March 16, 2015

Aristotle and Ovid

New work is underway, and I search for new forms. The greatest influences on literature are Aristotle and Ovid.  They offer two different methods of story-telling.

Aristotle in Poetics focused his attention on these elements: plot, character, thought, diction, song, spectacle, and catharsis.  This design usually features a compelling narrative focused on the intense desires of a main character.  Sparknotes contains an analysis of Aristotle's Poetics:
Plot, derived from the word muthos (the root word for myth, Greek) applied to any art form, including music or sculpture. The muthos of a piece of art is its general structure and organization. It means not the sequence of events so much as the logical relationships that exist between events. The best kind of plot of muthos contains surprises, those that fit logically into the sequence of events. The best kinds of surprises are brought about by "peripeteia," or reversal of fortune, and "anagnorisis," or discovery.
In addition, I particularly value the following thoughts from Poetics by Aristotle:
Every word is either current, or strange, or metaphorical, or ornamental,
or newly-coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered. 
...the poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities.
...magnitude in the sense of the astronomical...brightness or power...  
On the other hand, Ovid's Metamorphoses has also greatly influenced literature and the arts. Larry A. Brown writes: "...there is no central hero, thus no simple Aristotelian unity to the work. So what binds this poem together, making it more than a random collection of stories? We might first consider three superficial strategies of unity within the poem:
  • All of Ovid's tales involve metamorphosis. But some stories (see Phaethon, Pentheus, Heracles) only have metamorphosis tacked on as an incidental element, almost as an afterthought. Ovid is more interested in metamorphosis as a universal principle which explains the nature of the world: Troy falls, Rome rises. Nothing is permanent.
  • Chronological progression: Ovid begins his poem with the story of creation and the flood, and ends in his own day with Augustus on the throne. However, chronology becomes unimportant in the vast middle section of work, as seen by the numerous anachronisms throughout (see notes on Callisto, Atlas, Cycnus stories for examples).
  • Transitional links: Ovid continually surprises us, as we never know where he's going next. He changes strategies using several techniques
Ovid presents a much more associational form, a theme with variations: "gods acting like humans (section I), to humans suffering at the hands of gods (II), to humans suffering at the hands of humans (III), to humans becoming gods (IV)," according to Brown.

Of the two styles of storytelling, I find myself more often prone to Ovid that Aristotle.  My work has been always focused on changes, including Migrations, the anthology of Lake Superior area writers that I collected.  Poetry is often associational.  But as I work on my new play, I can see the strengths of Aristotle's approach, and so I aim to incorporate structural elements of both.

Work Cited:

Aristotle.  Poetics. Written 350 B.C.E.  (full text) The Internet Classics Archive. MIT.  Web Retrieved

Brown, Larry A. Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Web. Retrieved 16 March 2015. 

Philosophy Study Guides. Aristotle. Poetics. 384-322 B.C.   SparkNotes. Web. Retrieved 16 March 2015.

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