Aristotle : Poetics (Summary)

aristotle poetics

From the Poetics by Aristotle devoted to literary criticism, only the first part – mainly dedicated to the tragedy – was received. Long forgotten by commentators, it nevertheless had a great influence, since Aristotle’s Poetics has given birth  to three concepts crucial for psychology, social sciences, and philosophy of art: mimesis, catharsis and unity of action.

Executive Summary of Poetics by Aristotle

1/ the concept of “mimesis”, which refers to the ability that man to  imitate what is other than himself, and get pleasure (ch. 1-4);

2/ the concept of “catharsis”, which refers to a hypothetical process by which we would be purged of passion that you see represented in the work of art (ch. 14);

3/ the concept of unity of action, which will open up in the classical theorists, including in Boileau, in his Poetics. (ch. 7-8)

4/ It can also be found in chapters 20-21 the first outlines of a linguistic reflection.

“Poetics” here refers to the idea of ​​manufacturing development (poiesis, Poieni). Aristotle attempts to define in this book all the compositional rules, thematic and discursive presiding over the merits of literary texts. The literature is thus indexed to the order of purely human achievement: it is thus, in the language of Marxism, a “superstructure” as it is superimposed to the real. In no case means a poetic sense of the word “poetic” derived from the term “poetry” genre, not literary mode of production. Therefore a “poetic art” means a work that describes how to write and create works, not just poetic works-in this case, the lyric is excluded from Aristotle’s Poetics.

Summary of Poetics per chapter:

Chapter I

• Aristotle defined the purpose of poetry is imitation (mimesis).

Chapter II

• The purpose of this imitation is the painting of humanity in good and evil. The paint will cover the good people of merit, the virtues of superior men. Its kind is the tragedy. Painting mistreated poor people and their vices. Its kind is the laughable and the ugly: the comedy.

Chapter III

• Aristotle says that there are two ways of telling:

1. “You can imitate by telling” a) “by the mouth of another” (as Homer [= extradiegetic narrator]), b) “we keep her personality” [= intradiegetic narrator]  story.

2. “You can imitate all the characters with all the characters as acting, as in act”  Theatre.

Chapter IV

• The “poetry” (as the literary production) is a procedure based on imitation and differentiates humans and animals.

Chapter V

• Aristotle described the epic, tragedy and comedy (not our actual lyric). The epic is a story he said “not limited in time” while the tragedy should last as long as “a revolution of the sun”, or one day.

Chapter VI

• The tragedy is precisely defined as “the imitation of an action of high character and complete a certain extent, in a language statement seasoning of a particular species according to the various parties, imitation that is made by characters in action, not a story, and, arousing pity and fear, operates purgation [catharsis] specific to such emotions. ”

• This imitation of the action is “history” (arrangement of the facts) of the “characters” (what is said of the characters in action. This concept goes with Diderot and the passage of “character” than “condition” ) The “character” is defined in Chapter XV.

Chapter VII

• The story (mythos, the “myth”, the “story”) must be ordered. Tragedy is an imitation of an action (mimesis praxeos) brought to an end and must be fully complied with. It should be a good start, a good knot, a good end.

Chapter VIII

• Aristotle calls a “unit of imitation” (the story is a completely unchangeable, that’s what we would call today the “global economy” of history).


Chapter IX

• The historian is opposed to the poet (the poet referring to any writer). The historian tells Recent events and the individual is interested as well. The poet evokes what could happen and does the general.

Chapter X

• The “single action” does not include recognition or episode.

• “complex action” combines these two processes. (“Recognition” and “episode” are further defined in Chapter XI). Tragedy is the best one with a complex action (Chapter XIII).

Chapter XI

• Aristotle then defines the two sentiments conveyed by the tragedy: pity and terror (these feelings can, for purification or catharsis, to identify with characters out of himself by releasing the emotional responses suggested by the performance.

• Aristotle also details the following concepts:

– “Episode”, “the reversal of the action in the opposite direction, depending on what was said”

– “Recognition”, so dear to the theater diderotien “passage from ignorance to knowledge.” All awards are described in Chapter XVI.

– “Event pathetic”, “action which causes destruction or suffering” (injury, agony …)

Chapter XII

• This chapter explains the parts of tragedy (prologue, episode, exodus …)

Chapter XIII

• Aristotle describes the pitfalls to avoid in the composition of the stories (just a man too must not slide freely in misfortune, an evil man does not know the happiness, etc.).

Chapter XIV

• This chapter is about the “arrangement of situations” (today called the “knotting” of the situation, the “arrangement of situations” carries the unit of imitation discussed in Chapter VIII .

Chapter XV

• lists the four criteria required of a “character”: (1) goodness in the actions and words, (2) the adequacy of the character represented the character (a woman is feminine, a manly man …) This criterion is behavioral, (3) the similarity of the character model (appearance), (4) the consistency of character imitated in the unfolding of the tragedy.

Chapter XVI

• Aristotle lists four types of recognition: (1) by external signs, (2) by the will of the poet (prophetic words of choice), (3) by the memory of the character or the public, (4) by deducting the public .

Chapter XVII

• According to Aristotle, the situations should be as present as possible under the eyes, and gestures to accompany the words

Chapter XVIII

• Two concepts are developed:

-Node: the beginning until the last moment which carries a “turnaround”.

-The outcome: the beginning of the shift until the end of happy or unhappy.

Chapter XIX

• Here Aristotle refuses to be interested in thought and speech, as his treatise is rather poetical style.

Chapter XX

• The considerations of this chapter refer to the pronunciation and the sound value of the signifier in the discourse of the characters.

Chapter XXI

• This chapter is a small onomastic Treaty where there are few elements in the rhetoric the same author, including the “analogy” and the “metaphor”.

Chapter XXII

• This chapter discusses the appropriateness of common names and vocabulary in the tragedy.

Chapter XXIII

• Aristotle returns to the epic who must obey the same rules of composition the tragedy, by departing from it in that imitated the action is longer (see also Chapter XXIV), but not like a historical narrative.

Chapter XXIV

•-The epic must contain the same characters and the same species as Tragedy (simple and complex, as described in Chapter X).

-The poet must be silent because the presence in the text of his personality can affect imitation.

The epic poet-up to the irrational in his story, and this much more than the tragic poet.

Chapter XXV

• This chapter is the probable. Aristotle analyzes the patterns of acceptability of the shares represented in the epic. Some things exist or have existed, and then things allegedly existing at last things that should be. By playing these modes, the poet can avoid criticism. Similarly it can find an interest in serving his purpose he will use metaphors, the words “evil” appropriate and possible contradictions in its history.

Chapter XXVI

• To Aristotle, tragedy is superior to epic.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Aristotle : Poetics (Summary), April 22, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 22, 2012,

Leave a Reply