2. • Poets could lie. For, whatever poets might claim
about the truth status of their own poems, the
existence of variant legends made it clear that truth
could vary from poet to poet. So that one poet's
truth could easily become another poet's lie.
• There are indications that already in the early period
poets were aware of their ability to craft and
fashion their narratives. They might claim inspiration
from the Muses, but they did not present
themselves simply as unconscious instruments of
• By the end of the fifth century B C the poet is
regularly described as a Poietes, a "maker", and his
product is a Poiema, a "made-up thing". So they
have inventive powers.
3. • The Odyssey is thus a highly self-conscious
poem, which celebrates the delight of poetry
and song: as Odysseus himself says, there is
no greater pleasure in life than to listen to the
bard at a feast, when the tables are laden with
meat and the wine flows
• Poetry enthralls, but the nature of its power is
ambiguous: it can tell the truth, but it can also
persuade us that false things are true; it offers
us pleasure, but at the time it destroys our
• Poetry also has the power to arouse intense
emotions, and we find both Penelope and
Odysseus weeping as they listen to the voice of
4. • Poetry has the power to make a man cry like a
woman. Perhaps a prefiguration of the
paradoxical pleasure of tragedy, that the
depiction of suffering can give pleasure. There
is certainly an awareness in Homer of the
pleasure of remembered suffering.
• This emphasis on the affective power of poetry
played a major role in Plato's attack on poetry,
and in Aristotle's defence of it; it also formed
the basis of Longinus' theory of the sublime.
5. •Greek attitudes to poetry were shaped long
before the advent of literary criticism or literary
theory. For Greek poetry contained within it a
self-reflective and critical spirit which was there
from the beginning: the earliest critics were the
• The competitive nature of Greek poetic
performance continued to be a feature of
Greek culture, and, with the emergence of
drama in Athens in the sixth century BC, poetry
and the judging of poetry become a matter of
major civic concern
7. • Plato wrote no treatise devoted specifically to
poetry, yet his engagement with poetry was
intense and life-long, as we can see not only
from the dialogues in which poetry is explicitly
discussed, but also from the frequent
references and allusions to poetry throughout
his work. Many of the dialogues themselves
have affinities with poetry in their use of
imagery, myth and dramatic technique, and the
poetic nature of Plato's style has been
recognized since antiquity. There was even a
tradition that Plato had written poetry himself in
his youth, but abandoned his early passion
when he met Socrates and turned to
philosophy. Certainly Plato writes about poetry
like no other philosopher, yet determined to
resist its spell.
8. • Plato's notorious hostility to poetry strikes the
modern reader as very odd: in the Republic, he
is concerned not merely with censoring poetry,
but with removing it altogether, and his target is
the entire heritage of Greek literature. Though
hymns to the gods and encomia to good men
will be permitted in the ideal state, there will be
no place for the epics of Homer.
9. • Plato's critique of poetry is not merely of
historical interest -- for Plato was the first
thinker to formulate major questions about the
function and role of art in society, and his
writings on poetry, music and the visual arts are
fundamental texts in the of Western aesthetics.
( what is poetry, and indeed art in general, and
how does it operate? What is and should be
the function of imaginative literature in society?
Is it dangerous in that it encourages emotions
and feelings which ought to be kept in check,
or is it therapeutic in that it allows us to give
vent to our emotions in a harmless way?
Should there be censorship? Is literature a form
of escapism or does it deepen our insight into
the nature of people and the world around us?
How can literature justify itself? )
10. • Like all the poets before him, Plato is acutely
aware of the pleasure that poetry affords its
listeners; but for him that is the source of
poetry's greatest danger. In the Republic,
pleasure is the key factor in determining what
makes poetry 'poetic', but pleasure has nothing
to do with value. Poetry aims solely at the
gratification of its audience and not at moral
improvement. And since the ignorant masses
invariably enjoy what is bad for them, poetry is
dangerous precisely in proportion to the
pleasure it gives, and must therefore be
11. • In the Republic, one of the central arguments
against poetry is that it is psychologically
damaging, for it appeals to an inferior elements in
the soul, and encourages us to indulge in emotions
which ought to be kept firmly in check by the
control of reason.
•Moreover, Plato has three reasons for regarding
the poets as unwholesome and dangerous. First,
they pretend to know all sorts of things, but they
really know nothing at all. It is widely considered
that they have knowledge of all that they write
about, but, in fact, they do not. The things they
deal with cannot be known: they are images, far
removed from what is most real. By presenting
scenes so far removed from the truth poets,
pervert souls, turning them away from the most
12. •One of Plato's most important and influential
theories about poetry is that it is a form of
MIMESIS or 'imitation'. The word mimesis has a
wide semantic range, covering impersonation,
copying, imitation and representation, and
Greek draws no clear distinction between
• The Platonic theory of Forms, according to
which a metaphysical hierarchy is established,
consisting of the ideal world of Forms, the
sensible world of particulars, and imitations of
the sensible world.
14. From the Republic, book x
Well then, shall we begin the enquiry in our usual manner: Whenever a
number of individuals have a common name, we assume them to have
also a corresponding idea or form. Do you understand me?
Let us take any common instance; there are beds and tables in the world
--plenty of them, are there not?
But there are only two ideas or forms of them --one the idea of a bed, the
other of a table.
15. And the maker of either of them makes a bed or he makes a table for our use,
in accordance with the idea --that is our way of speaking in this and similar
instances --but no artificer makes the ideas themselves: how could he?
And there is another artist, --I should like to know what you would say of him.
Who is he? One who is the maker of all the works of all other workmen.
What an extraordinary man!
Wait a little, and there will be more reason for your saying so. For this is he
who is able to make not only vessels of every kind, but plants and animals,
himself and all other things --the earth and heaven, and the things which are
in heaven or under the earth; he makes the gods also.
16. • Taking painting as the paradigm of mimesis,
Plato argues that the painter is like someone
who picks up a mirror and carries it around with
him, instantly creating images of everything that
he sees. But what he produces are
insubstantial reflections of objects in the
sensible world, which are themselves less real
than the Forms, which alone have true
existence. Since poets are also imitators, they,
like painters, are condemned to operate at the
third level of reality, their products being nothing
but worthless imitations which reflect nothing
18. • The Poetics is the first work of theoretical criticism
devoted specifically to poetry in the Western
• Poetry for Aristotle is an independent art with its
own internal logic, and his emphasis is primarily on
its formal aspects without reference to the social,
political or religious dimensions which had so
• The Poetics is intended as an investigation into
the nature of poetry through the classification of
its different kinds and the analysis of their function
and purpose. Though it contains elements of
prescriptive criticism and description, it is primarily
a work of aesthetic theory, whose object is to
understand how poetry operates and the way in
19. The Poetics is in part a response to Plato's
strictures against poetry
•Whereas Plato views poetry as an inspired, and
therefore irrational activity, Aristotle treats it as the
product of skill or art, which is based on rational
and intelligible principles.
• For Plato the poet has no knowledge, and the
imitations which he produces are mere reflections
of the external world, at third remove from the
ultimate reality of the Forms.
20. • For Aristotle there is a close relationship
between imitation and learning. ( since poetry
presents us with 'the kinds of things that might
happen' in human life, it gives us a generalized
view of human nature from which we can learn
more than we can from particular facts.
• Plato regards poetry, and especially tragedy, as
morally harmful in that it stimulates emotions
which ought to be suppressed
• According to Aristotle, the ability to engage our
emotions is an essential feature of tragedy, and
one that is positively beneficial in its effects.
21. • Pleasure, which for Plato is the source of
poetry's greatest danger, is for Aristotle an
intrinsic part of our response to poetry, since all
human beings instinctively take delight in
• Aristotle takes over from Plato the idea that
poetry, together with other arts such as
painting, sculpture, music and dance, is a form
of Mimesis, but, unlike Plato, he nowhere
explains what he means by this term.
22. • The artistic 'imitation' Aristotle discusses
appears to have the following characteristics: #
it represents or stands for the object imitated, #
it is produced by the act of imitating, # it is
similar to the object imitated.
• The artist can present things as they are, as
they seem to be, or as they ought to be, hence
what he offers is a re-fashioning of nature or
experience rather than a straightforward copy.
• Aristotle explicitly rejects the idea that tragedy
mimics reality, when he says that the poet's
function is not to describe what has happened,
but rather the kinds of thing that might happen.
23. • For Aristotle, tragedy represents the probable
rather than the actual, but in doing so it
deepens our understanding of the world in
which we live.
• For Aristotle the poet is a 'maker' but
specifically a maker of imitations.
• Aristotle emphasizes that tragedy must be
complete and a whole, with 'a beginning, a middle,
and an end' by which he means that the action
must have an ordered structure so that events
follow on one from another in a logical sequence,
and not simply at random.
Music, says Aristotle, has a variety of beneficial
functions: it can be used, for example, for
education of the young, for relaxation and leisure,
and for Catharsis.
26. • A large part of Aristotle's discussion is
concerned with plot, 'the ordered arrangement
of the incidents', since he regards plot as the
single most important element in tragedy. It
takes precedence over character because
"tragedy is a representation, not of people, but
of action and life, of happiness and
unhappiness -- the happiness and unhappiness
are bound up with action.
• Poetics is notoriously reticent about the
religious explanations of human suffering which
are integral to the genre. His neglect of the
gods, together with his apparent lack of interest
in the social and political implications of tragedy,
have been criticized by modern scholars.