Philoctetes

by

Sophocles

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Neoptolemus Character Analysis

Neoptolemus is Achilles’s son and the one who accompanies Odysseus to Lemnos to retrieve Philoctetes and bring him to Troy. After the prophet Helenus prophesizes that the Trojan War cannot be won without both Philoctetes and Neoptolemus, Odysseus convinces Neoptolemus to go to Troy; however, Odysseus has a much tougher time convincing Neoptolemus to deceive Philoctetes to get him to Troy as well. Neoptolemus, like his father, is not a dishonest or malicious man, and Odysseus’s deceptive plan to “trick” Philoctetes is at odds with Neoptolemus’s superior morality. He tells Odysseus that he would rather try to force Philoctetes to go to Troy, even if it can’t be done, as he would rather “fail in a noble action than win an ignoble victory.” Neoptolemus’s obligation to the Greek army and his duty to follow the command of his superior officers, in this case Odysseus, means that Neoptolemus is forced to act against his moral compass, which Sophocles implies happens frequently in the military. While Neoptolemus initially agrees to go along with Odysseus’s dishonest plan, he eventually surrenders to the inner conflict between his morals and his obligation to the army, and he decides to abandon his obligation and remain true to his morals by taking Philoctetes home to Greece as he promised, instead of to Troy against his wishes. Heracles appears at the last minute and convinces both Neoptolemus and Philoctetes to go to Troy, but had Heracles not appeared, Neoptolemus presumably would have caused the Greeks untold pain by allowing the Trojan War to continue. The character of Neoptolemus illustrates the common struggle between doing what one desires and doing what is right for the greater good, which Sophocles implies is a lose-lose situation. No matter what choice Neoptolemus makes, he is forced to sacrifice either his morals or the hope for peace between the Greeks and the Trojans.

Neoptolemus Quotes in Philoctetes

The Philoctetes quotes below are all either spoken by Neoptolemus or refer to Neoptolemus. 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 1 (Lines 1 – 134) Quotes

Now, Neoptolemus, true-born son of Achilles,
Greatest of all the Greeks, it was here that I once
Put ashore the Malian, Poeas’ son, Philoctetes,
Acting upon the orders of my superiors.
The gnawing wound in his foot was oozing with pus.
We couldn’t pour a libation or offer sacrifice
Undisturbed. His animal shouts and yells
Were constantly filling the camp with sounds of ill omen.
That story needn’t detain us now, however.
This isn’t the moment for long discussion.

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Achilles, Poeas
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

Now let me explain why you can safely meet
This man and secure his trust, when I can not.
You didn’t sail with the main expedition. You weren’t
Committed by oath or forced into taking part.
But every one of these charges applies to me.
If he sights me while the bow’s in his own possession,
I’m finished and you’ll be finished for being with me.
Those weapons can’t be resisted. Our task must be
To contrive a way for you to steal them from him.

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

I know, my boy, it isn’t part of your nature
To tell untruths or resort to double-dealing.
But victory’s a prize worth gaining. Bring yourself
To do it. We’ll prove our honesty later on.
Now, for a few hours, put yourself in my hands
And forgo your scruples. Then, for the rest of time,
Be called the most god-fearing man in the world!

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
Entry of the Chorus (Lines 135 – 218) Quotes

His dreadful fate’s no wonder to me.
If I have an inkling, his sufferings first
Were sent by the gods, when he entered the shrine
Of cruel Chryse, who dealt him his wound.
So what he endures now, far from his friends.
Must also be due to the will of some god:
He may not aim those god-given shafts,
Which none can resist, at the towers of Troy,
Till the time has come when the prophet declares
Those arrows will prove her destruction.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes, Chorus, Chryse
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675) Quotes

I’m here because the two Greek generals, backed
By Odysseus, shamefully flung me ashore, alone
And abandoned, to waste away with a raging wound.
Struck down by the savage bite of a deadly snake.
With that for company, son, they marooned me here
And left me to rot on my own. (The fleet had sailed
From the isle of Chryse, and this was their first port of call.)
Then once, to their joy, they’d seen me asleep on the shore
After a stormy passage, they laid me inside
A rocky cave and left, tossing me out
A few beggarly rags, with a small amount of available
Food to keep me alive and avoid pollution.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Atreus’s Sons/The Atridae
Page Number: 212-3
Explanation and Analysis:

Now, my boy, let me tell you about the island.
No sailor will ever land here, if he can help it.
There’s nowhere safe he can anchor his ship, no port
In which he can trade for profit or find a welcome.
No sensible man would steer a course for this place.
He might, perhaps, put in because he is forced to—
It happens now and again in a long lifetime.
Such people, when they arrive, my boy, will say
They’re sorry for me. They might feel sorry enough
To give me a scrap of food or something to wear.
But when I raise the question of taking me home,
Nobody wants to do it.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Atreus’s Sons/The Atridae
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 213-4
Explanation and Analysis:

No, either bring me safely as far as your home
In Scyros, or else to Calchodon’s place in Euboea.
From there it’s only an easy crossing to Oeta,
To Trachis’ heights and Spercheiis’ beautiful stream.
And so you can show me again to my own dear father—
Though I’ve been long afraid I shall find him gone.
When people arrived, I often used to send him
Imploring messages, hoping he might be able
To come in a ship of his own and fetch me home.
But either he’s dead, or else my messengers couldn’t
Be bothered with me—it was natural enough, I suppose—
And wanted to hurry on with their homeward voyage.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus, Poeas
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080) Quotes

Neoptolemus: What new attack is this?
What’s making you groan and howl so loudly?

Philoctetes: You know, my boy!

Neoptolemus: What is it?

Philoctetes: You know, my son!

Neoptolemus: I don’t. Tell me!

Philoctetes: You must know! [Another howl of pain.]

Neoptolemus: Yes, your wound—it’s a terrible load to carry.

Philoctetes: It can’t be described. Still, you can show me pity.

Neoptolemus: What can I do?

Philoctetes: Don’t leave me because you are frightened.
The torturer comes and goes and will let me alone,
Perhaps, when he’s done his worst.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus (speaker)
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 228-9
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

You are not bad, I’m sure. But wicked men
Have taught you this base behavior. Leave it to others
And sail. But first return my weapons to me.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus, Odysseus, Atreus’s Sons/The Atridae
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:
Lament (Lines 1081 – 1218) Quotes

True men always will plead their causes justly.
Yet once they’ve spoken, they say no more.
Curb their spite and withdraw their sting.
Our young master was chosen.
Under Odysseus’ orders he came.
Helping friends and doing his public duty.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Odysseus
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 4 (Lines 1219 – 1407) Quotes

Odysseus: Please tell me why you’re coming back!
What’s all this frantic haste for, man?

Neoptolemus: To undo the wrongs that I did before.

Odysseus: I don’t understand. What wrong have you done?

Neoptolemus: I listened to you and the whole Greek army.

Odysseus: What wicked action did that entail?

Neoptolemus: Guile and deceit to entrap a man.

Odysseus: For god’s sake, whom? What crazy idea . . .

Neoptolemus: Not crazy at all. To give Philoctetes . . .

Odysseus: What do you mean to do? I’m frightened.

Neoptolemus: To restore this bow I stole to its proper . . .

Odysseus: What! Are you going to give it back?

Neoptolemus: Yes, it was shameful and wrong to take it.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Odysseus (speaker), Philoctetes
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

Odysseus: For heaven’s sake, are you joking with me?

Neoptolemus: If telling the truth is a joke, I am.

Odysseus: Look here, Neoptolemus! What do you mean?

Neoptolemus: Have I got to repeat it three times over?

Odysseus: I wish I needn’t have heard it once.

Neoptolemus: Well, it’s all that I have to say.

Odysseus: Be careful! You may quite well be prevented.

Neoptolemus: Tell me, Odysseus, who will prevent me?

Odysseus: The whole Greek army, myself included.

Neoptolemus: A foolish remark for a clever man!

Odysseus: Your words and actions are no less foolish.

Neoptolemus: I’d rather my actions were right than wise.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Odysseus (speaker), Philoctetes
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

My actions will prove me true. Put out your hand.
These weapons belong to you. Take hold of them now.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

All men are bound to endure with patience
The various chances of life which heaven brings.
But if they cling to trouble that’s self-inflicted,
As you are doing, they don’t deserve any pity
Or understanding. You’ve grown too brutal. You won’t
Accept advice, and if somebody out of kindness
Makes a suggestion, you hate him as though he were
Your implacable foe. But still. I’m going to speak,
And I call on Zeus, god of oaths, to bear me witness.
Mark what I say, and carefully take it to heart.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes, Zeus
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that you know this, surely you must agree,
And gladly. You have so much to gain. First,
To come into healing hands, and then to be judged
The foremost hero of Greece, by taking Troy,
The city of sorrows, and winning the highest glory.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes, Helenus
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 251
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:
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Neoptolemus Character Timeline in Philoctetes

The timeline below shows where the character Neoptolemus appears in Philoctetes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1 (Lines 1 – 134)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Odysseus and Neoptolemus arrive on the island of Lemnos. The island is completely deserted and not a house... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
 Odysseus tells Neoptolemus that Philoctetes must not know Odysseus is on the island, which is why Odysseus needs... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...nearby, Odysseus continues, as his “old affliction” won’t allow him to travel far. Odysseus tells Neoptolemus that it is time to “prove [his] worth.” Odysseus’s plan may sound strange to him... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Neoptolemus is to tell Philoctetes that the Greek army approached Neoptolemus and begged him to come... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Only Neoptolemus will be able to gain Philoctetes’s trust, Odysseus says, because Neoptolemus (unlike Odysseus) was not... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus is hesitant to agree. Odysseus is right, Neoptolemus says: it is not in his nature... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
“It’s words, not deeds, that shape the course of events,” Odysseus says to Neoptolemus. Philoctetes’s bow and arrows never miss the mark; therefore, he cannot be forced to give... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Odysseus orders Neoptolemus to remain near Philoctetes’s cave and wait for him to come back. Odysseus will return... (full context)
Entry of the Chorus (Lines 135 – 218)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
The chorus, a group of Greek sailors, arrives and asks Neoptolemus for their orders. He tells the sailors to inspect Philoctetes’s cave but to keep their... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Neoptolemus informs the chorus that Philoctetes’s suffering has been ordered by the gods. Philoctetes was bitten... (full context)
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
 Philoctetes approaches his cave and the strange sailors, and he immediately asks the chorus and Neoptolemus who they are and why they are there. Lemnos doesn’t have a harbor, he says,... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Neoptolemus confirms that he and the chorus are indeed Greeks, and Philoctetes, excited to hear this,... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Philoctetes is distraught. The gods must despise him, Philoctetes says to Neoptolemus and the chorus, if no word or rumors of him have reached the Greeks. Philoctetes... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
 When Philoctetes woke and found himself alone on Lemnos, he tells Neoptolemus and the chorus, he was devastated. He had cried when he saw the Greek ship... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
No one comes to Lemnos because they want to, Philoctetes tells Neoptolemus and the chorus. Only if they are “forced,” he says. There have been a few... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Neoptolemus tells Philoctetes that he knows all about how terrible Atreus’s sons and Odysseus are, as... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Philoctetes tells Neoptolemus that their shared anger with Atreus’s sons and Odysseus must mean that he can trust... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Philoctetes begs Neoptolemus not to leave him on Lemnos all alone and asks if he might find passage... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
The chorus implores Neoptolemus to agree to take Philoctetes and not leave him alone on Lemnos. Neoptolemus tells the... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
The merchant tells Neoptolemus that he is a trader of wine headed from Troy to his home, the island... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Neoptolemus tells the merchant that the man is Philoctetes, the famous archer, and the merchant tells... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
The merchant tells Neoptolemus and Philoctetes that the Greeks had recently captured Helenus, the prophet and son of Priam,... (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Neoptolemus tells Philoctetes and the chorus that they must sail at once, and Philoctetes goes to... (full context)
Choral Song (Lines 676 – 728)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...alone with no one to care for him. Now, the chorus says, Philoctetes has met Neoptolemus, the son of the greatest Greek hero, Achilles, and Philoctetes will soon sail away from... (full context)
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
As Neoptolemus enters the cave, Philoctetes begins to moan loudly. Neoptolemus asks if his wound is causing... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Philoctetes hands Neoptolemus the bow and arrows and asks him to keep them safe until his acute attack... (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Neoptolemus prays to the gods to ease Philoctetes’s pain, but Philoctetes says it is no use.... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus promises Philoctetes that he won’t leave him, just as Philoctetes falls into a delirium. Neoptolemus... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
The chorus again tries to convince Neoptolemus to leave Philoctetes. He refuses and tells the men to keep quiet as Philoctetes begins... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus tells Philoctetes that he is “torn apart” but cannot tell him why. He is disgusted... (full context)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus tells Philoctetes that he must sail to Troy to help the Greeks win the Trojan... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus refuses to return the bow and arrows. “Right and interest alike demand it,” he says... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...cave without the bow and arrows, resolved to die on Lemnos. The chorus looks to Neoptolemus and again asks what they should do, but Neoptolemus doesn’t know. He is torn between... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...Philoctetes that he has been on Lemnos all along. In a panic, Philoctetes again begs Neoptolemus to give him the bow and arrows. Odysseus tells Philoctetes that he is not getting... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Philoctetes curses Odysseus, but he can see that Neoptolemus is feeling remorseful. Philoctetes asks Odysseus why he must go to Troy. He is, after... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
The chorus tells Philoctetes that Odysseus is their superior and they must obey him, but Neoptolemus orders the chorus to stay with Philoctetes anyway. It will take a while to ready... (full context)
Lament (Lines 1081 – 1218)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Philoctetes imagines Neoptolemus mocking him as he holds the bow and arrows, but the chorus says that Neoptolemus... (full context)
Scene 4 (Lines 1219 – 1407)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus appears, still with the bow and arrows, followed by Odysseus. Neoptolemus says that he must... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus yells to Philoctetes to come out of his cave. He tells Philoctetes that he has... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Odysseus appears and forbids Neoptolemus to give Philoctetes the bow and arrows. He says he will force Philoctetes to go... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Neoptolemus is glad to hear that Philoctetes has forgiven him, but he tells Philoctetes that if... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Helenus, the prophet, has prophesized that Philoctetes and Neoptolemus will bring down Troy and be hailed as heroes. There is more to gain by... (full context)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Philoctetes reminds Neoptolemus that he promised to take him home, and he asks him again to make good... (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 him. Heracles has brought the word of Zeus, and the... (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 War, and they both... (full context)