνον (frigidity), and σχολικόν (misplaced emotion), “for these things damage (λυμαίνεται) the whole (τὸ ὅλον).” In his sentence, Longinus very carefully chooses a vocabulary that can refer to both rhetoric and architecture. For example, the word μέγεθος means primarily “great passages in literature”; it seems also to have a secondary meaning of “great structures or buildings” (Roberts 1899). It is the subject of ἐμποιοῦντα: great passages produce (i.e., within themselves) “gaps or interstices” under certain conditions; these conditions are the literary vices catalogued above. Parallel to this meaning is the architectural image, which perhaps begins with  ἀραίωμα, certainly with συνοικονομούμενα, the word that follows μεγέθη and modifies it.

Drawing on evidence from Vitruvius and Pliny’s letters (Sherwin-White 1985), I suggest that Longinus seems to have had in mind a complex of buildings, and that the verb “to help build a wall” (συντειχίζω) referred to the way in which the various buildings were supposed to “help” each other support the whole both structurally and aesthetically—in short, to form an “architectural unit.” Such unity is what Longinus saw, for example, in Sappho’s poem at the beginning of the chapter (10.1), where he said that the poet “binds together the intense emotions.” The parts of Sappho’s poem, as well as of Archilochus’ poems and Demosthenes’ speeches, are unified by “being set together one on another” (ἐπισύνθεσις: 10.1 and 10.7). So, too, various buildings being unified into an architectural whole are to achieve their unity by ἐπισύνθεσις.

A close reading of Longinus’ sentence, in 10.7, shows that he is imitating the vices he is describing, plus a few more: (1) by his triple hiatus he calls attention to the notion of “gaps”; (2) words like ψύγματα, σχέσις, and συντετειχισμένα are good examples of harshness (Demetrius, On Style 49); (3) the conceit of the passage, in which he compares σύνθεσις and the periodic sentence to the military procedure wherein allies helped each other build a fort, is a good example both of a high-point that has not been sufficiently polished and of the vices that he has catalogued, for it is at once φλοιῶδες, ἄσεμνον and σχολικόν.

Session/Panel Title

Genre and Style

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy