Poetics

by

Aristotle

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Unity is the state of being complete or whole. According to Aristotle, an object of imitation must be whole or complete, and when an action is imitated in a tragedy or an event is imitated in epic poetry, the plot that makes up that action or event must be unified as well. Plots must have a definite beginning, middle, and end to be considered unified, and their magnitude cannot be so much as to prohibit holding the plot in a single view (that is, their scope should be neither too big nor too small). Unity in an epic poem is more difficult to achieve because epics are long, and that is one reason why Aristotle argues that tragedy, which is shorter and therefore easier to unify, is superior to epic poetry.

Unity Quotes in Poetics

The Poetics quotes below are all either spoken by Unity or refer to Unity. 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 4 Quotes

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions.

(By “language made pleasurable” I mean that which possesses rhythm and melody, i.e. song. By the separation of its species I mean that some parts are composed in verse alone; others by contrast make use of song.)

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Any beautiful object, whether a living organism or any other entity composed of parts, must not only possess those parts in proper order, but its magnitude also should not be arbitrary; beauty consists in magnitude as well as order. For this reason no organism could be beautiful if it is excessively small (since observation becomes confused as it comes close to having no perceptible duration in time) or excessively large (since the observation is then not simultaneous, and the observers find that the sense of unity and wholeness is lost from the observation, e.g. if there were an animal a thousand miles long). So just as in the case of physical objects and living organisms, they should possess a certain magnitude, and this should be such as can readily be taken in at one view, so in the case of plots: they should have a certain length, and this should be such as can readily be held in memory.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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Unity Term Timeline in Poetics

The timeline below shows where the term Unity appears in Poetics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5. Plot: Basic Concepts
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...also be difficult to appreciate. The problem with objects that are too big is that unity of observation becomes impossible and the sense of completeness is lost. (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...happen to any one person, and any combination of these things does not necessarily constitute unity. Similarly, an actor may perform several actions, but these actions might not constitute a single... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
5.4 Determinate State. An imitation is considered to have unity if it imitates a single object. The same goes for plot, which should imitate a... (full context)
Chapter 6. Plot: Species and Components
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Imitation  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...simple or complex. A simple plot is a plot in which a single action of unity is imitated, but the change of fortune is achieved without reversal or recognition. A complex... (full context)
Chapter 10. Epic
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...should be constructed “dramatically.” This means that an epic should imitate a whole action of unity, and it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. An epic should not... (full context)
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...plot of an epic is longer; however, one should still be able to appreciate its unity. In an epic, many parts can occur simultaneously, which makes the poem more extraordinary. Different... (full context)
Chapter 12.  Comparative Evaluation of Epic and Tragedy
Tragedy vs. Epic Poetry  Theme Icon
Fear, Pity, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Component Parts and Balance  Theme Icon
...as long as the Iliad, it would be much less impactful. Lastly, there is less unity in epic, and it can be difficult to hold the whole object in view. (full context)