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Arvanitakis, K. (1982). Aristotle's Poetics: The Origins of Tragedy and the Tragedy of Origins. Am. Imago, 39(3):255-268.

(1982). American Imago, 39(3):255-268

Aristotle's Poetics: The Origins of Tragedy and the Tragedy of Origins

K. Arvanitakis, M.D.

“A double tale will I tell: at one time One only grew out of Many, at another time again, from One Many came. For the birth of mortals is double, and double is their end.”

Empedocles

Aristotle's fragmentary treatise on the Fine Arts (Poetiké) has been the subject of commentary since its composition in the 4th century B.C. It may well be one of the most extensively analyzed works of secular literature in the West. Yet, it has received surprisingly little attention by the psychoanalytic world, apart from periodic references to Aristotle's concept of katharsis and the “medical” vs “moral” controversy surrounding it. The pre-eminent scholar on katharsis and the one whose views eventually predominated was Jakob Bernays, whose Zwei Abhandlungen über die Aristotelische Theorie des Dramas appeared in Berlin in 1880. According to Bernays, the effect of tragedy is due to the pleasurable relief that it brings the spectator, via the excitation and purging (abreaction) of fear and pity, within the safe setting of the stage. (Jacob Bernays was the uncle of Freud's wife Martha). Freud's views on the function of tragedy (Psychopathic characters on the Stage, 1905) coincide with those of Bernays in the adoption of the “medical” metaphor, but curiously enough Freud makes no reference to his uncle-in-law. Neither does he appear anywhere linking Breuer's “cathartic method” with tragedy.

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