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 eyes peeled for Philoctetes’s return. If Philoctetes sneaks up on them, Neoptolemus says, he may be dangerous. Philoctetes is likely out hunting for food with the bow and arrows, which is how he has been able to stay alive for so long despite the agony of his wound. But “nobody comes,” Neoptolemus tells the chorus. “To comfort or cure [Philoctetes’s] affliction.”
In other versions of the myth of Philoctetes, the playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides made the chorus a group of native Lemnians. Sophocles, however, makes his chorus a group of Greek sailors. By removing the native Lemnians, Sophocles makes Lemnos entirely deserted, which highlights Philoctetes’s isolation and guarantees that “nobody comes” to “comfort or cure” him.
The chorus laments Philoctetes’s miserable plight. Philoctetes is all alone without anyone to care for him, and his infected wound likely makes him very sick. How Philoctetes is able to live such a life, the chorus doesn’t know. They claim the gods are “deceitful” for allowing such a great man to fall. Philoctetes comes from a “noble house,” yet he is made to live alone, plagued by hunger and unfathomable pain, without anything or anyone to bring him comfort.
Philoctetes’s father, Poeas, is a Thessalonian king. Thus, Philoctetes comes from a “noble house.” Philoctetes’s noble identity implies that no one is spared from discrimination when disabled in Greek society—even the son of a king is disrespected after he is maimed, on his way to fight in a war no less.
Neoptolemus informs the chorus that Philoctetes’s suffering has been ordered by the gods. Philoctetes was bitten by a poisonous snake after entering the shrine of Chryse, on the goddess’s island of the same name, while he was part of the first expedition headed to the Trojan War. Therefore, Neoptolemus says, Philoctetes’s agony is due to the will of the gods, and Philoctetes will not go to Troy with his bow and arrows until the gods decide it is time. Suddenly, the sounds of a man crying out in terrible pain pierce the air. It is Philoctetes, the chorus says, and he is returning to his cave.
Neoptolemus’s explanation of Philoctetes’s suffering implies that Philoctetes couldn’t have avoided the snake bite, since it was something the gods plan. Neoptolemus’s explanation therefore makes the discrimination against Philoctetes all the worse: Philoctetes is marginalized for something he has no control over, which Sophocles implies is always the case with discrimination against those with disabilities.