2. Like many important documents in the history of philosophy and literary theory,
Aristotle's Poetics, composed around 330 BCE
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory
The Poetics is in part Aristotle's response to his teacher, Plato
It is first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory.
In this text Aristotle refers to poetry or more literally "the poetic art," deriving from the
term for "poet
Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama (to include comedy, tragedy, and
the satyr play), lyric poetry, and epic.
3. What differentiates these kinds of poetry is the nature of their 'imitation.‘
He notes three differences.
1. Medium of Imitation - In general, poetry imitates life through rhythm, language, and
harmony. This is more pronounced in music or dance, but even verse poetry can
accomplish imitation through language alone
2. Object of Imitation - Art seeks to imitate men in action - hence the term 'drama'
(dramitas, in Greek). In order to imitate men, art must either present man as 'better' than
they are in life (i.e. of higher morals), as true to life, or as 'worse' than they are in life (i.e.
of lower morals).
4. 3. Mode of Imitation - A poet can imitate either through:
a. narration, in which he takes another personality (an omniscient 'I' watching the
events 'like an observer')
b. speak in his own person, unchanged (the first-person 'I')
c. presents all his characters as living and moving before us (third-person narrator)
Poetry emerged for two reasons –
1) man's instinct to imitate things and
2) the instinct for 'harmony' and rhythm.
5. Aristotle begins with a loose outline of what he will address in The Poetics:
a. the different kinds of poetry and the 'essential quality' of each
b. the structure necessary for a 'good poem'
c. the method in which a poem is divided into parts
d. anything else that might tangentially comes up in his address of the above topics.
Poetry, as Aristotle defines it, is first and foremost a 'medium of imitation,'
It, includes epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, and music (specifically of
flute, and lyre).
6. The genres all share the function of mimesis, or imitation of life, but differ in three ways that
Aristotle describes: Differences in music rhythm, harmony, meter and melody.
In Poetics, he wrote that drama (specifically tragedy) has to include 6 elements: plot,
character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle.
The Plot is the most important part of a tragedy.
Aristotle's Poetics seeks to address the different kinds of poetry, the structure of a good
poem, and the division of a poem into its component parts.
He defines poetry as a 'medium of imitation' that seeks to represent or duplicate life through
character, emotion, or action.
7. The best translation of the Poetics into English seems to be that by Seth Benardete and
Michael Davis, published in 2002 by the St. Augustine's Press.
“Aristotelian rules” for dramatic structure were called, respectively, unity of action,
unity of place, and unity of time.
Aristotle's approach to the phenomenon of poetry is quite different from Plato's.
The mode of imitation is one of the fundamental elements of mimesis in poetry; the
other two are the medium and object of imitation. Mode describes the manner in
which the poetry is conveyed to its audience. The mode of the epic is narration,
while the mode of the tragedy is drama.
8. The practical and formal concerns that occupy Aristotle in the Poetics need to be
understood in relation to a larger concern with the psychological and social purpose of
Criticism, according to Aristotle, should pay careful attention to the overall function of a
any feature of a work of art in its context within the work, and should never lose sight of
the function of the work of art in its social context.
The essential feature of all forms of poetry is they are all modes of imitation or mimesis.
Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average.
Tragedy was an imitation of men better than the average
9. Mimesis, basic theoretical principle in the creation of art
The word is Greek and means “imitation”
Aristotle, speaking of tragedy, stressed the point that it was an “imitation of an action”—
that of a man falling from a higher to a lower estate.
Quite something since the entire Poetics is a mere twenty pages.
But what coverage! To list several: plot, character, language and two concepts
supercharged with meaning: mimesis (imitation) and catharsis (inspiring pity or fear).
10. Aristotle's theory of Democracy - “rule by one” is monarchy in its ideal form
and tyranny in its perverted form , “rule by the few” is aristocracy in its ideal form
and oligarchy in its perverted form; and “rule by the many” is “polity” in its ideal form
democracy in its perverted form.
Aristotle's theory of tragedy - “Tragedy,” says Aristotle, “is an imitation of an action that is
serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude…through pity and fear effecting the
purgation [catharsis] of these emotions.”
Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero - "an intermediate kind of personage, not pre-
eminently virtuous and just" whose misfortune is attributed, not to vice or depravity, but
an error of judgment.
11. Aristotle's definition of Catharsis - the purification or purgation of the emotions (especially
pity and fear) primarily through art. In criticism, catharsis is a metaphor used by Aristotle in
the Poetics to describe the effects of true tragedy on the spectator.One of the most difficult
concepts introduced in the Poetics is catharsis
Aristotle's theory of Comedy - Comedy began as an imitation of characters 'of a lower
type', meaning a representation of a defect or ugliness in character, which is not painful or
destructive. Comedy was at first not taken seriously, but once plot was introduced in Sicily
comedic theater, it soon grew into a respected form.
Hamartia according to Aristotle - Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe
the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero's downfall.
12. Aristotle's theory of Epic - Epic poetry, finally, imitates men of noble action, like tragedy. But
epic poetry only allows one kind of meter and is narrative in form. Moreover, tragedy usually
confines itself to a single day, whereas epic poetry has no limits of time.
Aristotle concludes by tackling the question of whether the epic or tragic form is 'higher.‘
Most critics of his time argued that tragedy was for an inferior audience that required the
gesture of performers, while epic poetry was for a 'cultivated audience' which could filter a
narrative form through their own imaginations.
Aristotle argues that tragedy is, in fact, superior to epic, because it has all the epic elements
well as spectacle and music to provide an indulgent pleasure for the audience.