Mimesis can mean imitation, representation, or mimicry. It can be the imitation or reproduction of another’s words in rhetoric, mimicry between species in zoology, the imitation of symptoms in biology, and most commonly the imitation of the real world in the arts. The word was originated between 1640 and 1650 and is a variant from the Ancient Greek verb, mimeisthai, meaning to copy.
Plato and Aristotle both spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature and theorized about the use of mimesis in the arts. Plato believed that imitation only leads us farther way from the truth and Aristotle thought it brought us closer to it. In The Republic: Book X, Plato told of Socrates’ metaphor of the three beds: one exists as an idea made by god, one is made by the carpenter, in imitation of god’s idea, and one is made by the artist in imitation of the carpenter’s bed. Each time the bed is imitated, more information about the bed is lost. The artist, in Plato’s mind, could only touch on a small part of things as they really are, never being able to recognize or portray the truth through mimesis.
Aristotle however, believed that humans are naturally mimetic beings, feeling the need to create art that reflects and represents reality. He thought through the creation of art we can be able to learn more about our world. After Plato and Aristotle, the meaning of mimesis eventually shifted to a purely literary function in ancient Greek society and has come to take on many other connotations since then.
Dionysius, in the 1st century BCE, created Dionysian Imitato, which is a significant literary method. It is a technique of rhetoric to adapt and enrich the words of a previous author. Unlike Plato and Aristotle, who were concerned with the imitation of nature, Dionysius was concerned with the imitation of people’s words.
In more recent times, mimesis has been used in scientific fields such as zoology and biology. In zoology, mimesis is the similarity of one species to another, which protects one or both species. This similarity can be in appearance, behavior, sound, and scent with the mimics found in similar places to their models. The mimics will evolve to resemble species that have undesirable qualities to their predator. In biology, mimesis is used in two instances. It can mean the imitation of symptoms of one organic disease by another or the imitation of symptoms caused by hysteria.
Mimesis’ usage has altered and grown throughout time. It now has variety of uses and is present in many different fields of study from the arts, to rhetoric, to biology and zoology.
Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953. Print.
"Mimesis (art)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/383233/mimesis>.
"Mimesis Definition." Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/118640?redirectedFrom=mimesis>.