Word: Catharsis

The Oxford English Dictionary defines catharsis as, “The purification of the emotions by vicarious experience, esp. through drama (in reference to Aristotle’s Poetics.)” In fact, before Aristotle uses the word in his own definition of tragedy, catharsis was a medical phrase that meant the emission of waste from the body. “Aristotle is employing it as a medical metaphor” (Wikipedia). To Aristotle, there is a purifying function of tragedy. In order to best describe the sensation of tragedy and the emotion that quickly cycles though the body, he uses a physical metaphor:


A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself: in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish it catharsis of such emotions.     (Aristotle)


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