Literature Study GuidesPoeticsChapters 23 24 Summary

Poetics | Study Guide


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Poetics | Chapters 23–24 | Summary



Chapter 23

The topic shifts away from the tragic to epic poetry in this chapter. According to Aristotle, epic poetry should follow the same dramatic principles as tragedy. More specifically, it should be constructed of a beginning, middle, and end, and the plot must be unified. Epic poetry differs from historical writing in that the focus of epic poetry is the single action, whereas historical writing deals with one time period.

Aristotle illustrates the structure of an epic poem through Homer's handling of the war of Troy. Homer writes about the war within certain parameters, and he does not try to encompass the entire war in his epic. Rather, he chooses a single part of the war and writes about multiple episodes that take place within that part.

Chapter 24

Epic poetry is similar to tragedy in its requirements of situation reversal, recognitions, and a need for general unity of plot. It does not, however, incorporate song and acting or performance.

Epic poetry is also set apart from tragedy in its length and scale, which is much longer and broader. It is possible for epic poems to take on events of a much larger scale over a longer timespan because they do not have to be conveyed by actors on a stage within a certain timeframe.

Epic poetry also uses heroic meter, whereas tragedy can use a variety of meters and aims for a naturalness of speaking. Additionally, Aristotle introduces the idea that epic poetry employs the irrational with good effect. Tragedies, he argues, deal with the wonderful but should leave out the irrational.


Aristotle continues to laud Homer's writing in these chapters and uses his Iliad and Odyssey as prime examples of the epic poem. Within the parameters that Aristotle sets for a successful epic, The Iliad and The Odyssey work because they focus on many events that surround one central idea—in the case of The Odyssey, for example, the story follows Odysseus's journey and the events surrounding it.

Aristotle also mentions two epics called The Cypria and The Little Iliad in comparison to Homer's texts. These two epics are presumed to have been written around the 7th century BCE, and they seem to have been well known in Aristotle's time and earlier. However, they have been almost completely lost in the time since, and only a handful of lines survive from either. All that is known about both epics has been reconstructed from references in texts like Poetics, and the surviving lines are those quoted by other authors.

Aristotle argues that epic poetry is freed from much of the constraints of tragedy because it is not expected to be performed on stage. Epic poems, therefore, are capable of handling complex stories over long timespans and can still have the power to move the audience. Tragedies face more limitations because they need to translate to the stage, and many scenes used in epic poems would look ludicrous if enacted on stage.

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