Analyzing the poetic genres of his own day, particularly epic and tragedy, Aristotle sets forth a comprehensive theory of the poetic art. In this seminal and highly influential work of ancient literary criticism, Aristotle discusses poetry's esthetic function as well as its emotional value, revealing at the same time the basic principles of literary art and giving practical hints to the poet.
About the Author
ARISTOTLE was born in the northern Greek town of Stagira in 384 B.C.E., where his father was the personal physician to the great-grandfather of Alexander the Great. At the age of eighteen Aristotle entered Plato's Academy and soon became recognized as its most important student. He remained under Plato's tutelage for nearly twenty years.
After his teacher's death in 347 B.C.E., Aristotle cultivated associations with other Academy students throughout Greece and Asia Minor. Then in 342 B.C.E., Aristotle was asked by King Philip II of Macedonia to become the tutor for his young son Alexander, who was later to become the conqueror of much of the known world at that time. The young prince remained under Aristotle's supervision until 336 B.C.E., when he acceded to the throne after his father's death. Two years later Aristotle returned to Athens and founded his own school, which he called the Lyceum. This intellectual center flourished during the years when Alexander the Great ruled Greece as part of his large empire. But upon Alexander's death in 323 B.C.E., Aristotle was charged with impiety by Athenians who resented his associations with the Macedonian conqueror. Rather than risk the same fate as Plato's mentor, Socrates, Aristotle fled to the city of Chalcis, where he died in 322 B.C.E.
Aristotle's interests, like those of Plato, were diverse and his writing cast its shadow on many fields, including logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and the sciences. Among his most well-known works are: The Categories, The Prior and Posterior Analytics, The Physics, The Metaphysics, De Anima, The Nicomachean Ethics, and The Politics.
Read an Excerpt
About the poetic art itself and the forms of it, what specific capacity each has, and how one ought to put together stories if the making of them is going to hold together beautifully, and also how many and what sort of parts stories are made of, and likewise about as many other things as belong to the inquiry into poetic art, let us speak once we have first started, in accord with nature, from the things that come first.
Now epic poetry and the making of tragedy, and also comedy and dithyrambic poetry, as well as most flute-playing and lyre-playing, are all as a whole just exactly imitations, but they are different from one another in three ways, for they differ either by making their imitations in different things, by imitating different things, or by imitating differently and not in the same way. For just as some people who make images imitate many things by means of both colors and shapes (some through art and others through habituation), and others by means of the voice, so too with the arts mentioned, all of them make imitations in rhythm, speech, and harmony, and with these either separate or mixed. For example, both flute-playing and lyre-playing, and any other arts there happen to be that are of that sort in their capacity, such as the art of the Pan-pipes, use only harmony and rhythm, while the art of dancers uses rhythm itself apart from harmony (for they too, through the rhythms of their gestures, imitate states of character, feelings, and actions). But the art that uses bare words and the one that uses meters, and the latter either mixing meters with one another or using one particular kind, happen to be nameless up to now. For we have nothing to use as a name in common for the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues, even if someone were to make the imitation with [iambic] trimeters or elegiac [couplets] or anything else of that sort. Instead, people connect the poetic making with the meter and name “elegiac poets,” or others “epic poets,” calling them poets not as a result of the imitation but as a result of the meter as what is common to them, for even when they bring out something medical or about nature in meter, people are accustomed to speak of them in that way. But nothing is common to Homer and Empedocles except the meter, and hence, while it is just to call the former a poet, the latter is more a student of nature than a poet. By the same token, even if someone were to make an imitation by mixing all the meters, the very way Chaeremon made the Centaur as a patchwork mixture of all the meters, one would have to call him too a poet. As for these things, then, let them be distinguished in this way. And there are some arts that use all the things mentioned—I mean, for instance, rhythm and melody and meter—as do the making of both dithyrambs and nomes, and both tragedy and comedy.
Table of Contents
Introduction, p. 1
Acknowledgments, p. 17
The Poetics, p. 19
Glossary of Names, p. 69
Glossary of Some Important Greek Words, p. 72
Designed for courses in undergraduate philosophy, as well as for the general reader interested in the major works of western civilization.
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Aristotle's Poetics is hailed as the first systematic critical theory in the world. For centuries and centuries, it has inspired writers, critics, and philosophers alike. Aristotle, the father of critics, as many would exalt him, sets the rules for many key literary genres such as Tragedy, Comedy, and Epic. Through comparing and contrasting these classical genres, Aristotle convincingly argues for the highness and greatness of tragedy, as the most mimetic literary genre. Thanks to Aristotle, we are introduced to such eternally important critical terms such as mimesis(imitation), muthos(plot), anagnorisis(discovery), peripeteia(reversal),hamartia(misjudgment), catharsis(purgation). In other words, Aristotle's Poetics is the bible for critics, playwrights, and fans of tragic literature.