Ποῖα δ’ ἐλεεινὰ καὶ τίνας ἐλεοῦσι, καὶ πῶς αὐτοὶ ἔχοντες, λέγωμεν. ἔστω δὴ ἔλεος λύπη τις ἐπὶ φαινομένῳ κακῷ φθαρτικῷ ἢ λυπηρῷ τοῦ ἀναξίου τυγχάνειν, ὃ κἂν αὐτὸς προσδοκήσειεν ἂν παθεῖν ἢ τῶν αὑτοῦ τινα, καὶ τοῦτο ὅταν πλησίον φαίνηται· δῆλον γὰρ ὅτι ἀνάγκη τὸν μέλλοντα ἐλεήσειν ὑπάρχειν τοιοῦτον οἷον οἴεσθαι παθεῖν ἄν τι κακὸν ἢ αὐτὸν ἢ τῶν αὑτοῦ τινα, καὶ τοιοῦτο κακὸν οἷον εἴρηται ἐν τῷ ὅρῳ ἢ ὅμοιον ἢ παραπλήσιον· διὸ οὔτε οἱ παντελῶς ἀπολωλότες ἐλεοῦσιν (οὐδὲν γὰρ ἂν ἔτι παθεῖν οἴονται· πεπόνθασι γάρ), οὔτε οἱ ὑπερευδαιμονεῖν οἰόμενοι, ἀλλ’ ὑβρίζουσιν· εἰ γὰρ ἅπαντα οἴονται ὑπάρχειν τἀγαθά, δῆλον ὅτι καὶ τὸ μὴ ἐνδέχεσθαι παθεῖν μηδὲν κακόν· καὶ γὰρ τοῦτο τῶν ἀγαθῶν. εἰσὶ δὲ τοιοῦτοι οἷοι νομίζειν παθεῖν ἄν, οἵ τε πεπονθότες ἤδη καὶ διαπεφευγότες, καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι καὶ διὰ τὸ φρονεῖν καὶ δι’ ἐμπειρίαν, καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς, καὶ οἱ δειλότεροι μᾶλλον, καὶ οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι· εὐλόγιστοι γάρ. καὶ οἷς ὑπάρχουσι γονεῖς ἢ τέκνα ἢ γυναῖκες· αὐτοῦ τε γὰρ ταῦτα, καὶ οἷα παθεῖν τὰ εἰρημένα. καὶ οἱ μήτε ἐν ἀνδρείας πάθει ὄντες, οἷον ἐν ὀργῇ ἢ θάρρει (ἀλόγιστα γὰρ τοῦ ἐσομένου ταῦτα), μήτε ἐν ὑβριστικῇ διαθέσει (καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι ἀλόγιστοι τοῦ πείσεσθαί τι), ἀλλ’ οἱ μεταξὺ τούτων, μήτ’ αὖ φοβούμενοι σφόδρα· οὐ γὰρ ἐλεοῦσιν οἱ ἐκπεπληγμένοι, διὰ τὸ εἶναι πρὸς τῷ οἰκείῳ πάθει. κἂν οἴωνταί τινας εἶναι τῶν ἐπιεικῶν· ὁ γὰρ μηδένα οἰόμενος πάντας οἰήσεται ἀξίους εἶναι κακοῦ. καὶ ὅλως δὴ ὅταν ἔχῃ οὕτως ὥστ’ ἀναμνησθῆναι τοιαῦτα συμβεβηκότα ἢ αὑτῷ ἤ ‹τῳ› τῶν αὑτοῦ, ἢ ἐλπίσαι γενέσθαι αὑτῷ ἤ τῳ τῶν αὑτοῦ.
(Aristotle, Rhet. 2.8.1385b-1386a)
Let us say what sort of things are pitiable and whom people pity and in what state of mind. Let pity be [defined as] a certain pain at an apparently destructive or painful event happening to one who does not deserve it and which a person might expect himself or one of his own to suffer, and this when it seems close at hand; for it is clear that a person who is going to feel pity necessarily thinks that some evil is actually present of the sort that he or one of his own might suffer and that this evil is of the sort mentioned in the definition or like it or about equal to it. Therefore, those who are utterly ruined do not feel pity (they think there is nothing left for them to suffer; for they have suffered) nor [do] those thinking themselves enormously happy; they demonstrate insolent pride [hybris] instead. (If they think all good things are actually present, clearly they also think it is not possible to experience any evil; for this [impossibility of suffering] is one if the good things.) The kind of people who think they might suffer are those who have suffered in the past and escaped and older people because of their practical wisdom and experience and the weak and those who are cowardly and those who have been educated; for they are discerning. Also those that have parents or children or wives; for these are their “own” and subject to the sufferings that have been mentioned. And those who are not in a courageous emotional state, for example not in a state of anger or confidence (these feelings do not take account of the future) nor in one of violent insolence (these people, too, take no account of suffering anything) nor, conversely, in a state of extreme fear (those who are scared out of their wits do not feel pity because so taken up with their own suffering) but [only] those who are in between these states. And [people feel pity] if they think certain individuals are among the good people of the world; for one who thinks no good person exists will think all worthy of suffering. And on the whole, [a person feels pity] when his state of mind is such that he remembers things like this happening to himself or his own or expects them to happen to himself or his own. (tr. George A. Kennedy)