Messenger Scenes (S. Finkmann)

Messenger scenes rank among the most formulaic and clearly defined type scenes in Graeco-Roman epic. They prominently feature general interlocution on the basis of the cooperative principle of communication and observe a recurring sequence of events, which commonly consists of four stages: 1. commission of the message, 2. dispatching of the messenger, 3. arrival of the messenger at the intended destination, 4. delivery of the message. The instruction and the transmission of the message usually follow in close succession, but the delivery can also be postponed for several books or a message can even be repeated on numerous occasions to different addressees or be omitted entirely from the epic plot.

Messenger scenes naturally contain more repeated speech acts and secondary narration focalization than any other type scene in epic poetry and provide the reader with the unique opportunity to compare the original message to the transmitted speech. Simple verbatim-repetition in oratio recta is however extremely rare as a result of contextual changes (for instance local, temporal, and personal deixis) that are required by the change of addressees from the original (messenger) to the transmitted message (intended addressee). Other divergences can be indicative of the messengers’ point of view and thus be assigned to their ethopoieia. Direct repetition is only one of many different speech modes in which a message can be conveyed. Similarly, any of the individual stages of the message’s transmission can be omitted or summarized by the narrator to avoid repetition, characterize the speakers involved, or to speed up the narration and create suspense.  

The divine and mortal sphere can overlap when a deity sends a divine messenger with instructions to a mortal addressee, so that three groups of messengers scenes form the basis of this analysis: 1. messages between gods, 3. messages between mortals, and 3. divine messages to mortals. The study focuses on the identification of recurring narrative patterns in each of the three messenger scenes in the individual authors under discussion as well as from a diachronic perspective that traces the development of this type scene, and the importance and function of the messenger from Homer to Silius Italicus. The effect of divine messages on mortal recipients is moreover compared to the impact of prophecies, epiphanies, and omens, and the presentation of fictitious and untruthful messages is compared to the depiction of speeches by disguised characters and messages whose instruction or delivery is entirely omitted from the epic narrative.