The Lost Second Book of Aristotle's "Poetics"
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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.
essence corresponding to the name is the same” (1.1a6). If we transform this into a definition of synonymous words, they will be different words signifying the same thing, as “man” and “ox” both signify animal. It happens that we have a confirmation that synonyms were so defined in the Poetics, coming from Simplicius (sixth century) saying in his commentary on Aristotle’s Categories that Porphyry (third century) in his Greater Commentary on the Categories, now lost, says, “Aristotle in the
which John Dewey speaks. Consistency in maintaining the distinction between ordinary and technical terms in the present case would require that we use “imitation” for the ordinary meaning of the noun and mimēsis or “mimesis” for its technical meaning, which would be intolerable pedantry. The confusion of the ordinary and technical meanings of these terms has indeed led to misunderstandings of the Poetics and to the belief that the epitome is inauthentic, but once the distinction has become clear,
is one previously seen becomes a pleasure in recognizing the universality of what is presented, which is learning in a stronger sense than the learning involved in recognizing the individual who is imitated. But this pleasure in learning is subordinated in tragedy to the pleasure of witnessing the terrible and pitiable consequences suffered because of universal probabilities or necessities. The emotional response to people getting what they do or do not deserve, when subordinated to the required
ethics and politics taken together “the philosophy of human things” (hēperi ta anthrōpeia philosophia, Eth. x.10.1181b15). Thus philosophy explicitly includes both the theoretical and practical sciences. When we come to poetics we might expect Aristotle to say, following the example of the theoretical and practical sciences, that poetics is the philosophy of poetry, meaning that it is concerned with the truth about poetry, but this is not what he says. What he says is that “poetry is more
other passions, that are themselves disagreeable and uneasy” (1987, 216). “The pleasure, which poets, orators, and musicians give us, by exciting grief, sorrow, indignation, compassion, is not so extraordinary or paradoxical, as it may at first sight appear. The force of imagination, the energy of expression, the power of numbers, the charms of imitation; all these are naturally, of themselves, delightful to the mind: And when the object presented lays also hold of some affection, the pleasure