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This paper discusses the concept of imitation in Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle argue that artist (Demiurge) and poet imitate nature, thus, a work of art is a relection of nature. However, they have different views on the functions of imitation in art and literature. Plato believes in the existence of the ideal world, where exists a real form of every object found in nature. A work of art –which reflects nature-is twice far from the reality it represents. Aristotle, on the other hand, does not deal with the ideal world, instead he analyses nature. He argues that a work of art does not imitate nature as it is, but as it should be. In this sense, an artist does not violate the truth but reflects the reality. Özet Eflatun ve Aristo felsefelerinde imitation (yansıtma) kavramı önemli bir yer tutmaktadır. Her iki düşünür de sanatın gerçeğin bir yansıtılması olduğu düşüncesini savunmuş, şiir, mimari ve resim gibi sanatların doğadan yola çıkarak gerçekleştirildiğini söylemişlerdir. Eflatun, ideler aleminin var olduğuna inanmış ve doğanın ideler dünyasının bir yansıması olduğunu ileri sürmüştür. Doğayı yansıtan sanat eseri bu anlamda ideler aleminden iki derece daha uzakta bulunmaktadır. Bu yüzden bir sanat eseri gerçeği yansıtmaktan çok gerçekten uzaklaştığı için Eflatun, sanata karşı çıkmıştır. Aristo ise var olan dünya ile uğraşmış, sanatın bu dünyayı ideal anlamda yansıttığını söylemiştir. Aristo, sanatçının doğada var olan bir nesneyi olduğu gibi değil de olması gerektiği gibi yansıttığına inanmaktadır. Eflatun'da kişiyi gerçekten uzaklaştıran sanat, Aristo'da kişiyi gerçeğe yaklaştırmaktadır.
Ortadoğu Teknik Üniversitesi Eğitim Fakültesi
Yabancı Diller Eğitimi Bölümü Arş. Görevlisi
This paper discusses the concept of imitation in Plato and Aristotle. Plato and
Aristotle argue that artist (Demiurge) and poet imitate nature, thus, a work of art is a
relection of nature. However, they have different views on the functions of imitation in art
and literature. Plato believes in the existence of the ideal world, where exists a real form of
every object found in nature. A work of art –which reflects nature- is twice far from the
reality it represents. Aristotle, on the other hand, does not deal with the ideal world, instead
he analyses nature. He argues that a work of art does not imitate nature as it is, but as it
should be. In this sense, an artist does not violate the truth but reflects the reality.
Key Words: Imitation, art, literature, mimesis, etymology, ethic.
Eflatun ve Aristo felsefelerinde imitation (yansıtma) kavramı önemli bir yer
tutmaktadır. Her iki düşünür de sanatın gerçeğin bir yansıtılması olduğu düşüncesini
savunmuş, şiir, mimari ve resim gibi sanatların doğadan yola çıkarak gerçekleştirildiğini
söylemişlerdir. Eflatun, ideler aleminin var olduğuna inanmış ve doğanın ideler dünyasının
bir yansıması olduğunu ileri sürmüştür. Doğayı yansıtan sanat eseri bu anlamda ideler
aleminden iki derece daha uzakta bulunmaktadır. Bu yüzden bir sanat eseri gerçeği
yansıtmaktan çok gerçekten uzaklaştığı için Eflatun, sanata karşı çıkmıştır. Aristo ise var
olan dünya ile uğraşmış, sanatın bu dünyayı ideal anlamda yansıttığını söylemiştir. Aristo,
sanatçının doğada var olan bir nesneyi olduğu gibi değil de olması gerektiği gibi
yansıttığına inanmaktadır. Eflatun’da kişiyi gerçekten uzaklaştıran sanat, Aristo’da kişiyi
gerçeğe yaklaştırmaktadır.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Taklit, sosyal bilimler, literatür, mimesis, etimoloji, ahlak.
This paper discusses the concept of imitation (mimesis) in Plato and
Aristotle. It is argued in this paper that Plato and Aristotle attribute different
meanings to the term ‘mimesis’; Plato considers ‘mimesis’ in ethical and political
context, Aristotle uses ‘mimesis’ as an aesthetic phenomenon. They both agree that
poetry is mimetic but they have different idea about poetry and ‘mimesis’. The
present paper aims first to define ‘mimesis’ and explain the historical and linguistic
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background of the term, then to analyze the concept of ‘mimesis’ in Plato and
In literature the word ‘mimesis’ has two diverse applications; it is used “to
define the nature of literature and other arts and to indicate the relation of one
literary work, which serves as a model1”. Plato and Aristotle take ‘mimesis’ to
define the nature of art, yet they ascribe different meanings and value to it. Plato
and Aristotle consider the historical and etymological background of the term,
therefore, it is necessary to know about the linguistic and historical background of
the term ‘mimesis’ to understand what kinds of meaning and value they attribute to
the concept.
Linguistically, the root word is ‘mimos’; mimesthia, mimesis, mimetes,
mimetikos, and mimema are derived from ‘mimos’. Mimesthia denotes imitation,
representation or portrayal; mimos and mimetes designate the person who imitates
or represents, whereby ‘mimos’ originally refers to the recitation or dramatic
performance in the context of dramatic action. The mime, which is a kind of
banquets given by wealthy man, is most probably derived from mimos2. The noun
‘mimesis’ as well as corresponding verb mimeisthai refer to the re-enactment and
dance through ritual and myth. In Athenian drama the re-enactment is equivalent to
acting out the role of a mythical figure and ‘mimesis’ in such a context connotes
the imitation of the earlier re-enactment of the myth and rituals.
Historically, the word ‘mimesis’ as re-enactment first appears in such
rituals, and the historical origin of the term, as located in Dionysian cult drama,
coincides this meaning in that ‘mimesis’ in both cases refers to imitation,
representation and expression. It is argued that myth, and divine symbols of the
rituals are transformed to artistic-dramatic representation through which it became
possible to represent the divinity and gods in drama3. Tragedy, for instance is the
transformation of the myth and rituals.
In a different context ‘mimesis’ may refer to identification. People identify
themselves by means of their mimetic ability when they see themselves in the other
and perceive a state of mutual equality. In this sense, ‘mimesis’ is distinct from
mimicry, which implies only a physical, and no mental relation. That is, a person
regards the ‘Other’ as equal and assumes the ‘Other ‘ to be doing the same in
reverse. Associated with the physical aspect of ‘mimesis’ is its performative aspect,
as an actualization, a presentation of what has been mimetically indicated4. Thus,
the term ‘mimesis’ is combined with an action- oriented speaking.
The term ‘mimesis’ may also refer the simile, similarity and representation;
it may refer to the symbolization of the world when we take it as a transformation
of myth. ‘Mimesis’ has also been cited since classical times in the exploration of
relationships between art and reality. The meanings and applications of the term
changes according to the context it is used. Therefore, Plato and Aristotle ascribes
different meanings and value to ‘mimesis’ with respect to the contexts they use it.
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I. The Concept of Imitation in Plato
Plato takes the term ‘mimesis’ with several meanings and connotations in
the dialogues and alters the meaning of the term according to the context in which
he uses it. He uses ‘mimesis’ in the context of the education of the youth; he
discusses the function of ‘mimesis’ as likening oneself to another in speech and
bodily behaviour and as addressing the lower part of man’s soul; he also refers to
the epistemology and metaphysics of the concept. He takes the word ‘mimesis’
with pedagogic attributes and uses it in educational and ethical context when he
says ‘guardians of an ideal state should be educated to imitate only what is
appropriate’5. In the third book of the Republic, for instance, Plato provides further
definitions of ‘mimesis’, centering on the relation between ‘mimesis’ and poetry,
‘mimesis’ and education and also poetry and education. ‘Since young people learn
essentially through imitation, it is significant to select the models’6. ‘Mimesis
suggests unfavorable effect on the part of the young people’ and ‘poetry is one
important source of the youth’s experience with examples and models’; therefore,
if the world of models and examples ought to be controlled in the interest of
education, poetry must be likewise subject to control7. Plato argues the case in the
Republic as follow:
The youth cannot distinguish what is allegorical from
what is not, and the beliefs they acquire at the age are hard to
expunge and usually remain unchanged. That is important that
the first stories they hear should be well told and dispose them to
The contents, forms, and representational modes of poetry play an
important ethical role in the education of guardians and should, because of the
effects they exercise through mimetic process, be based on ethical principles.
Young people should only imitate brave, sober, pious and noble men, which will
increase their strength and will not infect them with weakness. In this sense, it is
argued in the Republic that tragedy and comedy, as mimetic poetry, represent
injustice among the gods in the assertion that gods are responsible for unhappiness
among people. In the Platonic conception, gods cannot be evil; heroes cannot be
weak. The poet’s representation violates the truth and by representing the
deficiencies of gods and heroes, has negative effect on the community and the
education of youth.
Mimetic poetry not only misrepresents gods and heroes and leads young
people to immoral behaviors but also appeals to and strengthens the lower, desiring
part of the soul. According to Plato, poetry encourages short-term indulgence in
our emotions when reason would forbid their gratification because it is useless or
harmful for the citizen who considers life as a whole. ‘Reason is a capacity that
enables moral quality and authorities. Poetry is intuitive and stirs up a part of a
citizen that ought to be kept quite and fosters the lower part of the soul against the
rule of higher part, reason’9. Poetry becomes a dangerous rival to morality, which
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‘is able to corrupt even good man and is a very dangerous thing encouraging all the
lower desires and making them hard to cope with suffering in the theatre, and
taking pleasure in laughing at comedies tends to affect our attitudes in real life and
make us cynical and unserious. Sex, anger, and all desires, pleasure and pains are
fostered by poetic imitation, thus, Homer and tragic poets are not true example for
a citizen’10. Poetry, then, taking its theme as human emotion and human frailty,
threatens to disturb the balance and rational disposition of the individual for the
individual, by way of his mimetic abilities, is infected through poetry. Philosophy
provides wisdom and truth in the education but poetry has a potential capacity to
demoralize mind. For example, Homer’s poetry was drawn on for educational
purposes as a collection of knowledge and wisdom and enter in to competition with
philosophy, it should therefore, be censored11. It is obvious that poetry endangers
the ideal citizens who can control and manage their feelings and remain reasonable,
thus should be censored.
While being an aspect of misrepresentation and something used in a
dangerous way for the education of young people, ‘mimesis' may also come to
mean re-enactment in Plato’s dialogue when it refers to the imitation of a man in
action in drama. In the Republic, Plato uses the term to refer to the behaviour of the
“As he looks upon and contemplates thing that are
ordered and ever the same, that do no wrong, are not wronged
by, each other, being all in rational order. He imitates them and
tries to become like them as he can12
A similar process occurs in tragedy, which is the artistic and dramatic re-
enactment of ritual and myth and transformation of religion. Through tragedy it
becomes possible for a man to represent the divinity and gods. For instance, the re-
enactment, in Athenian drama, is equivalent to acting out the role of a mythical
figure. ‘Mimesis’, in such a context, designates the imitation of earlier re-
enactment, the instances of which is taken from myth and rituals. The nature of
ritual is spiritual and pleasing and such primitive rituals serve communal interests,
in that each member of community gets rid of self. A tragic play may lead to self-
alienation; and may lead to identification with the fallen character and with the
hero. The process of re-enactment, then, leads one to enter into another’s feelings
and suffering. Plato insists that no one of truly noble character could suffer as a
tragic hero does, since one whose soul is in a state of harmony is not to be
influenced and hurt. Therefore, he objects to the re-enactment of ritual.
Mimetic behavior should be avoided because it may lead to identification
with fallen characters and with the hero. Plato in the Republic argues that ‘or have
you not observed that imitations, if conditioned, settle down youth’s life, and turn
into habits and become second nature in the body, the speech and the thought’13.
Apart from this, people identify themselves by means of their mimetic ability
when they see themselves in the other and perceive a state of mutual equality. In
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this sense ‘mimesis’ is distinct from mimicry, which implies only a physical and
no mental, relation: a person regards the ‘Other’ as equal and assumes the ‘Other ‘
to be doing the same in reverse. In this respect, a person who imitates is doomed
to self-sacrifice and lack of self-identity. Moreover, the process of mimetic
identification becomes a source of pleasure in the form of tragedy, which
correspondingly frames the myth or re-enacts to substitute the myth in the form of
dramatic representation. In the seventh book of the Republic, which is about law,
he states ‘we are ourselves authors of tragedy, and that the finest and the best we
know how to make’. In fact, our whole polity has been constructed as a
dramatization (mimetic) of noble and perfect life; that is what we hold to be truth
in the most of real tragedies’. However, in art, ‘mimesis’ has a different function.
Aesthetically, ‘mimesis’ refers to misrepresentation. Reality and truth can only be
understood through reason. The artist works with inspiration and imagination: the
two faculties don’t give us the true image of reality, and the end of tragedy is a
partial loss of moral identity.
On the one hand, there is ‘mimesis’ as a re-enactment of Dionysian rituals
in the form of tragedy which leads to self-sacrifice and wrong identity and which
addresses the lower part of the soul and corrupts the ethical development of the
youth. On the other hand, there is ‘mimesis’ as an imitative, imperfect image of
reality. In a sense, Plato’s resistance to ‘mimesis’ is not only due to the fact that
tragedy (mimetic art) may lead the audiences back to the ritual and irrational
mode of primitive society but also due to the fact that mimetic art is an imitation
of objects (eidon), which are imitations themselves. He objects to ‘mimesis’ for
the fact there is no relationship between what is imitated and what is real.
‘Mimesis’ designates the ability to create expression and representation on the part
of poet, painter and actor, both in a general and specific sense. For example, the
painter produces a relationship between an image he created and the object. If the
relationship consists in the production of similarity, then, there arises a question of
where the similarity between image and object lies. If the images he creates don’t
make a reference to reality and real object, and if the relationship between object
and image is on the level of similarity created by the poet through art, then, there
appears a lack of link between true and false14. But in Plato’s philosophy the
relationship between objects and reality does not consist of likeness or similarity.
According to Plato, Demiurge creates the idea and by beholding the idea
the Demiurge produces the object; his ability is exalted in the imitation of the Idea.
The poet, on the other hand, creates the images neither by seeing the idea nor from
more substantive knowledge of the object since he produces nothing but
phenomena by holding up a mirror. In this sense, the artist produces appearance
and his work cannot provide us with true insight. Then, when a poet writes about
the bed, for instance, it is not a bed manufactured by the craftsman from the idea
nor does it have any relation to the real bed; it is only simulation and phenomena.
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There is also a difference between the knowledge of the poet and the
knowledge of the craftsman. Man makes things and makes images. The craftsman
makes the things following the original copy or model; the poet follows the image
of the model or copy; therefore he gives only a proportion of reality. The
proportion of knowledge and opinion, truth and falsity plays a contrasting role in
distinguishing imitation as proportion of being to appearance15. Plato argues that
to understand the image, one needs to know the reality and the path to reality is in
philosophy and reason, not in poetry and emotion.
Although Plato admits that every object in nature is a reflection of the
Idea, he doesn’t object to the reflection of object in nature. Plato uses mirror and
water as constant metaphors to clarify the relationship between reality and the
reflection of eidon. Plato argues that the poet holds up mirror to nature and in his
work we see the reflection of nature not reality. He objects to the reflection of
objects in the mirror, since things are divided into two parts: visible and
intelligible. The first of the visible things is the class of copies, which includes
shadows and reflections in the mirror. The second class of visible things is that of
which the previous is a likeliness or copy. Plato objects to the reflection of object
in the mirror, since mirror (poet) imprisons and limits the image. And he also
objects to the imitation, since the poet imitates without knowledge. Therefore, it is
not its imitative character but its lack of truth and knowledge, which brings poetry
to its low estate. Homer and all the poetic tribe are imitators of images of virtue
and other things but they do not rely on truth. Poetry, after all, is a madness that
seizes the soul when it contemplates in true knowledge of goods.
Plato’s objection to ‘mimesis’ may also interpreted as a reaction to the
sophistic thinking that aims to produce images that the listener will regard as real,
all of which take place in the world of phenomena. Image, thought, and opinion
combine into a world of appearance characterized by nonbeing, a phenomenal
nature and similarity. And as long as illusion and reality are not distinguished,
science, ignorance, and appearance merge together. Within the concept of
‘mimesis’, then, Plato creates an independent sphere of the aesthetic consisting of
appearance, image and illusion and excludes it from the domain of philosophy. He
insists that there are no phenomena without being, no images without reality, no
‘mimesis’ without a model. Yet reality and idea cannot be represented without
knowledge and images are not part of reality.
Plato, in the Republic, in Ion, and in Symposium uses the concept of
‘mimesis’ with several meanings. He refers to the education of the young in Book
X of the Republic; in Ion he develops a metaphysical discourse on the concept of
imitation, and in Book III of the Republic he objects to imitation because ‘mimesis’
addresses and strengthens the lower part of the spirit. Plato refers to ethical aspects
of ‘mimesis’ whenever he refers to the concept of imitation. That is, ‘mimesis’ is
an ethical matter in Plato’s dialogues. He is not interested in the aesthetic aspect of
‘mimesis’; therefore, he does not pay attention to the form and matter of ‘mimesis’
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and art. Plato deals with the value of ‘mimesis’. Aristotle is the first to deal with
‘mimesis’ as a theory of art. He dwells on the concept of ‘mimesis’ as an aesthetic
theory of art and ‘considers imitation in terms of the form in which it is
embodied’16. By imitation, ‘he means something like representation’ through which
‘mimesis’ becomes the equivalent of artistic and aesthetic enterprise’17. Unlike
Plato, Aristotle also argues that ‘mimesis’ is not morally destructive since reason
controls art.
II. The Concept of Imitation in Aristotle
Aristotle states that all human actions are mimetic and that men learn
through imitation. In particular, ‘mimesis’ is the distinguishing quality of an artist.
He argues that ‘public classifies all those who write in meter as poets and
completely misses the point that the capacity to produce an imitation is the
essential quality of the poet’18. The poet is distinguished from the rest of mankind
with the ‘essential ability to produce imitation’. A poet may imitate in one of three
styles in poetry; he may use pure narrative, in which he speaks in his own person
without imitation, as in the dithyrambs, or he may use mimetic narrative and
speaks in the person of his characters, as in comedy and tragedy. A poet may use
mixed narrative, in which he speaks now in his own person and now in the person
of his character, as in epic poetry19. Mimetic poetry may also differ according to
the object of imitation. In this respect, tragedy differs from comedy in that it makes
its characters better rather than worse.
‘Mimesis’, particularly, becomes a central term when Aristotle discusses
the nature and function of art. In the Poetics, he defines tragedy as:
‘as an imitation of human action that is serious, complete
and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with every
kind of artistic ornament, the various kinds being found in
different parts of the play; it represents man in action rather than
using narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper
purgation of these emotion’20.
Aristotle is interested in the form of imitation and goes on to consider plot,
character, diction, thought, spectacle and song as constituting elements of a typical
tragedy. The action of plot must be complete in itself with a proper beginning,
middle and an end. All parts of action must be equally essential to the whole. Each
part of the tragedy is imitation itself. Character in tragedy imitates the action of
noble man who has to be a man of some social standing and personal reputation, but
he has to be presented us in terms of his weaknesses because it is his weakness that
will make his fall believable. Aristotle thinks that all types of art are mimetic but
each may differ in the manner, means, and object of imitation. Music imitates in
sound and rhythm, painting in color and poetry in action and word.
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Aristotle’s ‘mimesis’ does not refer to the imitation of Idea and
appearances, like that of Plato. He argues that each area of knowledge is imitation
in the sense that as a human being we all learn through imitation. However, he
carefully makes a distinction between different kinds of knowledge. For instance,
he claims that art and philosophy deal with different kind of truth; philosophy deals
with concrete and absolute truth, whereas art deals with aesthetic and universal
truth. The difference, for instance, between mimetic poetry and history is stated as
‘one writes about what has actually happened, while the other deals with what
might happen’21. Art, unlike science, doesn’t abstract universal form but imitates
the form of individual things and unites the separate parts presenting what is
universal and particular. Therefore, the function of poetry is not to portray what has
happened but to portray what may have happened in accord with the principle of
probability and necessity. Since poetry deals with universal truth, history considers
only particular facts; poetry is more philosophical and deserves more serious
attention. In addition, aesthetic representation of reality is not technical, factual,
philosophical, and historical.
Aristotle compares aesthetic process (mimesis) with the process that takes
place in nature. While nature moves through internal principles, art moves through
organic principles like plot, action, characters, diction, and there is a unity among
them. In a sense, art imitates nature and the deficiencies of nature are supplemented
in the process of imitation, and art follows the same method, as nature would have
employed. Thus, ‘if a house were natural product, it would pass through the same
stages that in fact it passes through when it is produced by art, they would move
along the same lines the natural process actually takes’22. Poets, like nature, are
capable of creating matter and form. The origin of nature is nature itself and the
origin of art is the artist and the defining characteristic of the artist is the ability to
create, through imitation, as nature does. The artist constructs the plot as an
organizing principle, character constitutes the relation and carries on the action and
style gives pleasure. For instance, the plot of tragedy and Dionysian rituals display
similar organization. The rituals begin with the spring, which is a striking and
beautiful time of the year, and they represent the strength of gods and nature upon
primitive society. Tragedy, like the image of spring, has a striking and fascinating
beginning and, like ritual, a tragic play pervades and shapes the feelings of the
audiences. Dionysian ritual is a sacrifice of human being for gods and nature in the
hope for a better and peaceful beginning. Similarly, the tragic hero is symbolically
sacrificed after which there appears a peace. Then, the poet takes tragedy, as a
mimetic representation of myth, from the natural course of an event that takes place
in nature and reorganizes it. In this sense, ‘mimesis’ designates the imitation and
the manner in which, as in nature, creation takes place.
Mimesis, as Aristotle takes it, is an active aesthetic process. He argues that
‘imitation is given us by nature and men are endowed with these gifts, gradually
develop them and finally create the art of poetry’23. The poet does not imitate
reality but brings reality into existence through ‘mimesis’. The poet recreates and
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reorganizes already known facts and presents them in a fresh and attractive way;
therefore, though audiences know the story of Sophocles’s Oedipus, they go and
watch it. The reality as presented to us through ‘mimesis’ is superior and universal
not only because we are pleased to learn through imitation but also because such
reality is better. Homer, for instance, depicts Achilles not only as a bad character
but also depicts his goodness. Mimesis is thus copying and changing. The poet
creates something that previously did not exist and for which there are no available
models. Even in dealing with historical materials, the poet needs to fashion it in
accord with his art rising to a higher level than is found in reality. Art is fictitious
but the mimetic and aesthetic nature of art pervades the fictitious deviation and a
work of art forces the thing to appear as something more beautiful and better than
that nature and human being posses in common, ‘for it is always writer’s duty to
make world better’24.
It can be argued that Aristotle defines and argues about art with respect to
‘mimesis’, and the concept of imitation in Aristotle is an aesthetic matter. Mimesis
is not only ‘origin of art but also a distinguishing quality of man, since imitation is
natural to mankind from childhood on’; in addition ‘all men find pleasure in
imitation’25. He claims that there are ‘things that distress us when we see them in
reality, but the most accurate representation of these same things we view with
pleasure. In this sense, catharsis is not a moral and psychological matter but a
natural end of the aesthetic act as Salkaver discusses below:
Fear and pity are dangerous emotions: painful and
troubled feelings arise from the imagination of an imminent evil
and cause destruction and pain. Pity, in particular, is a kind of
pain upon seeing deadly or painful evil happening to one who
does not deserve. However, in the representation of such feelings
one feels empathy and gets rid of them. So, a work of art gives a
man an opportunity to get rid of painful and troubled feelings
arising from the imagination of an imminent evil that may cause
destruction and pain on the part of the citizen26.
Aristotle develops a consistent theory of art upon the concept of imitation.
He begins saying that all human actions are imitation, then, he focuses on poetry
and other areas of studies like history and philosophy. Lastly, he dwells on the poet
and the concept of imitation as taken and practiced by playwrights. All his
arguments upon ‘mimesis’ are, both in general and in specific sense, have
aesthetics quality, since he does not take imitation as social, moral or political
phenomena but as an activity of the artist.
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Plato’s main concern is with the public recitation of dramatic and epic
poetry and in Plato there is emulation between philosophy and poetry. The poet
influences the character of the young in every way and has corruptive impact upon
the education of the young mind. In addition, poets don’t have a true knowledge of
the things. Plato suggests that the emotional appeal is a threat to reason, that
mimetic art is remote from reality, that the poet is not serious and knows nothing
about poetry and cannot give satisfactory information about his art. It is obvious
that he resists the concept of imitation in the case of poetic composition. Tragedy,
in particular, and poetry, in general, are concerned with pleasure rather than
instruction and since it is not possible to imitate a wise and quiet person in the play,
since such a person does not fit the content of tragedy, ‘mimesis’ is ethically
distracting. Therefore, the function of various discussions of mimetic art in the
Republic is ethical: wherever he mentions art he discusses it in relation to
education and ethics.
Although Aristotle agrees with Plato that poetry has the power to stimulate
emotions, he does not pay much attention to the ethical and epistemological aspects
of ‘mimesis’. Yet he dwells on the pleasure that men take in learning and argues
that tragedy discharges the feelings and spectators leave the play in a state of calm,
free of passions. He does not restrict art and poetry and the concept of ‘mimesis’.
Aristotle’s ‘mimesis’ is defined by mythos and praxis’, which brings the concept
close to areas of time and action- in contrast to Platonic ‘mimesis’, which is closer
to image, imagination and imitation. He argues that tragedy is the imitation
(mimesis) of a man in action. Aristotle’s ‘mimesis’ is active and creative; and he
gives a dynamic character to ‘mimesis’ by introducing mythos and praxis, thus,
defines art as ‘mimesis’ and the artist as character. Plato worries about the moral
effect of poetry, while Aristotle strikes to psychology and returns repeatedly to
shuddering terror (phobos) and pity (eleos) that the tragedy is creating in the
spectator, who therefore repeats or imitates what has already taken place on stage.
And that, in its turn, spectator repeats or imitates what has already t
Plato argues that there is a duality between art (mimesis and narrative art)
and ethics. The more poetic the poems are the less suited are they to the ears of
men. Artistically, the better the comedy is, the worst it is, since the more attractive
and perfect the comedy is the more disastrous its effects are. For instance, Homer,
in the “Iliad” tells us or narrates the story of cypresses, as he was himself a cypress.
He tells the story as far as it makes the audience feel that not Homer is the speaker,
but the priest, an old man. This manner of representation (impersonation),
according to Plato, leads to the loss-of-self or transformation of identity and
becomes a matter of moral destruction. Aristotle takes the same activity of
impersonation in a different way. He praises Homer for not telling excessively in
his own voice since, after a few words he immediately brings on stage a man or
woman or some other characters that represent the action with larger perspective.
Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi Sayı : 15 Yıl : 2003/2 (167-179 s.)
As a conclusion, ‘mimesis’ has since the antiquity been discussed to refer
to the relation between reality and representation. The nature of discussion upon
the concept of ‘mimesis’ as a theory of art changes according to the person who
discusses the term and the way he deals with the term. Auerbach, for instance,
distinguishes the reality and ‘mimesis’ in literature with respect to the narrative
techniques and argues that Homeric epic is not mimetic but realistic since;
narration of the tales comprehends every detail and leaves no space for
interpretation. Plato, on the other hand, agrees that reality cannot be represented;
therefore, ‘mimesis’ is misrepresentation of truth. Aristotle becomes the defender
of ‘mimesis’ against Plato and develops a theory of art with reference to ‘mimesis'
and claims that art (mimetic art) is superior to philosophy and history.
Angelo C.J. (1985), The Interpretation Of The Concept Of Art As Mimesis In the
Republic: A Prolegomenon, B.A. Azusa Pacific University, A Thesis on
Master of Arts
Annas, J. (1982) Plato on Beauty, Wisdom and the Arts Rowman & Littlefield,
Totowa, New Jersey, USA
Auerbach, E. (1974) Translated by Willard R Task Mimesis The Representation of
Reality In Western Literature, Princeton Univ. Press, New Jersey
Boyd, J. A New Mimesis, Renaissance, 37:3 (1985: Spring)
Burns, G. A Question of the Truth of Mimesis, Renaissance 37:3 (1985: Spring)
Crane, R.S. Keast W.R. et al. (1996), Critics and Criticism Essays in Method by
Group of Chicago Critics, Univ. Of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
Criffiths, P.A. (1984), Philosophy and Literature, The Royal Institute of
Philosophy, Lecture Series 16 CUP, New York
Dutton, R.A, Introduction to Literary Criticism CUP, 1985.
Euben P.J (1986), Greek Tragedy& Political Theory, University of California,
Press, California
Frye, N. (1973) Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press, New Jersey
Gebauer, G. & Wulf, C. (1995) Mimesis Culture-Art-Society, Univ. of California
Press, Los Angeles
Isenberg S. Motherstill M. (1988), Aesthetics and Theory of Criticism, Selected
Essays, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Lindberger, H. (1985), MIMESIS in Contemporary Theory (V.I) John Bunyamın
Pub. Company New York
Melberg, A. (1995) Theories of Mimesis CUP, Cambridge
Nehemas, A. (1982) Plato on Beauty, Wisdom and the Arts Rowman and
Littlefield, Totowa, New Jersey
Paul K. Feleke J. (1977), The Critical Twilight, Rutledge, London
Richter H.D. (1989) The Critical Tradition, Classic Texts and Contemporary
Trends, ST. Martin’s Press, New York
Ruthven K.K. (1979), Critical Assumption, CUP, New York
Şener, S. (1998) Dünden Bugüne Tiyatro Düşüncesi, Dost Kitabevi, Ankara
Sherwood W. J. & Wein, A.J (1959), From Homer to Joyce A Study Guide to
Thirty-Six Great Books, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York
Sparioasu, M. (1984) MIMESIS in Contemporary Theory (V.I) John Bunyamin
Pub. Company New York
Stanley, P. Plato and Aristotle, Modern Age 3:2 (1959: Spring)
Stephen, W. (1985) MIMESIS in Contemporary Theory (V.I) John Bunyamın Pub.
Company New York
1 Abrams, M.H., Glossary of Literary Terms, p.89.
2 Gebauer, G. & Wulf, C., Mimesis Culture-Art-Society, p.27-29.
3 Ruthven K.K. Critical Assumption, p.47-51.
4 Gebauer, G. & Wulf, ibid., p.47-49.
5 Nehemas, A., Plato on Beauty, Wisdom and the Arts, p.300.
6 Richter H.D., The Critical Tradition, Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, p.18-19.
7 Mckeon,R., The Concept of Imitation in Classical age, Critics and Criticism Essays in
Method by Group of Chicago Critics, p.121-123.
8 Plato, Republic Book:10.
9 Annas, J..Plato on Beauty, Wisdom and the Arts, p,279.
10 Annas, ibid., p.280.
11 Gebauer, G. & Wulf, ibid., p.39.
12 Plato, Republic Book: III.
13 Melberg, A., Theories of Mimesis, p.19.
14 Gebauer, G. & Wulf, ibid., p.41.
15 Boyd, J. A New Mimesis, Renaissance, p.137-138.
16 Dutton, R.A., Introduction to Literary Criticism, p.22.
17 Frye, N., Anatomy of Criticism, p.65-67.
Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi Sayı : 15 Yıl : 2003/2 (167-179 s.)
18 Aristotle, Poetic, The Critical Tradition, Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, p.43.
19 Mckeon, ibid., s.129.
20 Dutton, ibid., p.21
21 Aristotle, ibid, p.48.
22 Mckeon, ibid., s.131.
23 Aristotle, ibid, p.43.
24 Johnson, S., Introduction to Shakespeare, The Critical Tradition, Classic Texts and
Contemporary Trends p.234.
25 Aristotle, ibid, p.44.
26 Salkaver, A. Aesthetics and Theory of Criticism, p.294
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