Philoctetes

by

Sophocles

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Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows Symbol Analysis

Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows  Symbol Icon

Philoctetes’s bow and arrows drive most of the plot of Sophocles’s Philoctetes, and they represent Philoctetes’s power, or “prowess,” as Heracles puts it; however, Philoctetes’s bow and arrows also represent his obligation to the gods. According to myth, Philoctetes is gifted the bow and arrows, which never miss their mark, by Heracles after Philoctetes showed him mercy and compassion. Before Heracles was deified, he was a mortal hero suffering and dying after being injured in battle, and he wished to be placed on his funeral pyre while still alive to end his suffering. However, no one would agree to light to the fire except for Philoctetes, and Heracles gave him the bow and arrows in thanks for his service. Philoctetes’s bow and arrows keep him alive on the deserted island Lemnos after he is abandoned there on account of his wound. Even in his extreme pain and suffering, Philoctetes is able to shoot birds and game and sustain a meager life. But when Neoptolemus effectively steals the bow and arrows, he also strips Philoctetes of his power and the ability to keep himself alive. Without the arrows that never miss, Philoctetes has no hope of surviving in his weakened and injured state. Neoptolemus does eventually give Philoctetes back the bow and arrows, but when Heracles appears at the end of the play, he makes it clear that Philoctetes must take the bow and arrows to Troy and end the Trojan War for the greater good of the Greeks. Not only does Philoctetes have an obligation to serve the greater good of the Greeks, he also has an obligation to obey the gods and use the bow and arrows as they see fit, and so the weapons are symbols of his debt to the gods as well as his power to fend for himself. 

Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows Quotes in Philoctetes

The Philoctetes quotes below all refer to the symbol of Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows . 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 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:
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080) Quotes

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:
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:
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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Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows Symbol Timeline in Philoctetes

The timeline below shows where the symbol Philoctetes’s Bow and Arrows appears in Philoctetes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1 (Lines 1 – 134)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...Greece. Neoptolemus will not be able to capture Troy without Philoctetes and his bow and arrows. (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...that abandoned Philoctetes on Lemnos. Neoptolemus must find a way to steal Philoctetes’s bow and arrows. Odysseus knows that it isn’t in Neoptolemus’s nature to be deceptive, but since it will... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...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 them to Neoptolemus, Odysseus... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
...his own and will have to concoct his own lies to secure the bow and arrows. Odysseus calls to the god Hermes and the goddess Athena to bless their mission, and... (full context)
Entry of the Chorus (Lines 135 – 218)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...he is Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, 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... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...only “pain and distress” on Lemnos. The cave offers him shelter and his bow and arrows ensure food; however, Philoctetes is merely surviving, and there is no “cure for [his] sickness.” (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...they must sail at once, and Philoctetes goes to his cave to fetch his extra arrows and the herb he uses to quell the pain of his wound. Neoptolemus asks Philoctetes... (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
Philoctetes hands Neoptolemus the bow and arrows and asks him to keep them safe until his acute attack of pain subsides. Once... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...the chorus asks Neoptolemus what their next move is. Neoptolemus already has the bow and arrows, the men say, and it is the perfect time to flee. Neoptolemus agrees but refuses... (full context)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...had no choice, but Philoctetes refuses to listen and demands to have his bow and arrows back. (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 to Philoctetes. Philoctetes curses Neoptolemus and asks... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
Philoctetes returns to his cave without the bow and arrows, resolved to die on Lemnos. The chorus looks to Neoptolemus and again asks what they... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...all along. In a panic, Philoctetes again begs Neoptolemus to give him the bow and arrows. Odysseus tells Philoctetes that he is not getting the bow, and adds that if he... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...on Lemnos. There are plenty of other Greek marksmen who can shoot the bow and arrows. As Odysseus heads back to the ship, he tells Neoptolemus not let his morals get... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...in the meantime, Neoptolemus says, as he runs toward the ship with the bow and arrows. (full context)
Lament (Lines 1081 – 1218)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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 was merely following orders. The chorus is only trying... (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... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...to stop trying. He tells Philoctetes that he has come to return the bow and arrows, but Philoctetes is dubious. “My actions will prove me true,” Neoptolemus says. “Put out your... (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 to Troy regardless of what Neoptolemus says.... (full context)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...it. Philoctetes tells Neoptolemus not to worry as long as they have the bow and arrows, and they head toward the ship. (full context)
Closing Scene (Lines 1408 – 1472)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)