Avicennas Commentary on the Poetics of Aristotle: A Critical Study

Dahiyat, I. M. Avicenna’s Commentary on the Poetics of Aristotle. A critical study with an annotated translation of the text. Leiden, 1974.


“Avicenna’s Commentary  on the poetics can be broadly divided into two parts.  The 1st part comprises chapter 1 which is devoted to the author’s own views on poetry and to the 12 kinds of Greek poetry; the 2nd part comprises chapters 2 through 8 which are Avicenna’s Commentary  proper on the Aristotelian treatise. Although IV sin is separation of his views from those of Aristotle is a conscious effort, the 2nd part is deeply colored by and blended with the premises and notions of chapter 1 as well as with notions echoing Aristotle’s rhetoric and ethics. On the whole, however, he stays with the poetics in the last 7 chapters and is scheme of dividing the treatise is of particular interest.

In chapter 1 he briefly states a definition of (we recall) poetry, followed by a distinction between poetry (or the imaginative use of language) and logic (or the scientific use of language). The scientific use of language, as is the case in a demonstrate of science, aims at conviction and absolute truth, the poetic or imaginative use of language aims at psychological ascent and imaginative representation leading to pleasure and wonder. Avicenna  Has here are some significant insights which will be discussed later. The larger part of chapter 1 is, however, devoted to the “poetic forms” and the “kinds of Greek poetry.” Avicenna’s  eclecticism is evidence here and his debt to Alfarabi  is undeniable although he is silent on the question of his sources.

The 2nd part of the commentary is Avicenna’s  a conscious attempt at “understanding” and interpretively  adapting the poetics.  This part is characterized by at least 3 methodological variance of adaptation:

1. A free translation or close paraphrase from the poetics, introduced by “he said” and  followed by further explanations of the same character.

2. A free translation or close summary not introduced by “he said” with further elaborations mingling Aristotelian statements with Avicenna commentary.

3.  An interpretation of an Aristotelian tenet followed by an explanation echoing one or the other of Aristotle’s works, especially the Rhetoric and the Ethics.

For each chapter of his commentary, Avicenna  gives an extended title approaching an epitome of the main concerns of that chapter.”