The place of emotions in aesthetic response has long been a topic in contemporary philosophical theorizing. One aspect of the debate in particular seems to have become a recalcitrant problem: when experiencing fiction, we experience emotional reactions towards what we know not to exist. Is this rational? In fact, is it even possible? This article deals with the so‐called “paradox of fiction” from the viewpoint of ancient poetics. In the first section, I survey some of the main arguments proposed to (dis)solve the paradox in analytic philosophy. In the second and the third sections, I address what I consider two problematic assumptions of existing analytic approaches: their prescriptive, “essentialist” attitude and their exclusive focus on matters of content. By offering a brief sketch of the ancient principles of “likelihood” and “vividness”, I argue that they provide a direct and cognitively realistic answer to the paradox insofar as they account for the neutralization of doxastic features in imaginative acts and ground affective responses to fiction in the phenomenon of “aesthetic immersion”, explained in experiential, rather than representational, terms.