Is it accurate to characterize Aristotle's Poetics as the first work of literary criticism, or does something earlier than this survive—fragmented or otherwise?

Poetics goes through what a work of literature is, defines them in terms of two types (epic and dramatic), as well as giving us a glimpse of the 'fringe' (science treatises in verse, the authors of which were known as 'poetes'). He also gives his theory of what makes a good character, what makes a good plot, et cetera. That's all incredibly handy.

I've read a lot of early Chinese literature, and I've never read anything half as sophisticated or methodical in terms of literary thought. Is there anything that might have been written earlier?

  • 1
    Would narrative works that are also critical count?
    – Ben Williams
    Dec 9 '11 at 15:06

I found a photo-copied essay on the Poetics from my past that includes a relevant passage (emphasis mine):

Perhaps no other work of Aristotle's has had such an influence on subsequent generations of philosophers and artists as this one has had. Although Aristotle never intended the Poetics to be a fully thought out philosophy of art, it nevertheless was the first attempt in history to analyze the beautiful and the pleasing from the standpoint of the individual art work itself, free from ethical principles.

This is an essay by Prof. Barbara Jancar who was at the time Assistant Professor of Government at Skidmore College. Unfortunately, I don't have any other reference for the essay, or even when it was written, but it does seem pretty unequivocal.

There are also a handful of web sites out there that make similar claims. To name a few:

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