“Poetics” by Aristotle

“Poetics” by Aristotle

1

  • Trying to tackle poetry, variations – giving the the essentials, structure of plot & parts of a good poem, etc.
  • Epics, tragedies, comedies, dithryambic poetry, flute & lyre music & all forms of imitation
    • differences – medium, objects & manner of imitation
  • People imitate, either consciously or unconsciously, through color, form, voice, rhythm, language or harmony
  • Flutes & lyres use harmony & rhythm – dancing using rhythm w/o harmony – with emotion, character & action
  • You can use any of these in combination with each other

2

  • Objects of imitation are men in action
    • must represent as better or worse than in real life
  • Each mode of imitation will exhibit the difference & become a distinct king of imitation of objects
    • can use with dance, music, verse, etc.
    • Homer makes men better than they are
    • Cleophon shows them as they are
    • Hegemon & Thasian did parodies
    • Nicochares made them worse
    • Use different tactics with respect to verse & language depending on now you wish to portray them

3

  • Another way to differentiate is how they are imitated
    • with same medium, objects, poets can imitate by narration
    • they can impersonate Homer or use their own voices
    • 3 differences – medium, object & manner
      • Sophocles imitated Homer with higher types of character
      • Aristophanes did too with people’s actions
    • Giving “drama” to poems – representing action
    • Dorians claim to have invented both tragedy & comedy
    • Megarians claim comedy
    • Peloponnesian Dorians claim tragedy

4

  • Reason for Poetry’s birth
    • 1 – Instinct of imitation implanted from childhood, learning earliest lessons
      • view with pain when we think of monstrous animals & dead bodies
      • we enjoy seeing imitation b/c when we think of ourselves learning & saying “I recognize that in my life!”
      • You might be taken in other ways, too
    • 2 – Imitation is in our nature, as are harmony & rhythm. They continued w/ dancing & music until poetry was born.
      • Poetry diverged
        • Graver spirits – imitate actions of good/noble men
        • Trivial – imitate mean people (satires), no earlier than Homer, as well as lampooning
      • Homer is preeminent b/c he excelled at imitation, laid out foundation of comedy by dramatizing the ludicrous
        • Lampooning turned into comedy
        • Epics led to tragedy (a higher form of art than comedy)
  • Tragedy & comedy began as improvization
    • tragedy began as dithryambic poetry
    • comedians sand phallic songs
    • tragedy advanced slowly but each step was a development & eventually found a natural form & stopped there.
  • Aeschylus – first to add a second actor, diminished the importance of the chorus & advanced dialogue
  • Sophocles – increased to 3 actors & used scene-painting
  • Once dialogue came about, nature sorted out the right meters
    • Iambic – colloquial/conversational
  • Number of episodes/acts & acts other accessories would be hard to do a history about

5

  • Comedy is an imitator of a lower type
    • The mask is ugly & distorted but no pain is implied
    • tragedy’s history is detailed but comedy’s isn’t b/c it was never taken seriously
    • comedy had already solidified in its form by the time any famous poets came around
      • plots started in Sicily but solidified by Athenians in its form
  • Epics are similar to tragedies – imitates higher characters
    • epic is narrated & in one king of meter
    • tragedies limit themselves to one day in the plot or a little more
    • epic has no limit in time
    • All elements of epics are in a tragedy but not vice versa

6

  • Tragedy – serious, complete, of magnitude, embellished language, in an artistic manner, action, non-narrative, & fear & pity play large
    • embellished language – with rhythm & harmony
    • tragic drama – spectacular equipment, song & diction – metrical arrangement of words
    • plot – action & arrangement of incidents
  • MUST HAVE 6 PARTS
    • 1 – Plot – the soul of tragedy
    • 2 – Character – same with painting, if you have beautiful colors but the picture/character is confused, it’s not as good as a chalk outline
    • 3 – Thought – saying what’s possible or pertinent in given circumstances. While character reveals moral purpose, thought is where something is proved to be or not to be, or a general maxim is enunciated
    • 4 – Diction – expression of words – essence in prose & verse
    • 5 – Song – chief place for embellishments
    • 6 – Spectacle – least artistic or least connected to poetry. Depends more on stage manager than the poet

7

  • Plot – tragedy must be imitation of action, complete, whole & of a certain magnitude
    • Whole – must have a beginning, middle & end
      • Beginning – doesn’t need something to precede it
      • Middle – must have something before it & something after it. The plot can’t end haphazardly.
      • End – must have something before it but nothing follows it
    • Must have an orderly arrangement of parts & be of a certain magnitude [beauty requires a bigness]
      • not too small or trivial & not too large as to confuse or overwhelm the audience.
      • has a length that can be embraced by memory – all are mostly the same length
      • must have a change from good to bad fortune or bad to good

8

  • Plot’s unity doesn’t need to rely on a hero’s unity of character
    • you can’t reduce a man’s life to a single unit
    • Some poets imagine Heracles as 1 man & think that his story must be written as a unity – far too long!
    • Homer didn’t include all Odysseus’s adventures but made the Odyssey & Iliad center around a single action
    • Plot must imitate one subject, one action & the whole forms a structural union around it such that removing any part of it will cause the plot to be disjointed.
    • If something’s presence or absence makes no difference, then it’s not an organic part of the whole

9

  • It’s not the poet’s job to relate what happened but what might happen – what’s possible according to probability or necessity
    • the poet & history are the same in this
    • Herodotus – could put history into verse but it’s still history
    • Difference is history actually happened, drama might happen
    • Poetry is higher & more philosophical b/c it tends to be more universal
      • Shows how a person may speak or act based on probability or necessity
    • comedy is around probability then inserts names & characters
    • Tragedy uses real names to be more credible & make the story seem more plausible
      • Some tragedies use a couple of real names & the rest are fictitious
    • You don’t have to stick to legends – the usual subjects of tragedy
    • Poets should write poems around plots & not write plots around poems
      • If historical subject, write poetry but stick to what’s possible or necessary
    • Epeisodic – worst king
      • acts succeed each other without probable or necessary sequence
      • bad poets compose them by their own fault
      • good poets compose them to please actors but stretch beyond its natural capacity
    • Tragedy must inspire fear or pity using surprise, & cause & effect

10

  • Plots – simple or complex based on real life
    • Simple – change of fortune happens without situation reversal or recognition
    • Complex – change of fortune happens with situational reversal or recognition

11

  • Reversal of situation – change by which action switches around to its opposite
    • Oedipus – messenger comes to cheer him up & relieve him of alarms about his mother
    • Lynceus – being led to his death & Danaus goes with him to kill him but Danaus is the one who’s killed & Lynceus ends up being spared
  • Recognition – change from ignorance to knowledge – producing love or hate between people
    • Oedipus – coincidental with situation reversal
    • in inanimate objects too
    • must be connected with the plot & action
    • should produce fear or pity
    • causes/leads to a good or bad fortune
    • maybe only one person recognizes
      • Iphigenia – is revealed to Orestes by sending a letter
      • later Orestes is revealed to her
    • 2 parts cause plot to turn on surprise
      • another is a scene where a destructive or painful action happens on stage – death, agony, wounds (scene of suffering)

12

  • Now to quantitative parts – separate parts of tragedy
    • Prologue – precedes parode of chorus
    • Episode – entire part of tragedy between complete choric songs
    • Parode – first undivided utterance of chorus
    • Stasimon – choric ode without anapaests or trochaic tetrameters
    • Commos – joint lamentation between chorus & actors

13

  • What a poet should be aiming for & should avoid
    • Perfect tragedy – in complex form, provoke fear or pity
      • Change of fortune – DO NOT take a man of prosperity from prosperity to adversity – it’s not tragic, only shocking
    • No bad man from adversity to prosperity – pisses the audience off
    • Pity for unmerited misfortune & fear misfortune for a man just like us
    • Character – between 2 extremes – a man not eminently good or bad but one whose misfortune is brought about by error or frailty, not vice or depravity
    • Single in issue – not from vice but error, fortune from good to bad
    • Like Euripides – he followed these principles, ending unhappily
    • With double threads, catastrophe for good & bad
      • Poets write for the audience & detracts from tragic form

14

  • Fear & pity – come about through spectacle but result from inner structure
    • Plot to be constructed so if you only just hear the play, you’ll hear it with terror & melt with pity [Oedipus]
    • less about artistry & more about extraneous aids
    • sense of terrible & monstrous
    • pleasure of spectator from pity & fear
    • Actions happen between friends, enemies or those indifferent
      • Enemies – killing each other don’t evoke pity except for suffering
      • Indifferents – don’t evoke pity either
      • Friends & family – because they’re near & dear to each other
        • don’t even have to tinker with legends – Clytamnestra was killed by Orestes & Eriphyle killed by Alcmaeon
        • Poet shows his genius by setting up the situation himself
    • Action cause consciously
      • How Euripides got Medea to kill her kids
    • May also be done in ignorance or tie of kinship or friendship is discovered afterwards [Oedipus]
    • Another form – about to act with knowledge &then doesn’t act
    • Another form – about to do irreparable deed through ignorance & makes discovery before deed’s done
    • Shock isn’t necessarily tragic because there’s no disaster – rarely use
    • Better is deed is perpetuated, especially in ignorance & discovered later
    • Best  – in Cresphontes, Merope is about to kill her son but recognizes him & ends up sparing him
    • Iphigenia recognizes Orestes in time

15

  • Character – FOUR AIMS
    • Must be good – speech or action manifesting moral purpose exposes character -> If good purpose -> good character, even slaves & women
    • Propriety – valor for men but not for women or unscrupulously clever
    • Character – true to life – believable
    • Consistency – if inconsistent, be consistently inconsistent
      • motive – less degradation of character [Menelaus in Orestes] of indecorous & inappropriate character
      • lament of Odysseus in the Scylla
      • Iphigenia at Aulis – doesn’t resemble her later suppliant self
      • Always aim for necessity & probabilty
        • speak in a way that is probable & the event must be followed by necessary/probable sequence
    • In unraveling of plot, must come out of the plot itself & not from Deus ex Machina, e.g. Medea, Return of Greeks in Iliad
      • Deus ex Machina – only for events external to drama – antecedent/subsequent events beyond human knowledge & needing to be foretold
      • Within action – nothing can be irrational
    • Tragedy is about people above common level – true to life yet more beautiful
    • Poet is to represent man as irascible, indolent or with other defects, preserve the type & ennoble it [Achilles by Homer]

16

  • Kinds of Recognition
    • 1 – least artistic – from ignorance, by signs, stars – could be congenital, maybe acquired after birth – bodily marks, scars, necklaces
      • Odysseus is recognized by a scar by his nurse & swineherds
      • Use of tokens as proof
      • Bath scene in Odyssey
    • 2 – Invented by poet, not artistic ether, done as poet requires in play
      • Orestes just tells Iphigenia who he is
      • She reveals herself in a letter
    • 3 – Depends on memory – when the sight of something awakens a feeling [Cyprians of Dicaeogenes] or Lay of Alcinous, where Odysseus hears a lure, recalls the past & weeps – recognition
    • 4 – Reasoning [Choephori] – Iphigenia realizes that Orestes looks like her & that he must be her brother
      • Maybe a composition of recognition based on a false inference by one character
      • Odysseus disguised – nobody could bend a bow but Odysseus & only he would know that the bow, which was unseen & reveals who he is
      • Recognitions are best when they come from incidents & discovery is done naturally [Oedipus]
        • Iphigenia sens a letter – natural occurrence
      • Dispense with artificial tokens, amulets, etc

17

  • Poets should place the scene as far away as possible from his eyes, as if he’s a spectator & unlikely to overlook any inconsistencies
    • Found in Carcinus – audience saw inconsistencies & hated the play
    • Most show, to those who are likely to feel emotion, a play most convincing through natural sympathy with the characters.
    • All audience’s emotions must be properly brought out when appropriate
      • Poet should write an outline & fill in action & details afterwards
      • Give names & fill in episodes
    • In Tragedy, brief summary – Orestes is captured by madness & delivered by a purification rite
    • In Epic, brief summary – Odysseus is away for years, watched jealously by Poseidon, his home is depleted by his wife’s suitors who are plotting against his son. He finally gets home, meets up with friends, attacks the suitors & gets his life back

18

  • Tragedies have 2 parts
    • Complication – incidents extraneous to action & bit of action
    • Unravelling/Dénouement – extends from beginning of change of fortune until the end
  • Four Kinds of Tragedy
    • 1 – Complex – depends entirely on situation reversal & recognition
    • 2 – Pathetic – motive is passion [Ajax, Ixion]
    • 3 – Ethical – motive is ethical [Phthiotides, Peleus]
    • 4 – Simple – w/o situation reversal & recognition
  • Try to combine all elements or as many as possible
  • Make complication & dénouement both good – both parts must be mastered!
  • Don’t turn an epic into a tragedy & a tragedy into an epic
  • Epics are so because of length & each part has its own magnitude
  • Those who try to dramatize the Fall of Troy instead of just parts fail utterly or the play does badly on stage
  • Don’t forget to use the Chorus like Sophocles used it. They should be a part of all this not just interludes

19

  • Thought – every thought produced by speech – proof, refutation, excitation of pity & fear, anger, suggestion of importance
    • dramatic incidents must do the same as speech in evoking emotion
    • Incidents speak for themselves without speech
    • Speech must be produced by the speaker
  • Diction – art of delivery – what are prayer, statement, threat, question, answer, etc.?
    • Not to know this is no huge crime – Homer uses a prayer as a commend to a god

20

  • Letter – indivisible sound
  • Syllable – one beat of speech
  • Connecting word – prepositions connect 2 words
  • Noun – subject, object
  • Verb – word of action
  • Inflection – in Greek grammar, changes the case of a word to change or give a word additional significance
  • Sentence/phrase – composition of words to give one or more ideas

21

  • Compound word – 2 or more words combined together to have a new or different meaning
  • Current word – word commonly used today
  • Metaphor – a concept/word not to be taken literally
  • Analogy – makes a comparison between 2 different things or ideas
  • New word – never been used before & made up by the poet
  • Lengthened word – adding extra syllables to a word
  • Altered word – recast parts of a word for a different meaning

22

  • Perfection of style – bearing clear without being too Laconic. Use proper or current words
    • Clear diction raised above commonplace & may use unusual words [strange, metaphor, etc.]
    • Style made from unusual words is a riddle if it’s made wholly of them
    • Riddle – expresses true facts under impossible combinations (only in metaphor)
    • Diction of strange terms is jargon – may be necessary
    • Deviating from normal language gives it distinction, while conformity gives it clarity
    • To use all of these types too much would be obnoxious but some use is good & gives the language distinction
    • Compounds & lengthened words help the text match or fit with the rhythm & harmony of the meter

23

  • Plot ought to be built on dramatic principles
    • Subject to have a single action
    • Whole with beginning, middle & end
    • Resembles life & gives the audience some pleasure
    • Historical events should have some basis in reality but also possibility
      • Homer’s example – Whole Trojan war wasn’t the plot – war had no beginning or end but plot focuses on one section [also w/ Cypria]

24

  • Epics must be simple, complex, ethical or pathetic
    • They have 4 of the 6 parts of tragedy – NOT song & spectacle but has reversals, recognitions, suffering [Best example is Homer]
    • Different to tragedy on scale & meter, has larger dimensions
      • Tragedy can’t have all those plot lines
      • Tragedy must confine action to players & on a stage
    • Epics’ events can occur simultaneously, if relevant – diverts the mind & conduces to grandeur, story’s relieved by episode
    • Poet shouldn’t speak for himself – only narrate
    • Many actions couldn’t occur on stage [Pursuit of Hector]
    • Homer tells lies skillfully (secret is fallacy)
      • Assume that if one thing is, then a second thing is seen to be there -> not necessarily true but the author pulls you along
      • Prefer probably impossibilities to improbably possibilities
      • Don’t compose plot with irrational parts
        • If irrational – exclude it from events/action of the play
      • Diction to be elaborated in pauses of action where there’s no character or thought

25

  • Solutions to Difficulties – must imitate 1 of 3 things
    • 1 – Things as they are or were
    • 2 – Things as they are said or thought to be
    • 3 – Things as they ought to be – using language [current, rare, metaphors]
  • 2 Kinds of faults in poetry
    • 1 – Those concerning its essence (plotholes or terrible characters or language)
    • 2 – Those concerning details (anachronisms, continuity mistakes)
      • if a poet wants to imitate something but does so incorrectly, the error is inherent in the poetry
      • if a poet makes a wrong choice – represents a horse throwing out both its off legs at once or technical inaccuracies – error is not essential
      • if a poet describes the impossible – guilty of an error but may be justified if goal is attained – embellished action
        • Does the error affect the essentials of the poem or are they accidental?
      • if a description isn’t true – could reply but they’re as they ought to be [Sophocles & Euripides] -> Is it poetically good or bad?
      • Punctuation may answer questions
      • Ambiguity needs to be cleared up
      • Make metaphors clearly understood to be metaphors
      • Contradictions should be examined with the same rules as dialectic refutation
  • 5 Critical Objections
    • Impossibility
    • Improbability
    • Morally harmful
    • Contradictory
    • Contrary to artistic correctness

26

  • Epic v Tragedy
    • High refinement appeals to better sort of audience
    • Art that imitates anything & everything is unrefined
    • Audience is supposed to be too dull to understand something on their own – restless movements by performers confuse the audience
      • Bad musicians distract physically to distract from bad play
      • Tragedy has that defeat
    • Epics addressed to a cultivated audience who don’t need gesture
      • Tragedy is lower mostly due to histrionic art – gesticulation can be overdone
      • Not all action is overdone but there are bad performers
    • Tragedies would not make good epics
      • imagine Oedipus as long as the Iliad
    • Epic has less unity – can furnish several tragedies
    • Tragedy is superior in all respects & fulfills function of better arts – produces pleasure proper to it
      • Attains its end more perfectly