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Plato and Aristotle’s Theory of Imitation



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    An imitation of an idea or a concept is just a copy of its reality. “Mimesis”, which means imitation, was essentially a Greek word that means, “copying” or “imitating”. Both Aristotle and Plato see imitation pretty differently.

    Plato would simply believe in what existed without trying to explain it, or look for any deeper meaning. He argues that there are three types of imitation. The form of something, the existing object itself, and the depiction of the object. Thus, there is a creator for each of them.

    Starting with the form. God has created “the form”, which is the ideal version of something, God is the only one who can truly create this, all that we can do is think about it and imagine what it is like. Plato says that thinking about the ideal version of something, and focusing on it, is very important. He tells us that that in our everyday life, we can more easily avoid doing the wrong thing, and sticking to the right thing by imaging what we think said thing should be like. If everyone does this, it would make the world better.

    Next there is the the existing object. The real, physical, tangible object. The craftsperson is the one that created this. The craftsperson is the one that actually creates said object and works with the raw material.

    Finally we have the artist, who creates the depiction of the object. They create a version that’s real, but not as real as the existing object itself. They create a representation, or imitation of the object.

    Plato believes that out of these three types of imitation, the one that is the most real, is “the form”, or, the idea of something. When we think of the form of something, it’s always a unity, always the same. Whereas the object itself is not something that we can materially or physically encounter. This is because the form is not actually tangible or real, it doesn’t have concrete being, instead, it has an ideal being. Plato thinks that when a craftsperson is making whatever it is that they are making, they look to the form, in order to get an idea for what said thing should look like.

    Aristotle on the other hand, has a bit of a different view. Aristotle would question everything presented to him, and look for the deepest, smallest meaning behind it. He was a little bit more open minded. His theory shows that different forms of art can actually be useful to society. He believes that by thinking about different versions of something, it will cause there to be more than one ideal version of said object. This will widen society’s education, and that will make people happier.

    According to Aristotle, imitation is common to all types of art. He considers poetry as the said art, and he divides it into three categories: Comedy, Epic, and Tragedy. Poetics was thought to have originally been two separate books, one on Tragedy, and one on Comedy. Unfortunately, portions of Aristotle’s works have been lost, leaving us only with the portion of his work on Tragedies today.

    Aristotle defines a Tragedy as, “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear affecting the proper purgation of these emotions. ” (Aristotle)

    While tragedies are dramatic, epics are usually told in a narrative form. To further help understand Aristotle’s theory, here are some similarities and differences between an epic and a tragedy.

    Starting with some similarities, both tragedies and epics agree that there needs to be a unity of plot. It should focus on one story in particular throughout the entire plot. The plot must also either be simple plot, where everything goes exactly the way that the hero intended for it to go, or a complex plot, where somewhere along in the story, the hero’s intentions get disrupted.

    As for differences, epics are generally longer than tragedies, this is because epics can be expanded more, focusing in on the smaller details. The second difference is that an epic only has one meter, a heroic meter, whereas a tragedy has different, multiple meters.

    Aristotle considers a Tragedy superior to an Epic.

    Even though Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle was one of the finest students at Plato’s Academy, Aristotle ended up taking a different viewpoint than Plato. There are many reasons that could have caused this, but a main factor is the time period in which they grew up. Plato was born in 427 BC, while Aristotle was born in 384 BC. That would make Plato a little more than 40 years older than Aristotle, and a lot can change in 40 years.

    Plato grew up an Athenian, with noble Athenian lineage on both sides of his family during the Peloponnesian War. “From 431 to 404, engulfing most of the Greek world at one time or another during its generation-long extent. Extraordinary in Greek history for its protracted length, the deaths and expenses of this bitter Greek-on-Greek conflict shattered the social and political harmony of Athens, sapped its economic strength, decimated its population, and turned its citizens’ everyday lives upside down.” (Erenow) It’s quite easy to see how Plato’s view of most things took a more serious route. There was, nowhere in his lifestyle, enough room to fit in time for “expanding your education to be happy”, nor was there time for imagining anything other than what was perfect, real, and noble.

    Just a few decades after the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), Aristotle was born. We remain unsure about most of his early life, but we do know that he was inspired and influenced by his father, who was a well known physician. We can easily see here as well, how Aristotle, growing up, was influenced and showed how to think about more than one perspective on many different things.

    I can clearly see where Plato is coming from, and his theory makes sense. There is the perfect version of something, which only God can see and create. Next there is the craftsperson, who can imagine the ideal version of something and create the real version of it. Finally, there is the artist, that creates a depiction of the object. A version that’s real, but not as real as the object itself.

    Although what Plato believes makes sense, I would have to say that I agree more with Aristotle’s theory. Different forms of art and ways of thinking or envisioning something, can actually better society. By not limiting your mind to see only perfect version of something, you don’t constantly feel the pressure of living up to the ideal standard. God is the only one who is truly perfect, and we, as mere humans, will never be able to live up to that standard.

    Although God forgives us of our sins, we were still born with a sinful nature, we will continue to sin time and time again. 1 John 1:7-8 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

    In spite of the fact that I agree more with Aristotle’s theory, I were going to try to control a group of people, especially in today’s society, I would use Plato’s theory. Today’s generation truly is the “look at me” society. They only care about themselves, and what they can get to show off to everyone else. Unfortunately, people judge those around them materially, by what they look like, what they have, and their financial status- all thing that do not go beyond this lifetime, and only last a short while here on earth.

    There is even quite a large dubiety of piety in our world around us. It’s easy to fall into this category. Being a part of the world is easy. God also tell us that the way of the world is temporary, but if we choose to believe and side with him, we will have eternal life in paradise. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

    Plato’s theory would help to keep society level and focused on what is really important, God, and what His word says. We must keep in mind that everything we are doing is for His glory, and we will never be able to live up to His good and perfect standards.

    Works Cited

    1. Aristotle: Poetics,
    2. Erenow, Erenow. “The Peloponnesian War and Its Aftermath at Athens.”, 2015,

    Plato and Aristotle’s Theory of Imitation. (2021, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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