Aristotle's Poetics aims to give an account of poetry. Aristotle does this by attempting to explain poetry through first principles (1447a13), and by classifying poetry into its different genres and component parts. The centerpiece of Aristotle's work is his examination of tragedy. This occurs in Chapter 6 of "Poetics:"

"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions." (1449b24-29, SH Butcher transl.)

This work combined with the Rhetoric make up Aristotle's works on aesthetics.


Imitation or Mimesis

For Aristotle, poetry is a species of imitation or mimesis. (Template:Perseus) Poetry uses different mediums, objects and modes in order to carry out an imitation.

The Medium, Object and Mode of Poetry

Poetry has a medium, object and mode.

Aristotle gives some examples of medium: color and shape (Template:Perseus), harmony and rhythm (Template:Perseus), metered and un-metered speech (Template:Perseus).

The object of poetry can be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of character. This character can be "either of stature or inferior." Template:Perseus

The mode of poetry determines how the poem is delivered and by whom. One can deliver a poem like a bard telling the story of the Iliad using different voices, or tell a story using only one, or have lots of different imitators imitating different people as in a play. (1448a23-25)

The Two Causes of Poetry

Poetry is caused either by imitation and/or melody and rhythm. Template:Perseus When Aristotle discusses the causes of poetry, he notes that poetry improved through improvisation and gradual innovation.

The Three Genres of Poetry

Poetry can be divided into three genres: tragedy, comedy and epic verse.


Aristotle does not aim at giving a detailed account of tragedy, yet. That account is later found starting at Template:Perseus. Aristotle merely points out how Greek tragedy evolved and then came to a resting point where it no longer underwent any changes. He brings up the innovations in theater that Aeschylus and Sophocles introduced as examples.


Comedy is an imitation of what is inferior in such a way that it is laughable. Template:Perseus Although it is not quite clear what Aristotle means by inferior, we do know that he uses the word as an adjective for character. Comedians imitate those of an inferior character, whereas tragedians imitate those better than us.

Epic Verse

Epic is the same as tragedy except that epic "uses one verse-form alone, and is narrative." Template:Perseus

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