CriticaLink | Aristotle: Poetics | Guide to Book XVII

Advice to Poets
In Book XVII Aristotle gives poets some pointers on how to construct a tragedy. The poet should attempt to visualize the scenes before composing the text, and should even take on the different characters in an effort to understand them more fully.

The poet should work from an outline which encapsulates the plot, Aristotle suggests, and should clarify which elements of the story contribute to a coherent, complex plot and which are extraneous. He observes that the number of discrete episodes is limited in a tragedy, but can be quite numerous in an epic. Nevertheless, the even plot of an epic as rich with incident as the Odyssey can be summarized in a few sentences, as Aristotle demonstrates. The plot embodies the telos of the drama or the epic; to grasp the plot is to understand both the unity and the purpose of the actions that are represented.