Aristotle Abridged*

And so we ponder virtue and vice.
__We seek the mean, not the extreme.
Perplexed, I ask for wise advice:
__Why does not vice ever suffice?

Excess—restraint—both have a price.
__So hard to find the Good between.
Quench the fire—thaw out the ice.
__How shall I choose? I might throw dice . . .

I wish that vice would not entice.
__I know that Truth at last redeems.
Although the way is not precise—
__Before I act: I best think twice.


*The Ethics of Aristotle: The Nichomachaen Ethics



Peter Venable has been writing poetry for 50 years. He has been published in Windhover, Third Wednesday, Time of Singing, The Merton Seasonal, American Vendantist, The Anglican Theological Review, and others. He is a member of the Winston Salem Writers. On the whimsical side, he has been published in Bluepepper, Parody, Laughing Dog, The Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online (e. g. # 48) and the Society of Classical Poets.

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8 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Thoughtful words with a perfect conclusion. The paths ahead are never clear until the end is coming near. As one who studied Aristotle in graduate school, this is a neat poem on virtue and vice.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Hey, that’s an iambic tetrameter couplet!

      “The paths ahead are never clear
      Until the end is coming near”

      Peter, your poem is really good! It summarizes everyone’s experience with virtue and vice very well (at least, everyone who wants to be virtuous), and I love the rhyme scheme of ABAA with every stanza sharing the same A and B. Well done!

  2. Margaret Coats

    Considering the length and complexity of The Nichomachean Ethics, I would say Aristotle hoped others would think a great deal about their conduct. Thus, Peter, your abridgement gets the point in its clever final line: thinking twice (or more) is best. I also like line 4, where “ever” does not conform to the meter, but creates a pause in which the reader imagines situations when vice might possibly be thought to suffice.

  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    This one definitely made me smile with its concise cleverness. I was also going to say what Joshua said about the rhyme scheme.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a great little “explicatio” of Aristotle’s main point about temperance and the golden mean.

    It’s a shame that the tradition of producing small poetic encapsulations of classic texts seems to have died out. Venable may start a new trend here at the SCP!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      What a good idea! I’d love to see a trend like that started… makes me want to go through classic texts and write my own poetic encapsulations!


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