Poetics: Chapter 4 - Summary

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The Psychological Causes for the Origin of Poetry

      Aristotle now traces the origin of poetry, or more of dramatic poetry. It will be noticed that Aristotle confines himself largely to dramatic poetry. He considers that the origin of poetry lay in two natural instincts. It will be noticed that he also adds a third reason. The first is the natural human impulse to imitate things. This can be observed in children. The second Instant was that of natural delight in recognizing a good work of imitation. It was for this reason that even the imitation of ugly objects gives delight: there is an element of recognition. The pleasure includes that of getting to know or learning something. Thirdly, the instinct for harmony and rhythm leads to the meters of poetry. Thus we see that the origin of poetry lay in our natural instincts. It grew and gradually became what it is.

The Two Varieties that Poetry Broke up into

      Quite early in the course of its development, poetry broke up into two varieties. The varieties corresponding to the personal character of the poets. Poets of a serious bent took to representing the nobler personages and their actions. In this way were composed the panegyrics and hymns to the gods. Out of these poets grew heroic or epic poetry. The other kind of poetry was produced by poets of a frivolous and meaner nature. They produced representations of the ignoble and their trivial actions. They produced lampoons and satires and invective. Comedy derives from these iambs' or personal satire.

The Peculiar Position of Homer

      Homer's position regarding Comedy and Tragedy is peculiar. He shared in both tendencies. The greatest of poets in the serious mode of writing, he is also a superior of the comic type of writing says Aristotle. He cites the examples of the Illiad and Odyssey for serious poetry, and that of Margites for verse in the comic vein. Margites, however, must have been lost since it has not come down to us. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are to tragedy what his Margites is to comedy. Homer was the first to deal with the comic without indulging in personal invective, says Aristotle. He was the first to outline the general forms of comedy by producing a dramatic picture of the ridiculous.

      Aristotle goes on to deal with stages in the development of tragedy. Several writers made their own contributions before tragedy attained the form it had. First came the addition of a second actor, making the spoken part important. Then came three characters, and the scenery. Then came the sense of magnitude and dignity; the meter changed to the iambic. Finally came the increase in the number of episodes or acts. Aristotle gives a logical statement on the successive steps in the history of tragedy.

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