Aristotle gives no introduction to his theory of poetics. He digs right in. What is poetics? – the concepts necessary to understand the art of creating poetry. (So it’s about more than just the product; it’s about the process as well).
The first of these concepts is imitation. Imitation is the artist’s drive to copy life in some form. This is something natural for people to do. The drive of imitation is innate.
The type of imitation that the artist uses is what separates comedy from tragedy. In tragedy, the artist represents the nature of man as better than it really is. In comedy he or she does the opposite, representing the nature of man as worse than it is.
Both comedy and tragedy have a moralizing effect on the audience. Comedy causes the audience to desire to avoid the bad or ludicrous behavior that is being mocked. Tragedy causes the audience to empathize with the protagonist and think about whether they have the same flaws.
Finally, Aristotle brings epic poetry into the discussion. Epic poetry is similar to tragedy is many ways but has some differences worth discussing. Like tragedy, epic poetry represents the nature of man as better than it really is.
The first difference is narrative form. Epic poetry has either 1) an omniscient first-person narrator, 2) a third person narrator, or 3) a first-person narrating hero. Tragedy involves dialogue between two or more characters.
The second difference is the length of the work. Tragedies, according to Aristotle, are usually confined to a single day’s time-span. Epic poetry can continue for a full man’s lifetime.
Tragedy evolved from epic poetry, so tragedies have all the qualities of epic poetry, but the reverse is not true. Epic poetry need not have all the qualities of tragedy.