Few of the great works of ancient Greek literature are easy reading. They nearly all need study and comment, and at times help from a good teacher, before they yield up their secret. And the Poetics cannot be accounted an exception. For one thing the treatise is fragmentary. It originally consisted of two books, one dealing with Tragedy and Epic, the other with Comedy and other subjects. We possess only the first. For another, even the book we have seems to be unrevised and unfinished. The style, though luminous, vivid, and in its broader division systematic, is not that of a book intended for publication. Like most of Aristotle’s extant writing, it suggests the MS. of an experienced lecturer, full of jottings and adscripts, with occasional phrases written carefully out, but never revised as a whole for the general reader. Even to accomplished scholars the meaning is often obscure, as may be seen by a comparison of the three editions recently published in England, all the work of savants of the first eminence, or, still more strikingly, by a study of the long series of misunderstandings and overstatements and corrections which form the history of the Poetics since the Renaissance.
Language alone (whether prose or verse, and one form of verse or many): this art has no name up to the present (i.e. there is no name to cover mimes and dialogues and any similar imitation made in iambics, elegiacs, &c. Commonly people attach the ’making’ to the metre and say ’elegiac-makers’, ’hexameter-makers,’ giving them a common class-name by their metre, as if it was not their imitation that makes them ’makers’).