Poetics

by

Aristotle

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Homer Character Analysis

Homer was a Greek writer who is thought to have lived between the 12th and eighth centuries B.C.E. Aristotle uses Homer and his famous epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, to make specific points and arguments throughout Poetics. Aristotle admits that there must have been talented poets before Homer; however, since we know little about earlier poets, Aristotle’s criticism of poetry begins with Homer. Aristotle argues that Homer greatly influenced the development of poetry as a whole, and he claims that Homer was the first poet to make good use of reasoning and diction.

Homer Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below are all either spoken by Homer or refer to Homer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Poetics published in 1997.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Epic poetry and the composition of tragedy, as well as comedy and the arts of dithyrambic poetry and (for the most part) of music for pipe or lyre, are all (taken together) imitations. They can be differentiated from each other in three respects: in respect of their different media of imitation, or different objects, or a different mode (i.e. a different manner).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

(Clearly, therefore, the resolutions of plots should also come about from the plot itself, and not by means of a theatrical device, as in the Medea, or the events concerned with the launching of the ships in the Iliad. A theatrical device may be used for things outside the play—whether prior events which are beyond human knowledge, or subsequent events which need prediction and narration since we grant that the gods can see everything. But there should be nothing irrational in the events themselves; or, failing that, it should be outside the play, as for example in Sophocles’s Oedipus.)

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Medea , Euripides, Sophocles, Oedipus, Homer
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Since tragedy is an imitation of people better than we are, one should imitate good portrait-painters. In rendering the individual form, they paint people as they are, but make them better-looking. In the same way the poet who is imitating people who are irascible or lazy or who have other traits of character of that sort should portray them as having these characteristics, but also as decent people. For example, Homer portrayed Achilles as both a good man and a paradigm of obstinacy.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Achilles
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The best recognition of all is that which arises out of the actual course of events, where the emotional impact is achieved through events that are probable, as in Sophocles’ Oedipus and the Iphigeneia (her wish to send a letter is probable). Only this kind does without contrived tokens and necklaces. Second-best are those which arise from inference.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Iphigeneia, Odysseus, Sophocles, Euripides, Homer, Orestes
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Homer deserves praise for many reasons, but above all because he alone among poets is not ignorant of what he should do in his own person. The poet in person should say as little as possible; that is not what makes him an imitator. Other poets perform in person throughout, and imitate little and seldom; but after a brief preamble Homer introduces a man or a woman or some other character—and none of them are characterless: they have character.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Achilles
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

While it is true that astonishment is an effect which should be sought in tragedy, the irrational (which is the most important source of astonishment) is more feasible in epic, because one is not looking at the agent. The pursuit of Hector would seem preposterous on stage, with the others standing by and taking no part in the pursuit while Achilles shakes his head to restrain them; but in epic it escapes notices.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Homer, Achilles, Hector
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer, in particular, taught other poets the right way to tell falsehoods. This the false inference In cases where the existence or occurrence of A implies the existence or occurrence of B, people imagine that if B is the case than A also exists or occurs—which is fallacious. So if A is false, but its existence would entail the existences or occurrence of B, one should add B; then, on the basis of its knowledge that B is true, our mind falsely infers the reality of A as well. An example of this can be found in the bath-scene.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Odysseus, Homer
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Probable impossibilities are preferable to implausible possibilities. Stories should not be constructed from irrational parts; so far as possible they should contain nothing irrational—or, failing that, it should be outside the narration (like Oedipus’ ignorance of the manner of Laius’ death) and not in the play itself (like the report of the Pythian Games in Electra, or the man who comes from Tegea to Mysia without speaking in the Mysians). Saying that the plot would have been ruined otherwise is absurd; plots should not be constructed like that in the first place. But is one does posit an irrationality and it seems more or less rational, even an oddity is possible; the irrationalities involved in Odysseus’ being put ashore in the Odyssey would be manifestly intolerable if a second-rate poet had composed them, but as it is the poet conceals the absurdity with other good qualities, and makes it a source of pleasure.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Oedipus, Orestes, Odysseus, Homer, Sophocles
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Tragedy has everything epic does (and it can even make use of its verse-form), and additionally it has a major component part music and spectacle; this is a source of intense pleasure. […] Also, the end of imitation is attained in shorter length; what is more concentrated is more pleasant than what is watered down by being more extended in time ( I mean, for example, if one were to turn Sophocles’ Oedipus into as many lines as the Iliad has).

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Sophocles, Homer
Related Symbols: Oedipus Rex
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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Homer Character Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the character Homer appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2. Poetry as a Species of Imitation
Imitation  Theme Icon
...writes a scientific text in verse, the same term is used. Aristotle points out that Homer has nothing in common with Empedocles other than the medium they both used; calling Empedocles... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...objects can be made through music and dance or through language and verse. For instance, Homer imitates those who are better than people in general, Cleophon imitates those who are similar,... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...imitated by actors on a stage. In this way, Sophocles is an imitator just like Homer, as they both imitate admirable people (that is, they have an object in common). But... (full context)
Chapter 3. The Anthropology and History of Poetry
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...those who are inferior. Aristotle admits that there must have been many serious people before Homer—but since there is little known about them, Aristotle’s argument begins with Homer. Homer was a... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
However, Homer also wrote lampoons, and Homer’s Margites is as important to comedy as the Iliad and... (full context)
Chapter 5. Plot: Basic Concepts
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...actions, but these actions might not constitute a single action. This is why, Aristotle reasons, Homer did not include in the Odyssey every last thing that happened to Odysseus. Instead, the... (full context)
Chapter 7. The Best Kinds of Tragic Plot
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
The second best structure of a tragedy is the “double structure,” like Homer’s Odyssey, which ends with Odysseus’s triumph and the deaths of wicked characters. However, Aristotle points... (full context)
Chapter 8. Other Aspects of Tragedy
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...them better-looking. Even characters who have bad traits should be portrayed as good people, like Homer’s portrayal of Achilles. (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...which is best. This superior kind of recognition can be observed “in the bath-scene” of Homer’s Odyssey.  (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...tragedy, but in epic poetry, they are often used to make a story longer. Take Homer’s Odyssey. The story itself is short: a man is alone and away from home under... (full context)
Chapter 10. Epic
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...same way as a history, and it should not reflect a single period of time. Homer does not attempt to imitate the Trojan War as a whole, which would be much... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...have reversal and recognition, and an epic should make good use of reasoning and diction. Homer was the first to do this in an appropriate way, Aristotle says: “The Iliad is... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...person should say as little as possible; that is not what makes him an imitator.” Homer is the master of this craft. Homer briefly introduces characters with a short opening and... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
...be irrational on stage, but this irrationality isn’t noticed in the epic. According to Aristotle, Homer taught other poets how to use “false inference.” If the existence of A implies the... (full context)