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Penguin, Mar 1, 1997 - Literary Criticism - 144 pages
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‘The plot is the source and the soul of tragedy’

In his near-contemporary account of Greek tragedy, Aristotle examines the dramatic elements of plot, character, language and spectacle that combine to produce pity and fear in the audience, and asks why we derive pleasure from this apparently painful process. Taking examples from the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the Poetics introduces into literary criticism such central concepts as mimesis (‘imitation’), hamartia (‘error’), and katharsis (‘purification’). Aristotle explains how the most effective tragedies rely on complication and resolution, recognition and reversals, centring on characters of heroic stature, idealized yet true to life. One of the most powerful, perceptive and influential works of criticism in Western literary history, the Poetics has informed serious thinking about drama ever since.

Malcolm Heath’s lucid English translation makes the Poetics fully accessible to the modern reader. It is accompanied by an extended introduction, which discusses the key concepts in detail and includes suggestions for further reading.


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1 Human culture poetry and the Poetics
2 Imitation
3 Aristotles history of poetry
4 The analysis of tragedy
the basics
6 Reversal and recognition
7 The best kinds of tragic plot
8 The pleasures of tragedy
53 Unity
56 Defective plots
61 Astonishment
64 Recognition
71 First introduction
73 Second introduction
81 Character
82 Kinds of recognition

9 The other parts of tragedy
miscellaneous aspects
11 Epic
12 Comedy
13 Further reading
14 Reference conventions
21 Medium
22 Object
31 Origins
33 Tragedy
34 Comedy
41 Definition
43 The primacy of plot
51 Completeness
83 Visualizing the action
84 Outlines and episodization
86 Kinds of tragedy
89 The chorus
91 Introduction
93 Classification of nouns
94 Qualities of poetic style
101 Plot
103 Differences between tragedy and epic
105 Astonishment and irrationalities
111 Principles
113 Conclusion
121 The case against tragedy

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About the author (1997)

Aristotle was born at Stageira, in the dominion of the kings of Macedonia, in 384 BC. For twenty years he studied at Athens in the Academy of Plato, on whose death in 347 he left, and, some time later, became tutor of the young Alexander the Great. When Alexander succeeded to the throne of Macedonia in 335, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his school and research institute, the Lyceum, to which his great erudition attracted a large number of scholars. After Alexander's death in 323, anti-Macedonian feeling drove Aristotle out of Athens, and he fled to Chalcis in Euboea, where he died in 322. His writings, which were of extraordinary range, profoundly affected the whole course of ancient and medieval philosophy, and they are still eagerly studied and debated by philosophers today. Very many of them have survived and among the most famous are the Ethics and the Politics.

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