CriticaLink | Aristotle: Poetics | Guide to Book III

The Mode of Imitation
Aristotle's third means of distinguishing among different poetic genres, the mode of representation, can be divided into two categories: narrative and drama. In narrative, Aristotle tells us, the poet represents a course of events as a story, either assuming the perspective of another person or speaking directly to the audience in his or her own person. Dramatists place a course of events before us by means of actors who represent the events by taking on the roles of different persons involved.

The interrelationships between Aristotle's different distinctions becomes clear in the next passage, in which Aristotle notes that in terms of object, Sophocles and Homer are comparable, since both tend to make their characters more noble than people in real life, but that in terms of mode Sophocles and Aristophanes (a comic dramatist) are the same kind of poet.

In the closing passages of this chapter, Aristotle explores the rival claims to the invention of tragedy and comedy by the Dorians and the Megarians. This debate may strike us as arcane, but the etymological evidence for the origin of the word "comedy" is worth our attention, as it might give hints about the social status of this genre in its early history. The Dorians claim that word is derived from their word for "village," implying that the troupes of comic actors were driven from urban centers and wandered from village to village as itinerant players. Today, the more accepted etymology derives "comedy" from the word komoidia, which describes the singing and dancing associated with festivals of Dionysus.