These books, which are classified according to discipline, reflect the wide range of Aristotle's interests. There was Logic, whose title refers to a system of reasoning. Aristotle developed the logical formula called the syllogism. He is generally considered the “father of logic” because he provided a system for it. There were the many volumes of science, ranging from Physics to On the Soul, a psychological study.
Aristotle was particularly successful in the area of biology, in which he produced several works. The first to attempt a scientific classification of animal life-forms, he dissected hundreds of animals to learn how they worked. He was about
2,000 years ahead of other scientists in realizing that the dolphin, though it swims like a fish, is actually a mammal.
The classification system in Aristotle's library gave a name to the branch of philosophy that deals with the fundamental nature of being: Metaphysics. Actually it was a name for the book in which he discussed that subject and simply meant “after Physics.” He also wrote considerably on subjects such as Ethics, the area of philosophy concerned with morality;
The annual festival honoring the god Dionysus (die-oh-NIE-suhs) in Athens featured a contest in which playwrights presented a series of three tragedies and a short comedy. It is a hallmark of his success that Sophocles (SAHF-uh-kleez; c. 495-406 B. c.) won first prize more than twenty times.
Later Aristotle would write about tragedy, using the work of Sophocles as a model. As Aristotle explained it, a tragedy focuses on a great misfortune that befalls the hero. The tragedy usually ends with the hero choosing to go down fighting rather than merely submitting to fate. It is also a tragedy—in another sense of the word—that very few of Sophocles's plays survived. Of the 123 plays he is said to
Have written, 90 survive in fragments, but only 7 in their entirety.
One of these, however, has been proclaimed by Aristotle and by many other critics as the greatest play of all time: Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King). At his birth, it was prophesied that Oedipus (ED-I-puhs) would kill his father and marry his mother. Because of the prophecy, his parents gave him up to die. He survived, however, and became a great hero, only to return to his hometown. . . where he met and killed an older man and then fell in love with and married a beautiful older woman. Oedipus Rex is the story of how Oedipus responds to the horrible news that he has fulfilled the ancient prophecy.
Politics, a book in which he advanced the now-accepted notion that human beings are happiest when they live in some kind of organized society; Rhetoric (RET-uh-rik), which dealt with speech and writing; and Poetics.
Poetics, though only a small part of it survives, was one of Aristotle's most important works. In it, he introduced the idea of catharsis (kuh-THAHR-sis), or the experience of emotional release that comes from watching a character on stage undergo difficult circumstances. Drama, he maintained, was therefore good for the soul. He particularly recommended the works of Sophocles [see sidebar].