Aristotle’s Poetics

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Aristotle's Poetics is best known for its definition and analysis of tragedy and comedy, but it also applies to truth and beauty as they are manifested in the other arts. In our age, when the natural and social sciences have dominated the quest for truth, it is helpful to consider why Aristotle claimed: "poetry is more philosophical and more significant than history." Like so many other works by Aristotle, the Poetics has dominated the way we have thought about all forms of dramatic performance in Europe and America ever since. The essence of poetry lies in its ability to transcend the particulars of everyday experience and articulate universals, not merely what has happened but what might happen and what ought to happen.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Aristotle comes from St. Thomas Aquinas who, in the 13th century, simply referred to him as "the Philosopher" and called him the master of those who know. Born in northeastern Greece, Aristotle went to Athens as a young man to study in Plato’s Academy where he remained for more than 20 years. When Plato died, he left the Academy, and four years later he returned to Macedonia to tutor the king’s son who quickly became Alexander the Great, the ruler of most of the civilized world. Like Plato, Aristotle’s writings extend far beyond what we currently call philosophy, including the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.