Longinus’s paraphrases of sublime experience, as these comments already suggest, show that moment to be related to the intellectual structures of its participants – authors, readers, speakers, listeners – as well as to the language they use. There is a complex relationship between the world described in a sublime text, the words used to describe it by an author, and the minds which receive it. Longinus therefore quotes constantly. He gives many examples of texts which have affected him powerfully, in the interests of analysing what makes them work on him in this way. One important example he gives is a version of the passage near the beginning of Genesis generally known as the Fiat Lux
: ‘God said – what? “let there be light”, and there was light, “let there be earth”, and there was earth.’13
This passage, so Longinus’s theory goes, gives the reader an absolute and immediate understanding of the qualities of the divine being conceived and portrayed by the author. Thus, the utterance is not just
great, noble or elevated (although it may be seen to be all of these things too). It is sublime: characterised by ‘hypsous’ or sublimity because of its author’s successful communication. The fact that the Christian God’s power is communicated in the Fiat Lux
(or that the communicator is inspired by God) is secondary here (the analogy in Peri hypsous
is with Homer’s depiction of Poseidon, Longinus, 9.8). Furthermore, the association of sublimity and divinity can be overstated in discussions of Peri hypsous
: Longinus spends a lot more time discussing Sappho’s glimpse of another woman, for instance, than he does on God. We understand with this example, though, that simple, everyday language can produce the revelatory, transformative experiences with which Longinus is concerned.