The Lost Second Book of Aristotle's "Poetics"

The Lost Second Book of Aristotle's "Poetics"

Walter Watson

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 022627411X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Of all the writings on theory and aesthetics—ancient, medieval, or modern—the most important is indisputably Aristotle’s Poetics, the first philosophical treatise to propound a theory of literature. In the Poetics, Aristotle writes that he will speak of comedy—but there is no further mention of comedy. Aristotle writes also that he will address catharsis and an analysis of what is funny. But he does not actually address any of those ideas. The surviving Poetics is incomplete.

Until today. Here, Walter Watson offers a new interpretation of the lost second book of Aristotle's Poetics. Based on Richard Janko’s philological reconstruction of the epitome, a summary first recovered in 1839 and hotly contested thereafter, Watson mounts a compelling philosophical argument that places the statements of this summary of the Aristotelian text in their true context. Watson renders lucid and complete explanations of Aristotle’s ideas about catharsis, comedy, and a summary account of the different types of poetry, ideas that influenced not only Cicero’s theory of the ridiculous, but also Freud’s theory of jokes, humor, and the comic.

Finally, more than two millennia after it was first written, and after five hundred years of scrutiny, Aristotle’s Poetics is more complete than ever before. Here, at last, Aristotle’s lost second book is found again.

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part, episode, and exode. This introduces the four quantitative parts, which, like the qualitative parts, are intermediate between the poetic materials and the poetic end, but they function differently in the two books of the Poetics and therefore are treated twice. The corresponding statement in Book I is, “The quantitative parts into which a tragedy is separately divided are these: prologue, episode, exode, choral part . . .” (12.1452b15, trans. Telford). The difference in order results from

source of error to a case to which it did not apply. That the earlier school of Peripatetics who came after Theophrastus had no books at all, with the exception of only a few, mostly exoteric works, we also know to be false. The technical works were not published by the school, but this does not mean they were not copied or that Neleus left the school with no copies of the technical works. Düring’s statement that in the generation after Aristotle copies of his writings were rare is different in

whereas we generally group it with the humanities, and this calls for explanation. Aristotle’s philosophy is the culmination of the culminating phase of Hellenic philosophy, which bequeathed to all future philosophy archetypal forms of the different principles by which all things can be determined. All things can be determined by us who determine them (Protagoras, 485–411 BCE), or by the matter of which all things are composed (Democritus, born c. 460 BCE), or by the form of the whole (Plato,

inconsistencies that disappear when the context is taken into account. In the light of what has been said about the different starting-points of the two books of the Poetics, we can see that this is another instance of the same thing having different essences. In relation to the differentiae of imitation with which Book I begins, the parts are all forms taken on by these as matter, but in relation to the ends of poetry, from which Book II begins, they are all matter for the realization of these

plots increased in length, they finally became grave or solemn. We see the same sort of evolution in English when a large magnitude is called great or grand or grave or gross, and from their designation of quantities these terms come to designate qualities. The quality which emerged in the development of tragic magnitude is indicated by the embedded word semnos, for which LS offers “august, holy, solemn, awful: at Athens, esp. of the furies or Erinyes, who were called semnai theai or Semnai. Of

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