The Spicy Lotus

November 6, 2010

Poetics, Aristotle

Filed under: Uncategorized — pha9 @ 1:23 pm

Poetics is an attempt to define and classify different forms of literature that were present in Aristotle’s time. Much of the book focuses on the tragedy and Aristotle presents it as a higher form of literature as opposed to prose, comedy, or epic poetry. Aristotle identifies the parts of the tragedy and what it takes to write a good tragedy. He covers plots, characters, diction, thought, discovery, peripety, and many other aspects of a good tragedy. It is important to know the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides if you want to understand what Aristotle is talking about here. There are also many other references to other lesser works of art.

I wish I read Poetics before I started reading the ancient Greek plays/poems because it offers some grounding in the subject as a whole. Also, I learned a lot about basic terms like the dithyramb, the satyr play, the epic, and iambic pentameter. I think Poetics is also essential for anyone who wants to seriously engage in writing.



  1. Poetry is a means of imitation and it contains the elements: language, rhythm, and harmony. These are the means by which the poem is written. Other forms of art have these elements, but only poetry includes all of them. For example, dance has only rhythm while flute playing has rhythm and harmony. Prose or dialogue has language but not rhythm or harmony. These are the means by which poetry is written.

    Poetry also has objects. These are the characters that the poem is about. Tragedy is a kind of poetry with characters who are better than us, while comedy has characters that are worse than us. The actions of the characters are good or evil.

    Poetry is also written in some kind of manner. Sometimes, it is written in narrative form, and other times it is written in character or as if the character is speaking. A poem can be a mix of the two or it can be the same throughout.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

  2. We like poetry because it is a form of imitation. It’s natural for us to imitate and we start from childhood imitating our parents. When you imitate, you learn something, which is enjoyable. In Homer’s time, we had iambs and epics and now (Aristotle’s time) we have tragedy and comedy. Tragedy has evolved over time. Aeschylus was important because he increased the number of actors on the stage to two. He included a person and a chorus. Later, Sophocles added scenery and a third actor. Epic poetry is similar to tragedy except it’s written in only one kind of verse and it has no fixed length of time.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  3. There are six parts to a tragedy:

    1. The fable or plot
    2. The characters
    3. The diction
    4. The thought
    5. The spectacle
    6. The melody

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  4. Plot is the most important and the characters drive the plot.

    What is an iambic? It is a short syllable followed by a long syllable. It’s writing poetry in a way that has meter or rhythm. An iambic sentence sounds like daDum, daDum, daDum, daDum, daDum. And a common form is the iambic pentameter which has five of these daDums.

    Peripety – A sudden change in the fortune of the character.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  5. Another way to examine the tragedy is by the parts of the story:

    1. Prologue
    2. Episode
    3. Exode
    4. Choral portion

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  6. Concerning plots: The goal of a tragedy is to have the audience feel pity for the character. So the character must experience some undeserved misfortune. Throughout the story, the character should go from happiness to misfortune. The tragedy should also involve family members and some evil deed done by one of the members. At least some of the characters should be good and consistent.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

  7. There also needs to be some discovery of the evil deed or injustice: This can come about in several ways: The character can remember it, reason it out, or use signs or signals to figure it out. So basically, these basic plot points make the story and they are fused together with other scenes that show emotion. Complex plots (in appearance) are actually simple when you break them down this way.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  8. Every play or poem can also be seen as a complication (everything that happens before the change in character) and a denouement (everything that happens after the change in character).

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  9. Diction is important, but this section is difficult to understand unless you read Greek, which I don’t.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  10. Epic poetry differs from tragedy in length and meter.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  11. Dithyramb – It’s a hymn that was sung and danced to honor Dionysius. It was very exciting and passionate, probably frantic and crazy. You can use the word for any wild or impassioned writing. Aristotle said it was the predecessor to tragedy.

    Comment by pha9 — November 6, 2010 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

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