On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy

Jones, J. On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy, London, 1971.


” Aristotle wrote the treatise On The Art of Poetry towards the end of his life, when Aeschylus  had been dead for rather more than a century, and Sophocles and Euripides, who died within a few months of one another, for about 70 years. 335 BC is an acceptable approximation.

This work, which we always call the Poetics, has no rival among commentaries on the tragic drama of the Greeks. It’s finish is rough, sometimes suggesting lecture notes rather than literary composition; and its second book has disappeared in which Aristotle dealt with comedy and other subjects. But it is the only extended critical and theoretical record to survive from the civilization that produced the plays. And that would be decisive, even if it’s intrinsic merit were less than it is.

The question of merit is an historically complicated one because the poetics has exerted more influence through the ideas people have read into it then through those it contains. While, of course, this is not the only ancient text to be subjected to a series of misapplications, temporary, local, and mutually inconsistent, the Poetics must be distinguished by almost total failure of contact between Aristotle’s arguments and the successive traditions of exegesis. There is nothing very like the fates of this book in all the secular literature of the West.”