Plato and Aristotle on Poetry

Else, G. F. Plato and Aristotle on Poetry. Chapel Hill, 1986.

Review of Work:

” There is little doubt that two of the greatest thinkers of classical Greece, Plato and Aristotle, had much to say not only about the respective merits And shortcomings of rhetoric and poetics but also about their relationship. There is also little doubt that Gerald Else is the great thinker about their thoughts on poetry. What readers of the Rhetoric Society Quaterly  will discover, however, is that Else’s  insights on poetics also enriches our understanding of Plato and Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric and the relationship of these 2 disciplines.

Of those 2 intellectuals, our confidence in the best understanding of their respective views on poetry centers with Plato, for it is apparent that he had little use for poetry, principally because it relied on divine “inspiration” for wisdom and not the rigors of philosophical inquiry. Plato’s pointedly negative views about poetry as a route to knowledge work driven by his concern over the popular reception of its social merits and cultural centrality. In this respect and for Plato, both poetry and rhetoric were popular and therefore socially dangerous because they gave the appearance of seeking paideia  but actually confused and misdirected the quest for intellectual excellence. …

Although Aristotle’s views on poetry is seen as more sympathetic than Plato’s, our lack of understanding his view is as much a point of importance as it is with Plato. In the opening passage of his Rhetoric, Aristotle identified the features of rhetoric by first asserting its relationship with dialectic. While rhetoric’s emphasis on proofs and judgment makes such comparisons understandably informative, his selection of dialectic as it is one of comparison and contrast by default removed emphasis of other features of rhetoric not associated with dialectic, features best understood when viewed in relation to poetics. If, for example,  Aristotle had initiated his Rhetoric by contrasting it with poetics we would have begun seeing other points of relation and, in the process, had a better understanding of how those 2 disciplines tend to cite each other. The importance of such a relationship is all the more acute when judged by history; we only have a fulltext of one of the 4 works her startle is known to written on rhetoric and only a part of his Poetics.”

– Review from Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol 19, No. 3.