An Analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics
A square may be a rectangle, but a rectangle may never be a square. This idea is not complex, however when it is applies in Aristotle’s Poetics to the Greek Epics and Tragedies, it is suddenly not only applicable in an arithmetic context, but it gives a relevant and true breakdown of the commonalities and different components within these genres of literature. Within these poetics, Aristotle explicates the difference between an Epic and a Tragedy and defines the structure in which these must be composed. Not only does he articulate the manner in which this must be done, but he holds the poet accountable for each artistic choice and their adherence or diversion from this structure he has so clearly outlined. This, in turn, enables Aristotle to irrefutably classify a work as an Epic or a Tragedy based on its structure and motivation. Aristotle first addresses the concept that Epic poetry and all that derives from it are imitations of man. He explains that no work is completely original, and each idea, unusual or mundane, must have been extracted from a preceding idea. This imitation “is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony,’ either singly or combined” (Aristotle I). It is then the task of the poet to create a piece that satisfies the structure Aristotle has provided, the audience, and as the poet himself. The author must incorporate rhythm, tune, and meter and employ them singularly in order for the work to be classified a Tragic work. These things are incorporated into the poem in order to diversify the imitation in the work. Another aspect of this imitation is the choice of the poet to make it “of a higher or of a lower type” in order to establish the morality of the character (II). To even further personalize the work, Aristotle explains that the poet must define “the manner in which each of these objects may be imitated” (III). This refers to first, second, and third person narration. In this way the poet may truly distinguish how their work, their piece of imitation, from all the others. Thus, the artistic imitation of a poem is characterized by the medium, the objects, and the manner in which the Epic or Tragedy is expressed. Although the preceding aspects of imitation may be controlled by the poet’s own artistic choices, the entire concept of imitation and poetry in general may not. Imitation is a natural instinct embedded “in man from childhood…and through imitation [he] learns his earliest lessons” (IV). Along with this human instinct to imitate comes the instinct of harmony and rhythm. Though these come naturally, the human aptitude for them varies significantly. Those that illustrated a higher aptitude in these areas “gave birth to Poetry” (IV). Poetry then diverges into two directions; one of these is the poet’s use of imitation to “dramatize the ludicrous” (IV). This created the lampooners, the writers of Comedy. Exhibiting a more respected and higher form of art were the Epic poets from which Tragedians were born. Though these two classifications are starkly different, they both began with mere improvisation. Following the introduction of a second actor and the Chorus, those whom expressed the emotion or meaning behind a song through bodily postures, was the formation of the “stately manner” of the Tragedy (IV). This creates the divide between the regard in which each type of poetic expression is held. Another, more specific distinction is made between the two types of poetry because of this. This specific distinction is that between Epic poetry and Tragedy. Epic poetry is restricted to only one kind of meter, and it is expressed in narrative form; however, it is still broader than a Tragedy. Tragic endeavors “confine [themselves] to a single revolution of the sun” (V). This refers to the fact that Tragic poems are limited in the amount of time permitted to lapse before it is denounced as a tragic work. This is evident in works such as...
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