On Reading without Prior Convictions

Aristotle, Poetics 1461a31

“Whenever some word seems to mean something opposite to what it means, it is best to examine how many things this might mean in the place is used. For instance, “by which the bronze spear was held”—someone might figure the best way by considering in how many ways is it possible to be hindered. This approach is opposite to what Glaukon says, that some people accept a position illogically and then make arguments based on their prior convictions and then, should anything seem to contradict them, they find fault with the poet because he meant something opposite to what they thought. The matter of Ikarios is an instance of this. For people suppose that he was Lakonian, so it is strange that Telemachus does not meet him when he goes to Sparta. But perhaps it is instead as the Kephallenians claim. For they say that Odysseus married one of their people and that his name was Ikadios not Ikarios. That the issue comes from a mistake is probable. Generally, impossible details should be credited to poetic character, to fashioning a better tale, or to keeping with popular belief. Poetic license should make something plausible but impossible more acceptable than something implausible yet possible.”

δεῖ δὲ καὶ ὅταν ὄνομά τι ὑπεναντίωμά τι δοκῇ σημαίνειν, ἐπισκοπεῖν ποσαχῶς ἂν σημήνειε τοῦτο ἐν τῷ εἰρημένῳ, οἷον τῷ “τῇ ῥ’ ἔσχετο χάλκεον ἔγχος” τὸ ταύτῃ κωλυθῆναι ποσαχῶς ἐνδέχεται, ὡδὶ ἢ ὡδί, ὡς μάλιστ’ ἄν τις ὑπολάβοι· κατὰ τὴν καταντικρὺ ἢ ὡς Γλαύκων λέγει, ὅτι ἔνιοι ἀλόγως προϋπολαμβάνουσί τι καὶ αὐτοὶ καταψηφισάμενοι συλλογίζονται, καὶ ὡς εἰρηκότος ὅ τι δοκεῖ ἐπιτιμῶσιν, ἂν ὑπεναντίον ᾖ τῇ αὑτῶν οἰήσει. τοῦτο δὲ πέπονθε τὰ περὶ ᾿Ικάριον. οἴονται γὰρ αὐτὸν Λάκωνα εἶναι· ἄτοπον οὖν τὸ μὴ ἐντυχεῖν τὸν Τηλέμαχον αὐτῷ εἰς Λακεδαίμονα ἐλθόντα. τὸ δ’ ἴσως ἔχει ὥσπερ οἱ Κεφαλλῆνές φασι· παρ’ αὑτῶν γὰρ γῆμαι λέγουσι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα καὶ εἶναι ᾿Ικάδιον ἀλλ’ οὐκ ᾿Ικάριον· δι’ ἁμάρτημα δὲ τὸ πρόβλημα †εἰκός ἐστιν†. ὅλως δὲ τὸ ἀδύνατον μὲν πρὸς τὴν ποίησιν ἢ πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον ἢ πρὸς τὴν δόξαν δεῖ ἀνάγειν. πρός τε γὰρ τὴν ποίησιν αἱρετώτερον πιθανὸν ἀδύνατον ἢ ἀπίθανον καὶ δυνατόν·