Aristotle, Poetics, 1454b

ἐπεὶ δὲ μίμησίς ἐστιν ἡ τραγῳδία βελτιόνων ἢ ἡμεῖς, δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς [10] εἰκονογράφους: καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι ἀποδιδόντες τὴν ἰδίαν μορφὴν ὁμοίους ποιοῦντες καλλίους γράφουσιν

Since tragedy is a representation of men better than ourselves we must copy the good portrait-painters who, while rendering the distinctive form and making a likeness, yet paint people better than they are. ( W.H. Fyfe, 1932)

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[Puisque la tragédie est une représentation d'hommes meilleurs que nous-même,] nous devons imiter les bons peintres de portraits qui, lorsqu'ils reproduisent la forme en donnant de la ressemblance, peignent les personnes plus belles qu'elles ne le sont. (traduction Reinach, 1921 modifiée).

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Commentary

The ideas expressed in this passage are related to texts 132 and 133.

  1. Chapter 15 of the Poetics is about character and characterization in tragedy.

  2. At the end of chapter 15, Aristotle repeats an idea from chapter 2: "tragedy is a mimèsis (representation) of men better than ourselves." Aristotle also compares tragedians with portrait painters (eikonographos), who enhance the beauty of their subjects while preserving their likeness in the way they represent them (mimèsis; omoios poieô : "make like"). The same idea is expressed in Politics, 1281b10-15.

  3. The comparison between tragedy and painting aims to show that it is necessary for “tragic agents” (the characters) to express their humanity (moral deficiencies) while being portrayed as positively as possible (Halliwell, 1986, pp. 159-161; 1987, pp. 139-143; on "representation" (mimèsis), see 2002, pp. 171-176).

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Bibliography

See the bibliography for text [133] (http://digmill.perseus.org/digmil/commentary/133).

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