Aristotle's "Poetics": Its Theoretical Foundations and its Reception in Hellenistic Literary Theory

Dissertation, The Ohio State University (1995)

This thesis studies the philosophical underpinnings of the notion of mythos in Aristotle's Poetics, a task that has not been undertaken so far. The main argument of the thesis is that Aristotle's literary inquiries in the Poetics are firmly inscribed in the context of his philosophy, i.e. his metaphysics and theory of science, and that the concept of mythos is the link of the Poetics to this context. ;The problems with the latest attempt to reject an aestheticist in favor of a metaphysical view of the Poetics are discussed in the first chapter. In the second chapter it is shown that Aristotle accords such a great importance to the definition of tragedy because without it he could not have delimited poetics as an art: for Aristotle art is the definition of its intended product and, in providing a full account of tragedy, he carefully distinguishes between all other parts of tragedy, for which arts other than poetics are responsible, and mythos, the defining part of tragedy and the art of poetics itself. He can thus formally separate the correctness of poetics itself from that of other arts, which contribute to it, thus showing the untenability of Plato's rejection of poetry on the basis of the correctness of other arts. ;An essential part of Aristotle's characterization of the mythos are the two modals, probability and necessity, that govern the sequence of events in the mythos. In the third chapter it is argued that this logical apparatus derives from Aristotle's unitary conception of "hard" demonstrative sciences, like mathematics, and "soft" productive ones which nevertheless proceed in a way that strongly resembles formal proofs: necessity reflects Aristotle's peculiar model of artistic production, a geometrical problem-solving technique, whereas probability captures the relaxed modal status of the premisses in "soft" productive proofs. ;The last chapter is devoted to the reception of Aristotle's Poetics in Hellenistic literary theory and it reaches the conclusion that his emphasis on mythos and the poetics as an independent art exerted no influence on later theory, despite many an assertion to the contrary in the secondary literature
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