Introduction Epic and tragic poetry, comedy too, dithyrambic poetry, and most music composed for the flute and the lyre, can all be described in general terms as forms of imitation or representation. However, they differ from one another in three respects: either in using different media for the representation, or in representing them in entirely different ways. 1 One should not be called a poe...
Epic and tragic poetry, comedy too, dithyrambic poetry, and most music composed for the flute and the lyre, can all be described in general terms as forms of imitation or representation. However, they differ from one another in three respects: either in using different media for the representation, or in representing them in entirely different ways.
1 One should not be called a poet for sake of meter alone, which alas is the tendency in Aristotle’s time, but for his capability of imitation.
“Yet Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common except their metre,and therefore, while it is right to call the one a poet, the other should rather be called a natural philosopher than a poet.”
2 This is the difference that marks the distinction between comedy and tragedy; for comedy aims at presenting men as worse than they are nowadays, tragedy as better.
3 For it is possible, using the same medium, to represemt the same subjects in a variety of ways.
Thus in one sense Sophocles might be called an imitator of the same kind as Homer, for they both represent good men; in another sense he is like Aristophanes, in that they both represent men in action, men actually doing things.
Certain Dorians of the Peloponnese lay claim also to poetry. They regard the names as proof of their belief, pointing out that, whereas the Athenians call outlying villages demoi, they themselves call them komai,so that comedians take their names, not from komazein, ‘to revel’, but from their touring in the komai when lack of appreciation drove them from the city. Furthermore., their word for ‘to do’ is dran, whereas the Athenian word is prattein.
4 The origins and development of poetry
The creation of poetry generally is due to two causes, the instinct for imitation and a feeling for music, rhythm. Metres are obviously detached sections of rhythm.
But just as Homer was the supreme poet in the serious style, standing alone both in excellence of composition and in the dramatic quality of his representations of life, so also, in the dramatic character that he imparted, not to invective, but to his treatment of the ridiculous, he was the first to indicate the forms that comedy was to assume; for his Margites bears the same relationship to our comedies as his Iliad and Odyssey bear to our tragedies. When tragedy appeared, those whose natural aptitude inclined them towards the one kind of poetry wrote comedies instead of lampoons, and those who were drawn to the other wrote tragedies instead of epics; for these new forms were both grander and more highly regarded than the earlier.
Both tragedy and comedy had their first beginnings in improvisation. The one originated with those who led the dithyramb, the other with the leaders of the phallic songs which still survive today as traditional institutions in many of our cities. Aeschylus was the first to increase the number of actors from one to two, cut fown the role of the chorus, and give the first place to the dialogue. Sophocles introduced three actors and painted scenery. As for the grandeur of tragedy, it was not until late that it acquired its characteristic stateliness, when, progressing beyond the methods of satiric drama, it discarded slight plots and comic diction, and its metre changed from the trochaic tetrameter to the iambic. At first the poet had used the tetrameter because they were writing satyr-poetry, which was more closely related to the dance; but once dialogue had been introduced, by its very nature it hit upon the right measure, for the iambic is of all measures the one best suited to speech.This is shown by the fact that we most usually drop into iambics in our conversation with one another, whereas we seldom talk in hexameter, and then only when we depart from the normal tone of conversation.
5 epic compared with tragedy
1 They differ, however, in that epic keeps to a single metre and is in narrative form.
2 length. Tragedy tries as far as possible to keep within a single revolution of the sun, or only slightly to exceed it, whereas the epic observes no limits in its time of action-although at first the practice in this respect was the same in tragedies as in epics. All the elements of epic are found in trgedy, though not everything that belongs to tragedy is to be found in epic.
6 In tragedy it is action that is imitated, and this action is brought about by agents who necessatily display certain distinctive qualities both of character and of thought, according to which we also define the nature of the actions. Thought and character are, then, the two natural causes of actions, and it is on them that all men depend for success or failure. The representation of the action is the plot of the tragedy; for the ordered arrangement of the incidents is what I mean by plot.
Necessarily, then. Every tragedy has six constituents, which will determine its quality. They are plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song. Of these elements the most important is the plot, the ordering of the incidents; for tragedy is a representation, not of men, but of action and life, of happiness and unhappiness—and happiness are bound up with action. …that the two most important means by which tragedy plays on our feelings, that is, ‘ reversals’ and ‘recognitions’ , are both constituents of the plot.
7 I have already laid down that tragedy is the representation of an action that is complete and whole and of a certain amplitude---for a thing may be whole and yet lack amplitude. Now a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Furthermore, whatever is beautiful, whether it be a living creature or an object made up of various parts, must necessarily not only have its parts properly ordered, but also be of an appropriate size, for beauty is bound up with size and order.
Now in just the same way as living creatures and organisms compounded of many parts must be of a reasonable size, so that they can be easily taken in by the eye, so too plots must be of a reasonable length, so that they may be easily held in the memory. The limits in length to be observed, in as far as they concern performance on the stage, have nothing to do with the dramatic art; for if a hundred tragedies had to be performed in the dramatic contests, they would be regulated in length by the water-clock, as indeed it is said they were at one time. With regard to the limit set by the nature of the action, the longer the story is the more beautiful it will be, provided that it is quite clear. To give a simple definition, a length which, as a matter either of probability or of necessity, allows of a change from misery to happiness or from happiness to misery is the proper limit of length to be observed.
8 Unity of plot important for my own use!! Similar to Poe’s theory
A plot does not possess unity, as some people suppose, merely because it is about one man.
In writing his Odyssey he did not put in everything that happened to Odysseus, that he was wounded on Mount Parnassus, for example, or that he feigned madness a the time of the call to arms, for it was not a matter of necessity or probability that either of these incidents should have led to the other; on the contrary, he constructed the Odyssey round a single action of the kind I have spoken of, and he did this with Iliad too. Thus, just as in the other imitative arts each individual representation is the representation of a single object, so too the plot of a play, being the representation of an action, must present it as a unified whole; and its various incidents mustbe so arranged that if any one of them is differently placed or taken away the effect of wholeness will be seriously disrupted. For if the presence or effect of wholeness will be seriously disrupted. For if the presence or absence of something makes no apparent difference, it is no real part of the whole.
9 It will be clear from what I have said that it is not the poet’s function to describe what has actually happened, but the kinds of thing that might happen, that is , that could happen because they are, in the circumstances, either probable or necessary. The differences between historian and the poet is not that the one writes in prose and the other in verse; the work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and in this metrical form it would be no less a kind of history than it is without metre. The difference is that the one tells of what has happened, the other of the kinds of things that might happen. For this reason poetry is something more philosophical and more worthy of serious attention than history; for while poetry is concerned with universal truths, history treats of particular facts.
By universal truths are to be understood the kinds of thing a certain type of person will probably or necessarily say or do in a given situation; and this is the aim of poetry, although it gives individual names to its characters.
By now this distinction has become clear where comedy is concerned, for comic poets build up their plots out of probable occurances, and then add any names that occur to them; they do not, like the iambic poets, write about actual people. In tragedy, on the other hand, the authors keep to the names of real people, the reason being that what is possible is credible. Whereas we cannot be certain of the possibility of something that has not happened, what has happened is obviously possible, for it would not have happened if this had not been so.
What I have said makes it obvious that the poet must be a maker of plots rather than of verses, since he is a poet by virtue of his representation, and what he represents is actions. And even if he writes about things that have actually happened, that does not make him any the less a poet, for there is nothing to prevent some of the things that have happened from being in accordance with the laws of possibility and probability, and thus he will be a poet in writing about them.
Of simple plots and actions those that are episodic are the worst. By an episodic plot I mean one in which the sequence of the episodes is neither probable nor necessary.
However, tragedy is the representation not only of a complete action, but also of incidents that awaken fear and pity, and effects of this kind are heightened when things happen unexpectedly as well as logically, for then they will be more remarkable than if they seem merely mechanical or accidental.
10A complex action is one in which the change is accompanied by a discovery or a reversal, or both.
12 The prologue is the whole of that part of a tragedy that precedes the parode, or first entry of the Chorus. An episode is the whole of that part of a tragedy that comes between complete choral songs. The exode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which is not followed by a song of the Chorus. In the choral sections the parode is the whole of the first utterance of the Chorus, and a stasimon is a choral song without anapaests or trochees. A ‘commos’ is a passage of lament in which both Chorus and actors take part.
13 …for our pity is awakened by undeserved misfortune, and our fear by that of someone just like ourselves----pity for the undeserving sufferer and fear for the man like ourselves
Inevitably, then, the well-conceived plot will have a single interest, and not, as some say, a double. The change in fortune will be, not from misery to properity, but the reverse, from prosperity to misery, and it will be due, not to depravity, but to some great error either in such a man as I have described or in one better than this ,but not worse.
Euripides, faulty as is his management of other points, is nevertheless regarded as the most tragic of our dramatic poets.
14 Fear and pity may be excited by means of spectacle; but they can also take their rise from the very structure of the action, which is the preferable method and the mark of a better dramatic poet.
Now if a man injures his enemy, there is nothing pitiable either in his act or his intention, except in so far as suffering is inflicted; nor is there if they are indifferent to each other. But when the sufferings involve those who are near and dear to one another, when for example brother kills brother, son father, mother son, or son mother, or if such a deed is contemplated, or something else of the kind is actually done, then we have a situation of the kind to be aimed at.
15 In characterization there are four things to aim at. First and foremost, the characters should be good. ..In the second place the portrayal should be appropriate. For example, a character may possess manly qualities, but it is not appropriate that a female character should be given manliness or cleverness.
Thirdly, the characters should be lifelike…And fourthly, they should be consistent. 16 Of all the forms of discovery, the best is that which is brought about by the incidents themselves, when the startling disclosure results from events that are probable, as happens in Sophocles’s Oedipus, and again in the Iphigenia—for it was quite probable that she should wish to send off a letter.
17 In putting together his plots and working out the kind of speech to go with them, the poet should as far as possible keep the scene before his eye.
As far as possible, too, the dramatic poet should carry out the appropriate gestures as he composes his speeches, for of writers with equal abilities those who can actually make themselves feel the relevant emotions will be the most convincing-agitation or rage will be most vividly reproduced by one who is himself agitated or in a passion. Hence poetry is the product either of a man of great natural ability or of one not wholly sane; the one is highly responsive, the other possessed.
As for the stories, whether he is taking over something ready-made or inventing for himself, the poet should first plan in general outline, and then expand by working out appropriate episodes.
18 Every tragedy has its complication and its denouement.
There are four kinds of tragedy, a number corresponding to that of the constituent parts that I spoke about. There is complex tragedy, which depends entirely on reversal and discovery; tragedy of suffering, as in the various plays on Ajax or Ixion; tragedy of character, as in The Phthiotides and the Peleus; and fourthly, spectacular tragedy, as in The Phorcides, in the Prometheus, and in the plays with scenes in Hades.
20 Language in general is made up of the following parts: the letter, the syllable, the connecting word, the article, the noun, the verb, the inflexion or case, and the phrase or proposition.
A verb is a composite of sounds with a meaning; it is concerned with time, and as was the case with nouns, none of its individual parts has a meaning in its own right. The words ‘man’ and ’white’ give no indication of time, but ‘walks’ and ‘has walked’ indicate respectively present and past time.
21 I explain metaphor by analogy as what may happen when of four things the second stands in the same relationship to the first as the fourth to the third; for then one many speak of the fourth instead of the second, and the second instead of the fourth. And sometimes people will add to the metaphor a qualification appropriate to the term which has been replaced. Thus, for example, a cup stands in the same relationship to Dionysus’s shield and the shield Ares’s cup. Or again, old age is to life as evening is to day, and so one may call the evening the old age of the day, or name it as Empedocles named it; and one may call old age the evening of life or the sunset of life.
22 The greatest virtue of diction is to be clear without being commonplace. The clearest diction is that which consisted of words in everyday use, but it is commonplace, as can be ssen in the poetry of Cleophon and Sthenelus.
This is the one thing that cannot be learnt from anyone else, and it is the mark of great natural ability, for the ability to use metaphor well implies a perception of resemblances.
24 Experience has shown that the heroic hexameter is the right meter for epic.
The marvelous should of course be represented in tragedy, but epic poetry, where the persons acting the story are not before our eyes, may include more of the inexplicable, which is the chief element in the marvelous. If it were brought to the stage there would be something ridiculous about the pursuit of Hector…The marvelous is a source of pleasure…The diction should be elaborated only in ‘neutral’ sections, that is, in passages where neither character nor thought is in question, for diction that is too brilliant may obscure the presentation of character and thought.
25 There are, then, five grounds on which a passage may be censured: that it is impossible , irrational, immoral, inconsistent, or technically at fault. And the answers are to be studied in the light of the twelve criteria that I have already enumerated.
26 in this chapter, Aristotle expressed his belief that tragedy is a better form of art than epic.