Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Lockdown boredom reached such levels today that I just had to deviate from the routine on the blog to provide both myself and you with a change of scenery. Ladies and gentleman, please enjoy literature discussed – in the form of infographics!

The Classical Unities

But before we start with any infographics, let’s just remind ourselves of those old grammar school days when such concepts as the classical unities were still actually taught in literature classes*.

The Classical Unities, also known as the Aristotelian Unities, and also – not very originally – known as the Three Unities, are the idea, originating in Aristotle’s Poetics, that a good tragedy should have unity of time, unity of place and unity of action. What these exactly mean, you’ll see illustrated below, but first we might as well pickup our trusty old Poetics and read what Aristotle actually wrote:

Aristotle on the Classical Unities

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

On the Unity of Time:

…Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit…

(Aristotle: Poetics, V)

On the Unity of Action:

…Tragedy is the imitation of an action; and an action implies personal agents, who necessarily possess certain distinctive qualities both of character and thought; for it is by these that we qualify actions themselves, and these—thought and character—are the two natural causes from which actions spring, and on actions again all success or failure depends. Hence, the Plot is the imitation of the action: for by plot I here mean the arrangement of the incidents.

…Now, according to our definition, Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. .. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

…Unity of plot does not, as some persons think, consist in the Unity of the hero. For infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity; and so, too, there are many actions of one man out of which we cannot make one action. Hence, the error, as it appears, of all poets who have composed a Heracleid, a Theseid, or other poems of the kind. They imagine that as Heracles was one man, the story of Heracles must also be a unity. But Homer, as in all else he is of surpassing merit, here too—whether from art or natural genius—seems to have happily discerned the truth. In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus—such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host—incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made the Odyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to centre round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

(Aristotle: Poetics, VI-VIII)

On the Unity of Place:

Yep. All of that.

The Aristotelian Unities

Good old Aristotle never mentioned unity of place. Perhaps he took it for granted. After all, once you’ve got unity of action (clearly the most important thing) and unity of time, how far can you spread it geographically?

Nevertheless any budding writer would do well to chew his way through Aristotle’s Poetics, because the one thing you can notice while he disperses poetic advice with a liberal hand, is that quite a lot of those things which he criticises as ‘bad’ are standard features of a certain kind of literature, ahem, ahem, you know, the kind which is published with glaring metallic letters on the front cover and has no literary merit whatsoever. So if you’re aiming to win, I don’t know, the Booker Prize, you’d better follow Aristotle’s advice; if on the other hand, you’re aiming to be published by Mills & Boon, you’ll do well to follow the exact opposite of his advice…

The Three Unities:

Now then when people started to read Aristotle again in Europe, almost two millennia years later, the third unity was most definitely added, and gained particular popularity in France where several famous playwrights did their best to adhere to it, so if you go out – what am I saying?! You can’t go out and see a play any more, classical French or otherwise.

So to the devil with that, let’s proceed to the illustrations:

Seven Ways to Illustrate the Classical Unities

Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.

Notes:

* You can tell that this post has been inspired by the lack of such things in the literature curriculum of Young Friend of the Elephants - currently home schooling owing to the coronavirus - or, for that matter, in Sophisticated Young Lady's, several years earlier (at the time not home schooling owing to no coronavirus).

Further Reading (or Other People's Take on the Same Topic):The Unities and the Short StoryClassical UnitiesAristotle's Poetics: The Three Unities

Lockdown Diaries: Day 70 (The Sea! The Sea!)

Locked Down in Lancashire, Day 70:

After more than two months in lockdown, we went on our first genuine day out…

…to the sea.

P1090782

A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that open sea which drew from Xenophon’s ten thousand Greeks, after their long retreat, the simultaneous cry, “Thalatta! thalatta!” the sea! the sea!

Jules Verne: The Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Lockdown is over.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 70 (The Sea! The Sea!)”

Lockdown Diaries: Day 57 (My Trusty Old Herodotus)

Locked Down in Budapest:

Although I’m one of those few privileged 🙂 who can actually enter Hungary at the moment because I do hold a Hungarian passport, I did not exchange the London lockdown to that of Budapest. (More’s the pity.) The video however is from Budapest, courtesy of my sister. Unfortunately, on trying to upload it, I found that unless I upgrade my free plan, I can’t – this not being the right financial moment to invest in my blogging hobby, I uploaded it instead to the blog’s FB page:

MARADJ OTTHON (STAY AT HOME)

Enjoy.

Continue reading “Lockdown Diaries: Day 57 (My Trusty Old Herodotus)”

Herodotus: A Quiz

It’s been a while since we last talked of Herodotus which is a bad thing. So I was just about to write a new post to add to my Best Stories of Herodotus… and then I got seduced by the idea of doing a quiz instead.

Herodotus, c.484-425 B.C.

How well do you know your Herodotus? Take the quiz to find out! 🙂

Continue reading “Herodotus: A Quiz”

Artemisia, Hero(ine) of the Baddies

On this blog we don’t do a black and white view of the world, therefore even the Baddies can have heroes. And since we’re writing about Herodotus here, in this case the Baddies are Xerxes and his Greece-invading Persian lot, while their hero is, in point of fact, a heroine: Artemisia, the queen of Caria.

Continue reading “Artemisia, Hero(ine) of the Baddies”

Why You Shouldn’t Lose Your Shield (Por qué no deberías perder tu escudo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone asked why they visited disgrace upon those among them who lost their shields, but did not do the same thing to those who lost their helmets or their breastplates, he [Demaratus] said, “Because these they put on for their own sake, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)


Al preguntarle [a Demarato] alguien por qué entre ellos deshon- raban a quienes tiraban los escudos, y, en cambio, no a los que arrojaban los yelmos y las corazas, contestó: «Porque se revisten de esto para su propio beneficio, pero del escudo en beneficio del frente común.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

No One Is Above the Law (Nadie está por encima de la ley)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone inquired why he [Demaratus] was an exile from Sparta, being a king, he said, “Because her laws are more powerful than I am.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)


Cuando uno le preguntó [a Demarato] por qué estaba exilado de Esparta, siendo así que era rey, le respondió: «Porque sus leyes son más poderosas que yo.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

Aristotle Compares Authors (Aristóteles compara autores)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Sophocles is an imitator of the same kind as Homer- for both imitate higher types of character; from another point of view, of the same kind as Aristophanes- for both imitate persons acting and doing.

(Aristotle: Poetics)


Como imitador, Sófocles, por una parte, se asemeja a Homero, pues ambos representan a hombres superiores, y por otra, a Aristófanes, desde que todos exhiben que actúan y realizan algo.

(Aristóteles: La Poética)

 

You might also like / Quizás también te gusta:Aristotle on HomerAristotle on the Unity of Action / Aristóteles sobre la unidad de acciónAristotle on Comedy & Tragedy / Aristóteles sobre la comedia y la tragedia

Image credit:
Tilemahox Efthimiadis via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Call No Man Happy

The Best Stories of Herodotus returns today – after a shamefully long gap – with a story that has nothing to do with our favourite topic, the Greek-Persian Wars. Because The Histories of Herodotus is so much more than the long-winded retelling of a few gory battles: in his effort to unearth the causes of the war, Herodotus went as far back in time as the origins of the War of Troy and ranged across the Eastern Mediterranean and across subjects in a way that modern historians would never dare. Today’s story is a great example.

Let’s introduce the three protagonists first: Solon, Croesus and Cyrus.

Continue reading “Call No Man Happy”

The Best Government (El mejor gobierno)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When a Persian asked what kind of government he [Lysander] commended most highly, he said, “The government which duly awards what is fitting to both the brave and the cowardly.”

(Plutarch: Morals, On Talkativeness)


Al preguntarle [a Lisandro] un persa qué tipo de gobierno recomendaba especialmente, dijo: «Aquel que dé su merecido tanto a los valientes como a los cobardes.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, Sobre la charlatanería)

 

Image credit: Odysses via Wikipedia. Cropped. [CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Aristotle on Comedy & Tragedy (Aristóteles sobre la comedia y la tragedia)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

But when Tragedy and Comedy came to light, the two classes of poets still followed their natural bent: the lampooners became writers of Comedy, and the Epic poets were succeeded by Tragedians, since the drama was a larger and higher form of art.

(Aristotle: Poetics)


Pero tan pronto como la tragedia y la comedia aparecieron en el ambiente, aquellos naturalmente atraídos por cierta línea de poesía se convirtieron en autores de comedias en lugar de yambos, y los otros inclinados por su índole a una línea distinta, en creadores de tragedias en lugar de epopeyas, porque estos nuevos modos del arte resultaban más majestuosos y de mayor estima que los antiguos.

(Aristóteles: La Poética)

 

You might also like: Aristotle on HomerAristotle on the Unity of Action / Aristóteles sobre la unidad de acción

Image credit:
Tilemahox Efthimiadis via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Aristotle on the Unity of Action (Aristóteles sobre la unidad de acción)

A slightly longer quote this week, from the Poetics of Aristotle. He talks about the meaning of unity of action, or plot – one of the three unities (aka classical unities) in literature. The other two unities are the unity of place and the unity of time. The three unities were described by Aristotle in his Poetics; they were later followed by such neo-classical authors as Molière and Racine. A play that observes the three unities will have a single action occurring in a single place in the course of a single day.

Una cita un poco más larga este semana, de La Poética de Aristóteles. Nos habla sobre el significado de la unidad de acción, es decir trama – una de las tres unidades (también conocido como unidades clásicas) en literatura. Las otras dos son la unidad de tiempo y la unidad de lugar. Las tres unidades fueron descritas por Aristóteles en La Poética; luego fueron observadas por tal autores neoclásicos como Molière y Racine. Una obra que observa las tres unidades tendrá una acción sola, ocurriendo en un lugar único durante un día sólo.

Continue reading “Aristotle on the Unity of Action (Aristóteles sobre la unidad de acción)”

The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

Continue reading “The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)”

The Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets (El imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol)

I first heard this evocative phrase in a history class at university many years ago but in certain countries (the English and the Spanish can raise their hands here) it’s pretty well-known. And I don’t know about you but it makes me think of ships ploughing the oceans, armies marching and merchants haggling over exotic goods. I think of kings whose word was law over diverse lands, of gold and glory and of a confusion of languages to equal that of Babel. In fact, in my mind I can see the big globe in the library of the Escorial, turning slowly….

He oído esta frase evocador en una clase de historia en la universidad hace muchos años pero en ciertas países  (los españoles y los ingleses pueden levantar las manos aquí) es bastante bien conocida. No sé nada de ti, pero me hace pensar en barcos cruzando el mar, ejercitos en marcha y comerciantes regateando mercancías exóticos. Pienso en reyes cuyos palabras eran la ley en tierras distintas, en oro y gloria, y además en una confusión de idiomas igual que la de Babel. De hecho, mentalmente veo el gran globo en la biblioteca de El Escorial, girando despacio… 

The library of the Escorial with the big globe / La biblioteca de El Escorial con el gran globo
The library of the Escorial with the big globe / La biblioteca de El Escorial con el gran globo. Photo by José Maria Cuellar via Flickr. [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Continue reading “The Empire on Which the Sun Never Sets (El imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol)”

Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar

There is a line by Pindar, a fifth-century-B.C. Greek poet, in which he describes the island of Delos, one of the most barren and inhospitable of all Greek islands, as ‘the dark earth’s far-seen star’:

Hail, god-reared daughter of the sea,
earth-shoot most dear to bright-haired Leto’s children,
wide earth’s immoveable marvel,
who of mortals art called Delos,
but of the blessed gods in Olympus the dark earth’s far-seen star…

Dark earth’s far-seen star – the island as seen from above by the gods, glowing with light in the dark sea – is one of those memorable phrases that turned the famous Roman poet Horace into one of Pindar’s life-long fans. Sadly, not much else of this Procession Song survives today (you’ve just read half of what there’s left).

Continue reading “Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar”

Short Biography of a Boring Author

Today, let’s talk about an author that you all consider ever so boring. By the time you finish reading this, however, you’ll realise he’s an author worth reading.

(At least that’s the theory.)

The Author’s Picture

To begin with, let’s have the author’s picture:

320px-Herodotos_Met_91.8
With a beard like that he’s obviously boring!

The Author’s Short Biography

For my part, what I consider boring… is biographical facts. So I’m going to keep this part short – mercifully we know next to nothing about him.

Continue reading “Short Biography of a Boring Author”

Soft Lands Breed Soft Men: The Persian Choice

Let’s start today’s post with the one thing we should never start a piece of writing with: a cliché. Today’s cliché is that life is full of choices. None of us can avoid them, although some people make a damn good effort to as they’re painfully aware that by choosing something, they will miss out on something else.  To these people the most of awful thing about choice is the very fact that they have to make one; that maybe none of the alternatives are any good only comes distant second.

To these people then the most fateful word in the world is:

Choice

When it comes to choices in literature, Antigone by Sophocles of course offers itself up for examples of moral choices on a positively indecent scale but I wouldn’t want to spoil your enjoyment in reading it. Besides, you haven’t heard from Herodotus for a while (this is where you all stop reading!) and he too loaded his Histories with plenty of fateful choices. There was, for example, the juicy case of Gyges, the favourite bodyguard of King Candaules and the king’s wife… but we’ll leave that for another time. Instead we’ll read the very end of The Histories, the last chapter of Book Nine, in which…

Continue reading “Soft Lands Breed Soft Men: The Persian Choice”

The Battle of Salamis: Poetry & All

Your Journey Begins Here…

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…”

Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus

Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished – in two parts. Read them here:

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II