Aristotle’s Poetics, translation and commentary in progress, Chapter 2
|January 21, 2016||By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy|
In the posting for 2015.11.27, I translated and commented on Chapter 1 of Aristotle’s Poetics. In the posting here for 2016.01.21, I continue by translating and commenting on Chapter 2. For my overall strategy, I refer back to my Introduction in the posting for 2015.11.27.
Aristotle’s Poetics Chapter 2
1448a.1 Ἐπεὶ δὲ μιμοῦνται οἱ μιμούμενοι πράττοντας, ἀνάγκη δὲ τούτους ἢ σπουδαίους ἢ φαύλους εἶναι (τὰ γὰρ ἤθη σχεδὸν ἀεὶ τούτοις ἀκολουθεῖ μόνοις, κακίᾳ γὰρ καὶ ἀρετῇ τὰ ἤθη διαφέρουσι πάντες), ἤτοι βελτίονας ἢ καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἢ χείρονας 1448a.5 ἢ καὶ τοιούτους, ὥσπερ οἱ γραφεῖς· Πολύγνωτος μὲν γὰρ κρείττους, Παύσων δὲ χείρους, Διονύσιος δὲ ὁμοίους εἴκαζεν δῆλον δὲ ὅτι καὶ τῶν λεχθεισῶν ἑκάστη μιμήσεων ἕξει ταύτας τὰς διαφορὰς καὶ ἔσται ἑτέρα τῷ ἕτερα μιμεῖσθαι τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον. καὶ γὰρ ἐν ὀρχήσει καὶ αὐλήσει καὶ 1448a.10 κιθαρίσει ἔστι γενέσθαι ταύτας τὰς ἀνομοιότητας, καὶ [τὸ] περὶ τοὺς λόγους δὲ καὶ τὴν ψιλομετρίαν, οἷον Ὅμηρος μὲν βελτίους, Κλεοφῶν δὲ ὁμοίους, Ἡγήμων δὲ ὁ Θάσιος ὁ τὰς παρῳδίας ποιήσας πρῶτος καὶ Νικοχάρης ὁ τὴν Δειλιάδα χείρους· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ περὶ τοὺς διθυράμβους καὶ περὶ τοὺς 1448a.15 νόμους, ὥσπερ [γᾶς] Κύκλωπας Τιμόθεος καὶ Φιλόξενος μιμήσαιτο ἄν τις. ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ διαφορᾷ καὶ ἡ τραγῳδία πρὸς τὴν κωμῳδίαν διέστηκεν· ἡ μὲν γὰρ χείρους ἡ δὲ βελτίους μιμεῖσθαι βούλεται τῶν νῦν.
1448a Since those who make mimesis [mīmeîsthai] do so by making mimesis of persons who are in the act of doing [prattein] something, and since these persons [who are doing something] must be either noble [spoudaioi] or base [phauloi] (I say this because the characters [ēthos plural] of persons almost always correspond to only these two kinds of people [= noble people and base people], given that everybody is different from everybody else in terms of inferiority [kakiā] or excellence [aretē] with regard to their characters [ēthos plural]), they [= those who make mimesis] must make a mimesis of persons who are either better than we are or worse than we are or such [toioutoi] as we are. That is just the way that painters [grapheus plural] make mimesis of persons. I say this because Polygnotus makes-likenesses [eikazein] of persons who are better than we are. And Pauson, of people who are worse than we are. And Dionysius, of people who are about-the-same [homoioi] as we are. And it is clear that each one of the [forms of] mimesis [mīmēsis] above mentioned will have these differences [diaphorai], and each form will be different by virtue of the fact that each form will in this way make a mimesis [mīmeîsthai] of different things. So, you see, in dancing [orkhēsis] and in playing the reed [aulēsis] and in playing the lyre [kitharisis], it will be possible for these kinds of dissimilarities [an–homoio–tēs plural] to happen, and the same goes with regard to prose [logos plural] and in a medium-that-has-only-the-bare-meter [psilometriā]. For example, Homer makes likenesses of persons who are better than we are. Cleophon, of persons who are about the same as we are. And, as for Hegemon of Thasos, who was the first to compose [poieîn] parodies [parōidiai] and Nikokhares, the one who composed the work called the Deilias, well, the two of them make likenesses of people who are worse than we are. And in the same sort of way [homoiōs] with regard to dithyrambs [dithuramboi] and nomes [nomoi], one might make mimesis [mīmeîsthai] just as Timotheus and Philoxenus [did when they each composed] … [compositions called] The Cyclops. And it is by way of the actual process of differentiation [diaphorā] between the two of them that tragedy [tragōidiā] has become different from comedy [kōmōidiā]. That is because the purpose of comedy is to make a mimesis [mīmeîsthai] of those who are inferior, and of tragedy to make a mimesis of those who are superior to people who exist today.
 Here and elsewhere, I translate spoudaios as ‘noble’ and phaulos as ‘base’. These words carry socio-economic meanings that are missing in such translations as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Although Aristotle tends to avoid making such socio-economic meanings explicit, they are nevertheless implicit.
 I translate homoios as ‘just about the same’ in order to emphasize that this word is derived from Indo-European *somos, which had meant ‘same’—and such a meaning still survives in the English cognate same.
 I think that Aristotle has in mind here the meter that we know as the Homeric hexameter, which in Aristotle’s time was performed without the accompaniment of musical instruments and was merely recited rather than sung.