Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
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1461b.1 when he says that people make some unwarrantable presupposition and having themselves given an adverse verdict proceed to argue from it, and if what they think the poet has said does not agree with their own preconceived ideas, they censure him, as if that was what he had said. This is what has happened in the case of Icarius. [Note] They assume that he was a Spartan and therefore find it odd that when Telemachus went to Sparta he did not meet him. But the truth may be, as the Cephallenians say, that Odysseus married a wife from their country and that the name was not Icarius but Icadius. So the objection is probably due to a mistake.

In general any "impossibility" may be defended by reference to the poetic effect or to the ideal or to current opinion. For poetic effect a convincing impossibility is preferable to that which is unconvincing though possible. It may be impossible that there should be such people as Zeuxis [Note] used to paint, but it would be better if there were; for the type should improve on the actual.

Popular tradition may be used to defend what seems irrational, and you can also say that sometimes it is not irrational, for it is likely that unlikely things should happen. Contradictions in terms must be examined in the same way as an opponent's refutations in argument, to see whether the poet refers to the same thing in the same relation and in the same sense, and has contradicted either what he expressly says himself or what an intelligent person would take to be his meaning. It is right, however, to censure both improbability and depravity where there is no necessity and no use is made of the improbability. 1461b.20An example is Euripides' intro duction of Aegeus [Note] or(of depravity)the character of Menelans in the Orestes.

The censures they bring are of five kinds; that things are either impossible or irrational or harmful or inconsistent or contrary to artistic correctness. The solutions must be studied under the heads specified above, twelve in number. [Note]

The question may be raised whether the epic or the tragic form of representation is the better. If the better is the less vulgar and the less vulgar is always that which appeals to the better audience, then obviously the art which makes its appeal to everybody is eminently vulgar. [Note] And indeed actors think the audience do not understand unless they put in something of their own, and so they strike all sorts of attitudes, as you see bad flute-players whirling about if they have to do "the Discus," or mauling the leader of the chorus when they are playing the "Scylla." [Note] So tragedy is something like what the older school of actors thought of their successors, for Mynniscus used to call Callippides "the monkey," because he overacted, and the same was said of Pindarus. [Note]



Aristotle, Poetics (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Arist. Poet.].
<<Arist. Poet. 1461a Arist. Poet. 1461b (Greek) >>Arist. Poet. 1462a

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