Aristotles Poetics (Part 2 - Anth., Hist., and Plot)

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Aristotles Poetics (Part 2 - Anth., Hist., and Plot)

Postby BadgerJelly on February 20th, 2018, 3:37 am 

3. The Anthropology and History of Poetry

Note: Please offer critique or questions about what I've tried to outline here. Maybe I am wrong about parts so correction is MORE than welcome. Thanks!

3.1 Origins

In general, two causes seem likely to have given rise to the art of poetry, both of them natural.


Here Aristotle goes on to point out these two items as "imitation", and, "melody and rhythm." What is more he attributes "pleasure" to these things, which he further attaches to "understanding."

He also touches on novelty a little here, but I'll come to this at a later date - as a personal remark I think this is a deeply important human attribute and is enmeshed in human behavior in general. I think this has a great deal to do with how proclivity to use language to describe the world prior to the intercommunicative function between people.

My digression leads into the next part ...

3.2 Early history

Here Aristotle return to the importance of the "inferior" and "superior" person imitated in the art. He comments that "lampoon" turned into "comedy" and the "epic" turned into "tragedy."

... because these forms were more highly esteemed than the others.


3.3 - 3.5 Tragedy, Comedy and Epic

Basically what we find here is that Comedy is the "imitation" of inferior people, Tragedy is the "imitation" of admirable people, and Epic is mostly the same as Tragedy with the main difference being the length of time over which the tale takes place and some other things that I may go into later.

Given the importance of Tragedy and its analysis by Aristotle I will jump ahead to part 5 and outline the basics of plot.

5. PLOT: Basic Concepts

Here Aristotle goes over the "plot" in regards to tragedy.

5.1 - 5.3 Completeness, Magnitude and Unity

In regards to "magnitude" Aristotle emphasizes human memory as part of the determination of the magnitude. He uses the analogy of an animal a thousand miles long being beyond human comprehension, and so for the plot of tragedy. It must be manageable in both size and completeness (completeness being ordered acts from beginning to middle and finally end).

Aristotle's "straight forward" definition of "magnitude":

the magnitude in which a series of events occurring sequentially in accordance with probability or necessity gives rise to a change from good fortune to bad fortune, or from bad fortune to good fortune, is an adequate definition of magnitude.


For "unity" Aristotle highlights this to mean not simply a list of events occurring one after the other, but more a list of relevant events that complete a whole. Frivolous details are left aside to create a "unity" rather than a detailed historical account of the actions indicated, and the whole plot is presented as if it is ONE act even with gaps in the time line presented.

5.4 Determinate Structure

Note: I find this important to highlight what I've said in Part 1 regarding "Object".

Again Aristotle comes back to "imitation." Here he refers to "object", "plot" and "unity" imitated as "whole." So here it seems to us strange to say "a unity that is whole", but he means a plot that is not fractured (or "episodic") by meaningless details because the aim is to "imitate" reality not reproduce it:

If the presence or absence of something has no discernible effect, it is not a part of the whole.


If some part is unless is causes the plot to appear fractured rather than whole. This in turn breaks the "imitation" (or the "fantasy" maybe?)

Just to clear something up here ... Aristotle says

the imitation is unified if it imitates a single object, so too the plot, as the imitation of an action, should imitate a single, unified action - and one that is also whole.


The important thing to point out here is "object." This is something I commented on in Part 1. The "object" is the emotional representation, it is, so I believe, the moral theme - "admirable or inferior." I assume many would read Aristotle's definition of "object" and think he means an actual "person", but let us refer back to 2.2 Object:

Those who imitate, imitate agents; and these must be either admirable or inferior. (Character almost always corresponds to just these two categories, since everyone is differentiated in character by defect or excellence.)


My argument here is that Aristotle means "moral theme" or "moral character/element" rather than object to mean nothing more than "actor" - he means the actor to be "those who imitate" and the Object to be the "imitated agent" (which I believe to be the "moral theme" or "moral concept" up for scrutiny within the plot - be it greed, love, hate or any other "agent" of human action; often represented as deities.)

5.5 Universality

Here Aristotle uses the "universality" as what is common knowledge, the degree to which the events are believable.

not to say what has happened, but the kind of thing that would happen


Fulfilling the expectations of universal experience. He compares the poet and historian here by saying the poet is more serious and philosophical where the historian deals with particulars (the details which are necessarily left out of the plot to create a "whole" and non-episodic progression.)

He says the poet constructs the plot (for comedy) based on probabilities rather than writing about a particular individual; the "individual" is familiar to the audience. I would say the aim is to create an archetypal presentation (the "object" of human emotion.) - I do find this part a little confusing so I'll likely highlight this later ...

5.6 Defective Plots

Here Aristotle simply states that "episodic ones are the worst." Meaning a plot with a sequence of events neither necessary nor probable.
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