Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 15, 2020

Investigating the origins of Peter Wessel Zapffe’s notion of tragedy in Aristotle’s Poetics: the case of mimesis

Agnieszka Maria Proszewska


The aim of this paper is to present the philosophical figure of a Norwegian philosopher and writer, creator of biosophy, Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990), and to investigate the origins of his notion of tragedy (tragic experience) which he introduces in his magnum opus Om det tragiske (1941). I attempt to do so by searching its roots in antique theory of tragedy introduced by Aristotle, especially on the pages of Poetics, to which Zapffe himself often refers to. A study of how Zapffe “read” and understood Aristotle’s Poetics, a classical piece for the study of tragedy and tragic experience, seems essential for establishing the roots and foundations of his own vision of tragedy and its functions, finally shifting from the purely literary sphere to the biosophical level of human existence. In this paper I will focus mainly on the notion and art of mimesis, laying the basis for further detailed studies of Zapffe’s biosophical analysis of the subject.


Andersen, T. B. 1990: Hva det betyr at være menneske. The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe in his 90th year (documentary). Tromsø.Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle 1902: The Poetics of Aristotle (translated by S. H. Butcher). London.Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle 1920: Poetics (translated by Ingram Bywater). Oxford.Search in Google Scholar

Auerbach, E. 1953: Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (translated by W. R. Trask). Princeton.Search in Google Scholar

Åslund, A. 1999: “Dobbelt tragisk”. In: Bostad, I. and Hessen, D. O. (eds.): Et liv på mange vis: En antologi om Peter Wessel Zapffe. Oslo.Search in Google Scholar

Carlson, M. 1993: Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Ithaca and London.Search in Google Scholar

Davis, M. 1999: The Poetry of Philosophy: On Aristotle’s Poetics. Indiana.Search in Google Scholar

Destrée, P. 2016: “Aristotle on the Power of Music in Tragedy”. In: Greek & Roman Musical Studies 4(2). 231–252.Search in Google Scholar

Eriksen, T. H. 1997: “Philosopher of tragedy”. In: Norway Now 1997. [accessed on 21.06.2018].Search in Google Scholar

Jenny, L. 1989: “Poetyka i przedstawianie”. In: Pamiętnik Literacki 80/4. 239–269.Search in Google Scholar

Nietzsche, F. [1872]: The Birth of Tragedy (translated by W. Kaufmann). New York 1967.Search in Google Scholar

Nycz, R. 1993: “Tezy o mimetyczności”. In: Tekstowy świat. Poststrukturalizm a wiedza o literaturze. Warszawa.Search in Google Scholar

Reale, G. 1985: A History of Ancient Philosophy. Vol. 2: Plato and Aristotle. Albany NY.Search in Google Scholar

Ricœur, P. 1984–1988: Time and Narrative, Volumes 1–3 (translated by K. Blamey and D. Pellauer). Chicago and London.Search in Google Scholar

Shapshay, S. 2012: ”Schopenhauer’s Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art” In: Philosophy Compass 7(1). 11–22.Search in Google Scholar

Scheler, M. 1915: Abhandlungen und Aufsätze. Leipzig.Search in Google Scholar

Schifano, S. 2016: “A Neglected Philosophical Pessimist — For Our Times?” In: Dailynous 2016, online: [accessed on 23.06.2018].Search in Google Scholar

Schopenhauer, A. [1819]: The World as Will and Representation (translated by E. F. J. Payne). New York 1969.Search in Google Scholar

Tangenes, G. R. 2004: “The View from Mount Zapffe”. In: Philosophy Now 2004. [accessed on 25.06.2018].Search in Google Scholar

Zapffe, P. W. 1967: The Mystery (radio interview). NRK.Search in Google Scholar

Zapffe, P. W. [1983]: Om det tragiske (Innledende essay av Dag O. Hessen). Oslo 2004.Search in Google Scholar

Zapffe, P. W. 1992a: “Biosofisk perspektiv”. In: Essays (Ed. J. B. Gundersen). Oslo.Search in Google Scholar

Zapffe, P. W. 1992b: “Den sidste Messias”. In: Essays, Peter W. Zapffe. Oslo.Search in Google Scholar

Zapffe, P. W. 1996: “Summary”. In: Om det tragiske. Oslo.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2020-10-15
Published in Print: 2020-10-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston