Read Along,  Show Notes

Episode 159: Aristotle’s “Poetics,” Part 1

On The Literary Life podcast this week, our hosts continue their series of discussions on Aristotle’s Poetics. Angelina, Cindy, and Thomas share some pertinent commonplace quotations to open the episode, then dive into this week’s text, beginning with Aristotle’s definition of “tragedy.” Thomas expands on the idea of catharsis, and Angelina outlines Aristotle’s necessary elements of a story. Cindy shares her thoughts the distinction between poetry and history. They talk about the form and sequence of a story and why these are so important in Aristotle’s view. In working out the definition of terms, our hosts also correct some common and crucial misconceptions.

Thomas will be teaching a webinar on Jean Jacques Rousseau on February 24th. You can learn more and register at

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Commonplace Quotes:

He was happier using the knife than in trying to save the limb.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “In the Children’s Hospital”

Here the term moral imagination refers very loosely to a way of looking at life, or as Vigen Guroian puts it, “the process by which the self makes metaphors out of images given by experience, which it then employs to find and suppose moral correspondences in experience.”

With this in mind, it makes sense to regard reading stories aloud to one’s children the archetypal act of the trivium. One is simultaneously remembering a tradition, revealing the Logos, and by voice inflection and gesture dramatizing a story to communicate the meaning heart to heart.

Stratford Caldecott, from Beauty in the Word

It is true that “our way” of misreading the romances is very recent. In the nineteenth centure, even in the Edwardian period, a serious response to the ferlies seems to have been easy and almost universal. Even now it is common among the elderly. Most of my generation have all our lives taken these things with awe and with a sense of their mystery. But a generation has grown up which really needs the corrective that Mr. Speirs is offering. For whatever reason–a materialistic philosophy, anti-romanticism, distrust of one’s unconscious–gigantic inhibitions, have, with astonishing rapidity, been built up. The response which was once easy and indeed irresistible now needs to be liberated by some sort of mental ascesis.

C. S. Lewis, from “De Audiendis Poetis”

Selection from “An Essay on Criticism”

by Alexander Pope

‘Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.

‘Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
In poets as true genius is but rare,
True taste as seldom is the critic’s share;
Both must alike from Heav’n derive their light,
These born to judge, as well as those to write.
Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their wit, ’tis true,
But are not critics to their judgment too?

Book List:

Othello by William Shakespeare

Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott

Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C. S. Lewis

The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis by Jason Baxter

MacBeth by William Shakespeare

The Odyssey by Homer

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

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