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Title: The Poetics

Author: Aristotle

Release Date: October, 2004 [EBook #6763]
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In the tenth book of the _Republic_, when Plato has completed his final
burning denunciation of Poetry, the false Siren, the imitator of
things which themselves are shadows, the ally of all that is low and
weak in the soul against that which is high and strong, who makes us
feed the things we ought to starve and serve the things we ought to
rule, he ends with a touch of compunction: 'We will give her
champions, not poets themselves but poet-lovers, an opportunity to
make her defence in plain prose and show that she is not only
sweet--as we well know--but also helpful to society and the life of
man, and we will listen in a kindly spirit. For we shall be gainers, I
take it, if this can be proved.' Aristotle certainly knew the passage,
and it looks as if his treatise on poetry was an answer to Plato's

Few of the great works of ancient Greek literature are easy reading.
They nearly all need study and comment, and at times help from a good
teacher, before they yield up their secret. And the _Poetics_ cannot
be accounted an exception. For one thing the treatise is fragmentary.
It originally consisted of two books, one dealing with Tragedy and
Epic, the other with Comedy and other subjects. We possess only the
first. For another, even the book we have seems to be unrevised and
unfinished. The style, though luminous, vivid, and in its broader
division systematic, is not that of a book intended for publication.
Like most of Aristotle's extant writing, it suggests the MS. of an
experienced lecturer, full of jottings and adscripts, with occasional
phrases written carefully out, but never revised as a whole for the
general reader. Even to accomplished scholars the meaning is often
obscure, as may be seen by a comparison of the three editions recently
published in England, all the work of savants of the first eminence,
[1] or, still more strikingly, by a study of the long series of
misunderstandings and overstatements and corrections which form the
history of the _Poetics_ since the Renaissance.

[1] Prof. Butcher, 1895 and 1898; Prof. Bywater, 1909; and Prof.
Margoliouth, 1911.

But it is of another cause of misunderstanding that I wish principally
to speak in this preface. The great edition from which the present
translation is taken was the fruit of prolonged study by one of the
greatest Aristotelians of the nineteenth century, and is itself a
classic among works of scholarship. In the hands of a student who
knows even a little Greek, the translation, backed by the commentary,
may lead deep into the mind of Aristotle. But when the translation is
used, as it doubtless will be, by readers who are quite without the
clue provided by a knowledge of the general habits of the Greek
language, there must arise a number of new difficulties or

To understand a great foreign book by means of a translation is
possible enough where the two languages concerned operate with a
common stock of ideas, and belong to the same period of civilization.
But between ancient Greece and modern England there yawn immense
gulfs of human history; the establishment and the partial failure of
a common European religion, the barbarian invasions, the feudal
system, the regrouping of modern Europe, the age of mechanical
invention, and the industrial revolution. In an average page of French
or German philosophy nearly all the nouns can be translated directly
into exact equivalents in English; but in Greek that is not so.
Scarcely one in ten of the nouns on the first few pages of the
_Poetics_ has an exact English equivalent. Every proposition has to be
reduced to its lowest terms of thought and then re-built. This is a
difficulty which no translation can quite deal with; it must be left
to a teacher who knows Greek. And there is a kindred difficulty which
flows from it. Where words can be translated into equivalent words,
the style of an original can be closely followed; but no translation
which aims at being written in normal English can reproduce the style
of Aristotle. I have sometimes played with the idea that a ruthlessly
literal translation, helped out by bold punctuation, might be the
best. For instance, premising that the words _poesis_, _poetes_ mean
originally 'making' and 'maker', one might translate the first
paragraph of the _Poetics_ thus:--

MAKING: kinds of making: function of each, and how the Myths ought to
be put together if the Making is to go right.

Number of parts: nature of parts: rest of same inquiry.

Begin in order of nature from first principles.

Epos-making, tragedy-making (also comedy), dithyramb-making (and most
fluting and harping), taken as a whole, are really not Makings but
Imitations. They differ in three points; they imitate (a) different
objects, (b) by different means, (c) differently (i.e. different

Some artists imitate (i.e. depict) by shapes and colours. (Obs.
sometimes by art, sometimes by habit.) Some by voice. Similarly the
above arts all imitate by rhythm, language, and tune, and these either
(1) separate or (2) mixed.

Rhythm and tune alone, harping, fluting, and other arts with same
effect--e.g. panpipes.

Rhythm without tune: dancing. (Dancers imitate characters, emotions,
and experiences by means of rhythms expressed in form.)

Language alone (whether prose or verse, and one form of verse or
many): this art has no name up to the present (i.e. there is no name
to cover mimes and dialogues and any similar imitation made in
iambics, elegiacs, &c. Commonly people attach the 'making' to the
metre and say 'elegiac-makers', 'hexameter-makers,' giving them a
common class-name by their metre, as if it was not their imitation
that makes them 'makers').

Such an experiment would doubtless be a little absurd, but it would
give an English reader some help in understanding both Aristotle's
style and his meaning.

For example, there i.e.lightenment in the literal phrase, 'how the
myths ought to be put together.' The higher Greek poetry did not make
up fictitious plots; its business was to express the heroic saga, the
myths. Again, the literal translation of _poetes_, poet, as 'maker',
helps to explain a term that otherwise seems a puzzle in the
_Poetics_. If we wonder why Aristotle, and Plato before him, should
lay such stress on the theory that art is imitation, it is a help to
realize that common language called it 'making', and it was clearly
not 'making' in the ordinary sense. The poet who was 'maker' of a
Fall of Troy clearly did not make the real Fall of Troy. He made an
imitation Fall of Troy. An artist who 'painted Pericles' really 'made
an imitation Pericles by means of shapes and colours'. Hence we get
started upon a theory of art which, whether finally satisfactory or
not, is of immense importance, and are saved from the error of
complaining that Aristotle did not understand the 'creative power' of

As a rule, no doubt, the difficulty, even though merely verbal, lies
beyond the reach of so simple a tool as literal translation. To say
that tragedy 'imitate.g.od men' while comedy 'imitates bad men'
strikes a modern reader as almost meaningless. The truth is that
neither 'good' nor 'bad' is an exact equivalent of the Greek. It would
be nearer perhaps to say that, relatively speaking, you look up to the
characters of tragedy, and down upon those of comedy. High or low,
serious or trivial, many other pairs of words would have to be called
in, in order to cover the wide range of the common Greek words. And
the point is important, because we have to consider whether in Chapter
VI Aristotle really lays it down that tragedy, so far from being the
story of un-happiness that we think it, is properly an imitation of
_eudaimonia_--a word often translated 'happiness', but meaning
something more like 'high life' or 'blessedness'. [1]

[1] See Margoliouth, p. 121. By water, with most editors, emends the

Another difficult word which constantly recurs in the _Poetics_ is
_prattein_ or _praxis_, generally translated 'to act' or 'action'. But
_prattein_, like our 'do', also has an intransitive meaning 'to fare'
either well or ill; and Professor Margoliouth has pointed out that it
seems more true to say that tragedy shows how men 'fare' than how they
'act'. It shows thei.e.periences or fortunes rather than merely their
deeds. But one must not draw the line too bluntly. I should doubt
whether a classical Greek writer was ordinarily conscious of the
distinction between the two meanings. Certainly it i.e.sier to regard
happiness as a way of faring than as a form of action. Yet Aristotle
can use the passive of _prattein_ for things 'done' or 'gone through'
(e.g. 52a, 22, 29: 55a, 25).

The fact is that much misunderstanding is often caused by our modern
attempts to limit too strictly the meaning of a Greek word. Greek was
very much a live language, and a language still unconscious of
grammar, not, like ours, dominated by definitions and trained upon
dictionaries. An instance is provided by Aristotle's famous saying
that the typical tragic hero is one who falls from high state or fame,
not through vice or depravity, but by some great _hamartia_.
_Hamartia_ means originally a 'bad shot' or 'error', but is currently
used for 'offence' or 'sin'. Aristotle clearly means that the typical
hero is a great man with 'something wrong' in his life or character;
but I think it is a mistake of method to argue whether he means 'an
intellectual error' or 'a moral flaw'. The word is not so precise.

Similarly, when Aristotle says that a deed of strife or disaster is
more tragic when it occurs 'amid affections' or 'among people who love
each other', no doubt the phrase, as Aristotle's own examples show,
would primarily suggest to a Greek feuds between near relations. Yet
some of the meaning is lost if one translates simply 'within the

There is another series of obscurities or confusions in the _Poetics_
which, unless I am mistaken, arises from the fact that Aristotle was
writing at a time when the great age of Greek tragedy was long past,
and was using language formed in previous generations. The words and
phrases remained in the tradition, but the forms of art and activity
which they denoted had sometimes changed in the interval. If we date
the _Poetics_ about the year 330 B.C., as seems probable, that is more
than two hundred years after the first tragedy of Thespis was produced
in Athens, and more than seventy after the death of the last great
masters of the tragic stage. When we remember that a training in music
and poetry formed a prominent part of the education of every wellborn
Athenian, we cannot be surprised at finding in Aristotle, and to a
less extent in Plato, considerable traces of a tradition of technical
language and even of aesthetic theory.

It is doubtless one of Aristotle's great services that he conceived so
clearly the truth that literature is a thing that grows and has a
history. But no writer, certainly no ancient writer, is always
vigilant. Sometimes Aristotle analyses his terms, but very often he
takes them for granted; and in the latter case, I think, he is
sometimes deceived by them. Thus there seem to be cases where he has
been affected in his conceptions of fifth-century tragedy by the
practice of his own day, when the only living form of drama was the
New Comedy.

For example, as we have noticed above, true Tragedy had always taken
its material from the sacred myths, or heroic sagas, which to the
classical Greek constituted history. But the New Comedy was in the
habit of inventing its plots. Consequently Aristotle falls into using
the word _mythos_ practically in the sense of 'plot', and writing
otherwise in a way that is unsuited to the tragedy of the fifth
century. He says that tragedy adheres to 'the historical names' for an
aesthetic reason, because what has happened is obviously possible and
therefore convincing. The real reason was that the drama and the myth
were simply two different expressions of the same religious kernel (p.
44). Again, he says of the Chorus (p. 65) that it should be an
integral part of the play, which is true; but he also says that it'
should be regarded as one of the actors', which shows to what an
extent the Chorus in his day was dead and its technique forgotten. He
had lost the sense of what the Chorus was in the hands of the great
masters, say in the Bacchae or the Eumenides. He mistakes, again, the
use of that epiphany of a God which is frequent at the end of the
single plays of Euripides, and which seems to have been equally so at
the end of the trilogies of Aeschylus. Having lost the living
tradition, he sees neither the ritual origin nor the dramatic value of
these divine epiphanies. He thinks of the convenient gods and
abstractions who sometimes spoke the prologues of the New Comedy, and
imagines that the God appears in order to unravel the plot. As a
matter of fact, in one play which he often quotes, the _Iphigenia
Taurica_, the plot is actually distorted at the very end in order to
give an opportunity for the epiphany.[1]

[1] See my _Euripides and his Age_, pp. 221-45.

One can see the effect of the tradition also in his treatment of the
terms Anagnorisis and Peripeteia, which Professor Bywater translates
as 'Discovery and Peripety' and Professor Butcher as 'Recognition and
Reversal of Fortune'. Aristotle assumes that these two elements are
normally present in any tragedy, except those which he calls 'simple';
we may say, roughly, in any tragedy that really has a plot. This
strikes a modern reader as a very arbitrary assumption. Reversals of
Fortune of some sort are perhaps usual in any varied plot, but surely
not Recognitions? The clue to the puzzle lies, it can scarcely be
doubted, in the historical origin of tragedy. Tragedy, according to
Greek tradition, is originally the ritual play of Dionysus, performed
at his festival, and representing, as Herodotus tells us, the
'sufferings' or 'passion' of that God. We are never directly told what
these 'sufferings' were which were so represented; but Herodotus
remarks that he found in Egypt a ritual that was 'in almost all points
the same'. [1] This was the well-known ritual of Osiris, in which the
god was torn in pieces, lamented, searched for, discovered or
recognized, and the mourning by a sudden Reversal turned into joy. In
any tragedy which still retained the stamp of its Dionysiac origin,
this Discovery and Peripety might normally be expected to occur, and
to occur together. I have tried to show elsewhere how many of our
extant tragedies do, as a matter of fact, show the marks of this

[1] Cf. Hdt. ii. 48; cf. 42,144. The name of Dionysus must not be
openly mentioned in connexion with mourning (ib. 61, 132, 86). This
may help to explain the transference of the tragic shows to other

[2] In Miss Harrison's _Themis_, pp. 341-63.

I hope it is not rash to surmise that the much-debated word
__katharsis__, 'purification' or 'purgation', may have come into
Aristotle's mouth from the same source. It has all the appearance of
being an old word which is accepted and re-interpreted by Aristotle
rather than a word freely chosen by him to denote the exact phenomenon
he wishes to describe. At any rate the Dionysus ritual itself was a
_katharmos_ or _katharsis_--a purification of the community from the
taints and poisons of the past year, the old contagion of sin and
death. And the words of Aristotle's definition of tragedy in Chapter
VI might have been used in the days of Thespis in a much cruder and
less metaphorical sense. According to primitive ideas, the mimic
representation on the stage of 'incidents arousing pity and fear' did
act as a _katharsis_ of such 'passions' or 'sufferings' in real life.
(For the word _pathemata_ means 'sufferings' as well as 'passions'.)
It is worth remembering that in the year 361 B.C., during Aristotle's
lifetime, Greek tragedies were introduced into Rome, not on artistic
but on superstitious grounds, as a _katharmos_ against a pestilence
(Livy vii. 2). One cannot but suspect that in his account of the
purpose of tragedy Aristotle may be using an old traditional formula,
and consciously or unconsciously investing it with a new meaning, much
as he has done with the word _mythos_.

Apart from these historical causes of misunderstanding, a good teacher
who uses this book with a class will hardly fail to point out numerous
points on which two equally good Greek scholars may well differ in the
mere interpretation of the words. What, for instance, are the 'two
natural causes' in Chapter IV which have given birth to Poetry? Are
they, as our translator takes them, (1) that man is imitative, and (2)
that people delight in imitations? Or are they (1) that man is
imitative and people delight in imitations, and (2) the instinct for
rhythm, as Professor Butcher prefers? Is it a 'creature' a thousand
miles long, or a 'picture' a thousand miles long which raises some
trouble in Chapter VII? The word _zoon_ means equally 'picture' and
'animal'. Did the older poets make their characters speak like
'statesmen', _politikoi_, or merely like ordinary citizens, _politai_,
while the moderns made theirs like 'professors of rhetoric'? (Chapter
VI, p. 38; cf. Margoliouth's note and glossary).

It may seem as if the large uncertainties which we have indicated
detract in a ruinous manner from the value of the _Poetics_ to us as a
work of criticism. Certainly if any young writer took this book as a
manual of rules by which to 'commence poet', he would find himself
embarrassed. But, if the book is properly read, not as a dogmatic
text-book but as a first attempt, made by a man of astounding genius,
to build up in the region of creative art a rational order like that
which he established in logic, rhetoric, ethics, politics, physics,
psychology, and almost every department of knowledge that existed in
his day, then the uncertainties become rather a help than a
discouragement. us occasion to think and use our
imagination. They make us, to the best of our powers, try really to
follow and criticize closely the bold gropings of an extraordinary
thinker; and it is in this process, and not in any mere collection of
dogmatic results, that we shall find the true value and beauty of the

The book is of permanent value as a mere intellectual achievement; as
a store of information about Greek literature; and as an original or
first-hand statement of what we may call the classical view of
artistic criticism. It does not regard poetry as a matter of
unanalysed inspiration; it makes no concession to personal whims or
fashion or _ennui_. It tries by rational methods to find out what is
good in art and what makes it good, accepting the belief that there is
just as truly a good way, and many bad ways, in poetry as in morals or
in playing billiards. This is no place to try to sum up its main
conclusions. But it is characteristic of the classical view that
Aristotle lays his greatest stress, first, on the need for Unity in
the work of art, the need that each part should subserve the whole,
while irrelevancies, however brilliant in themselves, should be cast
away; and next, on the demand that great art must have for its subject
the great way of living. These judgements have often been
misunderstood, but the truth in them is profound and goes near to the
heart of things.

Characteristic, too, is the observation that different kinds of art
grow and develop, but not indefinitely; they develop until they
'attain their natural form'; also the rule that each form of art should
produce 'not every sort of pleasure but its proper pleasure'; and the
sober language in which Aristotle, instead of speaking about the
sequence of events in a tragedy being 'inevitable', as we bombastic
moderns do, merely recommends that they should be 'either necessary or
probable' and 'appear to happen because of one another'.

Conceptions and attitudes of mind such as these constitute what we may
call the classical faith in matters of art and poetry; a faith which
is never perhaps fully accepted in any age, yet, unlike others, is
never forgotten but lives by being constantly criticized, re-asserted,
and rebelled against. For the fashions of the ages vary in this
direction and that, but they vary for the most part from a central
road which was struck out by the imagination of Greece.

G. M



Our subject being Poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in
general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of
the structure of plot required for a good poem; of the number and
nature of the constituent parts of a poem; and likewise of any other
matters in the same line of inquiry. Let us follow the natural order
and begin with the primary facts.

Epic poetry and Tragedy, as also Comedy, Dithyrambic poetry, and most
flute-playing and lyre-playing, are all, viewed as a whole, modes of
imitation. But at the same time they differ from one another in three
ways, either by a difference of kind in their means, or by differences
in the objects, or in the manner of their imitations.

I. Just as form and colour are used as means by some, who (whether by
art or constant practice) imitate and portray many things by their
aid, and the voice is used by others; so also in the above-mentioned
group of arts, the means with them as a whole are rhythm, language,
and harmony--used, however, either singly or in certain combinations.
A combination of rhythm and harmony alone is the means in
flute-playing and lyre-playing, and any other arts there may be of the
same description, e.g. imitative piping. Rhythm alone, without
harmony, is the means in the dancer's imitations; for even he, by the
rhythms of his attitudes, may represent men's characters, as well as
what they do and suffer. There is further an art which imitates by
language alone, without harmony, in prose or in verse, and if in
verse, either in some one or in a plurality of metres. This form of
imitation is to this day without a name. We have no common name for a
mime of Sophron or Xenarchus and a Socratic Conversation; and we
should still be without one even if the imitation in the two instances
were in trimeters or elegiacs or some other kind of verse--though it
is the way with people to tack on 'poet' to the name of a metre, and
talk of elegiac-poets and epic-poets, thinking that they call them
poets not by reason of the imitative nature of their work, but
indiscriminately by reason of the metre they write in. Even if a
theory of medicine or physical philosophy be put forth in a metrical
form, it is usual to describe the writer in this way; Homer and
Empedocles, however, have really nothing in common apart from their
metre; so that, if the one is to be called a poet, the other should be
termed a physicist rather than a poet. We should be in the same
position also, if the imitation in these instances were in all the
metres, like the _Centaur_ (a rhapsody in a medley of all metres) of
Chaeremon; and Chaeremon one has to recognize as a poet. So much,
then, as to these arts. There are, lastly, certain other arts, which
combine all the means enumerated, rhythm, melody, and verse, e.g.
Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, Tragedy and Comedy; with this
difference, however, that the three kinds of means are in some of them
all employed together, and in others brought in separately, one after
the other. These elements of difference in the above arts I term the
means of their imitation.


II. The objects the imitator represents are actions, with agents who
are necessarily either good men or bad--the diversities of human
character being nearly always derivative from this primary
distinction, since the line between virtue and vice is one dividing
the whole of mankind. It follows, therefore, that the agents
represented must be either above our own level of goodness, or beneath
it, or just such as we are in the same way as, with the painters, the
personages of Polygnotus are better than we are, those of Pauson
worse, and those of Dionysius just like ourselves. It is clear that
each of the above-mentioned arts will admit of these differences, and
that it will become a separate art by representing objects with this
point of difference. Even in dancing, flute-playing, and lyre-playing
such diversities are possible; and they are also possible in the
nameless art that uses language, prose or verse without harmony, as
its means; Homer's personages, for instance, are better than we are;
Cleophon's are on our own level; and those of Hegemon of Thasos, the
first writer of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the _Diliad_,
are beneath it. The same is true of the Dithyramb and the Nome: the
personages may be presented in them with the difference exemplified in
the ... of ... and Argas, and in the Cyclopses of Timotheus and
Philoxenus. This difference it is that distinguishes Tragedy and
Comedy also; the one would make its personages worse, and the other
better, than the men of the present day.


III. A third difference in these arts is in the manner in which each
kind of object is represented. Given both the same means and the same
kind of object for imitation, one may either (1) speak at one moment
in narrative and at another in an assumed character, as Homer does; or
(2) one may remain the same throughout, without any such change; or
(3) the imitators may represent the whole story dramatically, as
though they were actually doing the things described.

As we said at the beginning, therefore, the differences in the
imitation of these arts come under three heads, their means, their
objects, and their manner.

So that as an imitator Sophocles will be on one side akin to Homer,
both portraying good men; and on another to Aristophanes, since both
present their personages as acting and doing. This in fact, according
to some, is the reason for plays being termed dramas, because in a
play the personages act the story. Hence too both Tragedy and Comedy
are claimed by the Dorians as their discoveries; Comedy by the
Megarians--by those in Greece as having arisen when Megara became a
democracy, and by the Sicilian Megarians on the ground that the poet
Epicharmus was of their country, and a good deal earlier than
Chionides and Magnes; even Tragedy also is claimed by certain of the
Peloponnesian Dorians. In support of this claim they point to the
words 'comedy' and 'drama'. Their word for the outlying hamlets, they
say, is comae, whereas Athenians call them demes--thus assuming that
comedians got the name not from their _comoe_ or revels, but from
their strolling from hamlet to hamlet, lack of appreciation keeping
them out of the city. Their word also for 'to act', they say, is
_dran_, whereas Athenians use _prattein_.

So much, then, as to the number and nature of the points of difference
in the imitation of these arts.


It is clear that the general origin of poetry was due to two causes,
each of them part of human nature. Imitation is natural to man from
childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this,
that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns at
first by imitation. And it is also natural for all to delight in works
of imitation. The truth of this second point is shown by experience:
though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to
view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms for
example of the lowest animals and of dead bodies. The explanation is
to be found in a further fact: to be learning something is the
greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the
rest of mankind, however small their capacity for it; the reason of
the delight in seeing the picture is that one is at the same time
learning--gathering the meaning of things, e.g. that the man there is
so-and-so; for if one has not seen the thing before, one's pleasure
will not be in the picture as an imitation of it, but will be due to
the execution or colouring or some similar cause. Imitation, then,
being natural to us--as also the sense of harmony and rhythm, the
metres being obviously species of rhythms--it was through their
original aptitude, and by a series of improvements for the most part
gradual on their first efforts, that they created poetry out of their

Poetry, however, soon broke up into two kinds according to the
differences of character in the individual poets; for the graver among
them would represent noble actions, and those of noble personages; and
the meaner sort the actions of the ignoble. The latter class produced
invectives at first, just as others did hymns and panegyrics. We know
of no such poem by any of the pre-Homeric poets, though there were
probably many such writers among them; instances, however, may be
found from Homer downwards, e.g. his _Margites_, and the similar
poems of others. In this poetry of invective its natural fitness
brought an iambic metre into use; hence our present term 'iambic',
because it was the metre of their 'iambs' or invectives against one
another. The result was that the old poets became some of them writers
of heroic and others of iambic verse. Homer's position, however, is
peculiar: just as he was in the serious style the poet of poets,
standing alone not only through the literary excellence, but also
through the dramatic character of his imitations, so too he was the
first to outline for us the general forms of Comedy by producing not a
dramatic invective, but a dramatic picture of the Ridiculous; his
_Margites_ in fact stands in the same relation to our comedies as the
_Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ to our tragedies. As soon, however, as Tragedy
and Comedy appeared in the field, those naturally drawn to the one
line of poetry became writers of comedies instead of iambs, and those
naturally drawn to the other, writers of tragedies instead of epics,
because these new modes of art were grander and of more esteem than
the old.

If it be asked whether Tragedy is now all that it need be in its
formative elements, to consider that, and decide it theoretically and
in relation to the theatres, is a matter for another inquiry.

It certainly began in improvisations--as did also Comedy; the one
originating with the authors of the Dithyramb, the other with those of
the phallic songs, which still survive as institutions in many of our
cities. And its advance after that was little by little, through their
improving on whatever they had before them at each stage. It was in
fact only after a long series of changes that the movement of Tragedy
stopped on its attaining to its natural form. (1) The number of actors
was first increased to two by Aeschylus, who curtailed the business of
the Chorus, and made the dialogue, or spoken portion, take the leading
part in the play. (2) A third actor and scenery were due to Sophocles.
(3) Tragedy acquired also its magnitude. Discarding short stories and
a ludicrous diction, through its passing out of its satyric stage, it
assumed, though only at a late point in its progress, a tone of
dignity; and its metre changed then from trochaic to iambic. The
reason for their original use of the trochaic tetrameter was that
their poetry was satyric and more connected with dancing than it now
is. As soon, however, as a spoken part came in, nature herself found
the appropriate metre. The iambic, we know, is the most speakable of
metres, as is shown by the fact that we very often fall into it in
conversation, whereas we rarely talk hexameters, and only when we
depart from the speaking tone of voice. (4) Another change was a
plurality of episodes or acts. As for the remaining matters, the
superadded embellishments and the account of their introduction, these
must be taken as said, as it would probably be a long piece of work to
go through the details.


As for Comedy, it is (as has been observed) an imitation of men worse
than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of
fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which
is a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistake
or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for
instance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted
without causing pain.

Though the successive changes in Tragedy and their authors are not
unknown, we cannot say the same of Comedy; its early stages passed
unnoticed, because it was not as yet taken up in a serious way. It was
only at a late point in its progress that a chorus of comedians was
officially granted by the archon; they used to be mere volunteers. It
had also already certain definite forms at the time when the record of
those termed comic poets begins. Who it was who supplied it with
masks, or prologues, or a plurality of actors and the like, has
remained unknown. The invented Fable, or Plot, however, originated in
Sicily, with Epicharmus and Phormis; of Athenian poets Crates was the
first to drop the Comedy of invective and frame stories of a general
and non-personal nature, in other words, Fables or Plots.

Epic poetry, then, has been seen to agree with Tragedy to thi.e.tent,
that of being an imitation of serious subjects in a grand kind of
verse. It differs from it, however, (1) in that it is in one kind of
verse and in narrative form; and (2) in its length--which is due to
its action having no fixed limit of time, whereas Tragedy endeavours
to keep as far as possible within a single circuit of the sun, or
something near that. This, I say, is another point of difference
between them, though at first the practice in this respect was just
the same in tragedies as i.e.ic poems. They differ also (3) in their
constituents, some being common to both and others peculiar to
Tragedy--hence a judge of good and bad in Tragedy is a judge of that
i.e.ic poetry also. All the parts of an epic are included in Tragedy;
but those of Tragedy are not all of them to be found in the Epic.


Reserving hexameter poetry and Comedy for consideration hereafter, let
us proceed now to the discussion of Tragedy; before doing so, however,
we must gather up the definition resulting from what has been said. A
tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also,
as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasurable
accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work;
in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity
and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions. Here
by 'language with pleasurable accessories' I mean that with rhythm and
harmony or song superadded; and by 'the kinds separately' I mean that
some portions are worked out with verse only, and others in turn with

I. As they act the stories, it follows that in the first place the
Spectacle (or stage-appearance of the actors) must be some part of the
whole; and in the second Melody and Diction, these two being the means
of their imitation. Here by 'Diction' I mean merely this, the
composition of the verses; and by 'Melody', what is too completely
understood to require explanation. But further: the subject
represented also is an action; and the action involves agents, who
must necessarily have their distinctive qualities both of character
and thought, since it is from these that we ascribe certain qualities
to their actions. There are in the natural order of things, therefore,
two causes, Character and Thought, of their actions, and consequently
of their success or failure in their lives. Now the action (that which
was done) is represented in the play by the Fable or Plot. The Fable,
in our present sense of the term, is simply this, the combination of
the incidents, or things done in the story; whereas Character is what
makes us ascribe certain moral qualities to the agents; and Thought is
shown in all they say when proving a particular point or, it may be,
enunciating a general truth. There are six parts consequently of every
tragedy, as a whole, that is, of such or such quality, viz. a Fable or
Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody; two of them
arising from the means, one from the manner, and three from the
objects of the dramatic imitation; and there is nothing else besides
these six. Of these, its formative elements, then, not a few of the
dramatists have made due use, as every play, one may say, admits of
Spectacle, Character, Fable, Diction, Melody, and Thought.

II. The most important of the six is the combination of the incidents
of the story.

Tragedy i.e.sentially an imitation not of persons but of action and
life, of happiness and misery. All human happiness or misery takes the
form of action; the end for which we live is a certain kind of
activity, not a quality. Characte.g.ves us qualities, but it is in
our actions--what we do--that we are happy or the reverse. In a play
accordingly they do not act in order to portray the Characters; they
include the Characters for the sake of the action. So that it is the
action in it, i.e. its Fable or Plot, that is the end and purpose of
the tragedy; and the end i.e.erywhere the chief thing. Besides this,
a tragedy is impossible without action, but there may be one without
Character. The tragedies of most of the moderns are characterless--a
defect common among poets of all kinds, and with its counterpart in
painting in Zeuxis as compared with Polygnotus; for whereas the latter
is strong in character, the work of Zeuxis is devoid of it. And again:
one may string together a series of characteristic speeches of the
utmost finish as regards Diction and Thought, and yet fail to produce
the true tragi.e.fect; but one will have much better success with a
tragedy which, however inferior in these respects, has a Plot, a
combination of incidents, in it. And again: the most powerful elements
of attraction in Tragedy, the Peripeties and Discoveries, are parts of
the Plot. A further proof is in the fact that beginners succeed
earlier with the Diction and Characters than with the construction of
a story; and the same may be said of nearly all the early dramatists.
We maintain, therefore, that the first essential, the life and soul,
so to speak, of Tragedy is the Plot; and that the Characters come
second--compare the parallel in painting, where the most beautiful
colours laid on without order will not give one the same pleasure as a
simple black-and-white sketch of a portrait. We maintain that Tragedy
is primarily an imitation of action, and that it is mainly for the
sake of the action that it imitates the personal agents. Third comes
the element of Thought, i.e. the power of saying whatever can be said,
or what is appropriate to the occasion. This is what, in the speeches
in Tragedy, falls under the arts of Politics and Rhetoric; for the
older poets make their personages discourse like statesmen, and the
moderns like rhetoricians. One must not confuse it with Character.
Character in a play is that which reveals the moral purpose of the
agents, i.e. the sort of thing they seek or avoid, where that is not
obvious--hence there is no room for Character in a speech on a purely
indifferent subject. Thought, on the other hand, is shown in all they
say when proving or disproving some particular point, or enunciating
some universal proposition. Fourth among the literary elements is the
Diction of the personages, i.e. as before explained, the expression of
their thoughts in words, which is practically the same thing with
verse as with prose. As for the two remaining parts, the Melody is the
greatest of the pleasurable accessories of Tragedy. The Spectacle,
though an attraction, is the least artistic of all the parts, and has
least to do with the art of poetry. The tragi.e.fect is quite
possible without a public performance and actors; and besides, the
getting-up of the Spectacle is more a matter for the costumier than
the poet.


Having thus distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper
construction of the Fable or Plot, as that is at once the first and
the most important thing in Tragedy. We have laid it down that a
tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete in itself, as a
whole of some magnitude; for a whole may be of no magnitude to speak
of. Now a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end. A
beginning is that which is not itself necessarily after anything else,
and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which
is naturally after something itself, either as its necessary or usual
consequent, and with nothing else after it; and a middle, that which
is by nature after one thing and has also another after it. A
well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any
point one likes; beginning and end in it must be of the forms just
described. Again: to be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole
made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its
arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude.
Beauty is a matter of size and order, and therefore impossible either
(1) in a very minute creature, since our perception becomes indistinct
as it approaches instantaneity; or (2) in a creature of vast
size--one, say, 1,000 miles long--as in that case, instead of the
object being seen all at once, the unity and wholeness of it is lost
to the beholder.

Just in the same way, then, as a beautiful whole made up of parts, or
a beautiful living creature, must be of some size, a size to be taken
in by the eye, so a story or Plot must be of some length, but of a
length to be taken in by the memory. As for the limit of its length,
so far as that is relative to public performances and spectators, it
does not fall within the theory of poetry. If they had to perform a
hundred tragedies, they would be timed by water-clocks, as they are
said to have been at one period. The limit, however, set by the actual
nature of the thing is this: the longer the story, consistently with
its being comprehensible as a whole, the finer it is by reason of its
magnitude. As a rough general formula, 'a length which allows of the
hero passing by a series of probable or necessary stages from
misfortune to happiness, or from happiness to misfortune', may suffice
as a limit for the magnitude of the story.


The Unity of a Plot does not consist, as some suppose, in its having
one man as its subject. An infinity of things befall that one man,
some of which it is impossible to reduce to unity; and in like manner
there are many actions of one man which cannot be made to form one
action. One sees, therefore, the mistake of all the poets who have
written a _Heracleid_, a _Theseid_, or similar poems; they suppose
that, because Heracles was one man, the story also of Heracles must be
one story. Homer, however, evidently understood this point quite well,
whether by art or instinct, just in the same way as he excels the rest
i.e.ery other respect. In writing an _Odyssey_, he did not make the
poem cover all that ever befell his hero--it befell him, for instance,
to get wounded on Parnassus and also to feign madness at the time of
the call to arms, but the two incidents had no probable or necessary
connexion with one another--instead of doing that, he took an action
with a Unity of the kind we are describing as the subject of the
_Odyssey_, as also of the _Iliad_. The truth is that, just as in the
other imitative arts one imitation is always of one thing, so in
poetry the story, as an imitation of action, must represent one
action, a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely
connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will
disjoin and dislocate the whole. For that which makes no perceptible
difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.


From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to
describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that
might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary.
The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing
prose and the other verse--you might put the work of Herodotus into
verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really
in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the
other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more
philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements
are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are
singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what such or such
a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do--which is the
aim of poetry, though it affixes proper names to the characters; by a
singular statement, one as to what, say, Alcibiades did or had done to
him. In Comedy this has become clear by this time; it is only when
their plot is already made up of probable incidents that it
a basis of proper names, choosing for the purpose any names that may
occur to them, instead of writing like the old iambic poets about
particular persons. In Tragedy, however, they still adhere to the
historic names; and for this reason: what convinces is the possible;
now whereas we are not yet sure as to the possibility of that which
has not happened, that which has happened is manifestly possible, else
it would not have come to pass. Nevertheless even in Tragedy there are
some plays with but one or two known names in them, the rest being
inventions; and there are some without a single known name, e.g.
Agathon's Anthens, in which both incidents and names are of the poet's
invention; and it is no less delightful on that account. So that one
must not aim at a rigid adherence to the traditional stories on which
tragedies are based. It would be absurd, in fact, to do so, as even
the known stories are only known to a few, though they are a delight
none the less to all.

It i.e.ident from the above that, the poet must be more the poet of
his stories or Plots than of his verses, inasmuch as he is a poet by
virtue of the imitative element in his work, and it is actions that he
imitates. And if he should come to take a subject from actual history,
he is none the less a poet for that; since some historic occurrences
may very well be in the probable and possible order of things; and it
is in that aspect of them that he is their poet.

Of simple Plots and actions the episodic are the worst. I call a Plot
episodic when there is neither probability nor necessity in the
sequence of episodes. Actions of this sort bad poets construct through
their own fault, and good ones on account of the players. His work
being for public performance, a good poet often stretches out a Plot
beyond its capabilities, and is thus obliged to twist the sequence of

Tragedy, however, is an imitation not only of a complete action, but
also of incidents arousing pity and fear. Such incidents have the very
greatest effect on the mind when they occur unexpectedly and at the
same time in consequence of one another; there is more of the
marvellous in them then than if they happened of themselves or by mere
chance. Even matters of chance seem most marvellous if there is an
appearance of design as it were in them; as for instance the statue of
Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys' death by falling down on
him when a looker-on at a public spectacle; for incidents like that we
think to be not without a meaning. A Plot, therefore, of this sort is
necessarily finer than others.


Plots are either simple or complex, since the actions they represent
are naturally of this twofold description. The action, proceeding in
the way defined, as one continuous whole, I call simple, when the
change in the hero's fortunes takes place without Peripety or
Discovery; and complex, when it involves one or the other, or both.
These should each of them arise out of the structure of the Plot
itself, so as to be the consequence, necessary or probable, of the
antecedents. There is a great difference between a thing happening
_propter hoc_ and _post hoc_.


A Peripety is the change from one state of things within the play to
its opposite of the kind described, and that too in the way we are
saying, in the probable or necessary sequence of events; as it is for
instance in _Oedipus_: here the opposite state of things is produced
by the Messenger, who, coming to gladden Oedipus and to remove his
fears as to his mother, reveals the secret of his birth. And in
_Lynceus_: just as he is being led off for execution, with Danaus at
his side to put him to death, the incidents preceding this bring it
about that he is saved and Danaus put to death. A Discovery is, as the
very word implies, a change from ignorance to knowledge, and thus to
either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil
fortune. The finest form of Discovery is one attended by Peripeties,
like that which goes with the Discovery in _Oedipus_. There are no
doubt other forms of it; what we have said may happen in a way in
reference to inanimate things, even things of a very casual kind; and
it is also possible to discover whether some one has done or not done
something. But the form most directly connected with the Plot and the
action of the piece is the first-mentioned. This, with a Peripety,
will arouse either pity or fear--actions of that nature being what
Tragedy is assumed to represent; and it will also serve to bring about
the happy or unhappy ending. The Discovery, then, being of persons, it
may be that of one party only to the other, the latter being already
known; or both the parties may have to discover themselves. Iphigenia,
for instance, was discovered to Orestes by sending the letter; and
another Discovery was required to reveal him to Iphigenia.

Two parts of the Plot, then, Peripety and Discovery, are on matters of
this sort. A third part is Suffering; which we may define as an action
of a destructive or painful nature, such as murders on the stage,
tortures, woundings, and the like. The other two have been already


The parts of Tragedy to be treated as formative elements in the whole
were mentioned in a previous Chapter. From the point of view, however,
of its quantity, i.e. the separate sections into which it is divided,
a tragedy has the following parts: Prologue, Episode, Exode, and a
choral portion, distinguished into Parode and Stasimon; these two are
common to all tragedies, whereas songs from the stage and Commoe are
only found in some. The Prologue is all that precedes the Parode of
the chorus; an Episode all that comes in between two whole choral
songs; the Exode all that follows after the last choral song. In the
choral portion the Parode is the whole first statement of the chorus;
a Stasimon, a song of the chorus without anapaests or trochees; a
Commas, a lamentation sung by chorus and actor in concert. The parts
of Tragedy to be used as formative elements in the whole we have
already mentioned; the above are its parts from the point of view of
its quantity, or the separate sections into which it is divided.


The next points after what we have said above will be these: (1) What
is the poet to aim at, and what is he to avoid, in constructing his
Plots? and (2) What are the conditions on which the tragi.e.fect

We assume that, for the finest form of Tragedy, the Plot must be not
simple but complex; and further, that it must imitate actions arousing
pity and fear, since that is the distinctive function of this kind of
imitation. It follows, therefore, that there are three forms of Plot
to be avoided. (1) A good man must not be seen passing from happiness
to misery, or (2) a bad man from misery to happiness.

The first situation is not fear-inspiring or piteous, but simply
odious to us. The second is the most untragic that can be; it has no
one of the requisites of Tragedy; it does not appeal either to the
human feeling in us, or to our pity, or to our fears. Nor, on the
other hand, should (3) an extremely bad man be seen falling from
happiness into misery. Such a story may arouse the human feeling in
us, but it will not move us to either pity or fear; pity is occasioned
by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves; so
that there will be nothing either piteous or fear-inspiring in the
situation. There remains, then, the intermediate kind of personage, a
man not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is
brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some error of
judgement, of the number of those in the enjoyment of great reputation
and prosperity; e.g. Oedipus, Thyestes, and the men of note of similar
families. The perfect Plot, accordingly, must have a single, and not
(as some tell us) a double issue; the change in the hero's fortunes
must be not from misery to happiness, but on the contrary from
happiness to misery; and the cause of it must lie not in any
depravity, but in some great error on his part; the man himself being
either such as we have described, or better, not worse, than that.
Fact also confirms our theory. Though the poets began by accepting any
tragic story that came to hand, in these days the finest tragedies are
always on the story of some few houses, on that of Alemeon, Oedipus,
Orestes, Meleager, Thyestes, Telephus, or any others that may have
been involved, as either agents or sufferers, in some deed of horror.
The theoretically best tragedy, then, has a Plot of this description.
The critics, therefore, are wrong who blame Euripides for taking this
line in his tragedies, and giving many of them an unhappy ending. It
is, as we have said, the right line to take. The best proof is this:
on the stage, and in the public performances, such plays, properly
worked out, are seen to be the most truly tragic; and Euripides, even
if hi.e.ecution be faulty i.e.ery other point, is seen to be
nevertheless the most tragic certainly of the dramatists. After this
comes the construction of Plot which some rank first, one with a
double story (like the _Odyssey_) and an opposite issue for the good
and the bad personages. It is ranked as first only through the
weakness of the audiences; the poets merely follow their public,
writing as its wishes dictate. But the pleasure here is not that of
Tragedy. It belongs rather to Comedy, where the bitterest enemies in
the piece (e.g. Orestes and Aegisthus) walk off good friends at the
end, with no slaying of any one by any one.


The tragic fear and pity may be aroused by the Spectacle; but they may
also be aroused by the very structure and incidents of the play--which
is the better way and shows the better poet. The Plot in fact should
be so framed that, even without seeing the things take place, he who
simply hears the account of them shall be filled with horror and pity
at the incidents; which is just the effect that the mere recital of
the story in _Oedipus_ would have on one. To produce this same effect
by means of the Spectacle is less artistic, and requires extraneous
aid. Those, however, who make use of the Spectacle to put before us
that which is merely monstrous and not productive of fear, are wholly
out of touch with Tragedy; not every kind of pleasure should be
required of a tragedy, but only its own proper pleasure.

The tragic pleasure is that of pity and fear, and the poet has to
produce it by a work of imitation; it is clear, therefore, that the
causes should be included in the incidents of his story. Let us see,
then, what kinds of incident strike one as horrible, or rather as
piteous. In a deed of this description the parties must necessarily be
either friends, or enemies, or indifferent to one another. Now when
enemy does it on enemy, there is nothing to move us to pity either in
his doing or in his meditating the deed, except so far as the actual
pain of the sufferer is concerned; and the same is true when the
parties are indifferent to one another. Whenever the tragic deed,
however, is done within the family--when murder or the like is done or
meditated by brother on brother, by son on father, by mother on son,
or son on mother--these are the situations the poet should seek after.
The traditional stories, accordingly, must be kept as they are, e.g.
the murder of Clytaemnestra by Orestes and of Eriphyle by Alcmeon. At
the same time even with these there is something left to the poet
himself; it is for him to devise the right way of treating them. Let
us explain more clearly what we mean by 'the right way'. The deed of
horror may be done by the doer knowingly and consciously, as in the
old poets, and in Medea's murder of her children in Euripides. Or he
may do it, but in ignorance of his relationship, and discover that
afterwards, as does the _Oedipus_ in Sophocles. Here the deed is
outside the play; but it may be within it, like the act of the Alcmeon
in Astydamas, or that of the Telegonus in _Ulysses Wounded_. A third
possibility is for one meditating some deadly injury to another, in
ignorance of his relationship, to make the discovery in time to draw
back. These exhaust the possibilities, since the deed must necessarily
be either done or not done, and either knowingly or unknowingly.

The worst situation is when the personage is with full knowledge on
the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious and
also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no
one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g. Haemon and
Creon in _Antigone_. Next after this comes the actual perpetration of
the deed meditated. A better situation than that, however, is for the
deed to be done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered
afterwards, since there is nothing odious in it, and the Discovery
will serve to astound us. But the best of all is the last; what we
have in _Cresphontes_, for example, where Merope, on the point of
slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in _Iphigenia_, where sister
and brother are in a like position; and in _Helle_, where the son
recognizes his mother, when on the point of giving her up to her

This will explain why our tragedies are restricted (as we said just
now) to such a small number of families. It was accident rather than
art that led the poets in quest of subjects to embody this kind of
incident in their Plots. They are still obliged, accordingly, to have
recourse to the families in which such horrors have occurred.

On the construction of the Plot, and the kind of Plot required for
Tragedy, enough has now been said.


In the Characters there are four points to aim at. First and foremost,
that they shall be good. There will be an element of character in the
play, if (as has been observed) what a personage says or does reveals
a certain moral purpose; and a good element of character, if the
purpose so revealed is good. Such goodness is possible i.e.ery type
of personage, even in a woman or a slave, though the one is perhaps an
inferior, and the other a wholly worthless being. The second point is
to make them appropriate. The Character before us may be, say, manly;
but it is not appropriate in a female Character to be manly, or
clever. The third is to make them like the reality, which is not the
same as their being good and appropriate, in our sense of the term.
The fourth is to make them consistent and the same throughout; even if
inconsistency be part of the man before one for imitation as
presenting that form of character, he should still be consistently
inconsistent. We have an instance of baseness of character, not
required for the story, in the Menelaus in _Orestes_; of the
incongruous and unbefitting in the lamentation of Ulysses in _Scylla_,
and in the (clever) speech of Melanippe; and of inconsistency in
_Iphigenia at Aulis_, where Iphigenia the suppliant is utterly unlike
the later Iphigenia. The right thing, however, is in the Characters
just as in the incidents of the play to endeavour always after the
necessary or the probable; so that whenever such-and-such a personage
says or does such-and-such a thing, it shall be the probable or
necessary outcome of his character; and whenever this incident follows
on that, it shall be either the necessary or the probable consequence
of it. From this one sees (to digress for a moment) that the
Denouement also should arise out of the plot itself, arid not depend
on a stage-artifice, as in _Medea_, or in the story of the (arrested)
departure of the Greeks in the _Iliad_. The artifice must be reserved
for matters outside the play--for past events beyond human knowledge,
or events yet to come, which require to be foretold or announced;
since it is the privilege of the Gods to know everything. There should
be nothing improbable among the actual incidents. If it be
unavoidable, however, it should be outside the tragedy, like the
improbability in the _Oedipus_ of Sophocles. But to return to the
Characters. As Tragedy is an imitation of personages better than the
ordinary man, we in our way should follow the example of good
portrait-painters, who reproduce the distinctive features of a man,
and at the same time, without losing the likeness, make him handsomer
than he is. The poet in like manner, in portraying men quick or slow
to anger, or with similar infirmities of character, must know how to
represent them as such, and at the same time as good men, as Agathon
and Homer have represented Achilles.

All these rules one must keep in mind throughout, and further, those
also for such points of stage-effect as directly depend on the art of
the poet, since in these too one may often make mistakes. Enough,
however, has been said on the subject in one of our published


Discovery in general has been explained already. As for the species of
Discovery, the first to be noted is (1) the least artistic form of it,
of which the poets make most use through mere lack of invention,
Discovery by signs or marks. Of these signs some are congenital, like
the 'lance-head which the Earth-born have on them', or 'stars', such
as Carcinus brings in in his _Thyestes_; others acquired after birth--
these latter being either marks on the body, e.g. scars, or external
tokens, like necklaces, or to take another sort of instance, the ark
in the Discovery in _Tyro_. Even these, however, admit of two uses, a
better and a worse; the scar of Ulysses is an instance; the Discovery
of him through it is made in one way by the nurse and in another by
the swineherds. A Discovery using signs as a means of assurance is
less artistic, as indeed are all such as imply reflection; whereas one
bringing them in all of a sudden, as in the _Bath-story_, is of a
better order. Next after these are (2) Discoveries made directly by
the poet; which are inartistic for that very reason; e.g. Orestes'
Discovery of himself in _Iphigenia_: whereas his sister reveals who
she is by the letter, Orestes is made to say himself what the poet
rather than the story demands. This, therefore, is not far removed
from the first-mentioned fault, since he might have presented certain
tokens as well. Another instance is the 'shuttle's voice' in the
_Tereus_ of Sophocles. (3) A third species is Discovery through
memory, from a man's consciousness being awakened by something seen or
heard. Thus in _The Cyprioe_ of Dicaeogenes, the sight of the picture
makes the man burst into tears; and in the _Tale of Alcinous_, hearing
the harper Ulysses is reminded of the past and weeps; the Discovery of
them being the result. (4) A fourth kind is Discovery through
reasoning; e.g. in _The Choephoroe_: 'One like me is here; there is
no one like me but Orestes; he, therefore, must be here.' Or that
which Polyidus the Sophist suggested for _Iphigenia_; since it was
natural for Orestes to reflect: 'My sister was sacrificed, and I am to
be sacrificed like her.' Or that in the _Tydeus_ of Theodectes: 'I
came to find a son, and am to die myself.' Or that in _The Phinidae_:
on seeing the place the women inferred their fate, that they were to
die there, since they had also been exposed there. (5) There is, too,
a composite Discovery arising from bad reasoning on the side of the
other party. An instance of it is in _Ulysses the False Messenger_: he
said he should know the bow--which he had not seen; but to suppose
from that that he would know it again (as though he had once seen it)
was bad reasoning. (6) The best of all Discoveries, however, is that
arising from the incidents themselves, when the great surprise comes
about through a probable incident, like that in the _Oedipus_ of
Sophocles; and also in _Iphigenia_; for it was not improbable that she
should wish to have a letter taken home. These last are the only
Discoveries independent of the artifice of signs and necklaces. Next
after them come Discoveries through reasoning.


At the time when he is constructing his Plots, and engaged on the
Diction in which they are worked out, the poet should remember
(1) to put the actual scenes as far as possible before In
this way, seeing everything with the vividness of an eye-witness as it
were, he will devise what is appropriate, and be least likely to
overlook incongruities. This is shown by what was censured in
Carcinus, the return of Amphiaraus from the sanctuary; it would have
passed unnoticed, if it had not been actually seen by the audience;
but on the stage his play failed, the incongruity of the incident
offending the spectators. (2) As far as may be, too, the poet should
even act his story with the very gestures of his personages. Given the
same natural qualifications, he who feels the emotions to be described
will be the most convincing; distress and anger, for instance, are
portrayed most truthfully by one who is feeling them at the moment.
Hence it is that poetry demands a man with special gift for it, or
else one with a touch of madness in him; the, former can easily assume
the required mood, and the latter may be actually beside himself with
emotion. (3) His story, again, whether already made or of his own
making, he should first simplify and reduce to a universal form,
before proceeding to lengthen it out by the insertion of episodes. The
following will show how the universal element in _Iphigenia_, for
instance, may be viewed: A certain maiden having been offered in
sacrifice, and spirited away from her sacrificers into another land,
where the custom was to sacrifice all strangers to the Goddess, she
was made there the priestess of this rite. Long after that the brother
of the priestess happened to come; the fact, however, of the oracle
having for a certain reason bidden him go thither, and his object in
going, are outside the Plot of the play. On his coming he was
arrested, and about to be sacrificed, when he revealed who he
was--either as Euripides puts it, or (as suggested by Polyidus) by the
not improbable exclamation, 'So I too am doomed to be sacrificed, as
my sister was'; and the disclosure led to his salvation. This done,
the next thing, after the proper names have been fixed as a basis for
the story, is to work i.e.isodes or accessory incidents. One must
mind, however, that the episodes are appropriate, like the fit of
madness in Orestes, which led to his arrest, and the purifying, which
brought about his salvation. In plays, then, the episodes are short;
i.e.ic poetry they serve to lengthen out the poem. The argument of
the _Odyssey_ is not a long one.

A certain man has been abroad many years; Poseidon on the
watch for him, and he is all alone. Matters at home too have come to
this, that his substance is being wasted and his son's death plotted
by suitors to his wife. Then he arrives there himself after his
grievous sufferings; reveals himself, and falls on hi.e.emies; and
the end is his salvation and their death. This being all that is
proper to the _Odyssey_, everything else in it i.e.isode.


(4) There is a further point to be borne in mind. Every tragedy is in
part Complication and in part Denouement; the incidents before the
opening scene, and often certain also of those within the play,
forming the Complication; and the rest the Denouement. By Complication
I mean all from the beginning of the story to the point just before
the change in the hero's fortunes; by Denouement, all from the
beginning of the change to the end. In the _Lynceus_ of Theodectes,
for instance, the Complication includes, together with the presupposed
incidents, the seizure of the child and that in turn of the parents;
and the Denouement all from the indictment for the murder to the end.
Now it is right, when one speaks of a tragedy as the same or not the
same as another, to do so on the ground before all else of their Plot,
i.e. as having the same or not the same Complication and Denouement.
Yet there are many dramatists who, after a good Complication, fail in
the Denouement. But it is necessary for both points of construction to
be always duly mastered. (5) There are four distinct species of
Tragedy--that being the number of the constituents also that have been
mentioned: first, the complex Tragedy, which is all Peripety and
Discovery; second, the Tragedy of suffering, e.g. the _Ajaxes_ and
_Ixions_; third, the Tragedy of character, e.g. _The Phthiotides_ and
_Peleus_. The fourth constituent is that of 'Spectacle', exemplified
in _The Phorcides_, in _Prometheus_, and in all plays with the scene
laid in the nether world. The poet's aim, then, should be to combine
every element of interest, if possible, or else the more important and
the major part of them. This is now especially necessary owing to the
unfair criticism to which the poet is subjected in these days. Just
because there have been poets before him strong in the several species
of tragedy, the critics now expect the one man to surpass that which
was the strong point of each one of his predecessors. (6) One should
also remember what has been said more than once, and not write a
tragedy on an epic body of incident (i.e. one with a plurality of
stories in it), by attempting to dramatize, for instance, the entire
story of the _Iliad_. In the epic owing to its scale every part is
treated at proper length; with a drama, however, on the same story the
result is very disappointing. This is shown by the fact that all who
have dramatized the fall of Ilium in its entirety, and not part by
part, like Euripides, or the whole of the Niobe story, instead of a
portion, like Aeschylus, either fail utterly or have but ill success
on the stage; for that and that alone was enough to rui.e.en a play
by Agathon. Yet in their Peripeties, as also in their simple plots,
the poets I mean show wonderful skill in aiming at the kind of effect
they desire--a tragic situation that arouses the human feeling in one,
like the clever villain (e.g. Sisyphus) deceived, or the brave
wrongdoer worsted. This is probable, however, only in Agathon's sense,
when he speaks of the probability of even improbabilities coming to
pass. (7) The Chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it
should be an integral part of the whole, and take a share in the
action--that which it has in Sophocles rather than in Euripides. With
the later poets, however, the songs in a play of theirs have no more
to do with the Plot of that than of any other tragedy. Hence it is
that they are now singing intercalary pieces, a practice first
introduced by Agathon. And yet what real difference is there between
singing such intercalary pieces, and attempting to fit in a speech, or
even a whole act, from one play into another?


The Plot and Characters having been discussed, it remains to consider
the Diction and Thought. As for the Thought, we may assume what is
said of it in our Art of Rhetoric, as it belongs more properly to that
department of inquiry. The Thought of the personages is shown in
everything to be effected by their language--i.e.ery effort to prove
or disprove, to arouse emotion (pity, fear, anger, and the like), or
to maximize or minimize things. It is clear, also, that their mental
procedure must be on the same lines in their actions likewise,
whenever they wish them to arouse pity or horror, or have a look of
importance or probability. The only difference is that with the act
the impression has to be made without explanation; whereas with the
spoken word it has to be produced by the speaker, and result from his
language. What, indeed, would be the good of the speaker, if things
appeared in the required light even apart from anything he says?

As regards the Diction, one subject for inquiry under this head is the
turns given to the language when spoken; e.g. the difference between
command and prayer, simple statement and threat, question and answer,
and so forth. The theory of such matters, however, belongs to
Elocution and the professors of that art. Whether the poet knows these
things or not, his art as a poet is never seriously criticized on that
account. What fault can one see in Homer's 'Sing of the wrath,
Goddess'?--which Protagoras has criticized as being a command where a
prayer was meant, since to bid one do or not do, he tells us, is a
command. Let us pass over this, then, as appertaining to another art,
and not to that of poetry.


The Diction viewed as a whole is made up of the following parts: the
Letter (or ultimate element), the Syllable, the Conjunction, the
Article, the Noun, the Verb, the Case, and the Speech. (1) The Letter
is an indivisible sound of a particular kind, one that may become a
factor in an intelligible sound. Indivisible sounds are uttered by the
brutes also, but no one of these is a Letter in our sense of the term.
These elementary sounds are either vowels, semivowels, or mutes. A
vowel is a Letter having an audible sound without the addition of
another Letter. A semivowel, one having an audible sound by the
addition of another Letter; e.g. S and R. A mute, one having no sound
at all by itself, but becoming audible by an addition, that of one of
the Letters which have a sound of some sort of their own; e.g. D and
G. The Letters differ in various ways: as produced by different
conformations or in different regions of the mouth; as aspirated, not
aspirated, or sometimes one and sometimes the other; as long, short,
or of variable quantity; and further as having an acute.g.ave, or
intermediate accent.

The details of these matters we mubt leave to the metricians. (2) A
Syllable is a nonsignificant composite sound, made up of a mute and a
Letter having a sound (a vowel or semivowel); for GR, without an A, is
just as much a Syllable as GRA, with an A. The various forms of the
Syllable also belong to the theory of metre. (3) A Conjunction is (a)
a non-significant sound which, when one significant sound is formable
out of several, neither hinders nor aids the union, and which, if the
Speech thus formed stands by itself (apart from other Speeches) must
not be inserted at the beginning of it; e.g. _men_, _de_, _toi_,
_de_. Or (b) a non-significant sound capable of combining two or more
significant sounds into one; e.g. _amphi_, _peri_, etc. (4) An
Article is a non-significant sound marking the beginning, end, or
dividing-point of a Speech, its natural place being either at the
extremities or in the middle. (5) A Noun or name is a composite
significant sound not involving the idea of time, with parts which
have no significance by themselves in it. It is to be remembered that
in a compound we do not think of the parts as having a significance
also by themselves; in the name 'Theodorus', for instance, the _doron_
means nothing to us.

(6) A Verb is a composite significant sound involving the idea of
time, with parts which (just as in the Noun) have no significance by
themselves in it. Whereas the word 'man' or 'white' does not imply
_when_, 'walks' and 'has walked' involve in addition to the idea of
walking that of time present or time past.

(7) A Case of a Noun or Verb is when the word means 'of or 'to' a
thing, and so forth, or for one or many (e.g. 'man' and 'men'); or it
may consist merely in the mode of utterance, e.g. in question,
command, etc. 'Walked?' and 'Walk!' are Cases of the verb 'to walk' of
this last kind. (8) A Speech is a composite significant sound, some of
the parts of which have a certain significance by themselves. It may
be observed that a Speech is not always made up of Noun and Verb; it
may be without a Verb, like the definition of man; but it will always
have some part with a certain significance by itself. In the Speech
'Cleon walks', 'Cleon' is an instance of such a part. A Speech is said
to be one in two ways, either as signifying one thing, or as a union
of several Speeches made into one by conjunction. Thus the _Iliad_ is
one Speech by conjunction of several; and the definition of man is one
through its signifying one thing.


Nouns are of two kinds, either (1) simple, i.e. made up of
non-significant parts, like the word ge, or (2) double; in the latter
case the word may be made up either of a significant and a
non-significant part (a distinction which disappears in the compound),
or of two significant parts. It is possible also to have triple,
quadruple or higher compounds, like most of our amplified names; e.g.'
Hermocaicoxanthus' and the like.

Whatever its structure, a Noun must always be either (1) the ordinary
word for the thing, or (2) a strange word, or (3) a metaphor, or (4)
an ornamental word, or (5) a coined word, or (6) a word lengthened
out, or (7) curtailed, or (8) altered in form. By the ordinary word I
mean that in general use in a country; and by a strange word, one in
use elsewhere. So that the same word may obviously be at once strange
and ordinary, though not in reference to the same people; _sigunos_,
for instance, is an ordinary word in Cyprus, and a strange word with
us. Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to
something else; the transference being either from genus to species,
or from species to genus, or from species to species, or on grounds of
analogy. That from genus to species i.e.emplified in 'Here stands my
ship'; for lying at anchor is the 'standing' of a particular kind of
thing. That from species to genus in 'Truly ten thousand good deeds
has Ulysses wrought', where 'ten thousand', which is a particular
large number, is put in place of the generic 'a large number'. That
from species to species in 'Drawing the life with the bronze', and in
'Severing with the enduring bronze'; where the poet uses 'draw' in the
sense of 'sever' and 'sever' in that of 'draw', both words meaning to
'take away' something. That from analogy is possible whenever there
are four terms so related that the second (B) is to the first (A), as
the fourth (D) to the third (C); for one may then metaphorically put B
in lieu of D, and D in lieu of B. Now and then, too, they qualify the
metaphor by adding on to it that to which the word it supplants is
relative. Thus a cup (B) is in relation to Dionysus (A) what a shield
(D) is to Ares (C). The cup accordingly will be metaphorically
described as the 'shield _of Dionysus_' (D + A), and the shield as the
'cup _of Ares_' (B + C). Or to take another instance: As old age (D)
is to life (C), so i.e.ening (B) to day (A). One will accordingly
describe evening (B) as the 'old age _of the day_' (D + A)--or by the
Empedoclean equivalent; and old age (D) as the 'evening' or 'sunset of
life'' (B + C). It may be that some of the terms thus related have no
special name of their own, but for all that they will be
metaphorically described in just the same way. Thus to cast forth
seed-corn is called 'sowing'; but to cast forth its flame, as said of
the sun, has no special name. This nameless act (B), however, stands
in just the same relation to its object, sunlight (A), as sowing (D)
to the seed-corn (C). Hence the expression in the poet, 'sowing around
a god-created _flame_' (D + A). There is also another form of
qualified metaphor. Having given the thing the alien name, one may by
a negative addition deny of it one of the attributes naturally
associated with its new name. An instance of this would be to call the
shield not the 'cup _of Ares_,' as in the former case, but a 'cup
_that holds no wine_'. * * * A coined word is a name which, being
quite unknown among a people, is given by the poet himself; e.g. (for
there are some words that seem to be of this origin) _hernyges_ for
horns, and _areter_ for priest. A word is said to be lengthened out,
when it has a short vowel made long, or an extra syllable inserted; e.
g. _polleos_ for _poleos_, _Peleiadeo_ for _Peleidon_. It is said to
be curtailed, when it has lost a part; e.g. _kri_, _do_, and _ops_ in
_mia ginetai amphoteron ops_. It is an altered word, when part is left
as it was and part is of the poet's making; e.g. _dexiteron_ for
_dexion_, in _dexiteron kata maxon_.

The Nouns themselves (to whatever class they may belong) are either
masculines, feminines, or intermediates (neuter). All ending in N, P,
S, or in the two compounds of this last, PS and X, are masculines. All
ending in the invariably long vowels, H and O, and in A among the
vowels that may be long, are feminines. So that there is an equal
number of masculine and feminine terminations, as PS and X are the
same as S, and need not be counted. There is no Noun, however, ending
in a mute or i.e.ther of the two short vowels, E and O. Only three
(_meli, kommi, peperi_) end in I, and five in T. The intermediates, or
neuters, end in the variable vowels or in N, P, X.


The perfection of Diction is for it to be at once clear and not mean.
The clearest indeed is that made up of the ordinary words for things,
but it is mean, as is shown by the poetry of Cleophon and Sthenelus.
On the other hand the Diction becomes distinguished and non-prosaic by
the use of unfamiliar terms, i.e. strange words, metaphors,
lengthened forms, and everything that deviates from the ordinary modes
of speech.--But a whole statement in such terms will be either a
riddle or a barbarism, a riddle, if made up of metaphors, a barbarism,
if made up of strange words. The very nature indeed of a riddle is
this, to describe a fact in an impossible combination of words (which
cannot be done with the real names for things, but can be with their
metaphorical substitutes); e.g. 'I saw a man glue brass on another
with fire', and the like. The corresponding use of strange words
results in a barbarism.--A certain admixture, accordingly, of
unfamiliar terms is necessary. These, the strange word, the metaphor,
the ornamental equivalent, etc.. will save the language from seeming
mean and prosaic, while the ordinary words in it will secure the
requisite clearness. What helps most, however, to render the Diction
at once clear and non-prosaic is the use of the lengthened, curtailed,
and altered forms of words. Their deviation from the ordinary words
will, by making the language unlike that in general it a
non-prosaic appearance; and their having much in common with the words
in general use will give it the quality of clearness. It is not right,
then, to condemn these modes of speech, and ridicule the poet for
using them, as some have done; e.g. the elder Euclid, who said it was
easy to make poetry if one were to be allowed to lengthen the words in
the statement itself as much as one likes--a procedure he caricatured
by reading '_Epixarhon eidon Marathonade Badi--gonta_, and _ouk han g'
eramenos ton ekeinou helle boron_ as verses. A too apparent use of
these licences has certainly a ludicrous effect, but they are not
alone in that; the rule of moderation applies to all the constituents
of the poetic vocabulary; even with metaphors, strange words, and the
rest, the effect will be the same, if one uses them improperly and
with a view to provoking laughter. The proper use of them is a very
different thing. To realize the difference one should take an epic
verse and see how it reads when the normal words are introduced. The
same should be done too with the strange word, the metaphor, and the
rest; for one has only to put the ordinary words in their place to see
the truth of what we are saying. The same iambic, for instance, is
found in Aeschylus and Euripides, and as it stands in the former it is
a poor line; whereas Euripides, by the change of a single word, the
substitution of a strange for what is by usage the ordinary word, has
made it seem a fine one. Aeschylus having said in his _Philoctetes_:

_phagedaina he mon sarkas hesthiei podos_

Euripides has merely altered the hesthiei here into thoinatai. Or

_nun de m' heon holigos te kai outidanos kai haeikos_

to be altered by the substitution of the ordinary words into

_nun de m' heon mikros te kai hasthenikos kai haeidos_

Or the line

_diphron haeikelion katatheis olingen te trapexan_


_diphron moxtheron katatheis mikran te trapexan_

Or heiones boosin into heiones kraxousin. Add to this that Ariphrades
used to ridicule the tragedians for introducing expressions unknown in
the language of common life, _doeaton hapo_ (for _apo domaton_),
_sethen_, _hego de nin_, _Achilleos peri_ (for _peri Achilleos_), and
the like. The mere fact of their not being in ordinary speech gives
the Diction a non-prosaic character; but Ariphrades was unaware of
that. It is a great thing, indeed, to make a proper use of these
poetical forms, as also of compounds and strange words. But the
greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one
thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of
genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the
similarity in dissimilars.

Of the kinds of words we have enumerated it may be observed that
compounds are most in place in the dithyramb, strange words in heroic,
and metaphors in iambic poetry. Heroic poetry, indeed, may avail
itself of them all. But in iambic verse, which models itself as far as
possible on the spoken language, only those kinds of words are in
place which are allowable also in an oration, i.e. the ordinary word,
the metaphor, and the ornamental equivalent.

Let this, then, suffice as an account of Tragedy, the art imitating by
means of action on the stage.


As for the poetry which merely narrates, or imitates by means of
versified language (without action), it i.e.ident that it has several
points in common with Tragedy.

I. The construction of its stories should clearly be like that in a
drama; they should be based on a single action, one that is a complete
whole in itself, with a beginning, middle, and end, so as to enable
the work to produce its own proper pleasure with all the organic unity
of a living creature. Nor should one suppose that there is anything
like them in our usual histories. A history has to deal not with one
action, but with one period and all that happened in that to one or
more persons, however disconnected the several events may have been.
Just as two events may take place at the same time, e.g. the
sea-fight off Salamis and the battle with the Carthaginians in Sicily,
without converging to the same end, so too of two consecutive events
one may sometimes come after the other with no one end as their common
issue. Nevertheless most of our epic poets, one may say, ignore the

Herein, then, to repeat what we have said before, we have a further
proof of Homer's marvellous superiority to the rest. He did not
attempt to deal even with the Trojan war in its entirety, though it
was a whole with a definite beginning and end--through a feeling
apparently that it was too long a story to be taken in in one view, or
if not that, too complicated from the variety of incident in it. As it
is, he has singled out one section of the whole; many of the other
incidents, however, he brings in as episodes, using the Catalogue of
the Ships, for instance, and other episodes to relieve the uniformity
of his narrative. As for the other epic poets, they treat of one man,
or one period; or else of an action which, although one, has a
multiplicity of parts in it. This last is what the authors of the
_Cypria_ and _Little_ _Iliad_ have done. And the result is that,
whereas the _Iliad_ or _Odyssey_ supplies materials for only one, or
at most two tragedies, the _Cypria_ does that for several, and the
_Little_ _Iliad_ for more than eight: for an _Adjudgment of Arms_, a
_Philoctetes_, a _Neoptolemus_, a _Eurypylus_, a _Ulysses as Beggar_,
a _Laconian Women_, a _Fall of Ilium_, and a _Departure of the Fleet_;
as also a _Sinon_, and _Women of Troy_.


II. Besides this, Epic poetry must divide into the same species as
Tragedy; it must be either simple or complex, a story of character or
one of suffering. Its parts, too, with the exception of Song and
Spectacle, must be the same, as it requires Peripeties, Discoveries,
and scenes of suffering just like Tragedy. Lastly, the Thought and
Diction in it must be good in their way. All these elements appear in
Homer first; and he has made due use of them. His two poems are each
examples of construction, the _Iliad_ simple and a story of suffering,
the _Odyssey_ complex (there is Discovery throughout it) and a story
of character. And they are more than this, since in Diction and
Thought too they surpass all other poems.

There is, however, a difference in the Epic as compared with Tragedy,
(1) in its length, and (2) in its metre. (1) As to its length, the
limit already suggested will suffice: it must be possible for the
beginning and end of the work to be taken in in one view--a condition
which will be fulfilled if the poem be shorter than the old epics, and
about as long as the series of tragedies offered for one hearing. For
the extension of its length epic poetry has a special advantage, of
which it makes large use. In a play one cannot represent an action
with a number of parts going on simultaneously; one is limited to the
part on the stage and connected with the actors. Whereas i.e.ic
poetry the narrative form makes it possible for one to describe a
number of simultaneous incidents; and these, if germane to the
subject, increase the body of the poem. This then is a gain to the
Epic, tending to give it grandeur, and also variety of interest and
room for episodes of diverse kinds. Uniformity of incident by the
satiety it soon creates is apt to ruin tragedies on the stage. (2) As
for its metre, the heroic has been assigned it from experience; were
any one to attempt a narrative poem in some one, or in several, of the
other metres, the incongruity of the thing would be apparent. The
heroic; in fact is the gravest and weightiest of metres--which is what
makes it more tolerant than the rest of strange words and metaphors,
that also being a point in which the narrative form of poetry goes
beyond all others. The iambic and trochaic, on the other hand, are
metres of movement, the one representing that of life and action, the
other that of the dance. Still more unnatural would it appear, it one
were to write an epic in a medley of metres, as Chaeremon did. Hence
it is that no one has ever written a long story in any but heroic
verse; nature herself, as we have said, teaches us to select the metre
appropriate to such a story.

Homer, admirable as he is i.e.ery other respect, i.e.pecially so in
this, that he alone among epic poets is not unaware of the part to be
played by the poet himself in the poem. The poet should say very
little in propria persona, as he is no imitator when doing that.
Whereas the other poets are perpetually coming forward in person, and
say but little, and that only here and there, as imitators, Homer
after a brief preface brings in forthwith a man, a woman, or some
other Character--no one of them characterless, but each with
distinctive characteristics.

The marvellous is certainly required in Tragedy. The Epic, however,
affords more opening for the improbable, the chief factor in the
marvellous, because in it the agents are not visibly before one. The
scene of the pursuit of Hector would be ridiculous on the stage--the
Greeks halting instead of pursuing him, and Achilles shaking his head
to stop them; but in the poem the absurdity is overlooked. The
marvellous, however, is a cause of pleasure, as is shown by the fact
that we all tell a story with additions, in the belief that we are
doing our hearers a pleasure.

Homer more than any other has taught the rest of us the art of framing
lies in the right way. I mean the use of paralogism. Whenever, if A is
or happens, a consequent, B, is or happens, men's notion is that, if
the B is, the A also is--but that is a false conclusion. Accordingly,
if A is untrue, but there is something else, B, that on the assumption
of its truth follows as its consequent, the right thing then is to add
on the B. Just because we know the truth of the consequent, we are in
our own minds led on to the erroneous inference of the truth of the
antecedent. Here is an instance, from the Bath-story in the _Odyssey_.

A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing
possibility. The story should never be made up of improbable
incidents; there should be nothing of the sort in it. If, however,
such incidents are unavoidable, they should be outside the piece, like
the hero's ignorance in _Oedipus_ of the circumstances of Lams' death;
not within it, like the report of the Pythian games in _Electra_, or
the man's having come to Mysia from Tegea without uttering a word on
the way, in _The Mysians_. So that it is ridiculous to say that one's
Plot would have been spoilt without them, since it is fundamentally
wrong to make up such Plots. If the poet has taken such a Plot,
however, and one sees that he might have put it in a more probable
form, he is guilty of absurdity as well as a fault of art. Even in the
_Odyssey_ the improbabilities in the setting-ashore of Ulysses would
be clearly intolerable in the hands of an inferior poet. As it is, the
poet conceals them, his other excellences veiling their absurdity.
Elaborate Diction, however, is required only in places where there is
no action, and no Character or Thought to be revealed. Where there is
Character or Thought, on the other hand, an over-ornate Diction tends
to obscure them.


As regards Problems and their Solutions, one may see the number and
nature of the assumptions on which they proceed by viewing the matter
in the following way. (1) The poet being an imitator just like the
painter or other maker of likenesses, he must necessarily in all
instances represent things in one or other of three aspects, either as
they were or are, or as they are said or thought to be or to have
been, or as they ought to be. (2) All this he does in language, with
an admixture, it may be, of strange words and metaphors, as also of
the various modified forms of words, since the use of these is
conceded in poetry. (3) It is to be remembered, too, that there is not
the same kind of correctness in poetry as in politics, or indeed any
other art. There is, however, within the limits of poetry itself a
possibility of two kinds of error, the one directly, the other only
accidentally connected with the art. If the poet meant to describe the
thing correctly, and failed through lack of power of expression, his
art itself is at fault. But if it was through his having meant to
describe it in some incorrect way (e.g. to make the horse in movement
have both right legs thrown forward) that the technical error (one in
a matter of, say, medicine or some other special science), or
impossibilities of whatever kind they may be, have got into his
description, hi.e.ror in that case is not in the essentials of the
poetic art. These, therefore, must be the premisses of the Solutions
in answer to the criticisms involved in the Problems.

I. As to the criticisms relating to the poet's art itself. Any
impossibilities there may be in his descriptions of things are faults.
But from another point of view they are justifiable, if they serve the
end of poetry itself--if (to assume what we have said of that end)
they make the effect of some portion of the work more astounding. The
Pursuit of Hector is an instance in point. If, however, the poetic end
might have been as well or better attained without sacrifice of
technical correctness in such matters, the impossibility is not to be
justified, since the description should be, if it can, entirely free
from error. One may ask, too, whether the error is in a matter
directly or only accidentally connected with the poetic art; since it
is a lesser error in an artist not to know, for instance, that the
hind has no horns, than to produce an unrecognizable picture of one.

II. If the poet's description be criticized as not true to fact, one
may urge perhaps that the object ought to be as described--an answer
like that of Sophocles, who said that he drew men as they ought to be,
and Euripides as they were. If the description, however, be neither
true nor of the thing as it ought to be, the answer must be then, that
it is in accordance with opinion. The tales about Gods, for instance,
may be as wrong as Xenophanes thinks, neither true nor the better
thing to say; but they are certainly in accordance with opinion. Of
other statements in poetry one may perhaps say, not that they are
better than the truth, but that the fact was so at the time; e.g. the
description of the arms: 'their spears stood upright, butt-end upon
the ground'; for that was the usual way of fixing them then, as it is
still with the Illyrians. As for the question whether something said
or done in a poem is morally right or not, in dealing with that one
should consider not only the intrinsic quality of the actual word or
deed, but also the person who says or does it, the person to whom he
says or does it, the time, the means, and the motive of the
agent--whether he does it to attain a greate.g.od, or to avoid a
greater evil.)

III. Other criticisms one must meet by considering the language of the
poet: (1) by the assumption of a strange word in a passage like
_oureas men proton_, where by _oureas_ Homer may perhaps mean not
mules but sentinels. And in saying of Dolon, _hos p e toi eidos men
heen kakos_, his meaning may perhaps be, not that Dolon's body was
deformed, but that his face was ugly, as _eneidos_ is the Cretan word
for handsome-faced. So, too, _goroteron de keraie_ may mean not 'mix
the wine stronger', as though for topers, but 'mix it quicker'. (2)
Other expressions in Homer may be explained as metaphorical; e.g. in
_halloi men ra theoi te kai aneres eudon (hapantes) pannux_ as
compared with what he tells us at the same time, _e toi hot hes pedion
to Troikon hathreseien, aulon suriggon *te homadon*_ the word
_hapantes_ 'all', is metaphorically put for 'many', since 'all' is a
species of 'many '. So also his _oie d' ammoros_ is metaphorical, the
best known standing 'alone'. (3) A change, as Hippias suggested, in
the mode of reading a word will solve the difficulty in _didomen de
oi_, and _to men ou kataputhetai hombro_. (4) Other difficulties may
be solved by another punctuation; e.g. in Empedocles, _aipsa de thnet
ephyonto, ta prin mathon athanata xora te prin kekreto_. Or (5) by the
assumption of an equivocal term, as in _parocheken de pleo nux_, where
_pleo_ i.e.uivocal. Or (6) by an appeal to the custom of language.
Wine-and-water we call 'wine'; and it is on the same principle that
Homer speaks of a _knemis neoteuktou kassiteroio_, a 'greave of
new-wrought tin.' A worker in iron we call a 'brazier'; and it is on
the same principle that Ganymede is described as the 'wine-server' of
Zeus, though the Gods do not drink wine. This latter, however, may be
an instance of metaphor. But whenever also a word seems to imply some
contradiction, it is necessary to reflect how many ways there may be
of understanding it in the passage in question; e.g. in Homer's _te r'
hesxeto xalkeon hegxos_ one should consider the possible senses of
'was stopped there'--whether by taking it in this sense or in that one
will best avoid the fault of which Glaucon speaks: 'They start with
some improbable presumption; and having so decreed it themselves,
proceed to draw inferences, and censure the poet as though he had
actually said whatever they happen to believe, if his statement
conflicts with their own notion of things.' This is how Homer's
silence about Icarius has been treated. Starting with, the notion of
his having been a Lacedaemonian, the critics think it strange for
Telemachus not to have met him when he went to Lacedaemon. Whereas the
fact may have been as the Cephallenians say, that the wife of Ulysses
was of a Cephallenian family, and that her father's name was Icadius,
not Icarius. So that it is probably a mistake of the critics that has
given rise to the Problem.

Speaking generally, one has to justify (1) the Impossible by reference
to the requirements of poetry, or to the better, or to opinion. For
the purposes of poetry a convincing impossibility is preferable to an
unconvincing possibility; and if men such as Zeuxis depicted be
impossible, the answer is that it is better they should be like that,
as the artist ought to improve on his model. (2) The Improbable one
has to justify either by showing it to be in accordance with opinion,
or by urging that at times it is not improbable; for there is a
probability of things happening also against probability. (3) The
contradictions found in the poet's language one should first test as
one does an opponent's confutation in a dialectical argument, so as to
see whether he means the same thing, in the same relation, and in the
same sense, before admitting that he has contradicted either something
he has said himself or what a man of sound sense assumes as true. But
there is no possible apology for improbability of Plot or depravity of
character, when they are not necessary and no use is made of them,
like the improbability in the appearance of Aegeus in _Medea_ and the
baseness of Menelaus in _Orestes_.

The objections, then, of critics start with faults of five kinds: the
allegation is always that something i.e.ther (1) impossible, (2)
improbable, (3) corrupting, (4) contradictory, or (5) against
technical correctness. The answers to these objections must be sought
under one or other of the above-mentioned heads, which are twelve in


The question may be raised whether the epic or the tragic is the
higher form of imitation. It may be argued that, if the less vulgar is
the higher, and the less vulgar is always that which addresses the
better public, an art addressing any and every one is of a very vulgar
order. It is a belief that their public cannot see the meaning, unless
they add something themselves, that causes the perpetual movements of
the performers--bad flute-players, for instance, rolling about, if
quoit-throwing is to be represented, and pulling at the conductor, if
Scylla is the subject of the piece. Tragedy, then, is said to be an
art of this order--to be in fact just what the later actors were in
the eyes of their predecessors; for Myrmiscus used to call Callippides
'the ape', because he thought he so overacted his parts; and a similar
view was taken of Pindarus also. All Tragedy, however, is said to
stand to the Epic as the newer to the older school of actors. The one,
accordingly, is said to address a cultivated 'audience, which does not
need the accompaniment of gesture; the other, an uncultivated one. If,
therefore, Tragedy is a vulgar art, it must clearly be lower than the

The answer to this is twofold. In the first place, one may urge (1)
that the censure does not touch the art of the dramatic poet, but only
that of his interpreter; for it is quite possible to overdo the
gesturing even in an epic recital, as did Sosistratus, and in a
singing contest, as did Mnasitheus of Opus. (2) That one should not
condemn all movement, unless one means to condemn even the dance, but
only that of ignoble people--which is the point of the criticism
passed on Callippides and in the present day on others, that their
women are not like gentlewomen. (3) That Tragedy may produce its
effect even without movement or action in just the same way as Epic
poetry; for from the mere reading of a play its quality may be seen.
So that, if it be superior in all other respects, thi.e.ement of
inferiority is not a necessary part of it.

In the second place, one must remember (1) that Tragedy has everything
that the Epic has (even the epic metre being admissible), together
with a not inconsiderable addition in the shape of the Music (a very
real factor in the pleasure of the drama) and the Spectacle. (2) That
its reality of presentation is felt in the play as read, as well as in
the play as acted. (3) That the tragic imitation requires less space
for the attainment of its end; which is a great advantage, since the
more concentrated effect is more pleasurable than one with a large
admixture of time to dilute it--consider the _Oedipus_ of Sophocles,
for instance, and the effect of expanding it into the number of lines
of the _Iliad_. (4) That there is less unity in the imitation of the
epic poets, as is proved by the fact that any one work of theirs
supplies matter for several tragedies; the result being that, if they
take what is really a single story, it seems curt when briefly told,
and thin and waterish when on the scale of length usual with their
verse. In saying that there is less unity in an epic, I mean an epic
made up of a plurality of actions, in the same way as the _Iliad_ and
_Odyssey_ have many such parts, each one of them in itself of some
magnitude; yet the structure of the two Homeric poems is as perfect as
can be, and the action in them is as nearly as possible one action.
If, then, Tragedy is superior in these respects, and also besides
these, in its poeti.e.fect (since the two forms of poetry should give
us, not any or every pleasure, but the very special kind we have
mentioned), it is clear that, as attaining the poeti.e.fect better
than the Epic, it will be the higher form of art.

So much for Tragedy and Epic poetry--for these two arts in general and
their species; the number and nature of their constituent parts; the
causes of success and failure in them; the Objections of the critics,
and the Solutions in answer to them.


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