Philoctetes

by

Sophocles

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Odysseus Character Analysis

Odysseus is the king of Ithaca, a leader of the Greek army, and the antagonist of Sophocles’s Philoctetes. Odysseus is portrayed as a despicable man who abandoned Philoctetes on the island Lemnos simply because Philoctetes’s wound and cries of pain disrupted the crew’s prayers and sacrifices to the gods aboard the ship to Troy. Odysseus is further painted in a negative light when he forces Neoptolemus to deceive Philoctetes and steal his unerring bow and arrows so they can more easily force him into going to Troy against his will. However, Odysseus implies that he did not want to abandon Philoctetes on the island but was forced to do so by Atreus’s sons. He tells Neoptolemus that he must be the one to deceive Philoctetes and win his trust, because Neoptolemus was not part of the initial expedition that abandoned Philoctetes on Lemnos. “You weren’t / Committed by oath or forced into taking part,” Odysseus says to Neoptolemus, “But every one of those charges applies to me.” This suggests that Odysseus was forced by the army into acting against his moral compass, which Sophocles implies is a frequent occurrence and a constant struggle for those who go to war. Furthermore, Odysseus believes he can abandon morality in the name of winning the war and simply pick it back up again when the war is over, but Sophocles implies that this isn’t the case. When Heracles appears at the end of the play, he reminds Neoptolemus and Philoctetes to “show piety” as they sack Troy, but Odysseus fails to do this in his deceptive plan to conquer Troy and end the war. In this way, Sophocles implies that deception is never excusable, not even in war, as some baseline of decency must be maintained.

Odysseus Quotes in Philoctetes

The Philoctetes quotes below are all either spoken by Odysseus or refer to Odysseus. 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:
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:
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080) Quotes

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:

So why are you taking me now and carting me off?
What for? I’m nothing to you. I’ve long been dead.
How, you bane of the gods, am I no longer
A stinking cripple? How, if I come on board,
Will you burn your victims or go on pouring libations?
That was your specious pretext for throwing me out.
Perish the lot of you! Perish you surely will
For the injuries done to me, if the gods have any
Concern for justice. I know they have. You’d never
Have crossed the sea in quest of a mouldering wretch,
Unless some spur from heaven were goading you on.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Odysseus, Helenus
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 239-40
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:
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Odysseus Character Timeline in Philoctetes

The timeline below shows where the character Odysseus 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... (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... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
The cave must be Philoctetes’s shelter, Odysseus says, and his wound must be as bad as ever. Philoctetes has to be nearby,... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...begged him to come to Troy, as the Trojan War can’t be won without him. Odysseus orders Neoptolemus to tell Philoctetes that he agreed to go with them, but when he... (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 part of the expedition that abandoned Philoctetes on... (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 to be deceptive. Nor, Neoptolemus... (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... (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... (full context)
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...and the one who owns Heracles’s bow and arrows. He was marooned on Lemnos by Odysseus after he was bitten by a poisonous snake on the island Chryse while en route... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...“been rotting away” on Lemnos for nine years now, all because of Atreus’s sons and Odysseus. (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 they have offended him, too. Odysseus had come to Scyros and told Neoptolemus... (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 him. Philoctetes knows that Odysseus will do or say... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...motion. A ship has sailed from Troy to find Neoptolemus and bring him back, and Odysseus and Diomedes have left on anther ship to find someone else. Neoptolemus asks who this... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...is Philoctetes, the famous archer, and the merchant tells Neoptolemus he must leave Lemnos immediately. Odysseus and Diomedes are en route to retrieve Philoctetes at this very moment, the merchant says,... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...Priam, and he claimed that Troy would never be conquered without Philoctetes. Upon hearing this, Odysseus immediately left for Lemnos. Philoctetes claims he will never return to Troy with Odysseus, saying... (full context)
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...wakes, his pain will be better and more manageable. He warns Neoptolemus not to let Odysseus have the bow if he arrives while Philoctetes sleeps. If he does, Odysseus will surely... (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...out in pain, he begs Neoptolemus not to leave him and curses Atreus’s sons and Odysseus. Philoctetes calls to death and asks why it never comes. He looks to Neoptolemus and... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Odysseus suddenly appears and tells Philoctetes that he has been on Lemnos all along. In a... (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... (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... (full context)
Lament (Lines 1081 – 1218)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...his constant lamentations. The chorus begs Philoctetes to curb his hate for Atreus’s sons and Odysseus and not throw away their friendship. (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 “undo the wrongs” he has done in listening to Odysseus... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Odysseus appears and forbids Neoptolemus to give Philoctetes the bow and arrows. He says he will... (full context)