Philoctetes

by

Sophocles

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Philoctetes’s Wound  Symbol Analysis

Philoctetes’s Wound   Symbol Icon

At the center of Philoctetes is the wound Philoctetes suffers due to a snake bite on the island Chryse, and it is symbolic of Philoctetes’s pain and isolation. Additionally, Philoctetes’s wound symbolizes the deep hate and resentment he feels toward Atreus’s sons and Odysseus. Odysseus was ordered to abandon Philoctetes on the island Lemnos by Atreus’s sons, the commanders of the Greek forces, because the foul odor of the wound and Philoctetes’s constant cries of suffering made the crew uncomfortable and disrupted their prayers and sacrifices to the gods. Alone on the deserted island, Philoctetes’s wound makes his existence nearly unbearable, and his pain is compounded by his isolation and loneliness. According to the prophet Helenus, Philoctetes’s wound will be healed if he goes to Troy to fight, thereby ending the Trojan War, but Philoctetes can’t bring himself to fight on behalf of the same men who rejected him and treated him so badly. He is willing to continue suffering with his wound simply to punish those who punished him. Sophocles wrote Philoctetes in 409 BCE during the Peloponnesian War, which consumed much of the latter part of his life. Sophocles undoubtedly watched many men go to war and sustain deep and lasting injuries, just as Philoctetes does on the initial expedition to Troy. In nine years, Philoctetes’s wound shows no signs of healing, and it will not resolve until healed by the god, Asclepius. In this way, Sophocles suggests through Philoctetes’s wound that wounds sustained during war last a lifetime and never heal. Notably, however, Philoctetes hardly mentions the wound in the later part of the play, after he realizes that Neoptolemus is not going to abandon him. Though the wound still isn’t healed, it seems to cause Philoctetes much less physical pain once his emotional isolation is over, which again underscores the devastating consequences of isolation.

Philoctetes’s Wound  Quotes in Philoctetes

The Philoctetes quotes below all refer to the symbol of Philoctetes’s Wound  . 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:
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:

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

Neoptolemus: What new attack is this?
What’s making you groan and howl so loudly?

Philoctetes: You know, my boy!

Neoptolemus: What is it?

Philoctetes: You know, my son!

Neoptolemus: I don’t. Tell me!

Philoctetes: You must know! [Another howl of pain.]

Neoptolemus: Yes, your wound—it’s a terrible load to carry.

Philoctetes: It can’t be described. Still, you can show me pity.

Neoptolemus: What can I do?

Philoctetes: Don’t leave me because you are frightened.
The torturer comes and goes and will let me alone,
Perhaps, when he’s done his worst.

Related Characters: Philoctetes (speaker), Neoptolemus (speaker)
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 228-9
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:
Scene 4 (Lines 1219 – 1407) Quotes

All men are bound to endure with patience
The various chances of life which heaven brings.
But if they cling to trouble that’s self-inflicted,
As you are doing, they don’t deserve any pity
Or understanding. You’ve grown too brutal. You won’t
Accept advice, and if somebody out of kindness
Makes a suggestion, you hate him as though he were
Your implacable foe. But still. I’m going to speak,
And I call on Zeus, god of oaths, to bear me witness.
Mark what I say, and carefully take it to heart.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes, Zeus
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that you know this, surely you must agree,
And gladly. You have so much to gain. First,
To come into healing hands, and then to be judged
The foremost hero of Greece, by taking Troy,
The city of sorrows, and winning the highest glory.

Related Characters: Neoptolemus (speaker), Philoctetes, Helenus
Related Symbols: Philoctetes’s Wound 
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:
Closing Scene (Lines 1408 – 1472) Quotes

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 Wound  Symbol Timeline in Philoctetes

The timeline below shows where the symbol Philoctetes’s Wound  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
...his crew marooned Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, at the behest of his superiors. The wound on Philoctetes’s foot had been “oozing with pus,” and his constant screams of pain disrupted... (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, Odysseus continues, as his... (full context)
Entry of the Chorus (Lines 135 – 218)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...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.” (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Scene 2 (Lines 219 – 675)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
...out” by the same people who have silenced his story “in delight,” all while his wound is worsening. He tells them that he is Philoctetes, the son of Poeas, and the... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...was deserted. There would be no one to comfort or care for him and his wound. Philoctetes’s life is only “pain and distress” on Lemnos. The cave offers him shelter and... (full context)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
...fetch his extra arrows and the herb he uses to quell the pain of his wound. Neoptolemus asks Philoctetes if the bow in his hands is the famous bow of Heracles,... (full context)
Scene 3 (Lines 730 – 1080)
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
As Neoptolemus enters the cave, Philoctetes begins to moan loudly. Neoptolemus asks if his wound is causing him pain, and Philoctetes confirms it is. He screams and prays to the... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...delirium. Neoptolemus notices that a river of infected blood has begun to drain from Philoctetes’s wound, and he tells the chorus to leave him to sleep. As Philoctetes sleeps, the chorus... (full context)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...Philoctetes declines. He doesn’t want to offend the men with the terrible smell of his wound, since living on the ship with him will be difficult enough. Neoptolemus helps Philoctetes to... (full context)
Deception, Ethics, and War Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...deceiving him the entire time. Philoctetes wishes that he had come across Neoptolemus before his wound, saying that then Neoptolemus wouldn’t have had the courage to perpetrate such a “cowardly trick.” (full context)
Lament (Lines 1081 – 1218)
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Scene 4 (Lines 1219 – 1407)
Disability and Discrimination Theme Icon
Suffering and Isolation Theme Icon
Decisions, Obligation, and the Greater Good Theme Icon
...his grudge against the Greeks and stay on Lemnos, he doesn’t deserve any sympathy. Philoctetes’s wound and pain are sent by the gods, Neoptolemus says. Philoctetes had unwittingly disturbed Chryse’s shrine,... (full context)