Theophrastus on Catharsis and the Need for Release from the Evils Due to Emotions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Theophrastus had a systematic approach to the traditional problem of “catharsis” and treated the question referring to different fields of knowledge. He proved a keen and unprejudiced observer and collector of the largest possible number of experiences that may describe different kinds of catharsis. At a speculative level, he proceeded in continuity, but even going beyond his teacher’s opinions. Important building blocks in the construction of his cathartic theory were the development of the Aristotelian method through the criterion of the “more and the less”, which became the guiding principle he applied to physiological enquiries into humors and warmth. This led to a consequent focus on the physiological motions connected with the ones of the soul (both explained in terms of a dynamic relationship between different degrees of “tension” and “relaxation”, two key terms) and with the interpretation of ethical issues in relation to the different degrees of “tension” or “relaxation” of the motions of the soul linked to the emotions in so far as this dynamics produces both vices or virtues. The locution apolysis tôn kakôn (“release from evils”) seemingly substituted the term “catharsis” in the ethical contexts in which Theophrastus elaborated his original take on the theme. The cathartic effect of the physiological and psychological “release from evils” operated through a precise use of the human voice (valid both in music and in the performing arts) involves both the performer and the audience. From an ethical point of view, apolysis tôn kakôn (i.e catharsis) represents the unique end or purpose of his qualitative conception of music. In his view, religious piety does not consist in animal sacrifice or in traditional rites, but rather in an ethical “catharsis from evils” (katharsis tôn kakôn); therefore, this religious issue might be considered as the starting point and the conclusion of Theophrastus’s philosophical theory of catharsis, a theory in which the whole range of his science is involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-103
Number of pages35
JournalSKENÈ. JOURNAL OF THEATRE AND DRAMA STUDIES
Volume2016/2
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • catarsi
  • catharsis
  • emotions
  • emozioni
  • music
  • musica
  • religiosità
  • religious pietà

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Theophrastus on Catharsis and the Need for Release from the Evils Due to Emotions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this