Poetics (Aristotle)

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The poetics ( ancient Greek ποιητική [τέχνη] poietike [techne] , German , the creative, sealing [art] ' ) is a well-to v 335th The book of Aristotle , written as the basis for lectures, deals with poetry and its genres.

Aristotle divides the sciences into three broad groups (theoretical, practical, and poietic); the poetry treated part of the poietic, d. H. 'Producing' human knowledge in a descriptive and prescriptive manner. In the area of ​​Aristotelian poetics all those arts ( τέχναι , téchnai ), the mimetic, i. H. have an imitative or representative character: epic , tragedy , comedy , dithyramb poetry , but also dance and music . In the course of the work, however, it becomes clear that Aristotle deals almost exclusively with poetry in the narrower sense, that is, imitative art forms that use the medium of language.

Aristotle's poetics is related to his rhetoric , insofar as both writings thematize language and communication, and to his politics , insofar as poetry and rhetoric had central social functions in the Greek polis .

State of delivery and structure of the font

The Poetics is incomplete handed, because Aristotle announced in Scripture itself on after tragedy and epic and the comedy to want to deal with, and refers in his rhetoric twice to treatment of the ridiculous in the poetics . Both are missing in the text before us; it was treated , as research now generally assumes, in a second book of poetics , which has not survived . (This supposedly lost book about comedy, the human ability to laugh, and the ridiculous plays a central role in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose .) Since Richard Janko  , research has again seriously debated the question of whether the Tractatus Coislinianus is a remnant of the second Book could be.

The chapters of the surviving first book are thematically organized into three larger sections:

  1. (Chapters 1–5) On poetry in general
  2. (Chapters 6–22) Treatment of tragedy
  3. (Chapters 23–26) Treatment of the epic

The imbalance between the long tragedy and the short epic theory is at least partially explained by the fact that many of the statements about the tragedy also apply to the epic, so that Chapters 23/24 can largely be limited to a summary listing of similarities and differences . Chapter 26 makes a judgmental comparison between epic and tragedy.

On poetry in general (Chapters 1–5)

The definition of poiêsis : mimêsis

All poetry is mimêsis (imitation). Here Aristotle sets himself apart from the common criterion of " meter ": Thus, for example, Plato's dialogues fall into poetry, while the metrical genre of the didactic poem is omitted. Acting people are imitated. Here mimêsis does not mean an image in the sense that the image corresponds to a prototype. Rather, mimêsis consists in a representation of acting people whose intentions, character and actions can differ for the better as well as for the worse.

Derivation of the mimêsis from human nature

Aristotle derives the concept of mimêsis , which is central to poetics , from human nature. He provides a double anthropological derivation:

  1. ( Production ) Imitation is innate in humans.
  2. ( Reception ) The (experience of) imitation gives people (in contrast to other living beings) joy ( chairein ) (process of intellectual recognition, joy in technical perfection).

The second point, the joy of perceiving imitation, is an indication that for Aristotle the structure and content of a work is designed with the recipient in mind, as can also be seen from the concept of catharsis (see below).

The types of mimêsis : To the genre classification

Aristotle specifies the types of mimêsis more precisely and uses them to classify them as genres. He distinguishes three criteria for types of mimesis:

  1. different means of imitation ( en heterois ): rhythm , logos , harmonia ;
  2. different objects of imitation ( hetera ): good or bad people;
  3. different ways ( heterôs ) of imitation:
    1. report ( apangelein ): a narrator recites what happened, whereby the author and narrator can be different or identical;
    2. ' To do' : the action is performed by actors.

The Tragedy (Chapters 6-22)

Definition of tragedy

Aristotle defined the tragedy as follows:

“Tragedy is an imitation of a good and self-contained action of a certain size, in attractively formed language, whereby these formative means are used differently in the individual sections. Imitation of doers and not by report, which causes misery (eleos) and shudder (phobos) and thereby causes a purification of such states of excitement. "

The terms eleos and phobos are central to this definition . Since Lessing's Hamburg dramaturgy, these have generally been translated as “pity” and “fear”; However, this translation has been sharply criticized by recent research, so that Manfred Fuhrmann eleos and phobos translates the terms as "woe" and "shudder".

This definition gives a more detailed description of the mimêsis produced by a tragedy :

  • The subject of the mimêsis in a tragedy is ethically good actions.
  • Means of mimêsis in a tragedy are:
  1. the logos , d. H. the formed language;
  2. the rhythm, d. H. the process structured by regular time;
  3. the harmonia or the melos , d. H. the changing pitch, the melody in the sung parts (not continuous).
  • The mode of mimêsis in a tragedy is to convey an action (a myth) through 'doing' ( dran / prattein ), not through epic narration.
  • The purpose of the mimêsis in a tragedy is to achieve catharsis in the audience. This should not take place through effects (staging and music), but preferably through the structure of the plot, namely through the excitement of "wailing and shuddering".

The six parts of the tragedy

Aristotle distinguishes six “parts” of the tragedy, which are now called “qualitative parts”. In order of importance for the quality of the tragedy, according to Aristotle, these are:

  1. Action or plot ( myth )
  2. Characters ( êthê )
  3. Thought / cognitive ability ( diánoia )
  4. linguistic form ( lexis )
  5. Melody ( melopoiia )
  6. Staging ( opsis )

Of these six parts, the plot occupies by far the largest space in Aristotle's presentation and is also the most important part for him: Aristotle calls the myth the “soul” of tragedy. Based on this preponderance of the action over the linguistic form ( lexis ), Aristotle's poetics can primarily be described as structural rather than stylistic poetics.

The myth (plot, plot, fable)

The most important qualitative part of the tragedy is the myth ; However, this word is not to be understood in today's sense of myth , but generally as the plot or the plot of the play, in older terminology the fable. Aristotle justifies this: "Because tragedy is not an imitation of people, but of action and the reality of life (praxeôn kai biou)." The poet thus primarily chose not the identity of the hero, but rather the To judge the content of the act to be represented.

“Thus, people do not act to mimic the characters, but instead involve characters for the sake of actions. Hence the events (ta pragmata) and the myth are the goal of tragedy; but the goal is the most important of all. "

Wholeness and unity of the action

The most important criteria for a good plot structure are wholeness and unity. They are given exactly when all elements occurring in the myth discussed (a) must not be missing (wholeness) and (b) must necessarily appear at their respective place within the myth (unity).

Probability and necessity of the action

The criterion that an action or a course of action is suitable for the tragedy is not that it actually took place, but that it has a general character. According to Aristotle,

"Is not the task of the poet is to tell what really happened is , but rather what happened could , d. H. what is possible according to the rules of probability (eikos) or necessity (anankaion) . "

Probability and necessity thus specify the mimêsis of tragedy and their relation to reality more precisely. This also shows why Aristotle held poetry in high esteem: while a historian has to communicate what actually happened, but in order to also have to reproduce accidental and senseless events, the poet should communicate what “could” happen and usually also “ should". However, since the preoccupation with the general and necessarily or at least usually occurring is a typical characteristic of philosophical thought for Aristotle, he can judge:

“Therefore poetry is something more philosophical and serious ( φιλοσοφώτερον καὶ σπουδαιότερον ) than historiography; because poetry conveys more of the general, whereas historiography conveys the particular. "

What makes a good tragedy?

Aristotle explains that tragedies that have certain moments or use certain moments in a certain way are better than others. The most important area here is again the structure or course of action ( myth ).

  1. The best tragedy shows how an ethically good character experiences a transition from happiness to unhappiness, not because of his badness or meanness, but because of an error ( hamartia ), which usually arises from a lack of knowledge of a situation.
  2. In the second best tragedy, the morally good and the morally bad find an opposite end.

In no case should one show:

  1. “How flawless men experience a change from happiness to unhappiness” (that would be neither pathetic nor terrifying, but hideous);
  2. “Like villains experience a change from misfortune to happiness” (that would be the most un tragic of all possibilities, because it has none of the required qualities: it is neither philanthropic nor pathetic nor terrifying);
  3. “How the very bad experiences a change from happiness to unhappiness” (that would be “humane”, but neither pathetic nor terrifying).

Other important criteria relate - in a broader sense - to the plot structure, the turning point and the nature of the characters. With regard to characters, according to Aristotle, it is best that they do the decisive deed without discernment, but gain discernment after they have carried out the deed (as the Oidipus happens in the tragedy of Sophocles ).

Behind these distinctions for a better or worse tragedy there is (a) the ethical criterion of portraying a morally good person and (b) the criterion of portraying an action that takes place when the subject matter (and not just the piece) is received " Woe and shudder, ” eleos and phobos evokes.

The epic (chapters 23-26)

The epic is similar to the tragedy because of the common object, since the epic also represents or should represent morally good figures. This similarity is very important, and the fact that epic examples often appear in the tragedy section shows the importance of reception.

The epic differs from the tragedy in the following ways:

  1. It does not use any musical components or staging as a means of mimêsis .
  2. The mimêsis of the epic, in contrast to that of the tragedy, has an 'epic' character.
  3. The epic knows only one meter: the dactylic hexameter.
  4. The far greater extent (length) of the epic is also an important difference.

According to Aristotle, the epic is inferior to tragedy on two points:

  1. The tragedy is smaller in scope and therefore gives more pleasure.
  2. The tragedy has a tighter unit of action; H. as in the epic, several storylines are not presented.

Summary characterization

By repeatedly discussing examples from dramas and epics in Poetics and analyzing them using his conceptual tools, Aristotle combines an analysis of the given with the formulation of binding rules (for example in listing the ranking of types of tragedy) and the emphasis on crucial elements (e.g. that the hero of a tragedy should not have any insight into the actions before he carries them out). Aristotelian poetics thus combine descriptive and prescriptive elements.

Since Aristotle puts the action, the mythos in the foreground, both in his analysis and with regard to the meaning of the essence of a poem - that is, by means of the imitation of what could happen due to probability or necessity to show the general in human action - it turns out its poetics in modern terminology as structural rather than stylistic poetics .

The poetry is also important because Aristotle with it a criticism of the theory of ideas of his teacher Plato formulated. The core ideas of the theory of ideas, which at the same time resulted in a rejection of the performing arts, were put forward by Plato in the 10th and with the allegory of the cave in the 7th book of his dialogue Politeia . The sensually perceptible things are therefore images (imitation) of a true form of being, the ideas . By merely participating in the ideas, the true being, as an image (imitation), things represent a form of being of a second, i.e. lower order. The representation of these things on the stage or in painting is consequently an image of an image of the true Understanding one's being and therefore largely imperfect and worthless.

In addition, Plato presupposed the ethical principle that poetry is committed to the truth in order to contribute to moral improvement. The reason commanding the pain ( pathos ) taken to bear. The passion, on the other hand, led to lamentation about the pain. By addressing these lower forces, the passions, poetry induces them to act unreasonably, to lament ( eleos ).

With his poetics, Aristotle turns against this view of Plato and thus assigns a completely different, higher priority to poetry. He rejects the idea of ​​a staggered representation of the ideas in poetry as nonsensical. Instead, he argues that true being is realized, so to speak, created in the combination of form (mode of representation) and content of poetry. Aristotle denies an abstract idea that exists beyond things that can be perceived by the senses. The goal ( telos ) of poetry lies in the completion of poetry, in the realization from which being first arises. Fuhrmann therefore rightly spoke of the platonic idea being transformed into an entelechy .

Aristotle exemplifies his considerations in Chapter 13 of Poetics, for example, by conceiving the heroes as human beings and not as god-like beings, as in Plato. The genre-theoretical considerations that he makes on tragedy serve to exclude certain modes of action in poetry, while Plato discredited and rejected poetry in its entirety. In contrast to Plato, Aristotle ascribes a useful function to the moderate passions that can have an educational effect. By evoking misery ( eleos ) and shuddering ( phobos , fear), poetry could have a cleansing effect ( catharsis ) on the human soul.

This concept is taken up again, developed and passed on through the rediscovery of antiquity during the literary epochs of the Enlightenment and the Classical period .

Reception and impact history

Before the Renaissance, Aristotle's poetics received no attention. It was translated into Arabic by Abu Bishr Matta ibn Yunus in the 10th century and into Latin by Wilhelm von Moerbeke in the 13th century ; but hardly any impulses came from this, since the genres to which Aristotle referred (tragedy and epic) were in fact unknown. In the 16th century, the first commentaries on poetics emerged in Italy, which, of course, had to be explored with great difficulty ( e.g. by Lodovico Castelvetro , who distilled the alleged doctrine of the three units from the work). Aristotelianism reached its heyday in the early French Classical period of the 17th century in the Trois discours sur le poème dramatique by Pierre Corneille . Here, however, the theory began to solidify into rule poetics , for example through the compendium of the Abbé d'Aubignac, François Hédelin . The critical examination of the work first began in England (Tyrwhitt 1794).

The first German translation by Michael Conrad Curtius appeared in 1753 and was completely inadequate. Lessing took up Aristotelian poetics in order to give his idea of ​​the bourgeois tragedy a foundation based on drama theory. In his Hamburg Dramaturgy , he argues largely with Aristotle, but against the dogmatic strictness of rules and class poetics of the French. He allows only pity and fear, that is, milder emotional movements, as affects (admittedly as a result of a mistranslation), but rejects the more intense affects of admiration (which was the focus of Renaissance poetics) and horror. A short time later, the idea of ​​a rule poetics became obsolete due to the genius movement of Sturm und Drang . In the 19th century, the poetics of Aristotle was received almost exclusively by philosophers. Only Brecht dealt with it again in the sense of a practical guide for writing plays and designed - partly in agreement, partly in disagreement - an "anti-Aristotelian" poetics of epic theater .


Original text and translations of poetics

  • Aristotelis de arte poetica liber. Recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Rudolfus Kassel . Clarendon Press, Oxford 1965 and reprints. ISBN 0-19-814564-0 . - Leading academic text edition.
  • Aristotle: Poetics. Translation, introduction and comments by Olof Gigon , Stuttgart, Philipp Reclam jun. (Universal Library 2337) 1961 [With permission from Artemis Verlag, Zurich] ISBN 3-15-002337-8 .
  • Aristotle: Poetics . Greek / German. Translated and edited by Manfred Fuhrmann. Bibliographically amended edition, Stuttgart 1994 (RUB 7828), ISBN 978-3-15-007828-0 . - German standard translation.
  • Aristotle: Poetics. Translation and commentary by Arbogast Schmitt . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-05-004430-9 . - Latest translation with detailed commentary.
  • Aristotle: Poetics. Introduction, Commentary and Appendixes by DW Lucas . Clarendon Press, Oxford 1968, reprint with improvements 1972, reprint 1978 and as paperback 1980. - Still useful hand commentary with a reprint of the text by Rudolf Kassel.

To Aristotle

Especially on poetics

  • Leon Golden: Aristotle on Tragic and Comic Mimesis. London 1986.
  • George MA Grube: The Greek and Roman Critics. London 1965.
  • Manfred Fuhrmann : The poetry theory of antiquity. Aristotle, Horace, Longin. 2nd Edition. Düsseldorf / Zurich 2003 (introduction).
  • DW Lucas: Aristotle, Poetics. Introduction, commentary and appendices. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1968 (Standard Scientific Commentary).
  • Amélie Oksenberg-Rorty (Ed.): Essays on Aristotle's 'Poetics'. Princeton 1992 (good collection of essays on individual aspects).
  • Ari Hiltunen: Aristotle in Hollywood. The new standard work of dramaturgy. Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 2001 (translation and interpretation of the theses in poetics into new, more understandable language and comparison with today's media from Shakespeare plays to computer games).
  • Arbogast Schmitt : Aristotle. Poetics. In: Christine Walde (Ed.): The reception of ancient literature. Kulturhistorisches Werklexikon (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 7). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02034-5 , Sp. 121-148.
  • Martin Thau : Aristotle's Poetics - for suspense authors (the decisive recipes of poetics : summarized in headings, explained by insertions in brackets and subsequent brief interpretations) 2014, ISBN 978-1-5009-8505-9 .
  • Walter Seitter : Reading poetics. 2 volumes, Merve, Berlin 2010–2014, ISBN 978-3-88396-278-8 , ISBN 978-3-88396-320-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Manfred Fuhrmann: Afterword to his translation of the poetics , pp. 150–155.
  2. At the beginning of chap. 6 of poetics .
  3. Aristotle: Rhetoric I chap. 11 and III chap. 18th
  4. ^ E.g. Fuhrmann: Afterword. P. 146f.
  5. This is discussed at the beginning of Chap. 23 clearly, but also in some statements of the tragedy theory, which are formulated generally for all poetry.
  6. Poetics, chap. 6, 1449b24ff., Translation by Manfred Fuhrmann. The quotations have been adapted to the current spelling .
  7. Cf. Fuhrmann: Afterword. Pp. 161-163.
  8. Poetics, chap. 6, 1450a16f.
  9. Poetics, chap. 6, 1450a20-23
  10. Poetics, chap. 9, 1451a36-38; To clarify the emphasis, two terms are italicized.
  11. Poetics, chap. 9, 1451b5-7.
  12. ^ Fuhrmann: Afterword. P. 159.
  13. ^ Fuhrmann: Afterword. Pp. 173-178.