Aristotle's Poetics

The Poetics in Aeschylus' Libation Bearers and The Eumenides

As A.E. Haigh notes, Aristotle treats Aeschylus with complete indifference in the Poetics. Throughout his writings, the standards of dramatic writing are supplied by Sophocles and Euripides. He fully recognizes Aeschylus’ role in the introduction of a second actor and in the expansion of dialogue, but that is all. This is because Aristotle mainly focused his attention on plot, as well as his classification of recognition, complication, and revolution, and “for such investigations there was little material to be found in Aeschylus” (124). Nevertheless, it is somewhat possible to analyze The Oresteia in terms of Aristotle’s Poetics.

There is little doubt that at some period what we now call tragedy consisted of a chorus which sang comments in response to a story told by the poet, but whether, as has been claimed, there was a time when there was only the chorus is open to dispute. It was once accepted as a fact, based on something that Aristotle wrote, but now is less accepted. What is more likely - and we can possibly attribute this to Thespis - is that two different poetic traditions fused into the one form. What we do know is that a combination of one actor and a chorus does not give a very wide range of dramatic possibilities,...

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