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Tragic Pleasures

Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion

Elizabeth S. Belfiore
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 428
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  • Book Info
    Tragic Pleasures
    Book Description:

    Elizabeth Belfiore offers a striking new interpretation of Aristotle's Poetics by situating the work within the Aristotelian corpus and in the context of Greek culture in general. In Aristotle's Rhetoric, the Politics, and the ethical, psychological, logical, physical, and biological works, Belfiore finds extremely important but largely neglected sources for understanding the elliptical statements in the Poetics. The author argues that these Aristotelian texts, and those of other ancient writers, call into question the traditional view that katharsis in the Poetics is a homeopathic process--one in which pity and fear affect emotions like themselves. She maintains, instead, that Aristotle considered katharsis to be an allopathic process in which pity and fear purge the soul of shameless, antisocial, and aggressive emotions. While exploring katharsis, Tragic Pleasures analyzes the closely related question of how the Poetics treats the issue of plot structure. In fact, Belfiore's wide-ranging work eventually discusses every central concept in the Poetics, including imitation, pity and fear, necessity and probability, character, and kinship relations.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6257-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    This book is a study of the ways in which, according to Aristotle, the tragic plot arouses emotion in the audience. As thePoeticsrepeatedly states, the plot has the function (ergon) of arousing the emotions of pity and fear, and of producing pleasure and katharsis by this means. If tragedy is “imitation of action . . . by means of pity and fear accomplishing the katharsis of such emotions” (Po.1449b24–28), it is, specifically, plot, “the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of tragedy” (1450a38), that imitates action (1450a3–4). In Aristotle’s view, once we understand...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Gorgon at the Feast
      (pp. 9-40)

      When aristotle defines tragedy as ‘imitation by means of pity and fear accomplishing the katharsis of such emotions” (Po6 1449b24–28), he notoriously fails to explain tragic emotion and katharsis Nevertheless, his views on aesthetic emotion are rooted in certain traditional Greek beliefs of which his readers would have been aware For one thing, Aristotle and his fellow Greeks of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE shared beliefs about the benefits of fear

      It is a commonplace in Greek thought that a certain kind of fear is essential to a well-ordered society

      ἒσθ’ ὅπου τò δεινòν εΰ

      χαι φρενϖν...


    • CHAPTER 2 Philia and Tragic Imitation
      (pp. 44-82)

      Two fundamental concepts underlie Aristotle’s views on plot structure and emotional arousal,philiaand imitation. I begin with a study of these concepts because of their intrinsic importance and because it is easy to confuse them with very different modern ideas.

      Althoughphiliacan be translated as “kinship,” “friendship,” or “love,” the Greek phenomenon has in fact no equivalent in twentieth-century Western civilization. For one thing, kinship no longer has the primary importance for us that it did for Aristotle and his contemporaries. Aristotle writes in thePoliticsthat the person who, like Homer’s lover of war, is άφρήτωρ, άθέμιστος,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Plot and Character
      (pp. 83-110)

      Aristotle has a number of reasons for making plot rather than character (ēthos, ēthē) central to his theory of tragedy¹ These have to do with his concept of the nature of tragedy as imitation of action, with his desire to counter Plato’s attacks on poetry, and with his views on the development of tragedy. Accordingly, Aristotle makes a clear theoretical distinction between plot andēthos,and he denies thatēthosis essential to tragedy. Although a number of serious theoretical difficulties arise when this distinction is made, it is important for an understanding of Aristotle’s views on the tragic plot,...

    • CHAPTER 4 Necessity, Probability and Plausibility
      (pp. 111-131)

      The most important structural principle governing the tragic plot is that the events that make it up should follow one another “according to probability or necessity” (kata to etkos ē to anagkaion).¹ Each of the three parts of the plot must follow this rule Aristotle explicitly states that the two parts of a complex plot, recognition andperipeteia,should come about “by necessity or probability” (1452a18–20, 1452a24). It is clear that the third part of the plot, thepathos,should also come about “by necessity or probability,” forPoetics14, where Aristotle discusses kinds ofpathē,begins with the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Parts and Wholes
      (pp. 132-176)

      Poetics11 (1452b9–13) tells us that there are three parts of a tragic plot,pathos(a destructive or painful action),peripeteia(reversal), and recognition. All plots, both simple and complex, have apathos,¹ while only complex plots haveperipeteia,recognition, or both (10.1452a14–18). In order to understand Aristotle’s views onpathos, peripeteia,and recognition, it is essential, in the first place, to understand their role as parts of the organized structure of the plot that contribute to its function, the production of pleasure and katharsis from pity and fear.

      The plot arouses pity and fear because, first, it...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 179-180)

      Aristotle’s biological, psychological, ethical, and rhetorical works have much to say about the emotions. In applying these accounts to the special case of tragic emotion, however, some important differences must be kept in mind. While Aristotle held that the pain or pleasure we experience in response to imitations is in many respects the same as the pain or pleasure we experience in response to the objects imitated, he did not believe we experience the sameemotionalresponses in both cases. An emotion involves beliefs and desires as well as physiological responses, and it leads, typically, to specific actions. Imitations, viewed...

    • CHAPTER 6 Fear, Pity, and Shame in Aristotle’s Philosophy
      (pp. 181-225)

      According to theDe anima,emotions (pathē) are “form in matter” (λòγοι ἕνυλοι: 403a25). That is, they involve a combination of physiological and cognitive responses.¹ For example, anger is “a movement of a body of a certain kind, or of a part or capacity of a body, because of something, and for the sake of something {ύπò τοϋδε ἕνεχα τοϋδε}” (403a26–27). It thus has physical matter (“movement of a body of a certain kind”) and cognitive form (the movement occurs “because of something,” and “for the sake of something”).

      The matter of an emotion consists in the physiological responses...

    • CHAPTER 7 Tragic Emotion
      (pp. 226-254)

      In studying the specific nature of the emotions aroused by tragedy, I draw in chapter 7 on the conclusions reached in chapter 6 about a variety of fear and pity emotions. The first section of chapter 7, “Pity and Fear in thePoetics,” examines some of the similarities and differences between emotion aroused by tragedy and emotion aroused in other situations. Another important difference is discussed in “Flight and Pursuit”, tragic pity and fear do not lead to action as do emotions in typical, real-life situations. Chapter 7 concludes with a study of the specific ways in which both rhetoric...


    • CHAPTER 8 Katharsis and the Critical Tradition
      (pp. 257-290)

      Aristotle’s ethical and rhetorical works provide us with a great deal of information about pity and the various fear emotions, his biological works are particularly important for an understanding of his concept of katharsis. In chapter 9, I discuss Aristotle’s views on biological and psychic katharsis, and in chapter 10 I argue that these views illuminate Aristotelian tragic katharsis. Before we study Aristotle’s concepts of biological and psychic katharsis, however, it is essential to review the evidence about tragic katharsis provided by thePoeticsitself in the context of a long and complex critical tradition. This is the task of...

    • CHAPTER 9 Katharsis in Aristotle’s Philosophy
      (pp. 291-336)

      One of the chief obstacles to a study of Aristotle’s views on tragic katharsis is the lack of information about this subject. Aristotle gives no explanation of tragic katharsis in thePoetics,nor do his other works contain detailed accounts of emotional katharsis. The clearest account of a process of psychic katharsis in Aristotle’s works is a discussion of musical katharsis inPolitics8 (1341b32–1342a16). This passage, however, instead of giving a detailed explanation of katharsis, refers us, frustratingly, to an account (now lost) in “the works on poetry” (1341b39–40).

      In spite of this lack of direct information,...

    • CHAPTER 10 Tragic Katharsis
      (pp. 337-360)

      When Aristotle defines tragedy as “imitation . . . by means of pity and fear accomplishing the katharsis of such emotions” (Po.1449b24–28), he notoriously fails to explain katharsis and to discuss the tragic emotions. Nevertheless, thePoeticsgives us much useful information about the kinds of plot structures that best arouse pity and fear. There is also much relevant information about Aristotle’s views on pity and the fear emotions, on biological katharsis, and on the similarities between psychic and medical treatments. The views of other Greek writers concerning the benefits of fear provide additional important information. Although no...

  10. Glossary
    (pp. 361-362)
  11. Aristotelian Texts Used
    (pp. 363-364)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 365-380)
  13. Index of Passages Cited
    (pp. 381-404)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 405-412)