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From Aristotle's The Poetics, Book 4: 22-26

Winfred P. Lehmann and Jonathan Slocum

This page contains a text in Classical Greek with a modern English translation. This particular text and its translation are extracted from a lesson in the Early Indo-European Online series, where one may find detailed information about this text (see the Table of Contents page for Classical Greek Online in EIEOL), and general information about the Classical Greek language and its speakers' culture.

from Aristotle's The Poetics, Book 4: 22-26

Ἀρχὴ μὲν οὖν καὶ οἶον ψυχὴ ὁ μῦθος τῆς τραγῳδίας, δεύτερον δὲ τὰ ἤθη. παραπλήσιον γάρ ἐστιν καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γραφικῆς. εἰ γάρ τις ἐναλείψειε τοῖς καλλίστοις φαρμάκοις χύδην, οὐκ ἂν ὁμοίως εὐφράνειεν καὶ λευκογραφήσας εἰκόνα. ἔστιν τε μίμησις πράξεως καὶ διὰ ταύτην μάλιστα τῶν πραττόντων. Τρίτον δὲ ἡ διάνοια. τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν τὸ λέγειν δύνασθαι τὰ ἐνόντα καὶ τὰ ἁρμόττοντα. ὅπερ ἐπὶ τῶν λόγων τῆς πολιτικῆς καὶ τῆς ῥητορικῆς ἔργον ἐστίν. οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἀρχαῖοι πολιτικῶς ἐποίουν λέγοντας, οἱ δὲ νῦν ῥητορικῶς. Ἔστιν δὲ ἦθος μὲν τὸ τοιοῦτον ὃ δηλοῖ τὴν προαίρεσιν, ὁποῖά τις ἐν οἷς οὐκ ἔστι δῆλον ἤ προαιρεῖται ἤ φεύγει. διόπερ οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἦθος τῶν λόγων ἐν οἵς μηδ' ὅλως ἔστιν ὅ τι προαιρεῖται ἢ φεύγει ὁ λέγων. Τέταρτον δὲ τῶν ἐν λόγῳ ἡ λέξις. λέγω δὲ, ὥσπερ πρότερον εἴρεται, λέξιν τὴν διὰ τῆς ὀνομασίαν ἑρμηνείαν. ὅ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἐμμέτρων καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν λόγων ἔχει τὴν αὐτὴν δύναμιν.


The plot is truly the first principle and so to say the soul of tragedy; and the second is character. It is the same also in painting. For if someone painted with the best colors at random, it would not delight as much as painting an image in white on a black background. For it is a representation of action in actual life, and because of that most of all of those in action.
The third element is thought. This is the ability to say what is possible and what is fitting. It is provided in the words and the activities of the statesman and of the rhetorician. For the old writers made the characters speak like statesmen and the new writers like rhetoricians.
Now character is that which reveals choice, i.e. what sort of thing one chooses or avoids among those where it is not clear. So those have no character in the words, in which it is not wholly clear what the speaker chooses or avoids.
The fourth of the elements in the literary items is style. And I mean, as has been said earlier, that style is the means of interpretation through meaning. And this has the same force for poetry and prose.

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