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[1460b] [1] As it is, Homer conceals the absurdity by the charm of all his other merits.

The diction should be elaborated only in the "idle" parts which do not reveal character or thought.1 Too brilliant diction frustrates its own object by diverting attention from the portrayal of character and thought.

With regard to problems,2 and the various solutions of them, how many kinds there are, and the nature of each kind, all will be clear if we look at them like this. Since the poet represents life, as a painter does or any other maker of likenesses, he must always represent one of three things—either things as they were or are; or things as they are said and seem to be; or things as they should be. These are expressed in diction with or without rare words and metaphors, there being many modifications of diction, all of which we allow the poet to use. Moreover, the standard of what is correct is not the same in the art of poetry as it is in the art of social conduct or any other art. In the actual art of poetry there are two kinds of errors, essential and accidental. If a man meant to represent something and failed through incapacity, that is an essential error. But if his error is due to his original conception being wrong and his portraying, for example, a horse advancing both its right legs, that is then a technical error in some special branch of knowledge, [20] in medicine, say, or whatever it may be; or else some sort of impossibility has been portrayed, but that is not an essential error. These considerations must, then, be kept in view in meeting the charges contained in these objections.

Let us first take the charges against the art of poetry itself. If an impossibility has been portrayed, an error has been made. But it is justifiable if the poet thus achieves the object of poetry—what that is has been already stated—and makes that part or some other part of the poem more striking. The pursuit of Hector is an example of this.3 If, however, the object could have been achieved better or just as well without sacrifice of technical accuracy, then it is not justifiable, for, if possible, there should be no error at all in any part of the poem. Again one must ask of which kind is the error, is it an error in poetic art or a chance error in some other field? It is less of an error not to know that a female stag has no horns than to make a picture that is unrecognizable.

Next, supposing the charge is "That is not true," one can meet it by saying "But perhaps it ought to be," just as Sophocles said that he portrayed people as they ought to be and Euripides portrayed them as they are. If neither of these will do, then say, "Such is the tale"; for instance, tales about gods. Very likely there is no advantage in telling them, and they are not true either, but may well be what Xenophanes declared4—all the same such is the tale.

1 The Messengers' speeches, a regular feature o Greek tragedy, may serve to illustrate what is here called the "idle part" of a play, i.e., passages which, but for brilliant writing, might be dull, since no character is there elucidated and no important "sentiments" expressed.

2 A "problem" in this sense is a difficult passage or expression which explanation and may easily be censured by an unsympathetic critic. Aristotle here classifies the various grounds of censure and the various lines of defence. Most of his illustrations are drawn from the critical objections lodged against the Iliad by Zoilus and other "hammerers of Homer." As the reader will see, many of them are abysmally foolish.

3 See Aristot. Poet. 24.16 and note.

4 i.e., immoral and therefore untrue. He opened the assault on Homeric theology at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the fifth century B.C.

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