Social and Literary Background of Aristotle

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Existing Social Scene

      In order to understand Aristotle's views and especially the Poetics, it is necessary to know something about the background, both social and literary. In the process, it becomes impossible to ignore the work, views and influence of Plato. Plato's views on poetry were also an outcome of the existing social factors. It is his criticism of poetry that Aristotle refutes.

      In the Athens of the time, the scene was one of political decline and dissolution. Education was in a bad state. Homer's epics were a part of the school curriculum, but the portions which represented the gods in an unfavorable light were criticized by philosophers and educationalists.

      The position of women was not high; they were not educated, and they had no say in politics or religious matters. There was widespread slavery. Slaves were treated cruelly and considered less than humans. Foreigners coming to Athens could not acquire any rights of citizenship. The sovereign body in Athens was the Assembly, mass meeting consisting of the adult male citizens.

      The virtues admired, even worshipped, by the Greeks-were courage, heroism, magnificence, and skillful use of arms. It is to be kept in mind when Aristotle, in the Poetics, talks of the tragic hero being 'good'. Virtue to the Greek did not have the same meaning as it would have for the Christian.

Literary Scene

      The literature of the period too was in a state of decline; the golden age of Greek literature was a period of the past. The creative impulse had dried up. Literature had become corrupt, immoral and of a low level. The decadent poetry of the day aroused hostile criticism instead of attracting readers.

      It was the decadence of the imaginative literature that led to the elevation of philosophers and orators over poets and artists. Among the confusion in the literary scene, there was constant debate as to the superiority of poets as against the philosophers.

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