Merits of Aristotle’s The Poetics

The Poetics is an epoch-making work, a work which is a storehouse of literary theories, one of the great, “world-books”, a book whose influence has been continuous and universal. Some of the more important reasons of its greatness are:

1. Aristotle discards the earlier, ‘oracular’ method, in which critical pronouncements were supposed to be the result of some prophetic insight. He also discards Plato’s dialectic method (use of dialogue) as inadequate for arriving at a positive and coherent statement of truth.

2. The Greek Philosopher starts from concrete facts, i.e. existing Greek poetry, and through analysis of facts arrives at his principles and generalisations for which, like a scientist, he claims no finality. His methods are exploratory and tentative. It is an attempt to arrive at the truth, rather than an assertion of some preconceived notions. As Gilbert Murray points out, “it is a first attempt made by a man of astounding genuis to build up in the region of creative art a
rational order, like that he had already established in the region of the physical sciences.”

3. Throughout, he studies poetry in relation to man. He traces it back to the fundamental instincts of human nature, i.e. the instinct of limitation and the instinct of harmony. Thus his method of inquiry is psychological. It is the first psycological study of the poetic process. Tragedy he justifies by its emotional effects.

4. In ‘The Poetics’, Aristotle also originates the historical method of inquiry. He notes different phases in the evolution of Greek poetry, and thus his work becomes a starting point for subsequent literary histories. He was the first to apply such methods to literary problems.

5. Though Aristotle never claimed any finality, for his principles, yet, says Atkins, “the miracle of ‘the Poetics’ is that it contains so much that is of permanent and universal interest. And this is so because the literature on which it was based was no artificial product of a sophisticated society, but the natural expression of a race guided solely by what was elemental in human nature.”

6. The work is full of ideas that are as true today as they were when it was written, though there are mingled with them certain other ideas which are limited in their application, misleading or even definitely wrong.

7. Aristotle’s greatness lies in the fact that he raised the essential problems, though he was not always successful in providing solutions. ‘The Poetics’ is thought-provoking ; it is a great irritant to thought. Aristotle asks the right type of questions, and literary theory has grown and advanced by seeking answers to Aristotle’s question

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