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Pages of Poetics

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But Homer, as in all else he is of surpassing merit, here too- whether

from art or natural genius- seems to have happily discerned the truth.

In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of

Odysseus- such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at

the mustering of the host- incidents between which there was no

necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and

likewise the Iliad, to center round an action that in our sense of the

word is one. As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the

imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being

an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole,

the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of

them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and

disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible

difference, is not an organic part of the whole.



It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the

function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen-

what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The

poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The

work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a

species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true

difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may

happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher

thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history

the particular. By the universal I mean how a person of a certain type

on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or

necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the

names she attaches to the personages. The particular is- for

example- what Alcibiades did or suffered. In Comedy this is already

apparent: for here the poet first constructs the plot on the lines

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