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ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.)

ARISTOTLE was born in Stagira in the year 384 B.C. The most trustworthy biographical account of his life is by Dionysus of Halicarnassus, in his Epistle on Demosthenes and Aristotle: "Aristotle was the son of Nichomachus, who traced back his descent and his art to Machaon, son of Esculapius; his mother being Phæstis, a descendant of one of those who carried the colony from Chalcis to Stagira. He was born in the 99th Olympiad in the archonship at Athens of Diotrephes (384-383), three years before Demosthenes. In the archonship of Polyzelus (367-366), after the death of his father, in his eighteenth year, he came to Athens, and having joined Plato, spent twenty years with him. On the death of Plato (May 347), in the archonship of Theophilus (348-347) he departed to Hermias, tyrant of Atarneus and, after three years' stay, during the archonship of Eubulus (345-344) he moved to Mitylene, whence he went to Philip of Macedon in the archonship of Pythodotus (343-342), and spent eight years with him as tutor of Alexander. After the death of Philip (336), in the archonship of Euænetus (335-334), he returned to Athens and kept a school in the Lyceum for twelve years. In the thirteenth, after the death of Alexander (June 323), in the archonship of Cephisodorus (323-322) having departed to Chalcis, he died of disease (322), after a life of three-and-sixty years."

The Poetics (or, The Poetic, according to the translation) of Aristotle is the earliest critical treatise dealing with dramatic practice and theory. Besides being a summing-up of the first great age of dramatic activity, it has exercised incalculable influence over the dramatists of all European and many other nations. There are few if any important contributions to dramatic theory and criticism which fail to take account of the work, but owing to its obviously incomplete form, the many corrupt portions of the text, its compact and elliptical style, it has been constantly misinterpreted, misquoted, and misunderstood. The famous Unities, the terms "Imitation" and "Purgation," have in particular proved troublesome to the Italian critics of the Renaissance and to their followers in France. Of late years, however, a number of valuable annotated editions, with copious notes and explanatory matter, have gone far to clear up the misunderstanding.

While Aristotle based his treatise upon the Greek poets with whose work he was acquainted, his general premises and his conclusions are in the main applicable to drama in general. Although there was an abridged version of the Poetics extant in the late Middle Ages, it cannot properly be maintained to have made its appearance until 1498, when Georgio Valla published at Venice a Latin translation of it. This was followed by the Greek text, in the Aldine Rhetores Grœci (1508). From that time forward, the text was translated into the vernacular, commented upon, and criticized; its influence was soon to become of the greatest importance, not only in Italy, but in France, Germany, and England.

This article was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H. Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918..


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