The definition of katharsis in Aristotle's Poetics

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The Ohio State University

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Aristotle’s Poetics is a foundational piece in the history of literary criticism. In chapter six of the Poetics, Aristotle presents the concept of katharsis (trans. purification, purgation) as the goal of tragedy. The philosopher, however, never clarifies his use of the word katharsis. This thesis examines and critiques existing theories about katharsis, in particular the theories of katharsis as a homeopathic medical metaphor, a moralistic training of the emotions, intellectual clarification, or a structural component operating within the drama. In particular, it explores the developments concerning pity and fear in the Poetics and the Rhetoric. I conclude that katharsis is a general term of art which relies on the specific ability and nature of mimesis to create friction between pity and fear within the spectator. Tragic katharsis is a metaphor that refers to the arousal and subsequent purge of emotions during the course of the drama and is closely integrated with the pleasure derived from the imaginative freedom intrinsic in the cognitive and emotional experience that is tragedy. Advisor: Bruce Heiden, Department of Greek and Latin



definition of tragedy, catharsis, pity and fear, mimesis