The Poetics
Aristotle on the Art of Poetry

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Aristotle (384 BCE-322 BCE)


Nouns are of two kinds, either (1) simple, i.e. made up of non-significant parts, like the word ge, or (2) double; in the latter case the word may be made up either of a significant and a non-significant part (a distinction which disappears in the compound), or of two significant parts. It is possible also to have triple, quadruple or higher compounds, like most of our amplified names; e.g.’ Hermocaicoxanthus’ and the like.

Whatever its structure, a Noun must always be either (1) the ordinary word for the thing, or (2) a strange word, or (3) a metaphor, or (4) an ornamental word, or (5) a coined word, or (6) a word lengthened out, or (7) curtailed, or (8) altered in form. By the ordinary word I mean that in general use in a country; and by a strange word, one in use elsewhere. So that the same word may obviously be at once strange and ordinary, though not in reference to the same people; sigunos, for instance, is an ordinary word in Cyprus, and a strange word with us. Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else; the transference being either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or on grounds of analogy. That from genus to species i.e.emplified in ’Here stands my ship’; for lying at anchor is the ’standing’ of a particular kind of thing. That from species to genus in ’Truly ten thousand good deeds has Ulysses wrought’, where ’ten thousand’, which is a particular large number, is put in place of the generic ’a large number’. That from species to species in ’Drawing the life with the bronze’, and in ’Severing with the enduring bronze’; where the poet uses ’draw’ in the sense of ’sever’ and ’sever’ in that of ’draw’, both words meaning to ’take away’ something. That from analogy is possible whenever there are four terms so related that the second (B) is to the first (A), as the fourth (D) to the third (C); for one may then metaphorically put B in lieu of D, and D in lieu of B. Now and then, too, they qualify the metaphor by adding on to it that to which the word it supplants is relative. Thus a cup (B) is in relation to Dionysus (A) what a shield (D) is to Ares (C). The cup accordingly will be metaphorically described as the ’shield of Dionysus’ (D + A), and the shield as the ’cup of Ares’ (B + C). Or to take another instance: As old age (D) is to life (C), so i.e.ening (B) to day (A). One will accordingly describe evening (B) as the ’old age of the day’ (D + A)—or by the Empedoclean equivalent; and old age (D) as the ’evening’ or ’sunset of life’’ (B + C). It may be that some of the terms thus related have no special name of their own, but for all that they will be metaphorically described in just the same way. Thus to cast forth seed-corn is called ’sowing’; but to cast forth its flame, as said of the sun, has no special name. This nameless act (B), however, stands in just the same relation to its object, sunlight (A), as sowing (D) to the seed-corn (C). Hence the expression in the poet, ’sowing around a god-created flame’ (D + A). There is also another form of qualified metaphor. Having given the thing the alien name, one may by a negative addition deny of it one of the attributes naturally associated with its new name. An instance of this would be to call the shield not the ’cup of Ares,’ as in the former case, but a ’cup that holds no wine’. * * * A coined word is a name which, being quite unknown among a people, is given by the poet himself; e.g. (for there are some words that seem to be of this origin) hernyges for horns, and areter for priest. A word is said to be lengthened out, when it has a short vowel made long, or an extra syllable inserted; e. g. polleos for poleos, Peleiadeo for Peleidon. It is said to be curtailed, when it has lost a part; e.g. kri, do, and ops in mia ginetai amphoteron ops. It is an altered word, when part is left as it was and part is of the poet’s making; e.g. dexiteron for dexion, in dexiteron kata maxon.

The Nouns themselves (to whatever class they may belong) are either masculines, feminines, or intermediates (neuter). All ending in N, P, S, or in the two compounds of this last, PS and X, are masculines. All ending in the invariably long vowels, H and O, and in A among the vowels that may be long, are feminines. So that there is an equal number of masculine and feminine terminations, as PS and X are the same as S, and need not be counted. There is no Noun, however, ending in a mute or i.e.ther of the two short vowels, E and O. Only three (meli, kommi, peperi) end in I, and five in T. The intermediates, or neuters, end in the variable vowels or in N, P, X.


Preface  •  Aristotle on the Art of Poetry: 1  •  2  •  3  •  4  •  5  •  6  •  7  •  8  •  9  •  10  •  11  •  12  •  13  •  14  •  15  •  16  •  17  •  18  •  19  •  20  •  21  •  22  •  23  •  24  •  25  •  26

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