Aristotle's Observations on the Epic

Updated: Mar 31

His Observations on Comedy


HIS OBSERVATIONS ON THE EPIC:


1) Its Nature and Form:

The epic grew out of the old hymns to the gods and songs sung in praise of famous men. In its nature, it resembles tragedy closely but in its form, it differs. By nature: It is also an imitation of a series of actions, therefore Aristotle says ‘whoever knows what is a good or bad Tragedy, knows also about epic poetry.’ Even the structure, Unity of place arising from catharsis, characters are similar except for the parts, first 4 (plot, character, thought, and diction) belong to both tragedy and epic poetry whereas, the next 2 (song and spectacle) belong only to tragedy or drama.


In its form, the epic is different from tragedy. Three major differences are i) Epic is much greater in length than tragedy. It imitates life by narration not by dramatic action and speech. It communicates meaning in mere reading or recitation. ii) Tragedy should follow unity of place whereas; in epic, it need not be followed. iii) The difference lies in the usage of improbable or the marvelous. ‘Invisible to the eye in epic, its improbability passes unnoticed; but visibly seen on stage, it appears absurd.’ Hence, Aristotle’s observation is that ‘the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities’, i.e. the believable false to the unbelievable truth.

2) Epic and Tragedy:

Which is the highest mode of imitation, Epic or Tragedy? To this question, Aristotle answers the tragic mode. The claims of epic mode to superiority over tragedy are the refined audience, the cultured few, achieves its effect without theatrical aids. Considering all these he says tragedy is the superior of the two because tragedy is limited in length, unlike epic poetry. To Aristotle says, ‘for the concentrated effect is more pleasurable than one which is spread over a long time and so diluted’. Tragedy, therefore, is more perfect than Epic poetry.


Source:

English Literary Criticism: An Introduction by Charles Edwyn Vaughan

An Introduction to English Criticism by B. Prasad

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