Plato vs. Aristotle

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An Assessment of the Method and Function of Archaic Greek Poetry
Plato’s Comments and Aristotle’s Corresponding Critique

Plato and Aristotle’s contributions to literary theory ought to be measure equally against each other as both having provided original methodologies for the critique and education of literature. Plato’s Apology is an example of his proposed ideal form of prose, showing Socrates to be speaking from logos (logic) as opposed to the former Greek poet’s employment of catharsis as the prime vessel for literature’s performance. The poetry of his time, claims Plato, is lacking in reason and relevance. Being then an oral art, it reflected the mere imitation of emotion and was thus an improper educator of the people. Aristotle was Plato’s most valued pupil, as such, much if not most of his work in the Poetics draws crucial inferences from Plato. Aristotle breaks from the historically linear progression of thoughts passed down from teacher to student on the topic of emotional value in writing and its impending effect on poetry’s ability to educate. Catharsis, Aristotle would say, should not be a hindrance on the rationality of a poetic work’s message, but rather an integral part of understanding and applying that message to the self.

At the time that Plato was writing, poetry was the primary educator of Greece. This is because of its accessibility, the majority of Greek citizens were illiterate and it was generally performed. Being so, Plato claims the validity of its message is compromised. Any lesson that may be learned from the historical basis of the plot (as in Homers epics, the Oresteia) is hindered by the poet’s use of catharsis. For Plato, catharsis was a tool that poets used to play on the emotions and sentiments of the audience, he says this limits the audience’s ability do read/understand this poetry critically, drawing lessons from its words to improve their lives. The reason Sophocles’ Apology did not appeal...
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