Poetics: Chapter 9 - Full Text

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Poetry deals with universal: Poetic truth; Poetry and history. Pity and fear.

      It is evident from what we have said that poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e., what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between the historian and the poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse - you might put the work of Herodotus into verse and it would still be a species of history. The true difference consists really in this, that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of higher significance than history, since its statements are of the nature of Universal, whereas those of history are of the nature of particulars. By a universal (or general) statement I mean one as to what such or such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do - which is the aim of poetry, though it affixes proper names to the characters. In. Comedy this has become clear by this time; it is only when their plot is already made up of probable incidents that they give it a basis of proper names, choosing for the purpose any names that may occur to them, instead of writing like the old iambic (or satiric) poet' about a particular person. In Tragedy, however, they still adhere to the historic names; and for this reason, we are not sure as to the possibility of that which has not happened; that which has happened. Nevertheless, even in Tragedy, there are some plays with but one or two known names in them, the rest being inventions; and there are some without a single e.g., Agathon's Antheus in which both incidents and names are of the poet's invention, and it is no less delightful on the account. So that one must not aim at a rigid adherence to the traditional stories on which tragedies are based. It would be absurd, in fact, to do so as even the known stories are only known to a few, though they are a delight none-the-less to all.

      It clearly follows that the poet or maker' should be the maker of plots rather than of verse, in as much as he is a poet by virtue of the imitative element in his work, and it is actions that he imitates. And if he should come to take a subject from actual history, he is none the less a poet for that; since some historical occurrences may very well be in the probable and possible order of things; and it is in that aspect of them that he is their poet or maker.

      Of all plots and actions the episodic are the worst. I call a plot, episodic when there is neither probability nor necessity in the sequence of its episodes. Actions of this sort, bad-poets construct through their own fault, and good ones on account of the players. His work is for public performance, a good poet often stretches out a plot beyond its capabilities, and is thus obliged to twist the sequences of incidents.

      But again, Tragedy is an imitation not only of a complete action, but also of incidents arousing pity and fear. Such incidents have the greatest effect on the mind when they occur unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another; there is more of the marvelous in them if they happened of themselves or by mere chance. Even matters of chance seem most marvelous if there is an appearance of design, it was, in them, as for instance the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys' death by falling down on him. A Plot, therefore, of this sort is necessarily finer than others.

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