Brush Up Your Aristotle

Next time I will quote Aristotle with a bit more care.  Here is a recent exchange with Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Greek, Hebrew and Roman Classics at Temple University:

Dear Martha,
Your blog comments on Aristotle left me scratching my head a bit. Aristotle never pitches epic and tragedy against one another, and certainly doesn't demean one in order to exalt the other.  I can't find the remarks about cultivated epics anyplace in the Poetics. I hope that doesn't sound too pedantic, because you're absolutely dead right that the growing predominance in film of spectacle at the expense of plot and characterization is a HUGE problem (though nothing worse than the Romans experienced, or perhaps even some Greek audiences).
Best, Robin

Dear Robin,
Maybe it's a question of translation?  I find the discussion at the very end of the "Poetics" (pp 137-141 in the Loeb Classical Library edition; pp. 116-118 in the translation I quoted, Francis Fergusson's, published by Hill and Wang).  I did not say "demean" or "exalt," I said that Aristotle was weighing what one does vs. what the other does.  Maybe both translations have it wrong?  If so, I would be most interested to learn that!
Cheers, Martha

Dear Martha,
Luckily, I have the Fergusson (though I never use it). Note that Aristotle stresses that "WE ARE TOLD that epic poetry is addressed to a cultivated audience."  This implies that the supposition is false. Aristotle would have known about epic in performance,  and Homeric rhapsodes were notoriously flamboyant and emotional (see Plato's "Ion," a text that Aristotle would have known as well." As that chapter progresses, Aristotle narrows his focus to unity of the plot of tragedy. His interest really is plot types and forms. Elsewhere in the "Poetics," he dismisses the "Odyssey"'s ending as, essentially, pandering to its audience.
Best, Robin

July 19, 2004 11:17 AM |

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