Aristotle's "On the Nature of Goat Meat," A Recently Discovered Dialogue

Hapax Legomenon

Aristotle's "On the Nature of Goat Meat," A Recently Discovered Dialogue

by Derek Smith, '04

Philopeithes: Salutations, dear Aristotle, where are you off to?
Aristotle: Why hello, dearest friends! I'm off to the market.
Chrysonices: Aren't you going to the drama? They're reproducing a Euripides play, the Orestes, it's one of our favorites!
Aristotle: Hogwash! That's nothing to get worked up about. Now, if they were showing the Oedipus...
Eukallia: What? You don't like the Orestes? Why not?
Aristotle: Simple, friends: because it does not meet my conditions of a good drama.
P: What? What are these conditions?
A: Tell me, friends, does not a play need a beginning, middle, and an end?
C: Um, yes.
A: And the beginning should commence the play, and the ending should come at the finish?
E: Sure.
A: And of course the middle should occur after the beginning, but before the end, correct?
C: Yes, but how does this apply to the Orestes?
A: Plays are like animals. They must be complete! For, if a snake was not complete, could you imagine that?
E: Well, how do you mean...
A: Well, plays have different amplitude. Some plays are very long, some are very short. To look at a very long play is similar to looking at an animal a thousand miles long. You cannot see the beginning, nor the end!
P: W...ok....
A: And some plays are too small. Looking at them is like looking at an ant, you can see neither the drama's antennae, nor its thorax
E: Wait...what is the thorax of drama?
A: You don't get it! The Orestes is too long! I can hardly keep my mind on it! That's to say nothing of the characters!
E: What's wrong with the characters?
A: What's wrong with the characters? What's wrong with the characters? EVERYTHING's wrong with the characters! Don't you know that a character worth watching must morally good, suitable, realistic, and consistent
P: Wait, ok. (counts on fingers) morally good, suitable...
A: Yes, yes, and the characters in Orestes are none of these! Take Orestes, for example. He is inconsistent!
C: Well, he's mad. I think that is the source of his inconsistency...
A: Nonsense. There are two types of consistency in characters: consistent inconsistency and inconsistent inconsistency, and Orestes makes up the latter.
E: I don't get it.
A: What's not to get? At times he is crazy, at times he is not. That is general inconsistency. To be consistently inconsistent, he could have, for instance, gone mad when only when Electra shows up, or only when the word mother is said. For madness can be inspired by 19 different stimuli: verbal, countenance, tonal, animal, mineral...
P: By Zeus, what are you talking about?
A: And Menelaus has no motivation for his later evilness in the play, and is thus an inconsistent character. And so the Phrygian inconsistently says at first that he loves and fears for Helen, but then tells Orestes that he wishes her dead!
C: But the Phrygian only speaks ill of Helen because he is craven and fears death at the hands of Orestes.
A: Which is exactly my point! Why is a craven character in a drama? That violates the first rulE: the characters must be morally sound. And not only the characters are inconsistent, but also the plot! For the development of the plot must be probable and believable.
E: Does that apply to the mythical realm, too?
A: Of course, for in (wistful sigh) the Oedipus Tyrannus, though the plot takes place in a mythical world, wherein Oedipus has defeated the sphinx, the actions of the play flow logically from one another until the conclusion. Whereas in the Orestes, Electra, Pylades, and Orestes turn to violence against Helen and Hermione in a plot twist that is quite unnecessary.
C: So it was necessary for Oedipus to claw out his own eyes?
A: OF COURSE! Once Oedipus has seen the truth, he chooses to see no longer, since his sight is a curse. How is Helen a curse?
C: You mean besides being a curse for all of Greece?
A: And then Apollo shows up at the very end, a deus ex machina. Drama must have natural, not contrived results. For drama is like an animal, and the ending is its head, and if the head does not grow out of the body, but merely floats, hovering over the torso, tell mE: is that animal complete?
P: Why don't we stop talking about animals...
E: Well, Aristotle, why don't you come to the drama anyway, for the pleasure of our company. Besides, they will have good food there...
A: Well, for the food to be good, it must meet the following 7 criteriA: it should be neither too salty, nor too sweet. The goat meat must be cooked to succulent perfection, neither burnt, nor undercooked, but in the middle; for burnt goat meat like...
P,C,E: Bah! (begin to leave)
A: Wait! (they leave) Hmm, maybe I should write some of these thoughts down....I shall call it "On the Nature of Goat Meat"