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Poetics by Aristotle


by Aristotle

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Every piece has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sounds so simple. We teach students that every essay has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. But here it is being written for the first time. Art imitates life. Much of this work sounds cliched, but it is the original! ( )
  madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
Returning to my long project of reading the classics, I read Aristotle's Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford. This particular version appealed to me because it is meant to be a very literal translation:

In this translation of the *Poetics* the primary concern has been to make as literal a reproduction of Aristotle's words as is consistent with readability. I have not tried to give the treatise any grace or facility of expression which the Greek text lacks. Nor have I tried to make the translation an interpretive reconstruction of what might be presumed to be Aristotle's intention.

This book must be considered in three parts: the translation, the work itself, and the analysis.

As for the quality of the translation, I find no fault (speaking as someone with no knowledge of Ancient Greek), and the footnotes were generally very helpful in identifying the works Aristotle refers to or providing references to other sections in the text which relate to the current argument.

The work itself is very interesting. Aristotle has much to say about the proper construction of a tragedy that is applicable to writing generally, and it is astonishing to me how much of what he says is still reflected in writing advice today. Following are a few excerpts I noted.

A plot should have unity:

A plot is not a unity, as some suppose, by being about one agent, for many and indefinite things happen to one agent, some of which do not make a unity.


[Plot] ought to be imitation of action that is one and whole, and the parts of the incidents ought to be constructed in such a way that when the parts are replaced or removed the whole is dislocated and moved. For that whose presence or absence makes nothing evident is no part of the whole.

Regarding characters:

There will be character [...] if the speech or action makes it apparent that the agent has made a choice, and the character is effective if this choice is effective.

I'll leave the excerpts at that, but there are many other interesting sections throughout. There are, though, several sections much more specifically concerned with the tragedy as such--details about its structure, the use of spectacle or melody, etc.--which are of perhaps less interest as they apply less to literature in general.

Finally, the analysis.

I feel like I had a better understanding of the *Poetics* before I read the analysis. It seems to have a good, coherent framework and supports its arguments well enough, but it seems to me that it is much more concerned with showing that the argument of the *Poetics* fits that framework than with elucidating the subject of the book. There is, no doubt, some understanding to be gained by doggedly viewing every statement in the book as relating to one of the four causes of whatever is presently under discussion, but how much? I would much rather see some deeper consideration of the argument, rather than merely its form. Is Aristotle right about what best serves the catharsis of pity and fear? What can we take away from his discussion about word choice? Is he correct in his assertion that the tragedy is superior to the epic in that it is shorter? The analysis is concerned with none of these.

On the whole, I think this book was well worth reading. I have no basis for comparison of the quality of the translation, but it seemed lucid enough to me. I'd recommend anyone with an interest in literature take a look at it. I wouldn't bother struggling through the analysis, though. For what it's worth, I grant any future readers dispensation to skip that.
  Sopoforic | Apr 30, 2017 |

During the golden age of ancient Greece bards roamed the countryside mesmerizing crowds by reciting the epics of Homer. Thousands of men and women gathered and were moved to tears by tragedies performed outside in amphitheaters during sacred festivals. Such an amazingly powerful and profound experience for an entire population. What was going on here; why were people so deeply affected? Well, one of the sharpest, most analytic minds in the history of the West set himself the task of answering just this question - his name was Aristotle.

Indeed, Aristotle's Poetics is one of the greatest philosophical works ever written. For over two thousand years, philosophers, scholars and thinkers have been pouring over each phrase and sentence of the master's words as if they were nuggets of gold. There are enough commentaries to fill several thick volumes in a university library. 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).

Of course, in our contemporary world we don't listen to bards recite epics or go to amphitheaters to watch tragedies, but we have abundant experience of these dramatic elements since we, among other things, read novels and watch films. So, to provide a taste of Aristotle's work, I offer my modest comments along with quotes from the text. Please take this as an invitation to explore the Poetics on your own. Below is a link to a fine translation and a second link to an extraordinarily clear, brief, easy-to follow commentary.

"Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. . . . to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general" ---------- Ah, pleasure! And pleasure in learning about life through imitation/fiction. Even if the story involves a Siberian prison camp or an insane chase of a white whale, there is a kind of pleasure in identifying with a character and living through the character's plight. Our humanness is enriched.

"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude." ---------- The Maltese Falcon begins with very serious action: a murder. And the story is complete since at the end the case is solved and the criminals answer for their crimes. How many novels and films follow this formula? Round to the nearest million.

"Now as tragic imitation implies persons acting, it necessarily follows in the first place, that Spectacular equipment will be a part of Tragedy." ---------- Even back in ancient Greece, Aristotle acknowledge how special effects can really juice the action.

"The most powerful elements of emotional interest in Tragedy- Peripeteia or Reversal of the Situation, and Recognition scenes- are parts of the plot." ---------- I don't know about you, but I recall with the film Gone Girl my interest would ratchet up a few notches with every reversal and recognition. I can just imagine Gillian Flynn pouring over her Aristotle.

"The greater the length, the more beautiful will the piece be by reason of its size, provided that the whole be perspicuous." ---------- When I go to a three hour movie or pick up a nine hundred page novel, my first thought: this had better be good. And when it is good, a great pay-off for time spent.

"Tragedy is an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity." ---------- Admit it, we remember most those times when we are emotionally wrenched.

Poetics, on line: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html

Commentary: http://www.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/aristotle/gloss/gloss1.html

( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
A translation of Aristotle's Poetics with a lengthy commentary by Samuel Henry Butcher, a distinguished English Classicist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is an addition "Prefatory Essay" by John Gassner.
  Martin.Arbagi | Oct 26, 2015 |
  OberlinSWAP | Jul 20, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (97 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aristotleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Apostle, Hippocrates G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ģiezens, AugustsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ģiezens, AugustsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ķemere, InāraEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ben, N. van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bremer, J.M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Butcher, Samuel H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bywater, IngramEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bywater, IngramTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobbs, Elizabeth A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donini, PierluigiEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dorsch, T.S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Epps, Preston H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fuhrmann, ManfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gassner, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gigon, OlofTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Groh, FrantišekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenny, AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lāms, OjārsForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nahm, Milton C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parslow, Morris A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saarikoski, PenttiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Telford, Kenneth A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tyrwhitt, T.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Von der Dichtkunst selbst und von ihren Gattungen, welche Wirkung eine jede hat und wie man die Handlungen zusammenfügen muß, wenn die Dichtung gut sein soll, ferner aus wie vielen und was für Teilen eine Dichtung besteht, und ebenso auch von den anderen Dingen, die zu demselben Thema gehören, wollen wir hier handeln, indem wir der Sache gemäß zuerst das untersuchen, was das erste ist.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140446362, Paperback)

‘The plot is the source and the soul of tragedy’

In his near-contemporary account of Greek tragedy, Aristotle examines the dramatic elements of plot, character, language and spectacle that combine to produce pity and fear in the audience, and asks why we derive pleasure from this apparently painful process. Taking examples from the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the Poetics introduces into literary criticism such central concepts as mimesis (‘imitation’), hamartia (‘error’), and katharsis (‘purification’). Aristotle explains how the most effective tragedies rely on complication and resolution, recognition and reversals, centring on characters of heroic stature, idealized yet true to life. One of the most powerful, perceptive and influential works of criticism in Western literary history, the Poetics has informed serious thinking about drama ever since.

Malcolm Heath’s lucid English translation makes the Poetics fully accessible to the modern reader. It is accompanied by an extended introduction, which discusses the key concepts in detail and includes suggestions for further reading.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:55 -0400)

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Among the most influential books in Western civilization, the Poetics is really a treatise on fine art. It offers seminal ideas on the nature of drama, tragedy, poetry, music, and more, including such concepts as catharsis, the tragic flaw, unities of time and place and other rules of drama. This inexpensive edition enables readers to enjoy the critical insights of one humanity's greatest minds laying the foundations for thought about the arts.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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McGill-Queen's University Press

2 editions of this book were published by McGill-Queen's University Press.

Editions: 0773516123, 0773516115

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