Aristotle’s Poetics Chapters 1-5 Summary & Analysis

Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5
Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5

Aristotle’s Poetics Chapters 1-5 Summary


Aristotle begins with a loose outline of what he will address within the Poetics:

a. the various sorts of poetry and therefore the ‘essential quality’ of every

b. the structure necessary for a ‘good poem’

c. the tactic during which a poem is split into parts

d. anything which may tangentially comes up in his address of the above topics.

But before he begins tackling these topics, Aristotle first seeks to define poetry. Poetry, as Aristotle defines it, is first and foremost a ‘medium of imitation,’ meaning a sort of art that seeks to duplicate or represent life. Poetry can imitate life during a number of the way, by representing the character, emotion, action, or maybe everyday objects.

Poetry, as Aristotle defines it, includes heroic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, and music (specifically of flute, and lyre). What differentiates these sorts of poetry is that the nature of their ‘imitation.’ He notes three differences.

1. Medium of Imitation

In general, poetry imitates life through rhythm, language, and harmonythis is often more pronounced in music or dance, but even verse poetry can accomplish imitation through language alone

2. Object of Imitation

Art seeks to imitate men in action – hence the term ‘drama’ (dramas, in Greek). to imitate men, art must either present man as ‘better’ than they’re in life (i.e. of upper morals), as faithful life, or as ‘worse’ than they’re in life (i.e. of lower morals).

Each author has his own tendencies – Homer ‘makes men better than they’re,’ Cleophon ‘as they are’, Nichochares ‘worse than they’re .’ But more important may be a general distinction that Aristotle makes between sorts of drama: comedy represents men as worse then they’re, tragedy as better than they’re in actual life.

3. Mode of Imitation

A poet can imitate either through:

a. narration, during which he takes another personality (an omniscient ‘I’ watching the events ‘like an observer’)

b. speak in his own person, unchanged (the first-person ‘I’)

c. presents all his characters as living and moving before us (third-person narrator)

Continuing from imitation, Aristotle turns to the anthropology and history of poetry. As Aristotle sees it, poetry emerged for 2 reasons — 1) man’s instinct to imitate things and 2) the instinct for ‘harmony’ and rhythm.

Once poetry emerged, it evolved in two directions. One group of poems imitated ‘noble actions,’ or the actions of excellent men. The second group of poets imitated ‘the actions of meaner persons’ within the sort of satire. the previous evolved into tragedy, the latter into heroic poetry, then tragic drama.

The tragedy began as improvisation and evolved over time, through the contribution of Aeschylus, Sophocles, et al. into its natural sort of dramatic plot, dialogue, and iambic verse.

The comedy began as an imitation of characters ‘of a lower type’, meaning representation of a defect or ugliness in character, which isn’t painful or destructive. Comedy was initially not taken seriously, but once the plot was introduced in Sicily comedic theater, it soon grew into a respected form.

Epic poetry, finally, imitates men of noble action, like a tragedy. But heroic poetry only allows one quite meter and is narrative in form. Moreover, tragedy usually confines itself to one day, whereas heroic poetry has no limits of your time. Ultimately, all the weather of a heroic poem are found in tragedy, but not all the weather of tragedy are found in a heroic poem.

Aristotle’s Poetics Chapters 1-5 Analysis


Poetics begins quickly and efficiently, unlike a variety of Aristotle’s other works. rather than laying out an argument for why the themes merit such a discussion or an overall thesis for his investigation, he immediately lays out an overview for his work – sorts of poetry, structure, and division – and begins his systematic analysis.

As one critic notes, “The preliminaries are over in ten lines… Nothing is claimed about the aim of the discussion, what Aristotle hopes to accomplish by it; next to zilch about the method, or the views of others on poetry. But in particular we miss something that stands as a preface to each major work of Aristotle’s [best work], namely some general statement by way of orientation…” (Else, 2). In other words, Aristotle usually presents a ‘notion of the forest,’ before he begins to seem at the trees. But not within the Poetics.

The first three chapters of the Poetics are action-packed – nearly every line must be carefully addressed since Aristotle presents a myriad of definitions, concepts, and categories. But the primary major issue is to know involves the term ‘Poetics’ – what does Aristotle mean by it? Simply put, ‘poetry’ to Aristotle isn’t the ultimate product, but the art of making poetry. to know this art, we must first grasp a variety of important concepts.

The first is ‘imitation,’ which may be a word used often within the Poetics. ‘Imitation,’ as an idea, refers to an artist’s primary motivation to duplicate or capture life in some form. Imitation, furthermore, is an innate instinct, says Aristotle, that’s ‘implanted in man from childhood.’ We use imitation not just for entertainment, but also for learning – by seeing the fortunes or misfortunes of another, they will internalize experience through vicarious living.

Aristotle also uses imitation to differentiate between tragedy and comedy. within the former, poets reveal men as better than they’re hence the tragic ‘hero.’ it’s during this representation of man as ‘better’ or of ‘higher morality’ that we ultimately find catharsis, the discharge at the top of a tragedy. In comedy, however, a poet presents man as worse than he’s – suffering from some defect or ugliness which ultimately takes the reader into a satiric worldview. Comedy ultimately works during a similar thanks to tragedy, but with the opposite effect: during a tragedy, we grieve over the fate of a person who must suffer for his flaw, perhaps touched by the likelihood that we too might possess this flaw. But during a comedy, we tease the hero’s flaw, comforted by the very fact that it’s not ours.

Indeed, comedy and tragedy both have a moralizing effect on the audience. this is often less evident in comedy, perhaps, since “comedies tend to be about bad behavior and other people doing ugly, immoral, or ridiculous things.” The critic Goucher explains how Aristotle solves this problem: “[Aristotle] accepted that the first object of comedy as imitation: imitation of low characters – not morally bad, but ludicrous, ugly but not painful or destructive. He defended comedies’ mimetic representation of ludicrous behavior because it might incite audiences to avoid its imitation” (Goucher 1).

Aristotle’s definition of heroic poetry may confuse the reader, so it’s worth illuminating precisely what he means. heroic poetry is like tragedy therein it reveals man to be better than he’s – but it’s narrative in form, depending on either on an omniscient first-person narrator, a third-person narrator or a first-person narrating hero. A tragedy, meanwhile, involves the dialogue of two or more characters. Additionally, tragedy and heroic poetry differ long — tragedy is confined usually to one day, within the efforts to reveal a fast devolution of the hero. heroic poetry, meanwhile, often continues for a man’s full lifetime. Ultimately it seems that tragedy grew from heroic poetry, so we discover all the qualities of the latter within the former, but a heroic poem needn’t contain all the weather of a tragedy.

Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5 = Aristotle's Poetics Chapters 1-5