Metabasis paradox

The metabasis paradox is an instance in Aristotle's Poetics where, according to many scholars,[1][2][3][4][5] he makes two incompatible statements. In chapter 13 of the book, Aristotle states that for tragedy to end in misfortune is "correct,"[6] yet in chapter 14 he judges a kind of tragedy "best"[7] that does not end in misfortune.[8][9] Since the 16th century, scholars[10][11] in Classics have puzzled over this contradiction or have proposed solutions, two of which date from the 21st century.[12][13] Gotthold Lessing's solution has been the most influential[14][15] yet there is not a consensus.

In chapter 13, Aristotle initially argues that tragedy should consist of a change of fortune from good to bad,[16] and mentions toward the end of the chapter that "ending in misfortune" is "correct".[17] In chapter 14, he identifies the incident that creates fear and pity, killing "among family," in which the killer could either kill or not, and either knowingly or unknowingly.[18] Yet in chapter 14 Aristotle finds that in the "best" version, the killer recognizes the victim and does not kill.[8] Since that narrative does not end in misfortune, scholars often conclude that chapter 14 seems to contradict 13.[19][20]

Arata Takeda has written a detailed history of the problem from the Renaissance up to the late 20th century, omitting 21st century work.[21] Takeda, however, does not offer the standard, consensus description of the solutions of André Dacier,[22] Gotthold Lessing,[23][24] and Stephen Halliwell.[25] Takeda proposed a name for the problem, "metabasis paradox," from metabasis, "change," Aristotle's term in the Poetics for change of fortune.[26]

The problem [ edit ]

In chapter 13, Aristotle discerns what combination of change of fortune, or μετάβασις (metabasis) and character will create fear and pity, which turns out to involve a change of fortune from good to bad.[27] He first rules out all scenarios involving a totally good or totally bad man.[28] Omitting the good man passing from bad to good fortune, Aristotle evaluates (1) the wholly good man changing from good to bad fortune (Poetics 1452b34-5), (2) the wholly bad man changing from bad to good fortune (1452b37), and (3) the wholly bad man changing from good to bad fortune (1453a1).[29] Aristotle finds that none of the three creates both fear and pity, and instead, the tragic hero should be ethically like the average person--not completely good or bad but a mean between the two (1453a7), and suffer a change of fortune from good to bad (1453a15).[30] He describes misfortune in tragedy, δυστυχία (dustuchia "adversity, misfortune") as "to suffer or inflict terrible disasters" (1453a21),[31] Aristotle then mentions that "so many" of Euripides's "plays end in misfortune." And he states that this kind of ending is "ὀρθόν" (orthon "correct") (1453a26).[32]

In chapter 14, Aristotle considers the most "dreadful or rather pitiable" deed, "when for instance brother kills brother, or son father, or mother son, or son mother—either kills or intends to kill, or does something of the kind, that is what we must look for" (1453b20-21).[33]

Aristotle notes four ways this incident may be treated. After naming them, he ranks them:

The worst of these is to intend the action with full knowledge and not to perform it. That outrages the feelings and is not tragic, for there is no calamity. So nobody does that, except occasionally, as, for instance, Haemon and Creon in the Antigone. Next comes the doing of the deed. It is better to act in ignorance and discover afterwards. Our feelings are not outraged and the discovery is startling. Best of all is the last; in the Cresphontes, for instance, Merope intends to kill her son and does not kill him but discovers; and in the Iphigeneia the case of the sister and brother; and in the Helle the son discovers just as he is on the point of giving up his mother (1453b37-54a8).[34]

Killing averted by recognition is considered incompatible with chapter 13's claim that it is "correct" for tragedy to "end in misfortune."[35]

Solutions [ edit ]

Piero Vettori [ edit ]

Vettori did not try to solve the problem but was first to publish about it, in his Latin commentary on the Poetics in 1560.[36] As André Dacier wrote more than a century later, "The wise Victorius [Vettori] is the only one who has seen it; but since he did not know what was the concern in the Chapter, and that it is only by this that it can be solved, he has not attempted to clarify it."[37]

Lodovico Castelvetro [ edit ]

Castelvetro engaged the problem in his translation and commentary of 1570.[38][39] In Castelvetro's view, Aristotle rightly established ending in misfortune in chapter 13, and wrongly broke this rule in chapter 14, praising as best a kind of tragedy that, as Castelvetro put it, lacks "passion."[40] Castelvetro proposed that a laudable action must involve passion: "[B]y passione Castelvetro meant pathos, that is, suffering, not emotion--and more laudable is such action as involves more passion".[41] And although for Castelvetro killing and recognizing later is no less ethical than killing averted by recognition, in the former the "passion is full and accomplished (pieta e auenuta)," whereas in killing averted by recognition passion is "short and threatened (sciema e miacciata)."[42]

André Dacier [ edit ]

In commentary accompanying his 1692 French edition of the Poetics, Dacier made the first known attempt to resolve the contradiction.[43][44] As scholars normally understand Dacier,[45] his theory was that Aristotle called Euripides' plays ending in misfortune "correct" because tradition required those particular stories to end in misfortune.[46][47] Dacier believed that in chapter 14 Aristotle considered stories that are open to change, hence the option of avoiding a death.[48][49] As Dacier understood him, Aristotle meant that if the killing within family cannot be avoided, then the playwright moves to the next best, and so on.[50] Dacier also shifted Aristotle's numbering by one. Dacier's numbering is (1) killing knowingly (third best), (2) killing and recognizing later (second best), (3) killing averted by recognition (best), and (4) failing to kill while knowing (worst).[51]

Thus Astydamas used the second, when he brought Alcmaeon on the stage, who killed Eriphyle. He did not follow the first manner, as Aeschylus did in his Coephores, and Sophocles and Euripides in Electra. He chose the second, because the certainty of Eriphyle's death did not allow him to choose the third. But Euripides chose the third in his Cresphontes, as the uncertain tradition of Merope's action gave him the liberty to choose which he pleased.[52]

Gotthold Lessing [ edit ]

Lessing responded critically to Dacier in Hamburg Dramaturgy.[53] He maintained that Aristotle's preference for ending in misfortune was not relative to tradition. In Lessing's view, Aristotle meant that a tragedy that ends in misfortune is always better than one that does not (all things being equal).[54][55][56]

Lessing's own solution is that in chapter 13 Aristotle establishes the best overall plot structure, and in 14 the best treatment of pathos, or in English translation of Lessing, "scene of suffering."[57][58] Lessing thought that the threat of death counts as misfortune, yet by adding death after one has been averted, the best type of plot could be combined with the best treatment of pathos. He wrote that "Change of fortune may occur in the middle of the play, and even if it continues thus to the end of the piece, it does not therefore constitute its end."[59] His solution has been the most influential, at least historically. Notable scholars have endorsed the idea during the 19th and 20th centuries,[60] including Gustav Teichmüller,[61] Johannes Vahlen,[62] Daniel de Montmollin (not to be confused with Daniel de Montmollin),[63] Gerald Else (crediting Vahlen),[64] and D.W. Lucas.[65]

Ingram Bywater was not persuaded by Lessing on this issue, and instead, he believed Aristotle had changed his mind.[66][67][68] Bywater thought that in chapter 14 Aristotle became more concerned with avoiding what is shocking, and that Aristotle ultimately regarded the act of killing followed by recognition to be shocking.[69] According to Bywater, this is why the fourth way, "where a timely Discovery saves us from the rude shock to our moral pronounced to be κράτιστον." Bywater wrote:

In chap. 13 Aristotle was thinking only of the emotional effect of tragedy as produced by the most obvious means; he comes to see that the same effect may be produced in a finer form without their aid. It is his somewhat tardy recognition of the necessity of avoiding τὸ μιαρόν that has caused this change of view."[70]

John Moles also believed that the contradiction was due to a change of mind, as many secondary sources on Moles note.[71][72][73] Moles wrote that "once Aristotle had embarked on his more detailed comparison of the different ways of handling the πάθος, he was induced to change his preference because at that particular point his more detailed approach necessarily involved taking a more restricted perspective."[74]

Stephen Halliwell [ edit ]

Halliwell maintains that Aristotle did not change his mind, and that neither is Lessing's view satisfactory. Halliwell suggests the contradiction is not to be avoided, and instead finds that Aristotle is torn between two commitments, in chapter 13 the "tragic vision of the poets" and in chapter 14 an ethical view against any inexplicable, undeserved misfortune.[75] Halliwell also argues that for Aristotle the change of fortune from good to bad is more important than ending in misfortune,[76][77] and he further attempts to explain Aristotle's choice in chapter 14. He claims that, for Aristotle, misfortune has tragic meaning only if it is avoidable and intelligible, and that recognizing before killing, among the four ways, best meets these criteria.[78] In his interpretation of Halliwell, Takeda believed the main point is that Aristotle had emphasized process over ending in misfortune.[79] Others describe Halliwell's view as concerned with Aristotle's ethics as a criterion of tragedy.[80]

Sheila Murnaghan [ edit ]

Murnaghan titled her essay on the problem "sucking the juice without biting the rind," borrowing Gerald Else's phrase characterizing the averted death theme.[81] Murnaghan argues that, instead of a problem to be solved, Aristotle's contradiction expresses the ambivalence of many observers toward tragedy's violence. She finds that the death-avoiding incident Aristotle prefers reflects the essence of theater, since both allow us to confront death safely.[82] Murnaghan also proposes that theater is ethically ambiguous, since although unreal it may encourage violence and desensitize the viewer.[83] She compares the theme of escape from death with philosophy's stance at a remove from art, and with Aristotle's catharsis, since theories of catharsis often understand tragedy as a homeopathic cure.[84]

Elsa Bouchard [ edit ]

Through a close reading of Aristotle's expression of the two contrary opinions, Bouchard proposes that they refer to different types of audience.[85] In Bouchard's view, the preference for misfortune in chapter 13 reflects the domain of the literary critic, while the judgment that killing averted by recognition is "best," "kratiston," is linked to the popular audience.[86] Bouchard acknowledges that both these types enjoyed viewing drama in the theater at Athens, but she contends that the more intellectual type would have sought less "comfort" in a story's ending, and would even prefer an unhappy ending.[87] As evidence, she notes that "kratiston," "strong," may be the counterpart of the emotionally "weak" popular audience that Aristotle references in chapter 13 in describing the popularity of double plots, in which the good are rewarded and the bad punished. In contrast, the context Aristotle gives (in Bouchard's translation) to the arguments for change of fortune from good to bad, is more intellectual--"the most beautiful tragedy according to art."[88]

Malcolm Heath [ edit ]

Another 21st century view holds that Aristotle did not mean that "ending in misfortune is correct" absolutely, and instead that he privileges this type of ending because it avoids the inferior "double plot" of a more melodramatic type of tragedy. This solution is put forth by classicist Malcolm Heath (not to be confused with English cricketer Malcolm Heath).[89][90] Toward the end of Poetics chapter 13, Aristotle mentions that Euripides stands out among tragedians because "so many of his tragedies end in misfortune." Aristotle then states that "this is, as was earlier said, correct" (1453a25-26). Malcolm Heath finds that this praise of ending in misfortune is meant to justify a single plot over a double one. As Elsa Bouchard writes, "According to Heath, the prescriptions of chapter 13 are to be understood as essentially preliminary and polemic: they are above all intended to refute the partisans of the double plot,"[91] i.e., the plot in which a good man is saved and a bad man is punished or dies. In other words, as Heath explains, ending in misfortune means the ending has only one quality, fitting one individual.[92] Consequently, according to Heath, the contradiction between chapters 13 and 14 is removed. Bouchard also accounts for Heath's explanation of chapter 14: "The reason Heath gives to explain [the] preference rests on the idea of technical purity: plays like Iphigenia in Tauris are devoid of acts of violence (pathos) and thus of the kind of sensational spectacle that Aristotle condemns at the beginning of chapter 14: 'Reliance on visual effect therefore becomes impossible in a plot of averted violence: the poet has to rely on the structure of the plot to achieve tragic effect.'"[93][94]

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, Hamburg Dramaturgy, New York: Dover, 1769/1962, 107-08.
  2. ^ Else, Gerald F. 1957, Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument. Leiden: E.J. Brill, p. 450.
  3. ^ Belfiore, Elizabeth. Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 174-175.
  4. ^ Heath, Malcolm. “Aristotle on the Best Kind of Tragic Plot: Re-reading Poetics 13–14,” 334-351, p. 335. In: William Wians and Ron Polansky (eds.) Reading Aristotle: Argument and Exposition. Series: Philosophia Antiqua, Volume: 146. Leiden/Boston/Paderborn/Singapore: Brill, July 2017.
  5. ^ Bouchard, Elsa. "Audience, Poetic Justice, and Aesthetic Value in Aristotle's Poetics". In Ineke Sluiter, Ralph M. Rosen (ed.), Aesthetic Value in Classical Antiquity. Mnemosyne supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 350. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012.
  6. ^ Aristotle. Poetics trans. W.H. Fyfe, Harvard, 1932 1453a26.
  7. ^ Literally, "strongest" (kratiston), Bouchard, 2012 p. 193
  8. ^ a b Freeland, Cynthia. "Plot Imitates Action: Aesthetic Evaluation and Moral Realism in Aristotle's Poetics". Rorty, Amélie ed. Essays on Aristotle's Poetics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 120–122.
  9. ^ Aristotle. Poetics trans. W.H. Fyfe, Harvard, 1932 1454a2-3.
  10. ^ Castelvetro, Lodovico. Poetica d'Aristotele vulgarizzata e sposta ("The Poetics of Aristotle translated in the Vulgar Language and commented on"), 1570.
  11. ^ Takeda, Arata: “Aristotle on Mimesis and Violence: Things Hidden since the Foundation of Literary Theory,” In: Elisabetta Brighi / Antonio Cerella (eds.): The Sacred and the Political: Explorations on Mimesis, Violence and Religion. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016 9–26
  12. ^ Heath, 2017
  13. ^ Bouchard, 2012
  14. ^ Takeda 2016 24, n.38
  15. ^ Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim. Hamburg Dramaturgy, New York: Dover, 1769/1962, 111.
  16. ^ Vahlen, Johannes. Beiträge zu Aristoteles Poetik Volume 2. Wien: K.K.Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1865, pp. 26-27
  17. ^ Else, Gerald F. 1957, p. 450.
  18. ^ Husain, Martha. Ontology and the Art of Tragedy: An Approach to Aristotle's Poetics. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002, p. 63.
  19. ^ Else, Gerald F. 1957, p. 450.
  20. ^ "Most interpreters have concluded that the two chapters are inconsistent." Heath 2017, p. 335.
  21. ^ Takeda 2016, 9-26
  22. ^ Lessing, 1769/1962, 107-08.
  23. ^ Vahlen, Johannes. Beiträge zu Aristoteles Poetik Volume 2. Wien: K.K.Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1865, pp. 26-27
  24. ^ Lucas, D.W. Aristotle: Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 155
  25. ^ Bouchard, 2012, p. 193
  26. ^ Takeda 2016, 13
  27. ^ Belfiore, Elizabeth. Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 161.
  28. ^ Belfiore 1992, p. 161.
  29. ^ Belfiore 1992, p. 161.
  30. ^ Belfiore 1992, p. 163.
  31. ^ Aristotle. Poetics trans. W.H. Fyfe, 1453a21.
  32. ^ Ibid., 1453a26.
  33. ^ Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes Vol. 23, translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1932. 1453b20-21.
  34. ^ W.H. Fyfe. Harvard, 1932, 1453b37-54a8.
  35. ^ Else, Gerald F., Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1957, p. 450.
  36. ^ Vettori, Piero. Commentationes in primum librum Aristotelis de Arte Poetarum. Florence, 1560.
  37. ^ Aristotle. Aristotle's Art of poetry. Translated from the original Greek according to Mr. Theodore Goulston's edition. Together, with Mr. D'Acier's notes translated from the French. London: D. Browne and W. Turner, 1705, p. 244.
  38. ^ Takeda 2016, 14
  39. ^ Castelvetro, Lodovico. Poetica d'Aristotele vulgarizzata e sposta ("The Poetics of Aristotle translated in the Vulgar Language and commented on"), 1570.
  40. ^ Takeda 2016, 14.
  41. ^ Takeda 2016, p. 14.
  42. ^ Takeda 2016, p. 14.
  43. ^ Lessing 1769/1962 107.
  44. ^ Aristotle. London: D. Browne and W. Turner, 1705, p. 245.
  45. ^ Lessing 1769/1962 107.
  46. ^ Lessing 1769/1962 107-108.
  47. ^ Aristotle/Dacier 1705, p. 244-45. When in the cited passage, p. 244-55, Dacier associates chapter 13 with the "constitution of fable in general" (by contrasting it with chapter 14), scholars such as Lessing (1769) understand Dacier to mean by "constitution" the unchangeable tradition of a plot. Thus according to scholarly consensus, Dacier's "constitution" did not mean "structure," but the strictness of tradition.
  48. ^ Lessing 1769/1962 107.
  49. ^ Aristotle/Dacier, Ibid., 245.
  50. ^ Aristotle/Dacier, Ibid., 245.
  51. ^ Aristotle/Dacier, London: D. Browne and W. Turner 1705 p.256
  52. ^ Aristotle. London: D. Browne and W. Turner, 1705, p. 245.
  53. ^ Lucas, D.W. Aristotle: Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 155.
  54. ^ Vahlen, 1865 pp. 26-27.
  55. ^ Lessing 1769/1962, 108.
  56. ^ Lucas, D.W. Aristotle: Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 155.
  57. ^ Vahlen, Johannes 1865, pp. 26-27
  58. ^ Lessing, 1769/1962, 110.
  59. ^ Lessing 1769/1962, 111-12.
  60. ^ Takeda, 2016 p. 24.
  61. ^ Teichmüller, Gustav. Beiträge zur Erklärung der Poetik des Aristoteles Halle: G.Emil Barthel, 1867, 78-82.
  62. ^ Vahlen, 1865 pp. 26-27.
  63. ^ Montmollin, Daniel de. La Poétique d'Aristote. texte primitif et additions postérieures. Neuchâtel: H. Messeiller, 1951, 338-339.
  64. ^ Else, Gerald F., Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1957, p. 450.
  65. ^ Lucas, D.W. 1968, p. 155.
  66. ^ Murnaghan 1995, 771 n.5
  67. ^ Takeda 2016, 17, 25 n.43
  68. ^ Bywater, Ingram. Aristotle on the Art of Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909, pp. 225.
  69. ^ Bywater, 1909, p. 225
  70. ^ Bywater 1909 p. 225.
  71. ^ Takeda 2016, 17
  72. ^ Bouchard 2012, 191
  73. ^ Heath, Malcolm, "Aristotle on the Best Kind of Tragic Plot: Re-reading Poetics 13-14," in R. Polansky and W. Wians (eds.), Reading Aristotle: Exposition and Argument (Leiden: Brill, 2017)
  74. ^ Moles, John. (1979) "Notes on Aristotle, Poetics 13 and 14." The Classical Quarterly 29 No. 1: 77-94, p.91.
  75. ^ Halliwell 1986, 236-7
  76. ^ Halliwell 1986, 182.
  77. ^ Takeda 2016, 20.
  78. ^ Halliwell 1986, 236-37.
  79. ^ Takeda 2016 20
  80. ^ Bouchard 2012, 193
  81. ^ Else, Gerald F. Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1957, p. 451
  82. ^ Murnaghan, Sheila (1995) "Sucking the Juice Without Biting the Rind: Aristotle and Tragic Mimēsis." New Literary History, 26(4): 755-773, p. 758.
  83. ^ Murnaghan 1995, 766.
  84. ^ Murnaghan 1995, 767.
  85. ^ Ford, Andrew. Rev. of Ineke Sluiter, Ralph M. Rosen (ed.), 2012. Bryn Mawr Classical Review Sept. 2013: 166-185.
  86. ^ Bouchard, 2012, 193
  87. ^ Bouchard 2012, p. 194
  88. ^ Bouchard 2012, p. 193
  89. ^ Heath, Malcolm (2008) "The Best Kind of Tragic Plot: Aristotle’s argument in Poetics 13-14" Anais de Filosofia Clássica, vol. 2 No. 3, 2008
  90. ^ Heath, Malcolm. “Aristotle on the Best Kind of Tragic Plot: Re-reading Poetics 13–14,” 334-351. In: William Wians and Ron Polansky (eds.) Reading Aristotle: Argument and Exposition. Series: Philosophia Antiqua, Volume: 146. Leiden/Boston/Paderborn/Singapore: Brill, July 2017.
  91. ^ Bouchard 2012, 192
  92. ^ Heath 2008 17, 2012 92
  93. ^ Bouchard 2012, 192
  94. ^ Heath 2008 14–15
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