What is the concept of catharsis in Aristotle's Poetics?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The concept of catharsis in Aristotle's Poetics is based on a phrase at the end of his famous definition of tragedy. He states that:

Tragedy ... effects by means of fear and pity the catharsis of the pathemata.

The term catharisis in ancient Greek means some form of purification or purgation. The pathemata are emotions in their etymological sense of internal states produced by external impetuses. They are referred to in the genitive case, which, in this sentence means that we have the sense of the emotions beng purged (i.e. the audience being rid of a specific emotion) or the emotions being purified in the sense of being made more pure or improved. The medical sense of the word would suggestion purgation and the religious either purgation or purification.



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