Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies is a dictum by Aristotle, recorded in Poetics[...], tr. S.H. Butcher.

With this dictum Aristotle was the first philosopher to explain why we like horror, and to provide the basis for a theory of horror.

Longer excerpt:

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of creatures ; and through imitation he acquires his earliest learning. And, indeed, every one feels a natural pleasure in things imitated. There is evidence of this in the effect produced by works of art. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with absolute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble beasts and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn is a lively pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general ; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they are engaged in learning, they reason and infer what each object is : ' this,' they say, ' is the man.' For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the colouring, or some such other cause., tr. S.H. Butcher

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