Introduction to the Poetics by Aristotle | Greek Literarure

Who Was Aristotle?

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher, psychologist, political thinker, and polymath who lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. He was a student of Plato and studies for about 20 years (367-347BC) in Athens until death of Plato.  After death of Plato, He moved to Assus and set up a school there and taught for three years there. Later on, Aristotle became the tutor of Alexander the Great. He set up his own school in Lyceum (like a college with maps, library, and additional staff). Aristotle died at the age of 62 in 322BC.

Aristotle made significant contributions to a wide range of fields, including logic, metaphysics, ethics, politics, biology, and physics. His work has had a profound impact on literature and continues to be studied and debated by scholars and intellectuals today. Aristotle’s ideas and concepts have influenced various disciplines, from philosophy and science to literature and the arts. Some of his most famous works include the Poetics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and the Metaphysics.

Introduction to Poetics

Poetics is a work by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, in which he provides a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the art of poetry. Written in the 4th century BCE, it is considered one of the most important works on literary theory and has been highly influential in the Western literary tradition. In Poetics, Aristotle examines various aspects of poetry, including its structure, forms, and content, and offers insights into the nature of tragedy and epic poetry. He also discusses the role of emotions and mimesis (imitation) in poetry, as well as the importance of plot, character, and language. The work has had a lasting impact on literary criticism and has inspired many subsequent works on aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

Composition of Poetics by Aristotle

There are lot of controversies regarding the book Poetics. The poetics is not written like a proper book. Moreover, book is not complete and it looks that second part of book has lost because many subject and terms are not explained like the term catharsis. Though, Poetics contains 26 chapters. The main subject of Poetics is tragedy. Comedy and Epic Poetry are also discussed in poetics but not in a detail like tragedy. Moreover, many subjects are missing in the poetics like lyrical poetry, and other forms of poetry.  The poetics is divided into six parts based on subject matter.

Poetics Part 1:

Part 1 contains chapter I to V. In this part Aristotle discussed art in general,  poetry and its different types. He sketches history of poetry, its evolution and various forms of poetry including tragedy and comedy. He is the detail of chapters:

  • Chapter I defines basic concepts of imitation
  • Chapter II deals with the objects of imitation.
  • In chapter III Aristotle deals with the manner of imitation.
  • Chapter IV deals with the origin and the development of poetry.
  • Chapter V is about Comedy; its nature and development.


Poetics Part II:

Part II contains chapter VI to XIX. This part is specifically dedicated to tragedy only. It includes definition of tragedy, formative elements of tragedy, plot, character, and other aspects of tragedy. The detail of subject of each chapter is:

  • In Chapter VI, Aristotle defines tragedy as an “artistic imitation of an action that is serious, complete in itself, and of an adequate magnitude.”
  • In chapter VII, Aristotle explain about construction of the plot of a tragedy.
  • In Chapter VIII, Aristotle discuses unity of plot.
  • In Chapter IX, Aristotle says that the poet represents an ideal truth. He says that poetry is more universal than poetry.
  • Chapter X deals with the classification of plot.
  • Chapter XI deals with the elements of plot.
  • Chapter XII deals with subdivisions of tragic drama such as prologue, Episode, etc.
  • In Chapter XIII Aristotle discusses the ideal structure of the plot which brings about the fullest measure of tragic effect, i.e., tragic catharsis.
  • In Chapter XIV Aristotle talks of the specific sources of the tragic catharsis.
  • Chapter XV deals with requisites of a character for a perfect tragedy.
  • Chapter XVI deals with Recognition or Discovery and various types of recognitions.
  • Chapter XVII gives practical hints for the work of composing a tragedy.
  • Chapter XVIII, according to some critics, is a later addition that deals with rules for the tragic poet.
  • In Chapter XIX Aristotle deals with thought, ideas, and diction in tragedy.

 Poetics Part III:

Part three is comprised of three chapters XX to XXII that contain discussion on poetic diction.

  • Chapter XX deals with grammar.
  • In chapter XXI, the treatment of diction continues
  • Chapter XXII deals with the best style, the choice of words.

Poetics Part IV:

Part IV contains only chapter XXIII. This chapter discuss narrative poetry and tragedy.

  • Chapter XXIII deals with the Epic

Poetics Part V:

This part contains two chapters XXIV and XXVI. This part deals with epic poetry.

  • In chapter XXIV, Aristotle talks of four kinds of epic poetry: (a) Simple or (b) Complex, (c) Epics of moral character, or (d) Epics of passion.
  • Finally, in Chapter XXVI, Aristotle deals with a general problem as to which is higher, the epic or tragedy?

Poetics Part VI:

In the last part (chapter XXV) he made references to some current problems in criticism. And proposed some principles for that solutions.

  • Chapter XXV deals with the theory of criticism.


Characteristics of Poetics

The Poetics by Aristotle is a significant work of literary criticism with enduring value beyond its historical context. It is one of the oldest books that still has unique position and authenticity over all other book of literary criticism. It emphasizes the importance of a work of art as a living organism whose structure is dependent on the function of the whole, and it asserts that poetry should be judged by its own laws.

The Poetics has vital importance for its method and perspective, which emphasizes the vital structure of a poem rather than the metre. And for tragedy, he preferred to lay emphasis on catharsis rather  than other parts of tragedy (i.e., the history of chorus).

The Poetics is the foundation of all subsequent philosophical discussion of literature. Much of what Aristotle lays illustrates Greek thought and concerns Greek literature; but much of what he says is the essence of light thinking about literature in general.

Aristotle’s attitude is retrospective, seeking the laws in the facts before him without making pronouncements about the literature of the future. However, the miracle of the Poetics is that it contains universal subject that still has interest of literary critics and writers. And so, the authenticity and beauty of Poetics lies in its originality. Poetics is full of original ideas that are as true today as when they were first formulated.

Taking into account the Platonic assumption that a literary form, for example, a tragedy, has the nature of a living organism, Aristotle held that each distinct kind of literature must have a definite activity or function.

As Politics is based upon researches among a great number of municipal constitutions. Similarly, Poetics conceptions are based upon a number of instances. Aristotle studies poetry in relation to man, tracing it back to the fundamental instincts of human nature, namely the instinct of imitation and the instinct of harmony.

Aristotle’s methods are exploratory and tentative. His method of inquiry is psychological, and he justifies tragedy by its emotional effects. “It is the first attempt made by man of astounding genius to build up in the region of creative art, a rational order, like that he had already established in the region of the physical sciences”. (Gilbert Murray)

The Poetics is thought-provoking and raises essential problems, though it does not always provide solutions. Aristotle’s greatness lies in his ability to ask the right type of questions, which has helped literary theory grow and advance by seeking answers to these questions.

The Poetics is a scientific work of literary criticism, and Aristotle’s methods of inquiry are analytical, inductive, and scientific in the best sense of the terms.

Some Defects in Poetics:

Major part of the poetics deals with tragedy while Epic and Comedy are treated slightly.

No one can trace that why lyric poetry is totally ignored in Poetics.

Aristotle’s Poetics has some limitations of his age and not warranted attention by later history.

Poetics can’t be understand until reader goes through Aristotle’s other books like Politics, Ethics, and Metaphysics. Because, Poetics demands some preliminary knowledge from its readers to know about some terms or a complete concept.

Poetics in not is a proper book form. Either it was not written for the sake of publication or it was not revised to come over some irregularities and anomalies.