Aristotle, Poetics, 1448a

[...] ὥσπερ οἱ γραφεῖς: Πολύγνωτος μὲν γὰρ κρείττους, Παύσων δὲ χείρους, Διονύσιος δὲ ὁμοίους εἴκαζεν.

It is the same with painters. Polygnotus depicted men as better than they are and Pauson worse, while Dionysius made likenesses. (translation W.H. Fyfe, 1932).

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Il en est de même pour les peintres : Polygnote représentait les personnes meilleures qu'elles ne sont, Pauson pire et Dionysos les faisait semblables à elles-mêmes. (traduction A. Reinach, 1921 modifiée)

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Commentary

  1. This sentence comes just after tragedy is defined as an imitation (mimésis) of people in action (prattontas) - and imitation that can be either better or worse than actual human beings are in reality.
  2. Establishing a parallel between writing tragedy and painting, Aristotle values the role of the painters; they are not just craftsmen but actively participate in defining esthetic and conceptual philosophy of art (Pollitt, 1974, p. 196-199; Rouveret, 2014, p. 131-133).
  3. Polygnotus was said to paint people as better versions of their true selves. It is said that Polygnotus is an "agathos ethographos" (in text 133) and that his work is "êthikos" (in text 131). Again, he makes a parallel with tragedy: he refers to the mythical (Greek) heroes as exceptional individuals with fates that transcend the lives of ordinary people (Halliwell, 1987, p. 75-76). On the other hand, Pauson, shows people to be worse than they actually are: he is a caricaturist, something that was seen as “worse” than working with comedy or iamb. On Pauson, see 173-179. Therefore, Pauson’s work should not be shown to young people since it would not teach them about moral values (see text 36; Hardy, 2008, p. 31 n. 1). On Dionysos of Colophon, see text 189.
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Bibliography

Aristote, Poétique, Texte établi et traduit par J. Hardy 2008, 5th edn., Les Belles Lettres, Paris, ;

Halliwell, S. 1987, The Poetics of Aristotle, translation and commentary, Stephen Halliwell, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill;

Rouveret, A.2014, Histoire et Imaginaire de la peinture ancienne (Ve siècle av. J.-C.- Ier siècle ap. J.-C.), 2d edn., École Française de Rome, Rome. See 133 for more.

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Created by Valérie Toillon