Poetics: Chapter 4 - Full Text

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Origin of poetry is in the two natural instincts of desire to imitate and delight in works of imitation. Rhythm and harmony are natural to man. Two species of poetry: tragic and comic. Evolution of Tragedy.

      It is clear that the general origin of poetry was due to two causes each part of human nature. Imitation is natural to, man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns his earliest lessons by imitation. And it is also natural for all to delight in works of imitation. The truth of this second point is shown by experience, though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms, for example, of the lowest animals and of dead bodies. The explanation is to be found in a further fact; to learn something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind, however, small their capacity for it; the reason for delight on seeing a the picture is that, one is at the same time learning - gathering the meaning of things, e.g. that the man there is so and so; for if one has not seen the thing before, one's pleasure will not be in the picture as an imitation of it, but will be due to the execution or coloring or some similar cause. Imitation, then, being natural to us - as also the sense of harmony and rhythm; the meters being obviously species of rhythms - it was through their original aptitude, and by a series of improvements for the most part gradual on their first efforts, that they created poetry out of their improvisations.

      Poetry, however, soon broke up into two kinds according to the individual character of the poets? For the graver among them would represent noble actions, and those of noble birth; and the meaner sort of the actions of the ignoble. The latter class produced incentives at first, just as others did hymns and penegyrics. We know of no such poem by any of the pre-Homeric poets though there were probably many such writers among them. Instances, however, may be found from Homer downwards, e.g., his Margites and the similar poems of others. In this poetry of invective its natural fitness brought the iambic meter into use; hence our present term iambic because, it was the meter of their 'imabs' or invectives against one another. The result was that the old poets became, some of them, writers of heroic and while others wrote in iambic verse. Homer's position, however, is peculiar: just as he was in the serious style, the poet of poets, standing alone not only through the literary excellence, but also through the dramatic character of his imitations. So he was the first to outline for us the general forms of Comedy by producing not a dramatic invective, but a dramatic picture of the Ridiculous; his Margites in fact stands in the same relation to our comedies as the Iliad and Odyssey to our tragedies. As soon, however, as Tragedy and Comedy appeared in the field, those naturally drawn to the one line of poetry became writers of Comedies, instead of lambs and those naturally drawn to the other, writers of tragedies, instead of Epic, because these new modes of art were grander and of more esteem than the old.

      It is to be asked whether Tragedy is now all that it need be in its formative elements, to consider that, and decide it theoretically and in relation to the theatres, is a matter of another inquiry.

      Tragedy advanced by slow degrees; each new element that revealed itself was in turn developed. Having passed through many changes, it found form and there it stopped. Aeschylus increased the actors to two; Sophocles added a third actor and scenery; tragedy gained magnitude and its meter changed from trochaic to iambic.

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