Aristotle’s Poetics, translation and commentary in progress, Chapter 4

2016.02.04 | By Gregory Nagy

Melpomene_Louvre
Roman marble statue, ca. 50 BCE, as Melpomene. Image by Eric Gaba, via Wikimedia Commons.

Introduction

In the postings for 2015.11.27 and 2016.01.21 and 2016.01.28, I translated and commented on Chapters 1 and 2 and 3 of Aristotle’s Poetics. In the posting here for 2016.02.04, I continue by translating and commenting on Chapter 4. But now I experiment with a new format. For the time being, I abandon the procedure I have followed up to now, where I insert my comments into footnotes that were originally formatted in Microsoft Word. A big disadvantage of this procedure is that it forces me to adopt an arbitrarily sequential numbering of my comments. So, I will do without footnotes this time, and instead I will highlight in the text of my translations—as also in the corresponding Greek text— the exact spot where my given comment belongs.

The comments I offer here are only a sampling. In another version, to be posted on a later occasion, I will offer more extensive comments, including a synthesis of Aristotle’s views on mimesis.

Aristotle’s Poetics Chapter 4

[[Parts of this Chapter, Poetics 1448b4–24 and 1448b24–34, have already been translated in an essay I posted in Classical Inquiries 2015.10.15, “Homo ludens in the world of ancient Greek verbal art.”]]

1448b.4 Ἐοίκασι δὲ γεννῆσαι μὲν ὅλως τὴν ποιητικὴν αἰτίαι 1448b.5 δύο τινὲς καὶ αὗται φυσικαί. τό τε γὰρ μιμεῖσθαι σύμφυτον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐκ παίδων ἐστὶ καὶ τούτῳ διαφέρουσι τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων ὅτι μιμητικώτατόν ἐστι καὶ τὰς μαθήσεις ποιεῖται διὰ μιμήσεως τὰς πρώτας, καὶ τὸ χαίρειν τοῖς μιμήμασι πάντας. σημεῖον δὲ τούτου τὸ συμβαῖνον 1448b.10 ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων· ἃ γὰρ αὐτὰ λυπηρῶς ὁρῶμεν, τούτων τὰς εἰκόνας τὰς μάλιστα ἠκριβωμένας χαίρομεν θεωροῦντες, οἷον θηρίων τε μορφὰς τῶν ἀτιμοτάτων καὶ νεκρῶν. αἴτιον δὲ καὶ τούτου, ὅτι μανθάνειν οὐ μόνον τοῖς φιλοσόφοις ἥδιστον ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ὁμοίως, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ βραχὺ κοινωνοῦ-1448b.15-σιν αὐτοῦ. διὰ γὰρ τοῦτο χαίρουσι τὰς εἰκόνας ὁρῶντες, ὅτι συμβαίνει θεωροῦντας μανθάνειν καὶ συλλογίζεσθαι τί ἕκαστον, οἷον ὅτι οὗτος ἐκεῖνος· ἐπεὶ ἐὰν μὴ τύχῃ προεωρακώς, οὐχ ᾗ μίμημα ποιήσει τὴν ἡδονὴν ἀλλὰ διὰ τὴν ἀπεργασίαν ἢ τὴν χροιὰν ἢ διὰ τοιαύτην τινὰ ἄλλην αἰτίαν. 1448b.20 κατὰ φύσιν δὲ ὄντος ἡμῖν τοῦ μιμεῖσθαι καὶ τῆς ἁρμονίας καὶ τοῦ υθμοῦ (τὰ γὰρ μέτρα ὅτι μόρια τῶν υθμῶν ἐστι φανερὸν) ἐξ ἀρχῆς οἱ πεφυκότες πρὸς αὐτὰ μάλιστα κατὰ μικρὸν προάγοντες ἐγέννησαν τὴν ποίησιν ἐκ τῶν αὐτοσχεδιασμάτων.

διεσπάσθη δὲ κατὰ τὰ οἰκεῖα ἤθη ἡ ποίησις· 1448b.25 οἱ μὲν γὰρ σεμνότεροι τὰς καλὰς ἐμιμοῦντο πράξεις καὶ τὰς τῶν τοιούτων, οἱ δὲ εὐτελέστεροι τὰς τῶν φαύλων, πρῶτον ψόγους ποιοῦντες, ὥσπερ ἕτεροι ὕμνους καὶ ἐγκώμια. τῶν μὲν οὖν πρὸ Ὁμήρου οὐδενὸς ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν τοιοῦτον ποίημα, εἰκὸς δὲ εἶναι πολλούς, ἀπὸ δὲ Ὁμήρου ἀρξαμένοις 1448b.30 ἔστιν, οἷον ἐκείνου ὁ Μαργίτης καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα. ἐν οἷς κατὰ τὸ ἁρμόττον καὶ τὸ ἰαμβεῖον ἦλθε μέτρον— διὸ καὶ ἰαμβεῖον καλεῖται νῦν, ὅτι ἐν τῷ μέτρῳ τούτῳ ἰάμβιζον ἀλλήλους. καὶ ἐγένοντο τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ μὲν ἡρωικῶν οἱ δὲ ἰάμβων ποιηταί.

ὥσπερ δὲ καὶ τὰ σπουδαῖα μάλιστα ποιητὴς Ὅμηρος 1448b.35 ἦν (μόνος γὰρ οὐχ ὅτι εὖ ἀλλὰ καὶ μιμήσεις δραματικὰς ἐποίησεν), οὕτως καὶ τὸ τῆς κωμῳδίας σχῆμα πρῶτος ὑπέδειξεν, οὐ ψόγον ἀλλὰ τὸ γελοῖον δραματοποιήσας· ὁ γὰρ Μαργίτης ἀνάλογον ἔχει, ὥσπερ Ἰλιὰς 1449a.1 καὶ ἡ Ὀδύσσεια πρὸς τὰς τραγῳδίας, οὕτω καὶ οὗτος πρὸς τὰς κωμῳδίας. παραφανείσης δὲ τῆς τραγῳδίας καὶ κωμῳδίας οἱ ἐφ’ ἑκατέραν τὴν ποίησιν ὁρμῶντες κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν φύσιν οἱ μὲν ἀντὶ τῶν ἰάμβων κωμῳδοποιοὶ ἐγέ-1449a.5-νοντο, οἱ δὲ ἀντὶ τῶν ἐπῶν τραγῳδοδιδάσκαλοι, διὰ τὸ μείζω καὶ ἐντιμότερα τὰ σχήματα εἶναι ταῦτα ἐκείνων. τὸ μὲν οὖν ἐπισκοπεῖν εἰ ἄρα ἔχει ἤδη ἡ τραγῳδία τοῖς εἴδεσιν ἱκανῶς ἢ οὔ, αὐτό τε καθ’ αὑτὸ κρῖναι καὶ πρὸς τὰ θέατρα, ἄλλος λόγος. γενομένη δ’ οὖν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτο-1449a.10-σχεδιαστικῆς—καὶ αὐτὴ καὶ ἡ κωμῳδία, καὶ ἡ μὲν ἀπὸ τῶν ἐξαρχόντων τὸν διθύραμβον, ἡ δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν τὰ φαλλικὰ ἃ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν πολλαῖς τῶν πόλεων διαμένει νομιζόμενα—κατὰ μικρὸν ηὐξήθη προαγόντων ὅσον ἐγίγνετο φανερὸν αὐτῆς· καὶ πολλὰς μεταβολὰς μεταβαλοῦσα ἡ 1449a.15 τραγῳδία ἐπαύσατο, ἐπεὶ ἔσχε τὴν αὑτῆς φύσιν. καὶ τό τε τῶν ὑποκριτῶν πλῆθος ἐξ ἑνὸς εἰς δύο πρῶτος Αἰσχύλος ἤγαγε καὶ τὰ τοῦ χοροῦ ἠλάττωσε καὶ τὸν λόγον πρωταγωνιστεῖν παρεσκεύασεν· τρεῖς δὲ καὶ σκηνογραφίαν Σοφοκλῆς. ἔτι δὲ τὸ μέγεθος· ἐκ μικρῶν μύθων καὶ λέ-1449a.20-ξεως γελοίας διὰ τὸ ἐκ σατυρικοῦ μεταβαλεῖν ὀψὲ ἀπεσεμνύνθη, τό τε μέτρον ἐκ τετραμέτρου ἰαμβεῖον ἐγένετο. τὸ μὲν γὰρ πρῶτον τετραμέτρῳ ἐχρῶντο διὰ τὸ σατυρικὴν καὶ ὀρχηστικωτέραν εἶναι τὴν ποίησιν, λέξεως δὲ γενομένης αὐτὴ ἡ φύσις τὸ οἰκεῖον μέτρον εὗρε· μάλιστα γὰρ λεκτι-1449a.25-κὸν τῶν μέτρων τὸ ἰαμβεῖόν ἐστιν· σημεῖον δὲ τούτου, πλεῖστα γὰρ ἰαμβεῖα λέγομεν ἐν τῇ διαλέκτῳ τῇ πρὸς ἀλλήλους, ἑξάμετρα δὲ ὀλιγάκις καὶ ἐκβαίνοντες τῆς λεκτικῆς ἁρμονίας. ἔτι δὲ ἐπεισοδίων πλήθη. καὶ τὰ ἄλλ’ ὡς 1449a.30 ἕκαστα κοσμηθῆναι λέγεται ἔστω ἡμῖν εἰρημένα· πολὺ γὰρ ἂν ἴσως ἔργον εἴη διεξιέναι καθ’ ἕκαστον.

1448b.4 It seems that there are two causes [aitiai] that generated [gennēsai] the poetic craft [poiētikē (tekhnē)] as a whole, and these two [causes] are inborn in [human] nature. Here is what I mean. It is a naturally inborn thing in humans to imitate [mīmeîsthai], from childhood onward, and a human is different in nature from the other animals in this way, that this one [= the human as an animal] is most-capable-of-imitation [mīmētikōtaton] and achieves its first learning-experiences [mathēseis] by way of imitation [mīmēsis]. Also, [it is naturally inborn in humans] to get pleasure [khairein] from imitations [mīmēmata]. Evidence for this comes from what happens in [our own] experiences [epi tōn ergōn]. Here is what I mean. With regard to things that are unpleasant to see, of and by themselves, when we see visual-representations [eikōn plural] of these things—representations that are executed with the greatest accuracy—then we get pleasure from contemplating [theōreîn] them, as for example [when we see] the forms of the most repulsive animals, or of corpses. And the cause [aition] for this too [= for the pleasure we get from seeing a mīmēsis] is the fact that the experience of learning [manthanein] is the most pleasurable thing, not only for philosophers but for all other humans—though they [= humans other than philosophers] have a more limited share [in this experience]. You see, this is why humans get pleasure from seeing visual-representations [eikōn plural]. It is because, as they are contemplating [theōreîn] what each thing is, they undergo the experience of learning [manthanein] and inferring [sullogizesthai]—inferring, for example, that ‘this one [houtos] is that one [ekeinos]’. Here is what I mean. Even if someone happens not to have already seen something [that is being imitated], the imitation [mīmēma] [of that original something] will cause pleasure not as an imitation but because of the technique, or the coloring, or some other such cause [aitiā]. Since imitating [mīmeîsthai] is natural to us, just as tune [harmoniā] and rhythm [rhuthmos] [are natural to us] (in the case of meters [metron plural], it is clear that they are subdivisions of rhythms), [it follows that,] from the very beginning, those who were naturally most inclined towards such things could evolve little by little in the generating [gennēsai] of poetry [poiēsis], starting from improvisations [autoskhediasmata].

Poetic composition [poiēsis] split apart, heading in two different directions, corresponding to the inherent characteristics [ēthos plural] [of their improvising makers]. Those who were more stately [semnoteroi] [by comparison with the non-serious] represented [mīmeîsthai] noble actions [kalai praxeis]—actions of characters who were correspondingly that kind of people [= the noble ones]— whereas those who were less worthy [eutelesteroi] [represented] the actions of base [phauloi] people, at first making [poieîn] invectives [psogos plural], whereas the others [= the noble ones] made hymns [humnoi] and encomia [enkōmia]. When it comes to those [poets] who lived before the time of Homer, we do not have anyone to tell about who made a composition [poiēma] of this kind [= invective poetry], although it is likely that there were many [who composed invective poetry already then]. But, starting with those who lived in the time of Homer, there is such a composition: it is his own [composition called] Margites, and there are other such things dating from his time. Among such compositions, there came about the appropriate meter, the iambic [iambeion]. That is why this meter is even now called the iambic [iambeion], since it is in in this meter that people used to make-invectives [iambizein] against one another. And that is how, among the ancient ones, some became the poetic-makers [poiētai] of [poetic] things heroic [hērōika], while others [became makers] of iambic-invectives [iamboi].

Just as, when it comes to things that are noble [spoudaia], Homer was by far the poet [poiētēs] of all poets, since he and he alone not only composed [poieîn] in a good way but also composed things-of-mimesis [mimēsis plural] that were dramatic [drāmatikai] in form, so too was he the first to show-in-outline [hupo-deik-nusthai] the form [skhēma] of comedy [kōmōidiā], by composing-in-dramatic-form [drāmato-poieîn] not invective [psogos], but what is laughable [ geloîon]. You see, his [composition called] Margites bears an analogous-relationship [analogon] [to comedies]: just as the Iliad 1449a and the Odyssey are to tragedies [tragōidiai], so also this [composition called] the Margites is to comedies [kōmōidiai]. But when tragedy and comedy came on the scene, making their appearance, then those two kinds of people who were gravitating toward one or the other of the two forms of composing [poiēsis], that is, the composing of iambic or epic, now became respectively composers-of-comedy [kōmōido-poioi] instead of [composers of] iambic [iambos plural] and teachers-of-tragedy [tragōido-didaskaloi] instead of [composers of] epic [epos plural], because these [= tragedy and comedy] had greater and more prestigious forms [skhēma plural] than those [= iambic and epic compositions]. To consider whether tragedy is as yet in fact sufficient in its forms [eidos plural] or not, and whether it is to be judged in and of itself and in relation to the productions-of-theater [theatron plural], is another story [logos]. In any case, tragedy, having been generated from an improvisatory [auto-skhetiastikē] origin, and comedy [kōmōdiā] as well, the one [= tragedy] originating from the leaders [exarkhōn plural] of the dithyramb [dithurambos], the other originating from the [leaders] of phallic songs [ta phallika], which songs remain customary in many city-states [poleis] even now—it [= tragedy] kept on growing little by little as its visibility kept on emerging in the course of its being developed by those who were producing it. And then, after having changed [metaballein] by way of many changes [metabolē plural], tragedy [tragōidiā] finally stopped changing once it came into possession of its own natural-self [phusis].

Aeschylus first increased the number of the actors [hupokritēs plural] from one to two, and diminished the [part] of the chorus [khoros] and made dialogue [logos] take-the-leading-role [prōtagōnisteîn]. Sophocles [introduced] three [actors] and scene-painting [skēnographiā]. And here is another thing, with regard to the scale: from small plots [mūthoi] and laughable [geloiā] diction [lexis] because of its derivation from a form having to do with satyrs, [tragedy], in the fullness of time, became-stately [apo-semn-un-esthai], and the meter [metron] changed from tetrameter to iambic. You see, at first they used tetrameter on account of the poetic composition [poiēsis] being related-to-satyrs [saturikē] and more-related-to-dancing [orkhēstrikōterē], but when [as an alternative to singing] there was speaking [lexis], then the nature [phusis] itself [of speaking instead of singing] discovered its own familiar [oikeion] meter [metron]: the iambic is, of all meters [metron plural], the most speakable [lektikon], and an indication of this is the fact that in conversation we speak iambs [iambeia] more frequently than any other [meter]—[we speak in] hexameters rarely, and [only] when departing from conversational tone [lektikē harmoniā]. And here is another thing, with regard to the number of episodes [ep-eis-odion plural] and the other ways in which each [part] is said to be arranged [kosmeîn]: let them be taken as already described by us, since it would be a great deal of work to go through each of them in detail.

Commentary

these two [causes] are inborn in [human] nature
Compare Plato Laws 2.673D, where we read that something inborn in human nature is the drive to leap, and this drive is linked with a sense of rhythm, which in turn led humans to produce [egennēse kai eteke] dancing [orkhēsis], after which the union of rhythm [rhuthmos] and melody [melos] brought forth [eteketēn] song and dance [khoreiā] and playfulness [paidiā].

GN 2016.01.31, repeated from GN 2010.03

This comparandum from Plato was first suggested by EB 2010.03. Note the play of synonyms in this passage from Plato. Further analysis in Nagy 2010.

GN 2016.01.31, repeated from GN 2012.05

contemplating [theōreîn] (two occurrences here)

  1. The verb theōreîn can be interpreted as meaning ‘to look at’ or ‘to contemplate’. The corresponding noun theōros means, etymologically, ‘one who sees [root hor-] a vision [theā]’. In the first of the two occurrences of theōreîn that we see here in Aristotle’s Poetics, it seems as if this word referred here only to the process of looking at an image produced by a medium of visual arts—as in the case of an image that is painted. From other contexts, however, we see that theōreîn can also refer to the very process of imagining. And what is imagined can be created not only by the art of painting, for example, but also by the art of theater. The ancient Greek word for ‘theater’, theātron, means literally ‘the instrument for looking’: in other words, the noun theātron is derived from a combination of (1) the root of the verb theâsthai, which means ‘look’, and (2) the suffix -tron, which expresses instrumentality (H24H 21§25).

GN 2016.01.31

  1. A related concept is the Greek noun prosōpon, which means ‘theatrical mask’: this noun is a compound consisting of the elements (1) pros-, meaning ‘toward’, and (2) ōp-, meaning ‘look’. This noun prosōpon refers not only to a given mask worn by a given persona in theater but also to the given persona who is wearing that mask. Further, this noun can refer also to a given person in grammar, whether it be the first or the second or the third person. I argue in H24H 21§§19–28 that the Greek theatrical mask, as indicated by the word prosōpon, is a subjective agent, an ‘I’ who is looking for a dialogue with a ‘you’. And I also argue there that the subjectivity of the mask is related to the idea of Dionysus as god of theater.

GN 2016.01.31

  1. I have more to say in PH 164–166 (6§§35–39) about the relationship between the word theōreîn ‘look, contemplate’ and the word theātron ‘theater’. And I have more to say there also about the relationship of this word theōreîn to the word sēma ‘sign, something indicated’. Here I confine myself to observing that this relationship is pertinent to the usage of such modern lexical creations as theory and semantics or semiotics.

‘this one [houtos] is that one [ekeinos]’
This formulation by Aristotle, which conveys the cognitive process of actually recognizing mimesis, is analyzed in my posting for 2015.10.15 §§9–11.

GN 2016.02.04

teachers-of-tragedy [tragōido-didaskaloi]
Literally, ‘trainers [didaskaloi] of tragedy’. The tragedian directed his own productions, both acting in his own tragedy (though only until the mid-fifth century BCE) and directing the other actors; moreover, he trained and directed the chorus. For this reason, the phrase ‘to train a chorus’ (khoron didaskein) could refer to the directing of a drama, and the dramatist could be called a didaskalos, ‘teacher’. He could therefore be said to ‘teach’ a drama (drāma didaskein, Herodotus 1.23) by extension of the phrase ‘to teach a chorus’, and hence be called a tragōidodidaskalos.

EB 2010.03

For more on the hermeneutics of ‘teaching’ (didaskein) as the authorization of a composition in performance, see PH 371 (12§61n168) and HPC 33.

GN 2016.02.04

forms [eidos plural]
See my comments on eidos in Chapter 1. The question here raised is whether tragedy is yet complete as a genre.

GN 2016.02.04

leaders [exarkhōn plural]
The technical term for the leading of a khoros ‘chorus’ is ex-arkhein, which ‘signals an individuated act of performance that leads into a distinctly collective or choral act of performance’ (Nagy HC 2§68). Thus the participle exarkhōn or noun form exarkhos are standard words for the leader of a choral ensemble.

GN 2012.05

[ta phallika]
Analysis in HC 2§65.

GN 2016.02.04

chorus [khoros]
It is important for me to emphasize here that a khoros ‘chorus’, including a tragic chorus, is an ensemble of performers who sing and dance. This meaning is different from modern conceptions of the chorus, which involve singing but not dancing. Preliminary comment in PH 20 (1§8).

GN 2010.03

conversational tone [lektikē harmoniā]
Further commentary in my posting for 2015.10.15 §§23–29, especially with reference to the iambic trimeter and the trochaic tetrameter catalectic.

GN 2016.02.04

episodes [ep-eis-odion plural]
For the definition of an episode [ep-eis-odion] and its relation to the other parts of a drama, see Poetics Chapter 12 (1452b20).

EB 2010.03


Bibliography

HC. See Nagy 2009|2008.

HPC. See Nagy 2010|2009.

H24H. See Nagy 2013.

Nagy, G. 1990. Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Pindars_Homer.1990.

Nagy, G. 2009|2008. Homer the Classic. Printed | Online version. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homer_the_Classic.2008. Hellenic Studies 36. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.

Nagy, G. 2010|2009. Homer the Preclassic. Printed | Online version. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homer_the_Preclassic.2009. Berkeley / Los Angeles.

Nagy, G. 2010. “Language and Meter.” Online second edition of an original printed version that appeared as Chapter 25 in A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (ed. E. J. Bakker) 370–387. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.Language_and_Meter.2010.

Nagy, G. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_NagyG.The_Ancient_Greek_Hero_in_24_Hours.2013.

Nagy, G. 2015. “Homo ludens in the world of ancient Greek verbal art.” Classical Inquiries 2015.10.15. http://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/homo-ludens-in-the-world-of-ancient-greek-verbal-art/.

PH. See Nagy 1990.

Tarán, L. and Gutas, D., eds. 2012. Aristotle ‘Poetics’: Editio Maior of the Greek Text with Historical Introductions and Philological Commentaries. Leiden/Boston.



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