In this, the last blog post on Aristotle’s Poetics, I’ll focus on the remaining aspects of his treatise. The most important of those is character. And here, contemporary writers have to pick and choose with more care. Some of Aristotle’s points are straightforward, “any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good” (Poetics, chapter XV). As are his statements that characters must be true to life and consistent in their behavior and reactions.
But ancient Greece was a patriarchal and stratified society. One of the reasons its democracy worked was that slaves did all the work so the Greeks could engages in politics. The role of women was also seriously proscribed. So when he says, “Even a woman may be good, and also a slave; though the woman may be said to be an inferior being, and the slave quite worthless;” or “There is a type of manly valor; but valor in a woman, or unscrupulous cleverness, is inappropriate;” we should actively disregard his advice (ibid.). Although our society has by no means rid itself of the kind of mindset represented by Aristotle, we as writers have a responsibility to nudge our readers toward a world where status, class, or gender are no more important than the color of one’s eyes.