Criticism and Theory I
Class 5: Horace, Longinus, Quintillian
Analyze excerpts from Horace's Ars Poetica ;
Analyze excerpts from Longinus' On the Sublime
Analyze excerpts from Quintillian's Institutio Oratoria
Discuss Brian McAllister's report on Ars Poetica and Quentin Vieregge's response
The readings this week all evidence the influence of Rhetoic on Poetry and vice versa, and so in
some ways demonstrate Aristotle's influence on the history of literary criticism. There are striking
differences, though, among our writers this week and departures from tradition. One question each takes up
either explicitly (as in Horace) or implicitly is whether poetry comes by nature or by art. This generative
question continues to intrigue writers and scholars, and so it may provide a good entry point for our
investigations this week.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
The Ars Poetica is one of most famous arts of poetry written in verse, and it exerts tremendous influence both
as an example or type of poem and as a set of advice on writing poetry. Penelope Murray writes of the work: "Horace's
tone is discursive and informal, and his poem appears to have little structure, leaping from theme to theme in a seemingly
chaotic fashion. But we should not be deceived by his casual epsitolary manner or his apparent lack of method. This is no
systematic treatise, but a poetic presentation of a vast and various field, whose unity derives from the highlighting and
repetition of certain key themes" ("Introduction," Classical Literary Criticism, 2000, xl).
How does his tone affect or reflect his conception of poetry? What does the style of poetry suggest about its content?
Is it an example of decorum?
Identify the main themes in the work and explain how he illustrates or highlights them. Among the themes to discuss,
include DECORUM, the significance of LITERARY TRADITION, SKILL in poetry.
Murray: "In general the importance of the Art of Poetry lies not so much in the originality of its ideas as in its
memorable expressions, its vivid images and vignettes, and in its evocation of the lived experience of poets at work
in the Rome of Horace's day" (xliii). Examine carefully such images or vignettes, for example, the description of the
various ages of "man" (128) or the mad poet (135). Why does he include such descriptions? What role do they play in his
poetry? What role do they play in his advice?
Horace makes a case for the social usefulness of poetry, and so "there is no call to be ashamed of the Muse with her
skill on the lyre or of Apollo the singer" (133). What is the social function of poetry for Horace?
The following ideas or dicta have descended from Horace as significant. Comment on each.
the purple patch
Horace recommends to his audience, the young Piso brothers, that if they want to write poetry they ought to keep it in
their notebooks for eight years first and then give it to a good critic. Why? Is this good advice?
to please and instruct
poetry is like painting
If you want to move me to tears, you must first feel grief yourself.
According to Longinus, what is the sublime? What are its sources? What is the role of nature and art in the production
of the sublime?
Murray: "Longinus combines the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of ancient literary criticism to create a work that is remarkable
both for the passion with which it is written, and for the quality of its critical analyses of individual passages of
literature." Compare On the Sublime in these two respects to the work of Aristotle and Horace.
Choose one of Longinus' examples (say of Sappho or a passage from Homer) and analyze his methods as a literary critic. Is
there anything for us to learn from him?
Like previous theorists we have read, Longinus stresses the importance of imitation in the development of art. What does
Longinus mean by imitation (143)? How is this concept different from the earlier writers?
What techniques or strategies does Longinus recommend for the representation of the sublime?
Why is grandeur, though attended with mistakes, preferable to "impeccable soundness" (150)? Compare this to Horace's
Longinus attributes to nature the source of our desire for sublimity. What does this mean? Speculate as to the meaning
and significance of his claim that "Something higher than human is sought in literature" (153).
In book XLIV, the final book of the treatise (not included in the anthology), Longinus takes up the question as to whether
democracy or liberty has an effect on the writing of poetry and if the culture's enslavment to earning money and pleasure
destroys poetry. You can read this here: http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/longinus/desub013.htm.
Compare these thoughts with Horace's comment that the Roman's concern for money taints his soul and hinders poetry (132).
If this is a treatise on rhetoric and educating the orator, what place does it have in the history of literary criticism?
Put another way, why would medieval and Renaissance readers have taken this for advice to poets?
Analyze his description of metaphor (159-61). How might this information aid the literary critic?
What is the difference between figures and tropes? What is the distinction to be made between figures of speech and
figures of thought (164-5)? How can irony be both a figure and trope?
What is the role of virtue in the training of an orator? How does he come to know virtue?
Back to Top of Page