Anda di halaman 1dari 21

Poetics by Aristotle

Poetics
ByAristotle
Written350B.C.E
TranslatedbyS.H.Butcher

TableofContents

Section1
PartI
IproposetotreatofPoetryinitselfandofitsvariouskinds,notingtheessentialqualityofeach,toinquire
intothestructureoftheplotasrequisitetoagoodpoem;intothenumberandnatureofthepartsofwhicha
poemiscomposed;andsimilarlyintowhateverelsefallswithinthesameinquiry.Following,then,the
orderofnature,letusbeginwiththeprincipleswhichcomefirst.
EpicpoetryandTragedy,ComedyalsoandDithyrambicpoetry,andthemusicofthefluteandofthelyre
inmostoftheirforms,areallintheirgeneralconceptionmodesofimitation.Theydiffer,however,from
oneanotherinthreerespectsthemedium,theobjects,themannerormodeofimitation,beingineachcase
distinct.
Forastherearepersonswho,byconsciousartormerehabit,imitateandrepresentvariousobjectsthrough
themediumofcolorandform,oragainbythevoice;sointheartsabovementioned,takenasawhole,the
imitationisproducedbyrhythm,language,or'harmony,'eithersinglyorcombined.
Thusinthemusicofthefluteandofthelyre,'harmony'andrhythmaloneareemployed;alsoinotherarts,
suchasthatoftheshepherd'spipe,whichareessentiallysimilartothese.Indancing,rhythmaloneisused
without'harmony';forevendancingimitatescharacter,emotion,andaction,byrhythmicalmovement.
Thereisanotherartwhichimitatesbymeansoflanguagealone,andthateitherinproseorversewhich
verse,again,mayeithercombinedifferentmetersorconsistofbutonekindbutthishashithertobeen
withoutaname.ForthereisnocommontermwecouldapplytothemimesofSophronandXenarchusand
theSocraticdialoguesontheonehand;and,ontheother,topoeticimitationsiniambic,elegiac,orany
similarmeter.Peopledo,indeed,addtheword'maker'or'poet'tothenameofthemeter,andspeakof
elegiacpoets,orepic(thatis,hexameter)poets,asifitwerenottheimitationthatmakesthepoet,butthe
versethatentitlesthemalltothename.Evenwhenatreatiseonmedicineornaturalscienceisbroughtout
inverse,thenameofpoetisbycustomgiventotheauthor;andyetHomerandEmpedocleshavenothingin
commonbutthemeter,sothatitwouldberighttocalltheonepoet,theotherphysicistratherthanpoet.On
thesameprinciple,evenifawriterinhispoeticimitationweretocombineallmeters,asChaeremondidin
hisCentaur,whichisamedleycomposedofmetersofallkinds,weshouldbringhimtoounderthegeneral
termpoet.
Somuchthenforthesedistinctions.
Thereare,again,someartswhichemployallthemeansabovementionednamely,rhythm,tune,and
meter.SuchareDithyrambicandNomicpoetry,andalsoTragedyandComedy;butbetweenthem
originallythedifferenceis,thatinthefirsttwocasesthesemeansareallemployedincombination,inthe
latter,nowonemeansisemployed,nowanother.

Such,then,arethedifferencesoftheartswithrespecttothemediumofimitation
PartII
Sincetheobjectsofimitationaremeninaction,andthesemenmustbeeitherofahigheroralowertype
(formoralcharactermainlyanswerstothesedivisions,goodnessandbadnessbeingthedistinguishing
marksofmoraldifferences),itfollowsthatwemustrepresentmeneitherasbetterthaninreallife,oras
worse,orastheyare.Itisthesameinpainting.Polygnotusdepictedmenasnoblerthantheyare,Pausonas
lessnoble,Dionysiusdrewthemtruetolife.
Nowitisevidentthateachofthemodesofimitationabovementionedwillexhibitthesedifferences,and
becomeadistinctkindinimitatingobjectsthatarethusdistinct.Suchdiversitiesmaybefoundevenin
dancing,fluteplaying,andlyreplaying.Soagaininlanguage,whetherproseorverseunaccompaniedby
music.Homer,forexample,makesmenbetterthantheyare;Cleophonastheyare;HegemontheThasian,
theinventorofparodies,andNicochares,theauthoroftheDeiliad,worsethantheyare.Thesamething
holdsgoodofDithyrambsandNomes;heretooonemayportraydifferenttypes,asTimotheusand
PhiloxenusdifferedinrepresentingtheirCyclopes.ThesamedistinctionmarksoffTragedyfromComedy;
forComedyaimsatrepresentingmenasworse,Tragedyasbetterthaninactuallife.
PartIII
Thereisstillathirddifferencethemannerinwhicheachoftheseobjectsmaybeimitated.Forthemedium
beingthesame,andtheobjectsthesame,thepoetmayimitatebynarrationinwhichcasehecaneither
takeanotherpersonalityasHomerdoes,orspeakinhisownperson,unchangedorhemaypresentallhis
charactersaslivingandmovingbeforeus.
These,then,aswesaidatthebeginning,arethethreedifferenceswhichdistinguishartisticimitationthe
medium,theobjects,andthemanner.Sothatfromonepointofview,Sophoclesisanimitatorofthesame
kindasHomerforbothimitatehighertypesofcharacter;fromanotherpointofview,ofthesamekindas
Aristophanesforbothimitatepersonsactinganddoing.Hence,somesay,thenameof'drama'isgivento
suchpoems,asrepresentingaction.ForthesamereasontheDoriansclaimtheinventionbothofTragedy
andComedy.TheclaimtoComedyisputforwardbytheMegariansnotonlybythoseofGreeceproper,
whoallegethatitoriginatedundertheirdemocracy,butalsobytheMegariansofSicily,forthepoet
Epicharmus,whoismuchearlierthanChionidesandMagnes,belongedtothatcountry.Tragedytoois
claimedbycertainDoriansofthePeloponnese.Ineachcasetheyappealtotheevidenceoflanguage.The
outlyingvillages,theysay,arebythemcalledkomai,bytheAtheniansdemoi:andtheyassumethat
comediansweresonamednotfromkomazein,'torevel,'butbecausetheywanderedfromvillagetovillage
(katakomas),beingexcludedcontemptuouslyfromthecity.TheyaddalsothattheDorianwordfor'doing'
isdran,andtheAthenian,prattein.
Thismaysufficeastothenumberandnatureofthevariousmodesofimitation.
PartIV
Poetryingeneralseemstohavesprungfromtwocauses,eachofthemlyingdeepinournature.First,the
instinctofimitationisimplantedinmanfromchildhood,onedifferencebetweenhimandotheranimals
beingthatheisthemostimitativeoflivingcreatures,andthroughimitationlearnshisearliestlessons;and
nolessuniversalisthepleasurefeltinthingsimitated.Wehaveevidenceofthisinthefactsofexperience.
Objectswhichinthemselvesweviewwithpain,wedelighttocontemplatewhenreproducedwithminute
fidelity:suchastheformsofthemostignobleanimalsandofdeadbodies.Thecauseofthisagainis,that
tolearngivestheliveliestpleasure,notonlytophilosophersbuttomeningeneral;whosecapacity,
however,oflearningismorelimited.Thusthereasonwhymenenjoyseeingalikenessis,thatin

contemplatingittheyfindthemselveslearningorinferring,andsayingperhaps,'Ah,thatishe.'Forifyou
happennottohaveseentheoriginal,thepleasurewillbeduenottotheimitationassuch,buttothe
execution,thecoloring,orsomesuchothercause.
Imitation,then,isoneinstinctofournature.Next,thereistheinstinctfor'harmony'andrhythm,meters
beingmanifestlysectionsofrhythm.Persons,therefore,startingwiththisnaturalgiftdevelopedbydegrees
theirspecialaptitudes,tilltheirrudeimprovisationsgavebirthtoPoetry.
Poetrynowdivergedintwodirections,accordingtotheindividualcharacterofthewriters.Thegraver
spiritsimitatednobleactions,andtheactionsofgoodmen.Themoretrivialsortimitatedtheactionsof
meanerpersons,atfirstcomposingsatires,astheformerdidhymnstothegodsandthepraisesoffamous
men.ApoemofthesatiricalkindcannotindeedbeputdowntoanyauthorearlierthanHomer;though
manysuchwritersprobablytherewere.ButfromHomeronward,instancescanbecitedhisownMargites,
forexample,andothersimilarcompositions.Theappropriatemeterwasalsohereintroduced;hencethe
measureisstillcalledtheiambicorlampooningmeasure,beingthatinwhichpeoplelampoonedone
another.Thustheolderpoetsweredistinguishedaswritersofheroicoroflampooningverse.
As,intheseriousstyle,Homerispreeminentamongpoets,forhealonecombineddramaticformwith
excellenceofimitationsohetoofirstlaiddownthemainlinesofcomedy,bydramatizingtheludicrous
insteadofwritingpersonalsatire.HisMargitesbearsthesamerelationtocomedythattheIliadand
Odysseydototragedy.ButwhenTragedyandComedycametolight,thetwoclassesofpoetsstill
followedtheirnaturalbent:thelampoonersbecamewritersofComedy,andtheEpicpoetsweresucceeded
byTragedians,sincethedramawasalargerandhigherformofart.
WhetherTragedyhasasyetperfecteditspropertypesornot;andwhetheritistobejudgedinitself,orin
relationalsototheaudiencethisraisesanotherquestion.Bethatasitmay,TragedyasalsoComedywas
atfirstmereimprovisation.TheoneoriginatedwiththeauthorsoftheDithyramb,theotherwiththoseof
thephallicsongs,whicharestillinuseinmanyofourcities.Tragedyadvancedbyslowdegrees;eachnew
elementthatshoweditselfwasinturndeveloped.Havingpassedthroughmanychanges,itfounditsnatural
form,andthereitstopped.
Aeschylusfirstintroducedasecondactor;hediminishedtheimportanceoftheChorus,andassignedthe
leadingparttothedialogue.Sophoclesraisedthenumberofactorstothree,andaddedscenepainting.
Moreover,itwasnottilllatethattheshortplotwasdiscardedforoneofgreatercompass,andthegrotesque
dictionoftheearliersatyricformforthestatelymannerofTragedy.Theiambicmeasurethenreplacedthe
trochaictetrameter,whichwasoriginallyemployedwhenthepoetrywasofthesatyricorder,andhad
greaterwithdancing.Oncedialoguehadcomein,Natureherselfdiscoveredtheappropriatemeasure.For
theiambicis,ofallmeasures,themostcolloquialweseeitinthefactthatconversationalspeechrunsinto
iambiclinesmorefrequentlythanintoanyotherkindofverse;rarelyintohexameters,andonlywhenwe
dropthecolloquialintonation.Theadditionstothenumberof'episodes'oracts,andtheotheraccessories
ofwhichtraditiontells,mustbetakenasalreadydescribed;fortodiscussthemindetailwould,doubtless,
bealargeundertaking.
PartV
Comedyis,aswehavesaid,animitationofcharactersofalowertypenot,however,inthefullsenseofthe
wordbad,theludicrousbeingmerelyasubdivisionoftheugly.Itconsistsinsomedefectoruglinesswhich
isnotpainfulordestructive.Totakeanobviousexample,thecomicmaskisuglyanddistorted,butdoes
notimplypain.
ThesuccessivechangesthroughwhichTragedypassed,andtheauthorsofthesechanges,arewellknown,
whereasComedyhashadnohistory,becauseitwasnotatfirsttreatedseriously.Itwaslatebeforethe
Archongrantedacomicchorustoapoet;theperformersweretillthenvoluntary.Comedyhadalready

takendefiniteshapewhencomicpoets,distinctivelysocalled,areheardof.Whofurnisheditwithmasks,
orprologues,orincreasedthenumberofactorstheseandothersimilardetailsremainunknown.Asforthe
plot,itcameoriginallyfromSicily;butofAthenianwritersCrateswasthefirstwhoabandoningthe
'iambic'orlampooningform,generalizedhisthemesandplots.
EpicpoetryagreeswithTragedyinsofarasitisanimitationinverseofcharactersofahighertype.They
differinthatEpicpoetryadmitsbutonekindofmeterandisnarrativeinform.Theydiffer,again,intheir
length:forTragedyendeavors,asfaraspossible,toconfineitselftoasinglerevolutionofthesun,orbut
slightlytoexceedthislimit,whereastheEpicactionhasnolimitsoftime.This,then,isasecondpointof
difference;thoughatfirstthesamefreedomwasadmittedinTragedyasinEpicpoetry.
Oftheirconstituentpartssomearecommontoboth,somepeculiartoTragedy:whoever,thereforeknows
whatisgoodorbadTragedy,knowsalsoaboutEpicpoetry.AlltheelementsofanEpicpoemarefoundin
Tragedy,buttheelementsofaTragedyarenotallfoundintheEpicpoem.
PartVI
Ofthepoetrywhichimitatesinhexameterverse,andofComedy,wewillspeakhereafter.Letusnow
discussTragedy,resumingitsformaldefinition,asresultingfromwhathasbeenalreadysaid.
Tragedy,then,isanimitationofanactionthatisserious,complete,andofacertainmagnitude;inlanguage
embellishedwitheachkindofartisticornament,theseveralkindsbeingfoundinseparatepartsoftheplay;
intheformofaction,notofnarrative;throughpityandfeareffectingtheproperpurgationofthese
emotions.By'languageembellished,'Imeanlanguageintowhichrhythm,'harmony'andsongenter.By
'theseveralkindsinseparateparts,'Imean,thatsomepartsarerenderedthroughthemediumofverse
alone,othersagainwiththeaidofsong.
Nowastragicimitationimpliespersonsacting,itnecessarilyfollowsinthefirstplace,thatSpectacular
equipmentwillbeapartofTragedy.Next,SongandDiction,forthesearethemediaofimitation.By
'Diction'Imeanthemeremetricalarrangementofthewords:asfor'Song,'itisatermwhosesenseevery
oneunderstands.
Again,Tragedyistheimitationofanaction;andanactionimpliespersonalagents,whonecessarilypossess
certaindistinctivequalitiesbothofcharacterandthought;foritisbythesethatwequalifyactions
themselves,andthesethoughtandcharacterarethetwonaturalcausesfromwhichactionsspring,andon
actionsagainallsuccessorfailuredepends.Hence,thePlotistheimitationoftheactionforbyplotIhere
meanthearrangementoftheincidents.ByCharacterImeanthatinvirtueofwhichweascribecertain
qualitiestotheagents.Thoughtisrequiredwhereverastatementisproved,or,itmaybe,ageneraltruth
enunciated.EveryTragedy,therefore,musthavesixparts,whichpartsdetermineitsqualitynamely,Plot,
Character,Diction,Thought,Spectacle,Song.Twoofthepartsconstitutethemediumofimitation,onethe
manner,andthreetheobjectsofimitation.Andthesecompletethefist.Theseelementshavebeen
employed,wemaysay,bythepoetstoaman;infact,everyplaycontainsSpectacularelementsaswellas
Character,Plot,Diction,Song,andThought.
Butmostimportantofallisthestructureoftheincidents.ForTragedyisanimitation,notofmen,butofan
actionandoflife,andlifeconsistsinaction,anditsendisamodeofaction,notaquality.Nowcharacter
determinesmen'squalities,butitisbytheiractionsthattheyarehappyorthereverse.Dramaticaction,
therefore,isnotwithaviewtotherepresentationofcharacter:charactercomesinassubsidiarytothe
actions.Hencetheincidentsandtheplotaretheendofatragedy;andtheendisthechiefthingofall.
Again,withoutactiontherecannotbeatragedy;theremaybewithoutcharacter.Thetragediesofmostof
ourmodernpoetsfailintherenderingofcharacter;andofpoetsingeneralthisisoftentrue.Itisthesame
inpainting;andhereliesthedifferencebetweenZeuxisandPolygnotus.Polygnotusdelineatescharacter
well;thestyleofZeuxisisdevoidofethicalquality.Again,ifyoustringtogetherasetofspeeches

expressiveofcharacter,andwellfinishedinpointofdictionandthought,youwillnotproducetheessential
tragiceffectnearlysowellaswithaplaywhich,howeverdeficientintheserespects,yethasaplotand
artisticallyconstructedincidents.Besideswhich,themostpowerfulelementsofemotionalinterestin
TragedyPeripeteiaorReversaloftheSituation,andRecognitionscenesarepartsoftheplot.Afurther
proofis,thatnovicesintheartattaintofinishofdictionandprecisionofportraiturebeforetheycan
constructtheplot.Itisthesamewithalmostalltheearlypoets.
Theplot,then,isthefirstprinciple,and,asitwere,thesoulofatragedy;Characterholdsthesecondplace.
Asimilarfactisseeninpainting.Themostbeautifulcolors,laidonconfusedly,willnotgiveasmuch
pleasureasthechalkoutlineofaportrait.ThusTragedyistheimitationofanaction,andoftheagents
mainlywithaviewtotheaction.
ThirdinorderisThoughtthatis,thefacultyofsayingwhatispossibleandpertinentingiven
circumstances.Inthecaseoforatory,thisisthefunctionofthepoliticalartandoftheartofrhetoric:andso
indeedtheolderpoetsmaketheircharactersspeakthelanguageofciviclife;thepoetsofourtime,the
languageoftherhetoricians.Characteristhatwhichrevealsmoralpurpose,showingwhatkindofthingsa
manchoosesoravoids.Speeches,therefore,whichdonotmakethismanifest,orinwhichthespeakerdoes
notchooseoravoidanythingwhatever,arenotexpressiveofcharacter.Thought,ontheotherhand,is
foundwheresomethingisprovedtobeornottobe,orageneralmaximisenunciated.
FourthamongtheelementsenumeratedcomesDiction;bywhichImean,ashasbeenalreadysaid,the
expressionofthemeaninginwords;anditsessenceisthesamebothinverseandprose.
OftheremainingelementsSongholdsthechiefplaceamongtheembellishments
TheSpectaclehas,indeed,anemotionalattractionofitsown,but,ofalltheparts,itistheleastartistic,and
connectedleastwiththeartofpoetry.ForthepowerofTragedy,wemaybesure,isfeltevenapartfrom
representationandactors.Besides,theproductionofspectaculareffectsdependsmoreontheartofthe
stagemachinistthanonthatofthepoet.
PartVII
Theseprinciplesbeingestablished,letusnowdiscusstheproperstructureofthePlot,sincethisisthefirst
andmostimportantthinginTragedy.
Now,accordingtoourdefinitionTragedyisanimitationofanactionthatiscomplete,andwhole,andofa
certainmagnitude;fortheremaybeawholethatiswantinginmagnitude.Awholeisthatwhichhasa
beginning,amiddle,andanend.Abeginningisthatwhichdoesnotitselffollowanythingbycausal
necessity,butafterwhichsomethingnaturallyisorcomestobe.Anend,onthecontrary,isthatwhich
itselfnaturallyfollowssomeotherthing,eitherbynecessity,orasarule,buthasnothingfollowingit.A
middleisthatwhichfollowssomethingassomeotherthingfollowsit.Awellconstructedplot,therefore,
mustneitherbeginnorendathaphazard,butconformtotheseprinciples.
Again,abeautifulobject,whetheritbealivingorganismoranywholecomposedofparts,mustnotonly
haveanorderlyarrangementofparts,butmustalsobeofacertainmagnitude;forbeautydependson
magnitudeandorder.Henceaverysmallanimalorganismcannotbebeautiful;fortheviewofitis
confused,theobjectbeingseeninanalmostimperceptiblemomentoftime.Nor,again,canoneofvastsize
bebeautiful;forastheeyecannottakeitallinatonce,theunityandsenseofthewholeislostforthe
spectator;asforinstanceiftherewereoneathousandmileslong.As,therefore,inthecaseofanimate
bodiesandorganismsacertainmagnitudeisnecessary,andamagnitudewhichmaybeeasilyembracedin
oneview;sointheplot,acertainlengthisnecessary,andalengthwhichcanbeeasilyembracedbythe
memory.Thelimitoflengthinrelationtodramaticcompetitionandsensuouspresentmentisnopartof
artistictheory.Forhaditbeentheruleforahundredtragediestocompetetogether,theperformancewould

havebeenregulatedbythewaterclockasindeedwearetoldwasformerlydone.Butthelimitasfixedby
thenatureofthedramaitselfisthis:thegreaterthelength,themorebeautifulwillthepiecebebyreasonof
itssize,providedthatthewholebeperspicuous.Andtodefinethematterroughly,wemaysaythatthe
propermagnitudeiscomprisedwithinsuchlimits,thatthesequenceofevents,accordingtothelawof
probabilityornecessity,willadmitofachangefrombadfortunetogood,orfromgoodfortunetobad.
PartVIII
Unityofplotdoesnot,assomepersonsthink,consistintheunityofthehero.Forinfinitelyvariousarethe
incidentsinoneman'slifewhichcannotbereducedtounity;andso,too,therearemanyactionsofoneman
outofwhichwecannotmakeoneaction.Hencetheerror,asitappears,ofallpoetswhohavecomposeda
Heracleid,aTheseid,orotherpoemsofthekind.TheyimaginethatasHeracleswasoneman,thestoryof
Heraclesmustalsobeaunity.ButHomer,asinallelseheisofsurpassingmerit,heretoowhetherfrom
artornaturalgeniusseemstohavehappilydiscernedthetruth.IncomposingtheOdysseyhedidnot
includealltheadventuresofOdysseussuchashiswoundonParnassus,orhisfeignedmadnessatthe
musteringofthehostincidentsbetweenwhichtherewasnonecessaryorprobableconnection:buthe
madetheOdyssey,andlikewisetheIliad,tocenterroundanactionthatinoursenseofthewordisone.As
therefore,intheotherimitativearts,theimitationisonewhentheobjectimitatedisone,sotheplot,being
animitationofanaction,mustimitateoneactionandthatawhole,thestructuralunionofthepartsbeing
suchthat,ifanyoneofthemisdisplacedorremoved,thewholewillbedisjointedanddisturbed.Fora
thingwhosepresenceorabsencemakesnovisibledifference,isnotanorganicpartofthewhole.
PartIX
Itis,moreover,evidentfromwhathasbeensaid,thatitisnotthefunctionofthepoettorelatewhathas
happened,butwhatmayhappenwhatispossibleaccordingtothelawofprobabilityornecessity.Thepoet
andthehistoriandiffernotbywritinginverseorinprose.TheworkofHerodotusmightbeputintoverse,
anditwouldstillbeaspeciesofhistory,withmeternolessthanwithoutit.Thetruedifferenceisthatone
relateswhathashappened,theotherwhatmayhappen.Poetry,therefore,isamorephilosophicalanda
higherthingthanhistory:forpoetrytendstoexpresstheuniversal,historytheparticular.BytheuniversalI
meanhowapersonofacertaintypeonoccasionspeakoract,accordingtothelawofprobabilityor
necessity;anditisthisuniversalityatwhichpoetryaimsinthenamessheattachestothepersonages.The
particularisforexamplewhatAlcibiadesdidorsuffered.InComedythisisalreadyapparent:forherethe
poetfirstconstructstheplotonthelinesofprobability,andtheninsertscharacteristicnamesunlikethe
lampoonerswhowriteaboutparticularindividuals.Buttragediansstillkeeptorealnames,thereasonbeing
thatwhatispossibleiscredible:whathasnothappenedwedonotatoncefeelsuretobepossible;butwhat
hashappenedismanifestlypossible:otherwiseitwouldnothavehappened.Stillthereareevensome
tragediesinwhichthereareonlyoneortwowellknownnames,therestbeingfictitious.Inothers,noneare
wellknownasinAgathon'sAntheus,whereincidentsandnamesalikearefictitious,andyettheygive
nonethelesspleasure.Wemustnot,therefore,atallcostskeeptothereceivedlegends,whicharetheusual
subjectsofTragedy.Indeed,itwouldbeabsurdtoattemptit;forevensubjectsthatareknownareknown
onlytoafew,andyetgivepleasuretoall.Itclearlyfollowsthatthepoetor'maker'shouldbethemakerof
plotsratherthanofverses;sinceheisapoetbecauseheimitates,andwhatheimitatesareactions.And
evenifhechancestotakeahistoricalsubject,heisnonethelessapoet;forthereisnoreasonwhysome
eventsthathaveactuallyhappenedshouldnotconformtothelawoftheprobableandpossible,andin
virtueofthatqualityinthemheistheirpoetormaker.
Ofallplotsandactionstheepisodicaretheworst.Icallaplot'episodic'inwhichtheepisodesoracts
succeedoneanotherwithoutprobableornecessarysequence.Badpoetscomposesuchpiecesbytheirown
fault,goodpoets,topleasetheplayers;for,astheywriteshowpiecesforcompetition,theystretchtheplot
beyonditscapacity,andareoftenforcedtobreakthenaturalcontinuity.
Butagain,Tragedyisanimitationnotonlyofacompleteaction,butofeventsinspiringfearorpity.Such

aneffectisbestproducedwhentheeventscomeonusbysurprise;andtheeffectisheightenedwhen,atthe
sametime,theyfollowascauseandeffect.Thetragicwonderwillthenbegreaterthaniftheyhappenedof
themselvesorbyaccident;forevencoincidencesaremoststrikingwhentheyhaveanairofdesign.We
mayinstancethestatueofMitysatArgos,whichfelluponhismurdererwhilehewasaspectatorata
festival,andkilledhim.Sucheventsseemnottobeduetomerechance.Plots,therefore,constructedon
theseprinciplesarenecessarilythebest.
PartX
PlotsareeitherSimpleorComplex,fortheactionsinreallife,ofwhichtheplotsareanimitation,
obviouslyshowasimilardistinction.Anactionwhichisoneandcontinuousinthesenseabovedefined,I
callSimple,whenthechangeoffortunetakesplacewithoutReversaloftheSituationandwithout
Recognition
AComplexactionisoneinwhichthechangeisaccompaniedbysuchReversal,orbyRecognition,orby
both.Theselastshouldarisefromtheinternalstructureoftheplot,sothatwhatfollowsshouldbethe
necessaryorprobableresultoftheprecedingaction.Itmakesallthedifferencewhetheranygiveneventis
acaseofpropterhocorposthoc.
PartXI
ReversaloftheSituationisachangebywhichtheactionveersroundtoitsopposite,subjectalwaystoour
ruleofprobabilityornecessity.ThusintheOedipus,themessengercomestocheerOedipusandfreehim
fromhisalarmsabouthismother,butbyrevealingwhoheis,heproducestheoppositeeffect.Againinthe
Lynceus,Lynceusisbeingledawaytohisdeath,andDanausgoeswithhim,meaningtoslayhim;butthe
outcomeoftheprecedingincidentsisthatDanausiskilledandLynceussaved.
Recognition,asthenameindicates,isachangefromignorancetoknowledge,producingloveorhate
betweenthepersonsdestinedbythepoetforgoodorbadfortune.Thebestformofrecognitionis
coincidentwithaReversaloftheSituation,asintheOedipus.Thereareindeedotherforms.Even
inanimatethingsofthemosttrivialkindmayinasensebeobjectsofrecognition.Again,wemayrecognize
ordiscoverwhetherapersonhasdoneathingornot.Buttherecognitionwhichismostintimately
connectedwiththeplotandactionis,aswehavesaid,therecognitionofpersons.Thisrecognition,
combinedwithReversal,willproduceeitherpityorfear;andactionsproducingtheseeffectsarethose
which,byourdefinition,Tragedyrepresents.Moreover,itisuponsuchsituationsthattheissuesofgoodor
badfortunewilldepend.Recognition,then,beingbetweenpersons,itmayhappenthatonepersononlyis
recognizedbytheotherwhenthelatterisalreadyknownoritmaybenecessarythattherecognition
shouldbeonbothsides.ThusIphigeniaisrevealedtoOrestesbythesendingoftheletter;butanotheract
ofrecognitionisrequiredtomakeOrestesknowntoIphigenia.
Twoparts,then,ofthePlotReversaloftheSituationandRecognitionturnuponsurprises.Athirdpartis
theSceneofSuffering.TheSceneofSufferingisadestructiveorpainfulaction,suchasdeathonthestage,
bodilyagony,wounds,andthelike.

Poetics
ByAristotle
Written350B.C.E
TranslatedbyS.H.Butcher

TableofContents

Section2
PartXII
ThepartsofTragedywhichmustbetreatedaselementsofthewholehavebeenalreadymentioned.We
nowcometothequantitativepartstheseparatepartsintowhichTragedyisdividednamely,Prologue,
Episode,Exode,Choricsong;thislastbeingdividedintoParodeandStasimon.Thesearecommontoall
plays:peculiartosomearethesongsofactorsfromthestageandtheCommoi.
ThePrologueisthatentirepartofatragedywhichprecedestheParodeoftheChorus.TheEpisodeisthat
entirepartofatragedywhichisbetweencompletechoricsongs.TheExodeisthatentirepartofatragedy
whichhasnochoricsongafterit.OftheChoricparttheParodeisthefirstundividedutteranceofthe
Chorus:theStasimonisaChoricodewithoutanapaestsortrochaictetrameters:theCommosisajoint
lamentationofChorusandactors.ThepartsofTragedywhichmustbetreatedaselementsofthewhole
havebeenalreadymentioned.Thequantitativepartstheseparatepartsintowhichitisdividedarehere
enumerated.
PartXIII
Asthesequeltowhathasalreadybeensaid,wemustproceedtoconsiderwhatthepoetshouldaimat,and
whatheshouldavoid,inconstructinghisplots;andbywhatmeansthespecificeffectofTragedywillbe
produced.
Aperfecttragedyshould,aswehaveseen,bearrangednotonthesimplebutonthecomplexplan.It
should,moreover,imitateactionswhichexcitepityandfear,thisbeingthedistinctivemarkoftragic
imitation.Itfollowsplainly,inthefirstplace,thatthechangeoffortunepresentedmustnotbethespectacle
ofavirtuousmanbroughtfromprosperitytoadversity:forthismovesneitherpitynorfear;itmerely
shocksus.Nor,again,thatofabadmanpassingfromadversitytoprosperity:fornothingcanbemorealien
tothespiritofTragedy;itpossessesnosingletragicquality;itneithersatisfiesthemoralsensenorcalls
forthpityorfear.Nor,again,shouldthedownfalloftheuttervillainbeexhibited.Aplotofthiskind
would,doubtless,satisfythemoralsense,butitwouldinspireneitherpitynorfear;forpityisarousedby
unmeritedmisfortune,fearbythemisfortuneofamanlikeourselves.Suchanevent,therefore,willbe
neitherpitifulnorterrible.Thereremains,then,thecharacterbetweenthesetwoextremesthatofaman
whoisnoteminentlygoodandjust,yetwhosemisfortuneisbroughtaboutnotbyviceordepravity,butby
someerrororfrailty.HemustbeonewhoishighlyrenownedandprosperousapersonagelikeOedipus,
Thyestes,orotherillustriousmenofsuchfamilies.
Awellconstructedplotshould,therefore,besingleinitsissue,ratherthandoubleassomemaintain.The
changeoffortuneshouldbenotfrombadtogood,but,reversely,fromgoodtobad.Itshouldcomeabout
astheresultnotofvice,butofsomegreaterrororfrailty,inacharactereithersuchaswehavedescribed,
orbetterratherthanworse.Thepracticeofthestagebearsoutourview.Atfirstthepoetsrecountedany
legendthatcameintheirway.Now,thebesttragediesarefoundedonthestoryofafewhousesonthe
fortunesofAlcmaeon,Oedipus,Orestes,Meleager,Thyestes,Telephus,andthoseotherswhohavedoneor
sufferedsomethingterrible.Atragedy,then,tobeperfectaccordingtotherulesofartshouldbeofthis
construction.HencetheyareinerrorwhocensureEuripidesjustbecausehefollowsthisprincipleinhis
plays,manyofwhichendunhappily.Itis,aswehavesaid,therightending.Thebestproofisthatonthe
stageandindramaticcompetition,suchplays,ifwellworkedout,arethemosttragicineffect;and
Euripides,faultythoughhemaybeinthegeneralmanagementofhissubject,yetisfelttobethemost
tragicofthepoets.
Inthesecondrankcomesthekindoftragedywhichsomeplacefirst.LiketheOdyssey,ithasadouble

threadofplot,andalsoanoppositecatastropheforthegoodandforthebad.Itisaccountedthebest
becauseoftheweaknessofthespectators;forthepoetisguidedinwhathewritesbythewishesofhis
audience.Thepleasure,however,thencederivedisnotthetruetragicpleasure.Itisproperratherto
Comedy,wherethosewho,inthepiece,arethedeadliestenemieslikeOrestesandAegisthusquitthe
stageasfriendsattheclose,andnooneslaysorisslain.
PartXIV
Fearandpitymaybearousedbyspectacularmeans;buttheymayalsoresultfromtheinnerstructureofthe
piece,whichisthebetterway,andindicatesasuperiorpoet.Fortheplotoughttobesoconstructedthat,
evenwithouttheaidoftheeye,hewhohearsthetaletoldwillthrillwithhorrorandmelttopityatwhat
takesPlace.ThisistheimpressionweshouldreceivefromhearingthestoryoftheOedipus.Buttoproduce
thiseffectbythemerespectacleisalessartisticmethod,anddependentonextraneousaids.Thosewho
employspectacularmeanstocreateasensenotoftheterriblebutonlyofthemonstrous,arestrangerstothe
purposeofTragedy;forwemustnotdemandofTragedyanyandeverykindofpleasure,butonlythat
whichispropertoit.Andsincethepleasurewhichthepoetshouldaffordisthatwhichcomesfrompity
andfearthroughimitation,itisevidentthatthisqualitymustbeimpressedupontheincidents.
Letusthendeterminewhatarethecircumstanceswhichstrikeusasterribleorpitiful.
Actionscapableofthiseffectmusthappenbetweenpersonswhoareeitherfriendsorenemiesorindifferent
tooneanother.Ifanenemykillsanenemy,thereisnothingtoexcitepityeitherintheactortheintention
exceptsofarasthesufferinginitselfispitiful.Soagainwithindifferentpersons.Butwhenthetragic
incidentoccursbetweenthosewhoarenearordeartooneanotherif,forexample,abrotherkills,or
intendstokill,abrother,asonhisfather,amotherherson,asonhismother,oranyotherdeedofthekind
isdonethesearethesituationstobelookedforbythepoet.Hemaynotindeeddestroytheframeworkof
thereceivedlegendsthefact,forinstance,thatClytemnestrawasslainbyOrestesandEriphyleby
Alcmaeonbutheoughttoshowofhisown,andskilfullyhandlethetraditional.material.Letusexplain
moreclearlywhatismeantbyskilfulhandling.
Theactionmaybedoneconsciouslyandwithknowledgeofthepersons,inthemanneroftheolderpoets.It
isthustoothatEuripidesmakesMedeaslayherchildren.Or,again,thedeedofhorrormaybedone,but
doneinignorance,andthetieofkinshiporfriendshipbediscoveredafterwards.TheOedipusofSophocles
isanexample.Here,indeed,theincidentisoutsidethedramaproper;butcasesoccurwhereitfallswithin
theactionoftheplay:onemaycitetheAlcmaeonofAstydamas,orTelegonusintheWoundedOdysseus.
Again,thereisathirdcase[tobeabouttoactwithknowledgeofthepersonsandthennottoact.The
fourthcase]iswhensomeoneisabouttodoanirreparabledeedthroughignorance,andmakesthe
discoverybeforeitisdone.Thesearetheonlypossibleways.Forthedeedmusteitherbedoneornotdone
andthatwittinglyorunwittingly.Butofalltheseways,tobeabouttoactknowingthepersons,andthen
nottoact,istheworst.Itisshockingwithoutbeingtragic,fornodisasterfollowsItis,therefore,never,or
veryrarely,foundinpoetry.Oneinstance,however,isintheAntigone,whereHaemonthreatenstokill
Creon.Thenextandbetterwayisthatthedeedshouldbeperpetrated.Stillbetter,thatitshouldbe
perpetratedinignorance,andthediscoverymadeafterwards.Thereisthennothingtoshockus,whilethe
discoveryproducesastartlingeffect.Thelastcaseisthebest,aswhenintheCresphontesMeropeisabout
toslayherson,but,recognizingwhoheis,spareshislife.SointheIphigenia,thesisterrecognizesthe
brotherjustintime.AgainintheHelle,thesonrecognizesthemotherwhenonthepointofgivingherup.
This,then,iswhyafewfamiliesonly,ashasbeenalreadyobserved,furnishthesubjectsoftragedy.Itwas
notart,buthappychance,thatledthepoetsinsearchofsubjectstoimpressthetragicqualityupontheir
plots.Theyarecompelled,therefore,tohaverecoursetothosehouseswhosehistorycontainsmoving
incidentslikethese.
Enoughhasnowbeensaidconcerningthestructureoftheincidents,andtherightkindofplot.

PartXV
InrespectofCharactertherearefourthingstobeaimedat.First,andmostimportant,itmustbegood.Now
anyspeechoractionthatmanifestsmoralpurposeofanykindwillbeexpressiveofcharacter:thecharacter
willbegoodifthepurposeisgood.Thisruleisrelativetoeachclass.Evenawomanmaybegood,andalso
aslave;thoughthewomanmaybesaidtobeaninferiorbeing,andtheslavequiteworthless.Thesecond
thingtoaimatispropriety.Thereisatypeofmanlyvalor;butvalorinawoman,orunscrupulous
clevernessisinappropriate.Thirdly,charactermustbetruetolife:forthisisadistinctthingfromgoodness
andpropriety,asheredescribed.Thefourthpointisconsistency:forthoughthesubjectoftheimitation,
whosuggestedthetype,beinconsistent,stillhemustbeconsistentlyinconsistent.Asanexampleof
motivelessdegradationofcharacter,wehaveMenelausintheOrestes;ofcharacterindecorousand
inappropriate,thelamentofOdysseusintheScylla,andthespeechofMelanippe;ofinconsistency,the
IphigeniaatAulisforIphigeniathesuppliantinnowayresemblesherlaterself.
Asinthestructureoftheplot,sotoointheportraitureofcharacter,thepoetshouldalwaysaimeitheratthe
necessaryortheprobable.Thusapersonofagivencharactershouldspeakoractinagivenway,bythe
ruleeitherofnecessityorofprobability;justasthiseventshouldfollowthatbynecessaryorprobable
sequence.Itisthereforeevidentthattheunravelingoftheplot,nolessthanthecomplication,mustariseout
oftheplotitself,itmustnotbebroughtaboutbytheDeusexMachinaasintheMedea,orinthereturnof
theGreeksintheIliad.TheDeusexMachinashouldbeemployedonlyforeventsexternaltothedrama
forantecedentorsubsequentevents,whichliebeyondtherangeofhumanknowledge,andwhichrequireto
bereportedorforetold;fortothegodsweascribethepowerofseeingallthings.Withintheactionthere
mustbenothingirrational.Iftheirrationalcannotbeexcluded,itshouldbeoutsidethescopeofthe
tragedy.SuchistheirrationalelementtheOedipusofSophocles.
Again,sinceTragedyisanimitationofpersonswhoareabovethecommonlevel,theexampleofgood
portraitpaintersshouldbefollowed.They,whilereproducingthedistinctiveformoftheoriginal,makea
likenesswhichistruetolifeandyetmorebeautiful.Sotoothepoet,inrepresentingmenwhoareirascible
orindolent,orhaveotherdefectsofcharacter,shouldpreservethetypeandyetennobleit.Inthisway
AchillesisportrayedbyAgathonandHomer.
Thesethenarerulesthepoetshouldobserve.Norshouldheneglectthoseappealstothesenses,which,
thoughnotamongtheessentials,aretheconcomitantsofpoetry;forheretoothereismuchroomforerror.
Butofthisenoughhasbeensaidinourpublishedtreatises.
PartXVI
WhatRecognitionishasbeenalreadyexplained.Wewillnowenumerateitskinds.
First,theleastartisticform,which,frompovertyofwit,ismostcommonlyemployedrecognitionbysigns.
Ofthesesomearecongenitalsuchas'thespearwhichtheearthbornracebearontheirbodies,'orthestars
introducedbyCarcinusinhisThyestes.Othersareacquiredafterbirth;andofthesesomearebodilymarks,
asscars;someexternaltokens,asnecklaces,orthelittlearkintheTyrobywhichthediscoveryiseffected.
Eventheseadmitofmoreorlessskilfultreatment.ThusintherecognitionofOdysseusbyhisscar,the
discoveryismadeinonewaybythenurse,inanotherbytheswineherds.Theuseoftokensfortheexpress
purposeofproofand,indeed,anyformalproofwithorwithouttokensisalessartisticmodeof
recognition.Abetterkindisthatwhichcomesaboutbyaturnofincident,asintheBathSceneinthe
Odyssey.
Nextcometherecognitionsinventedatwillbythepoet,andonthataccountwantinginart.Forexample,
OrestesintheIphigeniarevealsthefactthatheisOrestes.She,indeed,makesherselfknownbytheletter;
buthe,byspeakinghimself,andsayingwhatthepoet,notwhattheplotrequires.This,therefore,isnearly
alliedtothefaultabovementionedforOrestesmightaswellhavebroughttokenswithhim.Another

similarinstanceisthe'voiceoftheshuttle'intheTereusofSophocles.
Thethirdkinddependsonmemorywhenthesightofsomeobjectawakensafeeling:asintheCypriansof
Dicaeogenes,wheretheherobreaksintotearsonseeingthepicture;oragainintheLayofAlcinous,where
Odysseus,hearingtheminstrelplaythelyre,recallsthepastandweeps;andhencetherecognition.
Thefourthkindisbyprocessofreasoning.ThusintheChoephori:'Someoneresemblingmehascome:no
oneresemblesmebutOrestes:thereforeOresteshascome.'SuchtooisthediscoverymadebyIphigeniain
theplayofPolyidustheSophist.ItwasanaturalreflectionforOrestestomake,'SoItoomustdieatthe
altarlikemysister.'So,again,intheTydeusofTheodectes,thefathersays,'Icametofindmyson,andI
losemyownlife.'SotoointhePhineidae:thewomen,onseeingtheplace,inferredtheirfate'Hereweare
doomedtodie,forherewewerecastforth.'Again,thereisacompositekindofrecognitioninvolvingfalse
inferenceonthepartofoneofthecharacters,asintheOdysseusDisguisedasaMessenger.Asaid[thatno
oneelsewasabletobendthebow;...henceB(thedisguisedOdysseus)imaginedthatAwould]recognize
thebowwhich,infact,hehadnotseen;andtobringaboutarecognitionbythismeanstheexpectationthat
Awouldrecognizethebowisfalseinference.
But,ofallrecognitions,thebestisthatwhicharisesfromtheincidentsthemselves,wherethestartling
discoveryismadebynaturalmeans.SuchisthatintheOedipusofSophocles,andintheIphigenia;forit
wasnaturalthatIphigeniashouldwishtodispatchaletter.Theserecognitionsalonedispensewiththe
artificialaidoftokensoramulets.Nextcometherecognitionsbyprocessofreasoning.
PartXVII
Inconstructingtheplotandworkingitoutwiththeproperdiction,thepoetshouldplacethescene,asfaras
possible,beforehiseyes.Inthisway,seeingeverythingwiththeutmostvividness,asifhewereaspectator
oftheaction,hewilldiscoverwhatisinkeepingwithit,andbemostunlikelytooverlookinconsistencies.
TheneedofsucharuleisshownbythefaultfoundinCarcinus.Amphiarauswasonhiswayfromthe
temple.Thisfactescapedtheobservationofonewhodidnotseethesituation.Onthestage,however,the
Piecefailed,theaudiencebeingoffendedattheoversight.
Again,thepoetshouldworkouthisplay,tothebestofhispower,withappropriategestures;forthosewho
feelemotionaremostconvincingthroughnaturalsympathywiththecharacterstheyrepresent;andone
whoisagitatedstorms,onewhoisangryrages,withthemostlifelikereality.Hencepoetryimplieseithera
happygiftofnatureorastrainofmadness.Intheonecaseamancantakethemouldofanycharacter;in
theother,heisliftedoutofhisproperself.
Asforthestory,whetherthepoettakesitreadymadeorconstructsitforhimself,heshouldfirstsketchits
generaloutline,andthenfillintheepisodesandamplifyindetail.Thegeneralplanmaybeillustratedby
theIphigenia.Ayounggirlissacrificed;shedisappearsmysteriouslyfromtheeyesofthosewhosacrificed
her;sheistransportedtoanothercountry,wherethecustomistoofferupanstrangerstothegoddess.To
thisministrysheisappointed.Sometimelaterherownbrotherchancestoarrive.Thefactthattheoracle
forsomereasonorderedhimtogothere,isoutsidethegeneralplanoftheplay.Thepurpose,again,ofhis
comingisoutsidetheactionproper.However,hecomes,heisseized,and,whenonthepointofbeing
sacrificed,revealswhoheis.ThemodeofrecognitionmaybeeitherthatofEuripidesorofPolyidus,in
whoseplayheexclaimsverynaturally:'Soitwasnotmysisteronly,butItoo,whowasdoomedtobe
sacrificed';andbythatremarkheissaved.
Afterthis,thenamesbeingoncegiven,itremainstofillintheepisodes.Wemustseethattheyarerelevant
totheaction.InthecaseofOrestes,forexample,thereisthemadnesswhichledtohiscapture,andhis
deliverancebymeansofthepurificatoryrite.Inthedrama,theepisodesareshort,butitisthesethatgive
extensiontoEpicpoetry.ThusthestoryoftheOdysseycanbestatedbriefly.Acertainmanisabsentfrom
homeformanyyears;heisjealouslywatchedbyPoseidon,andleftdesolate.Meanwhilehishomeisina

wretchedplightsuitorsarewastinghissubstanceandplottingagainsthisson.Atlength,tempesttost,he
himselfarrives;hemakescertainpersonsacquaintedwithhim;heattacksthesuitorswithhisownhand,
andishimselfpreservedwhilehedestroysthem.Thisistheessenceoftheplot;therestisepisode.
PartXVIII
EverytragedyfallsintotwopartsComplicationandUnravelingorDenouement.Incidentsextraneousto
theactionarefrequentlycombinedwithaportionoftheactionproper,toformtheComplication;therestis
theUnraveling.BytheComplicationImeanallthatextendsfromthebeginningoftheactiontothepart
whichmarkstheturningpointtogoodorbadfortune.TheUnravelingisthatwhichextendsfromthe
beginningofthechangetotheend.Thus,intheLynceusofTheodectes,theComplicationconsistsofthe
incidentspresupposedinthedrama,theseizureofthechild,andthenagain...[theUnraveling]extends
fromtheaccusationofmurderto
TherearefourkindsofTragedy:theComplex,dependingentirelyonReversaloftheSituationand
Recognition;thePathetic(wherethemotiveispassion)suchasthetragediesonAjaxandIxion;the
Ethical(wherethemotivesareethical)suchasthePhthiotidesandthePeleus.Thefourthkindisthe
Simple.[Wehereexcludethepurelyspectacularelement],exemplifiedbythePhorcides,thePrometheus,
andsceneslaidinHades.Thepoetshouldendeavor,ifpossible,tocombineallpoeticelements;orfailing
that,thegreatestnumberandthosethemostimportant;themoreso,infaceofthecavilingcriticismofthe
day.Forwhereastherehavehithertobeengoodpoets,eachinhisownbranch,thecriticsnowexpectone
mantosurpassallothersintheirseverallinesofexcellence.
Inspeakingofatragedyasthesameordifferent,thebesttesttotakeistheplot.Identityexistswherethe
ComplicationandUnravelingarethesame.Manypoetstietheknotwell,butunravelitBotharts,however,
shouldalwaysbemastered.
Again,thepoetshouldrememberwhathasbeenoftensaid,andnotmakeanEpicstructureintoatragedy
byanEpicstructureImeanonewithamultiplicityofplotsasif,forinstance,youweretomakeatragedy
outoftheentirestoryoftheIliad.IntheEpicpoem,owingtoitslength,eachpartassumesitsproper
magnitude.Inthedramatheresultisfarfromansweringtothepoet'sexpectation.Theproofisthatthe
poetswhohavedramatizedthewholestoryoftheFallofTroy,insteadofselectingportions,likeEuripides;
orwhohavetakenthewholetaleofNiobe,andnotapartofherstory,likeAeschylus,eitherfailutterlyor
meetwithpoorsuccessonthestage.EvenAgathonhasbeenknowntofailfromthisonedefect.Inhis
ReversalsoftheSituation,however,heshowsamarvelousskillintheefforttohitthepopulartasteto
produceatragiceffectthatsatisfiesthemoralsense.Thiseffectisproducedwhenthecleverrogue,like
Sisyphus,isoutwitted,orthebravevillaindefeated.SuchaneventisprobableinAgathon'ssenseofthe
word:'isprobable,'hesays,'thatmanythingsshouldhappencontrarytoprobability.'
TheChorustooshouldberegardedasoneoftheactors;itshouldbeanintegralpartofthewhole,andshare
intheaction,inthemannernotofEuripidesbutofSophocles.Asforthelaterpoets,theirchoralsongs
pertainaslittletothesubjectofthepieceastothatofanyothertragedy.Theyare,therefore,sungasmere
interludesapracticefirstbegunbyAgathon.Yetwhatdifferenceistherebetweenintroducingsuchchoral
interludes,andtransferringaspeech,orevenawholeact,fromoneplaytoanother.
PartXIX
ItremainstospeakofDictionandThought,theotherpartsofTragedyhavingbeenalreadydiscussed.
concerningThought,wemayassumewhatissaidintheRhetoric,towhichinquirythesubjectmorestrictly
belongs.UnderThoughtisincludedeveryeffectwhichhastobeproducedbyspeech,thesubdivisions
being:proofandrefutation;theexcitationofthefeelings,suchaspity,fear,anger,andthelike;the
suggestionofimportanceoritsopposite.Now,itisevidentthatthedramaticincidentsmustbetreatedfrom
thesamepointsofviewasthedramaticspeeches,whentheobjectistoevokethesenseofpity,fear,

importance,orprobability.Theonlydifferenceisthattheincidentsshouldspeakforthemselveswithout
verbalexposition;whileeffectsaimedatinshouldbeproducedbythespeaker,andasaresultofthe
speech.Forwhatwerethebusinessofaspeaker,iftheThoughtwererevealedquiteapartfromwhathe
says?
Next,asregardsDiction.OnebranchoftheinquirytreatsoftheModesofUtterance.Butthisprovinceof
knowledgebelongstotheartofDeliveryandtothemastersofthatscience.Itincludes,forinstancewhat
isacommand,aprayer,astatement,athreat,aquestion,ananswer,andsoforth.Toknowornottoknow
thesethingsinvolvesnoseriouscensureuponthepoet'sart.ForwhocanadmitthefaultimputedtoHomer
byProtagorasthatinthewords,'Sing,goddess,ofthewrath,hegivesacommandundertheideathathe
uttersaprayer?Fortotellsomeonetodoathingornottodoitis,hesays,acommand.Wemay,therefore,
passthisoverasaninquirythatbelongstoanotherart,nottopoetry.
PartXX
Languageingeneralincludesthefollowingparts:Letter,Syllable,ConnectingWord,Noun,Verb,
InflectionorCase,SentenceorPhrase.
ALetterisanindivisiblesound,yetnoteverysuchsound,butonlyonewhichcanformpartofagroupof
sounds.Forevenbrutesutterindivisiblesounds,noneofwhichIcallaletter.ThesoundImeanmaybe
eitheravowel,asemivowel,oramute.Avowelisthatwhichwithoutimpactoftongueorliphasan
audiblesound.Asemivowelthatwhichwithsuchimpacthasanaudiblesound,asSandR.Amute,that
whichwithsuchimpacthasbyitselfnosound,butjoinedtoavowelsoundbecomesaudible,asGandD.
Thesearedistinguishedaccordingtotheformassumedbythemouthandtheplacewheretheyare
produced;accordingastheyareaspiratedorsmooth,longorshort;astheyareacute,grave,orofan
intermediatetone;whichinquirybelongsindetailtothewritersonmeter.
ASyllableisanonsignificantsound,composedofamuteandavowel:forGRwithoutAisasyllable,as
alsowithAGRA.Buttheinvestigationofthesedifferencesbelongsalsotometricalscience.
AConnectingWordisanonsignificantsound,whichneithercausesnorhinderstheunionofmanysounds
intoonesignificantsound;itmaybeplacedateitherendorinthemiddleofasentence.Or,a
nonsignificantsound,whichoutofseveralsounds,eachofthemsignificant,iscapableofformingone
significantsoundasamphi,peri,andthelike.Or,anonsignificantsound,whichmarksthebeginning,end,
ordivisionofasentence;such,however,thatitcannotcorrectlystandbyitselfatthebeginningofa
sentenceasmen,etoi,de.
ANounisacompositesignificantsound,notmarkingtime,ofwhichnopartisinitselfsignificant:forin
doubleorcompoundwordswedonotemploytheseparatepartsasifeachwereinitselfsignificant.Thusin
Theodorus,'godgiven,'thedoronor'gift'isnotinitselfsignificant.
AVerbisacompositesignificantsound,markingtime,inwhich,asinthenoun,nopartisinitself
significant.For'man'or'white'doesnotexpresstheideaof'when';but'hewalks'or'hehaswalked'does
connotetime,presentorpast.
Inflectionbelongsbothtothenounandverb,andexpresseseithertherelation'of,''to,'orthelike;orthatof
number,whetheroneormany,as'man'or'men';orthemodesortonesinactualdelivery,e.g.,aquestionor
acommand.'Didhego?'and'go'areverbalinflectionsofthiskind.
ASentenceorPhraseisacompositesignificantsound,someatleastofwhosepartsareinthemselves
significant;fornoteverysuchgroupofwordsconsistsofverbsandnouns'thedefinitionofman,'for
examplebutitmaydispenseevenwiththeverb.Stillitwillalwayshavesomesignificantpart,as'in
walking,'or'CleonsonofCleon.'Asentenceorphrasemayformaunityintwowayseitherassignifying

onething,orasconsistingofseveralpartslinkedtogether.ThustheIliadisonebythelinkingtogetherof
parts,thedefinitionofmanbytheunityofthethingsignified.

Poetics
ByAristotle
Written350B.C.E
TranslatedbyS.H.Butcher

TableofContents

Section3
PartXXI
Wordsareoftwokinds,simpleanddouble.BysimpleImeanthosecomposedofnonsignificantelements,
suchasge,'earth.'Bydoubleorcompound,thosecomposedeitherofasignificantandnonsignificant
element(thoughwithinthewholewordnoelementissignificant),orofelementsthatarebothsignificant.
Awordmaylikewisebetriple,quadruple,ormultipleinform,likesomanyMassilianexpressions,e.g.,
'Hermocaicoxanthus[whoprayedtoFatherZeus].'
Everywordiseithercurrent,orstrange,ormetaphorical,orornamental,ornewlycoined,orlengthened,or
contracted,oraltered.
ByacurrentorproperwordImeanonewhichisingeneraluseamongapeople;byastrangeword,one
whichisinuseinanothercountry.Plainly,therefore,thesamewordmaybeatoncestrangeandcurrent,
butnotinrelationtothesamepeople.Thewordsigynon,'lance,'istotheCypriansacurrenttermbuttous
astrangeone.
Metaphoristheapplicationofanaliennamebytransferenceeitherfromgenustospecies,orfromspecies
togenus,orfromspeciestospecies,orbyanalogy,thatis,proportion.Thusfromgenustospecies,as:
'Thereliesmyship';forlyingatanchorisaspeciesoflying.Fromspeciestogenus,as:'Verilyten
thousandnobledeedshathOdysseuswrought';fortenthousandisaspeciesoflargenumber,andishere
usedforalargenumbergenerally.Fromspeciestospecies,as:'Withbladeofbronzedrewawaythelife,'
and'Cleftthewaterwiththevesselofunyieldingbronze.'Herearusai,'todrawaway'isusedfortamein,'to
cleave,'andtamein,againforarusaieachbeingaspeciesoftakingaway.Analogyorproportioniswhen
thesecondtermistothefirstasthefourthtothethird.Wemaythenusethefourthforthesecond,orthe
secondforthefourth.Sometimestoowequalifythemetaphorbyaddingthetermtowhichtheproperword
isrelative.ThusthecupistoDionysusastheshieldtoAres.Thecupmay,therefore,becalled'theshield
ofDionysus,'andtheshield'thecupofAres.'Or,again,asoldageistolife,soiseveningtoday.Evening
maythereforebecalled,'theoldageoftheday,'andoldage,'theeveningoflife,'or,inthephraseof
Empedocles,'life'ssettingsun.'Forsomeofthetermsoftheproportionthereisattimesnowordin
existence;stillthemetaphormaybeused.Forinstance,toscatterseediscalledsowing:buttheactionof
thesuninscatteringhisraysisnameless.Stillthisprocessbearstothesunthesamerelationassowingto
theseed.Hencetheexpressionofthepoet'sowingthegodcreatedlight.'Thereisanotherwayinwhichthis
kindofmetaphormaybeemployed.Wemayapplyanalienterm,andthendenyofthattermoneofits
properattributes;asifweweretocalltheshield,not'thecupofAres,'but'thewinelesscup'.
Anewlycoinedwordisonewhichhasneverbeeneveninlocaluse,butisadoptedbythepoethimself.

Somesuchwordsthereappeartobe:asernyges,'sprouters,'forkerata,'horns';andareter,'supplicator',for
hiereus,'priest.'
Awordislengthenedwhenitsownvowelisexchangedforalongerone,orwhenasyllableisinserted.A
wordiscontractedwhensomepartofitisremoved.Instancesoflengtheningare:poleosforpoleos,
PeleiadeoforPeleidou;ofcontraction:kri,do,andops,asinmiaginetaiamphoteronops,'theappearance
ofbothisone.'
Analteredwordisoneinwhichpartoftheordinaryformisleftunchanged,andpartisrecast:asin
dexiteronkatamazon,'ontherightbreast,'dexiteronisfordexion.
Nounsinthemselvesareeithermasculine,feminine,orneuter.MasculinearesuchasendinN,R,S,orin
somelettercompoundedwithSthesebeingtwo,PSandX.Feminine,suchasendinvowelsthatare
alwayslong,namelyEandO,andofvowelsthatadmitoflengtheningthoseinA.Thusthenumberof
lettersinwhichnounsmasculineandfeminineendisthesame;forPSandXareequivalenttoendingsinS.
Nonounendsinamuteoravowelshortbynature.ThreeonlyendinImeli,'honey';kommi,'gum';
peperi,'pepper';fiveendinU.Neuternounsendinthesetwolattervowels;alsoinNandS.
PartXXII
Theperfectionofstyleistobeclearwithoutbeingmean.Thecleareststyleisthatwhichusesonlycurrent
orproperwords;atthesametimeitismeanwitnessthepoetryofCleophonandofSthenelus.That
diction,ontheotherhand,isloftyandraisedabovethecommonplacewhichemploysunusualwords.By
unusual,Imeanstrange(orrare)words,metaphorical,lengthenedanything,inshort,thatdiffersfromthe
normalidiom.Yetastylewhollycomposedofsuchwordsiseitherariddleorajargon;ariddle,ifit
consistsofmetaphors;ajargon,ifitconsistsofstrange(orrare)words.Fortheessenceofariddleisto
expresstruefactsunderimpossiblecombinations.Nowthiscannotbedonebyanyarrangementofordinary
words,butbytheuseofmetaphoritcan.Suchistheriddle:'AmanIsawwhoonanothermanhadglued
thebronzebyaidoffire,'andothersofthesamekind.Adictionthatismadeupofstrange(orrare)termsis
ajargon.Acertaininfusion,therefore,oftheseelementsisnecessarytostyle;forthestrange(orrare)word,
themetaphorical,theornamental,andtheotherkindsabovementioned,willraiseitabovethe
commonplaceandmean,whiletheuseofproperwordswillmakeitperspicuous.Butnothingcontributes
moretoproduceacleannessofdictionthatisremotefromcommonnessthanthelengthening,contraction,
andalterationofwords.Forbydeviatinginexceptionalcasesfromthenormalidiom,thelanguagewill
gaindistinction;while,atthesametime,thepartialconformitywithusagewillgiveperspicuity.The
critics,therefore,areinerrorwhocensuretheselicensesofspeech,andholdtheauthoruptoridicule.Thus
Eucleides,theelder,declaredthatitwouldbeaneasymattertobeapoetifyoumightlengthensyllablesat
will.Hecaricaturedthepracticeintheveryformofhisdiction,asintheverse:
"EpichareneidonMarathonadebadizonta,
"IsawEpichareswalkingtoMarathon,"
or,
"oukang'eramenostonekeinouelleboron.
"Notifyoudesirehishellebore."
Toemploysuchlicenseatallobtrusivelyis,nodoubt,grotesque;butinanymodeofpoeticdictionthere
mustbemoderation.Evenmetaphors,strange(orrare)words,oranysimilarformsofspeech,would
producethelikeeffectifusedwithoutproprietyandwiththeexpresspurposeofbeingludicrous.How
greatadifferenceismadebytheappropriateuseoflengthening,maybeseeninEpicpoetrybythe

insertionofordinaryformsintheverse.So,again,ifwetakeastrange(orrare)word,ametaphor,orany
similarmodeofexpression,andreplaceitbythecurrentorproperterm,thetruthofourobservationwillbe
manifest.Forexample,AeschylusandEuripideseachcomposedthesameiambicline.Butthealterationof
asinglewordbyEuripides,whoemployedtherarerterminsteadoftheordinaryone,makesoneverse
appearbeautifulandtheothertrivial.AeschylusinhisPhiloctetessays:
"phagedainad'hemousarkasesthieipodos.
"Thetumorwhichiseatingthefleshofmyfoot."
Euripidessubstitutesthoinatai,'feastson,'foresthiei,'feedson.'Again,intheline,
"nundem'eonoligostekaioutidanoskaiaeikes,
"Yetasmallman,worthlessandunseemly,"
thedifferencewillbefeltifwesubstitutethecommonwords,
"nundem'eonmikrostekaiasthenikoskaiaeides.
"Yetalittlefellow,weakandugly."
Or,iffortheline,
"diphronaeikelionkatatheisoligentetrapezan,
"Settinganunseemlycouchandameagertable,"
weread,
"diphronmochtheronkatatheismikrantetrapezan.
"Settingawretchedcouchandapunytable."
Or,foreionesbooosin,'theseashoresroar,'eioneskrazousin,'theseashoresscreech.'
Again,Ariphradesridiculedthetragediansforusingphraseswhichnoonewouldemployinordinary
speech:forexample,domatonapo,'fromthehouseaway,'insteadofapodomaton,'awayfromthehouse;'
sethen,egodenin,'tothee,andItohim;'Achilleosperi,'Achillesabout,'insteadofperiAchilleos,'about
Achilles;'andthelike.Itispreciselybecausesuchphrasesarenotpartofthecurrentidiomthattheygive
distinctiontothestyle.This,however,hefailedtosee.
Itisagreatmattertoobserveproprietyintheseseveralmodesofexpression,asalsoincompoundwords,
strange(orrare)words,andsoforth.Butthegreatestthingbyfaristohaveacommandofmetaphor.This
alonecannotbeimpartedbyanother;itisthemarkofgenius,fortomakegoodmetaphorsimpliesaneye
forresemblances.
Ofthevariouskindsofwords,thecompoundarebestadaptedtodithyrambs,rarewordstoheroicpoetry,
metaphorstoiambic.Inheroicpoetry,indeed,allthesevarietiesareserviceable.Butiniambicverse,which
reproduces,asfarasmaybe,familiarspeech,themostappropriatewordsarethosewhicharefoundevenin
prose.Thesearethecurrentorproper,themetaphorical,theornamental.
ConcerningTragedyandimitationbymeansofactionthismaysuffice.

PartXXIII
Astothatpoeticimitationwhichisnarrativeinformandemploysasinglemeter,theplotmanifestlyought,
asinatragedy,tobeconstructedondramaticprinciples.Itshouldhaveforitssubjectasingleaction,whole
andcomplete,withabeginning,amiddle,andanend.Itwillthusresemblealivingorganisminallits
unity,andproducethepleasurepropertoit.Itwilldifferinstructurefromhistoricalcompositions,whichof
necessitypresentnotasingleaction,butasingleperiod,andallthathappenedwithinthatperiodtoone
personortomany,littleconnectedtogetherastheeventsmaybe.ForastheseafightatSalamisandthe
battlewiththeCarthaginiansinSicilytookplaceatthesametime,butdidnottendtoanyoneresult,soin
thesequenceofevents,onethingsometimesfollowsanother,andyetnosingleresultistherebyproduced.
Suchisthepractice,wemaysay,ofmostpoets.Hereagain,then,ashasbeenalreadyobserved,the
transcendentexcellenceofHomerismanifest.HeneverattemptstomakethewholewarofTroythe
subjectofhispoem,thoughthatwarhadabeginningandanend.Itwouldhavebeentoovastatheme,and
noteasilyembracedinasingleview.If,again,hehadkeptitwithinmoderatelimits,itmusthavebeen
overcomplicatedbythevarietyoftheincidents.Asitis,hedetachesasingleportion,andadmitsas
episodesmanyeventsfromthegeneralstoryofthewarsuchastheCatalogueoftheshipsandothersthus
diversifyingthepoem.Allotherpoetstakeasinglehero,asingleperiod,oranactionsingleindeed,but
withamultiplicityofparts.ThusdidtheauthoroftheCypriaandoftheLittleIliad.Forthisreasonthe
IliadandtheOdysseyeachfurnishthesubjectofonetragedy,or,atmost,oftwo;whiletheCypriasupplies
materialsformany,andtheLittleIliadforeighttheAwardoftheArms,thePhiloctetes,theNeoptolemus,
theEurypylus,theMendicantOdysseus,theLaconianWomen,theFallofIlium,theDepartureoftheFleet.
PartXXIV
Again,EpicpoetrymusthaveasmanykindsasTragedy:itmustbesimple,orcomplex,or'ethical,'or
'pathetic.'Thepartsalso,withtheexceptionofsongandspectacle,arethesame;foritrequiresReversalsof
theSituation,Recognitions,andScenesofSuffering.Moreover,thethoughtsandthedictionmustbe
artistic.InalltheserespectsHomerisourearliestandsufficientmodel.Indeedeachofhispoemshasa
twofoldcharacter.TheIliadisatoncesimpleand'pathetic,'andtheOdysseycomplex(forRecognition
scenesrunthroughit),andatthesametime'ethical.'Moreover,indictionandthoughttheyaresupreme.
EpicpoetrydiffersfromTragedyinthescaleonwhichitisconstructed,andinitsmeter.Asregardsscale
orlength,wehavealreadylaiddownanadequatelimit:thebeginningandtheendmustbecapableofbeing
broughtwithinasingleview.Thisconditionwillbesatisfiedbypoemsonasmallerscalethantheold
epics,andansweringinlengthtothegroupoftragediespresentedatasinglesitting.
Epicpoetryhas,however,agreataspecialcapacityforenlargingitsdimensions,andwecanseethe
reason.InTragedywecannotimitateseverallinesofactionscarriedonatoneandthesametime;wemust
confineourselvestotheactiononthestageandtheparttakenbytheplayers.ButinEpicpoetry,owingto
thenarrativeform,manyeventssimultaneouslytransactedcanbepresented;andthese,ifrelevanttothe
subject,addmassanddignitytothepoem.TheEpichashereanadvantage,andonethatconducesto
grandeurofeffect,todivertingthemindofthehearer,andrelievingthestorywithvaryingepisodes.For
samenessofincidentsoonproducessatiety,andmakestragediesfailonthestage.
Asforthemeter,theheroicmeasurehasproveditsfitnessbyhexametertestofexperience.Ifanarrative
poeminanyothermeterorinmanymeterswerenowcomposed,itwouldbefoundincongruous.Forofall
measurestheheroicisthestateliestandthemostmassive;andhenceitmostreadilyadmitsrarewordsand
metaphors,whichisanotherpointinwhichthenarrativeformofimitationstandsalone.Ontheotherhand,
theiambicandthetrochaictetrameterarestirringmeasures,thelatterbeingakintodancing,theformer
expressiveofaction.Stillmoreabsurdwoulditbetomixtogetherdifferentmeters,aswasdoneby
Chaeremon.Hencenoonehasevercomposedapoemonagreatscaleinanyotherthanheroicverse.

Natureherself,aswehavesaid,teachesthechoiceofthepropermeasure.
Homer,admirableinallrespects,hasthespecialmeritofbeingtheonlypoetwhorightlyappreciatesthe
partheshouldtakehimself.Thepoetshouldspeakaslittleaspossibleinhisownperson,foritisnotthis
thatmakeshimanimitator.Otherpoetsappearthemselvesuponthescenethroughout,andimitatebutlittle
andrarely.Homer,afterafewprefatorywords,atoncebringsinaman,orwoman,orotherpersonage;
noneofthemwantingincharacteristicqualities,buteachwithacharacterofhisown.
TheelementofthewonderfulisrequiredinTragedy.Theirrational,onwhichthewonderfuldependsforits
chiefeffects,haswiderscopeinEpicpoetry,becausetherethepersonactingisnotseen.Thus,thepursuit
ofHectorwouldbeludicrousifplaceduponthestagetheGreeksstandingstillandnotjoininginthe
pursuit,andAchilleswavingthemback.ButintheEpicpoemtheabsurditypassesunnoticed.Nowthe
wonderfulispleasing,asmaybeinferredfromthefactthateveryonetellsastorywithsomeadditionofhis
knowingthathishearerslikeit.ItisHomerwhohaschieflytaughtotherpoetstheartoftellinglies
skilfully.ThesecretofitliesinafallacyFor,assumingthatifonethingisorbecomes,asecondisor
becomes,menimaginethat,ifthesecondis,thefirstlikewiseisorbecomes.Butthisisafalseinference.
Hence,wherethefirstthingisuntrue,itisquiteunnecessary,providedthesecondbetrue,toaddthatthe
firstisorhasbecome.Forthemind,knowingthesecondtobetrue,falselyinfersthetruthofthefirst.
ThereisanexampleofthisintheBathSceneoftheOdyssey.
Accordingly,thepoetshouldpreferprobableimpossibilitiestoimprobablepossibilities.Thetragicplot
mustnotbecomposedofirrationalparts.Everythingirrationalshould,ifpossible,beexcluded;or,atall
events,itshouldlieoutsidetheactionoftheplay(as,intheOedipus,thehero'signoranceastothemanner
ofLaius'death);notwithinthedramaasintheElectra,themessenger'saccountofthePythiangames;or,
asintheMysians,themanwhohascomefromTegeatoMysiaandisstillspeechless.Thepleathat
otherwisetheplotwouldhavebeenruined,isridiculous;suchaplotshouldnotinthefirstinstancebe
constructed.Butoncetheirrationalhasbeenintroducedandanairoflikelihoodimpartedtoit,wemust
acceptitinspiteoftheabsurdity.TakeeventheirrationalincidentsintheOdyssey,whereOdysseusisleft
upontheshoreofIthaca.Howintolerableeventhesemighthavebeenwouldbeapparentifaninferiorpoet
weretotreatthesubject.Asitis,theabsurdityisveiledbythepoeticcharmwithwhichthepoetinvestsit.
Thedictionshouldbeelaboratedinthepausesoftheaction,wherethereisnoexpressionofcharacteror
thought.For,conversely,characterandthoughtaremerelyobscuredbyadictionthatisoverbrilliant
PartXXV
Withrespecttocriticaldifficultiesandtheirsolutions,thenumberandnatureofthesourcesfromwhich
theymaybedrawnmaybethusexhibited.
Thepoetbeinganimitator,likeapainteroranyotherartist,mustofnecessityimitateoneofthreeobjects
thingsastheywereorare,thingsastheyaresaidorthoughttobe,orthingsastheyoughttobe.The
vehicleofexpressionislanguageeithercurrenttermsor,itmaybe,rarewordsormetaphors.Thereare
alsomanymodificationsoflanguage,whichweconcedetothepoets.Addtothis,thatthestandardof
correctnessisnotthesameinpoetryandpolitics,anymorethaninpoetryandanyotherart.Withintheart
ofpoetryitselftherearetwokindsoffaultsthosewhichtouchitsessence,andthosewhichareaccidental.
Ifapoethaschosentoimitatesomething,[buthasimitateditincorrectly]throughwantofcapacity,the
errorisinherentinthepoetry.Butifthefailureisduetoawrongchoiceifhehasrepresentedahorseas
throwingoutbothhisofflegsatonce,orintroducedtechnicalinaccuraciesinmedicine,forexample,orin
anyotherarttheerrorisnotessentialtothepoetry.Thesearethepointsofviewfromwhichweshould
considerandanswertheobjectionsraisedbythecritics.
Firstastomatterswhichconcernthepoet'sownart.Ifhedescribestheimpossible,heisguiltyofanerror;
buttheerrormaybejustified,iftheendoftheartbetherebyattained(theendbeingthatalready

mentioned)if,thatis,theeffectofthisoranyotherpartofthepoemisthusrenderedmorestriking.Acase
inpointisthepursuitofHector.if,however,theendmighthavebeenaswell,orbetter,attainedwithout
violatingthespecialrulesofthepoeticart,theerrorisnotjustified:foreverykindoferrorshould,if
possible,beavoided.
Again,doestheerrortouchtheessentialsofthepoeticart,orsomeaccidentofit?Forexample,nottoknow
thatahindhasnohornsisalessseriousmatterthantopaintitinartistically.
Further,ifitbeobjectedthatthedescriptionisnottruetofact,thepoetmayperhapsreply,'Buttheobjects
areastheyoughttobe';justasSophoclessaidthathedrewmenastheyoughttobe;Euripides,astheyare.
Inthiswaytheobjectionmaybemet.If,however,therepresentationbeofneitherkind,thepoetmay
answer,'Thisishowmensaythethingis.'appliestotalesaboutthegods.Itmaywellbethatthesestories
arenothigherthanfactnoryettruetofact:theyare,verypossibly,whatXenophanessaysofthem.But
anyhow,'thisiswhatissaid.'Again,adescriptionmaybenobetterthanthefact:'Still,itwasthefact';asin
thepassageaboutthearms:'Uprightupontheirbuttendsstoodthespears.'Thiswasthecustomthen,asit
nowisamongtheIllyrians.
Again,inexaminingwhetherwhathasbeensaidordonebysomeoneispoeticallyrightornot,wemust
notlookmerelytotheparticularactorsaying,andaskwhetheritispoeticallygoodorbad.Wemustalso
considerbywhomitissaidordone,towhom,when,bywhatmeans,orforwhatend;whether,for
instance,itbetosecureagreatergood,oravertagreaterevil.
Otherdifficultiesmayberesolvedbydueregardtotheusageoflanguage.Wemaynotearareword,asin
oureasmenproton,'themulesfirst[hekilled],'wherethepoetperhapsemploysoureasnotinthesenseof
mules,butofsentinels.So,again,ofDolon:'illfavoredindeedhewastolookupon.'Itisnotmeantthathis
bodywasillshapedbutthathisfacewasugly;fortheCretansusethewordeueides,'wellflavored'to
denoteafairface.Again,zoroterondekeraie,'mixthedrinklivelier'doesnotmean'mixitstronger'asfor
harddrinkers,but'mixitquicker.'
Sometimesanexpressionismetaphorical,as'Nowallgodsandmenweresleepingthroughthenight,'while
atthesametimethepoetsays:'OftenindeedasheturnedhisgazetotheTrojanplain,hemarveledatthe
soundofflutesandpipes.''All'ishereusedmetaphoricallyfor'many,'allbeingaspeciesofmany.Soin
theverse,'aloneshehathnopart...,oie,'alone'ismetaphorical;forthebestknownmaybecalledtheonly
one.
Again,thesolutionmaydependuponaccentorbreathing.ThusHippiasofThasossolvedthedifficultiesin
thelines,didomen(didomen)dehoi,andtomenhou(ou)kataputhetaiombro.
Oragain,thequestionmaybesolvedbypunctuation,asinEmpedocles:'Ofasuddenthingsbecamemortal
thatbeforehadlearnttobeimmortal,andthingsunmixedbeforemixed.'
Oragain,byambiguityofmeaning,asparochekendepleonux,wherethewordpleoisambiguous.
Orbytheusageoflanguage.Thusanymixeddrinkiscalledoinos,'wine'.HenceGanymedeissaid'topour
thewinetoZeus,'thoughthegodsdonotdrinkwine.Sotooworkersinironarecalledchalkeas,or
'workersinbronze.'This,however,mayalsobetakenasametaphor.
Again,whenawordseemstoinvolvesomeinconsistencyofmeaning,weshouldconsiderhowmany
sensesitmaybearintheparticularpassage.Forexample:'therewasstayedthespearofbronze'weshould
askinhowmanywayswemaytake'beingcheckedthere.'Thetruemodeofinterpretationistheprecise
oppositeofwhatGlauconmentions.Critics,hesays,jumpatcertaingroundlessconclusions;theypass
adversejudgementandthenproceedtoreasononit;and,assumingthatthepoethassaidwhateverthey
happentothink,findfaultifathingisinconsistentwiththeirownfancy.

ThequestionaboutIcariushasbeentreatedinthisfashion.ThecriticsimaginehewasaLacedaemonian.
Theythinkitstrange,therefore,thatTelemachusshouldnothavemethimwhenhewenttoLacedaemon.
ButtheCephallenianstorymayperhapsbethetrueone.TheyallegethatOdysseustookawifefromamong
themselves,andthatherfatherwasIcadius,notIcarius.Itismerelyamistake,then,thatgivesplausibility
totheobjection.
Ingeneral,theimpossiblemustbejustifiedbyreferencetoartisticrequirements,ortothehigherreality,or
toreceivedopinion.Withrespecttotherequirementsofart,aprobableimpossibilityistobepreferredtoa
thingimprobableandyetpossible.Again,itmaybeimpossiblethatthereshouldbemensuchasZeuxis
painted.'Yes,'wesay,'buttheimpossibleisthehigherthing;fortheidealtypemustsurpasstherealty.'To
justifytheirrational,weappealtowhatiscommonlysaidtobe.Inadditiontowhich,weurgethatthe
irrationalsometimesdoesnotviolatereason;justas'itisprobablethatathingmayhappencontraryto
probability.'
Thingsthatsoundcontradictoryshouldbeexaminedbythesamerulesasindialecticalrefutationwhether
thesamethingismeant,inthesamerelation,andinthesamesense.Weshouldthereforesolvethequestion
byreferencetowhatthepoetsayshimself,ortowhatistacitlyassumedbyapersonofintelligence.
Theelementoftheirrational,and,similarly,depravityofcharacter,arejustlycensuredwhenthereisno
innernecessityforintroducingthem.SuchistheirrationalelementintheintroductionofAegeusby
EuripidesandthebadnessofMenelausintheOrestes.
Thus,therearefivesourcesfromwhichcriticalobjectionsaredrawn.Thingsarecensuredeitheras
impossible,orirrational,ormorallyhurtful,orcontradictory,orcontrarytoartisticcorrectness.The
answersshouldbesoughtunderthetwelveheadsabovementioned.
PartXXVI
ThequestionmayberaisedwhethertheEpicorTragicmodeofimitationisthehigher.Ifthemorerefined
artisthehigher,andthemorerefinedineverycaseisthatwhichappealstothebettersortofaudience,the
artwhichimitatesanythingandeverythingismanifestlymostunrefined.Theaudienceissupposedtobe
toodulltocomprehendunlesssomethingoftheirownisthrownbytheperformers,whothereforeindulge
inrestlessmovements.Badfluteplayerstwistandtwirl,iftheyhavetorepresent'thequoitthrow,'or
hustlethecoryphaeuswhentheyperformtheScylla.Tragedy,itissaid,hasthissamedefect.Wemay
comparetheopinionthattheolderactorsentertainedoftheirsuccessors.Mynniscususedtocall
Callippides'ape'onaccountoftheextravaganceofhisaction,andthesameviewwasheldofPindarus.
Tragicart,then,asawhole,standstoEpicinthesamerelationastheyoungertotheelderactors.Soweare
toldthatEpicpoetryisaddressedtoacultivatedaudience,whodonotneedgesture;Tragedy,toaninferior
public.Beingthenunrefined,itisevidentlythelowerofthetwo.
Now,inthefirstplace,thiscensureattachesnottothepoeticbuttothehistrionicart;forgesticulationmay
beequallyoverdoneinepicrecitation,asbySosistratus,orinlyricalcompetition,asbyMnasitheusthe
Opuntian.Next,allactionisnottobecondemnedanymorethanalldancingbutonlythatofbad
performers.SuchwasthefaultfoundinCallippides,asalsoinothersofourownday,whoarecensuredfor
representingdegradedwomen.Again,TragedylikeEpicpoetryproducesitseffectevenwithoutaction;it
revealsitspowerbymerereading.If,then,inallotherrespectsitissuperior,thisfault,wesay,isnot
inherentinit.
Andsuperioritis,becauseithasantheepicelementsitmayevenusetheepicmeterwiththemusicand
spectaculareffectsasimportantaccessories;andtheseproducethemostvividofpleasures.Further,ithas
vividnessofimpressioninreadingaswellasinrepresentation.Moreover,theartattainsitsendwithin
narrowerlimitsfortheconcentratedeffectismorepleasurablethanonewhichisspreadoveralongtime

andsodiluted.What,forexample,wouldbetheeffectoftheOedipusofSophocles,ifitwerecastintoa
formaslongastheIliad?Oncemore,theEpicimitationhaslessunity;asisshownbythis,thatanyEpic
poemwillfurnishsubjectsforseveraltragedies.Thusifthestoryadoptedbythepoethasastrictunity,it
musteitherbeconciselytoldandappeartruncated;or,ifitconformstotheEpiccanonoflength,itmust
seemweakandwatery.[Suchlengthimpliessomelossofunity,]if,Imean,thepoemisconstructedoutof
severalactions,liketheIliadandtheOdyssey,whichhavemanysuchparts,eachwithacertainmagnitude
ofitsown.Yetthesepoemsareasperfectaspossibleinstructure;eachis,inthehighestdegreeattainable,
animitationofasingleaction.
If,then,tragedyissuperiortoepicpoetryinalltheserespects,and,moreover,fulfillsitsspecificfunction
betterasanartforeachartoughttoproduce,notanychancepleasure,butthepleasurepropertoit,as
alreadystateditplainlyfollowsthattragedyisthehigherart,asattainingitsendmoreperfectly.
ThusmuchmaysufficeconcerningTragicandEpicpoetryingeneral;theirseveralkindsandparts,with
thenumberofeachandtheirdifferences;thecausesthatmakeapoemgoodorbad;theobjectionsofthe
criticsandtheanswerstotheseobjections....