Attending to tragic messenger speeches

Felix Budelmann, Evert van Emde Boas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


The chapter draws on the psychological as well as everyday notion of ‘attention’ to analyse the experience afforded by tragic messenger speeches. What marks out this experience, it is argued, is that attention shifts dynamically between not just two levels (the world of the play and the performance qua performance) but three: the offstage world of the messenger’s narrative, the messenger and his listeners onstage, and the performance qua performance. An awareness of this dynamic, it is suggested, can be detected in the iconography of messenger scenes on fourth-century pots. Euripides’ Andromache and Medea as well as Sophocles’ Electra serve as case studies for analysing the textual means by which the dramatists prompt ever-shifting patterns of attention, stimulating immersion in the narrative as well as drawing attention to the interactions occurring onstage. The chapter ends by looking to the psychology of attention to ask whether audiences are able to attend simultaneously to different levels or whether different objects of attention are in competition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExperience, narrative and criticism in ancient Greece
Subtitle of host publicationunder the spell of stories
EditorsJonas Grethlein, Luuk Huitink, Aldo Tagliabue
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780198848295
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this