Messengers and the art of reported speech in the Iliad
Hutcheson, Laurie Glenn
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This dissertation focuses on an aspect of the Iliad that at first might seem particularly formulaic, archaic, and, since Parry, characteristic of orality. When reporting messages, characters frequently repeat large portions of their messages verbatim. In contrast to other speakers, who reveal themselves through speech, messengers are supposedly constrained to repeat the messages that have been dictated to them. The Iliadic messenger has even been described as a “tape recorder” (Létoublon), or a voice “uniquely marked as ‘transparent’” (Barrett). Messengers in the Iliad have been thought to be defined and limited by the convention of verbatim repetition. Despite this prevailing view, I demonstrate, in example after example, the flexibility and expressiveness of messengers in the Iliad. The motif of messages draws attention to the choices messengers make, highlighting their emphases, omissions, and priorities. In diverging from their models and contextualizing their reports, messengers mediate and interpret their messages. These reports point to the poem’s concern with the dynamics of effective (or failed) communication. The Iliad dramatizes communication through messages, e.g., between Zeus and mortals, between the men on the battlefield and women in the city, between intimate conversations and public representations, between an isolated warrior and his community. Beginning with professional messengers, I show how heralds tailor their messages to their audiences, sometimes providing a buffer between kings and others (chapter 1). Iris, the divine messenger, uses a wide variety of approaches, demonstrating that a “faithful” report requires sensitive adaptation. Her interactions offer windows into the characters she addresses (chapter 2). Turning to major characters, I show how Hektor and Priam reveal themselves: Hektor projects a heroic image of Paris and himself, while representing less heroic, private speeches; Priam shows his doubts about divine communication and asserts his own desires (chapter 3). Thetis re-orients the directives she brings, adapting them to her relationships and priorities, thereby revealing divine and human perspectives (chapter 4). Finally, Odysseus and Patroklos are unsuccessful messengers, who both omit great portions of the speeches they report in their efforts to persuade Achilles, and who both fall short of their commissioners’ hopes for their messages (chapter 5).