The interpretation of the term from antiquity to contemporary reality.

by Vasilis Oikonomou

THEAMA Inclusive Theater, Greece

The purpose of this theory text is to highlight the interpretation of the term ὄψις (opsis), referring to Aristotle, and how a new approach of term can constitute a key tool to rebuild the teaching method for disabled performers.

In this effort, it is clear that legitimate questions may arise:

  • What is the meaning of the sixth component of the tragedy, according to Aristotle, as used in Poetics treatise (Poetics 6.1450b16-17)?  1
  • What are the effects of this term on contemporary reality? 

The examination of all these key issues requires a careful look at the list of works of Aristotle emphasizing the points that accentuate the value of performance in relation to its audience. 


A) The interpretation of the term by Aristotle.

Sifakis acknowledged the following paradox: interpreting this term literally and seemingly correct, attributed to Aristotle inconsistency and incoherence, and even within the limits of that chapter of his treatise (Poetics).2  In contrast, Scott proposed verbatim interpretation of the word («taking him at his word»).3  Thereby it would be better understood when the philosopher used primary or secondary meanings of terms. 4




However, the fact that A. in Poetics hadn’t define the ὄψις is indisputable; this leads scholars to question the connotation of the word, as well as whether the total of Poetics bears the ‘pure’ literary value or gives guidance for any performance. Initially, I have to make an attempt to answer the question of ‘what is ὄψις’ (opsis). It is usually translated as “spectacle”, and the same meaning seemed to be given by Aristotle. In the excerpt of Rhetoric (III 2.1405b16). Stanford argued that the phrase τῇ ὄψει ἢ ἄλλῃ τινὶ αἰσθήσει held the meaning of mental images of things pleasant to sight, smell, taste, etc., i.e. the “mind’s eye”, while for the full identification of ὄψις with αἲσθησις in Poetics (7. 1451a7), is perhaps better explaining what the philosopher said in On the Soul (Peri Psyche 3c 428a6): αἴσθησις μὲν γὰρ ἤτοι δύναμις ἢ ἐνέργεια, οἷον ὄψις καὶ ὅρασις.


Twining thought that ὄψις is the total visible arrangement of the theater. Sifakis and Scott agreed, but from a different perspective, that ὁ τῆς ὄψεως κόσμος (the world of opsis) is the configuration of show, the performance, for which Sykoutris identified, three functions:


“Provided the specific term, the philosopher includes whatever is related to tragedy as a theatrical show, namely: 1) direction, 2) acting and recitation, 3) scenography and costumes of actors; what was regarded as the work of σκευοποιός (maker of masks and other stage-properties) ” 5.



The tragedy in ancient Greece, is spectacle that requires an ordered arrangement (il est une vision qui nécessite une mise en ordre). 6


In conclusion, Billault correctly states that the spectacle, tragedy and poetry form the triangle which forms the basis for the tragic drama. 7


This drama is complicated and rich in tensions and contradictions and certainly features as mentioned by Scott, the performance necessarily produce spectacle 8  but Aristotle chose the overall look through cognitive realism that is characteristic of his philosophy, which, in my personal opinion, we have to respect it.

B) A new approach to the term in contemporary performance.

It’s therefore apparent that the importance of ὄψις (opsis) in organizing a  performance – according to the ancient Greek philosophers – is mandatory. The spectacle helps the play to impress and certainly creates the aesthetic view of the viewed play under Director’s or Choreographer’s  personal look. The aesthetic creation doesn’t require the ideal but the unique arrangement of the performance, only thus can sensitize, entertain and cause appropriate reaction of audience. Uniqueness constitutes perfection. There are many factors – textual and non-textual – that contribute to uniqueness of ὄψις on each performance, which – beyond deterministic interpretation – impresses and it responds to the question why every play must be repeated. This cannot be based on random and definitely follows rules, ie art. The theatrical or dance rules for the creation of a project don’t impose any restriction on the result of visual sensation. The ὄψις of a performance created by the «material» (actors, dancers, props, effects) and its configuration or better its modeling according to the aesthetic perception of the director or of the choreographer for the world. In contemporary performance creation the «material» selected to be molded without ever being pre-molded.

C) The όψις (opsis) as a key tool to rebuild the method of teaching in disabled performers.

This new approach to the interpretation of the term ὄψις, which is to highlight the unique versus the ideal and the emphasis of how moldability of the material’s scene, enables reconstruction of theatrical method in disabled performers. 

Each disabled performer should be considered as a special «material» that contributes to the unique arrangement of a scene while teaching method (the modeling) will determine the degree of effectiveness and functionality within it. Whatever each disabled performer can offer shouldn’t be construed quantitatively but as a unique act that helps in dramatization of a text or an idea without causing to the director/choreographer and the audience to feel restrained. Thereby disabled performers have to work professionally in view that they embody roles/ideas which are not inherent elements of their impairments but embodying roles/ideas who have the characteristic kinesiology and energy generated in corresponding dramatic characters of each play or choreography. 

D) Conclusion - The contribution of the new approach of the term.

The meaning of ὄψις (visual stream according to Plato) is that the audience has more need for refocusing towards disabled performers. Reconciliation and acceptance of audience in the presence of a professional disabled performers on stage is still a difficult undertaking. Aristotle mentioned that πρῶτον μὲν ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἂν εἴη τι μόριον τραγῳδίας ὁ τῆς ὄψεως κόσμος (Poetics 1449b31-32) because πράττοντες ποιοῦνται τὴν μίμησιν but imitation should not be the ideal copying, but the unique record of this world. With this criterion, the disabled persons can be «Dionysiac technitai» (performers). 9




  1. Poetics 6.1450b16-17: ἡ δὲ ὄψις ψυχαγωγικὸν μέν, ἀτεχνότατον δὲ καὶ ἥκιστα οἰκεῖον τῆς ποιητικῆς Opsis, while highly effective, is yet quite foreign to the art and has nothing to do with poetry.
  2. Sifakis (2009) 19.
  3. Scott (2000) 18.
  4. Scott (2000) 16-18, 30-31.
  5. Sykoutris (1937) 119.
  6. Billault (2001) 44.
  7. Billault (2001) 59.
  8. Scott (2000) 16.
  9. Performers (Diomysiac technitai were performers who gathered around Dionysus).



Billault A. (2001),“ Le spectacle tragique dans la Poétique d’Aristote”, in A. Billault and C. Mauduit (ed.) Lectures antiques de la tragédie grecque, Actes de la Table-ronde du 25-11-1999 (Lyon), 43-59.

Bonitz, H. (1870), Index Aristotelicus, Berlin.

Else, G. F. (1957), Aristotle’s Poetics: The Argument, Cambridge.  

Grube, G. M. A. (1995), Ο Αριστοτέλης για την ποίηση και το ύφος, μετ. Γ. Χρυσάφης, Αθήνα.

Halliwell, S. (1986), Aristotle Poetics, London.

Kassel, R. (1965), Aristotelis de arte poetica liber, Oxford.

Kalfas, Β. (1995), Plato Timaeus, Polis Editions, (in greek), Athens. 

Lucas, D.W. (1968), Aristotle Poetics, Oxford .

Reeves Ch. H. (1947), Studies in the technical terminology of the Poetics of Aristotle, Cincinnati. 

Scott G. (2000),“The Poetics of performance, The necessity of spectacle, music and dance in Aristotelian tragedy”, in S. Kemal and I. Gaskell (ed.) Performance and authenticity in the arts (Cambridge), 15-48.

Sifakis, G. Μ. (2009), “Ερμηνεία και παρερμηνείες της Ποιητικής του Αριστοτέλη”, Αριάδνη 15, 13-26. 

Stanford B.W. (1936), “The Quality of ὌΨΙΣ in Words”, The Classical Review 50, No. 3, 109-112.   

Sykoutris, Ι. (1937), Aristotle’s Poetics, trnsl. by S. Μenandros, edited by Ι. Sykoutris, Athens.