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On Plot Construction and the Portrayal of Character: Poetics Chapter 15 and Associated Texts (c) 2013 Bart A.


Note on the order of the text On the proper placement of Chapter 15 with respect to the constitution of the text, cf. the following excerpt from my paper Perfect and Whole: Aristotles Poetics on the Structure of the Plot (Papers In Poetics 1), p. 5: First of all, the proper order of treatment to be observed in the remainder of the Poetics through Chapter 18 is indicated by the conclusion concerning the qualitative parts of tragedy which Aristotle reaches in Chapter 6 (1450a 9-11):
...[T]here must therefore be six parts to every tragedy according to which tragedy is of a certain sort: and these are plot, characters, language, [10] thought, appearance, and song.

As Aristotle goes on to explain, first comes plot, second is character, and third is thought.1 One would therefore naturally expect the discussion that follows to conform to this order. But if so, one can easily see that Chapter 15, being concerned with character, coming as it does while the handling of plot is ongoing, is out of place; 2 its natural place being immediately after the treatment of the plot has been completed, and not somewhere in the middle. POETICS, CH. 15: REVISED VERSION 1. Poetics ch. 15 (1454a 16-29) (tr. B.A.M.):
With respect to the characters [ethe] there are four things one should aim at, first and foremost, that they be good [chrestos].3 Now one will have character [ethos] if, as has been said,4 by speech or action he make clear what his choice is; and a good [character] if a good [choice]. But there is [20] [something good, to chrestos] in each kind; for a woman is5 good, and a slave, though perhaps of these the one is inferior, the other wholly base. Second, [is] appropriateness [to prepon]; for a character is [may be?] manly, but it is not appropriate to a woman to be either manly or clever. Third, [that it be] like [ to homoion].6 For this is not the same as making a character [25] good and appropriate in the manner already stated. Fourth, [that it be] consistent [to homalon]. For even if someone inconsistent offer himself for imitation, (supposing there to be such a character), still, he must be consistently inconsistent.

2. Poetics ch. 15 (1454b 7-14) (tr. B.A.M.) (text moved from below):

1 2

Cf. 1450a 37 ff. That language is given third in the initial listing is probably due to a copyists error. [footnote omitted] 3 For to chrestos as meaning good of its kind, see further below. 4 Cf. ch. 6 (1450b 9-12): But character [thos] is that which choice [proairesin] reveals; <that is,> what sort of thing <> one [10] chooses or avoids. Consequently those speeches have no character in which it is not entirely <clear> what the speaker chooses or avoids. 5 Or may be, according to a variant reading. 6 As Aristotle will go on to explain, what is homoios or like arises from the assigning of the proper form in making likenesses; things being like which agree in form (cf. S. Th. Ia q. 4, art. 3, c.); that is to say, in order to be like, the form the imitator assigns must be the very form of the thing being imitated, so that that original is recognizable, in which case the portrayal will include any character flaws belonging to its subject.

But since a tragedy is an imitation of what is better, 1 we must imitate good [10] portrait painters; for, assigning the proper form when making likenesses, they depict them more beautiful [than they are]. So, too, the poet imitating those too quick to anger and too slow, or those having other such traits of character, should make them reasonable too, yet good, as Agatho and [15] Homer do Achilles, who is an example of obstinacy.2

3. Poetics ch. 15 (1454a 29-33) (tr. B.A.M.):

Now, an example of unnecessary wickedness of character, for instance, is Menelaus in the Orestes;3 but [30] of the unseemly and inappropriate, the lament of Odysseus in the Scylla;4 and the <inappropriately clever> speech of Melanippe;5 <of unlikeness, .;>6 but of inconsistency, Iphigenia at Aulis;7 for in no way does the suppliant [earlier in the drama] resemble her later self.

4. Poetics ch. 15 (1454a 331454b 9) (tr. B.A.M.):

But it is necessary in the characters in exactly the same way as in the construction of the things done [pragmaton sustasei] always to seek what is either necessary or likely [35], so that it be either necessary or likely that such and such a man say or do such and such a thing, and that it be either necessary or likely that this happen after that.

Cf. ch. 25 (61b 12-14): And things of the kind that Zeuxis painted are impossible but better; for the pattern must surpass [the true]. In addition to treating the problem of the impossible here, note also that the next point made concerns that of the blabera or morally harmful, which also comes under the problem of the irrational, as I explain further below. 2 Since the portrait must be good, as well as like, and since tragedy is an imitation of those who are better than we are, it must have a goodness that is also betteryet (as noted above) one that does not exclude certain traits of character that are failings; those, namely, that are found in the noble or elevated, such as being too quick to anger, which render them inconsistent. Hence if a critic were to fault a poet for making his characters heroic when men typically are not, one might reply that such a portrait is like the original, since it is proper to tragedy and epic to represent men who are better than we are. Similarly, he will portray characters with titanic failings without being worthy of censure, as to be obstinate belongs to Achilles. Cf. Ingram Bywater, Aristotle On the Art of Poetry. A Revised Text with Critical Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Oxford, 1909), p. 231, on 1454b 8: At this point, Aristotle returns to the subject of h)=qh. .He shows that the corresponding difficulty has been solved in a sister art, that of the portrait-painter, who without sacrificing the likeness makes a man look handsomer than he is ( o(moi/ouj poiou=ntej kalli/ouj gra/fousin); so that, if the painter can do this, there is no reason why the literary artist also should not be able to represent a tragic personage truthfully, with any infirmities of character which form part of the received idea of him (o)rgi/louj kai\ r(#qu/mouj kai\ ta=lla ta\ toiau=ta e)/xontaj e)pi\ tw=n h)qiw=n b 12), and at the same time as a good man (e)piekei=j b 13). Hence, he will have a goodness that is better than that of most men. 3 On this example, see further below. 4 Cf. Malcolm Heath, Aristotle: Poetics (London, 1996 [Penguin Classics]), n. 61, p. 54: A dithyramb (also mentioned at 61b32) by Timotheus (48a15 and n. 9) which portrayed Odysseus lamenting the loss of his comrades, eaten by the monster Scylla (cf. Odyssey, 12.234-59). 5 Here, the requirement that character be good is at issue. For Melanippe, see further below. 6 the portrayal of Socrates by those other than Plato: For thus we deride most of those, except Plato, who have written the Apology of Socrates, as not preserving the Socratic manner in their composition. (Proclus, Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato [1829 Vol. 1]. Translated by Thomas Taylor. p. 54.) As one may see from my treatment of the dialogue-form, the foregoing passage is clearly indebted to Aristotle. 7 Cf. Malcolm Heath, op. cit., n. 63, p. 54: In Euripides Iphigeneia in Aulis Iphigeneias first reaction on learning that she is to be sacrificed to Artemis to secure the Greek armys passage to Troy is to plead for her life (1211-52); but later she patriotically embraces her fate (1368-1401).

It is clear, then, that the resolution of plots should happen from the plot itself [1454b] and not <from the character>,1 as in the Medea, by a contrivance, and in the <Iphigeneia at Aulis>,2 the things surrounding the departure of the ships. Rather, a contrivance should be used for things outside the drama, either for whatever has happened before and which it is beyond the power of men to know, or such things as are to come after [5] and require foretelling and reporting; for the power to see all things we grant to the gods as their due. But there should be nothing irrational in <the complication of> the incidents; but if there is, it should be outside the tragedy, like that in the Oedipus of Sophocles.3 <intervening passage moved above>4

5. Poetics ch. 15 (1454b 15-18) (tr. B.A.M.):

One, then, should look out for these things, and, in addition to them, impressions on the senses that go beyond those necessarily attendant on the poetic art;5 for, with respect to them, quite often there is occasion for making a mistake. But enough has been said about these things in our published discourses.6

N.B. On the poets aiming at a sensational effect, cf. N. J. Richardson, Aristotles Reading of Homer and its Background, in Robert Lamberton and John J. Keaney (edd.), Homers Ancient Readers: The Hermeneutics of Greek Epics Earliest Exegetes. Princeton, 1992), p. 39:
This advantage in epic is linked to its narrative mode, because events do not have to be enacted visually, and also gives greater scope to the marvellous ( to\ qaumasto/n), as in the pursuit of Hector (which would be impossible on the stage). Here Aristotle picks up the criticisms by earlier readers (Pindar, Thucydides, etc.) of the tendency of epic poetry to exaggeration, but makes a special poetic virtue of this. He links it with Homers exceptional skill in creating plausible fictions, which is based on the accumulation of enough realistic circumstantial detail to make his fantasies credible, again (presumably) a particular feature of the more leisurely descriptive and narrative mode of epic as opposed to tragedy.

In fact, Aristotle recognizes that Homer uses all the above-mentioned means to evoke wonder, and not just the paralogism. On this point, cf. [Plutarch], Essay on the Life and Poetry of Homer. ed. J.J. Keaney & Robert Lamberton (Atlanta, 1996) (tr. rev. B.A.M.), n. 6, pp. 69-70.

That character was mentioned here is indicated by Richard Jankos note ad loc.: The Arabic reads character itself but this is clearly a mistake (Aristotles Poetics I [Indianapolis-Cambridge, 1987], p. 111). 2 For this reading, see my note below. It should be noted that while it may not be possible to discover from the available evidence the precise incident Aristotle has in mind here, his immediate point is clear. 3 Cf. the example given above of Oedipus not knowing how Laius died. Note how the foregoing argument moves from what is impossible in the portrayal of character, taken in reference to the resolution of plots, to what is irrational in the makeup of the incidents, taken in reference to their complication, albeit the latter word has fallen out of the text. 4 N.B. Note how the removal of the passage concerning the making of likenesses (for which, cf. n. 2 above) clears the way for a seamless transition to Aristotles final point, on the aim of the poetic art as such. 5 On this matter see my note following this excerpt. 6 Presumably, in his dialogue On Poets.

In general, he [Homer] cultivates a narration of things [diegesis ton pragmaton] unexpected and fabulous [or surprising and mythical; paradoxos kai muthodes] in order to fill his audience with anxiety and wonder [agonias kai thaumatos] and make the listeners experience deeply moving [ekplektikon]. This seems to be why he has said some things that are highly improbable [para to eikos], since credibility [to pithanon] does not always follow when a narrative has been endowed with the [69-70] unexpected and the exalted [paradoxos kai epermenon]. For this reason he not only el-evates events and removes them from the habitual [tes sunetheias], but does the same with words. It is clear to everyone that that which is new and outside the realm of the everyday [kaina kai exo tou procheirou] evokes wonder and captivates the imagination of the listener. Even in these fabulous passages [ en tois muthedesi logois], if one considers carefully and not superficially the specific things he said, it becomes clear that he was adept at every kind of wisdom and skill and provides the starting points and so to speak the seeds of all kinds of discourse and action for those who come after him, not only for the poets but for writers of prose as well.

N.B. I now proceed to my explanatory notes.

1. The requirement that character be chrestos, or good of its kind: Cf. D. S. Margoliouth, The Poetics of Aristotle. Translated from the Greek into English and from Arabic into Latin, with a revised text, introduction, commentary, glossary and onomasticon (London, New York, Toronto, 1911), pp. 33-36:
Clause 3[1] gives very little trouble when we have learned the meaning of a)kolouqei=n, which is not explained at all [33-34] in Liddell and Scott, and is unsatisfactorily glossed by Bonitz. It is a technicality of logic, meaning to come after in the order of thought, i.e. to be the genus of a species1 or the species of an individual.2 Of these species only is character regularly the genus is an intelligible expression. Its meaning is only thus can character be regularly classified. Of any character we may say that it is relatively good or bad, but not necessarily anything else. But is this true? It is, if we accept the doctrine of the Categories, the Ethics and the Politics. The authors comment on it later in this book is even a woman or a slave may be good; although women are inferior beings and slaves generally worthless. The doctrine of privation is expressed by the formula: he only is blind who was intended by nature to see. He only is miserly who was intended to be generous; unchaste who was intended to be chaste; low-minded who was intended to be high-minded. But according to the Politics the capacity for complete virtue is to be found only in the ruler of the state [1260a 17]; the capacity diminishes the farther people are removed from the top. If the proper sphere of courage is war [Nic. Ethics 1115a 30], then those who do not fight cannot be divided into comparatively courageous and cowardly. Those who have no honour

Defined in Sophistici Elenchi 181 a 23, 24. e)/sti ditte\ h( tw+=n e)pome/nwn a\kolou/qhsij h) ga\r w(j t%= me/rei to\ kaqo/lou oi)=on a)nqrw/p% z%=on either as general to particular, e.g. animal to man. (The other is based on the Law of Contradiction.) This use pervades the logic, e.g. Topics 113 b 31 t$= a)ndrei/a a)reth\ a)kolouqe=i courage is a virtue. 128 b 4 o(j ge/nouj tou= a)ei\ a)kolouthou=ntoj . Numerous cases of it and e(/pesqai in Prior Analytics 43 b 44a. 2 De Generatione Animalium 768 b 13, pa=sin a)kolouqei= tou=to (to\ a)/nqropoj) toi=j kaq e/(kaston Man is the species of all the individuals. [34-35] cannot be classified chaste or unchaste; those who have no property cannot be comparatively liberal or miserly. Hence by the time we get to the bottom of the state the capacity for one virtue after another has been eliminated; but even so there is comparative goodness and

Cf. p. 30 of this work: In another class of cases the need of the teachers help is no less real, but only the careful reader will feel it. These are cases in which we have a series of propositions that are apparently untrue or unmeaning. What senseto take a paragraph near the commencement of the Poetics ( 2)will the following convey to the ordinary reader of Greek?
e)pei\ de\ mimou=ntai oi( mimou/menoi pra/ttontaj, a)na/gce de\ tou/touj h)\ spoudai/ouj h)\ fau/louj ei)=nai, ta\ ga\r h)\qh sxedo\n a)ei\ tou/toij a)xolouthei= mo/noij xaxi/a ga\r xai\ a)ret$= ta\ h)\qh diafe/rousi pa/ntej, h)/toi belti/onaj, x.t.l.

We begin with a plain and honest amateur translation. (1) Now since the imitators imitate men in action, and these must be either virtuous or vicious men, for character almost always follows these only, [= clause 3] for all men differ in character by vice and virtue.

badness, because the humblest member of the state has a function to fulfil, and virtue is what makes him fulfil it well. The fourth clause gives the reason for the last proposition, and means neither that every persons character is good or bad, nor that no two persons characters are equally good or bad, but that where there is difference of character it is a question of relative goodness and badness. And from this the previous proposition follows. If the difference between (say) cameras is in size, the only classification of them is into comparatively large and small, i.e. a trichotomy by standard. The theory involved is that a genus has one ultimate differentia only, which is stated in the Physics [189a 13]. If for character we substitute the literal rendering in their moral qualities or in any moral quality this assertion will seem less hazardous; for in comparing A with B we should say A is (perhaps) less courageous than B, but more just. And so we are told that a courageous woman would make a cowardly man, but a chaste man a loose woman. The moral qualities have, however, relative importance [Topics 117a 35], whence it is possible to sum up, and assert that a woman is worse than a man. But just as a definition of hardness can be given, viz. what has been quoted above, so there is a definition of moral virtue, viz. choosing according to right reason in matters of pleasure and pain. The extent to which that is requisite is determined by ones place in society, [35-36] whence, as has been seen, potential virtue varies with social position. The true principle of classification is to find the contrariety of the genus [Topics 143a 35; Metaphysics 1037b 20]. And this must be that wherein members of the genus, qua members of it, differ [Metaphysics 1038a 15]. This then is the problem which this sentence solves. (emphasis added)

On chrestos as meaning good of its kind, cf., Proper 9A:1

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 Exegetical Notes 1. 11:30 For my yoke is easy. The Greek word for easy is chrestos (one letter different than Christ!). It appears six additional places in the New Testament and, in the NRSV, is variously translated as: The old [wine] is good (Luke 5:39); for [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35); Do you not realize that Gods kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4); Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor. 15:33); be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32); tasted that the Lord is good (1 Pet. 2:3). In short, everywhere else it is translated as either good or kind. From the Friberg Lexicon: with a basic meaning being well adapted to fulfill a purpose, i.e. useful, suitable, excellent; (1) of things good, easy, pleasant; of requirements easy (MT .30); comparative, better, more pleasant (LU 5.39); morally upright, suitable, good (1C 15.33); of value superior, better (LU 5.39); (2) of persons kind, obliging, benevolent (EP 4.32); of God gracious, good (1P 2.3); (3) neuter as a substantive to chreston, kindness (RO 2.4). The TDNT article on chrestos (9:483ff.) distinguishes it from agathos, good, in that the former is always relational. Agathos can stand for the good in an ideal or formal sense, while chrestos is always comparative: good of its kind. In the context of Matt. 11:30, then, Jesus yoke does not represent the ideal good; it is good in comparison to other yokes.

( [9/14/10]) Last revised: June 20, 2005

On Aristotles example of the portrayal of Melanippe, cf. Seth Benardete and Michael Davis, Aristotle On Poetics (South Bend, 2002), footnote 95:
This seems to allude to Euripides Melanippe the Wise fragment 484 (Nauck): The tale is not mine, but from my mother. Sky and Earth were once one shape, but when they separated from one another, they gave birth to all things and put them into the light trees, birds, the beasts the sea supports, and the race of mortals. Another possibility is fragment 506 (Nauck), which may be from the same play, but with Melanippe speaking: Do you imagine that injustices leap with wings to the gods, and then someone writes them down in the leaves of the table of Zeus, and Zeus, on inspecting them, passes judgment [justice] on mortals? Not even the whole sky would suffice were Zeus to write up the mistakes of mortals, any more than he could, by inspection, send the penalty to each, but Justice [Dik] is somewhere hereabouts, if you want to look.

On the objectionable portrayal of the gods, cf. Gerard Nadaff, Allegory and the Origins and Development of Philosophy From the Presocratics to the Enlightenment, Canadian Philosophical Association Presidential Address delivered at York University, May 29, 2006:1
We are all familiar with Xenophanes (c. 570-470BC) scathing remarks with regard to Homer and Hesiods portrayal of the traditional gods: Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods every kind of behavior that among men is the object of reproach: stealing, adultery, and cheating each other (DK21B11). This remark was the first known salvo in what Plato later calls the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry (Republic 607b5). The criticism Xenophanes directed against the two Greek icons and their crass anthropomorphism centres on the idea that if the gods do indeed behave this way, then there is no reason to worship them. Indeed, their portrayal of the gods is socially irresponsible, for it fosters social disharmony and civil strife.

Cf. also Robert Guay, Study Guide Republic Book II, True and false lies:2
There are a number of arguments that Socrates makes in criticism of poetry. One set of arguments tries to establish that the traditional stories about the gods, for example those by Homer, are false. The other set of arguments tries to establish that the traditional stories should not be told, even if they were true. (He also argues that the traditional stories are not consistent with one another (380c), but that is not a property of any particular poem.) Some stories give a bad image of what the gods and heroes are like, the way a painter does whose picture is not at all like the things hes trying to paint (337d-e). Just as an image can imitate its subject-matter accurately or inaccurately, so stories paint accurate and inaccurate pictures of gods and heroes. [= failing to be like (B.A.M.)] How gods and heroes are depicted is centrally important, of course, because they are the moral exemplars: the ones that everyone aspires to be like. Socrates argues that it must be false to depict gods as doing harm: since a god is good, he is not . . . the cause of everything that happens to human beings, but only of good ones (379c). Socrates also argues that it must be false to depict the gods as willing to be false, either in word or deed, by presenting an illusion (382a). Not only do the good gods not cause harm, they also never tell a lie.3
1 2

( [2/13/07]) ( - Supplemental Result [5/11/04]) 3 It should be noted that in Poetics ch. 25, Aristotle defends the poets right to tell such stories by appealing to the rationale that, although it is neither true nor better to say so, yet so they say, such as the things men say about the gods, as in the view of Xenophanes (cf. 1460b 361461a 1, tr. B.A.M.).

Stories can also be defective in terms of the effects that they produce. Poetry becomes dangerous when it convinces someone that in committing the worst crimes hes doing nothing out of the ordinary [3-4] (378b); by contrast, says Socrates, were to persuade our people that no citizen has ever hated another and that its impious to do so (378c). This desired effect of poetry becomes important when it comes to distinguishing between a true falsehood and an imitation of it in words. A true falsehood is not a kind of statement, but ignorance in the soul of someone who has been told a falsehood (382b). Care for the soul is introduced as primarily important; what one is told only derivatively so. We know this to be the case because verbal falsehoods can sometimes be beneficial; they can be a useful drug for curing peoples souls. It may even turn out that lies, of the derivative sense, are necessary for the establishment of a just city. (emphasis added)

On objectionable portrayals in general, cf. Helene P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton, 2001), p. 13:
In Aristophanes Frogs, the poet Aeschylus complains that Euripides has made tragedy democratic by allowing his women and slaves to talk as well as the master of the house (94952). Plutarch (De Audiendis Poetis 28a) objects to the highly rhetorical accusations made by Euripides Phaedra and Helen (in Trojan Women), and the Christian writer Origen reports that Euripides was mocked for endowing barbarian women and slave girls with philosophical opinions (Contra Celsum 7.36.34-36; see Aristotle, Poetics 6.1454a31-33 [= the inconsistency of Iphigeneia], discussed in III.1). Plato complains of the dangers of the theatrical impersonation of social inferiors such as women and slaves and of feminine emotions (Republic 10.605c10 -e6). (emphasis added)

That the morally harmful is also unseemly, and therefore irrational, is evident from the following text: Cf. Aristotle, Nic. Eth., IV, 6 (1123a 32-33) (tr. H. G. Apostle, rev. B.A.M.):
Now these habits1 are vices, but they do not carry censure [oneide] with them because they are neither harmful [blabera] to others nor very unseemly [or indecent, aschemones].

Hence, those vices which are worthy of censure are blabera or aschemones, and so to be blabera (harmful) is to be a vice that is worthy of censure; but such a thing is also achemones (unseemly), which is also objected to on the grounds that it is alogos, unreasonable, or irrational, as the following texts illustrate: Cf. Aristotle Homeric Questions, fr. 150 (tr. Malcolm Heath):2
fr. 150 [on Iliad 3.441]: Why does he portray Paris as such a miserable wretch that he is not only beaten in single combat, but also flees and immediately thinks of sex and says that he has never felt such lust and is so hopelessly dissolute? Aristotle says that it is reasonable: he was of a lustful disposition even before that, and it intensified on this occasion; for everyone longs most for what they do not have, or fear they will lose. This is why reproof intensifies desire; the duel had the same effect on him.

Cf. idem, fr. 143:


Namely, going to excess or falling short of the mean in expenditures of money. ( [12/22/98]) This is a selection of the surviving fragments of Aristotle's Homeric Questions, which covered more extensively the kinds of problem discussed in a very compressed manner in ch. 25 of the Poetics. [= Heaths Headnote]

fr. 143 [on Iliad 2.183]: It seems unseemly for Odysseus to throw off his cloak and run through the camp just in his tunic, and especially for someone such as Odysseus is taken to be. Aristotle says that it is so the crowd will turn round in amazement and his voice will reach further, with people assembling from different directions; Solon is said to have done something of the kind when he gathered a crowd with reference to Salamis.

Now it is apparent that the character of Paris as described in the first excerpt is no less unseemly than that of Odysseus in the second, the portrayal of which is defended as being reasonable, and therefore not unreasonable or alogos. Consequently, the consideration of the portrayal of certain faults of character, while being subject to the charge that it is harmful, also may be censured as irrational.


2. The requirement that character be appropriate, as well as like: Cf. Aelius Theon, Progymnasmata, ii. 60. 29-30 [= Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Translated with Introductions and Notes by George A. Kennedy, Society of Biblical Literature (Atlanta, 2003)], p. 4:
Personification (prospopoeia) is the introduction of a person to whom words are attributed that are suitable to the speaker [= appropriate] and have an indisputable application to the subject discussed [= like]. And personification is not only an historical exercise but applicable also to oratory and dialogue and poetry, and is most advantageous in everyday life and in our conversation with each other, and (understanding of it) is most useful in study of prose writings. Thus, we praise Homer first because of his ability to attribute the right words to each of the characters he introduces, but we find fault with Euripides because his Hecuba philosophizes inopportunely.

Cf. [Hermogenes], Progymnasmata, ix. 20-21 (= Preliminary Exercises Attributed to Hermogenes, in Kennedy, pp. 84-85:
9. ON ETHOPOEIA (excerpt) Ethopoeia (thopoiia) is an imitation of the character of a person supposed to be speaking; for example, what words Andromache might say to Hector.

Cf. Origen, Contra Celsus, ANF Vol. 4 (Buffalo, 1886) (tr. Frederick Crombie), VII. 36:
This figure of speech is properly employed when the character and sentiments of the person introduced are faithfully preserved; but it is an abuse of the figure when these do not agree with the character and opinions of the speaker. Thus we should justly condemn a man who put into the mouths of barbarians, slaves, or uneducated people the language of philosophy; because we know that the philosophy belonged to the author, and not to such persons, who could not know anything of philosophy. And in like manner we should condemn a man for introducing persons who are represented as wise and well versed in divine knowledge, and should make them give expression to language which could only come out of the mouths of those who are ignorant or under the influence of vulgar passions. Hence Homer is admired, among other things, for preserving a consistency of character in his heroes, as in Nestor, Ulysses, Diomede, Agamemnon, Telemachus, Penelope, and the rest. Euripides, on the contrary, was assailed in the comedies of Aristophanes as a frivolous talker, often putting into the mouth of a barbarian woman, a wretched slave, the wise maxims which he had learned from Anaxagoras or some other philosophers.

Cf. Proclus, Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato (London, 1829 Vol. 1). Translated by Thomas Taylor, pp. 54-55:
For he who in a written work narrates the deeds of the most excellent men, composes a history. But he who narrates the speeches of these men, if he intends to preserve the manners of the speaker, assumes a disposition similar to the speaker. For words are seen to differ according to the inward dispositions. For thus we deride most of those, except Plato, who have written the Apology of Socrates, as not preserving the Socratic manner in their composition. Though the narration of this very thing, that Socrates was accused, made an apology, and was sentenced to die, would not be thought worthy of laughter, but the dissimilitude of imitation in the composition, renders the imitators ridiculous.


Since, also, to say of Achilles, that he came forth armed after such a manner, and that he performed such deeds, is not difficult; but to narrate copiously what he said when detained in the river, is not easy. But this is the province of one who is able to assume the manners of the hero, and to write conformably to what he would have said.

Cf. also Dionysius of Halicarnassus On Literary Composition. Tr. D. A. Russell in D. A. Russell and M. Winterbottom, Ancient Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1972) 334-335:
It remains to consider propriety. Propriety is a necessary concomitant to all the rest. Any work which is lacking herein lacks, if not its whole effect, [334-335] at least the most important part of it.... It would generally be agreed that propriety consists in what suits the persons or actions to be handled. Just as word-selection can be proper or improper to a subject, so surely can word-arrangement. Ordinary life gives evidence of this: when we are angry or pleased, sorrowful or afraid, or in any other troubled or emotional state, we employ a different wordarrangement from when we think that there is nothing to perturb or grieve us. It would be an interminable task to enumerate all the species of propriety, but I will make one point which is both the most readily made and the most general in application. When people report events of which they have been eye-witnesses, even though their state of mind does not change, they do not use the same word-arrangement for everything, but imitate what they are reporting even in the way they put words together; this is a natural instinct, not the result of effort. Observing this, the good poet or orator should imitate whatever he is speaking about not only in his selection of words but in his arrangement of them. Homer does this, superb genius that he is, despite the fact that he possesses only one metre and few rhythms; he is none the less always innovating and using his ingenuity within this field, so that we see the things happening as much as we hear them described. I will give a few instances out the large number possible.

Cf. Marcus Tullius Cicero, De officis i. xxviii. 97-98 (in part):

97 XXVIII. That this is the common acceptation of propriety1 we may infer from that propriety which poets aim to secure. Concerning that, I have occasion to say more in another connection. Now, we say that the poets observe propriety, when every word or action is in accord with each individual character. For example, if Aeacus or Minos said. Let them hate, if only they fear, or: The father is himself his childrens tomb, that would seem improper, because we are told that they were just men. But when Atreus speaks those lines, they call forth applause; for the sentiment is in keeping with the character. 2 But it will rest with the poets to decide, according to the individual characters, what is proper for each; but to us Nature herself has assigned a character of surpassing excellence, far superior to that of all other living creatures, and in accordance with that we shall have to decide what propriety requires. 98 The poets will observe, therefore, amid a great variety of characters, what is suitable and proper for all even for the bad. (emphasis added)

Sc. Propriety is that which harmonizes with mans superiority in those respects in which his nature differs from that of the rest of the animal creation. And they so define the special type of propriety which is subordinate to the general notion, that they represent it to be that propriety which harmonizes with Nature, in the sense that it manifestly embraces temperance and self-control, together with a certain deportment such as becomes a gentleman. (n. 96) 2 Seeing as how it is unlike a just man to be cruel or a cruel man to be just, it must be noted that, in relation to the teaching of Aristotle under discussion, both the definition and the examples Cicero gives suit the requirement that character be like just as much as that it be appropriate.


Cf. Aristotle, Rhet. III. 6 (1408a 101408b 1) (tr. W. Rhys Roberts)

[10] Your language will be appropriate if it expresses emotion and character, and if it corresponds to its subject. Correspondence to subject means that we must neither speak casually about weighty matters, nor solemnly about trivial ones; nor must we add ornamental epithets to commonplace nouns, or the effect will be comic, as in the [15] works of Cleophon, who can use phrases as absurd as O queenly fig-tree. To express emotion, you will employ the language of anger in speaking of outrage; the language of disgust and discreet reluctance to utter a word when speaking of impiety or foulness; the language of exultation for a tale of glory, and that of humiliation for a tale of and so in all other cases. [20] This aptness of language is one thing that makes people believe in the truth of your story: their minds draw the false conclusion that you are to be trusted from the fact that others behave as you do when things are as you describe them; and therefore they take your story to be true, whether it is so or not. Besides, an emotional speaker always makes his audience feel with him, even when there is nothing in his arguments; which is why many [25] speakers try to overwhelm their audience by mere noise. Furthermore, this way of proving your story by displaying these signs of its genuineness expresses your personal character. Each class of men, each type of disposition, will have its own appropriate way of letting the truth appear. Under class I include differences of age, as boy, man, or old man; of sex, as man or woman; of nationality, as Spartan or Thessalian. By dispositions I here mean those dispositions only which determine the [30] character of a mans life, for it is not every disposition that does this. If, then, a speaker uses the very words which are in keeping with a particular disposition, he will reproduce the corresponding character; for a rustic and an educated man will not say the same things nor speak in the same way. Again, some impression is made upon an audience by a device which speech-writers employ to nauseous excess, when they say Who does not know this? or It is known to everybody. The hearer is ashamed of his ignorance, and agrees with the speaker, so as to [35] have a share of the knowledge that everybody else possesses. (emphasis added)

Cf. idem., III. 16 (1417a 17-20) (tr. W. Rhys Roberts):

The narration should depict character; to which end you must know what makes it do so. One such thing is the indication of moral purpose [proairesis, i.e. choice]; the quality of purpose indicated determines the quality of character depicted and is itself determined by the end pursued. Thus it is that mathematical discourses depict no character; they have nothing to do with moral purpose, for they represent nobody as pursuing any end. On the other hand, the Socratic discourses [Skratikoi logoi] do depict character, being concerned with moral [20] questions. (emphasis added)

Cf. Albinus, The Introduction of Albinus to the Doctrines of Plato, in The Works of Plato, A New and Literal Version chiefly from the text of Stallbaum. Vol. VI. containing the doubtful works: by George Burges, M.A. Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, (1885), pp. 315-316):
But as regards that which is combined with a becoming delineation of the manners of the characters introduced,1 (and) their being different in their discourses through life, some as philosophers, and others as sophists, it is requisite to assign to each their peculiar manners.... (emphasis added)

ts prepouss thopoiias tn paralambanomenn prosopn; lit., a becoming depiction of the characters of the persons introduced.


Cf. Aristotle, Metaph., IV. 2 (1004b 24) (tr. W. D. Ross):

[For philosophy differs] from sophistic in respect of the purpose of the philosophic life [ts de tou biou ti proairesei]. [25] Dialectic is merely critical where philosophy claims to know, and sophistic is what appears to be philosophy but is not.

3. Aristotle on the depiction of character: The comparison of the philosopher with the sophist: As Aristotle states, the end pursued determines the quality of the proairesis or moral purpose indicated, which in turn determines the quality of the thos or character depicted; for which reason the philosopher differs from the sophist ts de tou biou ti proairesei, in respect of the purpose of the philosophic life, as he explains (cf. Metaph., IV. 2, 1004b 15-26). Hence a narrative will have character to the extent that it portrays someone as pursuing an end; and so a Socratic discourse will have character insofar as it portrays Socrates (and his interlocutors) as pursuing an end. But it should be noted that proairesis, here translated as purpose, is defined in the Nicomachean Ethics as the deliberate desire of things in our own power (III. 3, 1113a 10), and so is most accurately rendered by choice. Hence Aristotle distinguishes the philosopher from the sophist according to his purpose, understood as choice, taking the form of a deliberate desire of things in ones power. Whereas the philosopher claims to know, making knowledge the object of his choice (and whereas the dialectician is merely critical of what the philosopher claims to knowwhich is to say, passing judgement on it according to common intentions, as is explained in logic), the sophist desires only the appearance of knowledge, and not the reality. This last point is well-explained by St. Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on the passage in question:
But the philosopher differs from the sophist by proairesis, that is, by choice or pleasure, in other words, by the desire of his [way of] life [ desiderio vitae]. For the philosopher and the sophist order their lives and actions to different thingsthe philosopher to knowing the truth; but the sophist to this, that he appear to know although he does not know. ( In IV Meta., lect. 4, n. 6, tr. B.A.M.)

In sum, in the view of St. Thomas, Aristotle is saying that the philosopher and the sophist differ proairesei, which St. Thomas glosses as electio, choice or pleasure, and explains as meaning desiderio vitae, desire of life or desire of his way of lifethat is, the thing which gives him pleasure, or the thing which he desires to get out of life, which, for the philosopher, is the possession of wisdom, but for the sophist, merely the appearance of wisdom. In light of these considerations, we must note the indebtedness to Aristotles doctrine of the passage from the Neo-Platonist Albinus:1
But as regards that which is combined with a becoming delineation of the manners of the characters introduced, (and) their being different in their discourses through life, some as philosophers, and others as sophists, it is requisite to assign to each their peculiar manners; to the philosopher that, which is noble and simple, and truth-loving; but to the sophist that, which is of many hues, and tricky, and reputation-loving; but to an individual what is peculiar to him. (emphasis added)

The Introduction of Albinus to the Doctrines of Plato, pp. 315-316.


In this text, delineation of the manners of the characters introduced translates thopoiias tn paralambanomenn prosopn, which means, more literally, the depiction of the characters of the persons introduced, namely, in a Platonic dialogue. Albinus goes on to distinguish such persons with respect to their discourses through lifethat is to say, in their conversations with respect to their life or way of life, a remark that is easily understood if it is taken to refer to Aristotles account of the distinction between the philosopher and the sophist as noted above. Hence, the character of the persons imitated in a Platonic dialogue will be determined by the portrayal of the various ends they pursue as this determines their proaireseis, which in turn determines their th, as this is revealed in and by their logoi or dialogoi, their discourses or conversations. N.B. On the foregoing, see my paper On the Dialogue Form.


4. The requirement that character be like: Cf. Hollis Rinehart, Aristotles Four Aims for Dramatic Character and His Method in the Poetics. University of Toronto Quarterly - Volume 69 Number 2, Spring 2000, sec. IV:1
We return now to our original starting point, the interpretation of the third aim, likeness. The question is, like what? There is little in the immediate context to assist us, but perhaps our examination of the general context of Aristotles treatment of character, and of the first two aims, may be of some help. We recall, in the first place, that Aristotles interest in this part of the Poetics is in practical matters, in how the plot (and by implication the other parts of tragedy) should be constructed if the poem is to be a success. Secondly, we notice that the aims are presented in logical and chronological order. That is, the first aim of the dramatist (Aristotle calls it the first and most important [Greek omitted]) is to decide whether character, in the sense of moral choice, is necessary and useful. Only then should it be brought into the action. The next task of the dramatist is to choose or create a character appropriate to the use which is to be made of it in the play i.e. one whose choices will not only influence the action, but by their moral quality give that action an appropriate moral quality. Having determined this question, what then would be the next logical task of the dramatist? Surely it would be to ask what such a character would be like that is, how it would manifest itself in ways that an audience would recognize for all tragedy must be interpreted by an audience through dialogue and action alone. Thus once a dramatist had decided that his plot required a woman to kill her husband an act requiring moral choice his next step would be to ask what sort of woman would make such a choice. If his answer were, a woman with the heart of a man, he would then need to ask himself how such a woman would reveal herself to the audience, i.e. what are the visible or audible signs by which such a character would reveal itself?

That is to say, the audience must be able to recognize the original of which the character before them is a faithful representation. For when an imitation is bad, cf. also Plato, Republic, II, 377d-e (tr. Alan Bloom):
When a man in a speech makes a bad representation of what gods [e] and heroes are like, just as a painter who paints something that doesnt resemble the things whose likeness he wished to paint [hotan eikazi tis kaks [ousian] ti logi, peri then te kai hrn hoioi eisin, hsper grapheus mden eoikota graphn hois an homoia boulthi grapsai].

On likeness as such, cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia, q. 4, art. 3, c. (tr. B.A.M.):
[It must be said that] things are called like which agree in form.

Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia, q. 93, art. 9, c. (tr. English Dominican Fathers):
[Now] [l]ikeness is a kind of unity, for oneness in quality causes likeness, as the Philosopher says.2 For we say that an image is like or unlike what it represents according as the representation is perfect or imperfect.

Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia, q. 35, art. 1, c. (tr. B.A.M.):

( [10/7/03]) Cf. Metaph. V, 15 (1021 a 11) (tr. W. D. Ross): ....those are called like whose quality is one....


I reply that it must be said that likeness belongs to the notion of an image. Nevertheless, not any likeness whatsoever suffices for the notion of an image, but rather a likeness in the species of a thing, or at least in some sign of the species. But a sign of the species in bodily things would seem to be shape most of all, for we observe that with respect to animals diverse according to species, they are of diverse shapes but not of diverse colors. Whence, if the color of something were painted on a wall, it would not be called an image unless the shape were depicted. But neither does a likeness in species suffice by itself, nor shape, but the notion of origin is required for an image, since, as Augustine says, one egg is not the image of another, since it is not an expression of it. So for something truly to be an image, requires that it proceed from another similar to it in species or at least in a sign of the species.

Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia, q. 93, art 6, c. (tr. B.A.M.):
For an image represents according to a likeness in species, as we have said. But a trace represents by way of an effect, which represents the cause in such a way as not to attain to a likeness of species; for impressions that are left by the motion of an animal are called traces; and likewise smoke is called a trace of fire; and the desolation of the earth, the trace of a hostile army.

Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Comp. Theol. I, c. 43 (tr. B.A.M.):

Now certain things that proceed from other things are found not to follow after the perfect species of those things from which they proceed. In one way, as in equivocal generations: for a sun is not generated from the sun, but a certain animal. In another way, what proceeds from something differs from it because of a lack of purity, when, that is, from what is simple and pure in itself by an application to exterior matter something is produced falling short of the first species: as a house in matter comes from a house in the mind of an artisan; and color comes from light received in a limited body; and a mixed thing comes from fire joined to the other elements; and a shadow comes from a ray [of light] by the opposition of an opaque body. In a third way what proceeds from something does not follow after its species because of a lack of truththat is to say, it does not truly receive its nature, but only a certain likeness of it, like an image in a mirror or sculpture, or even the likeness of a thing in the intellect or sense. For the image of a man is not called a true man, but a likeness; nor is a stone [truly in] the soul, as the Philosopher says, but a species of the stone.

Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia, q. 4, art. 3, c. (tr. B.A.M.):
I reply that it must be said that, since a likeness is looked to according to an agreement or communication in form, likeness is manifold, according to the many ways of communication in form. For certain things are called like which communicate in the same form according to the same notion and according to the same mode, and these things are not only called like but equal in their likeness, just as two things equally white are called alike in whiteness. And this is the most perfect likeness. In another way things are called like which communicate in form according to the same notion, and not according to the same mode, but according to more or less, as the less white is said to be like the more white. And this is an imperfect likeness. In a third way things are called like which communicate in the same form but not according to the same notion, as is clear in non-univocal agents. For, since every agent makes something similar to itself inasmuch as it is an agent, but it makes each thing according to its own form, a likeness to the form of the agent must be in the effect. If, then,


the agent is contained in the same species with its effect, there will be a likeness in form between the maker and the thing made according to the same notion of the species, just as man generates man. But if the agent is not contained in the same species, there will [still] be a likeness, but not according to the same notion of the species, just as the things generated by the power of the sun approach to some likeness to the sun, but not such that they receive the form of the sun according to a likeness in species, but according to a likeness in genus. If, then, there be any agents which are not contained in a genus, their effects would even more remotely approach to a likeness of the form of the agent, yet not such that they share in a likeness to the form of the agent according to the same notion of the species, but according to some sort of analogy, just as being itself is common to everything. And in this way the things that are from God are likened to Him inasmuch as they are beings, as to the first and universal principal of their whole being.

A character, then, must be similar in a sign of the species with respect to the exemplar according to whose likeness it is made, and this is what Aristotle primarily has in mind.


5. The requirement that character be consistent: Cf. Mitchell Carroll, Aristotles Poetics, c. XXV in the Light of the Homeric Scholia (diss. Baltimore, 1895), pp. 24-25:
(a) to\ a)nw/malon, the inconsistent in character. In the schol. Por., W 559 ff. (fr. 168 ed. Teubner) in which passage Achilles addresses Priam in harsh terms, we read A)ristote/lhj fhsi\n a)nw/malon ei)=nai to\ A)xille/wj h)=qoj.1 Romer thinks rightly that Aristotle does not mean by this to censure the poet, but in defending the character of Achilles, perhaps against Plato (Hippias Minor, 370 A), he explains that Homer has represented Achilles, as far as concerns h)=qoj, from the first to the last book, perfectly correctly: namely, a)nw/malon to \ h)=qoj. It is what is emphasized in Poet., c. XV, 1454a 25: te/tarton de\ to\ o(malo/n. ka)\n ga\r a)nw/malo/j tij h)=?
o( th\n mi/mhsin pare/xwn kai\ toiou=ton h)=qoj u(poteqh=?, o(/mwj o(malw=j a)nw/malon dei= ei)=nai. Aristotle accordingly understands the h)=qoj of Achilles as o(malw=j a)nw/malon. Eustathios obser-vation on the passage (p. 1365) seems to justify

this view: xxx. Cf. A. 169, I 357, I 619-650. It seems evident, therefore, that Aristotle solved the a)pori/a based on the inconsistent character of Achilles in the above mentioned manner.

Cf. also Ingram Bywater, Aristotle On the Art of Poetry, p. 228, on 1454a 26, also citing Eustathius on Iliad XXIV, 569, and D. W. Lucas, Aristotle. Poetics, ad loc.

Aristotle says that the character of Achilles is inconsistent.


6. On unnecessary wickedness: Cf. Hollis Rinehart, Aristotles Four Aims for Dramatic Character and His Method in the Poetics. University of Toronto Quarterly - Volume 69 Number 2, Spring 2000, sec. III:1
The situation is this: after Orestes kills Clytemnestra, he appeals to his uncle, Menelaus, Agamemnons brother, to help him. Menelaus demurs, an act which Orestes attributes to cowardice and to Menelauss wish to succeed him on the throne of Argos. This action, however, does not decide Orestes fate. Else puts the case succinctly: The significant thing is that the poet has chosen to decide Orestes fate through an entirely different mechanism, the vote in the assembly, and has thereby nullified or neutralized the importance of Menelaus. The latters poltroonery is unnecessary in view of the premise Euripides himself has laid down for the plot. It decides nothing, and a different characterization of him need not have altered matters essentially.5 Note that it is not Menelauss poltroonery that Aristotle objects to, but the fact that it is unnecessary, from the point of view of the plot. Aristotle was fond enough of this example to use it again to make the same point in chapter 25. Speaking of legitimate criticisms which may be made of individual tragedies, Aristotle says, It is right, however, to censure both improbability and depravity where there is no necessity and no use is made of the improbability. An example [of improbability] is Euripides introduction of Aegeus or (of depravity) the character of Menelaus in the Orestes (xxv, 31; my emphasis). Again, note that it is not Menelauss depravity in itself that Aristotle objects to, but the fact that it is unnecessary and useless.6 5. Argument, 447 [= Aristotles Poetics: The Argument. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1963]; Elses emphasis. In Euripides defence, however, it must be said that Menelauss response is what motivates Orestes to appeal to the assembly, and also to plot the murder of Helen and the kidnapping of Hermione. Without Menelaus the plot of the Orestes would consist simply of the condemnation of Orestes and his rescue by Apollo.. 6. [footnote omitted]

( [10/7/03])


7. The four requirements of character in sum: The four requirements of character are that it be: (1) good, sc. of its kind, (2) appropriate, (3) like, and (4) consistent: (1) A character will be chrestos, or good of its kind, when by its speech or action it makes clear what the mans choice is (as, for instance, a good hero is one who recognizably acts heroically and a good villain one who acts villainously, the latter being just as good in this sense as the former, as a knife is good of its kind when it cuts well). (2) It will be harmatton or appropriate when it is suitable to its subject, as, e.g. when a woman says what a woman would say, or a slave as opposed to a free man, etc. (3) It will be homoion or like when, by the possession of its proper form, it resembles its exemplar; as the well-painted portrait of a man who is better than us will be more beautiful than we are; but of one worse, uglier. (4) It will be homalon or consistent when the later character resembles its earlier self (as, for instance, when a character who acts nobly in the first act conducts herself the same way in the last, as opposed to suddenly becoming duplicitous).


8. Aristotle on thos (character): An overview: Cf. Aristotle, Poetics ch. 6 (1450a 6-7):
[B]ut by characters [ta th] [I mean] that according to which we say those who do things [tous prattontas] are of a certain sort.

Cf. Aristotle, Poetics ch. 6 (1450b 9-12):

But character [thos] is that which choice [proairesin] reveals; <that is,> what sort of thing <> one [10] chooses or avoids. Consequently those speeches have no character in which it is not entirely <clear> what the speaker chooses or avoids.

Cf. Aristotle, Poetics ch. 15 (1454a 19):

Now one will have character [thos] if, as has been said, by speech or action he make clear what his choice is; and a good [character] if a good [choice].

Cf. Aristotle, Nic. Eth., III. 2 (1111b 5-6) (tr. W. D. Ross):

For choice [proairesis] is thought to be most proper to virtue, and to reveal character more than actions do.

Cf. Aristotle, Nic. Eth., III. 2 (1112a 2) (tr. W. D. Ross):

[F]or by choosing what is good or bad we are men of a certain character.

Cf. Aristotle, Rhet. III, 16 (1417a 16-1417b 20) (tr. W. Rhys Roberts):
The narration should depict character; to which end you must know what makes it do so. One such thing is the indication of moral purpose [or choice, proairesis]; the quality of purpose indicated determines the quality of character depicted and is itself determined by the end pursued. Thus it is that mathematical discourses depict no character; they have nothing to do with moral purpose, for they represent nobody as pursuing any end. On the other hand, the Socratic dialogues [= Skratikoi logoi, the Socratic discourses] do depict character, being concerned with moral [20] questions. This end will also be gained by describing the manifestations of various types of character, e.g. he kept walking along as he talked, which shows the mans recklessness and rough manners. Do not let your words seem inspired so much by intelligence, in the manner now current, as by moral purpose: e.g. I willed this; aye, it was my moral purpose; true, I gained nothing by it, still it is [25] better thus. For the other way shows good sense, but this shows good character; good sense making us go after what is useful, and good character after what is noble. Where any detail may appear incredible, then add the cause of it; of this Sophocles provides an example in the Antigone, where Antigone says she had cared more for her brother than for husband or children, since if the latter perished they might be replaced, [30] But since my father and mother in their graves Lie dead, no brother can be born to me.1


If you have no such cause to suggest, just say that you are aware that no one will believe your words, but the fact remains that such is our nature, however hard the world may find it to believe that a man deliberately does [35] anything except what pays him. Again, you must make use of the emotions. Relate the familiar manifestations of them, and those that distinguish yourself and your opponent; for instance, he went away scowling at me. So Aeschines described Cratylus2 as hiss- [1417b]
1 2

Sophocles, Antigone, 911, 912. [Aeschines may be the friend of Socrates and Cratylus (who was Platos instructor in Heraclitean philosophy), but this is uncertain.] ing with fury and shaking his fists. These details carry conviction: the audience take the truth of what they know as so much evidence for the truth of what they do not. Plenty of such details may be found in Homer: [5] Thus did she say: but the old woman buried her face in her hands:1 a true touch people beginning to cry do put their hands over their eyes. Bring yourself on the stage from the first in the right character, that people may regard you in that light; and the same with your adversary; but do not let them see what you are about. How easily such impressions may be conveyed we can see from the way in which we get some [10] inkling of things we know nothing of by the mere look of the messenger bringing news of them. Have some narrative in many different parts of your speech; and sometimes let there be none at the beginning of it. In political oratory there is very little opening for narration; nobody can narrate what has not yet happened. If there is narration at all, it will be of past events, the recollection of which is to help the hearers to make better [15] plans for the future. Or it may be employed to attack some ones character, or to eulogize him only then you will not be doing what the political speaker, as such, has to do. If any statement you make is hard to believe, you must guarantee its truth, and at once offer an explanation, and then furnish it with such particulars as will be expected. Thus Carcinus Jocasta, in his Oedipus, keeps guaranteeing the truth of her answers to the inquiries of the man [20] who is seeking her son; and so with Haemon in Sophocles.
1 2

Odyssey, xix. 361. Or possibly, and then arranged your reasons systematically for those who demand them. 3 [A tragic poet of the fifth cent.] 4 Cp. Sophocles, Antigone, 635-8, 701-4. (emphasis added)

Cf. Aristotle, Rhet., II. 21 (1395b 1-19) (tr. W. Rhys Roberts):

One great advantage of Maxims to a speaker is due to the want of intelligence in his hearers, who love to hear him succeed in expressing as a universal truth the opinions which they hold themselves about particular cases. I will explain what I mean by this, indicating at the same time how we are to hunt down the maxims required. The maxim, as has been already said, a general statement, [5] and people love to hear stated in general terms what they already believe in some particular connexion: e.g. if a man happens to have bad neighbours or bad children, he will agree with any one who tells him, Nothing is more annoying than having neighbours, or, Nothing is more foolish than to be the parent of children. The orator has therefore to guess the subjects on which his hearers really [10] hold views already, and what those views are, and then must express, as general truths, these same views on these same subjects. This is one advantage of using maxims.


There is another which is more important it invests a speech with moral character. There is moral character in every speech in which the moral purpose is conspicuous: and maxims always produce this effect, because the utterance of them amounts to a general declaration of moral [15] principles: so that, if the maxims are sound, they display the speaker as a man of sound moral character. So much for the Maxim its nature, varieties, proper use, and advantages. (emphasis added)

The ethos or character of the prattontas (i.e. their nature according to their moral qualities): spoudaios (noble or elevated) (above us: e.g. Achilles) phaulos (base or lowly) (beneath us: e.g. Margites) homoios (like us) (level with us) beltion (better than we are: the quality of the spoudaious, taken relatively) cheiron (worse than we are: the quality of the phaulous) toioiutos (such as we are: the quality of the homoious) arete (excellence: the quality of men better than we are, taken absolutely) kakia (badness: the quality of men worse than we are)


9. On characterization or personification understood as impersonation: Cf. Aelius Theon, Progymnasmata, ii. 68 (=The Exercises of Aelius Theon, in Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Translated with Introductions and Notes by George A. Kennedy, Society of Biblical Literature: Atlanta, 2003), p. 11:
What would be a better example of prosopopoeia than (speeches in) the poetry of Homer and the dialogues of Plato and other Socratics and the dramas of Menander?

Cf. ibid., pp. 47-48:

8. (SPENGEL, 10) ON PROSOPOPOEIA [excerpt] [115] Personification (prospopoeia) is the introduction of a person to whom words are attributed that are suitable to the speaker and have an indisputable application to the subject discussed. What words would a man say to his wife when leaving on a journey? Or a general to his soldiers in time of danger? Also when the persons are specified; for example, What words would Cyrus say when marching against the Massagetae? Or what would Datis say when he met the king at the battle of Marathon? Under this genus of exercise fall the species of consolations and exhortation and letter writing.149 First of all, then, one should have in mind what the personality of the speaker is like, and to whom the speech is addressed: the speakers age, the occasion, the place, the social status of the speaker; also the general subject which the projected speeches are

I.e. addresses at festivals, exhortations, and letters in which the writer imagines what a particular historical person would have said. The exercise provided preparation for declamations on political themes in the person of historical [47-48] personages such as Demosthenes, as well as for composing speeches in works of history and in dramas. This passage and Nicolaus (below, p. 166) suggest that the letter writing in character may have occasionally been practiced in schools. Imaginative, literary epistolography was a minor genre of the Second Sophistic; cf. extant examples by Alciphron, Aelian, Aristanetus, and Philostratus. going to discuss. Then one is ready to try to say appropriate words. Different ways of speaking belong to different ages of life, not the same to an older man and a younger one; the speech of a younger man will be mingled with simplicity and modesty, [116] that of an older man with knowledge and experience.150 Different ways of speaking would also be fitting by nature for a woman and for a man, and by status for a slave and a free man, and by activities for a soldier and a farmer, and by state of mind for a lover and a temperate man, and by their origin the words of Laconian, sparse and clear, differ from those of a man of Attica, which are voluble. We say that Herodotus often speaks like barbarians although writing in Greek because he imitates their ways of speaking. What is said is also affected by the places and occasions when it is said: speeches in a military camp are not the same as those in an assembly of the citizens, nor are those in peace and war the same, nor those by victors and vanquished; and whatever else applies to the persons speaking. And surely each subject has its appropriate form of expression. We become masters of this if we do not speak about great things vulgarly nor about small things loftily nor about paltry things solemnly nor about fearful things in a casual manner nor about shameful things rashly nor about pitiable things excessively, but give what is appropriate to each subject, aiming at what fits the speaker and his manner of speech and the time and his lot in life and each of the things mentioned above.



For a somewhat different view, see Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.12-14. [Cf. also Rhet. III. 6, 1408a 10ff.B.A.M.]

Cf. [Hermogenes], Progymnasmata, ix. 20-21 (=Preliminary Exercises Attributed to Hermogenes, in Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Translated with Introductions and Notes by George A. Kennedy, Society of Biblical Literature: Atlanta, 2003), pp. 84-85:
9. ON ETHOPOEIA (excerpt) Ethopoeia (thopoiia) is an imitation of the character of a person supposed to be speaking; for example, what words Andromache might say to Hector.41 It is called personification (prospopoeia) when we personify a thing, like Elenchus (Disproof) in Menander42 and as in Aristeides speech where The Sea addresses the Athenians.43 The difference is clear: in ethopoeia we imagine words for a real person, in prosopopoeia we imagine a non-existing person. They say it is image-making (eidolopoiia) when we attribute words to the dead, as does Aristeides in Against Plato on Behalf of the [84-85]
41 42

As in Iliad 6.406-39. On this chapter, see Patillon Theorie du Discours, pp. 300-304. Frag. 545, ed. Koch. 43 Aelius Aristides, the most famous sophist of the mid-second century after Christ, is the only post-classical orator cited by late Greek rhetoricians; however, the address of The Sea to the Athenians does not occur in his numerous extant works. Four; for there he has attributed words to Themistocles companions.44 There are characterizations of both definite and indefinite persons; of indefinite, for example, what words someone would say to his family when about to go away from home; of definite, for example, what words Achilles would say to Deidamia when about to go to war. Those characterizations are single when someone [21] is imagined as making a speech by himself; those are double when he is speaking to someone else. By himself, for example, What would a general say when returning from victory? To another, for example, What would a general say to his army after a victory.45 Throughout the exercise you will preserve what is distinctive and appropriate to the persons imagined as speaking and to the occasions; for the speech of a young man differs from that of an old man, and that of one who rejoices from that of one who grieves. Some personifications are ethical, some pathetical, some mixed. Ethical are those in which the characterization of the speaker is dominant throughout; for example, what a farmer would say when first seeing a ship; pathetical are those in which there is emotion throughout; for example, what Andromache would say over the dead Patroclus; for there would be pathos because of the slaughter of Patroclus and ethos in Achilles plans for war.46

Cf. Aristeides 3.367ff., where Miltiades, Themistocles, Pericles, and Cimon (the Four) are imagined as coming back to life and answering Platos attack on them in Gorgias. According to a scholiat on the passage, Sopatros claimed this was ethopoeia since the speakers were represented as alive. The best example of eidolopoeia in ancient oratory is probably Ciceros evocation of the ghost of Appius Claudius Caecus in Pro Caelio 33-34; speeches by ghost occur in Greek and Latin tragedy. 45 Presumably the contents and style of the second speech would be influenced by perception of the audience, but the author may have misunderstood his source.Double ethopoeia would better describe two speeches on the same subject by different characters, such as is often found in historical writing.



I.e. his plans for revenge will reveal character; cf. Iliad 18.324-42

Cf. Apthonius, Progymnasmata 11 (tr. Malcolm Heath, excerpted from his Website Ancient Rhetoric: An Introduction):
11. Characterisation Characterisation is the imitation of the character of a given person. It has three species: the portrayal of image, person and character. In the portrayal of character the person is known, the character invented; hence it is called characterisation. E.g.: What Heracles would say when Eurystheus gives him orders. In this case Heracles is known, and we invent the speakers character. In the portrayal of image the character is known, but dead and no longer able to speak, as with the fictions of Eupolis in the Demes and Aristides in On the Four; hence it is called portrayal of image. In portrayal of person everything is invented, both character and person, as Menander created Refutationfor refutation is a thing, not a person; hence it is called personification, since the person is invented along with the character. This is the division. Characterisations may be pathetic, ethical or mixed. The pathetic are those which indicate emotion at every point; e.g.: What Hecabe would say after the sack of Troy. The ethical are those which involve character only; e.g.: What someone from the mainland would say on first seeing the sea. The mixed are those which have both character and emotion; e.g.: What Achilles would say over Patroclus body when resolving to fight; the deliberation is character, the friends death emotion. Characterisation is developed in a style that is clear, concise, colourful, unconstrained, not intricate or figurative. Instead of heads, you will divide into the three times - present, past and future.

N.B. The elements out of which the foregoing account is composed according to Aphthonius are the following: 1. person 2. character a. known b. not known c. if not known, then invented 27

The person can be known or not known, and if not known, then invented. If known, the person can be living or dead, and if dead, then fictitiously portrayed in keeping with his known character. The character can be known or not known, and if unknown, it is invented. The character can be known and the person living (and so able to speak for himself?) or known and dead, and so no longer able to speak. Hercules: the person is known, but the character invented (since his character is not known) Pericles: the person is known, and the character is known, but he is dead 1. First case: where a person is known, but his character is not, as with the portrayal of Hercules: the portrayal of character. 2. Second case: where a person whos character is known, but is dead gives rise to a fiction, as with the fictions of Eupolis and Aristides: the portrayal of image. 3. Third case: where both person and character are not known, as with Refutation: the portrayal of person. Note that Aphthonius does not consider the case of the portrayal of a living man whose character is known, as Aristophanes portrayed Socrates in the latters lifetime. Cf. Anon. Prol. I (3.11-13). [In L. G. Westerink, Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy (Amsterdam, 1962), p. 6]:
He [Plato] imitated also the mimes of Sophron to complete, as it were, his technique of character-drawing; for writing dialogues means portraying characters.1

N.B. Since the meaning of impersonation presupposes an understanding of the definition of person, let us next consider the following witnesses: Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, In I Sent., dist. 23, q. 1, art. 1, c. (tr. B.A.M.).
And according to Boethius, the name person has been taken from personando from the fact that in tragedies and comedies those reciting them used to place upon themselves a certain mask in order to represent the man whose deeds they narrated by their descanting. And so it is that it has been taken up into use such that any individual man about whom such a narration is made is called a person. And for the same reason it is called prosopa in Greek from pro, which is before, and sopos, which is the face, because masks of this sort were placed before the face.

e)zh/lwsen de\ kai\ Sw/fona to\n gelwtopoio/n, th\n mimhtikh\n w)/sper katorqw=sai boulo/menoj: o( ga\r dialo/goj gra/fwn mi/mhsin prosw/pwn ei)sa/gei. Cf. my translation: He [Plato]

emulated as well Sophron the comic-writer, wishing, as it were, to bring the imitative art to a successful issue: for writing a dialogue leads to the imitation of persons.


Cf. Boethius, Liber de duabus naturis (Contra Eutychen III. Ed. and trans. by S. J. Tester, Loeb Classical Library No. 74, 1973, pp. 85-87) (tr. rev. B.A.M.):
For the name person seems to be carried over from elsewhere, namely, from the personae [= masks] which in comedies and tragedies used to represent the men concerned. But persona with the circumflex on the penultimate syllable is so called from personando [= sounding through]. But if the accent be pronounced on the antepenultimate syllable, it will most clearly be seen to be said from sonus [= sound]. And it is from sonus for the reason that a greater sound must be produced from its concavity. The Greeks also call these personas prosopa from the fact that they are placed over the face and conceal the countenance in front of the eyes: being put up against the face. But since actors represented the individual men concerned in tragedy or comedy by the personas [or masks] they put on, as has been said, i.e. Hecuba, or Medea, or Simo, or Chremes, so also of the rest of the men who were clearly recognized by their own look, the Latins have named personas [persons] and the Greeks prosopa.

N.B. As we see, Boethius derivation of the name persona or mask from personando by reason of the greater sound made by the masks concavitas or hollowness demonstrates that the Roman philosopher is looking to the meaning of the word as sounding through. But since by means of such masks men performing comedies and tragedies on the stage represented others (since the masks resembled the faces of the men represented), personando itself came to mean representing or, as we would say in English, impersonating. In his remarks excerpted above, St. Thomas clearly has this second meaning of personando in mind. Accordingly, impersonation will be understood to mean assuming the person of another by likening ones words and deeds to that those of that other.


10. On the employment of dramatization in epic poetry: On the manner of imitating, cf. Aristotle, Poetics, ch. 3 (1446a 19-23) (tr. B.A.M.):
But there is yet a third difference of these [arts] in the [20] manner by which each of these things might be imitated. For in the same things1 one might imitate the same things2 sometimes by narrating (whether becoming another person3 as Homer does, or in the same manner throughout without changing), or in the manner of imitating all those doing things in the very act of doing them [prattontas kai energountas].

On the manner of imitating in sum: For in the same things one might imitate the same things sometimes: (1) by narrating, (a) becoming another person as Homer does, or (b) by narrating in the same manner without changing, [without becoming another person, i.e. in propria persona] (2) or in the manner of imitating all the agents as engaged in action (dramatization, properly speaking: the acting out of a play by means of performers). Cf. Aristotle, Poetics, ch. 4 (1448b 341449a 1) (tr. B.A.M.):
Now, just as Homer was the greatest [35] poet according to seriousness (not only because he made his imitations well, but because he made them dramatic [dramatikas epoisen]), so also because he first showed forth the form of comedy, dramatically composing [or dramatically producing; dramatopoiesas] not invectives, but the laughable. For his Margites have a proportion: as the Iliad and the Odyssey are to [1441a] tragedies, so this is to comedies.

Cf. Aristotle, Poetics ch. 23 (1459a 1720) (tr. B.A.M.):

But as for the art imitative in narrative and in metre [peri de ts digmatiks kai en metri mimtiks], it is clear that its plots should be constructed the way they are in tragedies, dramatically [sunistanai dramatikous], and around one action, whole and complete, [20] having a beginning, middles, and an end.

Cf. August Wilhelm Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (London, 1904), Lecture II (tr. John Black):
What is dramatic? To many the answer will seem very easy: where various persons are introduced conversing together, and the poet does not speak in his own person. This is, however, merely the first external foundation of the form; and that is dialogue. But the characters may express thoughts and sentiments without operating any change on each other, and so leave the minds of both in exactly the same state in which they were at the commencement; in such a case, however interesting the conversation may be, it cannot be said to possess a dramatic interest.
1 2

I.e. as means. I.e. as objects. 3 I.e. after having spoken in ones own person.


11. Supplement. On the employment of dramatization in historiography, cf. Polybius, Histories II, 56.6-11 (LCL, 1922) (tr. W. R. Paton):
Wishing, for instance, to insist on the cruelty of Antigonus and the Macedonians and also on that of Aratus and the Achaeans, he tells us that the Mantineans, when they surrendered, were exposed to terrible sufferings and that such were the misfortunes that overtook this, the most ancient and greatest city in Arcadia, as to impress deeply and move to tears all the Greeks. In his eagerness to arouse the pity and attention of his readers he treats us to a picture of clinging women with their [hair] disheveled and their breasts bare, or again of crowds of both sexes together with their children and aged parents weeping and lamenting as they are led away to slavery. This sort of thing he keeps up throughout his history, always trying to bring horrors vividly before our eyes. Leaving aside the ignoble and womanish character of such a treatment of his subject, let us consider how far it is proper or serviceable to history. A historical author should not try to thrill his readers by such exaggerated pictures, nor should he, like a tragic poet, try to imagine the probable utterances of this characters or reckon up all the consequences probably incidental to the occurrences with which he deals, but simply record what really happened and what really was said, however commonplace. For the object of tragedy is not the same as that of history but quite the opposite. (emphasis added)

Cf. Stefan Rebenich, Historical Prose, in Handbook of Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C.A.D. 400, ed. Stanley Porter (Brill, 1997), pp. 265-266:
This sweeping judgment [of Dionysius of Halicarnassus] however fails to recognize the divergent lines of development and takes no notice of the different models which can be identified in Greek historiography from the fourth century on. Thus Polybius himself brings against Phylarchus,4 a historian of the third century BC, the reproach that he had betrayed the proper task of historical [265-266] writing.5 The efforts of the historian ought not to be directed towards winning the attention of the public through the narration of sensational occurrences (teratei/a). Again, it was not proper for a historianin contrast to a tragedianto interpolate fine speeches such as might perhaps have been delivered, or to recount the subsidiary circumstances which accompanied events. Rather it was his duty to record exclusively what actually (kat )a)lh/qeian) happened and what was really said, even if it was a question of quite ordinary things. For the aim of history writing and that of tragedy were opposed to one another: the task of the tragic poet was to thrill and charm (e)kplh=cai kai\ yuxagwgh=sai) his hearers for the moment by using the most plausible words, that of the historian was to instruct and convince (dida/cai kai\ pei=sai) for all time those who were desirous of learning, through his portrayal of the actual events and speeches.
4 5

[note omitted] Plb. 2.56.8-12. (emphasis added)

Cf. Kurt von Fritz, Dictionary of the History of Ideas, The Influence of Ideas on Ancient Greek Historiography:1
In a totally different way, a considerable section of Hellenistic historiography was influenced by a famous sentence in Aristotles Poetics which says that poetry is more philosophical than history. His reasons are: (1) poetry (he has especially dramatic poetry in mind) is more

( [6/15/04])


(more general), and (2) history tells what has actually happened, while poetry represents what might have happened according to necessity or probability. To say that (dramatic) poetry is more general than history may seem strange at first, since ancient tragedy usually stages in great detail what is supposed to have happened in one day or less, while historiography is quite unable to go into so much detail, and to tell what every actor on the political scene has said or done within the compass of one day. What Aristotle means is that in actual life much happens that is purely accidental, having no deeper significance, while poetry, especially tragic poetry, places the extreme possibilities of what can happen to a human being in a most concentrated form before the eyes of the spectators. In other words, poetry provides within the narrow compass of a play a deep insight into fundamental aspects of what has been called la condition humaine. Aristotle called this kind of representation of human life, in the concentrated form of dramatic action (or epic narrative), mimesis. It may seem strange, but it is proved by rather incontestable evidence, that a certain school of Hellenistic historians was induced to mix the principles of historiography and dramatic poetry by the very statement with which Aristotle tried to distinguish the two. The movement, so far as we can see, was led by Duris of Samos, a tyrant of his homeland, who had been a disciple of Theophrastus, and who, in the time left from his governmental duties, developed a rather extensive literary activity. Duris wrote not only several historical works, but also various treatises on poetry, especially dramatic poetry. In the introduction to one of his historical works he blamed the historians Ephorus and Theopompus because there was no mimesis in their works; that is, he blamed them because their historical works lacked what Aristotle had considered the essence of poetry in contrast to historiography. It looks as if Duris had been irked by Aristotles statement that poetry was more philosophical than historiography, and had tried to raise historiography to the highest possible level by making it more poetical. That this was actually his intention is shown by the surviving fragments of his historical works, many of which show a strong tendency towards dramatization of the events. An especially good illustration of his method is provided by a fragment from his history of Samos. In this fragment Duris relates a most dramatic incident that is supposed to have occurred in the war between Athens and Aegina at the beginning of the fifth century. A whole detachment of Athenians that had made an inroad on the island are captured on their way back, and all of them are killed except one man who is sent to Athens in order to tell the story of what has happened to his comrades. When he arrives at Athens with the terrible news he is surrounded by the wives, mothers, and sisters of his dead comrades, who ask him angrily where he has left their husbands, sons, and brothers and why he is the only one who has escaped. Then they unfasten the buckles with which their clothes are held together and use the tongues to pierce his eyes, and finally kill him. This story might be considered factual, but Herodotus tells the same story at a different occasion. Both authors, Herodotus and Duris, add that henceforth the Athenians forbade their women to wear buckles or brooches with sharp, long tongues so that the incident could not be repeated. It appears, therefore, that Duriswho can hardly have failed to know the work of Herodotus, but who had no occasion in his histories to tell the story in the connection in which it is told in Herodotus workused it in order to make his history more dramatic and thereby in his opinion also more philosophical, by giving an example of the extreme situations which can arise in human life. As this use of the Aristotelian mimesis shows, Duris derived the idea from Aristotle; in this form it is not truly Aristotelian, but Duris obviously found followers. For in the next two generations, many historians wrote highly dramatized histories. Phylarchus, who was about two generations younger than Duris, is the most outstanding example. (emphasis added)

Cf. Proclus Diadochus, Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato (London, 1829. Vol. 1). Translated by Thomas Taylor, pp. 54-55: 32

The last part, however of the words of Socrates, being in a certain respect difficult, may be rendered perspicuous as follows: But the words are, that which is foreign to the education of anyone, it is difficult to imitate well in deeds, and still more difficult in words. For it seems to be easy to imitate words or deeds. Not a few, therefore, act sophistically, by exhibiting virtue as far as words, but in deeds being entirely alien from it. Will it not, therefore, be better to interpret these words thus, viz. To suppose the most excellent education is implied in the words, that which is foreign to the education of anyone; but to assume, in deeds and words, as equivalent to, conformably to deeds, and conformably to words; and to imitate well, as having the same meaning with to be well imitated? And thus we may collect from all these, that for that which is most excellent to be well imitated, it is difficult indeed according to deeds, but it is still more difficult for it to be well imitated according to words in a written work. For this is the thing [54-55] proposed to be effected in poetry. And you may see how this accords with things themselves. For he who in a written work narrates the deeds of the most excellent men, composes a history. But he who narrates the speeches of these men, if he intends to preserve the manners of the speaker, assumes a disposition similar to the speaker. For words are seen to differ according to the inward dispositions. For thus we deride most of those, except Plato, who have written the Apology of Socrates, as not preserving the Socratic manner in their composition. Though the narration of this very thing, that Socrates was accused, made an apology, and was sentenced to die, would not be thought worthy of laughter, but the dissimilitude of imitation in the composition, renders the imitators ridiculous. Since, also, to say of Achilles, that he came forth armed after such a manner, and that he performed such deeds, is not difficult; but to narrate copiously what he said when detained in the river, is not easy. But this is the province of one who is able to assume the manners of the hero, and to write conformably to what he would have said.


12. On problems arising from differences in the person: Cf. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.11.8. Frederick Ahl and Hanna M. Roisman, The Odyssey Re-Formed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. 341. $19.95. ISBN 0-80148335-2 (pb). Reviewed by James J. OHara, Wesleyan University:1
Aristarchus seems to be the source of the idea, found in the Homeric scholia and elsewhere, that the prosopon, the character who is speaking or the persona, is the source of many inconsistencies in Homer. Porphyrius term for this critical maneuver is lysis ek tou prosopou (solution from the character speaking). A scholiast on Il. 6.265 (Aristonicus, perhaps drawing on Aristarchus) notes the apparent contradiction between Hecubas claim that wine gives strength, and Hectors idea that wine weakens, but explains the characters (prosopa) who speak are different. Porphyrius Quaest. Hom. p.100, 4 Schrader used this passage to speak at length on the general principle: It is no cause for wonder if in Homer contradictory things are said by different voices. For whatever things he himself says speaking in his own prosopon must be consistent and not in conflict with one another. But whatever he gives to other prosopa to say should be thought to be not his own words, but those of the persons speaking. A scholiast on Il. 17.588 (again Aristonicus), where Hector calls Menelaus a soft warrior, explains the apparent contradiction between this passage and others where Menelaus is shown to be a good fighter: the character, who is hostile to Menelaus, speaks slanderously. Athenaeus Deipn. 5.178d faults Plato for saying, based on this line, that Menelaus is a soft warrior (Symp. 174B), saying that it is not true that if something is said in Homer, it is Homer who says it). At Od. 9.107, Odysseus describes the Cyclopes as trusting in the immortal gods. A scholiast on 106 reconciles this with Polyphemus statement that the Cyclopes do not care about aegis-bearing Zeus (9.275) by noting, consider that the character speaking is the flesh-eating, savage Polyphemus.

Cf. Jasper Griffin, Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1983, first published 1980), p. 166:
Only in the tales told by Odysseus do we find monsters and magic, and the poet prefers not to vouch for their truth himself, as Aristotle pointed out;47 and even there the achievements and powers of the hero do not exceed the limits of humanity.

Aristotle fr. 163 R.2 King Alcinous pays Odysseus a rather two-edged compliment when he tells him, We do not think you are a liar, like so many deceivers on earth You have told your story like a rhapsode, that is, like a professional singer. Amazons, like the Chimaera, are also kept by Homer to allusions in speeches made by characters in the poems, like the shape-changing of Proteus, the petrifaction of Niobe, and the weird stories of the daughters of Pandareus.

1 2

( [4/11/05]) Cf. Fr. 163 R on the birth of Heracles (Il. 19.108), where Aristotle states that The whole thing is fabulous [or mythical, to muthodes]; for in fact Homer does not say these things of himself [that is, in propria persona], nor are these things that have taken place (ginomena) he is introducing, but he mentions them as being things handed down (diadedoumenon) concerning the birth of Heracles (tr. D. C. Feeney, rev. B.A.M.). See further below.


Note. According to Griffin, Aristotle pointed out that Homer does not vouch for the truth of such things as the monsters and magic in the tales told by Odysseus, but one must attribute them to the speaker, reducing the consideration of the fabulous to the manner of imitation. On this matter, cf. D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1991, rpt. 2000), p. 41:
On the whole, however, most writers were happiest when they could exculpate the poet by claiming that he was following tradition, thereby taking the softer of Aristotles options. On Homers account of the birth of Heracles, for example, a scholion says that the whole thing is mythical; for in fact Homer does not say these things on his own initiative, nor are these actual events he is introducing, but he mentions them as being things handed down concerning the birth of Heracles (to/ me/n ou)=n o(/lon muqw=dej: kai/ ga\r ou)d )a)f )
e(autou= tau=ta/ fhsin (/Omhroj ou)de\ gino/mena ei)sa/gei, a)ll )w(j diadedome/nwn peri\ th\n (Hrakle/ouj ge/nesin me/mnhtai, A Il. 19. 108).151 In such comments, the poets right to follow myths (e(/pesqai toi=j mu/qoij) is regarded as a

matter of course, and the Latin commentary trad-ition follows suit: in deorum ratione fabulae sequendae sunt (in the system adopted for the gods, the myths have to be followed, Serv. Aen. 1. 297)152 At times, however, a more dir-ectly apologetic tendency is discernible, as when the bT-scholia on Il. 5. 385 say that Homers following of old traditions absolves him from blasphemy, since he is not inno-vating; a similar tack is found in Servius urge to find some precedent for apparent inno-vations in Vergil.153

Cf. A 20. 40; T 20. 147; PEQ Od. 6. 42; see Kroll (1924), 60. Even the language of

diadedome/nwn mu=qoi goes back to Aristotle (Poet. 1451 b 24): Hintenlang (1961), 44-

51. 152 Servius standard phrase is opinionem sequitur: Aen. 1. 15; 3. 110; 5. 527. The adaptation of the Greek critical term was current in Horaces day: famam sequere, Ars 119. 153 Aen. 3. 46; 9. 81; contrast his comment on 6. 617, that poets frequently vary myths.

Supplement: Fr. 163 R (tr. D. Feeney; rev. B.A.M.):

to/ me/n ou)=n o(/lon muqw=dej: kai/ ga\r ou)d )a)f )e(autou= tau=ta/ fhsin (/Omhroj ou)de\ gino/mena ei)sa/gei, a)ll ) w(j diadedome/nwn peri\ th\n (Hrakle/ouj ge/nesin me/mnhtai.

But the whole thing is fabulous; for in fact Homer does not say these things of himself [that is, in propria persona], nor are these things that have taken place he is introducing, but he mentions them as being things handed down concerning the birth of Heracles.

Aristotles division in sum: Pertaining to the manner of imitating: things the poet says aph eautou, of himself, or in propria persona, the veracity of which we may suppose himself to vouch for

Pertaining to the object imitated: things that have taken place (ginomena) things handed down, being the matter of tradition (diadedomenon) 35

Aristotle here implies that the poet employing traditional subject matter 1 is not to be personally identified with that matter. Presumably, such things are to be understood as coming under the rationale Aristotle determines about at Poetics ch. 25 (1460b351461a1) (tr. B.A.M.): If, however, in neither way, 2 [it may be replied], but so they say, such as the things [they say] about the gods; for perhaps it is not better, nor true to say [things are so], but is just as it happens, as in the view of Xenophanes: 3 but, at any rate, they say [they are so]. So, to take an example, Herodotus tells us that, with respect to the gods, the poets Hesiod and Homer taught the Greeks their origin, their duration, their descent, their names, their offices, their activities, and their outward forms or appearances (The Histories, 2.53.1-3). And, adds Aristotle (Pol. I. 2, 1252b 24-27, tr. B.A.M.): .as men liken the form of the gods to themselves, so also do they liken the gods ways of life. For, as Xenophanes tells us, mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like their own.4 Accordingly, he says, The gods of Ethiopia are black, their noses flat; In Thrace, their hair is red and eyes are blue.5 To sum up, the poets use of mythologems like the divine descent of Heracles may be justified by an appeal to the things men saythat is, to what is merely a matter of tradition, to which the many give beliefbut such things are referred in the first place to the manner in which the poet speaks: in such cases, he is speaking, not of himself, but as a storyteller. Now it would appear that many such marvels have their ultimate source in the storytellers desire when recounting a deed to gratify his hearers; this statement implying that while the deed itself is not wonderful (presumably because it is something which has actually happened), what is added is. But what is it, precisely, that is added to some (presumably historical) deed in order to arouse wonder? On this matter, let us consider the following evidence:

On traditional material as a source of the plots of tragedy, cf. Poet. 9 (1451b 24-25) (tr. B.A.M.): Wherefore one must not seek to adhere entirely to the traditional fables [or to the fables that have been handed down, paradedomenon muthon], which are the concern [25] of tragedies. For it is ridiculous to seek this out since such known names are known to few, yet they give pleasure to everyone.

That is to say, if the poet is censured that his imitation is neither true, nor better, it may be replied that men say such things; i.e. so the story goes, or thus runs the tale. 3 According to Xenophanes (Fr. 186, Raven and Kirk), with respect to the gods, should one chance to say what is true for the most part, he could not know it to be the truth. But all is mere guesswork (tr. B.A.M.). Compare also Plato, Crat. 425c (tr. B. Jowett): as I said before about the gods, that of the truth about them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions about them. Such being the case, we cannot dismiss out of hand the things men say in such matters, but owe rather to tradition a respectful hearing. Cf. Pausanias, Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1. Attica and Corinth (Cambridge & London, 1918), 8.8.3: When I began to write my history I was inclined to count these legends as foolishness, but on getting as far as Arcadia I grew to hold a more thoughtful view of them, which is this. In the days of old those Greeks who were considered wise spoke their sayings not straight out but in riddles, and so the legends about Cronus I conjectured to be one sort of Greek wisdom. In matters of divinity, therefore, I shall adopt the received tradition.

It follows that, while the mythical or fabulous is taken by certain men as incrediblethat is, as unworthy of belieffor many others they are not. One must consider here the mythical character of the believed religion that is, insofar as it consists in the sort of story. with its allied cultic ritual, lying at the origin of religion: I mean here that arising from mans most direct experience of the mysteries of life and the wonders of nature, a sort which I discuss at length elsewhere in relation to superstition and idolatry. a Cf. G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1957), n. 167, p. 169. 5 Translation from David Mulroy, ed., Early Greek Lyric Poetry (Ann Arbor, 1992), p. 123.


13. On what is added to a story in order to gratify ones hearers: On the narration of things happening unexpectedly but because of each other, cf. Aristotle, Rhet., I. 11,(1371a 31-33) (tr. B.A.M.):
And since learning [manthanein] and wondering [thaumazein] are pleasing, such things as works of imitation must also be pleasing; for instance, the arts of painting and sculpture and the poetic art, and everything well imitated, even if what is imitated itself is not pleasing; for it is not such a thing that causes pleasure, but there is a syllogizing [sc. drawing inferences] that this is that, and thus it happens that one learns something. And reversals [i.e. sudden turns of fortune] and hairs-breadth escapes from danger [are pleasing]; for all such things are to be wondered at [thaumasta]. (emphasis added)

For the rationale of the unfamiliar or remote, cf. idem, III. 2 (1404b 9-10) (tr. B.A.M.):
For the way in which men <feel> in regard to strangers and fellow-citizens, so also do they feel in regard to language. And so one should make his language strange [or unfamiliar, zenon], for men wonder at things remote, but the wonderful [to thaumaston] is pleasing. (emphasis added)

For the rationale at issue now, cf. Aristotle, Poetics ch. 24 (1460a 17-18) (tr. B.A.M.):
But the wonderful [to thaumaston] is pleasing. Its sign is that all men recount a deed by adding to it [prostithentes] it in order to gratify [charizomenoi, sc. their hearers].

Cf. Origen, Contra Celsum, ANF Vol. 4 (Buffalo, 1886) (tr. Frederick Crombie), I. 42 :
Before we begin our reply, we have to remark that the endeavour to show, with regard to almost any history, however true, that it actually occurred, and to produce an intelligent conception regarding it, is one of the most difficult undertakings that can be attempted, and is in some instances an impossibility. For suppose that someone were to assert that there never had been any Trojan war, chiefly on account of the impossible narrative interwoven therewith, about a certain Achilles being the son of a sea-goddess Thetis and of a man Peleus, or Sarpedon being the son of Zeus, or Ascalaphus and Ialmenus the sons of Ares, or Aeneas that of Aphrodite, how should we prove that such was the case, especially under the weight of the fiction attached, I know not how, to the universally prevalent opinion that there was really a war in Ilium between Greeks and Trojans? And suppose, also, that someone disbelieved the story of Oedipus and Jocasta, and of their two sons Eteocles and Polynices, because the sphinx, a kind of half-virgin, was introduced into the narrative, how should we demonstrate the reality of such a thing? And in like manner also with the history of the Epigoni,1 although there is no such marvellous event interwoven with it, or with the return of the Heracleidae,2 or countless other historical events.

That is, a recounting of the expedition of the sons of the seven against Thebes and the sack of Troy. Cf. Mosaics of Grecian History by Marcius Willson and Robert Pierpont Willson (New York, 1883), p. 127:

About twenty years after the Thessalian conquest, the Dorians, who had frequently changed their homes, and had finally settled in a mountainous region on the south of Thessaly, commenced a migration to the Peloponnesus, accompanied by portions of other tribes, and led, as was asserted, by descendants of Hercules, who had been deprived of their dominions in the latter country, and who had hitherto made several unsuccessful attempts to recover them. This important event in Grecian history is therefore called the Return of the Heraclid.


But he who deals candidly with histories, and would wish to keep himself also from being imposed upon by them, will exercise his judgment as to what statements he will give his assent to, and what he will accept figuratively, seeking to discover the meaning of the authors of such inventions, and from what statements he will withhold his belief, as having been written for the gratification of certain individuals.1 And we have said this by way of anticipation respecting the whole history related in the Gospels concerning Jesus, not as inviting men of acuteness to a simple and unreasoning faith, but wishing to show that there is need of candour in those who are to read, and of much investigation, and, so to speak, of insight into the meaning of the writers, that the object with which each event has been recorded may be discovered. (emphasis added)

For an additional rendering, cf. Origen, Contra Celsus I. 42 (tr. Robert Lamberton):
He who approaches the stories generously and wishes to avoid being mislead in reading them will decide which parts he will believe, and which he will interpret allegorically, searching out the intentions of the authors of such fictions [to boulemeuna ereunon ton anaplasamenon], and which he will refuse to believe, and will consider simply as things written to please someone [pros tinas charin anangegrammenois]. And having said this, we have been speaking in anticipation, about the whole story of Jesus in the Gospels. We do not urge the intelligent in the direction of simple and irrational faith, but wish to advise them that those who are going to read this story need to be generous in their approach and will require a great deal of insight and, if I may call it that, power of penetration into the meaning of the Scriptures in order that the intention with which each passage was written may be discovered. (emphasis added)

Note the division Origen makes: what is to be believed: i.e. history what is to be interpreted allegorically or figuratively: i.e. enigmatic myth what is not to be believed, but has been written in order to gratify someone: i.e. to muthodes (the fabulous or mythical), comprising an impossible narrative, as with epic poems recounting the divine parentage of heroes like Achilles and Aeneas, and the Sphinx in the tale of Oedipus (= what is impossible, as well as unbelievable to some, but nevertheless taken on faith by the many)

As noted above, such things come under the rationale of what is impossible but rendered likely, being admitted by the hearer inasmuch as it makes a good story (as if one were to say, thus runs the tale, etc.; sc. things men say, such as about the gods, Poet. 25, 1460b 35-61a 1). In my view, myth properly so called embraces the last two members of this division: the first member being history; the second member, what I have called enigmatic myth; that is, the symbolic representation of the wonders of nature (= an untrue story illustrating a truth; i.e. what C.S. Lewis calls sacramentalism, for which see below); the third member being to muthodes, the fanciful embellishment characteristic of popular myth, fable, and legend.

Cp. David Hume, Of Tragedy (1757): We find that common liars always magnify, in their narrations, all kinds of danger, pain, distress, sickness, deaths, murders, and cruelties; as well as joy, beauty, mirth, and magnificence. It is an absurd secret, which they have for pleasing their company, fixing their attention, and attaching them to such marvellous relations, by the passions and emotions, which they excite.


14. Supplement: On the practice of Homer as representative of the poets desire to gratify his hearers, cf. Strabo, Geogr., 1.2.9 (tr. Horace Leonard Jones), pp. 71-72:
9. Now inasmuch as Homer referred his myths to the province of education, he was wont to pay considerable attention to the truth. And he mingled therein [Il. 8. 14 ] a false element also, giving his sanction to the truth, but using the false to win the favour of the populace and to out-general the masses. [71-72] And as when some skilful man overlays gold upon silver, [Od. 6. 232] just so was Homer wont to add a mythical element [prosetithai muthon] to actual occurrences [alethesi peripiteias, = really occurring reversals or dramatic turns of events which have happened], thus giving flavour and adornment to his style [hedonon kai kosmon ten phasin, lit. giving pleasure and ornamentation to what is said]; but he has the same end in view as the historian or the person who narrates facts. So, for instance, he took the Trojan war, an historical fact [gegonota], and decked it out with his myths [ekosmese tais muthopoiias, = adorned it with story-telling, or myth-making]; and he did the same in the case of the wanderings of Odysseus; but to hang an empty story of marvels [ kenon teratologian] on something wholly untrue is not Homers way of doing things. For it occurs to us at once, doubtless, that a man will lie [pseudoito] more plausibly [pithanoteron] if he will mix in some actual truth [alethinon], just as Polybius says, when he is discussing the wanderings of Odysseus. This is what Homer himself means when he says of Odysseus: So he told many lies in the likeness of truth; for Homer does not say all but many lies; since otherwise they would not have been in the likeness of truth. Accordingly, he took the foundations of his stories from history. (emphasis added)

Cf. Strabo, Geogr., 1.2.9 (In: Roos Meijering, Literary and Rhetorical Theories in Greek Scholia (Groningen, 1987):
It was because Homer regarded his fables as educative that he thought so much of the truth, while also placing therein some falsehoods. The truth he himself accepted; the false he used to manage and command the multitude. Like a man that covers silver with gold, Homer added fable to real events, embellishing and adorning his style, but looking to the same end as the historian or the dealer in facts. Thus he added fabulous elements to the real event of the Trojan war, and so also with Odysseus wanderings. (emphasis added)

Cf. Strabo, Geogr., 1.2.15, (apud Polybius, The Histories. LCL, Harvard, 1917):
Having thus prepared his way, he does not allow us to treat Aeolus and the whole of the wanderings of Ulysses as mythical, but he says, that while some mythical elements have been added, as in the case of the Trojan war, the main statements about Sicily correspond to those of the other writers who treat of the local history of Italy and Sicily. Neither does he applaud the dictum of Eratosthenes that we may find out where Ulysses travelled when we find the cobbler who sewed the bag of the winds. (emphasis added)

Cf. Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on the Iliad, from the preface (tr. David Jenkins, David Bachrach and Darin Hayton, University of Notre Dame 2002):1
However, since this work is full of myths there is the risk of wondering whether he runs afoul. First of all, these Homeric myths are not intended to be humorous. They are instead the phantoms or veils of noble thoughts. Some are molded by him to fit his subject matter, while others naturally allegorize his themes.

( [6/6/03])


Finally, many of these myths that were composed by the ancients and drawn aptly into his poetry are not allegories specifically related to the Trojans at all, but rather are used as those who first composed them intended. But a man so prolific in wisdom did not delight in myths alone. For if wisdom is truthful observation, then the wise man observes truthfully. How can we say that Homer did not do the same? He performed his art by bringing together many elements and mingling them together in his work. Thus, he first entices and charms by surface appearance then captures in this net, so they say, those who shrink from the subtlety of philosophy. Then, having given them a taste of the sweetness in truth, he sends them off to proceed as wise men to hunt after truth in other places. Moreover, he becomes the model for creating credible myths in order that he might lead those eager to learn in this technique just as he does in all the others. But it is especially remarkable that, although his work is full of myths, he is not shunned but loved. Even those who allege to hate him do not in fact shrink from having contact with him. (emphasis added)

Cf. also [Plutarch], Essay on the Life and Poetry of Homer, n. 92, tr. Keaney & Lamberton; rev. B.A.M.):
Indeed, if we should find that Homer provides the beginnings and seeds of all of these [arts and sciences], how then would he not deserve the greatest admiration? And if he reveals these ideas through enigmatic and mythic language [ainigmaton kai muthikon logon], this should not be unexpected, for the reason is the nature of poetry and the custom of the ancients. They did this so that lovers of learning, delighted by a certain elegance [eumousias psuchagogoumenoi], might more easily seek and find the truth [rhaon zetosi te kai euriskosi ten aletheian], while the ignorant would not scorn what they could not understand. That which is signified through hidden meanings [di huponoias semainomenon] may be attractive where that which is said explicitly is of little value. (emphasis added)

On the practice of the preceding generations, cf. Plutarch, The Oracles at Delphi, 406 (Plutarchs Moralia, LCL vol. 5) (tr. F. C. Babbitt), pp. 327-330:
There was, then, a time when men used as the coinage of speech verses and tunes and songs, and reduced to poetic and musical form [C] all history and philosophy and, in a word, every experience and action that required a more impressive utterance. <> But, as life took on a change along with the change in mens fortunes and their natures, when usage banished the unusual and did away with the golden topknotsc and dressing [in] soft robes, and, on occasion, cut off the stately long hair and caused the buskin to be no longer worn, men accustomed themselves (nor was it a bad thing) to oppose expensive outlay by adorning themselves with economy, [E] and to rate as decorative the plain and [327-328] simple rather than the ornate and elaborate. So, as language also underwent a change and put off its finery, history descended from its vehicle of versification, and went on foot in prose, whereby the truth was mostly shifted from the fabulous [tou muthodous]. Philosophy welcomed clearness and teachability in preference to creating amazement [ekpletton], and pursued its investigations through the medium of everyday language [logon epoieito zetesin]. The god put an end to having his prophetic priestess call her own citizens fire-blazers, the Spartans snakedevourers, men mountain-roamers, and rivers mountain-engorgers. When he had taken away from the oracles epic versification, strange words, circumlocutions, and vagueness [epe kai glottas kai periphraseis kai asapheian], he had thus made them ready to talk to his consultants as the laws talk to States, or as kings meet with common people, or as pupils listen to teachers, since he adapted the language to what was intelligible and convincing.

Cf. Thucydides, i. 6. 25 Men ought to understand thoroughly, as Sophoclesa says, that the god is


For wise men author of dark edicts aye, For dull men a poor teacher if concise.

Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec, Frag. p. 298, Sophocles, no. 704 (no. 771 Pearson).

The introduction of clearness was attended also by a revolution of belief, which underwent a change along with everything else. And this was the result: in days of old what was not familiar or common [me sunethes mede koinon], but was expressed altogether indirectly and through circumlocution, the mass of people imputed to an assumed manifestation of divine power, and held it in awe and reverence [ekplettesthai kai sebesthai]; but in later times, being well satisfied to apprehend all these various things clearly and easily without the attendant grandiloquence and artifi- [329-330] ality, they blamed the poetic language with which the oracles were clothed, not only for obstructing the understanding of these in their true meaning and for combining vagueness and obscurity [B] with the communication, but already they were coming to look with suspicion upon metaphors, riddles, ambiguous statements [tas metaphoras kai ta enigmata kai tas amphibolias], feeling that these were secluded nooks of refuge devised for furtive withdrawal and retreat for him that should err in his prophecy. Moreover, there was the oft-repeated tale that certain men with a gift for poetry were wont to sit about close by the shrine waiting to catch the words spoken, and then weaving about them a fabric of extempore hexameters or other verses or rhythms as containers, so to speak, for the oracles. I forbear to mention how much blame men like Onomacritus, Prodicus, and Cinaethon have brought upon themselves from the oracles by foisting upon them a tragic diction and a grandiloquence [hos tragoidean autois kai ongkon] of which they had no need, nor have I any kindly feeling toward their changes.

Cf. Julian the Apostate, The Works of the Emperor Julian, With an English Translation by Wilmer Cave Wright, Ph.D. In Three Volumes. Oration VII: To the Cynic Heracleios, pp. 75-77:
Now one could no more discover where myth was originally invented and who was the first to compose fiction in a plausible manner for the benefit or entertainment of his hearers, than if one were to try to find out who was the first man that sneezed or the first horse that neighed. But as cavalry arose in Thrace and Thessalyl and archers and the lighter [75 / 76] sort of weapons in India, Crete and Caria since the customs of the people were I suppose adapted to the nature of the country, just so we may assume about other things as well, that where anything is highly prized by a nation it was first discovered by that nation rather than by any other. On this assumption then it seems likely that myth was originally the invention of men given to pastoral pursuits, and from that day to this the making of myths is still peculiarly cultivated by them, just as they first invented instruments of music, the flute and the lyre, for their pleasure and entertainment. For just as it is the nature of birds to fly and of fish to swim and of stags to run, and hence they need not be taught to do so; and even if one bind or imprison these animals they try none the less to use those special parts of themselves for the purpose for which they know they are naturally adapted; even so I think the human race whose soul is no other than reason and knowledge imprisoned so to speak in the bodythe philosophers call it a potentialityeven so I say the human race inclines to learning, research and study, as of all tasks most congenial to it. And when a kindly god without delay looses a mans fetters and brings that potentiality into activity, then on the instant knowledge is his: whereas in those who are still imprisoned false opinion instead of true is implanted, just as, I think, Ixion is said to have embraced a sort of cloud instead of the goddess.1 And hence they produce wind-eggs2 and monstrous
1 2

i.e.. Hera; cf. Pindar, Pythian 2. 20 foll.; Dio Chrysostom 4. 130, Arnim. Cf. Plato, Theaetetus 151 E. [76-77]


births, mere phantoms and shadows so to speak of true science. And thus instead of genuine science they profess false doctrines, and are very zealous in learning and teaching such doctrines, as though forsooth they were something useful and admirable. But if I am bound to say something in defence of those who originally invented myths, I think they wrote them for childish souls: and I liken them to nurses who hang leathern toys to the hands of children when they are irritated by teething, in order to ease their suffering: so those mythologists wrote for the feeble soul whose wings are just beginning to sprout, and who, though still incapable of being taught the truth, is yearning for further knowledge, and they poured in a stream of myths like men who water a thirsty field, so as to soothe their irritation and pangs.1

The whole passage echoes Plato, Phaedrus 251. (emphasis added)

Cf. Madeline Clark, Emperor Julian and Neoplatonism:1

Quoting Julians own words, in admirable translation, shows us the clarity and precision of his thinking. Reading his discourses and letters at length deepens this impression. In his oration To the Cynic Heracleios, he develops the subject of myth, and shows that myth is most properly used in presenting recondite teaching (the Mysteries): For nature loves to hide her secrets, and she does not suffer the hidden truth about the essential nature of the gods to be flung in naked words to the ears of the profane. Through riddles and the dramatic setting of myths, that knowledge is insinuated into the ears of the multitude who cannot receive divine truths in their purest form.... The more paradoxical and prodigious the riddle is the more it seems to warn study diligently the hidden truth. (emphasis added)

Cf. A. Pert, Revealing Christianity. Plutarch:

Plutarch of Chaerona (c.45 - c.125AD) was a philosopher, scholar, essayist, and also a priest of Apollo at Delphi. (Fideler, p. 385) His On Isis and Osiris tells the story of how Isis saved Osiris and discusses other issues of Egyptian religion. It is the only work surviving from antiquity to present the true meaning of aspects of Egyptian mythology. Plutarch says that the priests of Egypt had a philosophy that is hidden for the most part in myths and stories which show dim reflections and insights of the truth. (ch. 9) Sphinxes are placed before shrines, intimating that their teaching about the gods holds a mysterious wisdom. (Ibid.) The wisest of the Greeks, Solon, Thales, Plato, Eudoxus, Pythagoras and Lycurgus went to Egypt to be instructed by the priests. (Ibid., ch. 10) Plutarch is well aware of the allegorical content of Egyptian myths. Thus whenever you hear the myths told by the Egyptians about the gods, those, for instance, which tell of their wanderings, mutilations, and many other such tales, you should remember what was said above and not think that any of these things is said to have actually happened so or to have been enacted so; for they do not call Hermes the Dog in a literal sense, but inasmuch as the animal discriminates friend and foe by recognition and non-recognition, as Plato says ( Resp. 375E sqq.), they associate its qualities of guardianship, vigilance and sagacity with the most discerning of gods. Nor do they believe that the Sun-god arises from a lotus-flower as a newborn babe, but thus they represent sunrise, symbolizing the rekindling of the sun from amid moisture.

( [11/25/07) [(From Sunrise October/November 1996; Dec 96/Jan 97. Copyright 1997 by Theosophical University Press.)]



If you hear the matters pertaining to the gods in this way, receiving the myth from those who interpret it reverently and philosophically, and if you perform and observe constantly the accepted rites, considering that nothing is more pleasing to the gods, whether sacrifice or ritual enactment, than the true belief about them, thus you will avoid superstition, which is no less an evil than atheism. (Ibid., ch.11) Plutarch makes his attitude to the myths quite clear: We must not treat the myths as wholly factual accounts, but take what is fitting in each episode according to the principle of likeness (to truth). (Ibid., ch. 58) Just as the scientists tell us that the rainbow is an image of the sun made brilliant by the reflection of its appearance into a cloud, so the present myth is the image of a reality which turns the mind back to other thoughts. ( Ibid., ch. 20) To take the myths literally is to hold extreme and barbarous views about the gods. (Ibid.) Plutarch tells us that The dismemberment of Osiris into fourteen parts is interpreted in relation to the days in which the planet [the moon] wanes after the full moon until a new moon occurs. (Ibid., ch. 42) Plutarch understands and supports genuine myths about the gods. He is opposed to the flimsy stories and hollow figments such as poets and prose writers weave and spread out before us, like spiders creating from themselves, as first principles which are quite unfounded. (Ibid., ch. 20) In How to Study Poetry Plutarch criticises those poets who stray from the path of genuine myth by creating their own fable and falsehood. (How to Study Poetry, 17) Like Plato, Plutarch does not want the young to be corrupted by cryptic or misleading poetry. In The Oracles at Delphi Plutarch tells about a change in attitude to myths. In the ancient days ...owing to this aptitude for poetic composition, most men through lyre and song admonished, spoke out frankly, or exhorted; they attained their ends by the use of myths and proverbs, and besides composed hymns, prayers and paeans in honour of the gods in verse and music. (The Oracles at Delphi, 406) But, as life took on a change in mens fortunes and their natures, (Ibid.) there grew a desire for clearness and the use of everyday language. However, the thing that most filled the poetic art with disrepute was the tribe of wandering soothsayers and rogues that practised their charlatanry about the shrines of the Great Mother and of Serapis, making up oracles, some using their own ingenuity, others taking by lot from certain treatises oracles for the benefit of servants and womenfolk, who are most enticed by verse and a poetic vocabulary. This, then, is not the least among the reasons why poetry, by apparently lending herself to the service of tricksters, mountebanks, and false prophets, lost all standing with the truth and the tripod. (Ibid.) Understanding a need for clearness in his own day, Plutarch says, For my part, I am well content with the settled conditions prevailing at present. ( Ibid. 408) But Plutarch does not criticise the validity of allegories and metaphors as such, only those people who misunderstand them. These people are like children, who take more delight and satisfaction in seeing rainbows, haloes, and comets than in seeing moon and sun; and so these persons yearn for the riddles, allegories, and metaphors which are but reflections of the prophetic art when it acts upon a human imagination. (Ibid. 409) These people miss the truth because they are dazzled by the surface of the allegories and dont get behind them to grasp the real meaning. Plutarch was aware that some people misunderstood the nature of the gods. He says that some Greeks think that statues and paintings of gods are the gods themselves, not knowing that they are images of the gods. (On Isis, ch. 71) Similarly, some Egyptians treat certain animals as gods, not understanding their symbolic significance. (Ibid.) As he says, ...nor should we honour these animals, but rather the divine through them, as being very clear mirrors which nature provides; for these animals should be regarded as the instrument or art of the God who orders everything. (Ibid. ch. 76) Plutarch also takes pains to point out that

43 should take the greatest heed and care not unconsciously to reduce and resolve the divine to terms of winds, fluxes, sowings, ploughings, terrestial occurrences and seasonal changes, like those who explain Dionysus as wine and Hephaestus as flame. ( Ibid. ch. 66) As far as Plutarch is concerned, people who call natural objects and phenomena gods are spreading dreadful and atheistic teachings. For it is impossible to believe that these things are themselves gods.(Ibid.) (emphasis added)

Cf. Philip Mayerson, Classical Mythology in Literature, Art and Music (Waltham, Mass., 1971), pp. 17-18:
Up to this point, the words myth and legend have been used rather loosely to describe those traditional narratives that have come down to us through Greek and Roman sources. This comes about because scholars, even within the same discipline, find it difficult to come to a common understanding on the definition of terms and the means of classifying the overwhelming variety of tales that are subsumed under the name of mythology. There is however, increasing acceptance of a broad and convenient division of these stories into myth (sometimes called myth proper), legend or saga, and folktale. But it must be recognized from the start that, more often than not, no clear line of demarcation exists between these divisions; it is quite possible for one story to contain elements common to two or all three of these narrative forms. Myths are stories of events, usually believed to have taken place in the distant past, that embody the traditions of a people concerning the universe and their religious beliefs. Myths deal with the actions of the gods, their rituals, their relationships to one another, to heroes, and to the existence of natural phenomena. Gods or demigods are the main characters of these narratives. Myths should be understood not as amusing tales of an ill-informed people, but as a mode of perception by which man, at a certain stage in his development, made order out of chaos, made sense out of the manifold diversity existing in the world. It is the object of myth, as of science, states Professor Pierre Grimal, to explain the world, to make its phenomena intelligible. Sir G. L. Gomme makes a similar observation when he says that myth explains matters in the science of a pre-scientific age. Myths most characteristic function, then, is explan-atory or aetiological (cf. Callimachus Aetia): how the universe was created, how man was brought into being, why a certain animal is the way it is (for instance, they myth of Arachne and the characteristics of the spider), how certain natural phenomena came into existence (such as the Pillars of Hercules), or how rituals began (for example, Prometheus deception of Zeus to explain why certain parts of animals, and not others, are sacrificed to the gods of heaven.). Legends or sagasthe Scandinavian word saga is often used, since legend has also acquired the very general meaning of story or narrativeare those tales which contain an element, no matter how minimal and tenuous, of historical fact. Unlike myths, the main characters of these narratives are human; the events described (a famous raid, a great migration, a dangerous hunt) have a basis in fact. But as the story passes from generation to generation, from singer to singer, and is ultimately put into writing, the original version has been so elaborated and so modified that it bears little resemblance to the actual event. A good illustration of the legendary narrative is Homers Iliad. It has its setting in a very real war of the Late Bronze Age, the Trojan War, but the causes of the war, the intervention of the gods in its conduct, and the military strategy described by Homer, have no bearing on the historical facts of the war. Strabo (64 B.C.-c. 21 A.D.), a geographer and historian during the reign of Augustus, appositely remarks: Homer took the Trojan War, a historical fact, and decked it out with his fanciful stories. (emphasis added)


Cf. Gerard Nadaff, Allegory and the Origins and Development of Philosophy From the Presocratics to the Enlightenment, Canadian Philosophical Association Presidential Ad-dress delivered at York University, May 29, 2006:1
Did Homer and Hesiod themselves believe in these oral, traditional accounts? Given that the Greeks of subsequent generations did not doubt the authenticity of the Trojan War, there is little doubt that this was also the case for Homer and Hesiod. But did they believe that the gods/goddess actually intervened in human events in the ways described? Did they believe that the heroes were in part of divine origin? Did they believe that the gods actually were anthropomorphic and, once born, behaved toward one another in reprehensible ways? It was in fact these nonhistorical embellishments that were later to be associated first and foremost with muthoi, that is, myths. <> It is, however, difficult to know whether Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, or Heraclitus believed that the gods of traditional religion were fictions pure and simple, or whether they thought that there was an element of truth to the myths that Homer and Hesiod related about the gods, just as they thought it was true that the Trojan War had indeed occurred. (emphasis added)

( [2/13/07])


15. Supplement. On the Odyssey in this regard: Cf. Homer: The Odyssey. Translated by S. H. Butcher and A. Lang. With Introduction and Notes. New York, Collier, [1909] The Harvard classics v. 22:
Introduction: Composition and Plot of the Odyssey The Odyssey is generally supposed to be somewhat the later in date of the two most ancient Greek poems which are concerned with the events and consequences of the Trojan war. As to the actual history of that war, it may be said that nothing is known. We may conjecture that some contest between peoples of more or less kindred stocks, who occupied the isles and the eastern and western shores of the Aegean, left a strong impression on the popular fancy. Round the memories of this contest would gather many older legends, myths, and stories, not peculiarly Greek or even Aryan, which previously floated unattached, or were connected with heroes whose fame was swallowed up by that of a newer generation. It would be the work of minstrels, priests, and poets, as the national spirit grew conscious of itself, to shape all these materials into a definite body of tradition. This is the rule of developmentfirst scattered stories, then the union of these into a NATIONAL legend. The growth of later national legends, which we are able to trace, historically, has generally come about in this fashion. To take the best known example, we are able to compare the real history of Charlemagne with the old epic poems on his life and exploits. In these poems we find that facts are strangely exaggerated, and distorted; that purely fanciful additions are made to the true records, that the more striking events of earlier history are crowded into the legend of Charles, that mere fairy tales, current among African as well as European peoples, are transmuted into false history, and that the anonymous characters of fairy tales are converted into historical personages. We can also watch the process by which feigned genealogies were constructed, which connected the princely houses of France with the imaginary heroes of the epics.1 The conclusion is that the poetical history of Charlemagne has only the faintest relations to the true history. And we are justified in supposing that, quite as little of the real history of events can be extracted from the tale of Troy, as from the Chansons de Geste. By the time the Odyssey was composed, it is certain that a poet had before him a wellarranged mass of legends and traditions from which he might select his materials. The author of the Iliad has an extremely full and curiously consistent knowledge of the local traditions of Greece, the memories which were cherished by Thebans, Pylians, people of Mycenae, of Argos, and so on. The Iliad and the Odyssey assume this knowledge in the hearers of the poems, and take for granted some acquaintance with other legends, as with the story of the Argonautic Expedition. Now that story itself is a tissue of popular tales,still current in many distant lands,but all woven by the Greek genius into the history of Iason. The history of the return of Odysseus as told in the Odyssey, is in the same way, a tissue of old mrchen.2 These must have existed for an unknown length of time before they

Note that it is this practice which Greek historians like Herodotus, Ephoros, and Thucydides had foremost in their minds, a concern coincident with Aristotles and Origens examples of the divine descent of heroes: it being just such components of supposedly fact-based accounts (as with the Trojan War in the Iliad) that raised red flags among sophisticated readers. 2 Cf. Andrew Lang, Introduction to Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants, by Marian Roalfe Cox (London, 1893), p. xvi: Our Odyssey is notoriously a tissue of mrchen. But it must be recognized that the series of episodes properly so callednamely, the Great Wanderingsdoes not constitute the essence of the poem, but only a part: cf. Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p. 3: Odysseus entertains the court of Alcinous with the marvels of his adventures. One must consider here Aristotles statement of the poems plot in universal form (Poet. 17, 1455b 16-23):


gravitated into the cycle of the tale of Troy. The extraordinary artistic skill with which legends and myths, originally unconnected with each other, are woven into the plot of the Odyssey, so that the marvels of savage and barbaric fancy become indispensable parts of an artistic whole, is one of the chief proofs of the unity of authorship of that poem. (emphasis added)

N.B. On all these matters see my paper On the Four Things Producing an Effect of Wonder According to Aristotle (Papers In Poetics 2)

For the story of the Odyssey is not long: a certain man having wandered for many years, and persecuted by a god, and alone; but in the possessions of his household [standing] thus, that his goods are consumed by suitors and his son made to suffer plots; but he arrives storm-tossed, and making himself known to some and attacking others [i.e. the suitors], is himself saved, but destroys his enemies. In this outline the words, a certain man having wandered for many years, contain merely potentially the tissue of mrchen comprising the folktale elements.


16. Supplement. On the poetic treatment of traditional matter: Cf. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann. Translated by John Oxenford; edited by J. K. Moorhead; introduction by Havelock Ellis (New York, 1998; orig. ed. London, 1930), p. 215:
[1827] Wed., Jan. 31. Here again, continued Goethe, the Greeks were so great, that they regarded fidelity to historic facts less than the treatment of them by the poet. We have, fortunately, a fine example in the Philoctetes, which subject has been treated by all three of the great tragedians, and lastly and best by Sophocles. This poets excellent play has, fortunately, come down to us entire, while of the Philoctetes of Aeschylus and Euripides only fragments have been found, although sufficient to show how they have managed the subject. If time permitted, I would restore these pieces, as I did the Phaeton of Euripides; it would be to me no unpleasant or useless task. In this subject the problem was very simple, namely, to bring Philoctetes, with his bow, from the island of Lemnos. But the manner of doing this was the business of the poet, and here each could show the power of his invention, and one could excel another. Ulysses must fetch him; but shall he be known by Philoctetes or not? and if not, how shall he be disguised? Shall Ulysses go alone, or shall he have companions, and who shall they be? In Aeschylus there is no companion; in Euripides it is Diomed; in Sophocles, the son of Achilles. Then, in what situation is Philoctetes to be found? Shall the island be inhabited or not? And so with a hundred other things, which are all at the discretion of the poet, and in the selection or omission of which one may show his superiority in wisdom to another. Here is the grand point, and our present poets should do like the ancients. They should not be always asking whether a subject has been used before, and look to south and north for unheard-of adventures, which are often barbarous enough, and merely to make an impression as incidents. But to make something of a simple subject by a masterly treatment requires intellect and great talent, and these we do not find.

Cf. Fritz Graf, Greek Mythology: An Introduction, Thomas Marier trans. (Baltimore. Reprint edition, 1996, 1st ed. 1987), p. 2:
A myth is a particular kind of story. It does not coincide with a particular text or literary genre. For example, in all three major genres of Greek poetry the story of Agamemnons murder and of Orestes subsequent revenge is told: in epic (at the beginning of the Odyssey), in choral lyric (e.g. in Stesichorus Oresteia), and in the work of all three tragedians. A myth is not a specific poetic text. It transcends the text: it is the subject matter, a plot fixed in broad outline and with characters no less fixed, which the individual poet is free to alter only within limits. Whereas a single variant, a single poetic work has an author, a myth does not. Myths are transmitted from one generation to another without anyone knowing who created them: this is what is meant by traditional.

On Plot Construction and the Portrayal of Character: Poetics Chapter 15 and Associated Texts (Papers In Poetics 3) (c) 2013 Bart A. Mazzetti. All Rights Reserved.


See also: On the Four Things Producing an Effect of Wonder According to Aristotle (Papers In Poetics 2) On the Dialogue Form Excursus on Myth: A Series of Notes