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The "Poetics" contains Aristotle's observations on what elements and characteristics comprised the best tragedies based on the ones he'd presumably seen or read. He divides "poetry," which could be defined as imitations of human experience, into tragedy, comedy, and epic, and explains the differences between these forms, although comedy is not covered in detail and tragedy gets the most treatment. For one thing, tragedy, he states, seeks to imitate the matters of superior people, while comedy seeks to imitate the matters of inferior people. To Aristotle, the most important constituent of tragedy is plot, and successful plots require that the sequence of events be necessary (required to happen to advance the story logically and rationally) and probable (likely to happen given the circumstances). Any plot that does not feature such a necessary and probable sequence of events is deemed faulty. Reversals and recognitions are plot devices by which tragedy sways emotions, particularly those that induce "pity and fear," as is astonishment, which is the effect produced when the unexpected happens. He discusses the best kinds of tragic plots, the kinds of characters that are required, and how their fortunes should change over the course of the plot for optimum tragic effect. With regard to poetic language or "diction," he emphasizes the importance of figurative language (metaphor, analogy) in poetry and the importance of balancing figurative with literal language. It is his opinion that metaphoric invention is a natural ability and not something that can be taught. Of all the poets Aristotle mentions who exemplify the ideals proposed in the "Poetics," Homer draws the most praise.
About the Author
Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato's teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle's writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. Aristotle's views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship, and their influence extended well into the Renaissance, although they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian physics. In the zoological sciences, some of his observations were confirmed to be accurate only in the 19th century. His works contain the earliest known formal study of logic, which was incorporated in the late 19th century into modern formal logic. In metaphysics, Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle's philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today. Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogues (Cicero described his literary style as "a river of gold"), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived.