Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion

Belfiore, E. Tragic Pleasures. Aristotle on Plot and Emotion. Princeton, 1992.

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 in 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 catharsis in the Poetics is a homeopathic process–one in which pity and fear affect emotions like themselves. She maintains, instead, that Aristotle considered catharsis to be an allopathic process in which pity and fear purge the soul of shameless, antisocial, and aggressive emotions. While exploring catharsis, 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.