The Poetics
Aristotle on the Art of Poetry

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Aristotle (384 BCE-322 BCE)


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.


Preface  •  Aristotle on the Art of Poetry: 1  •  2  •  3  •  4  •  5  •  6  •  7  •  8  •  9  •  10  •  11  •  12  •  13  •  14  •  15  •  16  •  17  •  18  •  19  •  20  •  21  •  22  •  23  •  24  •  25  •  26

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The preface to Aristotle's Art of poetry (1705) (Augustan Reprint Society. Publication)
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