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[1453a] [1] Nor again the passing of a thoroughly bad man from good fortune to bad fortune. Such a structure might satisfy our feelings but it arouses neither pity nor fear, the one being for the man who does not deserve his misfortune and the other for the man who is like ourselves—pity for the undeserved misfortune, fear for the man like ourselves—so that the result will arouse neither pity nor fear.

There remains then the mean between these. This is the sort of man who is not pre-eminently virtous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the fortune, but rather through some flaw in him,1 he being one of those who are in high station and good fortune, like Oedipus and Thyestes and the famous men of such families as those. The successful plot must then have a single2 and not, as some say, a double issue; and the change must be not to good fortune from bad but, on the contrary, from good to bad fortune, and it must not be due to villainy but to some great flaw in such a man as we have described, or of one who is better rather than worse. This can be seen also in actual practice. For at first poets accepted any plots, but to-day the best tragedies are written about a few families— [20] Alcmaeon for instance and Oedipus and Orestes and Meleager and Thyestes and Telephus and all the others whom it befell to suffer or inflict terrible disasters.

Judged then by the theory of the art, the best3 tragedy is of this construction. Those critics are therefore wrong who charge Euripides with doing this in his tragedies, and say that many of his end in misfortune. That is, as we have shown, correct. And there is very good evidence of this, for on the stage and in competitions such plays appear the most tragic of all, if they are successful, and even if Euripides is in other respects a bad manager,4 yet he is certainly the most tragic of the poets.

Next in order comes the structure which some put first, that which has a double issue, like the Odyssey, and ends in opposite ways for the good characters and the bad. It is the sentimentality of the audience which makes this seem the best form; for the poets follow the wish of the spectators. But this is not the true tragic pleasure but rather characteristic of comedy, where those who are bitter enemies in the story, Orestes and Aegisthus, for instance, go off at the end, having made friends, and nobody kills anybody.

1 Whether Aristotle regards the “flaw” as intellectual or moral has been hotly discussed. It may cover both senses. The hero must not deserve his misfortune, but he must cause it by making a fatal mistake, an error of judgement, which may well involve some imperfection of character but not such as to make us regard him as “morally responsible” for the disasters although they are nevertheless the consequences of the flaw in him, and his wrong decision at a crisis is the inevitable outcome of his character(cf. Aristot. Poet. 6.24.).

2 ἁπλοῦς elsewhere in the Poetics means "simple" as opposed to πεπλεγμένος, "complex"; here it is opposed to διπλοῦς, which describes a double denouement, involving happiness for some and disaster for others.

3 This is modified by 19 in the following chapter, where he finds an even better formula for the tragic effect.

4 Against Euripides Aristotle makes the following criticisms: (1)his choruses are often irrelevant; (2)the character of the heroine in his Iphigeneia in Tauris is inconsistent; (3)in the Medea the deliberate killing of the children is ineffective and the play is inartistically ended by the machina; (4)the character of Menelaus in the Orestes is needlessly depraved; (5)Melanippe is too philosophical for a woman.

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