Poetics: Chapter 1 - Full Text

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Chapter 1

      The common feature of all arts is imitation. The differences arise in their medium, objects and manner of imitation. The place of rhythm, harmony, language. Our subject being Poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of the structure of plot required for a good poem; and likewise of any other matters in the same line of inquiry. Let us follow the natural order and begin with the primary facts.

      Epic poetry and Tragedy, as also Comedy, Dythirambic poetry and most flute-playing and lyre-playing, are all, viewed as a whole, modes of imitation. But at the same time, they differ from one another in three ways, either by a difference in their means, or by differences in the objects, or by the manner of their limitations.

      I. Just as form and color are used as means by some, who (whether by art or by constant practice) imitate and portray many, things by their aid, and as voice is used by others; so also in the above-mentioned group of arts, rhythm, language and harmony used, however, either singly or in certain combinations as a means of imitation or mimesis. A combination of rhythm and harmony alone is the means of imitation in lute-playing lyre-playing and any other arts that may be of the same description, e.g. imitative piping. Rhythm alone, without harmony, is the means for mimesis for a dancer for even he, by the rhythms of his attitudes, may represent men's characters, as well as what they do and suffer.

      There is further an art which imitates by language alone, without harmony, in prose or in verse, and if in verse, either in one or a plurality of meters. The form of imitation is to this day without a name. We have no common name for a mime of Sophron or Xenarchus, and a Socratic Conversation; and we should still be without one even if the imitation in the two instances were in trimeters or elegance or some other kind of verses - though it is the way with people to tack poet' to the name of meter, and speak of elegiac - poets, thinking that they call them poets not because of the imitative nature of their work, but indiscriminately by the reason of the meter they write in. Even if a theory of medicine or physical philosophy is put forth in a metrical form, it is usual to describe the writer in this way. Homer and Empedocles, however, have really nothing in common apart from their meter; so that, if the one is to be called a poet, the other should be termed a physicist rather than a poet. We should be in the same position also, if the imitation in these instances were all in the meters, for example, the "centaur" (a rhapsody in a medley of all meters) of Chaeremon would then have to be considered poetry and him a poet. So much, then, to these arts. There are certain other arts which combine all the means enumerated, rhythm, melody, and verse, e.g. Dythirambic and Nomic poetry Tragedy and Comedy; with the difference, however, that three kinds of means are in some of them all employed together, and in others brought in separately, one after the other. These elements of differences in the above arts I term the means of their imitation.

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