αἱ γὰρ τῶν νέων τῶν πλείστων ἀήθεις τραγῳδίαι εἰσίν, καὶ ὅλως ποιηταὶ πολλοὶ τοιοῦτοι, οἷον καὶ τῶν γραφέων Ζεῦξις πρὸς Πολύγνωτον πέπονθεν: ὁ μὲν γὰρ Πολύγνωτος ἀγαθὸς ἠθογράφος, ἡ δὲ Ζεύξιδος γραφὴ οὐδὲν ἔχει ἦθος.

Indeed the tragedies of most modern poets are without this (i.e. characters), and, speaking generally, there are many such writers, whose case is like that of Zeuxis compared with Polygnotus. The latter was good at depicting characters, but there is nothing of this in Zeuxis's painting. (translation: W. Hamilton Fyfe 1932)

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
  • Spyridon Loumakis

La plupart des tragédies modernes sont amorales (sans caractère); il en va de même de la majorité des poètes. C'est par là que, parmi les peintres, Zeuxis est inférieur à Polygnote : car Polygnote représente bien l'expression morale (est un bon peintre de caractère), tandis que la peinture de Zeuxis n'en a cure (tandis que la peinture de Zeuxis n'a pas de caractère). (traduction : A. Reinach 1921, avec modifications).

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
  • Spyridon Loumakis

Commentary

  1. The surviving version of Aristotle’s Poetics is incomplete, as the second book is lost. The first book is dated to around 360-320 BCE (see: Halliwell, 1986, pp. 324-330). The Poetics was not written for a general audience, but maybe it was intended for students, since there are some notes that explain Aristotle’s thoughts on poetry (see: Halliwell, 1986, pp. 27-41; 1987, pp. 1-17; Barnes, 1995, pp. 272-276; Hardy, 2008, pp. 1-16; Schiaparelli & Crivelli, 2012, pp. 612-626).
  2. The main focus of Chapter 6 of The Poetics is tragedy both in respect to its definition and its composition, i.e. the six parts of tragedy. Here Aristotle’s concern is characterization (êthos) in works of art, especially tragedy. (Halliwell, 1986, p. 30; 1987, pp. 88-98; Woodruff, 2009, pp. 612-627).
  3. For Aristotle, "êthos" refers to both "character" in terms of the attributes of a person and "characterization" understood as the properties of a work of art. Therefore, Aristotle’s use of ethos is not a matter of psychology or personality per se, but instead concerns a person’s choices and ethical disposition (Halliwell, 1987, p. 75). For instance, when Aristotle uses "aêtheis," he does not mean to say "immoral," but "without character". For Aristotle, the reference to painting is a way to emphasize the importance of studying character and personality in tragedy. Furthermore, for Aristotle, the best way to express "characters" (ethê) is when individuals can contemplate the consequences of their own actions. The characters can be either "good" or "bad"; the idea is that the audience should be able to learn lessons from watching them. It is important to represent "ethê" because of the educational value this provides (see texts 36 and 131). Therefore, according to Aristotle’s point of view, Polygnotus is a good "painter of characters" (êthographos) because his paintings show people facing their own actions and consequences (see texts 107a and 107b: Pausanias' description of the Cnidian's Lesche). Here, Aristotle does not intend to discredit Zeuxis' work, but to show the difference between works of art with "characters" and without "characters" (Schütrumpf, 1970, pp. 1-46; Pollitt, 1974, pp. 196-199; 1976, pp. 49-54; Halliwell, 1986, pp. 150-156; Rouveret, 2014, pp. 129-139). Aristotle expresses the same idea in his Politics (see texts 36, 131), as well as in the Poetics 2, 1448 a1 (see text 132). Concerning the representation of "characters" (ethê) in painting, see text 261.
  4. About Polygnotus’ and Zeuxis’ lives and paintings, see texts 100 to 134 and 199 to 256.
Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
  • Spyridon Loumakis

Bibliography

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

Aristote, Oeuvres complètes, Pierre Pellegrin (dir.) 2014, Flammarion, Paris.

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

Aristotle, Poetics 1932, translation W. Hamilton Fyfe, 2 ed., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London;

HALLIWELL, S.1986, Aristotle's Poetics, The University of North Carolina Press,Chapel Hill;

HALLIWELL, S. 2002, The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford;

SCHÜTRUMPF, E. 1970, Die Bedeuting des Wortes ethos in der Poetik des Aristoteles, C.H. Beck'Sche Verlagbuchhandlung, Munich;

POLLITT, J.J. 1974, The Ancient View of Greek Art. Criticism, History and Terminology, Yale University Press, New-Haven and London;

POLLITT, J.J. 1976, "The ethos of Polygnotos and Aristeides" in In Memoriam O.J. Brendel, Essay in Archaeology and the Humanities, Mainz, p. 49-54;

BARNES, J.1995, "Rhetoric and Poetics" in Barnes, J. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Arsitotle, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 272-286;

SCHIAPARELLI, A., CRIVELLI, P. 2012, "Aristotle on Poetry" in Schields, C. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Aristolte, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 612-626;

WOODRUFF, P. 2009, "Aristotle's Poetics : the Aim of Tragedy" in Anagnostopoulos, G. (ed.) A Companion to Aristolte, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 612-627;

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;

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
  • Spyridon Loumakis