English Literature » Notes » Why does Aristotle hold tragedy on a higher level than the epic?

Why does Aristotle hold tragedy on a higher level than the epic?

Aristotle discusses tragedy, epic and comedy show elaborately in “Poetics”. Aristotle not only discusses  them but also makes differences among these arts in a logical manner. He draws some argument in favour of tragedy over epic poetry. Attention is called the main difference between epic and tragedy.

According to Aristotle-

Tragedy is the representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself and some amplitude ….. by means of pity and fear, bringing about the purgation of such emotions.

On the other hand, an epic is a long narrative poem that tells in grand style the history and aspirations of a national hero. Another definition is,

The art of representation in the form of narrative verse, clearly its plot should be dramatically constructed, like those of tragedies.

Here, tragedy is superior to epic on the fact that is tragedy deals with more serious actions than epic. [t also arouses pity and fear to the audiences which is hardly seen in an epic.

Tragedy contains two more formative elements than epic. In a successful tragedy there are six formative elements. They are plot, character, thought, diction, music and spectacle. But in an epic, music and spectacle are absent, so in this point of view tragedy is superior to epic.

Again, in the point of metres and length, a tragedy is different from an epic. There is no fixed metre in writing a tragedy but an epic is always written in iambic hexameter. The time of an epic is not fixed. As,

Whereas the epic observes no limits in its time of action.

But in a tragedy, the time is limited.

Tragedy tries as far as possible to keep within a single revolving of the sun, or only slightly to exceed it.

Epic is free from the effect of vulgarity but tragedy is vulgar. A tragedy may end with the vulgarity of the hero but an epic ends with the winning/victory of the hero. The epic uses the mode of narrative, while the tragedy uses of the mode of dramatic. An epic is the story of the past whereas a tragedy narrates the present situation

From the above discussion, it is clear to us that Aristotle successfully draws a comparison between epic and tragedy. For some special qualities a tragedy is superior to an epic.

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