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Seminar Greek: The Sublime: Longinus in Context


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.

Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


Why are we overwhelmed when we listen to a beautiful Sappho poem, a Homeric battle scene or a powerful speech by Demosthenes? That is the question that Pseudo-Longinus raises in On the Sublime, one of the most enigmatic Greek treatises to survive from antiquity. The author is unknown, the date is uncertain, and we do not know the addressee Postumius Terentianus. Despite all these uncertainties, the treatise has had a great impact on European aesthetics, philosophy and art history. Longinus identifies five sources of the sublime: great thoughts, emotion, figures, vocabulary and composition. He cites numerous examples of sublime writing, including passages from Homer, Sappho, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Plato, but also the Jewish book of Genesis. Thus the work presents itself not only as a rhetorical treatise, but also as an anthology of the most inspired passages of classical Greek literature. Although Longinus belongs to the tradition of classical rhetoric, his examples are unconventional and his observations are sophisticated. In describing the ecstatic impact of the sublime, he himself adopts a sublime style, so that reading his treatise can sometimes feel like a grandiose experience.
In this seminar we will read and interpret the text of Longinus’ On the Sublime, with special attention for some topics in recent scholarship: the date and intellectual context of On the Sublime, the structure and unity of the work, the sublime in Latin poetry (Lucretius, Horace, Lucan), Longinus’ classicism and his use of examples. We will also pay due attention to the European reception of this unique text, which involves poets (Victor Hugo, Wordsworth), philosophers (Burke, Kant) and painters (William Turner, Caspar David Friedrich).

Course objectives

  • The student will be familiar with Longinus’ On the Sublime and its place in the history of aesthetics and literary criticism.

  • The student will be familiar with recent scholarship on the date, authorship, interpretation and reception of Longinus’ On the Sublime.

  • The student will be able to read and interpret the Greek text of On the Sublime with commentary, as demonstrated in an oral examination.

  • The student will acquire an overview of the history of classical rhetoric and ancient literary criticism.

  • The student willl be capable of critical assessment of secondary literature.

  • The Research MA student will develop advanced research skills: formulating a complex research question, collecting materials (both primary texts and results of earlier research), analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • The MA student will develop research skills as above, but with more help and guidance, as specified in the first meeting.

  • The student will develop his or her oral presentation skills. The presentation will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of a specific text passage, making effective use of a handout and/or PowerPoint.

  • The student will develop his or her written presentation skills. The paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research. The student must demonstrate his grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

  • This course also aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.


Please consult the timetables on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Course load for 10 EC (= 280 hours):

  • Contact hours = 28 hours;

  • The Greek text of Longinus’ On the Sublime (56 pages) = 56 hours;

  • Commentary and Secondary Literature = 16 hours;

  • Preparation Oral Presentation = 50 hours;

  • Preparation Oral Examination = 50 hours;

  • Written Paper = 80 hours.

It is possible to take this course for 5 EC (= 140 hours). Please contact the teacher for more information about this option.

Assessment method

  • Oral Examination on the Greek text, commentary and topics discussed in class (30%);

  • Oral presentation (30%);

  • Paper (30%);

  • Participation (10%).

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the oral examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation. If the final mark is sufficient, the examination and paper cannot be retaken.

Students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions. Students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.


Blackboard will be used for the distribution of texts and handouts.

Reading list

Students are required to possess the following edition with commentary:
D.A. Russell, Longinus’ On the Sublime, Edited with Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1964.

Also recommended is the Loeb edition:
S. Halliwell, W.H. Fyfe & D.A. Russell, D.C. Innes (eds.), Aristotle, Poetics. Longinus, On the Sublime. Demetrius, On Style. Cambridge, MA / London: Harvard University Press 1999.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.


Dr. C.C. de Jonge


The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.