This post is a part of the Ancient Greeks Classics Circuit. See the other stops on the tour here.
Aristotle’s own Poetics was a nice introduction to my self-imposed classics unit on Ancient Greek theater. I choose to read Poetics was my chosen text to read by the man himself, mostly because it’s the shortest but also because I am interested in literary criticism. It was a good choice for me. Aristotle’s main thesis is that art, specifically theater and epic poetry, imitate the real actions of human character. According to Mr Barnes (author of the Very Short Introduction—see my review), Aristotle wrote it not for readers to criticize existing art, but to learn how to produce art (page 133 of Aristotle).
Poetics, Aristotle discusses the importance of character (although he has a few not so nice things about women as characters in plays). Then he focuses on the development of tragedies. The second half of Poetics, which may have been a discussion of comedy or epic poetry, has been lost. But since I’m looking forward to revisiting the tragedies, I was quite interested in his break down. Mr Barnes reminds us that, although his formulas don’t seem to hold up to modern plays or even Shakespeare’s tragedies, Aristotle meant to be describing how to write a Greek tragedy of the existent style at his time.
Aristotle discusses the necessity of a good plot at length, such as the significance of the resolution (denouement) at the end of a tragedy, as well as indications like “recognition.” Throughout it all, he talks about some of the authors and works that I’m familiar with, such as Homer and Oedipus, and many others I have not yet read. If anything, it got me excited to read Greek tragedy and see how Aristotle’s analysis holds up!In short, reading Poetics helped me put the Greek tragedians in perspective.
As for the man himself, I’m fascinated by Aristotle’s ability to think about and discover so many things in an inevitably short life. (He was 62 when he died in 322 BCE). Although I may sometimes have disagreed with his outlook on life, literature, and even science (although I’ll be first to admit I still haven’t read much of his works, just the summaries), he obviously had a powerful ability to look “outside the box” when he was examining the world. How he would have enjoyed the scientific tools and other general knowledge we enjoy today! Aristotle is an example of a curious successful learner who put his brain to good use: an example for us all.