Poetics: Chapter 23 - Summary

Also Read



Chapter 23

The construction should be similar to drama

      After examining tragedy in detail, Aristotle comes to the epic, or narrative poetry. The epic narrates in versified language, and does not imitate an action, as tragedy does, through acting. Yet there are a number of similarities between epic poetry and tragedy. The construction of an epic should be similar to that of drama. The story, in other words, should be constructed along dramatic principles. There should be a single action in the epic, i.e., there should be unity of story. There should be beginning, middle and end, and there should be an organic unity. Homer, superior in this as in other aspects, realized the importance of selecting a portion of the Trojan War.

      Although, in this chapter, Aristotle remarks that the unity in the two epic stories of Homer show his 'marvelous supeiority', he admits in chapter 18 that the Iliad with its plurality of stories' cannot be successfully dramatized. In chapter 26, he says that the epic requires less unity than the drama. These views seem to contradict one another. Apparently, Aristotle means that, though the epic allows for greater variety than tragedy, its story should not be so vast as to be confusing. The examples given by Aristotle, once again are obscure, because the works have been lost. Some of the stories can be determined from prose summaries in books on Greek mythology.

      Further, in this chapter, Aristotle once again tells us that epic poetry is not like history. Thus it should not take a period of time as its subject. A period of time in a certain hero's life may admit many actions and deeds. Many experiences may befall him in that time, but they would not constitute unity of action. Unity of action is directed towards one end. The epic's action, too, should be directed towards such an end.

      The general law of unity laid down for an epic poem is almost the same as that for the drama; but the drama forms a more compact and serial whole. In a drama, the events are more directly related to the development of character. The sequence of the parts is more inevitable. In an epic, the external facts and events have a more independent value of their own. The epic, being of wider compass, can admit many episodes.

Previous Post Next Post