Footnotes: Poetics by Aristotle

The book Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon bicker over in the new season of The Trip is an ancient guide to creating dramatic tragedy – and lovely meta nod from Michael Winterbottom.

The Trip to Greece
Credit: Sky

What’s the story?

This week the fourth and final series of The Trip starring Steven Coogan and Rob Brydon – a gentle and extremely funny fusion of travelogue, celebrity impressions and melancholy reflections on life, death and ageing – arrived on Sky.

In their final outing the comedians, who play mild caricatures of themselves, are travelling through Greece retracing the steps of Odysseus, the legendary hero of the ancient world, in the most comfortable and middle-class way possible: stopping at Michelin-star restaurants and driving a Range Rover down winding country roads with nothing but blue skies, sunshine and an expensive Sky drone above them.

What’s the book?

In the opening scene of the first episode, the pair commence their customary and (mostly) good-natured jousting over dinner when Brydon holds up a book:

Brydon: What's this?

Coogan: If I'm not mistaken it's a Penguin Classic

Brydon: And it's by 'Arry Stotle 

Coogan: I know 'Arry, yeah. I know all the Stotles. 

Brydon: Poetics. Listen to this. 'Epic poetry and the composition of tragedy, as well as comedy and the arts of poetry and music, are all imitations. Imitation comes naturally to human beings and so does the universal pleasure in imitation.' Not my words, the words of 'Arry Stotle. 

Before you get distracted by Michael Caine impressions, it’s worth taking a closer look at Poetics which is a handbook for how to write great tragedies that dramatists have been cribbing from, since around 330 BCE. It covers the basics from plot, character and spectacle to more sophisticated dramatic techniques like mimesis (‘imitation’), hamartia (‘error’) and catharsis. No wonder Winterboom included it in his script, given The Trip is the best tragedy to appear on British TV for decades.


As a teacher, Aristotle used to make his pupils follow behind him as he walked around imparting his worldly knowledge. That’s why to this day students of his work are known as Peripatetics – literally ‘people who travel about’, in English.


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