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Philoctetes.


In Greek mythology, Philoctetes (also Philoktêtês or Philocthetes, Φιλοκτήτης) was the son of King Poeas of Meliboea in Thessaly. He was a Greek hero, famed as an archer, and was a participant in the Trojan War. He was the subject of at least two plays by Sophocles, one of which is named after him, and one each by both Aeschylus and Euripides. However, only one Sophoclean play survives, the others are lost. He is also mentioned in Homer's Iliad; Book 2 describes his exile on the island of Lemnos, his wound by snake-bite, and his eventual recall by the Greeks. The recall of Philoctetes is told in the lost epic Little Iliad, where his retrieval was accomplished by Odysseus and Diomedes.

The stories

Philoctetes was the son of King Poeas of the city of Meliboea in Thessaly. When Heracles wore the shirt of Nessus and built his funeral pyre, no one would light it for him except for Philoctetes or in other versions his father Poeas. Because of this, Philoctetes or Poeas is given Heracles' bow and poisoned arrows. This gained him the favor of the newly deified Heracles.

Philoctetes was one of the many eligible Greeks who competed for the hand of Helen, the Spartan princess and, according to legend, the most beautiful woman in the world. As such, he was required to participate in the conflict to reclaim her for Menelaus in the Trojan War. Philoctetes was stranded on the Island of Lemnosmarker or Chrysemarker by the Greeks on the way to Troymarker. There are at least four separate tales about what happened to strand Philoctetes on his journey to Troy, but all indicate that he received a wound on his foot that festered and had a terrible smell. One version holds that Philoctetes was bitten by a snake that Hera sent to molest him as punishment for his or his father's service to Heracles. Another tradition says that the Greeks forced Philoctetes to show them where Heracles's ashes were deposited. Philoctetes would not break his oath by speech, so he went to the spot and placed his foot upon the site. Immediately, he was injured in the foot that touched the soil over the ashes. Yet another tradition has it that when the Achaeans, en route to Troy at the beginning of the war, came to the island of Tenedosmarker, Achilles angered Apollo by killing King Tenes, allegedly the god's son. When, in expiation, the Achaeans offered a sacrifice to Apollo, a snake came out from the altar and bit Philoctetes. Finally, it is said that Philoctetes received his terrible wound on the island of Chrysemarker, when he unknowingly trespassed into the shrine of the nymph after whom the island was named (this is the version in the extant play by Sophocles).

Regardless of the cause of the wound, Philoctetes was exiled by the Greeks and was angry at the treatment he received from Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who had advised the Atreidae to strand him. Medôn took control of Philoctetes' men, and Philoctetes himself remained on Lemnos, alone, for ten years.

Helenus, the prophetic son of King Priam of Troymarker, was forced to reveal, under torture, that one of the conditions of the Greeks' winning the war was that they needed the bow and arrows of Heracles. Upon hearing this, Odysseus and a group of men (usually including Diomedes) rushed back to Lemnos to recover Heracles' weapons. (As Sophocles writes it in his play named Philoctetes, Odysseus is accompanied by Neoptolemus, Achilles' son, also known as Pyrrhus. Other versions of the myth don't include Neoptolemus.) Surprised to find the archer alive, the Greeks balked on what to do next. Odysseus tricked the weaponry away from Philoctetes, but Diomedes refused to take the weapons without the man. But the god Heracles (Who had become a god many years earlier) came down from Olympus and told Philoctetes to go and that he would be healed by the son of Asclepius and win great honor as a hero of the Achaean army. Once back in military company outside Troy, they employed Machaon the surgeon (who may have been killed by Eurypylus of Mysia, son of Telephus, depending on the account) or more likely Podalirius the physician, both sons of the immortal physician Asclepius, to heal his wound permanently. Philoctetes challenged and would have killed Paris, son of Priam in single combat were it not for the debates over future Greek strategy, Philoctetes sided with Neoptolemus about continuing to try to storm the city. They were the only two to think so because they had not had war-weariness of the prior ten years. Afterward, Philoctetes was among those chosen to hide inside the Trojan Horse, and during the sack of the city he killed many famed Trojans.

After the war, he returned home to Meliboea, where he found a revolt. From there he went to Italymarker where he founded the towns of Petilia and Crimissa in Calabria and established the Brutti. He also aided Sicilian Greeks. When he died, he was buried next to the Sybaris River.

Modern literature

Drama



Poetry

  • The myth of Philoctetes is the inspiration for William Wordsworth's sonnet "When Philoctetes in the Lemnian Isle," though here the thematic focus is not the Greek warrior's magical bow or gruesome injury, but his abandonment. The poem is about the companionship and solace provided by Nature when all human society has been withdrawn.
  • Philoctetes being retrieved by Neoptolemus is the subject of the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos' long poem "Philoctetes" (1963-1965), a monologue in which the youth Neoptolemus convinces Philoctetes to follow him back to the war that will be won by the ruse of the Trojan Horse. Disguise and seeming are the subject of the poem:
"No one will comprehend your freedom's unmarred joy /or be frightened by it ever. The mask of action, /which I have brought you hidden in my pack, will conceal /your remote, transparent face. Put it on. Let's be going." (Translated by Peter Bien)
  • Philoctetes appears as a character in two Michael Ondaatje poems, entitled "The Goodnight" and "Philoctetes On The Island." Both appear in his 1979 book, There's a trick with a knife I'm learning to do.
  • Derek Walcott's modern Caribbeanmarker epic, Omeros, includes a character named Philoctete; he receives a wound and clearly alludes to the Greek narrative.
  • Philoctetes is mentioned in Poem VIII of "21 Love Poems" by Adrienne Rich:
"I can see myself years back at Sunion,hurting with an inflated foot, Philoctetesin woman's form, limping the long path,lying on a headland over the dark sea,looking down the red rocks to where a soundless curlof white told me a wave had struck,imagining the pull of that water from that height,knowing deliberate suicide wasn't my metier,yet all the time nursing, measuring that wound."


The Odyssey

Novels



  • In the novel, "The Division Of The Spoils", the last part of "The Raj Quartet" by Paul Scott, filmed as the TV series "The Jewel In The Crown" in 1984, "Philoctetes" is used as his pen name by Hari Kumar for his articles in the Ranpur Gazette.




Cinema

  • Philoctetes makes an appearance in the 1997 animated movie Hercules. In it, Philoctetes (usually referred to simply as "Phil") is a satyr voiced by Danny DeVito.


Television

  • The Torchwood episode "Greeks Bearing Gifts" has the alien serial-killer Mary (played by Daniella Denby-Ashe) refer to herself as Philoctetes, in reference to his exile on Lemnos. She was transported to Earth for crimes which she described as "political" but her testimony is probably untrustworthy. Unlike classical Philoctetes, she is not recalled to her home but, rather, consigned by Captain Jack to the centre of the Sun.


Essays

  • Sophocles' play forms the basis of an essay by Edmund Wilson The Wound and the Bow, in the book of the same name.


Modern art

Painting



Sculpture



See also




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