describes the impossible, he is guilty of an error; but the error
may be justified, if the end of the art be thereby attained (the end
being that already mentioned)- if, that is, the effect of this or
any other part of the poem is thus rendered more striking. A case in
point is the pursuit of Hector. if, however, the end might have been
as well, or better, attained without violating the special rules of
the poetic art, the error is not justified: for every kind of error
should, if possible, be avoided.
Again, does the error touch the essentials of the poetic art, or
some accident of it? For example, not to know that a hind has no horns
is a less serious matter than to paint it inartistically.
Further, if it be objected that the description is not true to fact,
the poet may perhaps reply, 'But the objects are as they ought to be';
just as Sophocles said that he drew men as they ought to be;
Euripides, as they are. In this way the objection may be met. If,
however, the representation be of neither kind, the poet may answer,
'This is how men say the thing is.' applies to tales about the gods.
It may well be that these stories are not higher than fact nor yet
true to fact: they are, very possibly, what Xenophanes says of them.
But anyhow, 'this is what is said.' Again, a description may be no
better than the fact: 'Still, it was the fact'; as in the passage
about the arms: 'Upright upon their butt-ends stood the spears.'
This was the custom then, as it now is among the Illyrians.
Again, in examining whether what has been said or done by some
one is poetically right or not, we must not look merely to the
particular act or saying, and ask whether it is poetically good or
bad. We must also consider by whom it is said or done, to whom,
when, by what means, or for what end; whether, for instance, it be
to secure a greater good, or avert a greater evil.
Other difficulties may be resolved by due regard to the usage of
language. We may note a rare word, as in oureas men proton, 'the mules
first [he killed],' where the poet perhaps employs oureas not in the