Philoctetes cries in his cave. He is not destined to leave Lemnos after all, and since he has lost the bow and arrows, the island’s animals will now witness his death. Philoctetes has no one to blame but himself, the chorus tells him. It is his own bad decision that is keeping him here, they say, but Philoctetes doesn’t appear to hear them over his constant lamentations. The chorus begs Philoctetes to curb his hate for Atreus’s sons and Odysseus and not throw away their friendship.
This passage again reflects the struggle between acting on behalf of one’s own desires and in the best interest of the greater good. Philoctetes is destined to leave Lemnos; he is simply blinded by his hatred and desire to hold a grudge. Here, Sophocles implies that it is a bad decision on Philoctetes’s part to remain on Lemnos to the detriment of the Greeks—and, though he can’t yet see it, to his own detriment as well.
Philoctetes imagines Neoptolemus mocking him as he holds the bow and arrows, but the chorus says that Neoptolemus was merely following orders. The chorus is only trying to help Philoctetes, they say, but he won’t listen. Only Philoctetes can free himself from “this sickness,” the chorus claims, by going to Troy. Philoctetes again refuses and tells the chorus to leave him. They turn to go, but Philoctetes begs them to stay. He apologizes as the chorus stands in confusion. Those in extreme pain often say what they don’t mean, Philoctetes says.
The chorus’s claim that Neoptolemus was only following orders again implies that the military makes otherwise moral men behave in unethical ways. According to Helenus’s prophecy, Philoctetes will be cured of his “sickness”—that is his wound will be healed—only once he goes to Troy. Therefore, it is only Philoctetes who can free himself from his suffering, as only he can decide to finally go to Troy. Philoctetes’s apology also underscores how pain and isolation can go hand in hand: because he is so miserably isolated, his pain makes him say things he doesn’t mean, which only pushes people away and deepens his isolation.
Philoctetes again apologizes to the chorus, but he can never agree to go to Troy and help the same men who marooned him alone on this island simply because of his wound. He asks the chorus to give him an axe or sword so he may kill himself and again see his father, Poeas, who is surely dead by now.
Again, Poeas isn’t dead, but Philoctetes doesn’t know this yet. Philoctetes refuses to go to Troy and, like Neoptolemus, decides to act according to his own desires rather than the best interest of the Greeks.