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Aristotle's Concept of Praxis in the Poetics Author(s): Elizabeth Belfiore Reviewed work(s): Source: The Classical Journal, Vol.

79, No. 2 (Dec., 1983 - Jan., 1984), pp. 110-124 Published by: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3297245 . Accessed: 31/03/2012 15:26
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ARISTOTLE'SCONCEPTOF PRAXISIN THEPOETICS In Poetics 6 (1449b24) Aristotle defines tragedy as mimesis praxeos, "imitationof action." Praxis, "action," in this context is often taken to refer to the deliberate action of a rational being, a technical sense the term sometimes has in Aristotle's ethical writings. Fergusson, for example, writes that "Action(praxis) does not mean deeds, events, or physical activity: it means, rather, the motivation from which deeds spring."' But a study of Aristotle's use of praxis in the Poetics shows that this view is wrong. When used of the actions imitated by tragedy, epic and comedy, the term praxis never means "a morally (or ethically) qualifiedaction," that is, an action for be praised or blamed.2Praxis refers to a mere which one may appropriately event, a killing, for example, and not to heroic self-defense or vicious murder. Whenevera poet representsa characteras havingcertainmoralqualitiesor as acting in a morally qualifiedway, he does so by using ethos or dianoia rather than by imitatinga praxis. A brief look at the ethical works of Aristotle will help to clarify our distinctionbetween the two senses of praxis. In the NicomacheanEthics, as Joachim observes, praxis has two meanings. In one sense, a praxis is "the "9 "By doing just acts," writes Aristotle, "we subject of moral predicates.
to Aristotle'sPoetics, translated 'E Fergusson, introduction by S. H. Butcher(New York1961) 8. The view that a praxis is not merely an event is very widely held. Some representative statements are those of D. W. Lucas, Aristotle's Poetics (Oxford 1968) 96 (hereafterLucas): Praxis "means,not any randomact like opening one's mouthor crossing the street, but an action initiatedwith a view to an end and carriedon in pursuitof it"; G. Else, Aristotle'sPoetics: The Argument (Cambridge, Mass. 1967) 256 (hereafter Else): "It is not merely an action but a transaction, a decisive change in the whole postureof a life. For a 7rp&fts is not a mere act or event"; S. H. Butcher,Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art (London 1895; 4th edition, t that art seeks to reproduceis mainly an London 1932) 123 (hereafterButcher): "The 7rp&f inwardprocess, a psychical energy workingoutwards;deeds, incidents, events, situations, being included under it so far as these spring from an inward act of will, or elicit some activity of 89 (1958) 314: "This thoughtor feeling"; G. Gresseth, "TheSystem of Aristotle'sPoetics," TAPA [sc. thatof theNicomacheanEthics] is the conceptionof action and of man's life, which is in this sense an action, and therefore the conception of drama and plot and related matters which dominatesthe Poetics" (emphasisadded). The idea thatpraxis in the Poetics has a technical, ethical sense is often assumed ratherthan arguedfor, and the question has received very little attention.To my knowledge, there has been in the Major Works only one full-length study of the problem:J. Hitt, "A Study of IPAI to Aristotle. .. ," Diss., Princeton1954. This very inadequatework is typical in that Attributed it assumes that praxis in the Poetics can be explained by reference to the ethical writings of Aristotle (e.g. p. 212). 2The term "moral"has unfortunatenon-Aristotelianconnotations, but "ethical"has equally unsatisfactoryassociations with ethos. As used here, both "moral"and "ethical"describe any " " "brave,""cowardly. predicatesthat confer praise or blame such as "just," "unjust, 3H. Joachim, comm., The NicomacheanEthics (Oxford 1955) 78 (hereafterJoachim).




become just" (EN 1105al7-18). Again, using praxis in this morally qualified sense, Aristotlesays in the EudemianEthics that only rationalbeings, and not children or animals, are capable of "acting" (EE 1224a28-30; cf. EN 1139a20). In a second sense, however, praxis refers to an event without moral qualifications. As Joachim again explains: "The mere praxis-the external movements resulting in a man's death-is morally colourless, the material equally, for example, of legitimate self-defense, heroic patriotism, or "4 In the ethical writings, of course, the way in which an action is murder. performedby an agent is the primaryconsiderationin any assessment of the moral qualities of the action. In most cases, the moral qualities of an action are determinedby the way in which it was done by an agent. Thus, when Aristotle says that "By doing just acts we become just, " he goes on to explain that the acts we do to become just are not just in the same, full sense of the word as applied to acts done by someone who is alreadyjust. They are only "such as a just person might do" (EN 1105b5-7). To be just in the full sense, he writes, an act must be done by an agent with knowledge, choosing (proairoumenos)the act, choosing it for its own sake, and having a stable hexis, disposition (EN 2.1105a28-33). The exceptions prove the rule. For even when Aristotle allows that an act can have moralqualitiesapartfrom the agent's doing of it, the focus is still on the agent ratherthanthe act. InEN 5.8, for example, he allows that an act can be just or unjust apart from any assessment of the agent. But he is also careful to distinguish between acts done justly and acts done justly only "accidentally"(Kar' (TUE'8 K'KO). o that is in An agent, he writes, cannotbe praisedor blamed for doing an action fact just or unjust if he acts out of ignorance, under compulsion, or in some other "accidental"way.5 Praxis, then, in the ethical works, can mean either:(1) the subjectof moral predicates, or (2) an event that is not the subjectof moral predicates.In both cases, the agent is the primaryconsideration. In the Poetics, however, Aristotle's focus is on the action and not on the agent: tragedy is imitationof action and not of humanbeings (50a16-17).6 A poet must imitate an action, if he can be said to write a tragedyat all. But he need not always give us enough informationabout how this action is done to allow us to determine whether the agent deserves praise, blame or neither.
4Joachim, 91. is difficult to be more precise about Aristotle'sdistinctionbetween mere actions and actions 51It done in a certainway.J. L. Ackrill, in "Aristotleon Action," Mind 87 (1978) 595-601, discusses some of the problemsinvolved. On the relevanceof EN 5.8 to the questionof Oedipus'hamartia see R. Sorabji,Necessity, Cause, and Blame (Ithaca 1980) 295ff., and below, note 21. 6This difference in focus of the ethical works and of the Poetics is corrrectlynoted by R. Dupont-Roc and J. Lallot, Aristote. La Poetique (Paris 1980) 196: the Poetics, they write, "renversela perspectivede l'ethique. Ce qui est au premierplan ici, c'est non plus l'agent, mais l'action. ... " However, they fail to realize that the theoreticalbasis of both the Poetics and the ethical works is the same. They continue: "et, parce que cette action doit ^etre qualificeen termes ethiques, les actantsdoivent 1 etre egalement .. "



Hence, praxis in the Poetics does not mean "a morally qualified action." I argue below that several considerationssupportthis view: (1) the distinction in the Poetics between praxis and ethos, (2) a survey of the occurrencesof praxis and cognates in the Poetics, (3) Greek usage of praxis and cognates, and (4) examples of dramaticaction. 1. Praxis and Ethos Aristotle's distinctionbetweenpraxis and ethos is strongevidence in favor of the view thatpraxis does not mean "a morally qualified action" in the Poetics. Whatethos means, in this work and elsewhere, is of course a major problem in itself.7 For our present purposes, however, it is sufficient to recognize that when and if moralqualitiesenter into the drama,they do so by means of ethos (and/ordianoia), and not by means of praxis alone. I do not mean to imply that ethos is always, or even usually, associated with moral qualities. That it can have some moralaspects, however, is clear from the two definitionsof ethos (ethe) given in the Poetics. 1. 50a4-6: "I mean by ethe thataccordingto which we say thatthose acting are qualified" (Xhyw yap ... rtvaq E~vat Tra 8 r, Ka 0' TroLoYU Prov 7ip&arrovraq). 4aLVE 2. 50b8-9: "Ethos is thatwhichindicates choice"(o'Vrw 8~\1o / Eiv 7rb ' ov 8Xrl4ott'v iTpoatpEo-wv).8 70otoW

It wouldbe a mistaketo assumethatthe qualities of the firstdefinition are " as should be translated "moral moral,orthat proairesis exclusively purpose, translates it.9 On the otherhand,thereis no evidenceto justifythe Butcher conclusion thatmoralqualitiesand choicesare meantto be excludedfrom ethos in the Poetics. Aristotleseems to be sayingthatethos can indicate (moral)choice and confer (moral)qualities.And he never suggeststhat withthe agent else (exceptdianoia),whichis also to be connected anything rather thanwiththe action,10 does this. define ethos, but he never Aristotlestates, then, that these properties ofpraxisalone.Further, he insists thattheycanenterintoanaccount suggests to but not ethos, is essential from ethos and that is distinct that praxis, praxis then, that not ethos. We conclude, does reasonably may imply praxis tragedy: thatdefineethos, thatit does not indicate praxisdoes nothavetheproperties choiceor serveto qualifythe agent.
Die Bedeutungdes 7Among the recent works on this controversialtopic are: E. Sch'iutrumpf, ithos in der Poetikdes Aristoteles (Munich 1970);J. Pollitt, TheAncient Viewof GreekArt Wortes (New Haven 1974), 184-89; E. Keuls, Plato on Greek Painting (Leiden 1978) 95-109. Keuls' view thatethos in the Poetics means "dramatic passage indicativeof character"(97) is surely the correctone, though I cannot agree with her thatethos lacks a moral factor (97, note 28). 81 follow the text of R. Kassel's OCT (1965) unless otherwise noted. All translationsare my own. of proairesis at 50b9 and at 54a17-18. The term does not have a 9Butcheruses this translation where it is used in a technicalsense which narrowlymoralsense even at EN 3.2 (111lb4-1112a17), we are not justified in importinginto the Poetics. '0Poetics49b36-50a3 states thatdianoia, as well as ethos, serves to qualify those acting and (in a passage bracketedby Kassel) that it is a cause of action.



Aristotle draws a distinction between ethos and praxis in several ways. First, he tells us repeatedlythatpraxis, or, strictlyspeaking, themythos (plot) which is the systasis pragmaton (50a4-5), is the most importantaspect of tragedy: "The structureof the actions is the first and most importantpart of the tragedy. "11Moreover,he insists that there can be tragedieswithoutethos (ethe): "Theydo not act in orderto imitate the ethe, but they include the ethe within [the outline of] the actions;12 so thatthe actions and the plot are the end of tragedy, and the end is the most importantof all. Again, without action therecould be no tragedy;withoutethe therecould be; the tragediesof most of the modem poets are without ethe . . .; the first principle and as it were the soul of tragedyis the mythos; the second is the ethe" (50a20-26, 50a38-39). Thus, while a tragedywithoutethos is certainlyinferior(ethos is "second"),it is neverthelessa tragedy. The statement that there can be tragedies without ethos should be taken literally: there can be tragedies in which choice is not indicatedand qualities of those acting are not given.13 Aristotle's repeated insistence thatpraxis is primaryand ethos inessential to tragedy indicates thatpraxis never implies ethos. Since ethos is associated with the agent, and not with the action, as Aristotle's definitionsof ethos make clear, those passages in which he insists that tragedyis imitationof actions and not of agents also make the point that is imitationnot of humanbeings but of praxis never implies ethos: "Tragedy actions and [the events] of a life" (50al6-17);14 "it is imitationof action and
"150b22-23; cf. 50al5, 50a22-23, 50a29-b3.
LY7(vatoL in Drama and Oratory-Poetics a'ra 8th Trp(4etL (50a20-22). L. Pearson, "Characterization 1450a20," CQ 18 (1968) 76-83, presents a good survey of the textual problems of this passage and of the difficultiesof interpretation, thoughI do not agree with his conclusions. I would like to think that Aristotle has in mind the comparisongiven at 50a39-b3, which I take to be between plot and outline on the one hand and ethos and color on the other: the outline of the plot is "colored in" by ethos, as in a child's coloring book. I have not, however, been able to find an instance in which is used in this sense. 13avEv 4EoW o( "LtEvrpV VEWV 7r&v 'TXEITh tv a 7tq 120KKOVV O17(Or 7 /Al/ irpaTTovrLv, a &Xa hh i' 7it lvArEpLXaavoovLrL

misinterpretation.Many, for example A. Gudeman, Aristoteles. Peri Poietikes (Berlin and Leipzig 1934) 180; I. Bywater, Aristotle on the Art of Poetry (Oxford 1909) 167, believe that "without character"should be taken in only a relative sense. A. Dale, "Ethos and Dianoia: 'Character'and 'Thought'in Aristotle'sPoetics," AUMLA 11(1959) 8, followed by Sch'iutrumpf (above, note 7) 92, wants to blur the distinctionbetween ethos andpraxis by means of a theoryof "implicit"and "explicit"ethos. Otherstry to makeethos an essential partof praxis in some other way. Pearson, for example (above, note 12) 79-80, states that "it is by representingpeople's actions that one shows what kind of people they are. " H. House, Aristotle's Poetics (London 1956) 74 correctly interpretsthe passage, though he misunderstandsthe relationshipbetween ethos and action. Some additionalsupportfor my view is 50a12: o01Kb6XiyoL a&PTiv, incorrectly of 50a23-26 is put in obeli by Kassel. A new defense of 50a12 and of the literal interpretation given by R. Janko,Aristotle, Poetics II on Comedy:An Epitome, now in press. I wish to thank Prof. Jankofor allowing me to read his unpublishedmanuscript. ~ V 14g ithPElpse (7r ) at, ra th I cannot K XXctonEoVKal rTe iov. chht p V with Else that here has of conscious (257) agree implications purpose. fLioq

OV.l1TEpLap4a,&vELv OVrv ' LWLv LKWyVOiTO Tpay po "8tpa, aVEV 8bE "tov yatp tratwv yivOL, E'Tiv (50a23-26), has been particularly subject to 7rpayq8tIat &LaC"



most of all because of this it is imitationof those acting" (50b3-4); "since it is imitationof action and is acted by people acting . . . " (49b36-37). Finally,at 61a4-9, Aristotleexplicitly states thatthe qualitiesof actions are not inherent in them, but are derived from the agents. We cannot tell, he writes, whetheran action is o-rrov6aiov or 4aicvov without consideringthe agent: In deciding whether something was well or not well said or done by a person, one must not only consider whether the thing itself which was said or done was noble or base (orrTov8aiov " awAXov)but one must also consider the doer or sayer, to whom or when or how or for what reasonhe acted or spoke, for example, to bringabouta greatergood or to preventa greaterevil.5 It might be objected that severalpassages in the Poetics seem to imply that praxis at least sometimes entails ethos. For example, Aristotle writes at 54a17-19 that speech andpraxis can haveethos: "Itwill haveethos if, as was said, the speech or praxis makes clear what some choice is." And again, Aristotlewrites that "by means of these [sc. ethos anddianoia] we say thatthe actions also are qualified; for there are two causes of actions, dianoia and ethos . .." (49b38-50a2).'6 These passages, however, simply indicate that ethos or dianoia can be added to praxis. A praxis that may be said to "make clear what some choice is" is a combinationof praxis and ethos, and it is ethos and notpraxis thatdoes the indicating. A similar accountmay be given of 49b38-50a2. If it were a general rule that every praxis has a cause, this passage would indicate thatpraxis entails ethos. But if a tragedy can lack ethos a tragicpraxis can certainly lack a cause. Thus, a praxis that may be said to be qualified is also a combinationof praxis and the ethos or dianoia that alone indicate what caused the action. 50a16-20, the passage in which Aristotle associates praxis with eudaimonia, presentsspecial problems. Kassel's text reads:
oVaXXa&I& " [Kai Tpay,6"a v T(JC4ELiOwTV, KaC rb EV'aL/LOvUY Ka'LT(.'TToV /3'iov KaKO8a4LuovLa Loo-r r V, oi- 1Todjrq~ ECULV8' Kara LV rTXo~rrpc i~ i Tp4~ELEV6aqALoVEq KaTra TWVE9, roLOL TroiVvaVTioV]. 6ETaq There are excellent reasons for following Kassel in bracketingthe passage as he does. 17 e68aovia, EvaigovEg occur nowhere else in the Poetics, and,


Ai'qroi ixv


l EpcWEov KaL

15The passage is cited by L. Golden, "Is Tragedythe 'Imitationof a Serious Action'?" GRBS6 (1965) 285, note 7, as evidence in favor of his view that "Aristotleconceives of noble action as " I disagree with Golden, however, about conditionedby and dependenton nobility of character. the meaning of spoudaion in this passage, on which see below, section 2, discussion of #6. ov rp64Eov Eiva, btivota KaYL may not be genuine. It a Tir r0 TWo '650al-2: 7TrOvKEV (00o Lucas, Else, and was disrupts the sequence of ideas in this passage, is bracketedby Kassel, moved by T. Gomperz,Aristoteles'Poetikitbersetztund eingeleitet (Leipzig 1897) 101. '7The text is corruptand has been much amendedand discussed. For a defense of the passage bracketedby Kassel and a discussion of the controversy surroundingit see H.-J. Horn, "Zur t vor dem 10og in der AristotelischenTragodientheorie," der rrp&cf Begrindung des Vorrangs Hermes 103 (1975) 292-299.



as Lucas notes, KaKO8aL.LOVia is not Aristotelian.18 Nevertheless, even if the entire passage is genuine, we are not forced to conclude that it indicates that praxis means "a morally qualified action." The term ev6Satqovia should, if the passage is genuine, be read in a non-ethical sense, as a synonym of In 50a16-20 Eii8aLpovia and KaKO8aL/.LovaR are the two endpointsof the tragic change.'9 Other passages use terms related to rviXr to describe this 7TraTa [sc. Tpg4EI] Ka TrYXavVVOUtLV change: Kar&u Kat &lrorvtyXEL'; &vovovwrwavrE (50a2-3); ovipaLvEL EvbrvXUiav K 8vo-riXta q E5 E (51a13-14); Now it is clear from Aristotle'sexample of a tragicchange in Poetics 13 that "luck," and its cognates do not have ethical implications.20The best rvXrb, tragedy,Aristotle writes, shows someone "not excelling in arete andjustice, nor changing to 8vo-rvXia because of evil or vice, but because of some hamartia,21 someone who is one of those with great good reputationand Ei-rvXla, such as Oedipus and Thyestes and famous men of such families" as "prosperous."In this (53a8-12). Butcher rightly translates [Ev] E1YrvuXi passage, the social advantagesof good reputation,fame and nobility of birth are associatedwith iYrvxua.And the term is explicitly dissociatedfromarete and justice: the person with EirrvXUa should not excel in these qualities if the tragedy is to be good. Tragedy,in Aristotle's view, should deal with people who are conspicuously in possession of those things the Greeks traditionally considered to be advantages.This is not a moral requirement.It is simply an observationthat the misfortunesof a person who "has everything"are more
ETbrvX'a KvorvX'iav tLErafahXXEvhw Ei EIbrvXtav qEiL larvXtav (55b27-28). o6

/ETaJaiLvEL E~i

'8Lucas, 102. The phrase iEoriv appearsto be a Kal KaKoGLMOLva 'v E6attL/ovLca 1"rp4EtL distortionof EN 6.1139a34-35: Ev y ap a'vEv &avoiac' Kal rb evOavTov Kt n7p4Et Ebnrpa',ao at EN 6.1139a31, Just above, Wiov obrK nUTLV. rp4E~rc i v oiv axpX,)rTpoatploaq.,is remarkablysimilar to the suspected passage Poetics 50al-2 (note 16, above). It is possible that this passage in the Ethics influencedthe intrusionof both Poetics passages. 19Else (256) rightly connects the passage with the account of the tragic change later in the the change itself. Poetics, though he misinterprets " to have ethical implications:A. Neschke, 207vrb, "luck, has been thought, like EbSatLLovia, Die Poetikdes Aristoteles (Frankfort 1.132-133 cites Ar. Physics 197a36ff. to show thatthe 1980) term ri'Xqcan be used of what happens to moral agents alone. M. Schofield, "Aristotelian Mistakes," Proc. CambridgePhilological Soc. n.s. 19 (1973) 66-70, offers some good evidence against interpreting xirvxia in this way in the EN. 21Hamartia of course cannotbe dealt with adequatelyhere. Briefly,I take the fact of the change from good to bad fortuneto be central, and the exact natureof the agent's "error"that brings it about to be relatively unimportant. As Adkins notes, commentingon hamartiain Greektragedy: "Whatis importantin all these actions is that a characteror charactershave passed from good fortune to ill. . . . Before such a change of condition can take place there must have been an 'error,' &xapria, of some kind . . . but the exact nature of the 'error' is of ... small importance, compared with the change of condition . . ." ("Aristotle and the Best Kind of Tragedy," CQ 16 [1966] 89). Sorabji (above, note 5) gives some excellent reasons against interpretinghamartia in the Poetics in the light of the Ethics, and rightly remarksthat "Greek of a weakness punished, but were sometimes studies of the tragedies were not always portrayals sheer pity and horrorof humansituations"(296).



impressive, produce more pity and fear, than those of an ordinaryhuman being.22 In ordinaryGreek ELbaLLgoviawas often synonymous with E in the brvX'La sense of "prosperity,"and had, in Adkins' words, "the strongest possible flavourof 'wealth.' "23 Aristotle, even in the Nicomachean Ethics, emphaand Oedipus sizes the external goods that go to make up EibSaLgovia,24 himself was called by Euripides.25 Eb6ailwov in 50a16-20 in a nonreason to interpretEab8atgLovaia There is, then, every ethical sense, as synonymous with EbrvXta, meaning "prosperity."The is imitation not of human beings passage must, if genuine, mean: "Tragedy but of events and of [the events of a human] life. Prosperityand adversity result from events and the result is an event, not a quality.Humanbeings are qualifiedby theirethe, and are prosperousor the opposite because of events." 2. Occurrencesof Praxis and Cognates in the Poetics A second reason for believing thatpraxis does not have an ethical sense in the Poetics is provided by a survey of the occurrences of praxis and its cognates in this work. These words are never modified by specifically ethical terms (e.g. dikaios, andreios), and the actions they describe are never consideredto have ethical propertiesof their own. In the following section, all occurrences of praxis and cognates in the Poetics are grouped in tables according to usage or context. I follow the rubrics of Kassel's index: rrp&y/pa, Tp&'KTLKOV, , porpa~ , Trp&TTErr TErlpay.giva. His index is incomplete, however, and I supplementit with other occurrences I have found. A discussion of each heading follows the tables. Two or more occurrencesin the same line are listed separately:e.g. 51a37, 51a37. [ ] designates occurrencesbracketedby Kassel. * designates words listed under more than one heading.26The totals of each heading and subheading(1, 2, 2a, etc.) include cross-listed occurrences;the total of all headings (1-7) counts cross-listings only once.

" in Literaturein Western 22See R. Lattimore, "The Legend in Greek Tragedy, Civilization. I: The Classical World,D. Daiches and A. Thorlbyeds., (London 1972) 173-91, for an excellent that tragedydeal with humanbeings of high social status. discussion of Aristotle's requirement
He notes Euripides' Hipp. 1465-6: r&v yarp p/.ya'Xcv &asorrE0-ELdg/IqEaL

Xov~rv. See also Lucas, 63-64. 23A. W. H. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility (Oxford 1960) 254; cf. 257-258, note 12 on eudaimonia. 24SeeEN 1.1099a31-b8, where Aristotlealso notes the popularconnectionof eudaimoniawith eutychia, andRhetoric 1.5 (1360b). E.yevETo a&, &XYAufrao09 /3porWv. Ev8atgwv av-qp ...E.L' To 25Sv Oii0 rrp&rrov rrpov; in AristophanesFrogs 1182, 1187 (=Nauck, fr. 157, 158). This use of Eur.Antigone fr., cited The is noted of eudaimon as a synonym Oedipus Tyrannusof by J. T. Sheppard, EbrvX-v Sophocles (Cambridge1920) xxix and note 2. Sheppardnotes anotherinterestinguse of eudaimon in OT 1190ff. 26Forconvenience, I limit the numberof cross-listings included.






Tables 1. Uses irrelevantto imitation:48bl, 50b35, 51a10 Total: 3 2. "Technical" uses 2a. 7rp&ytLa:51b22, 54a14, 54b6, 55a17, 56a20 Total: 5 2b. Tp&aKTKOV : 60al Total: 1 2c. rrpa&tq : 47a28, 51b29, 51b33, 52a13, 52a37, 52bll Total: 6 2d. Trp&rrEtv : 48a23, 49b31, 52a36, 52a36, 55a25, 59a15, 59b24, 60a14 Total: 8 2e. 7rpolTErTpay/ : 55b30 vaa Total: 1 Total2a-e: 21 3. Associated with aVayKIq: *51a28, 51b9, 51bl11,52a22, 52a29, 54a35, *56b2 EKO'., Total: 8 4. Associated with "one," "whole," or "complete:"*49b24, 50b24, 51a18, 51a19, *51a28, 51a31, 51a33, *52a2, 52a14, 59a19, 59a22, 59bl, 62b8, 62bll Total: 14 5. Associated with pity and fear: *52a2, 52bl, 53b2, 53b5, 53b13, *53b16, *56b2 Total:7 6. Associated with KaX0q or : 48al, 48a27, 48b25, *49b24, or7TovU8daio *61a5, *61a6, *61a7 Total:7 7. Passages particularly relevantto Aristotle's theory of praxis: 7a. Poetics 14: kinds of praxeis: *53b16, 53b27, 53b30, 53b30, 53b36, 53b38, 54a2, 54a3, 54a3 Total: 9 7b. Praxis most important aspect of tragedy:50a15, 50a22, 50a32, 50a37, 50b22 Total: 5 7c. 49b36-50a6: 49b36, 49b36, 49b37, 50al, [50a2], 50a4, 50a5, 50a6 Total: 8 7d. 50a16-22: 50a16, [50a18], [50a18], [50a20], 50a21, 50a22 Total: 6 7e. Other:50a24, 50b3, 50b4, 54a18, *61a5, *61a6, *61a7 Total:7 Total7a-e: 35 Total1-7 (cross-listings counted only once): 87



Discussion #1. 48bl says that prattein is the Attic for poiein; in the other two occurrences pragma means "thing." #2. In the passages in which these instancesoccur, tragedyis called mimesis praxeos, the plot is called the systasis pragmaton, or some similar reference is made to action as the sphere of drama, and nothing relevantto ethics is said. #3. The rule of probabilityor necessity is a formalrequirement,havingno bearingon ethical questions. #4. The rule that a praxis should be one, whole and complete is closely connected with the "norm of length" within which the tragic change is comprised(51al2-15). I argueabove, in the discussion of 50a16-20, that this change should not be thoughtof in ethical terms. #5. Pity and fear are primarilya response to the plot (53bl-7) and we will see below, in the discussion of #7a, that the actions which make up plots are described in non-ethical terms. Aristotle does say that pity is felt for the and fear for the i4lows~(53a5-6), but a&vrao6 and 6/owgo do not &v&eo have narrowlyethical senses27and in any case they describethe agent, not the action. What Aristotle means is that a persona without these qualities will interferewith the audience's tragic response to the plot.28 #6. In seven instancespraxis is associated with spoudaios or kalos. At 48al and 48a27 spoudaios describespeople who happento be acting, and not the actions themselves. And, as we have seen, 61a4-9, where three other instances occur, states that we cannot tell whether or not an action is spoudaion orphaulon without consideringthe agent. At 48b25-27 Aristotle states that when poetry originated,the bettersort of . .. 7Tpa0EL' Ka't 7 oV roo'rWoV,writing poets imitated 7Ya' r' KaXh hymns and encomia, while the inferior sort imitated ratq [Trp&a6Et] i70V aai hov, writing invectives (ftf6yot).Since encomia are writtento praise, as invectives are written to blame, kalas must attributean ethical quality to praxeis, in this one instance. However, Aristotle is now discussing a stage of poetry that precedes and differs from that of epic, tragedy and comedy.29 Comedy, Aristotle tells us, only appears when the earlier invectives are replacedby "the laughable"(48b37), which is "some defect or ugliness that is painless and not destructive"such as the comic mask (49a34-37). That is, while the objects of invective are blameworthy,and hence morally qualified, those of comedy are merely laughable. The developmentof epic and tragedy
27Thiswas convincingly demonstrated by Adkins, "Aristotleand the Best Kind of Tragedy" (above, note 21). 28T.Stinton, "Hamartiain Aristotle and GreekTragedy," CQ 25 (1975) 238-39, rightly notes that Aristotle is concerned with proscribingthe charactertraits that interfere with our tragic pleasure, causing us to feel "outrage,"mairon,(Po. 13.52b36) insteadof pity and fear. I take this that charactersbe "better"(53a16) and "good" same concern to govern Aristotle's requirements 29Thismuch, at least, is clear, whetheror not we follow Else (137ff.) in assigning everything before 48b32 to the pre-poeticstage of improvisation.




from encomia may be analogous to the development of comedy from invective, thoughour corrupttext does not describeit in detail. Aristotledoes, however, tell us that Homer's Margites is to comedy what his Iliad and Odyssey are to tragedy (48b38-49a2) and he replaces the kalas praxeis imitated by the earlier encomia with ta spoudaia when he discusses epic (48b34). It is possible, then, that just as comedy replaces the blameworthy with the laughable, so epic and tragedy replace the praiseworthy with spoudaia thatare not objects of praise. Whetheror not this is a correctaccount of the development of epic, we are certainly not justified in simply equating the kalas praxeis of a pre-epic stage with the spoudaia of the Homericstage of poetry,especially since kalas praxeis are nowherein the Poetics said to be the objects of epic, tragedyor comedy. This brings us to Aristotle'sdefinitionof tragedyas imitationof a spoudaia praxis at 6.49b24. It might be arguedthat, since in Poetics 2 Aristotletells us that tragedy imitates people who are spoudaioi or "better"in some moral sense, spoudaia must also have a moral sense at 6.49b24.30 Even if we grant the premise, however, 61a4-9 proves that Aristotle does not hold that every action of a morally good person must itself be morally good. On the otherhand, there is good evidence thatspoudaia in Poetics 6 means "worthserious attention"and that it describes the formal structureof a plot. In his definition at 49b24 Aristotle states that "tragedy is imitation of a " Then, in Chapter7.50b23spoudaia and teleia praxis, having magnitude. he substitutes hole for 25, spoudaia, writing that tragedy was defined as "imitationof a teleia andhole praxis, havingmagnitude." This substitutionis no accident. The holon, Aristotle writes, is something that has a beginning, middle and end, according to probability or necessity (50b27ff.). Then, in Chapter 9, he states that what happens according to what is probable or necessary is the katholou, "the universal" (51a6-11), and that because poetry is more concerned with the universal, history with the particular,poetry is more philosophical and spoudaioteron than history (51b5-6). Poetry is spoudaioteron,then, because it imitates a hole praxis, and a spoudaiapraxis is a hole praxis, one that follows probabilityor necessity.31 Since, then, spoudaia describes the formal structureof a tragedy,it is best translated"worthserious attention." Spoudazesthaiis used to mean "to take seriously" at 49bl, where Aristotlewrites thatcomedy has no history because it was not "takenseriously";it was not, for example, given a chorusuntil late. And as Else has shown, spoudaioi people in the Poetics are "those who take themselves and life seriously and thereforecan be taken seriously."32It may be that we cannot say of someone that he or she takes life seriously without making a positive moral judgment. However, there is no reason to suppose
30Foran argumentalong these lines see Golden (above, note 15) 283-89. 310n the connection between the spoudaion and the probable or necessary see M. Weitz, " in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, P. Edwards, ed. (New York1967) 8.155 and the "Tragedy, excellent remarksof H. D. E Kitto, "Catharsis,"in The Classical Tradition,L. Wallace, ed. (Ithaca 1966) 144. 32Else, 77. See also Lucas, 63-64, on the social connotationsof spoudaios.



that an action worth taking seriously must be a praiseworthyaction. All serious studentsof ethics, including Aristotle himself, consider blameworthy actions to be worthconsideringat least as seriously as praiseworthyacts. #7a. This category is particularly interestingbecause all of these instances occur withinthe context of an exhaustivelist of kinds of actions which tragedy may imitate (Poetics 14). Aristotle begins by asking what sorts of events 53b15) are pitiableand fearful. Suchpraxeis, he continues, (orvurrttvreov: would have to be those of philoi, enemies, or of those who are neither (53b15-17). And again, he writes, (53b27-37) the actions would have to be done or not done, and by those with knowledge or without knowledge of the relationship (Ivayvwpio-at rlvy thXiav:53b31). "And there is no other possibility besides these, " Aristotle remarks(53b36). In all of these cases, certain facts about the agent-his relationship to someone else and his knowledge or ignoranceof this relationship-are a part of the action. These facts alone, however, are not sufficient to give moral qualitiesto the actions. Someone, for example, who killed a relativeknowing of this relationship,might not be culpable, if he acted undercompulsionor for the sake of a greatergood. Again, someone who killed a relative would not necessarily be absolved from blame if he did not know of the relationship. This act might be vicious murderregardlessof the relationship,or the agent might himself be responsiblefor his ignorance. We cannotpraise or blame on the basis of such scant knowledge.33 As if to underline this fact, praxis at in the previous line: a word with 53b16 is used as a synonym of or1,vuir7Tnov been found.34 have fewer ethical connotationscould hardly #7b-#7e. These occurrenceshave been discussed in section 1, above. 3. Greek Usage of Praxis and Cognates If praxis apartfrom ethos never refers to a morally qualified action in the Poetics, this is entirely in line with the usage of Aristotle and of other Greek writers. Bruno Snell showed long ago that the verbdran is used of actions in which guilt or innocence is in question, while prattein "nowheretouches on this question of good and evil. "35 In Ag. 1467, for example, Helen, as cause of the Trojan War, is said to have "brought to pass incurable pain"
33J. Jones, On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy(Oxford 1962) 48-49, rightly argues against a tendencyto read psychological implicationsintoPoetics 14 when he tells us thatmellei, at 53b21, for example, should not be translated"intends"(Butcher)but "on the point of." 53b4-6, where thepragmata are identifiedwith symbainonta:&(TE TOViKOU ra 34Compare b T srpaypLara Kat 4pPiTTELKaCL . EXEEV K 7V oTvUpawvrtVOV yw6oLEva 35 "Das irpajrTet ruhrtnirgends an diese Frage nach Gut und B'ose";B. Snell, "Aischylos und das Handelnim Drama,"Philologus suppl. 20 (1928) 14. (Snell, however, fails to apply his findings correctly to the Poetics, p. 16.) Those who cite Snell's article do not mention this importantconclusion, concentratingsolely on what Snell says aboutprattein's connection with completion:Else, 241, note 73; J. Redfield,Natureand Culturein the Iliad (Chicago 1975) 64-65 der griechischen Sprache (Leipzig 1876, rpt. and note 49, 236: and J. H. Schmidt, Synonymik who is wrong when he states that a Amsterdam1967) 1.#23: ropoViELVw," "Ap&valrpaccEwv,r, praxis is always the activity of a person (399). A good counterexampleis Aristotle, De Caelo T XWV Ka.L Oa 7TEp7 TdV 292bl-3: 86e voA/t4EV KaL T7*V OarTppov Trp4w TOLairrVV PvaL'aL 7TV D. S. Margoliouth,ThePoetics of Aristotle [London 1911]40). (This passage is noted by 4vr&v.



(&eY4crarov &ayog ETrpaeEv): "it happened by means of her." Snell contrastsIsmene's confession of guilt in Antigone 536: 8ESpaKa 70ropyov.36 In legal contexts also, the pragmata can be the undisputedfacts of a case as distinct from the disputed correct legal interpretation.A good example is Antiphon'sSecond Tetralogy,where the defendant, while admittingthat his son threw a javelin (the pragmata), nevertheless argues that his son did not kill the personhe struck "accordingto the truthof the things he did" (KaTr yE Aristotle himself uses prattein in this sense E0Tpa4Ev).37 T7v &aXhEaV i in a legal context in Rhetoric 1.13:a person may admit that he did something but deny that his act should be describedin a certain way; for (QE7Trpax(vat) example, he may admit that he took something but deny that he stole it; he may admit that he struckbut deny that that he committedhybris.38Plato uses praxis in a similar way in the Euthyphro: Ip Tvwo' 7riptL 8aEven in the ethical works, Aristotle frequently uses praxis in a completely non-moralsense. Sorabjinotes that in Aristotle's view "the same action can belong to one category under one description, and to another under another,"40 and cites EE 2.9 and EN 5.8. In the latter passage prattein is not from : distinguished yap KtC 7r)v boUEL inrapX6vrcov 7o'yXEM 7TOhhXX K L 0 Ka O , V OlOEV EL~'iTE' 7pa77TTo0l Kc ov0 KOb(TULO Ov oT' oLKaITXOI.EV p (1135a33-b2). MaraKOVroWVaoLVW, o07v b Trp&vy 7aroiTv47oUKELw goliouth gives many other examples of this usage in which prattein is not distinguishedfrom 7"rI&XEW.41 4. Examples of DramaticActions Finally, some examples of dramatic praxeis supportthe view thatapraxis is not a morally qualifiedevent, while ethos, that which gives (moral) qualities and indicates(moral)choice is somethingaddedon to the tragedyby means of specific speeches and descriptionsof attendantcircumstances. In distinguishingplot from episode, Aristotlegives an outline of the plot of the Odyssey and of theIphigeneia in Tauris.He describesthe latteras follows: A certain girl after being sacrificed and disappearingfrom the view of those sacrificingher was settled in anotherland where the custom was to sacrifice strangersto the goddess, and she came to hold that priesthood.
36Snell Dictionnaire de la languegrecque1 (above,note35) 13. P. Chantraine, etymologique is usedto emphasize "laresponsabilite (Paris1968)297, notesthat6p&v priseplut6t que . . . la realisation d'unacte."Oniromev, von 6p&vandirp&rr'E see also B. Snell, "DasBewusstsein "Philologus im fruhen 85 (1930)141-58,esp. 152-58;A. eigenen Griechentum, Entscheidungen " StudiItaliani del 'fare'nelgreco, di Filologia Braun,"Iverbe Classica15(1938)243-96. thems. reading 8E Oiiva. I owe thisexample 372.3,following i3ahXe pEv, obiK aTErKTELVE to M. Gagarin,"TheTruth of Persuasion in Antiphon's SecondTetralogy," paperreadat the annualmeetingof the Philological Association of the Pacific Coast, Stanford University, 1981. November, cf. Rhet.58b30ff.Fora discussion of thelegalquestions 38Rhetoric 1.73b38ff.; Aristotle refers I. A Commentary Rhetoric to, see W.Grimaldi, Aristotle, (New York 1980)294. 8e6-8. Thispassage is notedby Grimaldi (above,note38) 294. 39Euthyphro (above,note5) 279;cf. 295. 40Sorabji (above,note35) 37-41. 41Margoliouth

&?Ejw acXr O&68 OaiT-iiv 7TEITp&XXCXL, TLV E6LKW.39



A while later, the brotherof the priestess happenedto arrive. That the god orderedhim to go there and for what purposehe came is outside the 0 XEV0 '&% EEL KEL plot (rb 86 E(TtL 7VEL r E CE T70o f'6" 1EWMb KaL on the point of being He arrived, was seized, and when pinOov).42 he made himself known, either as Euripidesor as Polyidus sacrificed, wrote it, saying, as he was likely to do, that not only his sister but himself also had to be sacrificed, and because of this he was saved (Poetics 17.55b3-12). This plot outline explicitly excludes any indication of proairesis: "Thatthe god ordered him to go there and for what purpose he came is outside the plot." Also excluded are not only the names of the characters,but also any of their individual qualities. Without this ethos, the bare action has no moral qualities of its own. Aristotle's outline of the Odyssey plot also excludes ethos: A certainman is away from home for many years, carefully watched by Poseidonand alone. Moreover,things at home are in such a state thathis possessions are wasted by the suitors and his son is plotted against. He himself arrives, storm-tossed,and making himself recognized by some, attacksand is himself saved while he destroys his enemies. This is what is properto the plot; the rest is episode (Poetics 17.55b17-23). In this example also, ethos, anything indicative of choice or descriptive of individual qualities, is excluded.43 Aristotle avoids using ethically loaded avvpoOvita4 to describe the actions, words, such as KXho'Tr, oLtOLXELa, thoughhe could well have used them all. Gomperzremarksperceptivelyabout Aristotle's two plot outlines: "Forour philosopher,the daughterof Agamemnon, the most powerful among the Greek princes, is thus merely a 'maiden'; Ulysses is not a hero and a mighty warrior before Troy, but simply a 'man.' "45 of Aristotle's An excellent way of illustratingand testing our interpretation basic plot: with the same it three to is to of plays apply concept praxis If Electra. and Electra Libation Bearers, Euripides' Sophocles' Aeschylus' we base a plot outline of all threeplays on Aristotle'sexamples of the Odyssey and the Iphigeneia in Taurisplots, we will get somethinglike this: A woman has killed her husband, a king, and now rules in his stead, along with her lover, who helped in the killing. She has, by her dead husband, a son, living in exile, and a virgin daughter.The son returns
42Thetext reads thus with the deletion of the words bracketedby Kassel. The textualquestions have no bearingon my point. Aristotle'sview thattherecan be of these two plot outlines for understanding 43Theimportance Poetics VI. 1450a24," WithoutCharacter: tragedy withoutethos is noted by C. Lord, "Tragedy Journalof Aestheticsand Art Criticism 28 (1969-70) 55-62. 44EN1107a9ff. lists these as names for actions that include baseness;cf. Rhetoric 1374a11-15. 45T. Gomperz, Greek Thinkers (Griechische Denker, Leipzig 1896), trans. G. G. Berry (London 1912)4.414.



from exile, makes himself known to his sister by means of tokens, gains access to his motherand her lover by means of craft and kills them. This plot, common to each of the plays, tells us absolutely nothing about the ethical qualityof the act of Orestesin killing his mother.In fact, the plot is such that we cannot in principle determine this ethical quality from the act alone. As a general rule, it is right to avenge one's father. And, again, as a generalrule it is wrong to kill one's mother.But what may be said of avenging one's fatherby killing one's mother?Each play solves this ethical dilemmain a differentway, by attributing differentmotives and qualitiesto the agent;that is, by the use of ethos.46 In the Libation Bearers, Orestes is made to give his reasons for the matricideearly in the play.They are:the oracle, grief for his father,and loss of his patrimony,which, he says, entails the servitude of the very men who sacked Troy (297-305). Of these, all noble motives, the oracle is by far the most important. When about to act, Orestes hesitates and asks Pylades, "What shall I do?" (rt 6p&oro;).47 Pylades answers, "Whatof the oracle? Count all men enemies except the god." Orestes answers, "Youare right," and does the deed (899-904). These passages have ethos, for they indicate why something is chosen. And they clearly show that the choice is a noble one. Orestes is never given any unworthymotives at other times; he is never given a reason to distrustthe god, and he is never shown to be the sort of person who would take advantage of a divine oracle for selfish purposes. Orestes, therefore, is shown by the poet's use of ethos to be morallyjustified and is vindicatedby the gods in the Eumenides. The motives of Orestes in Sophocles' Electra are very different. He also gives them in a speech early in the play: (1) desire to win fame, (2) desire to destroy his enemies, and (3) to regain his patrimony(59-72). He does not give as reasons the oracle, love of his father, desire to free the land from tyranny. We conclude, and other speeches in the play bear this out, that Orestes' motives in the Sophocles play do not justify a matricide.Here, ethos shows that Orestes is blameworthy. In Euripides'Electra, Orestes'motives are shown not by speech so much as by the circumstancesattendinghis action: anotherform of ethos. Oresteskills Aigisthus duringa sacrifice, and he kills Clytemnestrawhile she is preparing for a sacrifice.48 He brings Aigisthus' corpse to Electra and asks her to maltreatit as she wishes (896 ff.). He doubts the oracle (971) but does the
46There is some indicationthat Aristotle would have looked at the three plays in this way. In Poetics 14.53b20-26, he includes a matricide in his list of plots and mentions the murderof Clytemnestraby Orestes as one of the received legends the poet cannot change (Tobiq p ev oiVV but should handleskillfully. This passage makes no oi'K TLwv) pJiOovi trape*X-Tlqpjvov XVEL that the bare plot suggestion representsan action of any specific ethical quality. On the other hand, when Aristotlementionstwo actualtreatmentsof the matricide,he does condemnthe son's action:Rhet. 2.1401a35-b3 (Theodectes'Orestes) andEN 3.1110a26-29 (Euripides'Alcmaeon). 47This and Eur.El. 1244 (page 00, below) are good examples of the typical Greek preference for dran overprattein when ethically qualifiedactions are in question. See above, section 3. 48An interestingparallelto this kind of ethos is providedby an example given by Pollitt(above,



deed anyway. All this shows a lack of concern for the gods, and for human standardsof decency. Such a man can have no motive for matricidethat can justify this act. This is in fact what the Dioscuri tell Orestes: "She has receivedjustice, but you did not act justly " (8WKataux EV VV, 8o'EXEL,T) 86' 1244). obi'v86p&, These three plays, then, do seem to have a bare plot that imitates an action without moral qualifications. The agent is, in each case, given a different quality by ethos. We have found, then, that in Aristotle's dramatictheory, action, a mere event, is primary and that ethos, that which indicates choice and confers quality,is of secondaryimportanceand is not a necessarypartof all tragedies. Plot is the "firstprincipleand soul of tragedy"(50a38-39), while psychology and ethics are of much less importance.49 We have also found that Aristotle's concept of praxis can be appliedfruitfullyto the Greekplays themselves. The playwright, if our examples are typical, begins with a bare action that is a given and "colors"it, as an artistpaints a statue, with readily distinguishable and identifiable ethos. It would require a much more detailed study to determinewhetherthe Greekplays also justify Aristotle'sview thatthe action is a greatdeal more important thanthe ethos. If he is right, however, many of and motivation of the personae of our questions about the characterization these plays may be irrelevantas well as unanswerable.50 ELIZABETHBELFIORE Universityof Minnesota

note 7) of ethos in painting. A paintingof Polygnotuswas said to depict Ajax swearingat an altar while Cassandrasat holding the image of Athena to which she clung as a suppliantwhen Ajax circumstances,the altarand the image, clearly show draggedher away(188). Here also, attendant the quality of Ajax' act of sacrilege. 49See P. Turner, "The Reverse of Vahlen," CR 9 (1959) 214, for a good criticism of our tendency to interpretAristotle in the light of our modern interest in psychology, a subject with which the Poetics has little concern. 50Anearlier versionof this paperwas read at the annualmeeting of the AmericanPhilological Association, San Francisco, Dec. 1981. I wish to thankProfs. George Sheets and KathleenWilkes for their helpful criticisms of an earlier draftof this paper.