Philoctetes

by

Sophocles

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Heracles Character Analysis

Heracles is the Greek god of strength and heroes. According to Greek myth, Heracles was a mortal Greek hero before he was deified. Heracles wanted to be placed on a funeral pyre while he was still alive in order to end his suffering more quickly, but no one would light the fire except for Philoctetes. To reward Philoctetes for his good deed, Heracles gifted Philoctetes his unerring bow and arrows, which keep Philoctetes alive while he is marooned on the island Lemnos and will later win the Trojan War by killing Paris. Philoctetes has a special connection to Heracles, and he invokes his name multiple times throughout the play. In the closing scene, Heracles appears from the heavens and convinces Philoctetes and Neoptolemus to go to Troy to sack the city and end the war. Heracles’s fortuitous arrival at the end of Sophocles’s play is an example of the popular Greek literary convention known as the deus ex machina, in which an unsolvable problem is solved by an unlikely occurrence written specifically to solve said problem. However, the appearance of Heracles also underscores Sophocles’s central argument that it is much nobler to sacrifice one’s own desires for the greater good. Had Heracles not arrived and convinced them otherwise, Philoctetes would have allowed his grudge against Odysseus and Atreus’s sons to keep him from going to Troy, and Neoptolemus would have remained true to his moral compass and kept his promise to take Philoctetes home to Greece. Without Heracles, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus would not have gone to Troy, and all Greeks would have suffered in the continuation of the Trojan War.

Heracles Quotes in Philoctetes

The Philoctetes quotes below are all either spoken by Heracles or refer to Heracles. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Philoctetes published in 2008.
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080) Quotes

Death, death, I call on you to my aid
Like this every day. Why can you never come?
My boy, you are nobly born. Seize my body
And burn me in the volcano, the holy fire
Of Lemnos. Be true to your nature. I brought myself
To do the same for Heracles, son of Zeus,
The hero who gave me the arms you now are guarding.
What do you say, my son? Oh, speak!
Why are you dumb? You seem to be lost, boy!

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus, Heracles, Zeus
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:
Closing Scene (Lines 1408 – 1472) Quotes

You’ll go with Neoptolemus to Troy,
Where first your painful wound will soon be healed.
Then, chosen for your prowess from the host,
You’ll use my bow and arrows to bring down
Paris, the cause of all this bitter strife.
When you’ve sacked Troy, the army will present
You with the prize of valour, and you’ll bear
Your spoils back to your home on Oeta’s heights
To show your father Poeas. Do not fail,
Whatever spoils the army grants to you,
To lay a portion on my pyre in tribute
To my bow.

Related Characters: Heracles (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Poeas, Paris
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Now, Neoptolemus,
My words concern you too. You’ll not take Troy
Without his aid, nor he without your help.
No, each one guard the other, like two lions
Prowling the bush together. [to Philoctetes:] I shall send
Asclepius to heal your wounds in Troy.
The citadel must be captured by my bow
A second time. But when you lay the land
To waste, remember this: show piety
Towards the gods, since nothing ranks so high
With Zeus. For piety does not die with men.
Men live or die, but piety cannot perish.

Related Characters: Heracles (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Zeus, Asclepius, Priam
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Philoctetes LitChart as a printable PDF.
Philoctetes PDF

Heracles Character Timeline in Philoctetes

The timeline below shows where the character Heracles appears in Philoctetes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...tells them that he is Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, and the one who owns Heracles’s bow and arrows. He was marooned on Lemnos by Odysseus after he was bitten by... (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...wound. Neoptolemus asks Philoctetes if the bow in his hands is the famous bow of Heracles, and Philoctetes confirms it is. Neoptolemus asks if he may hold the bow, and Philoctetes... (full context)
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...with him to burn him in the volcano on Lemnos, just as Philoctetes did for Heracles. (full context)
Closing Scene (Lines 1408 – 1472)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Suddenly, Heracles appears from the sky above and tells Philoctetes and Neoptolemus to stop and listen to... (full context)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Heracles tells Philoctetes and Neoptolemus that they must go to Troy together to end the Trojan... (full context)