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study questions

Some Questions for Horace and Longinus

  1. What advice does Horace offer "you writers"? How would you contrast his advice, here and elsewhere in the letter, to post-romantic tenets about the individual poet and the creation of poetry--i.e. most particularly the emphasis on originality, individualism, and the centrality of emotion in art?

  2. Horace writes, "If you expect me to burst into tears, you have to feel sorrow yourself." Does this sentence indicate an interest in language as an expressive vehicle, or does it have more to do with Horace's notions about imitation and decorum? Explain.

  3. How important is poetic tradition, according to Horace? To what extent may a poet depart from earlier traditions, and what limitations do poets face when they so depart?

  4. According to Horace, what is more important to a Roman audience than the poet's ability to convey individuality or emotional intensity? How are his remarks here important for their reflection on his central concern with "decorum," or artistic propriety?

  5. What does Horace suggest about the artist's responsibility to the various Roman social classes? 

  6. What does Horace say is the best sort of poetry? Why should poetry both teach and delight (i.e. be "utile et dulce," useful and pleasant), rather than just one or the other?

  7. Horace writes that poetry is like painting -- ut pictura poiesis. Later Renaissance and Neoclassical critics made much of this statement, but what does it seem to mean here in Horace's letter?

  8. What does Horace assert about the ultimate source of good poetry? Is it a matter of genius, of cultivating one's talents, or both? What are your own thoughts about this longstanding critical debate?

  9. What were Plato and Aristotle interested in regarding art that Horace appears not to be interested in? How does his lack of interest here reflect a fundamental difference between the Greeks and the Romans? (general question)

  10. Horace is an important figure for those interested in whether art shapes a given culture, or whether it merely or mainly reflects values already present in that culture. What do you think? Can/should art transform people and make them see things in radically new ways, or does/should it mostly reflect and validate (i.e. imitate or represent approvingly) what most people already think they know about morality, politics, and other broad areas of life? Or is the question too stark? (general question)

  11. Do you think that your own generation is more "Horatian," i.e. conformist, than rebelliously "Romantic," or is it the other way around? Explain. (general question)

Longinus, On Sublimity (first century C.E.) (part numbers in parentheses)

  1. Make a list of everything Longinus contrasts either explicitly or implicitly with the sublime. What kinds of connections can you make between some of these terms?

  2. How does Longinus define sublimity? What do you think he means by the word “transport”? (1)

  3. What relationship does Longinus develop between genius and art or artistic skill? (2, 9 and elsewhere)

  4. Longinus claims that an artist can fail at the sublime in three ways. What are they? (3)

  5. What does Longinus mean when he writes: “For, as if instinctively, our soul is uplifted by the true sublime; it takes a proud flight, and is filled with joy and vaunting, as though it had itself produced what it has heard”? How might we read this passage as expressing a theory about artists and audiences? (7)

  6. Does Longinus discuss sublimity only in terms of the individual perceiver of art, or are his standards to be taken as communal and universally valid? (7)

  7. What are Longinus' five sources of sublimity? Which is the most important, and why? What are the main distinctions Longinus makes amongst the five sources? (8)

  8. What is "amplification," and what is the difference between amplification and sublimity? (12)

  9. In part 14, Longinus says that whenever we are “elaborating anything which requires lofty expression and elevated conception,” we “should shape some idea in our minds as to how perchance Homer would have said this very thing, or how it would have been raised to the sublime by Plato or Demosthenes or by the historian Thucydides.” Why does Longinus think that this will be of help? (Be sure to take account of what he says in part 13)

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