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 men must abandon their current plans. Philoctetes must return to Troy with Neoptolemus, Heracles says, where his wound will be healed. Then, Philoctetes will use the bow and arrows to kill Paris and conquer Troy. Afterwards, Philoctetes can go home to his father, Poeas, and tell him of his bravery.
Heracles’s appearance is what is known as a deus ex machina in Greek literature. Heracles is written into the story for the purpose of resolving a complex problem that otherwise cannot be resolved. With the appearance of Heracles, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus are finally convinced to go to Troy—and act in the best interest of the greater good instead of following their own desires.
Heracles tells Philoctetes and Neoptolemus that they must go to Troy together to end the Trojan War, and they both immediately agree to go. Heracles disappears, and Philoctetes bids the island of Lemnos farewell as the chorus prays for their safe passage to Troy.
Presumably, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus would not have agreed to go to Troy without Heracles’s intervention, which further underscores the struggle between one’s own desires and what is in the best interest of the greater good. Sophocles’s play illustrates the difficulty involved in such decisions and further suggests that such decisions are a lose/lose situation, as something must always be sacrificed no matter which decision is made. Only divine intervention, it seems, can help humans resolve these impossible situations.