Poetics

by

Aristotle

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Poetics can help.
Diction is the composition of a poem’s verse. Diction includes utterances—like commands, answers, and prayers—along with the following: phoneme, syllable, connective, noun, verb, conjunction, and inflection. Diction’s most important quality is clarity, Aristotle argues, as long as there is no “loss of dignity.” The clearest words are those in current and frequent usage; however, use of only common words is unoriginal and can cause a poem to lose “dignity”—that is, it can make a poem appear inartistic. Balance must be found between clarity and dignity, Aristotle contends, and a poet’s diction should include “exotic expressions,” like nonstandard words and metaphor.

Diction Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below are all either spoken by Diction or refer to Diction. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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 1 Quotes

Let us discuss the art of poetry in general and its species—the effect which each species of poetry has and the correct way to construct plots if the composition is to be of high quality, as well as the number and nature of its component parts, and any other questions that arise within the same field of enquiry. We should begin, as it natural, by taking first principles first.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

So tragedy as a whole necessarily has six component parts, which determine the tragedy’s quality. The medium of imitation comprises two parts, the mode one, and object three; and there is nothing apart from these.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

The most important quality in diction is clarity, provided there is no loss of dignity. The clearest diction is that based on current words; but that lacks dignity (as can be seen from the poetry of Cleophon, and that of Sthenelus). By contrast, diction that is distinguished and out of the ordinary when it makes use of exotic expressions—by which I mean non-standard words, metaphor, lengthening, and anything contrary to current usage. […] So what is needed is some kind of mixture of these two things: one of them will make the diction of the ordinary and avoid a loss of dignity (i.e. non-standard words, metaphor, ornament and other categories I mentioned earlier), while current usage will contribute clarity.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker), Aristophanes
Page Number: 36
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:
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:
Get the entire Poetics LitChart as a printable PDF.
Poetics PDF

Diction Term Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the term Diction appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4. Tragedy: Definition and Analysis
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...tragedy, spectacle is a component part of tragedy. Additional components are lyric poetry (song) and diction (the composition of the verse), which are the media through which the imitation is performed.... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
4.3 The Primacy of Plot. Every tragedy, Aristotle repeats, has spectacle, character, plot, diction, lyric poetry, and reasoning; however, plot is the most important component part. Tragedy is not... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...is the way in which they argue a point or express ideas. Fourth important is diction, or the “verbal expressions” used in tragedy, which does the same thing in verse and... (full context)
Chapter 9. Diction
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
9.1 Introduction. Aristotle will now discuss diction and reasoning, although he covers reasoning more thoroughly in his book Rhetoric. Reasoning can be... (full context)
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
9.2 Basic Concepts. Diction includes the following: phoneme, syllable, connective, noun, verb, conjunction, inflection, and utterance. Phonemes are distinct... (full context)
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
9.4 Qualities of Poetic Style. Diction’s most important quality is clarity, as long as there is “no loss of dignity.” Clear... (full context)
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
It is important for a poet to use all the parts of diction, but the most import is the use of metaphor. Good use of metaphor is the... (full context)
Chapter 10. Epic
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
...should 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... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
10.6 Diction. In parts of an epic where nothing much is happening and neither character nor reasoning... (full context)
Chapter 11. Problems and Solutions
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...it is said or thought to be, or as it ought to be. A poet’s diction should include non-standard words, metaphors, and modified words. Errors in poetry are one of two... (full context)
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
Some problems in poetry can be solved with close attention to diction. For example, use of non-standard words may be better, or it may be better to... (full context)