Aristotle on Dramatic Musical Composition: The Real Role of Literature, Catharsis, Music and Dance in the POETICS

Aristotle on Dramatic Musical Composition: The Real Role of Literature, Catharsis, Music and Dance in the POETICS

by Gregory L Scott


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This book revolutionizes the 1000-year old tradition that stems from the first commentaries on the Poetics by the Arabic scholars. (No commentary exists from antiquity or Byzantine times.) Starting with those scholars, Aristotle's treatise has always been thought to be about poetic-literary theory, with tragedy being its paradigm. Scott demonstrates, however, that Aristotle (c. 384-322 BCE) employs poiesis not in the way universally assumed until now, as "poetry," which the sophist Gorgias only coined in 415 BCE. Rather, Aristotle follows Diotima, who in the Symposium of Plato (c. 424-347) explains poiesis as mousike kai metra (typically "'music' and verses"). One reason Aristotle employs the Diotiman and not the Gorgian sense of poiesis is that not one poem exists in the so-called "Poetics"; another reason is that the definition of tragedy includes "music."

Scott subsequently demonstrates that Aristotle considers tragedy not to be a species of literature but one of dramatic musical theater that also requires dance and spectacle. Chapter 2 includes a revised version of Scott's "The Poetics of Performance" (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

The book also supplements his arguments of "Purging the Poetics" (Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 2003), reprinted here as Chapter 5, providing the additional reasons why Aristotle could not have written the clause with the words catharsis, pity, and fear in the definition of tragedy, as a number of internationally known ancient Greek specialists have already been accepting. As part of his reasons, Scott shows that, despite their recent, very admirable paleography, Leonardo Tarán and Dmitri Gutas too often mangle the philosophical interpretations and even some of the philology regarding the "musical" terms, especially when they try to sweep the problems of catharsis under the rug. Also, Tarán and Gutas never even recognize the Diotiman sense of poiesis that Aristotle uses, nor do they recognize the philosophical contradictions with keeping the katharsis-clause.

All of this allows a fresh and better reading of the treatise that even with its fundamental misinterpretations has been a major part of the foundation of Western literary, dramatic and artistic theory.



Volume 1 includes: Plato's meanings of poiesis as "music-dance and verse" and his use of rhuthmos often not as "rhythm" but "dance"; the importance of dance in the state for Plato; Aristotle's agreement with his mentor on the meaning of the musical terms and the requirement of dance not only in the Poetics but in the Politics, along with the proof that Aristotle considers tragedy to be a species of dramatic "musical" art, not literature.

Volume 2 is available at:

It includes the issues of catharsis, pity, and fear, and a complete rebuttal of the only attempted rigorous reply (by Stephen Halliwell in Between Ecstasy and Truth, 2011) to "Purging the Poetics." This volume also contains: Aristotle's response to Plato without catharsis; comedy; whether or not the principles of "musical" dramatic theater can be applied to art forms like literature and cinema; the history of the Poetics with regards to the two fundamental misconceptions; Bibliography; and Index for both volumes. 300 pages. List: Hardcover $53; Softcover $39.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999704943
Publisher: ExistencePS
Publication date: 08/16/2018
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

After working in the ballet field professionally, Gregory Scott finished his doctoral dissertation, Unearthing Aristotle's Dramatics: Why There is No Theory of Literature in the Poetics, under Francis Sparshott at the University of Toronto, while also studying there under one of the esteemed 20th century scholars of the Poetics, Daniel de Montmollin. Other mentors were Joseph Owens (Aristotle's Metaphysics) and Brad Inwood (Pre-Socratics). He then taught for four years as a full-time philosopher at universities in the U.S. and Canada. Afterward, he simultaneously engaged in a post-doctoral fellowship under Sarah (Waterlow) Broadie at Princeton University (Philosophy) while directing the doctoral program in dance education at New York University (NYU).

Scott's publications include "The Poetics of Performance: The Necessity of Performance, Spectacle, Music, and Dance in Aristotelian Tragedy" (Cambridge University Press, 1999). His "Purging the Poetics" (Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 2003) has generated substantial debate on both sides of the Atlantic, with some internationally known specialists considering him on the basis of this article alone to have solved finally the problem of catharsis in Aristotle's definition of tragedy (the article is reprinted here as Chapter 5). He has also published on the philosophy of dance in journals such as Dance Research Journal, including "Twists and Turns: Modern Misconceptions of Peripatetic Dance Theory" (Dance Research, Edinburgh University Press, 2005). His Aristotle's Favorite Tragedy: Oedipus or Cresphontes? was published in 2016, and its 2nd edition appeared in February 2018.

Scott has taught occasionally since 1995 in Humanities at NYU (SPS) and is finishing a book entitled Aristotle's "Not to Fear" Proof for the Necessary Eternality of the Universe without the Unmoved Mover (anticipated publication 2019-20).

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Target Audience xi

Note to the Second Edition xi

Acknowledgments xii

VOLUME 1 xvii

Introduction 1

Some Continuing Problems of the Poetics and the Goals of this Book 1

Unit 1 Overview: Tragedy as an Independent Art of “Musical” Drama 7

Unit 2 Overview: Catharsis, Pity and Fear in the Dramatics 11

Unit 3 Overview: The Real Goal of Tragedy and of Comedy 14

Unit 4 Overview: The Dramatics and Its New Future 15

Appendix Overview: A Brief History of the Two Fundamental Misconceptions 17


Chapter 1: Plato’s Well-Educated Men—the Singing Dancers 23

Preface 23

Harmonia kai rhuthmos and related musical terms in the Laws 28

The Exceptional Use of Rhuthmos at 672-673 91

Benveniste’s History of Rhuthmos 101

Melos/melopoiia 106

The musical terms in other books of Plato 111

Poiēsis 115

Chapter 2: Tragedy as a Necessarily Performed “Musical” Art 135

The Statement of Goals 135

Part A: The Essential and “Merely” Necessary Conditions of Tragedy 138

The Two Oft-Cited Passages Used by Literary Adherents 161

Part B: More on the “Musical” Terms in the Treatise 168

Part C: Poiēsis and Why the Dramatics is a Better Title 205

Chapter 3: The Irreducibility of Tragedy to Literature 239

The First Case: The Essential Conditions of Tragedy 243

The Second Case: The Derivation and Six Necessary Conditions of Tragedy 266

The Third Case: Aristotle’s Ranking of the Six Necessary Conditions 269

The Fourth Case: Tragedy as Given in Dramatics 6 Presupposes Poiēsis 274

Halliwell on (Imaginary) Performance 285

Chapter 4: Harmonia kai rhuthmos as “music and dance” in Politics VIII 291

Harmonia kai rhuthmos in Politics VIII 7 291

Poiēsis and poiētikē in VIII 7 334

Conclusions and New Dilemmas to Keep in Mind 341

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