Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
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1459b.1for example, of the Cypria and the Little Iliad. [Note] The result is that out of an Iliad or an Odyssey only one tragedy can be made, or two at most, whereas several have been made out of the Cypria, and out of the Little Iliad more than eight, e.g. The Award of Arms, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Eurypylus, The Begging, The Laconian Women, The Sack of Troy, and Sailing of the Fleet, and Sinon, too, and The Trojan Women.

The next point is that there must be the same varieties of epic as of tragedy [Note]: an epic must be "simple or complex," [Note] or else turn on "character" or on "calamity." The constituent parts, too, are the same with the exception of song and spectacle. Epic needs reversals and discoveries and calamities, and the thought and diction too must be good. All these were used by Homer for the first time, and used well. Of his poems he made the one, the Iliad, a "simple" story turning on "calamity," and the Odyssey a "complex" story—it is full of "discoveries"—turning on character. Besides this they surpass all other poems in diction and thought.

Epic differs from tragedy in the length of the composition and in metre. The limit of length already given [Note] will suffice—it must be possible to embrace the beginning and the end in one view, 1459b.20which would be the case if the compositions were shorter than the ancient epics but reached to the length of the tragedies presented at a single entertainment. [Note] Epic has a special advantage which enables the length to be increased, because in tragedy it is not possible to represent several parts of the story as going on simultaneously, but only to show what is on the stage, that part of the story which the actors are performing; whereas, in the epic, because it is narrative, several parts can be portrayed as being enacted at the same time. If these incidents are relevant, they increase the bulk of the poem, and this increase gives the epic a great advantage in richness as well as the variety due to the diverse incidents; for it is monotony which, soon satiating the audience, makes tragedies fail.

Experience has shown that the heroic hexameter is the right metre. Were anyone to write a narrative poem in any other metre or in several metres, the effect would be wrong. The hexameter is the most sedate and stately of all metres and therefore admits of rare words and metaphors more than others, and narrative poetry is itself elaborate above all others. The iambic and the trochaic tetrameter are lively, the latter suits dancing and the former suits real life.



Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
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