What is meant by the “catharsis of emotions" in Aristotle's Poetics?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the single phrase most often quoted in scholarly studies of Aristotle's Poetics is:


... through fear and pity affecting the catharsis of such pathemata ...


The use of the terms catharsis and "pathemata" are both somewhat unclear. The ;term "pathemata" is close to the English etymological sense of "emotion" in the sense of suggesting an internal state motivated by the operation of an external force. It could equally well be translated by "sufferings" in the sense of "things suffered" as opposed to "things done". Catharsis in Greek can be used medically to refer to purgation (e.g. vomiting to remove poisons) but it also has medical senses. The genitive is grammatically ambiguous as well, as it can mean either "making the pathemata more pure" or "purging emotions" in the sense of eliminating them or no longer feeling that specific response to something suffered.