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[1447a] [8]

Let1 us here deal with Poetry, its essence and its several species, with the characteristic function of each species and the way in which plots must be constructed if the poem is to be a success; and also with the number and character of the constituent parts of a poem, and similarly with all other matters proper to this same inquiry; and let us, as nature directs, begin first with first principles.

Epic poetry, then, and the poetry of tragic drama, and, moreover, comedy and dithyrambic poetry, and most flute-playing and harp-playing, these, speaking generally, may all be said to be "representations of life."2 But they differ one from another in three ways: either in using means generically different3 or in representing different objects or in representing objects not in the same way but in a different manner. For just as by the use both of color and form people represent many objects, making likenesses of them— [20] some having a knowledge of art and some working empirically—and just as others use the human voice; so is it also in the arts which we have mentioned, they all make their representations in rhythm and language and tune, using these means either separately or in combination. For tune and rhythm alone are employed in flute-playing and harp-playing and in any other arts which have a similar function, as, for example, pipe-playing. Rhythm alone without tune is employed by dancers in their representations, for by means of rhythmical gestures they represent both character and experiences and actions.4

But the art which employs words either in bare prose or in metres,

1 The text here printed is based on Vahlen's third edition(Leipzig, 1885), and the chief deviations from it are noted at the foot of each page. The prime source of all existing texts of the Poetics is the eleventh century Paris manuscript, No. 1741, designated as Ac. To the manuscripts of the Renaissance few, except Dr. Margoliouth, now assign any independent value, but they contain useful suggestions for the correction of obvious errors and defects in Ac. These are here designated “copies.”V. stands for Vahlen's third edition, and By. for the late Professor Ingram Bywater, who has earned the gratitude and admiration of all students of the Poetics by his services both to the text and to its interpretation. Then there is the Arabic transcript. Translated in the eleventh century from a Syriac translation made in the eighth century, it appears to make little sense, but sometimes gives dim visions of the readings of a manuscript three centuries older but not necessarily better than Ac, readings which confirm some of the improvements introduced into Renaissance texts.

2 The explanation of μίμησις, as Aristotle uses the word, demands a treatise; all that a footnote can say is this:—Life "presents" to the artist the phenomena of sense, which the artist "re-presents" in his own medium, giving coherence, designing a pattern. That this is true not only of drama and fiction but also of instrumental music ("most flute-playing and harp-playing") was more obvious to a Greek than to us, since Greek instrumental music was more definitely imitative. The technical display of the virtuoso Plato describes as "a beastly noise." Since μίμησις in this sense and μιμητής and the verb μιμεῖσθαι have a wider scope than any one English word, it is necessary to use more than one word in translation, e.g. μιμητής is what we call an "artist"; and for μίμησις where "representation" would be clumsy we may use the word "art"; the adjective must be "imitative," since "representative" has other meanings.

3 i.e., means that can be divided into separate categories.

4 πάθη καὶ πράξεις cover the whole field of life, what men do (πράξεις) and what men experience (πάθη). Since πάθη means also "emotions" and that sense may be present here, but as a technical term in this treatise πάθος is a calamity or tragic incident, something that happens to the hero.

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