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Book Reviews L'~nigme de la catharsis tragique dans Aristote. By Alexandre Ni[ev. (Sofia: l~,ditions de l'Acad6mie Bulgare des Sciences, 1970. Pp. 252) Though I write as an historian of literary theory rather than as a classicist, I hope that what I want to bring out in Professor Ni~ev's study of Aristotelian catharsis will also be of interest to classical philologists and to scholars of ancient philosophy. This study takes a strong position on a complicated issue and deserves serious attention. I shall begin by restating some of Ni[ev's conclusions (pp. 228-234) as clearly as I can in my own words. With reference to an observation by Proclus discussed earlier (p. 180), he says that Aristotle develops his doctrine of catharsis as a direct answer to Plato's ethical criticisms of poetry. Plato maintained that the poet solicited strong emotions from the audience by representing the sufferings of his protagonists as worthy of its commiseration. In order to gain its sympathy, the poet presented his heroes as good men unjustly punished by the gods. Such undeserved retribution tended to encourage the audience to doubt the wisdom of the gods and to fear the arbitrariness of divine justice. Both the emotions of pity and of fear, Plato charged, were improper, since the poet actually presented his heroes, not as virtuous men, but as men succumbing to excessive emotional self-indulgence and even as men enjoying a better lot than their actions on the stage deserved. If, indeed, the will of the gods expresses no more equity than the whim of chance, the audience will be led to doubt the existence of a moral order by which its own virtuous intentions might be recognized and rewarded. To these criticisms Aristotle responds that, indeed, the audience does suffer inappropriate emotions of pity for the hero and of fear of the gods, but that it does so as a result of an initial erroneous opinion (86~) that the hero is innocent and, hence, that the gods are unjust in punishing him (cf. pp. 47-48, 57-58). However inappropriate these emotions, they are, nevertheless, the unavoidable result of such a preconceived and uncritical admiration for the hero by the audience, which in the course of the play must be rectified. This rectification is brought about by a "dialectic" of action, which, in the course of revealing alternative opinions expressed in the motivations and responses of various characters , gradually effects a "catharsis" of the original erroneous opinion and of the emotions of pity and fear resulting from it. The audience is made to realize through the "elenchus" of events that the hero is, at least in part, to blame for what happens to him in the same way, as Plato points out (Sophist 230), that a person engaged in a philosophical enquiry undergoes a kind of catharsis in the dialectical process by being made to realize and admit his own misconceptions (cf. pp. 44, 160). Once the spectators recognize the degree of the hero's responsibility for the retribution imposed on him, their emotional responses become "purified"wthat is, more appropriately disposed toward the demands of an external moral order--and are able, finally, to acquiesce in the justice of the catastrophe. Such a brief statement in no way does justice to Niger's argument. It offers, however, a general sketch within which to describe not only his interpretation of the passage in the Poetics which he considers most significant for his thesis hut also the importance of his thesis itself for the history of literary theory. Paradoxically, while convinced of the theoretical importance of his thesis with certain qualifications, I find it difficult to accept his specific interpretation of the passage. In order to argue that the primary activity of catharsis lies in the rectification of an initially held, perhaps popular, opinion about the innocence of the tragic hero, Ni~ev discusses a wide and valuable variety of philosophical, rhetorical, and dramatic uses of the word 86~a (=opinio communis) and its related forms. He brings these usages to bear upon [lol] 102 I-IISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY the phrase naoA xhv 86~av (pp. 49-61...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 101-104
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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