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HOLLIS RINEHART Aristotle's Four Aims for Dramatic Character and His Method in the Poetics Every translation is ofcourse at the same time an interpretation; the extent to which this is true ofAristotle's Poetics, however,.needs to be experienced to be appreciated. The fifteenth chapter of the Poetics furnishes an excellent example. In it Aristotle sets forth four goals the playwright should aim at in constructing his characters. The third of these is variously translated by Bywater as 'the third is to make them like the reality,' by Grube as 'the third aim is to be true to life,' and by Else (Poetics) as 'the third is likeness to human nature in generaL' There are some interesting sim.ilarities and differences between these three translations, but all have one thing in common: none is justified by the text. Here Aristotle has just four words: Tphov oe"to OpotOV, which maybe translated,'third then the like,' or, more idiomatically, 'third, likeness.' Aristotle then goes on to say that likeness is different from either 'appropriateness' or 'goodness,' his two preceding aims, but that is all he has to say about likeness in this place.1 Where then did our translators get their interpretations? Obviously they have made inferences from other things that Aristotle has said or from the presumed direction of his thought. According to Else, there are two possible answers to the questionofwhat Aristotle means by 'like': first, that the characters are to be 'like their mythical prototypes as presented by tradition, and [second,] that they are to be like men in general, OT, as Aristotle is fond of saying, like "us," i.e. true to life' (Argument, 460). Else thereupon proceeds to demolish the first of these alternatives, pointing out thatnot all characters in tragedy have mythlcal prototypes; in fact, Aristotle encourages the poet to invent his own plots and characters. Furthermore, Else points out, even when the plot is traditional, the names of the characters are only assigned later (Argument, 461). This essay is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Professor Elder Olson, who first introduced me to the Poetics. 1 All citations from the Poetics are from the Loeb edition, with Greek text and parallel translation by W. Hamilton FyEe. Citations are according to the system used in that edition, viz. by chapter (Roman numerals) and sentence (Arabic numerals). UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 2, SPRING 2000 530 HOLLIS RINEHART Else therefore turns his attention to the second possibility, and finds support for it in the fact that Aristotle has used the term,OlloloV elsewhere to mean 'like US,' Thus for example in chapter 13, Aristotle points out that pity is felt for undeserved misfortune, and fear for one like ourselves (6~o~ oe nEp't TOV 0llOlOV [xiii, 4]). Thus for Else the problem is resolved by referring to Aristotle's usage elsewhere (Argument, 461). The real question raised by Else's interpretation, however, is whether Aristotle is merely repeating something he said earlier, in a different context, or whether he is saying something new. In other words, is there a third possibility? I believe that there is, but in order to see what it is, it will be necessary to go back and look at the entire chapter. What we are looking for is a clue to Aristotle's method which will enable us to decipher the direction of his thought. We must begin then by asking, what is Aristotle's conception of character, and how does it fit into his analysis of tragedy? Only in this way can we hope to reach a clear and consistent interpretation of the four aims for dramatic characterization. I In the first sentence of the Poetics, Aristotle lays out his program for his treatise. Two of his tasks will interest us in particular: that of identifying 'the number and character of the constituent parts of a poem,' and that of describing 'the way in which plots must be constructed if the poem is to be a success,' In chapter 6 Aristotle completes the first of these tasks, defining tragedy and listing its six component parts: p'lot, character, thought, diction, spectacle, and song. The most important...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 529-539
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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