Aristotle On Poetics
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Aristotle's much-translated On Poetics is the earliest and arguably the best treatment that we possess of tragedy as a literary form. The late Seth Benardete and Michael Davis have translated it anew with a view to rendering Aristotle's text into English as precisely as possible. A literal translation has long been needed, for in order to excavate the argument of On Poetics one has to attend not simply to what is said on the surface but also to the various puzzles, questions, and peculiarities that emerge only on the level of how Aristotle says what he says and thereby leads one to revise and deepen one's initial understanding of the intent of the argument. As On Poetics is about how tragedy ought to be composed, it should not be surprising that it turns out to be a rather artful piece of literature in its own right.
Benardete and Davis supplement their edition of On Poetics with extensive notes and appendices. They explain nuances of the original that elude translation, and they provide translations of passages found elsewhere in Aristotle's works as well as in those of other ancient authors that prove useful in thinking through the argument of On Poetics both in terms of its treatment of tragedy and in terms of its broader concerns. By following the connections Aristotle plots between On Poetics and his other works, readers will be in a position to appreciate the centrality of this work for his entire thought.
In an introduction that sketches the overall interpretation of On Poetics presented in hisThe Poetry of Philosophy (St. Augustine's Press, 1999; see p. 33 of this catalogue), Davis argues that, while On Poetics is certainly about tragedy, it has a further concern extending beyond poetry to the very structure of the human soul in its relation to what is, and that Aristotle reveals in the form of his argument the true character of human action.
of its broader concerns. It is our hope that by following the connections Aristotle plots between On Poetics and his other works readers will begin to appreciate the centrality of this little book for his thought on the whole. The text of Aristotle’s On Poetics rests primarily on two Greek manuscripts and translations, one in ^rafnc and two in Latin. X Preface Accordingly, the text is at times corrupt for several lines, and exten sive interpolations have been suspected. Many scholars have
for in the context it looks as if there is a pun on making (poiein). 0 Pliny (Natural History 3 5.62) says that Zeuxis painted a Penelope whose character he seems to have depicted. H e also says that Polygnotus first opened the mouth and showed the teeth (3 5.58). 1450a parts the greatest things by which tragedy guides the soul61 are parts of the story, reversals and recognitions.62 Further, a sign of this is that those attempting to make poetry Ipoiein), like almost all of the first poets,
sorts of things and of whom men are afraid, and what their own state is when they are afraid. Let fear be a certain pain or disturbance from the imagination \phantasia] of a future evil, either destructive or painful. For men do not fear all evil things, for example, whether he will be unjust or slow, but all that signify great pains or corruptions, and these moreover if they appear not far off but appear near enough to be imminent. For men are not afraid of things that are very far off; all know
impossibility of suffering any evil is obvi ously theirs as well, for this is one of the goods. Those who are of the sort to believe they would suffer are those who have already suf fered and have escaped, and the elderly both because of their thoughtfulness and experience, and the weak, and those who are rather cowardly, and the educated; for they able to calculate; and those who have parents or children or wives; for these are one’s own and the aforementioned evils are the sort that they can
in a divine way Fear, fearful (phobos, phoberos): Good (agatbos): 50a28, 51b37, 49b27, 52a2, 26, 52bl, 32, 54b9,14, 56a6, 59b29, 60b2, 53al, 4, 5, 6, 53bl, 9, 12, 56bl 61a8; (cbrestos): 54al7, 19, 20; First principle (arche): 50a38; see see also Best, Better, Strongest, also Beginning and Useful Fit, fitting (barmottein): 48b31, Great (megethos): 56bl, 59a34; see 50b5, 54a22, 56a31, 57a3, also Magnitude 58bl5, 59a9, 12, 59b32,60a4; Grow (phuein): 61a24 see also Harmony and Intonation Harmony