My interpretation of Aristotle’s Theory of Peripety by Caitlyn

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist, who was born in Stagira, Chalkidice on the Northern periphery of Classical Greece. From the ages of eighteen to thirty-seven Aristotle had joined Plato’s Academy. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, which was written between 1751 and 1772 and was edited by Denis Diderot (another philosopher but he was from the Enlightenment era),  “Aristotle was the first genuine scientist in history … [and] every scientist is in his debt.” At one point during his illustrious career he wrote a piece called ‘On the Art of Poetry.’ In said piece he spoke on what he defined as poetry, a term which in Greek literally means “making”. This term could be applied to man different forms of writing, including drama, comedy, tragedy, lyrical poetry, epic poetry, and satyr play. Though his writing covered many topics-physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, linguistics, politics, and government- I am going to focus solely on his ideas of poetry.

More specifically, I will be talking about Peripety which is defined as a sudden or unexpected change of fortune or reverse of circumstances. Peripety is directly connected to the plot of your story or poem. Aristotle describes plot as “simple or complex, since the actions they represent are naturally of this twinfold description. … Two parts of Plot, then, Peripety and Discovery, are on matter of this sort.” He describes plot as something that can be simple or complex but notes that they could be both of these. That is where he begins to speak of Peripety and it’s ‘partner’ Discovery. He described Discovery, a word that play directly into the former, as “a change from ignorance to knowledge, and this to either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil fortune.” He described Peripety as “the change from one state of things within the play to its opposite of the kind described, and that too in the way we are saying, in the probably or necessary sequence of events…” He claims that Peripety is needed in a book.

He states “The action, proceeding in the way defined, as one continuous whole, I call simple, when the change in the hero’s fortunes take place without Peripety or Discovery; and complex, when it involves one or the other, or both. These should each of them arise out of structure of the Plot itself, so as to be the consequence, necessary or probable, of the antecedents. There is a great difference between a thing happening propter hoc and post hoc.” Allow me to break this down through my thinking. I will start with propter hoc, the word is a Latin adverb meaning “because of this.” I take this as it being the before event. The event before the climax happens. Then there is post hoc, a Latin adjective meaning “formulated after the fact.” I believe this means that it happens after the event, or the climax. I believe this statement to mean that without propter hoc and post hoc that an actions, or the climax, would be simple. Without Peripety or Discovery, as defined in the former paragraph, the actions would be simple and easy. Easy writes make hard reads while hard writes make easy reads. He believes that the Peripety and Discovery make a plot complex and that they should arise from the structure of the plot. The actions shouldn’t be forced. It should be supported by the former plot to help shape the future plot.

Peripety takes the importance over Discovery however. Aristotle states “The form most directly connected with the Plot and the action of the piece is the first-mentioned. This, with a Peripety, will arouse either pity or fear-actions of that nature being what Tragedy is assumed to represent; and it will also serve to bring about the happy or unhappy ending.” I believe he is saying that an action with Peripety is more likely to pull emotions from an author and a viewer. Drawing emotions out of a reader is one of the many goals of an author. I am a firm believer that authors want their character to believe in their character, to root for the good and boo the bad.

I happen to be a firm believer in his philosophy as of this topic. I agree that we need some form of buildup. As the tensions rise and the actions stack on top of each other, whether in an epic or a novel, I believe that the buildup is needed. I believe a book without tension is boring and simple. A book with a lot actions that form many climaxes is much more exciting and complex. For example, the Song of Fire and Ice, written by George R.R. Martin, is a complex book. He includes many buildups, a buildup for each of the characters, that leads to many climaxes. The story draws you in with excitement and characters. A poetic example is Beowulf. The epic tells a story with propter hoc and post hoc events that help the climax be the best it can and be a natural climax. Overall, I believe that the idea of Peripety and Discovery is a solid ideology that all authors should study and understand to help better their writing.


Posted on April 6, 2016, in Editorial Board Essay. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you for sharing this, I absolutely love this article and especially “Easy writes make hard reads and hard writes make easy reads.”

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