Strangely, though, the Poetics itself Is rarely read with the kind of sensitivity Its critics claim to possess, and he thing criticized is not the book Aristotle wrote but a caricature of it. Aristotle himself respected Homer so much that he personally corrected a copy of the Iliad for his student Alexander, who carried It all over the world. In his Rhetoric (Ill, xv, 9), Aristotle criticizes orators who write exclusively from the intellect, rather than from the heart, in the way Sophocles makes Antigen speak.
Aristotle is often thought of as a logician, but he regularly uses the adverb logГ¶s, logically, as a term of reproach contrasted with pushupГ¶s, naturally or appropriately, to describe arguments made by there, or preliminary and inadequate arguments of his own. Those who take the trouble to look at the Poetics closely will find, I think, a book that treats Its topic appropriately and naturally, and contains the reflections of a good reader and characteristically powerful thinker.
Table of Contents 1. Poetry as Imitation 2. The Character of Tragedy 3. Tragic Catharsis 4. Tragic Pity 5. Tragic Fear and the Image of Humanity 6. The Iliad, the Tempest, and Tragic Wonder 7. Excerpts from Aristotle poetics 8. References and Further Reading The first scandal In the Poetics is the Initial marking out of dramatic poetry as a form f imitation. We call the poet a creator, and are offended at the suggestion that he might be merely some sort of recording device.
As the painter’s eye teaches us how to look and shows us what we never saw, the dramatist presents things that never existed until he imagined them, and makes us experience worlds we could never have found the way to on our own. But Aristotle has no intention to diminish the poet, and In fact says the same thing I just said, in making the point that poetry Is more philosophic than history By imitation, Aristotle does not mean the sort of mimicry by which Aristotelian, say, finds syllables that approximate the sound of frogs.
He Is speaking of the Imitation of action, and by action he does not mean mere happenings. Aristotle speaks extensively of praxis in the Mechanical Ethics. It is not a word he uses loosely, and in fact his use of it in the definition of tragedy recalls the discussion In the Ethics. Action, as Aristotle uses the word, refers only to what Is deliberately chosen, and capable of finding completion in the achievement of some purpose. Animals and young children do not act in this sense, and action is not the n human life, and a sense for the actions that are worth paying attention to.
They are not present in the world in such a way that a video camera could detect them. An intelligent, feeling, shaping human soul must find them. By the same token, the action of the drama itself is not on the stage. It takes form and has its being in the imagination of the spectator. The actors speak and move and gesture, but it is the poet who speaks through them, from imagination to imagination, to present to us the thing that he has made. Because that thing he makes has the form of an action, it has o be seen and held together Just as actively and attentively by us as by him.
The imitation is the thing that is re-produced, in us and for us, by his art. This is a powerful kind of human communication, and the thing imitated is what defines the human realm. If no one had the power to imitate action, life might Just wash over us without leaving any trace. How do I know that Aristotle intends the imitation of action to be understood in this way? In De Anima, he distinguishes three kinds of perception (II, 6; Ill, 3). There is the perception of proper sensible-colors, sounds, tastes and so n; these lie on the surfaces of things and can be mimicked directly for sense perception.
But there is also perception of common sensible, available to more than one of our senses, as shape is grasped by both sight and touch, or number by all five senses; these are distinguished by imagination, the power in us that is shared by the five senses, and in which the circular shape, for instance, is not dependent on sight or touch alone. These common sensible can be mimicked in various ways, as when I draw a messy, meandering ridge of chalk on a blackboard, and your imagination rasps a circle.
Finally, there is the perception of that of which the sensible qualities are attributes, the thing-the son of Diaries, for example; it is this that we ordinarily mean by perception, and while its object always has an image in the imagination, it can only be distinguished by intellect, noose (111,4). Skilled mimics can imitate people we know, by voice, gesture, and so on, and here already we must engage intelligence and imagination together. The dramatist imitates things more remote from the eye and ear than familiar people.
Sophocles and Shakespeare, for example, imitate pentacle and forgiveness, true instances of action in Aristotle sense of the word, and we need all the human powers to recognize what these poets put before us. So the mere phrase imitation of an action is packed with meaning, available to us as soon as we ask what an action is, and how the image of such a thing might be perceived. Aristotle does understand tragedy as a development out of the child’s mimicry of animal noises, but that is in the same way that he understands philosophy as a development out of our enjoyment of sight-seeing (Metaphysics l, 1).
In each of these developments there is a vast array of possible intermediate stages, but Just as philosophy is the ultimate form of the innate desire to know, tragedy is considered by Aristotle the ultimate form of our innate delight in imitation. His beloved Homer saw and achieved the most important possibilities of the imitation of human action, but it was the tragedians who, refined and intensified the form of that imitation, and discovered its perfection. 2. The Character of Tragedy A work is a tragedy, Aristotle tells us, only if it arouses pity and fear. Why does he single out these two passions?
Some interpreters think he means them only as examples-pity and fear and other passions like that-but I am not among those loose but I think he does so only to indicate that pity and fear are not themselves things subject to identification with pin-point precision, but that each refers to a range of feeling. It is Just the feelings in those two ranges, however, that belong to tragedy. Why? Why shouldn’t some tragedy arouse pity and Joy, say, and another fear and cruelty? In various places, Aristotle says that it is the mark of an educated person to know what needs explanation and what doesn’t.
He does not try to prove that there is such a thing as nature, or such a thing as motion, though some people deny both. Likewise, he understands the recognition of a special and powerful form of drama built around pity and fear as the beginning of an inquiry, and spends not one word justifying that restriction. We, however, can see better why he starts there by trying out a few simple alternatives. Suppose a drama aroused pity in a powerful way, but aroused no fear at all. This is an easily recognizable dramatic form, called a tear- jerker. The name is meant to disparage this sort of drama, but why?
Imagine a well written, well made play or movie that depicts the losing struggle of a likable central character. We are moved to have a good cry, and are afforded either the relief of a happy ending, or the realistic desolation of a sad one. In the one case the tension built up along the way is released within the experience of the work itself; in the other it passes off as we leave the theater, and readjust our feelings to the fact that it was, after all, only make-believe. What is wrong with that? There is always pleasure in strong emotion, and the theater is a harmless place to indulge it.
We may even come out feeling good about being so compassionate. But Dostoevsky depicts a character who loves to cry in the theater, not noticing that while she wallows in her warm feelings her coach-driver is shivering outside. She has day-dreams about relieving suffering humanity, but does nothing to put that vague desire to work. If she is typical, then the tear-jerker is a dishonest form of drama, not even a harmless diversion but an encouragement to lie to oneself. Well then, let’s consider the opposite experiment, in which a drama arouses fear in a powerful way, but arouses title or no pity.
This is again a readily recognizable dramatic form, called the horror story, or in a recent fashion, the mad-slashes movie. The thrill of fear is the primary object of such amusements, and the story alternates between the build-up of apprehension and the shock of violence. Again, as with the tear-jerker, it doesn’t much matter whether it ends happily or with uneasiness, or even with one last shock, so indeterminate is its form. And while the tearjerker gives us an illusion of compassionate delicacy, the unrestrained shock-drama obviously has the effect of coarsening feeling.
Genuine human pity could not co-exist with the so-called graphic effects these films use to keep scaring us. The attraction of this kind of amusement is again the thrill of strong feeling, and again the price of indulging the desire for that thrill may be high. Let us consider a milder form of the drama built on arousing fear. There are stories in which fearsome things are threatened or done by characters who are in the end defeated by means similar to, or in some way equivalent to, what they dealt out. The fear is relieved in vengeance, and we feel a satisfaction that we might be inclined to call Justice.
To work on the level of feeling, though, Justice must be understood as the exact inverse of the crime-doing to the offender the sort of thing he did or meant to do to others. The imagination of evil then becomes the measure of infliction of pain or death is nothing but a thin veil over the very feelings we mean to be punishing. This is a successful dramatic formula, arousing in us destructive desires that are fun to feel, along with the self-righteous illusion that we are really superior to the character who displays them. The playwright who makes us feel that way will probably be popular, but he is a menace.
We have looked at three kinds of non-tragedy that arouse passions in a destructive way, and we could add others. There are potentially as many kinds as there are passions and combinations of passions. That suggests that the theater is Just an arena for the manipulation of passions in ways that are pleasant in the short run and at least reckless to pursue repeatedly. At worst, the drama could be seen as dealing in a kind of addiction, which it both produces and holds the only remedy for. But we have not yet tried to talk about the combination of passions characteristic of tragedy.
When we turn from the sort of examples I have given, to the acknowledged examples of tragedy, we find ourselves in a different world. The tragedians I have in mind are five: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; Shakespeare, who differs from them only in time; and Homer, who differs from them somewhat more, in the form in which he composed, but shares with them the things that matter most. I could add other authors, such as Dostoevsky, who wrote stories of the tragic kind in much looser literary forms, but I want to keep the focus on a small number of clear paradigms.
When we look at a raggedy we find the chorus in Antigen telling us what a strange thing a human being is, that passes beyond all boundaries (lines 332 if. ), or King Lear asking if man is no more than this, a poor, bare, forked animal (Ill, ‘v, off. ), or Macbeth protesting to his wife “l dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none” (l, vii, 47-8), or Oedipus taunting Terrifies with the fact that divine art was of no use against the Sphinx, but only Oedipus’ own human ingenuity (Ode. Try. 9098), or Agamemnon, resisting walking home on tapestries, saying to his wife “l tell you to revere me as a an, not a god” (925), or Cadmium in the Beach saying “l am a man, nothing more” (199), while Dionysus tells Penthouse Mimi do not know what you are” (506), or Patrols telling Achilles “Pulses was not your father nor Thesis your mother, but the gray sea bore you, and the towering rocks, so hard is your heart” (Iliad WI, 335 ). I could add more examples of this kind by the dozen, and your memories will supply others.
Tragedy seems always to involve testing or finding the limits of what is human. This is no mere orgy of strong feeling, but a highly focused way of bringing our powers to bear on the image of what is human as such. I suggest that Aristotle is right in saying that the powers which first of all bring this human image to sight for us are pity and fear. It is obvious that the authors in our examples are not Just putting things in front of us to make us cry or shiver or gasp. The feelings they arouse are subordinated to another effect.
Aristotle begins by saying that tragedy arouses pity and fear in such a way as to culminate in a cleansing of those passions, the famous catharsis. The word is used by Aristotle only the once, in his preliminary definition of tragedy. I think this is because its role is taken over later in the Poetics y another, more positive, word, but the idea of catharsis is important in itself, and we should consider what it might mean. 3. Tragic Catharsis First of all, the tragic catharsis might be a purgation. Fear can obviously be an flush this feeling from our systems, bring it into the open, and clear the air.
This may explain the appeal of horror movies, that they redirect our fears toward something external, grotesque, and finally ridiculous, in order to puncture them. On the other hand, fear might have a secret allure, so that what we need to purge is the desire for the thrill that comes with fear. The horror movie also provides a safe way to indulge and satisfy the longing to feel afraid, and go home afterward satisfied; the desire is purged, temporarily, by being fed. Our souls are so many-headed that opposite satisfactions may be felt at the same time, but I think these two really are opposite.
In the first sense of purgation, the horror movie is a kind of medicine that does its work and leaves the soul healthier, while in the second sense it is a potentially addictive drug. Either explanation may account for the popularity of these movies among teenagers, since fear is so much a fact of that time of life. For those of us who are older, the tear-jerker may have more appeal, offering a way to purge the regrets of our lives in a sentimental outpouring of pity. As with fear, this purgation too may be either medicinal or drug-like.
This idea of purgation, in its various forms, is what we usually mean when we call something cathartic. People speak of watching football, or boxing, as a catharsis of violent urges, or call a shouting match with a friend a useful catharsis of buried resentment. This is a practical purpose that drama may also serve, but it has no particular connection with beauty or truth; to be good in this ergative way, a drama has no need to be good in any other way. No one would be tempted to confuse the feeling at the end of a horror movie with what Aristotle calls “the tragic pleasure,” nor to call such a movie a tragedy.
But the English word catharsis does not contain everything that is in the Greek word. Let us look at other things it might mean. Catharsis in Greek can mean purification. While purging something means getting rid of it, purifying something means getting rid of the worse or baser parts of it. It is possible that tragedy purifies the feelings themselves of fear and pity. These arise in us in crude ways, attached to all sorts of objects. Perhaps the poet educates our sensibilities, our powers to feel and be moved, by refining them and attaching them to less easily discernible objects.
There is a line in The Wasteland, “l will show you fear in a handful of dust. ” Alfred Hitchcock once made us all feel a little shudder when we took showers. The poetic imagination is limited only by its skill, and can turn any object into a focus for any feeling. Some people turn to poetry to find delicious and exquisite new ways to feel old feelings, and consider themselves to enter in that way into a purified state. It has been argued that this sort of thing is what tragedy and the tragic pleasure are all about, but it doesn’t match up with my experience.
Sophocles does make me fear and pity human knowledge when I watch the Oedipus Tyrannous, but this is not a refinement of those feelings but a discovery that they belong to a surprising object. Sophocles is not training my feelings, but using them to show me something worthy of wonder. The word catharsis drops out of the Poetics because the word wonder, to rheumatism, replaces it, first in chapter 9, where Aristotle argues that pity and fear arise most of al where wonder does, and finally in chapters 24 and 25, where he singles out wonder as the aim of the poetic art itself, into which the aim of tragedy in particular merges.
Ask yourself how you feel at the end of a tragedy. You have witnessed out the other side. Aristotle use of the word catharsis is not a technical reference to purgation or purification but a beautiful metaphor for the peculiar tragic pleasure, the feeling of being washed or cleansed. The tragic pleasure is a paradox. As Aristotle says, in a tragedy, a happy ending doesn’t make us happy. At the end of the lay the stage is often littered with bodies, and we feel cleansed by it all. Are we like Clytemnestra, who says she rejoiced when spattered by her husband’s blood, like the earth in a Spring rain (Gag. 389-92)? Are we like Ago, who has to see a beautiful life destroyed to feel better about himself (20th. V, I, 18-20)? We all feel a certain glee in the bringing low of the mighty, but this is in no way similar to the feeling of being washed in wonderment. The closest thing I know to the feeling at the end of a tragedy is the one that comes with the sudden, unexpected appearance of something beautiful. In a famous essay on beauty (Ended l, trace 6), Plotting says two things that seem true to me: “Clearly is something detected at a first glance, something that the soul… Coziness, gives welcome to, and, in a way, fuses with” (beginning sec. 2). What is the effect on us of this recognition? Plotting says that in every instance it is “an astonishment, a delicious wonderment” (end sec. 4). Aristotle is insistent that a tragedy must be whole and one, because only in that way can it be beautiful, while he also ascribes the superiority of tragedy over epic poetry to its greater unity and concentration (Chi. 26). Tragedy is not Just a dramatic form in which some works are beautiful and others not; tragedy is itself a species of beauty. All tragedies are beautiful.
By following Aristotle lead, we have now found five marks of tragedy: (1) it imitates an action, (2) it arouses pity and fear, (3) it displays the human image as such, (4) it ends in wonder, and (5) it is inherently beautiful. We noticed earlier that it is action that characterizes the distinctively human realm, and it is reasonable that the depiction of an action might show us a human being in some definitive way, but what do pity and fear have to do with that showing? The answer is everything. 4. Tragic Pity First, let us consider what tragic pity consists in.
The word pity tends to have a bad name these days, and to imply an attitude of condescension that diminishes its object. This is not a matter of the meanings of words, or even of changing attitudes. It belongs to pity itself to be two-sided, since any feeling of empathy can be given a perverse twist by the recognition that it is not oneself but another with whom one is feeling a shared pain. One of the most empathetic characters in all literature is Edgar in King Lear. He describes himself truly as “a most poor man, made tame to fortune’s lows, Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, Am pregnant to good pity’ (V, vi, 217-19).
Two of his lines spoken to his father are powerful evidence of the insight that comes from suffering oneself and taking on the suffering of others: “Thy life’s a miracle” (V, v’, 5 5), he says, and “Ripeness is all” (V, I’, 1 1), trying to help his father see that life is still good and death is not something to be sought. Yet in the last scene of the play this same Edgar voices the stupidest words ever spoken in any tragedy, when he concludes that his father Just got what he deserved when he lost is eyes, since he had once committed adultery (V, iii, 171-4).
Having witnessed the play, we know that Gloucester lost his eyes because he chose to help Lear, when the kingdom had become so corrupt that his act of kindness appeared as a walking fire in mutilation, but it is not a sequence that reveals the true cause of that horror. The wholeness of action that Shakespeare shapes for us shows that Gloucester goodness, displayed in a courageous, deliberate choice, and not his weakness many years earlier, cost him his eyes.
Edgar ends by giving in to the temptation to normalize, o chase after the “fatal flaw’ which is no part of tragedy, and loses his capacity to see straight. This suggests that holding on to proper pity leads to seeing straight, and that seems exactly right. But what is proper pity? There is a way of missing the mark that is opposite to condescension, and that is the excess of pity called sentimentality. There are people who use the word sentimental for any display of feeling, or any taking seriously of feeling, but their attitude is as blind as Edger’s.
Sentimentality is inordinate feeling, feeling that goes beyond the source that gives rise to it. The woman in Dostoevsky novel who loves pitying for its own sake is an example of this vice. But between Edger’s normalizing and her gushing there is a range of appropriate pity. Pity is one of the instruments by which a poet can show us what we are. We pity the loss of Gloucester eyes because we know the value of eyes, but more deeply, we pity the violation of Gloucester decency, and in so doing we feel the truth that without such decency, and without respect for it, there is no human life.
Shakespeare is in control here, and the feeling he produces does not give way in embarrassment o moral Judgment, nor does it make us wallow mindlessly in pity because it feels so good; the pity he arouses in us shows us what is precious in us, in the act of its being violated in another. 5. Tragic Fear and the Image of Humanity Since every boundary has two sides, the human image is delineated also from the outside, the side of the things that threaten it. This is shown to us through the feeling of fear. As Aristotle says twice in the Rhetoric, what we pity in others, we fear for ourselves (Bibb 26, AAA 27).
In our mounting fear that Oedipus will come to know the truth about himself, we feel that something of our own is threatened. Tragic fear, exactly like tragic pity, and either preceding it or simultaneous with it, shows us what we are and are unwilling to lose. It makes no sense to say that Oedipus’ passion for truth is a flaw, since that is the very quality that makes us afraid on his behalf. Tragedy is never about flaws, and it is only the silliest of mistranslations that puts that claim in Aristotle mouth.
Tragedy is about central and indispensable human attributes, disclosed to us by the pity that draws us toward them and the fear that makes us recoil from what threatens them. Because the suffering of the tragic figure splays the boundaries of what is human, every tragedy carries the sense of universality. Oedipus or Antigen or Lear or Othello is somehow every one of us, only more so. But the mere mention of these names makes it obvious that they are not generalized characters, but altogether particular. And if we did not feel that they were genuine individuals, they would have no power to engage our emotions.
It is by their particularity that they make their marks on us, as though we had encountered them in the flesh. It is only through the particularity of our feelings that our bonds with them emerge. What we care for and cherish makes us pity them and fear for them, and thereby the reverse also happens: our feelings of pity and fear make us recognize what we care for and cherish. When the tragic figure is destroyed it is a piece of ourselves that is lost. Yet we never feel desolation at the end of a tragedy, paradox, but to describe a marvel.
It is not so strange that we learn the worth of something by losing it; what is astonishing is what the tragedians are able to achieve by making use of that common experience. They lift it up into a state of wonder. Within our small group of exemplary poetic works, there are two that do not have the raging form, and hence do not concentrate all their power into putting us in a state of wonder, but also depict the state of wonder among their characters and contain speeches that reflect on it. They are Homer’s Iliad and Shakespearean Tempest. Incidentally, there is an excellent small book called Woe or Wonder, the Emotional Effect of Shakespearean Tragedy, by J. V. Cunningham, that demonstrates the continuity of the traditional understanding of tragedy from Aristotle to Shakespeare. ) The first poem in our literary heritage, and Shakespearean last play, both belong to a investigation of which Aristotle Poetics is the most prominent part. 6. The Iliad, the Tempest, and Tragic Wonder In both the Iliad and the Tempest there are characters with arts that in some ways resemble that of the poet.
It is much noticed that Prospered farewell to his art coincides with Shakespearean own, but it may be less obvious that Homer has put into the Iliad a partial representation of himself. But the last 150 lines of Book XVIII of the Iliad describe the making of a work of art by Hyphenates. I will not consider here what is depicted on the shield of Achilles, but only the meaning in the poem of the held itself. In Book XVIII, Achilles has realized what mattered most to him when it is too late. The Greeks are driven back to their ships, as Achilles had prayed they would be, and know that they are lost without him. But what pleasure is this to me now,” he says to his mother, “when my beloved friend is dead, Patrols, whom I cherished beyond all friends, as the equal of my own soul; I am bereft of him” (80-82). Those last words also mean “l have killed him. ” In his desolation, Achilles has at last chosen to act. “l will accept my doom,” he says (115 Thesis goes to Hyphenates because, in pits of his resolve, Achilles has no armor in which to meet his fate. She tells her son’s story, concluding “he is lying on the ground, anguishing at heart” (461).
Her last word, anguishing, acheГ¶n, is built on Achilles’ name. Now listen to what Hyphenates says in reply: “Take courage, and do not let these things distress you in your heart. Would that I had the power to hide him far away from death and the sounds of grief when grim fate comes to him, but I can see that beautiful armor surrounds him, of such a kind that many people, one after another, who look on it, will wonder” (463-67). Is it not evident that this source of wonder that surrounds Achilles, that takes the sting from his death even in a mother’s heart, is the Iliad itself?
But how does the Iliad accomplish this? Let us shift our attention for a moment to the Tempest. The character Alonso, in the power of the magician Prospers, spends the length of the play in the illusion that his son has drowned. To have him alive again, Alonso says, “l wish Myself were muddied in that oozy bed Where my son lies” (V, I, But he has already been there for three hours in his imagination; he says earlier “my son I’ the’ ooze is bedded; and I’ll seek him deeper than o’er plummet sounded And with him there lie muddied” (Ill, iii, 100-2).
What is this muddy ooze? It is Alonso grief, and his regret for exposing his son to danger, and his self-reproach for his own past crime against Prospers and Prospered baby daughter, which made his son a Just target for only comes after he has lost the thing he cares most about. But the spirit Ariel sings a song to Alonso son: “Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade But doth suffer a EAI change Into something rich and strange” (l, it, 397-402).
Alonso grief is aroused by an illusion, an imitation of an action, but his repentance is real, and is slowly transforming him into a different man. Who is this new man? Let us take counsel from the “honest old councilor” Gonzalez, who always has the clearest sight in the play. He tells us that on this voyage, when so much seemed lost, every traveler found himself “When no man was his own” (V, I, 206-13). The something rich and strange into which Alonso changes is himself, as he was before his life took a wrong turn.
Prospered magic does no more than arrest people in a potent illusion; in his power they are “knit up In their distractions” (Ill, iii, 89-90). When released, he says, “they shall be themselves” (V, I, 32). On virtually every page of the Tempest, the word wonder appears, or else some synonym for it. Marinara’s name is Latin for wonder, her favorite adjective brave seems to mean both good and out-of-the-ordinary, and the combination rich and strange means the same. What is wonder? J. V.
Cunningham describes it in the book I mentioned as the shocked limit of all feeling, in which fear, sorrow, and Joy can all merge. There is some truth in that, but it misses what is wonderful or wondrous about wonder. It suggests that in wonder our feelings are numbed and we are left limp, wrung dry of all emotion. But wonder is itself a feeling, the one to which Miranda is always giving voice, the powerful sense that what is before one is both strange and good. Wonder does not numb the other feelings; what it does is dislodge them from their habitual moorings.
The experience of wonder is the disclosure of a sight or thought or image that fits no habitual context of feeling or understanding, but grabs and holds us by a power borrowed from nothing part from itself. The two things that Plotting says characterize beauty, that the soul recognizes it at first glance and spontaneously gives welcome to it, equally describe the experience of wonder. The beautiful always produces wonder, if it is seen as beautiful, and the sense of wonder always sees beauty. But are there really no wonders that are ugly?
The monstrosities that used to be exhibited in circus side- shows are wonders too, are they not? In the Tempest, three characters think first of all of such spectacles when they lay eyes on Caliber (II, I’, 28-31; V, I, 263-6), but they re incapable of wonder, since they think they know everything that matters already. A fourth character in the same batch, who is drunk but not insensible, gives way at the end of Act II to the sense that this is not Just someone strange and deformed, nor just a useful servant, but a brave monster.
But Stephan is not like the holiday fools who pay to see monstrosities like two-headed calves or exotic sights like wild men of Borneo. I recall an aquarium somewhere in Europe that had on display an astoundingly ugly catfish. People came casually up to its tank, were startled, made kisses of disgust, and turned away. Even to be arrested before such a sight feels in some way perverse and has some conflict in the feeling it arouses, as when we stare at the victims of a car wreck. The sight of the ugly or disgusting, when it is felt as such, does not have the settled repose or willing surrender that are characteristic of wonder. Wonder is sweet,” as Aristotle says. This sweet contemplation of something in every other respect he is a model of the spectator of a tragedy. We are in the power of another for awhile, the sight of an illusion works real and durable changes n us, we merge into something rich and strange, and what we find by being absorbed in the image of another is ourselves. As Alonso is shown a mirror of his soul by Prospers, we are shown a mirror of ourselves in Alonso, but in that mirror we see ourselves as we are not in witnessing the Tempest, but in witnessing . A tragedy.
The Tempest is a beautiful play, suffused with wonder as well as with reflections on wonder, but it holds the intensity of the tragic experience at a distance. Homer, on the other hand, has pulled off a feat even more astounding than Shakespearean, by imitating the experience of a spectator of tragedy within a story that itself works on us as a tragedy. In Book XIV of the Iliad, forms of the word than boss, amazement, occur three times in three lines (482-4), when Prima suddenly appears in the hut of Achilles and “kisses the terrible man-slaughtering hands that killed his many sons” (478-9), but this is only the prelude to the true wonder.
Achilles and Prima cry together, each for his own grief, as each has cried so often before, but this time a miracle happens. Achilles’ grief is transformed into satisfaction, and cleansed from is chest and his hands (513-14). This is all the more remarkable, since Achilles has for days been repeatedly trying to take out his raging grief on Hectors dead body. The famous first word of the Iliad, mints, wrath, has come back at the beginning of Book XIV in the participle MaineГ¶n (22), a constant condition that Loiterer translates well as “standing fury. But all this hardened rage evaporates in one lamentation, Just because Achilles shares it with his enemy’s father. Hermes had told Prima to appeal to Achilles in the names of his father, his mother, and his child, “in order to stir his heart” (466-7), but Prism’s focused misery goes straight to Achilles’ heart without diluting the effect. The first words out of Prism’s mouth are “remember your father” (486).
Your father deserves pity, Prima says, so “pity me with him in mind, since I am more pitiful even than he; I have dared what no other mortal on earth ever dared, to stretch out my lips to the hand of the man who murdered my children” (503-4). Achilles had been pitying Patrols, but mainly himself, but the feeling to which Prima has directed him now is exactly the same as tragic pity. Achilles is looking at a human being who has chosen to go to the limits of what is humanly possible to search for something that matters to him.
The wonder of this sight takes Achilles out of his self-pity, but back into himself as a son and as a sharer of human misery itself. All his old longings for glory and revenge fall away, since they have no place in the sight in which he is now absorbed. For the moment, the beauty of Prism’s terrible action re-makes the world, and determines what matters and what doesn’t. The feeling in this moment out of time is fragile, and Achilles feels it heartened by tragic fear.