‘Aristoteles imperator noster…’? J. C. Scaliger and Aristotle on poetic theory

Research paper by Luc Deitz

Indexed on: 01 Jun '95Published on: 01 Jun '95Published in: International Journal of the Classical Tradition


Aristotle'sPoetics was virtually unknown in the West before the publication of theeditio princeps of the Greek text in 1508. After this date its fame grew steadily. In the decades that followed it was repeatedly translated and commented upon; it also began to be used in theoretical treatises on the art of poetry in general. This article focuses on the most comprehensive of these treatises to appear in the sixteenth century, Julius Caesar Scaliger'sPoetices libri septem (1561). It analyzes the claim, repeated countless times throughout the centuries, that thePoetices libri septem are an ‘Aristotelian’ treatise and tries to show that this claim is borne out neither by such references to the Aristotelian corpus as can be identified in Scaliger's work, nor by its internal structure and economy, nor indeed by its most important doctrinal tenets, such as the definition and purpose of poetry, the relationship of poetry to rhetoric and historiography, or the concept ofmimesis. Despite Scaliger's paying lip-service to Aristotle hisPoetices libri septem cannot thus be adequately interpreted and understood with exclusive reference to an Aristotelian framework.